Today, I was eating breakfast with some guys this morning and some of their friends. We were eating and they were talking, when a younger couple walked into the cafe we were eating in. The younger woman had tatoos on her arms and a purple dress to match her purple hair. The younger man was wearing a plaid shirt, had a beard, and one of those hats that looks like it could be from the movie Newsies. They appeared to be hipsters, basically. I noticed among those talking at the table I was at one man stopped eating, didn’t say anything, and was staring directly at the younger couple from the moment they walked in to the moment they were seated. Upon being seated, the man who was staring said, “That young girl who came in has purple hair, a purple dress, tatoos on her arms, and she probably has a couple piercings.” To that, I responded, “Yeah, what’s your point?” He didn’t reply, but I could tell why he was making a note of these things and wanted to call him out on it. Another man at the table spoke up and said, “Well, they’re different than us. They’re different people.”
I couldn’t help but feel incredibly isolated and alone from that moment on at the table in the conversation, which by the way, I was hardly in the conversation. I should say that all of the men at the table I was at are over 70 years old, at least, except for me of course. The couple who came into the cafe were probably in their late 20s, early 30s.
Basically, this gentleman picked apart all the ways these two were different from himself: different clothes, younger, piercings, tattoos, etc, and then he felt obligated to announce how these two are different from himself.
I couldn’t help but think to myself, is this how we are supposed to act as Christians? Is this not exactly the stereotype that so many non-Christians have pinned upon Christians?
It’s interesting that some folks will complain about not seeing younger people in a church worship service or generally a part of the church, but in public they will demonize younger people by their external appearance. Then, will presume that younger people will want to be a part of a church where younger people are treated and looked at in that way. It’s an amazing thing.
Sometimes, Christians profess to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and profess to believe in a Gospel that includes people regardless of race, gender, age, nationality, or appearance, but when it comes to actually living according to this belief many Christians show that they don’t believe much at all.
In Galatians, which I have been preaching through with my church, the Apostle Paul has been denied legitimate apostleship by his opponents in churches in Galatia who are teaching a different Gospel. Paul’s opponents have added requirements to being a Christian in Galatian churches for Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians. Basically, they were saying Gentile believers needed to live like Jews and obey the Mosaic Law in order to really be God’s chosen people. Paul counters them by proclaiming, famously, that we are justified by grace, not by works of the Law. In order to prove both his point and his apostleship, he uses an example from when Peter was persuaded to give into the pressure from these opponents, Judaizers, in Galatians 2.
Paul points out the hypocrisy of Peter publicly because Peter has not simply sacrificed some ethical standards which ought to be held in higher regard, Peter has shown by his actions that he is supporting a different gospel, the false gospel of his opponents in Galatian churches. Paul took the idea of separating from Gentile Christians by Jewish Christians very seriously, as it was cause for a public rebuke of Peter.
If Paul was so angered over Jewish and Gentile Christians eating separately in Antioch, how then, would he respond to Christians showing disdain for people who simply look different than they do?
Paul traveled around the Mediterranean. He says in Galatians he went down to Arabia when he first became a believer, but eventually travelled as far as Spain. Can you imagine the number of differences he observed in the physical appearances of so many different peoples and cultures on his missionary journeys? Now, look at the United States which is a reputable ‘melting pot’ of various cultures, traditions, ancestry, and styles. How would the Apostle Paul react to seeing a hipster? Would he proclaim how much greater he is than them because of an absence of tattoos, piercings, and hipster apparel from Urban Outfitters/American Apparel/thrift stores, OR do you think he might seek to love them, talk about Jesus among them, and possibly workout the logistics of planting a hipster church in the area?
Paul saw separation of Jewish Christians from Gentile Christians as practically proclaiming by actions a different gospel. If this angered him, it seems that something as trite as someone wearing different clothing than someone else being grounds to boast of oneself and judge others might receive even harsher criticism from Paul.
Now, some of you reading this are thinking, “Oh yeah, well, what about treating the body as the Temple of God?” To that, I ask you, do you REALLY want to play that card?
Let’s say you did just play that card, in return I would ask if you see rings, earrings, necklaces, nail polish, makeup, designer clothing, overweight people as equally in the wrong as tattooed hipsters?
If not, than why is one thing more wrong than these numerous things which the Bible speaks very clearly against such as expensive things and overeating?
I’m not at all saying we should disregard what Paul says in treating the body as the temple of God. However, I am saying that perhaps those who point fingers at tattoos and piercings yet see nothing wrong with overeating and expensive clothing aren’t getting their justification from the Bible. When Paul says the body is the temple of the Spirit of God, he is addressing sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6. That is why he is saying ‘flee from sexual immorality’ and not saying tattoos and piercings are of the devil and all who have them are equally evil and there is no salvation for them.
