A few weeks back I published a post entitled “As Gay as Pre-Ripped Jeans,” and there was a bit of a discussion in the comments that I wanted to follow up on.
One commenter asked what the big deal was. Sure, if someone is *trying* to be rebellious, that would be sinful, but what about someone who just thinks pre-ripped jeans look cool? What if it’s just for fun? If they’re just having innocent fun — what’s wrong with that? And we could apply this to any number of cultural phenomenon: piercings, tattoos, kale salad, witch doctor baby teething necklaces, pink hair, ironic mustaches, or clear aviator gay glasses.
There are two important principles that Christians need to keep in mind. First, the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof which means that there is nothing unclean in itself. Even though the pagans around us use this world to worship themselves, some of the offerings they make to their false gods are very fine cuts of steak that God made and Christians may enjoy that goodness with thankful hearts to the Lord. “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4). But this does not make fornication OK. “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13). So just because sex with a prostitute was offered to a false god, a Christian could not then say, ‘well I don’t believe in that false god so sex with the priestess is just fine’. No, just because you know it’s a false god doesn’t mean you can transfer it directly across to Christian obedience. Turns out sexual intimacy is a gift of God in the context of Christian marriage (1 Cor. 7:2). So the first principle is that everything God created is good in its rightful place and time. But there’s lots of stuff pagans come up with that just needs to get chucked. Who cares if the altar to Baal was really good craftsmanship? Burn it, baby.
And this leads to the second principle already implied in the first is that what idolators do with creation must be scrutinized with enormous skepticism. Some things are fairly straightforward: they eat steak to honor their god. God made the cows; steak is good. Give thanks and enjoy. But even there, God says to be careful about the signals you’re sending, the direction you’re leading in. What are you encouraging? If you’re sitting in Apollo’s Steak Shop, there’s a high degree of likelihood that someone might walk by and get the completely wrong idea. At the same time, Christians need to give one another space on doubtful matters: “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth” (Rom. 14:3). But this is where lots of folly gets smuggled into the church. Fornication is not a doubtful matter. Sodomy is not a doubtful matter. Abortion is not a doubtful matter.
But Christians are like Charlie Brown and Lucy and the football. And the world keeps promising over and over again not to pull the football away, to allow us to keep our moral convictions intact, if we will just play along with their latest offering of fun in a can. Now, of course there is a spectrum running from the clear prohibition of fornication on the one end and eating a steak that was offered to Poseidon on the other end. But Christians would be idiots not to see the fact that decade after decade we find ourselves with Christian leaders and pastors buckling on the most obvious distinctions. What everybody insists is so very absolutely, crystal clear one year suddenly gets fuzzy, complicated, difficult, and mysterious the next year. And my point is that it starts by not being thoughtful, skeptical, and critical in our thinking way over on the other side of the spectrum. Why do I care about Christians buying the latest fun in a can? Because every time we do this, give it 5-10 years (or less), and that crowd will be discussing in very concerned tones the great difficulty it is to decide whether homosexuality is really a sin or not. The point is not a genetic one — that result is not necessitated by the earlier thoughtlessness, but it is a very clear pattern.
One more thought to add to the mix. Christians should care a whole lot more about trajectories than snap shots. And this point really should serve as an admonition in both directions, to those who are a bit more libertine and to those who are a bit more conservative. The conservative snap shot judgment sees the kid with his shirt tucked in and hair combed and assumes all is well or the kid in ratty jeans and a lip ring as clearly in trouble. On the flip side, the libertine says that you can’t really know or it doesn’t really matter what somebody’s style choices are. And there’s a sense in which the libertine is right, and there’s a sense in which it can be entirely naive. What if that kid in the ratty jeans and lip ring grew up in a conservative pastor’s house wearing dockers and sweater vests? There’s nothing unclean about the jeans in themselves, but what happened? 99 times out of 100: rebellion and bitterness is what happened. And 1 time out of 100 (or less) the kid ended up in an inner city mission with a bunch of street people and decided that dockers and sweater vests were a stumbling block to the gospel. But the question of trajectory has everything to do with dominion. Dominion means rule and authority. Whatever it is that you are wearing, adorning yourself with, are you setting the tone for your friends? Are you taking dominion of the world around you or are you being dominated? Are you practicing rule or are you practicing retreat?
Christians need to be setting the trends. Christians should be the ones grabbing the steering wheel. This is our Father’s world. He made it. Jesus bought it with His blood. We should not be getting our fashion tips from sodomites and pornographers and abortion-promoters. Why do we want to wear their uniforms? Why do we think that they know what looks good? Of course the heart is the most important thing in all of this, but we are Christians and this means that we are always revealing our hearts, adorning our hearts, expressing our hearts, training our hearts. This isn’t an argument for being duddy or frumpy or a nerd. The whole point is that the world has been selling the Church fun in a can for decades, and we really need to stop buying it. We keep saying that this time we’re going to make a difference for the Lord and every decade we find ourselves having retreated even further. Sure, I don’t really care that much what you wear or do with your hair today. But I do care about what you’re practicing for today. Are you practicing to defy the gods? Are you practicing to push over altars? Or are you practicing to capitulate and compromise and sellout like the church has for the last century?
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Paul Ewart says
Thank you Pastor Toby. Please keep exposing culture creep for what it is, and for making advances on ‘that hideous strength’.