Apologist Defends Group at Center of Tattoo, Beer ‘Church Plant’ Fundraisers Amid Growing Concerns

James White-compressedA well-known apologist and debater whose son-in-law was recently shown in a live online video obtaining a tattoo at one of the fundraisers for his congregation’s proposed church plant has let loose on those questioning the group over the matter, and is calling out media reports—including the one from this publication, which first released the report—as being “partial.”

Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries took to his webcast on Monday to speak about the issue after releasing an assertive blog post with his daughter on Saturday.

Screenshot from video
Screenshot of video

As previously reported, on June 22, Marcus Pittman, the head of Apologia Studios in Tempe, Arizona, posted a provocative live, public video of the tattoo fundraiser to social media, which he gave the questioning title “Apologia Studios Tattoo Parlor?!” (View here.) Apologia Studios is a part of Apologia Church, led by Jeff Durbin, which is seeking to plant a new church in Kauai.

In the footage, a supporter named Thad is having a Greek “Chi-Rho” symbol tattooed on his arm while in the ministry’s studio, as a tattoo artist from the congregation had offered his services to help raise funds for his part in the church planting effort.

“This is actually a fundraiser for our Apologia Kauai church plant, so people of the church are donating to have another member of the church tattoo them so they can go to Kauai and we can plant a church there,” Pittman explains. “So, it’s pretty cool.”

Weeks prior, on June 1 – 4, Pittman and Durbin, along with Les Lanphere of Reformed Pubcast, also hosted a conference called ReformCon, which included a time of “talking theology over beer” at a local pub. Attendees could participate in a beer flight, which is a sampling of various beers.

“This ticket allows you to get a beer flight from Boulders on Broadway. All the proceeds from this benefit our Kauai church plant!” the website for the event outlines. “Boulders is all about the food, craft beer, bike riding, rock climbing and adventure! With 30 draft handles and 70 plus bottles of craft beer. Bring a friend and check out our selection.”

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Bible-cross-pdPittman had outlined in detail his belief that Christians should drink in public and even take over the brewing industry for Christ in a 2014 article on the site “Gospel Spam,” of which he was a contributor. He explained that he opposes drunkenness, but disagrees with those who find drinking in itself to be a worldly activity.

“Alcohol has become so synonymous with worldliness that it is almost impossible for anyone to imagine that alcohol is a gift from the Lord to be enjoyed by Christians even when Scripture is indisputable about the topic,” he wrote. “Drinking in public does not make you ‘look like the world;’ it makes you as Christ.”

“Christians need to be in the business. We need to be the ones brewing the beer, creating the wine,” Pittman continued. “We need to be the ones owning the fine taverns and kicking out drunkards. We need to be the ones who reinvent the industry and take control from the world. It’s time that we stop the silence and cowardice on this issue. But first we need to drink in public again.”

In a statement that Durbin wrote opposing Christian News Network’s news report, he released last month’s correspondence with the network’s publisher, during which Durbin outlined, “I believe that drunkenness and addiction to drugs is a very serious sin against God and I have exercised church discipline on a member for unrepentant drunkenness.”

“Perhaps you think having a beer is ‘worldly’? Or that going to a pub to have a drink to have a drink is ‘worldly’? I respect your opinion and tradition. I strongly disagree with you and do so on the basis of the word of God,” he said.

Jeremiah Roberts, an Apologia member, recently noted in online comments that the congregation was “90% drug addicts coming out of rehab” at its inception.

Durbin also took to Facebook this week to outline that he does not seek to be “cool,” and that the only time he promotes the fruit of the vine in church is during communion.

“I confess, every Sunday might qualify us as ‘regular drinkers.’ We call it: C-O-M-M-U-N-I-O-N. I confess to pushing alcohol in this context. I confess to trying to get everyone to drink. And I do not repent,” he quipped.

But on June 4, Durbin live streamed the pub meetup/beer flight at Boulders on Broadway, which had been offered as one of the fundraisers for the church plant, and posted it online. (View here.)

