The World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC)
We knew this was coming. Rev. Gise Van Baren reported on the proposed merger of the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) in the March 15, 2006 edition of the Standard Bearer. On June 18 the merger was ratified. For the Grand Rapids Press Paul R. Kopenkoskey reports:
An estimated 400 delegates approved Friday at Calvin College a constitution that merges the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council into the World Communion of Reformed Churches.
The new union represents 80 million Christians from 108 countries, in nearly 230 denominations worldwide.
In 2006 Rev. VanBaren shrewdly assessed the proposed alliance between these huge “Reformed” alliances. “It becomes clear from the documents available,” he wrote, “that the drive to unite WARC and REC is in order to promote social improvements and activities. Doctrine and Scripture seem to be rather irrelevant.” There are many indications that the newly established WCRC is indeed concerned about social rather than doctrinal issues. Before the merger was ratified, a change was made to the constitution stipulating that “when a church sends four or more delegates [to General Council meetings] half shall be women.” This change was made by members of WARC who were concerned “that the organization’s longstanding commitments to racial and women’s justice go forward” (quoted from www.reformedchurches.org/ wcrcborn.html, June 22, 2010). Social issues were also the main focus of WCRC’s agenda after the merger was completed. “Issues that remained to be tackled,” according to Kopenkoskey’s article, “include women’s rights, economic oppression and environmental degradation. Special attention will be devoted to the Accra Confession that rejects ‘profits before people.'”
Nowhere does one read that the new Council has the goal of promoting the spread and defense of the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ alone as set forth in the historic Reformed confessions. The WCRC does not have the stated goal of promoting the historic Reformed faith because it is an enemy of the Reformed faith. Previous to the establishment of the WCRC, WARC openly and vigorously sought unity with the Roman Catholic Church (WARC has completed three phases of discussions with the Roman Catholic Church). Though the WCRC has not yet stated its intentions with regard to establishing ecumenical ties with the Roman Catholic Church, a question comes to mind: “Can a leopard change its spots?”
Tattoos are all the rage. Watch a basketball game on TV and you will see tattoos on arms, legs, necks, and maybe even faces. Go to the mall and you will see bodies of males and females of many ages stamped with permanent ink (often accented with various body piercings). Like it or not, this worldly fad affects the lives of Christian families. Under the influence of the world, perhaps seeing tattoos on their favorite basketball player, some young people may desire to get inked. Parents of these young people may be faced with the question, “Can I get a tattoo?” After the parents have wisely said “absolutely not!” they may be faced with the more difficult question, “Why not?” Charles Colson, worthy of sharp criticism for many of his doctrinal positions, offered a helpful commentary on tattoos on his radio program, Breakpoint, on May 26. What follows is the full text of his comments entitledWould Jesus Get a Tattoo? (found at www.breakpoint. org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/14534 on June 22, 2010).
In Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick, a character named Ishmael is forced to share lodgings with an unknown man. When he wakens in the night, he is terrified at the sight of his roommate—a savage, covered head to toe in tattoos.
As S.M. Hutchens writes in Touchstone magazine, readers in Melville’s day did not have to be told that this man was a pagan; his tattoos made it obvious. Readers understood that tattooing one’s body was not a Christian practice.
Especially was this true among Calvinist-leaning Christians of New England, who stressed the continuing applicability of Old Testament law, which, in Leviticus, forbade tattooing marks upon one’s body.
But today, 160 years later, even some conservative Christian authorities don’t think the ban on tattoos applies. This law, they declare, has been superseded by the coming of Christ. They consider tattoos an area of Christian freedom. Well, maybe they’re right—I’m not a legalist.
But as tattoos proliferate in the Christian church, we ought to begin to think a little more seriously about them.
First, let’s remember that God forbade the Israelites from tattooing their bodies because this was a practice among the pagans. God wanted His people to be set apart, and not mimic the customs and behaviors of the gentiles. And the New Testament tells us to treat our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. They are not raw material on which we simply carve graffiti.
