I still remember how scandalized I was back in the mid ’90’s when reports began to circulate that D.C. Talk kept beer in a fridge backstage during concerts.
Could it be, I thought to myself, that my favourite Christian band are only Christian on the surface?
I was young in my faith, passionate and on fire for Christ. But passion mixed with naivety is the quick road to fear and judgementalism.
Recently while I was sipping a shot of Rum in my office I realized I am quite the scandal to my past self. Though today my faith and security in Christ and my love for Jesus and understanding of his Word are all deeper than ever, my past self would question whether my current self is even saved.
Here are three ways I’m a scandal to my past self.
1. Rum in my office.
The exhortation by the Apostle to “drink, but don’t get drunk” has come to mean, “don’t drink, so you don’t get drunk.” But it’s a fact that early Christians drank alcohol quite a bit. Actually, at least once a week during their “love feasts.” So alcohol, while offending the holy-duty of my past self, was perfectly acceptable to the Apostle and apparently to Jesus too. Still, we know that the scriptures are unapologetic when they testify that “a drunkard” will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Cor. 6:10; neither will a liar, btw. Have you lied since you’ve become a Christian? Rev. 21:8). But what does that mean? Is it referring to someone who gets a buzz now and again (is a buzz a sin) or is it referring to someone who is addicted to alcohol (a “drunkard”)?
Or how about this: what about empowering and enabling drunkards? Because people got drunk at weddings two thousand years ago just as they do today. And guess what Jesus did while attending one of these weddings after everybody was already hammered and crying out for more wine? He topped them up. That’s right. Jesus saw no ethical dilemma in providing drunk party animals with more alcohol. In fact, the alcohol he provided was better than the first round (John 2:10).
Now my past self wouldn’t entertain those questions or facts. To do so, I would hastily reason, was to try to water down the gospel and entertain sin. But there is nothing “watery” about handling the scriptures with great care to make sure we don’t add our own molasses to the mix. That’s what I used to do. I was so concerned that people were out to water down the gospel that I’d go about adding my own stuff, as if I wrote the Book. Water dilutes the gospel. But my legalism, my molasses, poised it. A better approach is to take great care in the gospel to make sure we are getting it right.
2. Tattoo on my arm.
Slaves, both past and present, were typically branded as cattle are. They were given “tattoos” to mark ownership. By the time Moses had arrived on the scene the Israelites, every one of them, would have been branded or given tattoos showing that they belonged to Egypt and Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods. That is the context in which Leviticus states: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoos on yourself. I am the Lord.” (Lev. 19:28). But the verse before says “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard” and the one before that says, “Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it…” Now I’ve always been partial to medium rare meat, trimmed facial hair and a clean-cut head. But for some reason it was that one little verse about tattoos that I would pluck out of its context while ignoring the other bits.
I would then turn to 1 Corinthians 6:19 which reads, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” and, applying my superb eisegetical skills, I would reason that we should not “graffiti God’s temple” by getting a tattoo. Never mind that the context of that verse is about sexual immorality!
By plucking 1 Corinthians 6:19 and Leviticus 19:28 out of their context I was acting like I wrote the Book, not God. I was turning those verses into something I wanted them to say, without paying due attention to what they were actually saying. The tribal-cross shaped tattoo on my right forearm today would certainly scandalize my former self.
3. Secular music on my radio
The Bible says a lot about music. In fact, the central and largest “book” of the Bible is the Churches hymnbook. The Psalms. And it seems that whenever music is mentioned in the scriptures it is always in the context of religion. This, and the fact that we should think of heavenly things all the time, were enough to say that music that did not serve to worship God was, by default, designed to serve the devil’s purpose. But as I matured a glaring hypocrisy began to nag at me: I watched secular movies and TV shows which played secular music; I listened to secular music at my secular workplace (should I have quit my job?); not all Christian music is written to praise God (it seemed to be enough just to have a Christian singing, even if they were singing a secular song); and songs from the past (oldies or country for example) would for some reason get a pass. And that’s just scratching the surface. Never mind that music in Christian churches is one of our most divisive features.
I should point out that religious music was the only type of music which existed in Bible times. Music only served religious and spiritual purposes in the ancient world, whether chanting to summon the dead or playing the harp to calm the spirits or singing a victory march in honour of God.
Today I believe that music is art. With discretion in what we listen to I no longer draw a thick black line between “Christian” and “secular” music. In our zeal for holiness Christians have developed a serious under-appreciation for the arts, which is sad because God is the greatest artist. Media of all types, visual, audio, tactile, can be worshipful in and of themselves. The very experience can draw you to appreciate and worship the Lord, creator. I also believe in redeeming a fallen world. As Joseph said while talking to his brothers, “what you meant for evil, God turned to good.” Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, but Christians redeemed it. The Matrix movie has much to be said about it. But if we are going to draw a thick black line between secular and holy, you have to ask yourself where do you draw that line, and if you’re honest with yourself you’ll probably discover, as I did, that you are an inconsistent hypocrite – unless you were to move to the mountains and unplug from the world. But that is far from the mission of the church. For more on this subject see Gray Matters by Brett McCracken.
Special Note to my Past Self
Dear Derek, 1995;
Thank you for your sincere passion and zeal for holiness. Thank you for your strong desire to please God with your life and your beliefs. For if it weren’t for the many decisions you made I’m not sure I’d be faithfully worshipping God today. You had much to learn and were a little overzealous and under educated. You made mistakes. But you survived.
Most of all, thank you for being curious. Thank you for asking questions. Thank you for losing contentment with pat answers. Thank you for having an open spirit. Thank you for eschewing legalism and embracing reason. It was a very scary journey and you made a few big mistakes from time to time. But I think we can all agree that it was worth it. Because today you have a far greater understanding of God’s word, and you continue to make an exerted effort to not turn God’s word into your word, as if you wrote the Book. In other words, you surrender your naive assumptions to Christ and sought to understand his message more than to preach your own.
You’re still on this journey. You’re still making mistakes. But thank for taking those early steps.
~ Derek, 2014.
[The irony of the self-serving nature of that letter has not escaped me.]