I live in South Carolina. It is a part of our state constitution that after church we must go out to eat. This is especially true for pastors. A favorite food is BBQ. Recently, I fulfilled the law and was eating at such an establishment. To make the day perfect, it was a buffet and I could eat as much as I wanted.
While eating my first plateful, a man came in and sat at the table in front of me. I was too busy eating to look up, but my peripheral vision told me he was a preacher. It was Sunday, and he was in a very nice suit, with nice shoes. You normally would not wear such clothes in that restaurant.
After finishing my plate, I got up to get some more food. That is when I got my first good look at this preacher. He was about sixty years old and dressed immaculately. He was completely bald. But he was not your typical-looking preacher.
He had tattoos all over his face. If you know what Mike Tyson looks like, you have a pretty good picture. But he was worse than Tyson. His bald head was also covered with tattoos.
This guy fascinated me, and I had to get a closer look. Fortunately, the garbage cans were right behind his seat, and I had to go there to throw away my plate. As I stood behind him, I was able to look at all his tattoos, without his knowing I was doing so. There were many symbols, most of which I could not decipher. Right in the middle of his head was an eyeball that was looking straight at me. I think the message was: “I know you are looking at me, and I can see what you are doing.”
I wondered what his story was. Did he think, “What was I thinking forty years ago when I got all these tattoos?” As I said, I’m almost positive he was a pastor. Can you imagine what it must have been like for him to go to a church as a candidate? The first question would have been, “Hey, what is the deal with your face and bald head?” I can’t imagine there would be a second question.
While I could attempt to picture what that might have been like, there is one thing of which I am certain. This guy would never have been the pastor of any church I had ever attended. He wouldn’t have been an elder or deacon either. I cannot even imagine him being a Sunday school teacher. As I looked at that all-seeing eye, I tried to picture his church. I concluded it must have been a Satanic congregation, even though I am not aware of any in my hometown. I was also sure that he got those tattoos while in prison.
Clearly, I judged him strictly on outward appearances. Maybe he was a Satanist who had done years of hard time in prison for heinous crimes and had only recently been released. But, in reality, it was much more likely that he had just preached to a local Christian congregation.
Let’s assume that was the case. I would also like to put forth a hypothetical situation. I have no idea what his theology was. But what if he was theologically sound, a great teacher, and a card-carrying member of GES? How would I interact with him? How would our churches? I mentioned that I could not picture him in the pulpit of any church I had ever attended. That is unfortunate. I hope that I–and we all–would be able to avoid judging him by his outward appearance.
In the Christian world, we tend to do just that. We might reject working with somebody in ministry because they don’t look like we do. They might not dress like we do. I have seen people rejected because they didn’t have the right diploma on the wall, or because they didn’t have a diploma at all. I have personally been rejected because I am associated with GES, even by people who didn’t know what GES stood for. These people only knew that I belonged to a minority group. I was not like everybody else.
The Lord warned us about judging a book by its cover. He said that false teachers can sometimes look good (Matt 7:15). The reverse is also true. A good teacher can look strange—even threatening—to us. It is not outward things that point to sound teaching. It is the teaching itself. What does the teacher have to say? Does he or she accurately teach the Word?
If I had found out that that guy was a solid Free Grace teacher, I hope I would have asked him to speak at our church. I must admit though, I would have advised him to wear a hat when he did.