I have been observing another web log conversation that has included the triumphant boast that the attendees of one particular church still come in grunge, flip-flops, tattoos, body piercing, etc. It seems to me that anyone with any sense of societal influences would know that the grunge culture itself has identified its own clothing as a statement against the establishment, as statement of rebellion. I am just puritanical enough to hope that my church would change people enough to make them want to change their clothes if it symbolized something evil in God’s eyes. And rebellion, by the way, is evil.
If I have misrepresented the one church I am thinking of, I haven’t misrepresented others – some who read this article, in fact.
There are two extremes when it comes to clothing. There is the one extreme that is pharisaical. It assumes that spirituality is somehow guaranteed by the way one dresses. It requires a standard and it allows for judgmentalism. The other extreme is irreverence and indifference. The one is stupidly narrow. It assumes that spirituality and the way one dresses are mutually dependant. The other is just stupid. It assumes that spirituality and they way one dresses are completely isolated. It is this extreme that I shall challenge first.
Why boast that your converts still wear grunge? Why celebrate that people who have seen Jesus still come with desecrated temples? Isn’t grunge reported to be the statement of rebellion by their own apostles? It’s obvious that what we have here is just another case of what I call “evangelistic myopia” (explained in another article about to be unleashed from my ruminations, but in short it is the suggestion that evangelicals celebrate success way too soon). I think the ministry that fails to affect its hearers over time with a sense of the dignity and glory of God so much that little modifications in dress are never seen is, in fact, not a ministry to brag about. I won’t belabor my point by including the many quotes from the Puritans in support of this statement. Suffice it to say that most of my readers love the Puritans as I do, so this should mean something.
Peter – that loving, bumbling, impetuous, and refreshingly-transparent servant – in one hasty action teaches us something about clothes and Christ. Having so miserably failed his Lord, he had taken to his old career when, after a night of more failure, he and his partners all heard the familiar voice. “Therefore the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.” Peter, in all of his impetuosity, zeal, and hunger, remembered to grab his clothes. It was the LORD, after all, that he was so anxious to see.
The theme of so many churches has become more than Come Just As You Are. That’s the Gospel spirit, and I would readily admit that many evangelicals (i.e. Fundamentalists) need to apply this theme to their ministries. But “Come just as you are” is just that – an invitation to come. It doesn’t imply that after coming you won’t change. It doesn’t say “keep coming just as you are – unchanged”. Come just as you are, yes, but remember that He is Who He is. And since I can already hear my flip-flop friends reminding, I concede that the change is first and foremost internal. But, I insist with 2000 years of Church history behind me that true submission to Christ’s Lordship will have an impact on everything – including the shirt on my back!
Our problem is that we limit evangelism to attraction. Or, if we are more sincere about biblicity, we may expect changes from the conspicuously evil patterns. But evangelism is more than just attraction. And we must remember the oft-repeated axiom that what attracts them is what keeps them. I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I have already seen these kind of ministries disappoint their own converts after a time. When, after many years at the Christian party, they suddenly awaken to the fact that it is now time to grow up and their church hasn’t helped them do it, they are hurt. We have a couple in our church right now that illustrates that very principle. The church that brought them to Jesus with all of its excitement and music has left them immature and unprepared for real, socially-impacting life. By their own confession they have said they don’t want to raise their children in the same shallow ministry that God used to save them. Simply put, the church that is functioning best is the one that is not only working to save this generation, but the next generation. And that might mean telling them that the way they dress matters.
Now, I am the first to rip off my tie. God forbid that a string of cloth interfere with the blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have made my point to the clothes police in our church in blunt terms: no thanks. Thank God they have desisted. Pharisees are a hindrance to the gospel. My conservative church is radical enough to be accused of being “neo” because I don’t wear ties on Sunday nights. (I blush that our circles are that ignorant). So, I certainly can’t be called a legalistic clothes policeman. Far from it. Fundamentalist that I am, I could care less if men wear shorts and if the ladies want to wear modest pants to church. Some do.
I would warmly welcome the person in grunge attire into my church. I know our church would do the same without hesitation. But we also know that over time our humble admiration of Jesus, our Savior, will cause them to eventually feel shame to come before His presence wearing any symbol of rebellion. We are very patient. It may take a long time, but you will never hear us boast about the fact that our people are so casual about our Lord that they have never thrown off the symbols of rebellion and blushed at the desecration of their temples by tattoos and excessive piercing.
