Wayne's Worldview is a place to share my unique perspective of the world as formed from my interpretation of the scriptures and my experience as a Christian. As a pastor, I am asked a lot of questions about current issues, life dilemmas, personal problems, politics, biblical interpretation...etc.I offer these "How I see it" thoughts in effort to challenge people to think about their worldview, and to stimulate good conversations that will help us become more whole.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Are Tattoos and Christians Compatible?

“I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church”. C. H. Spurgeon

After making a reference to tattoos in Sunday’s sermon, I have been asked whether it is acceptable for Christians to get tattoos. A glance at many church goers would yield the answer yes, but don’t rush to your conclusion based on popular culture, even when you see it in the church. People have many reasons to get “inked” these days, and their reason alone is enough to justify the action. Tattoos can identify you with a social group (gang, military); proclaim an ideology (swastika); accentuate your sexuality; express rebellion; invoke spiritual powers; make the body a canvas for artwork to attract attention...etc. Where it was once common to see them on gang members and biker types, we now see them on the athlete; the girl at the fast food service counter; waitress or hip pastor with custom “I’m a Radical Christian” T-shirt. The once taboo practice of brandishing tattoos has now become so common that the average Christian sees nothing wrong with it, and even wears them with pride.

The scriptures never endorse the practice and specifically link the practice to paganism. God’s people are commanded not to mark or cut their bodies in Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you, says the Lord.” Verses 23 through 28 were commands to avoid pagan practices. Many say this passage does not apply today because it deals with the pagan religious rituals of the people living around the Israelites of that day. But, if God desired His people to be set apart from these practices, back then, why would God approve of it now? It’s a fact that tattooing the body is the practice of modern day pagans, and the command to be set apart from false religion remains.

Throughout history the tattoo bears the mark of paganism, demonism, Baal worship, shamanism, and mystical spirituality. The tattoo has NEVER been associated with Christianity, until this generation. The only explanation for this current change is that the church has become so conformed to the culture that we dismiss God’s word and deny the reality of spiritual powers at play in this world.

If you will not be persuaded that tattoos are distinctly pagan, from the scriptures, then you may be convinced by those who are tattoo experts. The following quotes are from books documenting the spiritual and religious origin of the tattoo:

"Tattooing is often a magical rite in the more traditional cultures, and the tattooist is respected as a priest or shaman."
(Michelle Delio, Tattoo: The Exotic Art of Skin Decoration, p. 73)
"In Fiji, Fromosa, New Zealand and in certain of the North American Indian tribes, tattooing was regard as a religious ceremony, and performed by priests or priestesses."
(Ronald Scutt, Art, Sex and Symbol, 1974, p. 64) [Ronald Scutt, in his exhaustive book, Art, Sex and Symbol covers the history and culture of tattoos. He documents that most of the time; tattoos are connected to spiritual, religious and mystical purposes.] Brackets mine.
"Many native tribes practiced therapeutic tattooing. The Ojibwa, for instance, tattooed the temples, forehead, and cheeks of those suffering from headaches and toothaches that were believed to be caused by malevolent spirits. Songs and dances that were supposed to exorcise the demons accompanied the tattooing ceremony."