“I think this is probably the largest pub meetup. What do you guys think? I think so,” he notes in the footage, being met with a reply by an attendee who hoped it would be “bigger next year.”

Live #reformcon Pub Meet-up in Phoenix!

Posted by Jeff Durbin on Saturday, June 4, 2016



Apologia’s ReformCon conference covered a host of issues, such as the importance of the sovereignty of God and Sola Scriptura, and featured a variety of discussions with invited guests.

But on point with the issue, during the Q&A session with Darren Doane and Nate Wilson, and in the context of discussing whether or not theology can be fun, Doane shared a story of how he concluded that “theology gets you drinking,” and if not, “you’re gay.”

He said that both studying wine in the Bible and considering the words of a friend shaped his conclusion.

“All of a sudden it hits me that wine burns,” he explains during the session, which is posted on YouTube. “I take grape juice, it’s sweet, it’s fun. My kids love it.”

“But when you take wine, whew, it burns. It’s fire,” Doane continued, comparing it to Scripture’s notation that “God is a consuming fire.”

He said that he continued sorting through the matter in his mind, and later, during a visit to Idaho, the words of a friend persuaded him to begin drinking.

“I know you don’t drink and all, but you’re all for it. But if you don’t drink, who’s going to teach your daughters to drink?” the friend asked.

“I got on the plane and I was like, ‘Teach my daughters to drink?’ Why would I…” Doane thought through. “So they’re going to look at me—I’m the Jesus guy in the family. I’m dad, and they’re going to look at Jesus in the Bible and it looks like ‘Jesus drank wine.'”

“And then I was like, ‘Wow, I need to start drinking,'” he said. “I need to learn how to do it, be responsible. ‘Cause I want to be a part of this theological picture God has created and designed. He said, ‘I am wine.'”

Doane said that he told his wife that he needed to start drinking, and that he now has a “way better marriage.”

“That’s what theology does. Theology makes things better. Theology gets you drinking,” he said, evoking laughter and smiles. “Theology gets you dancing. Theology gets you just celebrating things, enjoying food–that’s what theology does. And for all you married people, you know what I’m talking about. It makes it better.”

“That’s what theology does,” Doane repeated. “And if it’s not doing that, you’re gay.”

Those on the stage laughed and replied, “Mark that.”

“You’re theology’s gay if it’s not doing that,” Doane repeated as Durbin chuckled.

Wilson had also quipped during the segment when it was noted that he is a Presbyterian, “Presbyterian just means that we drink bourbon and you drink light beer.”

“Theologically speaking,” he added after drawing laughter. “It’s a metaphor.”



James White-compressed

While some saw nothing objectionable with the concept of offering tattoos as a way to raise funds for a church plant, nor making a beer flight available at a gospel conference, others remarked that they found the unconventional ideas to be inappropriate for church fundraising.

Sonny Hernandez, a military chaplain and adjunct professor of theology, provided his view on the subject of church fundraising and whether the two concepts should be accepted or allowed by the Church.

“The message of Scripture is about holiness, having a contrite heart, and being a Christ-centered model—to be like Christ as Ephesians 5:1 tells us,” he explained to Christian News Network, as outlined in the initial report. “And I just don’t think those methodologies and those practices are commensurate with the testimony of Scripture.”

But following the release of the news report, James White blasted the article as being a “hit piece” against specific people. He outlined that he knows Durbin well and noted that his son-in-law was the one obtaining the tattoo in the video.

“[T]here is a reason Thad was getting a chi-rho. I have a chi-rho. My son Joshua is getting a chi-rho. And Thad wanted to get a chi-rho as well,” White wrote in a blog post on the matter. “Originally it was a discussion we had over Christmas, that we would all get chi-rhos, since Josh is my son, and Thad is my son-in-law. In fact, I’m fairly sure I had already provided the funds for that chi-rho.”