Second, tattoos today point to the principal things in which people locate their identity—membership in the Navy, for example, or maybe a gang or a tribe. Even young women who mark their bodies with flowers or butterflies are aspiring to a certain identity. Hutchens writes, “These things, however, are in fact not principal things and through which we are not meant to mark our identity.”
Christians need to ask themselves as well an important question—that is, what are (or should be) the marks of a Christian?
According to the New Testament, the marks of believers are faithfulness, patience, kindness, fortitude, and love. Hutchens writes these marks alter, not the skin, but the countenance of believers—so much so, he says, “that the faces of the saints can be distinguished by those who look upon them.”
In other words, the marks of the Christian ought to be spiritual—etched into our souls—not etched onto our bodies.
Some believers argue that there’s nothing wrong with a Christian-themed tattoo, like the cross. And Christians who get them do so out of love of Christ. But believers ought to ask themselves which sort of mark God would prefer. Tattoos last a lifetime—unless they are painfully removed. But the spiritual marks of a Christian last through all eternity.
In the end, Hutchens writes, many Christians reject tattoos, not because the Old Testament prohibits them. Instead, an “understanding of the higher and the lower, the superior and the inferior…[keeps] Christians from emulating what remains for that reason a pagan practice.”
And this is what we are going to remind our friends and our kids if they’re thinking about getting a tattoo or, even worse, a body piercing—God would prefer us to carry the true and visible marks of a Christian: faith, hope, and love.
Young people may latch on to the fact that getting a tattoo is not a clear violation of God’s law such as fornication or stealing. Nevertheless, Colson’s arguments are weighty, and they are sufficient to convince those who are spiritually minded to refrain from getting a tattoo. In light of Colson’s comments, parents can say to their children, “There is a vast difference between saying God does not forbid tattoos and God has a favorable attitude towards tattoos.” Perhaps parents can make a comparison and ask, “Does God forbid playing video games every night? Of course not. Do you think it would please God if your father played video games every night?” The point is that there are some things Christians do not do, even if God has not explicitly forbidden them.
The point made by Colson (and Hutchens) that getting a tattoo is a pagan practice is also an important argument for Christians to consider. Throughout history the church has sought to distinguish herself from the world. The emphasis, of course, falls upon sinful practices. The members of the church are not perfect. They do fall into sin. However, faithful Christians seek to avoid the sins found in the world around about them. In order to give a clear Christian witness, members of the church have also often refrained from practices that are considered “of the world,” though they are not sinful in the sense that they are worthy of church discipline. Getting a tattoo, as Colson contends, has historically been viewed by Christians as an “of the world” practice. So parents can tell their children, “No, you will not get a tattoo, because that is what heathens do, not Christians.”
Colson’s argument can be bolstered at this point by referring to the communion of the saints. The communion of the saints is one of the great blessings of salvation God has graciously given to the members of the church through Jesus Christ. Christians, including young people, ought to think about the communion of the saints in everything they do. Practically this means that Christians ought to be motivated to do whatever they can to strengthen the bond that exists between believers and to refrain from doing anything that may weaken this bond. Christians should ask, “How will this action affect my relationship to the church?” If a particular action will drive people in the church away, then one should refrain from that action. Applied to the issue of tattoos, Reformed Christians, especially Protestant Reformed Christians, know that getting a tattoo is going to bother other members of the church greatly. Getting a tattoo won’t make the communion of the saints impossible, but it certainly has enough potential to do damage to make spiritually-minded people say, “I am definitely not going to get one.'”
Finally, Colson’s emphasis on spiritual virtues provides a helpful way to respond to all of the world’s fads. Today, for the world, it is tattoos, and tomorrow it will be something else. Let the members of the church continually focus on “faithfulness, patience, kindness, fortitude, and love.”
Hopefully these considerations will convince members of the church not to get tattoos. If parents find their children are not quite convinced, they could throw in another question for good measure. “How is that going to look when you are sixty?”