(Sorry, y’all, this is gonna be a long one. Watch—see what I’m doing? ….I’m draggin’ out a big ol’ soapbox. Hang on to your hats, kids.)
There comes a time in almost every woman’s life when she feels the driving need to confess. (Actually, if you ask Robert Heinlein, *every* woman has that need *all* of the time, but I think Heinlein, though an excellent and very enjoyable science fiction writer, was a macho, chauvinistic, over-sexed pig, so we won’t pay any attention to his opinion. If you want me to digress on *my* opinion of *him*, please ask. I’ll do so.)
Anyway…the need to confess. Ladies and gents, I’ve got it. And, so, I am going to confess. Brace yourselves.
I wore jeans to worship this morning.
Breathe, people. Please. You’re turning purple.
Okay, all joking aside. Why am I being so silly about this? Why the sarcasm? Well, according to communication experts, sarcasm is merely a tool used by people who are passive-aggressive in their communications with others. When they are upset or angry about something, they don’t display their anger openly and clearly. Instead, they needle the issue in a roundabout, manipulative sort of manner. Sarcasm is their way of addressing the problem without having to stand up strongly for their opinions and without having to take responsibility for their own anger.
So, I’m gonna drop the sarcasm. I’m upset. I’m angry.
I’m angry at those who would turn worship to God into a social event. I’m angry at those who use gimmicks—whether it’s in the seating, in the lighting, in the “order of worship” (and where in the world did *that* holy phrase come from, anyway?), in the technology, in the shape of the auditorium, in the clothing, in the decoration, in the song books, in the cool new Bible translation, just in the fact of constructing a building—gimmicks to enhance the worship artificially. I’m angry at those who turn worship to God into a staged event, something the audience can enjoy and admire and leave, feeling “pumped.”
This has been building up in me for a long time.
Right now, let’s put aside my anger about lighting, “order,” décor, etc. That’s all news for a future post. Perhaps, from my first outrageous remark, you have already deduced that tonight, my anger is directed at the so-called “clothing issue.”
Most Sunday mornings, I wear a skirt. Sometimes knee-length, sometimes ankle-length. I’ve given up wearing high heels because, let’s face it, in Chemnitz, it’s too cold. I get sick often enough already. So my black boots suffice. On rare occasions, when I’m feeling particularly classy, I might wear my black slacks. With the boots. A nice shirt or blouse to go with skirt or slacks, some jewelry here and there, and voilá, I’m fancy.
But what for?
Though I haven’t taken down any statistics—no head counts or anything—I would guesstimate that maybe a third of the Chemnitz church “dresses up” for Sunday morning worship. Skirts, slacks, ties, suits. Shiny shoes. What does the rest do? Take a wild guess. Yes. Jeans. Sometimes, not even “nice” ones. Ragged ones. With holes. And they’re low-rise, too.
And the thing is, nobody cares.
They’re not there for a fashion show. They’re not there to advertise their new clothes. They’re not there to look at one another and think, “Hmm…should she be wearing that? Couldn’t he have pressed those pants? What’s with the frayed pant legs?”
David danced naked. Now, I’m not advocating that we turn the church into a nudist colony. But Moses worshiped God barefoot. Philip taught a Bible study out in the desert—and you know he wasn’t wearing his Sunday best. Think dirt and hot sun and sweat. Peter was a fisherman, and though I don’t know much about the culture of Jewish fishermen in the first century, I seriously doubt he owned any item of clothing we would call “nice.” And Jesus wasn’t wearing a tie during his last supper with his apostles.
Recently, I was present for a “Bible class” in which the topic of clothing came up. I put “Bible class” in quotation marks, because that phrase would indicate that a study of the Bible was taking place. But—and I say this with no sarcasm—it wasn’t a Bible study so much as an exchange of opinions based on anything but scripture.
I won’t tell you who the people were, what city they were in, or even what country. It doesn’t matter. These kinds of attitudes are prevalent in societies throughout the world…and if you can find it in the world, you can find it in the church.
