Now on the one hand this might seem like a silly question. Are ladies who wear jeans Christians? Are ladies who drive Subarus Christians?
And as it happens, we have a number of godly, Christian women in our community with a nose piercing. So the question is not an irrelevant one.
So what should a conscientious mother or father say to such a question?
First, it is manifestly obvious that there is nothing sinful in itself with a Christian woman having a ring in her nose. Abraham’s servant brought just such a gift for Rebekah (Gen. 24:22). And God Himself says that He put a jewel in the nose of Israel when He married her at Sinai (Ez. 16:12). Clearly, a nose piercing can be a most lovely thing, a sign of Christian love and affection, particularly for a married woman. In the context of these particular passages, like earrings, a nose piercing seems to symbolize the beauty of a Christian woman submitting to her husband. And three cheers for lovely Christian women.
Second, like most good things, the world likes to take them and twist them and turn them into signs of their rebellion and hatred toward God. And this has clearly happened in the case of nose piercings. In other cultures (like India and Nepal), nose piercing has remained relatively normal, though apparently somewhat through the influence of certain Hindu beliefs. But in the modern West, it is universally recognized that the resurgence of nose piercing has come about in conjunction with widespread rebellion. Which in itself is fairly ironic since in the biblical texts, as we noted, piercing is frequently associated with the beauty of Christian submission. So the question becomes how do Christians both cling to the Word of God as their standard for aesthetics and refuse to take part in the rebellion of the culture around them?
Paul seems to have something fairly similar going on in his day with meat offered to idols. He knows that idols are nothing, and that meat offered to Zeus isn’t unclean when Christians receive it with thankful hearts to the true God of heaven. But Paul says that he’d rather be a vegetarian than offend anyone for the sake of a wonderful, slab of meaty goodness.
And I think this parallel actually works quite well. Paul is up against Judaizers who are busy insisting that faith in Jesus is not sufficient for salvation, that believing Gentiles must also keep the holiness code of the Old Testament and on the other hand there are the freshly converted pagans who just minutes ago were sleeping with temple prostitutes and eating medium rare steaks as acts of worship to Athena. On the one hand Paul might be tempted to give the Judaizers the finger and tell everyone to order up the steaks. And he has some pretty harsh words for Judaizers elsewhere. You can’t really accuse Paul of being a softy on them. On the other hand, Paul knew that the freshly converted pagans were the young believers, the ones with weak consciences. So he says it’s worth being very careful. Which means that Paul ran the risk of looking or sounding like a Judaizer for encouraging people not to eat meat not because it was unclean but for the sake of weak consciences. And Paul’s conclusion is, “… if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love…” (Rom. 14:15).
When it comes to certain cultural practices that are not required by God’s word, we should be glad to defer to love. Our calling is to love one another and to defer to one another. We are called to look for ways to be a blessing and an encouragement in the faith to one another. We are conspiring to bless. Which means having a keen awareness of the sorts of things that are sure to bless, sure to encourage faith and joy and good works, and being aware of those things that might be a blessing to some but not to others (though they may be perfectly moral in themselves).
If I bring home dessert to my wife and it is not loaded with dark chocolate, I am a failure as a husband. Anyone who knows my wife knows that God has designed her to be sanctified through dark chocolate. This is a deep mystery, but I am speaking of Christ and the Church. And actually I am. Christ comes looking to save, looking to heal, looking to set free, looking to redeem many captives from slavery. His aim was not: ‘How much can I get away with and still be the Son of God?’ His aim was Life, abundant life, high octane liberty which was found ultimately in laying His life down, giving up His rights, becoming a servant to all and for all.
But we live in a world that is not interested in this kind of wisdom. We live in a world full of people in high rebellion to our Lord Jesus. And that rebellion is expressed in countless ways, and if that were not already complicated enough, we have the responsibility of training up our children to recognize the difference between darkness and light, the difference between godly freedom and satanic slavery. And part of that training includes recognizing uniforms and costumes. Of course we cannot see the heart, and of course mature, godly wisdom does not function on superficial, legalistic dress codes. And a faithful, evangelistic Church is going to be full of people who look like they have been saved from the world. Because as it turns out that’s what Jesus is doing.