[Hambly] "retailed a wealth of examples which he had culled from field work by anthropologists in many parts of the world. Tattooing was supposed to: prevent pain; protect against gunshot wounds; cur illness; confer superhuman strength; preserve youth; enhance the supernatural powers of a shaman; ensure the survival of the soul after death; identify the soul in the hereafter; attract good luck; protect against witchcraft; ensure the protection of a deity; confer occult powers; prevent drowning; exorcise demons; ensure the protection of a totemic animal or spiritual guardian; record a pilgrimage to a holy place, etc. . .
In the myths of many cultures tattooing was of divine origin. The actual tattooing process, which involved complex ritual and taboos, could only be done by priests and was associated with beliefs which secrets were known only to members of the priestly caste. Anthropologists were often misled because their informants either did not know or would not reveal the secret significance of the rituals and taboos. Hambly concluded that historically tattooing had originated in connection with ancient rites of scarification and bloodletting which were associated with religious practices intended to put the human soul in harmony with supernatural forces and ensure continuity between this life and the next."
(Gilbert, Steve, Tattoo History: A Source Book, p. 90, p. 158)
"The reasons why puncturing the skin should be regarded with some degree of awe are not far to seek, for in the first place, there is the drawing of blood, which to the savage world over is full of significance as a rejuvenating and immortalizing factor. There is in addition to the opening of numerous inlets for evil to enter. . ."
(Hambly Wilfrid D. 1925. The History of Tattooing and its Significance, p. 233 [Dr. Hambly, is a tattooist historian and researcher, who writes over and over, that tattoos are based on pagan spiritual and religious rituals.] brackets mine.
"The origins of tattooing came from ancient magical practices. . . "
(Laurie Cabot, Power of the Witch, cited in Masonic and Occult Symbols Illustrated by Dr. Cathy Burns, p. 301) [Famous witch and author] brackets mine.
Rolling Stone magazine describes famous tattoo artist Paul Booth during his tattoo as, ". . . allowing his clients' demons to help guide the needle." (Rolling Stone magazine, March 28, 2002, p. 40)
Any serious study of the origin of the tattoo will reveal a spiritual foundation of demonism, paganism, and the occult. The tattoo is much more than just a body decoration or a layer of ink cut into the skin. In fact, the tattoo in many cultures is a vehicle for the invocation of spiritual powers. If there is really no debate in this, then why would a Christian want to imitate this practice?
What about getting a tattoo of a name of your child; butterfly; cross or even a verse from the scriptures? This question is based on the assumption is that tattooing is neither good nor bad, but neutral. With this faulty assumption, tattoos seem harmless, or even good, depending on the chosen design. But, if it were a redeemable act, then why would God forbid it specifically in his word, without modifiers? It is the manifestation of our human pride that reorders what God “meant to say”, so that we can rationalize our sin. The words spoken in the garden by Lucifer himself, “surely God didn’t mean”, should strike a cord in our conscience whenever we do the opposite of what God clearly instructs. It is a mistake to think that we can take something with evil origins and use it for good.
I frequently hear Christians nonsensically proclaim that they are "marking themselves for Jesus". What does it say about ourselves when we begin instructing God on the proper use of something he has forbidden? It’s similar to the argument heard from Christians who cohabitate without marriage, like unbelievers, who believe they are not living in sin. Doesn’t it seem absurd that we could in any way fornicate in a God honoring way? Yet, we protest by arguing: “Well, God understands our sexual desires; after all, he made us this way?” Is Jesus our Lord, or are we his?
Why are tattoos displeasing to God? While the Lord has not explained the reasons, we can infer by context that they mar his created image, and assign glory to the image put on the skin, or another object of worship. Another reason is that the wearer is subjecting themselves to spiritual powers that we may be unaware of. The fact that many tattooists believe in these powers and even invoke them, while applying their craft, should make us wary. "Some tattooists in the West are experimenting with ritual tattooing. This method of working incorporates doing a ritual to create a sacred space in the area where the tattoo is positioned. Often incense is burned and the gods invited to bless the proceedings." (Michelle Delio, Tattoo: The Exotic Art of Skin Decoration, p. 75)
Our own reasoning or the argument that “others say it is good, acceptable, or a right thing to do” without regard to what God’s word says on a matter is very dangerous. After all, we are not our own judge, and we must answer to God, not others for our actions. In Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal, I read of a church in Michigan that has a tattoo parlor in the church, as an outreach! Many modern evangelistic efforts conform to the patterns of the world to attract others, but this is not consistent with how the scriptures instruct us to spread the Gospel. We are called to be a light in this darkened world. Our responsibility is to challenge and confront the world, not conform to it. If the only reason not to get a tattoo was to set ourselves apart from false religions it would be enough. Israel was commanded to be set apart, holy, for the use of the Lord. Their downfall was due to the disobedience of this command. The church has been commanded the same thing, and it is unfortunate that we so quickly follow in the same error.

1 comment:

  1. Wayne,
    I appreciated your biblical insight here. I have toyed with the idea of a tattoo for a long time and hadn't come to a satisfactory biblical answer. This provides clarity and I will probably send people here when they have questions.