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"Can I Get a Witness?"

In our postmodern culture, where just about any manner of lifestyle is permitted, the way one lives has little bearing on how society, as a whole, perceives you. If you walk into your favorite eating establishment (mine being any of the Mexican variety), having adorned yourself with piercings from head to toe, you will no doubt get stares, but you will receive few, in any, direct comments. We live in an age of “anything goes.” Sadly, this same mentality has crept into the church and has become the principle by which many Christians conduct themselves. The concept of living a life appropriate for Christian witness, in my opinion, has become the “red headed step-child” of the church today.

Recently, I was participating in an online Christian discussion board on the topic of Christian witness and Christian freedom. I was quite shocked to hear some of the responses coming from professing Christians. Statements such as, “Well, if they don’t like my tattoo, they’ll just have to get over it!” or “It doesn’t say specifically in the Bible not to get one”. Christian freedom is the hill on which they decided to die. I agree that the “don’t taste, don’t touch” mentality is flawed in of itself because outward actions do not necessarily reflect what is in the heart. And when Paul used that phrase, he was actually talking about asceticism of false teachers. Likewise, Jesus located the problem in heart when He defended His disciples against the condemnation of the Pharisees. When they criticized the disciples for eating with unwashed hands, Jesus said:

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:8-10

However, sometimes actions can and do reflect what is in a person’s heart. We must ask ourselves why we do what we do. If the only answer to that question is, “because I want to and I can”, then perhaps we need to reevaluate our motives in exercising that particular kind of “Christian freedom”. If our motivation is our own satisfaction and not God’s glory, it is something that can and should be negotiable. The fact of the matter is that some people (such as those whom Paul refers to as weak of faith), are offended by certain behaviors, clothing, and activities. So, remarks like, “If you don’t like it, you can fly a kite” not only offend such brothers and sisters in Christ, but betray a sinful tendency of self-gratification.

The Apostle Paul spoke to this issue with regard to Christians who were offended by eating meat that had been offered to idols. Listen the Apostle’s words:

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Again the Apostle reiterates that the act that eating certain foods does not constitute sin. However, if this action causes a fellow believer to stumble, then let us take the attitude of Paul and forsake forever that which would offend a brother.

I have often heard those who defend their “Christian freedoms” claim that such “freedoms” can be used as a “ministry tool.” On the discussion board I mentioned earlier, one person posted this comment: “My tattoo allows me to minister to those who have tattoos. The fact that I have one makes them more receptive to what I have to say.” Such an approach may be flawed on at least two fronts. First, unless a person went to a tattoo parlor to acquire a tattoo specifically for the purpose of reaching a particular culture, the justification appears to be is an “after the fact” defense to support a lifestyle choice. The primary motivation isn’t to win others for Christ; it’s merely a convenient excuse to justify a decision. Secondly, there is little thought given to those who might be offended by the tattoo. A tattoo that might be justified as a tool in one case, could be a stumbling block in another. Could there be a better way of identifying with those to whom one purposes to minister?

Since I have used tattooing as an illustration in this article, let me say that one can debate whether or not the prohibition against tattoos in Leviticus is limited to the cultural circumstances of that day. Nonetheless, regardless of where one comes down on that question, there are other issues to consider.

Finally, I think all Christians would agree that whether we’re ministering to a prim and proper, little old lady or to a tattooed biker dude, the way we live our lives should be the means by which our witness to others is communicated. Our Christ-like actions will speak more loudly than our appearance, the words we speak, more effective than anything we wear or consume. Let’s not “Christian witness” for “Christian freedom.”

- Jordan McGehee