But when my son looks out the window as we drive by the local high school and casually points out a group of hoodlums to his friend in the backseat and says, “those kids don’t love Jesus,” I do not freak out thinking that my son has suddenly become a legalistic fundamentalist. I smile and thank God that he is beginning to recognize differences in the world. He’s beginning to recognize the uniforms. Of course biblical wisdom can’t stop there, and recognizing the uniforms must be married to a robust, evangelistic love for the lost, but our children need to be taught that rebellion *looks* a certain way. And frequently for the last several decades, nose piercings have been part of the getup.
And this isn’t meant as any kind of backhanded insult to anyone. I have friends who are lovely, Christian women who have nose piercings. And personally, I do not find their piercings offensive in the slightest. But here would be the one cautionary question: Are there any in the broader Christian community who might be offended by your freedom? What do your mothers and your grandmothers think? What do they *really* think? And if they told you it wasn’t their favorite, would that offend you? If another Christian woman asked whether it was really a good idea, would there be a gracious, quiet spirit replying or would there be a defensive attitude?
If you and your husband grew up in homes where nose piercing was just part of the normal, godly, feminine routine, then God bless you and I pray that your daughters grow up to be just like you. If your parents and grandparents and the wives of your elders and pastors all think it’s just the greatest thing in the world, then that’s wonderful and I’m not worried about a thing.
But the little girl who asked her mother whether ladies with nose rings are Christians or not was a real girl and she was asking a pretty reasonable question. And a wise mother or father needs of course to tell her that there are godly women who have nose piercings. And at the same time, some of those parents may want to also explain why their family doesn’t. And it wouldn’t be because it’s a sin to put a jewel in your nose. Of course not. But the answer would be something like, ‘But sweetie, we don’t have time for that. There are so many other wonderful things that the Lord has given us to bless one another with.’ It’s like trying to make it to the big city for a concert or a professional sporting event in time and someone suggesting you take “the back way” or a “short cut.” Of course if everyone agrees the “short cut” is really the way to go, then by all means, take the short cut. But if you’re really in a hurry and you decide to take the “road less traveled,” you must also recognize that you run the risk of showing up late. When you’ve got places to go, there’s no time to worry about giving offense accidentally. There’s already enough opportunity for that. And we’ve got plenty of work to do as the Church: people to love, people to serve, blessing to bestow, and life to live.
And of course perhaps postmillenially speaking, all the faithful, godly women will wear nose rings in a few hundred years. And if that’s the case, praise God for that. But the way we will get there is not by pushing the limits and then telling the older women who object to cool their jets and chill out. The way we will get to a Christian civilization full of godly, nose-jeweled women (if that is indeed where we are headed) is through glad deference and joyful submission.
In other words, fighting for the symbol must begin by embodying the symbol. If we want to reclaim this particular symbol, if we want to take it back from the world, it will only happen as we take back what the nose ring actually means. And as we do that as communities and more broadly as the Church, God will bestow His beauty upon His people, and we can be sure that Christian women throughout the world will be like the daughters of Job.
And just to anticipate at least one specific question: what am I suggesting Christian women do who already have a nose piercing? I’m encouraging them to embody the symbol. Do whatever it takes to embody that lovely, Christian submission which the Scriptures call you to, remembering the “incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 3:4). All jewelry, all adornment ought to always be merely a compliment to what is already there in the heart. For some Christian women, this may mean that they recognize some element of an unsubmissive spirit revealed in their adornment, and they ought to talk to their husbands and may need to rethink some things. If it was all love, all grace, all blessing to get the piercing, I have no concerns. But if there was any hint of ‘I’m getting this piercing because I can and you can’t tell me otherwise…’ then your spirit doesn’t match the symbol and the symbol may be communicating some of that spirit.
But the exhortation goes the other way as well. As Paul says in Romans, let every man be convinced in his own mind: if your wife has a nose piercing then do it to the Lord and if she does not, do that unto the Lord. But we do not live to ourselves, we live unto the Lord (Rom. 14:5-6). Walk in faith, love one another, and do everything you can to provoke one another to love and good works.