This “Bible class” carried the title “A Biblical Study on the Subject of Worship.” The study focused on Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. The leader of the study pointed out that the Samaritan woman was focusing on the physical water, whereas Jesus was trying to show her the value of spiritual water. She was concerned with the place of worship (on a mountain vs. Jerusalem’s temple), but Jesus was trying to show her that true worship of God includes the attitudes of the heart, as well. In every aspect, her focus was on the physical, while he emphasized the spiritual.
I won’t digress with a point-by-point rendition of the class. But I was following along, agreeing with what was said, taking notes, looking up scriptures, when the discussion on worship took a turn that I just couldn’t believe. Long story short (yeah, right), the individual leading the study made the statement that people who “wear jeans and T-shirts to church” are not showing proper reverence for God.
I was floored. Flummoxed. Flabbergasted. (Yes, that’s a real word. And here’s the passive-aggressiveness coming out again.) People began speaking up all over the room, voicing their shock that their fellow Christians could be so disrespectful, so irreverent, so uncaring. Now, don’t get me wrong: the issue was not modesty. No, I don’t think mini-skirts and spaghetti straps and other major skin-baring items are appropriate for worship—some clothes are designed for catching attention, and a Christian should think twice before donning such. But modesty wasn’t the issue. Appearance was the issue.
Their point was, anything other than “Sunday-morning-best” just looks bad, and God doesn’t like it.
Well, I’d had about all I could take and was getting antsy, so I raised my hand. I tried to be diplomatic, I really did. I asked Ed later, and he said I kept my cool. But at the time, I wasn’t sure how cool I kept. Anyway, I made some remark about how interesting it is that culture varies from church to church, and I explained about the various styles of dress in the Chemnitz church. I finished with, “Many Christians there wear nothing but jeans and casual shirts, and their worship is no less reverent than ours is here today.”
The leader didn’t miss a beat. Without saying it outright, he communicated to me that I was wrong and that my thoughts on the matter were not welcome. I noted that during the rest of the class, he prefaced several statements about clothing with, “Well, I know the scriptures don’t say anything about this, but…”
Since when is it acceptable for a Christian to form ANY sort of opinion that’s doesn’t have its roots in the word and will of God?
I didn’t say any more. I grumbled and fussed to myself and wrote furiously for a few minutes. I wondered what this group of Christians would say to the African woman who, wearing the single, ragged garment she owns, walks four hours just to reach the church “hut” and then breast-feeds her baby during the sermon. You think I’m kidding. I’m not.
And I wondered what they would say to the couple sitting three rows up from me: The two of them were dressed in jeans and casual shirts. Wonder what those two thought?
If the focus is so trained on clothing, then what are “nice” clothes but a gimmick to enhance the worship service artificially and turn it into a social event?
Some of you, reading this, will think that I am being judgmental of that Bible study group. Perhaps I’m a little too angry. Perhaps I’m a little too vocal about it. But in return, I would ask… If I choose to be angry (and yes, I believe anger is always a choice)—then shouldn’t false teaching be something I choose to be angry at? And if someone is teaching that God cares about skirts and slacks and button-down shirts…doesn’t that qualify as false teaching?
I remember one particular point the leader of that study made. He said (and I paraphrase), “If Jesus were sitting in a chair on the stage behind me, you would want to look your absolute best. You’d bring out the best of everything for him, and you’d want to look as good as you possibly could.”
I’m sorry, friends, but that is false teaching.
What would our reactions be if Jesus were physically present during our worship? As for me, various ideas come to mind. Most of them involve cold sweat and weak knees and crumpling into a sobbing heap on the floor. Honestly, my clothing would be the last thing on my mind.
And would Jesus ask me why I’m wearing jeans? No. He spoke to the Samaritan woman about living, spiritual water. He wasn’t interested in the appearance of her clothes; he was probing the condition of her poor, sinful heart.
She focused on the bucket and the H2O. The physical. “Clothing” would fit nicely into that category. Jesus focused on the living, spiritual water that he wanted to send flowing through her soul.
I’m not on this soapbox because I think I’m better than those Christians I disagreed with. No, I’m no better. I sin, so I’m no better. But I say these things because I choose to be angry about and speak out against false teaching. And because I’m concerned about false teaching in God’s church.
This morning, while I worshiped God with my fellow disciples, I wore jeans. I really don’t believe that God cared.
“…[W]e look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
-- II Corinthians 4: 18