However, I weary a little bit at the puffing of churches and ministries that flaunt a casual approach to worship, as if the comfort and culture of the individual is the ultimate standard. I have a real problem with that because I am most comfortable almost naked, yet I don’t mind if even the most enlightened brethren take issue with my comfort. But I also retain the right to take issue with the brother or sister who should be eating meat and exercising the senses to discern both good and evil by now, but is still only comfortable in symbols of rebellion. Grunge, my friends, by all accounts – particularly the grunge society itself – is a statement of rebellion. How can you boast that your people haven’t changed their clothes since they got saved? Call me fuddy-duddy, narrow-minded, bigoted. I happen to work with the dregs of sin myself. I have seen prostitutes, homosexuals, and druggies come to Jesus and be totally transformed. I have wrestled down drunks that I love, hugged the homosexuals that I love, pleaded with the adulterers that I love, cried with the punks that I love, and sat up at night with the suicidal addicts that I love. I abhor the thought that any of them should for one second think that the way they dress will affect their standing with God and me. God’s love (and I hope, mine) is unconditional. But I have noticed that when they heard “It is the Lord” from someone that loves the Lord as John did, they tend to grab their clothes before they make the leap. For while they may have said to Him as Peter did on an earlier occasion, “Depart from me”, now that they have grown to love Him a little bit more things are different. They are at least semi-conscious that even though Jesus’ look penetrates into the depths of their heart, they can at least pay Him the respect of putting on appropriate clothing. He has, after all, loved them so much He sticks with them even though they fail Him over and over again. Putting it simply, clothes are not about making us look good, but making Him look good.
Some Fundamentalist emphasize clothes ad nauseum, suggesting that it is about our testimony and our reputation. Our spirituality. Other evangelicals forget that while their criticisms of our phariseeism are accurate, clothes are also about respect for others. And I would exhort my open-minded friends that it is sheer fantasy to pretend that one does not emphasize clothes where people abound with grunge attire, pierced bodies, and tattoos. There is nothing that more flagrantly screams, “I’m obsessed with externals!” then grunge, pierced bodies, and tattoos! Come on, folks! Let’s be real. A true view of Christ will admit to the necessary result of outward change. It amazes me that so many of you are self-declared lovers of the Puritans, but you have no problem whatsoever with the worldly dress of your congregations. Apparently you aren’t reading the Puritans. They happened to believe that there was a close tie between the heart and the wardrobe. Ironically, the punk/grunge/rock culture believes it too. I know the punk/grunge/rock culture. They are very aware of their clothes and it is naïveté to think otherwise. If they are really seeing the glory of Jesus, they will want to repudiate the culture their clothes endorse.
The garments that we make to cover our bodies, must be such as may express the virtues of our minds; specially the virtues of Modesty, Frugality, Shame-facedness. They should be as a book written with text letters, wherein, at the first, any man may read the graces that be in the heart. (William Perkins). Do clothes that scream rebellion and individualism express the virtue of submission to a Glorified Lord? I think not.
We may have goofed up in some areas. This is true. I am ashamed of the shameful things we have done. We have practically turned culottes into a sacrament. I think God will forgive us. But our concern about clothing is rooted in common, Biblical sense. We repent of our excesses, our pietistic phariseeism. But we are not afraid of the facts: clothes say something. And I come to Jesus not just with the speech of my lips, but with the speech of my attire.
Recently a young man with an attitude toward his fundamentalist heritage accused me of being an externalist when I suggested different alterations in his lifestyle so as to help him be delivered from the throes of his sexual perversions. I fired back at him that if he wanted to thumb his nose at me as a narrow-minded, uneducated fundamentalists because I was looking for an outward manifestation of his supposed discipleship in the realm of things and clothes, fine. But then he should also do the same to Jesus who asked the rich, young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor, THEN – and only then – was he invited to follow Him. Yikes! That sounds Fundamentalist! That sounds Puritanical! It definitely does not sound like anything we would hear from the liberated ex-Fundamentalists who tend to classify all outward changes as legalism.
It is a fact of life that the ministry that has begun to see Jesus as He is will not always be comfortable as they are. And, it borders on a weird sort of evangelical gnosticism to suggest that externals are totally unrelated to the internal. Yet that seems to have become the philosophy of many evangelical churches today.
I don’t know what Peter thought. Maybe something like this:
It’s just a fisherman’s cloak. Dirty, wet, smelly. But when I come before the Lord who loves me, Jesus of Nazareth, I would rather wear it then wear nothing. I would rather wear the symbol of my work than by my nakedness symbolize my disregard for the majesty of His Person. Hurry! Put it on! Dive! It is the LORD!