So my Abercrombie & Beeotch post has received some pushback, but mostly from folks wondering why a Christian pastor is using such off-color, edgy, even what might be called worldly language.
What’s a Christian pastor doing, using that kind of language? Am I doing with my language exactly what I urged others not to do with their clothing, hair, or jewelry? Was that really necessary? Couldn’t I have made the same point without the sharp language? Well, actually no. I don’t think I could have made the same point in quite the same way using different language — at least not with the same sort of precision and clarity. But let me explain.
First, I want to note that there are many Christians whose boots I am not worthy to polish, with whom I want no quarrel. While I believe the following defense is important and true, I believe there are many things more important that we likely agree on, and if my defense of occasional godly obscenity would cause you to stumble or be less than cheerful for a few minutes of your day, I’d really rather you spent a few more minutes reading your Bible and in prayer and fighting the good fight of faith wherever God has called you. But if you think it would be edifying to be challenged on this topic, please read on.
The fact of the matter is that it certainly is possible that a post like the one I wrote could have been written to score worldly edgy points. I don’t deny that coarse language could be used for trying to fly one’s cool and hip flag. He condemns pink hair but he doesn’t mind cussing sometimes because everything depends on what he likes, what he prefers. Sure, in the realm of possible scenarios, I grant the existence of that possibility, but that would be, as they say in Sunday School, wrong. It’s what Jesus calls hypocrisy in the Greek. Jesus makes it clear that the measure we use to measure others will be used to measure us. If we are stringent, exacting, and capricious with others, then we are asking God to judge us that way. So let me be clear that a pastor using coarse language in order to be edgy, cool, hip, or trying to elicit street cred is an abomination. It’s wicked. The only good reason for a Christian to use sharp, spicy, or obscene language is because it is required by God, because it is consistent with the standards that God requires for all of our language.
That being case, let’s review the clear standards of Scripture for our language:
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:29-34).
“Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (Js. 3:10-13).
“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth…” (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
Finally, if all that were not enough: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Mt. 12:36).
So the stakes are high, and God’s standard is high. Words are powerful, and as James says prior to the passage I’ve just quoted, the tongue is a flamethrower that can burn down whole forests. Words can be cutting, biting, violent, malicious, and cruel. But our mouth is to be filled with clean words, healthy words, life-giving words, true, gracious, and kind words that are necessary for the building up of the body of Christ.
But you cannot say all of this and then import into the Bible what you think those standards mean. You are not the standard. Modern 21st century evangelical sentiments are not the standard. Your feelings are not the standard. God’s word is the standard. So you cannot say: I cannot imagine X being used to edify or build up or encourage or strengthen the Church, therefore it cannot. It must be God’s word that populates our definitions not our imaginations or feelings or customs. In other words, prudish, proper, and polite Victorians can be just as worldly as pierced and tatted street rats. Victorian worldliness may be cultivated, sophisticated, and covered in drapes and dresses and flowery perfume, but if you get your standards from somewhere other than Scripture, you are getting your standard from somewhere other than God, and that means you are getting your standards from somewhere in this world. That’s what we call worldliness.
God’s words are pure: “The words of the LORD are pure words, Like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6). And “Your word is very pure; Therefore Your servant loves it.” (Ps. 119:140). And again: “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him” (Prov. 30:5). And of course: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
But this means that when John calls the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” this is pure. When Jesus mocks the long robes of the scribes, these are “pure words, purified seven times.” And when Paul says he wishes the Judaizers would go all the way and cut off their genitals, those are profitable words that Christians should love. When Jesus calls a gentile woman a racial slur, He is speaking a pure word. When John says that sexual dogs (i.e. sodomites) will be left outside the New Jerusalem (Rev. 23:18), he is speaking a pure word. When Jeremiah mocks Israel calling her a horny she-ass looking for an easy lay (Jer. 2:24) or when Ezekiel does the same, saying that Israel loves Egypt’s big penis and prolific semen, and the way they squeezed her nipples when she was young (Ez. 23:20-21), these obscenities are part of the word of God, which is pure, holy, edifying, and profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and for instruction in righteousness.
Was it necessary or edifying for Ezekiel or Jeremiah or Jesus or Paul to talk the way they did? The answer must be an unqualified yes. Was it worldly, edgy, trying to get street cred for them to use the language they used? No, absolutely not. Are these words found in our Bibles pure, holy, edifying, kind, gracious, and clean? Yes, they are. They are God’s words. They are purified seven times.
So this is the deal: there is one form of worldliness that wants to be edgy in clothing, jewelry, hair dye, tattoos, and language, talking like rappers and pornographers and Planned Parenthood butchers, dropping F-bombs around like verbal terrorists. And all of that is a toilet bowl with one sort of whirling vortex taking you to Hell. But there is another form of worldliness that is dressed up like a Sunday school teacher, a Boy Scout, a grandmother, a pastor — a form of worldliness that appeals to verses in the Bible but allows the world, tradition, custom, sentiment, and Hallmark movies to define what the Bible means rather than allowing the Bible to define what the Bible means. But the point is that this is just another toilet bowl one stall over. It may be covered in pink flowers and precious moments figurines but it’s still worldliness and it’s rushing you to the same septic tank. And this is why many IRS officials and Victoria Secret models will enter the kingdom ahead of many deacons and choir directors. Judas ran the disciples’ mercy ministry and he was offended because Jesus allowed an insanely valuable ointment to be “wasted” on Him instead of using it to care for the poor, and so Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. But that was because Judas had ideas about what prudence and propriety and stewardship were that he had gotten from somewhere other than Jesus. He could quote Bible verses all day long, and he was still wrong. He was still worldly.
God is perfect. God is holy. God is pure. He is not flippant. He is not frivolous. He is not capricious. He is not making it up as He goes along. He is just. He is good. There is no variation or shadow of turning with Him. So He must be our standard. We must love His Word, and His Word must be our light. His words are pure words, even if they are sometimes a little tart.
“How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!” (Ps. 119:9-11)
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).