This is part of a series of blog posts about silly controversies and the logical objections against certain practices. The ongoing debates about many such issues just demonstrate the utter biblical and theological illiteracy of many evangelical Christians.
Let me review the usual answers thus far, and I had already dealt with three of them in previous posts. First, someone would say, “I don’t like it. Therefore it’s wrong.” Second, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel. The problem is why someone is getting ink.” Third, “the body is the temple of God. By inking it, the owner shows disrespect towards God’s creation.” Today, we deal with the fourth objection, “someone may stumble.” Oh, gasp!
One conservative evangelical pastor was preaching one day, and afterwards, a listener told him that his tie had distracted him from his listening experience simply because of the fancy patterns. The preacher never wore that tie again in fear of stumbling someone who’s trying to listen to his sermon. This logic is alive and well.
“Someone may stumble” is the magical key that stops everyone from doing anything you don’t want him/her to do in a church setting. It’s a phrase the denote unspiritual disposition of the accused, albeit without trial of scripture or common logic. It’s a phrase that is bound to cause the ignorant to be completely paralyzed in fear, unless you aren’t ignorant. It’s the weapon of choice for the church police. Well, I hope my readers aren’t ignorant when it comes to this idea of stumbling.
In the NT, the Greek word for “stumble” is where we get our word “scandal” from, but it doesn’t have the same meaning. Although some usages seem to point towards a “positive” aspect to this word, let’s look at some cases of negative usage of that word before looking at the positive aspects. My list is brief and space doesn’t permit me to deal with each passage in exegetical details. Anyone interested in exegetical details can either read my books or other scholars’ commentaries.
The most negative usage of this word “stumbling” in the Greek language has to do with deliberately setting a trap, but there’re other less negative usages. In Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 13.41, 16.23, and 18.7, the word denotes something that causes sin or causing the messianic mission to fail (i.e., the failure to go to the cross). In Paul, the word could denote a kind of blindness to truth (Romans 9.33) possibly even caused by God (Romans 11.9). Hmmm, God caused stumbling? Wow, that’s a novel thought, no? In Paul’s ethical teachings in Romans 14.13, the word could mean that certain action would cause a fellow believer to sin in a religious and ritual manner (e.g., food laws) or falling on bad doctrines (Romans 16.17-18). In order for such a stumbling to happen, REAL (and NOT imaginary) sins and weaknesses had to exist first.
Contrary to popular Christian preaching (gosh, how I despise so much of what passes for popular preaching), stumbling can be less negative where the responsibility doesn’t fall on the one who causes stumbling but on the one who stumbles. Paul had stated in 1 Corinthians 1.23 that the gospel could be a stumbling block. The cross indeed was a stumbling block (Galatians 5.11). In Peter’s letter, Jesus himself became the stumbling block in his mission because of the offense he caused (1 Peter 2.8). I’m by no means comparing all the people with tattoos and earrings to Jesus, but it is not enough to just appeal to stumbling as a principle to stop people from doing so. The problem isn’t whether stumbling happened, but what kind of stumbling happened and whose responsibility the stumbling is.
I recall meeting with leaders of this one conference who were extremely distressed by my earring. In desperation to get me to take it off, one pastor (poor guy) uttered the above magical phrase, “Someone may stumble.” Certainly, IF my wearing an earring or someone sporting a tattoo would cause someone to sin by falling into false doctrines or sexual immorality (really? Do I even need to go there? Do women ACTUALLY lust MORE towards guys with earrings and tattoos? Some are even concerned about my bald head.), the problem shouldn’t be ink or earring. The problem ought to be solved by either psychologists or at least a heavy dose of pastoral counseling. That, in fact, was what I told the distressed pastor.
Well, in light of the above brief study, perhaps a bit of positive stumbling is what we need because I’m fairly sure no one was being prevented from going to the cross. Perhaps an indignant person (or perhaps that pastor himself) ought to do a bit of positive stumbling and then examine why such a trivial matter becomes an essential of the gospel. The church doesn’t have enough positive stumbling these days. Maybe someone’s tattoo or my earring had inadvertently become a kind of avant-garde performing art as part of our gospel preaching! If my earring or someone else’s ink causes some positive stumbling, thank God! Maybe after the hypocrites pick themselves off the floor, they can do a little thinking with their Christian minds.
As I always say, scripture is not the problem but the interpreter often is. Many interpretations are possible but not all interpretations are beneficial! As for that evangelical preacher with that fancy tie at the beginning of the sermon, I suggest that he goes tie-less next time. That would eliminate all the problems. Oh, wait! Maybe that won’t because surely someone will fault him for NOT wearing a tie and “stumbling” someone else in the process of listening. With knit-picking hypocrites in church, you simply can’t win. Church life can be a dog-eat-dog world!