In fact, the Bible speaks much more about overeating being a sin and the importance of modest living, exercising moderation in all things except perhaps prayer, fasting, giving, studying God’s word, and helping the poor. These things we are not called to exercise moderation, but I wonder how many of us even spend a little time doing these things as opposed to trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong and how we can separate ourselves as much as possible from those who seem to be wrong.
I watched a video today from The Gospel Coalition with several prominent Christians in Western evangelical Christianity sitting in chairs discussing whether or not to believe or talk about the Gospel with language related to the Kingdom of God is heretical or not. Jesus’ primary message was the Kingdom of God, and there is a resurgence of talk about the Kingdom of God and what it means in Christianity today. However, these scholars were frustrated with the language because frankly, if the Kingdom of God is important and has anything to do with how we live today as opposed to simply end times/eschatological language, than it seems that there is more to the Gospel message of Jesus than simply penal substitutionary atonement and that justification could be a little more than an alien proclamation of one being ‘right.’
These scholars were talking about mere language and semantics that might lead someone to have a view that might possibly lead to navigating near the language that could seem like an alternate view of justification. Therefore, they were doing their best to defend their view of justification and their theology while separating themselves from (as is becoming too common in Reformed circles) anything pertaining to any sort of works-righteousness.
Watching this video, I couldn’t help thinking who these scholars reminded me of as they were discussing what the Law means, who is righteous and who is unrighteous, what they should do and what they should stay away from, how it more important to know ‘the Gospel’ as opposed to any sort of holy living which might be perceived as being works-righteousness/legalism, and how there are so many dangers with simply reading the gospels (unless one reads it with a proper view of Reformed Justification)?
It reminds me of the Pharisees. What were the Pharisees doing when Jesus ate with them? They were discussing what is righteous and what is not, what is clean and unclean, etc. Jesus responds to their questions about who is right and who is wrong by telling them to not judge. What is ironic is that this neo-Reformed movement which has swept the United States is hyper-sensitive to legalism and work-righteousness, but the primary content being pumped out of The Gospel Coalition and many scholars aligned with this movement is about what is right and what is wrong. Live this way, do not live this way. This book is bad because the author might be saying something that isn’t fully Reformed. This book is good because it says everything we agree with and like and has already been written. You get the picture. There is a functional works-righteousness at work in the neo-Reformed tradition. Mark Driscoll constantly focuses in his application along with other preachers in this movement on how living one way is right and another is wrong. Also, how if you live the wrong way than you don’t believe right, therefore, you might really need to truly believe so that you live rightly.
Now, I’m not saying these guys are bad nor am I saying there is no wrong way to live and do things. I’m simply saying their application of their Reformed theology doesn’t align well with their professed beliefs in a ‘works-less theological system and hyper-sensitive to legalism view.’ It seems that all this talk about right and wrong constantly would make someone hyper-sensitive to living the right way in order to show that they are truly saved by grace. Smells a bit like legalism. It seems that they could be promoting legalism while speaking so incessantly about it’s dangers. Thus, instead of really figuring out what it means to love God and love others, there is more an emphasis on whether or not one is a heretic or not all the time. This is why I think it sounds a bit like Phariseeism.
Both The Gospel Coalition folks from the video and the older folks around the table this morning were more interested in separating themselves from others and showing how they are more right and others are more wrong, possibly heretical or devil-worshippers. Neither group was concerned about how they might best be able to love those they disagree with or who look different than themselves. Neither group was willing to think maybe there might be a few flaws in their own system of thinking at least in how it was lived out. Both were driven to pointing fingers at those who are not like them and verbally ‘high-fiving’ one another at their own boasting and put-downs of others.
Is this really how Jesus wants us to live? No doubt, sin exists and there is a right and wrong, but are we supposed to go around as police of appearance or doctrine, OR are we called to love God, love others, and share the Gospel of Jesus with others?
My point isn’t to bash Reformed folks or older folks, I love both dearly truthfully and am mostly Reformed myself, but my point is that sometimes as Christians we spend a little too much time thinking and talking about what is wrong around us as opposed to living and showing the world by our actions what is right. Perhaps we could learn a lesson from the early church fathers and early Christians who were known not for their critique of everything around them as much as their helping everyone around them and their blind love toward Christians and non-Christians.
What if Christianity in the West stopped pointing fingers at who is right and wrong, and started caring more about showing what it means to truly live as Christians especially in the wealthy society in which we live?
That would be truly amazing. I think then, you would find non-Christians looking at Christians and saying with a positive slant, “They are not like us,” and being moved by the radical love of Jesus and the grace shown by believers. May we all be so humble as to analyze our own lives as Christians and ask whether our actions align with our beliefs. If they do not, may we be so bold by the Spirit to restructure our lives to be truly Gospel-centered. Amen. Amen.