Among other contentions, he and his daughter, Summer Pinch—who is a member of Apologia—took issue that the report did not include the other fundraisers at Apologia, such as the bake sales and dinners.

“I’ve gained weight participating (read: purchasing and consuming) in bake sales, cotton candy sales, and dinners, the financial beneficiaries of which are the Apologia Kauai church plant,” Pinch wrote. “The members of the church are coming out in droves, giving of their time, talents and energy, and all they ask is that you donate to the church plant in return.”

White also noted that the tattoo fundraiser was three weeks after ReformCon and was not advertised to the public.

“There is a conflation going on between one thing that was offered as a fundraiser at ReformCon and something that took place weeks later that was not advertised,” he asserted in his webcast on Monday. “There weren’t, like, people walking down the streets going, ‘Hey, come to our church; we’re a tattoo parlor now.’ And that was three weeks separate!”

Therefore, those that posted commentary on the matter, such as Pastor J.D. Hall of Polemics Report, were chastised as going on “partial information” and “judging from afar.”


JD Hall-compressed

But in his post on Monday, Hall stated that he found White’s contentions to be deflective of the focus of the article, which was whether these two specific types of fundraisers should be acceptable for church plants and if they should be considered being “of the world” or not—a biblical prohibition—as Hernandez opined. White did not mention Hernandez in his post or webcast, nor did he address Hernandez’ remarks.

“As polemicists, deflections avoiding substantive discussion typically come from either (1) misdirecting accolades of the good qualities of the person or institution questioned or (2) firing accusatory bullets toward the messenger,” he wrote.

Hall said that White’s response could have included thoughtful discussion on answers to questions such as “What happens when Christian liberty issues (alcohol consumption, for example) conflict with Christian maturity? Are there limits to Christian liberty? Should we associate our private or personal Christian liberties with functions of the church, given the complications that necessarily arise?”

“Boy, that would have been a helpful discussion I think we all would be eager to hear,” Hall stated. “But we didn’t get that.”

Hernandez also expressed concern about the response, stating that the issues were important for the Body of Christ to discuss.

“It is imperative that Christian liberty should always be exercised with a true affinity for God alone as Lord of our conscience,” he said in a statement to Christian News Network. “The fruition of Christian liberty is humility, discernment, reverence, sober-mindedness, and a vehement love for others that will not allow them to stumble because of our practices, and nothing that will bring reproach upon the bride of Christ.”

“Young men and women need mature examples that will teach them biblical maturity, reverence and purity that will guide them to perfecting holiness in fear of God, and not leaders that deflect the underlying issues of Christian liberty by categorically decrying everyone who disagrees with them as being judgmental, slanderers, liars, bigots, and Pharisees,” he said.

Pastor Justin Pierce of Grace Life Church Tri-Cities in Blountville, Tennessee likewise wrote on the subject as he talked about what he called the “golden calf” of Christian liberty.

“[L]iberty is to be set aside to responsibility,” he wrote. “That is where we desire to stand, as Reformed brothers and sisters who desire to display modesty before the world, and would ask James White, Jeff Durbin and Apologia to respect that stand enough to agree that broadcasting their freedom across the airwaves causes many of their beloved brothers and sisters in Christ to be uncomfortable and offended.”

“[W]e would like to see biblical liberty in modesty and modesty in self-control and self-control in unity, to the glory of God,” Pierce said.

Jeff Durbin, along with Luke Pierson, the discipleship pastor at Apologia, told Christian News Network that leadership is unable to respond to the matter until later this month due to their full schedule.

Among the variety of news reports presented, Christian News Network has covered a number of unconventional activities in congregations worldwide, such as the Colorado Bible study group that smokes marijuana over the Scriptures, the female pastor who hands out cigarettes and condoms on the street, and the U.K. assembly whose signs quote from secular rapper Kanye West, Winnie the Pooh, Winston Churchill, Gandhi and Spongebob Squarepants because the Bible “puts people off.”

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