Friday, 4 August 2006

New Clothes

I am sure some of you will be interested/enraged/in agreement with the aspects of a discussion going on on a blog in the US (see here). While the discussion has got sidetracked about whether or not you are allowed to wear jeans to church, the original commentator is asking the question about whether the idea of "relaxed fit" has actually gone beyond the relatively minor isssue (to me) of how dressed up you should get to go to church.
Have churches (or some of them) developed an understanding that God fits us, rather than we fit God. It is an intriguing question. This is I think a much deeper question than wearing jeans to church.
Personally I think God begins where we are and will challenge absolutely everything that we will put in God's place in our lives.
Certainly those of us who only want God to address those areas of our life that we find convenient will be confronted by that closedness to God's all-embracing vision for each one of us.
But equally well those of us who are "dressed appropriately" will be challenged about the narrowness of what we define as 'orthodoxy'.
It is easy to see this when we focus on clothes, because we seee the absurdity of what ever lines we draw.
There is little doubt, for example, that my clothes would be deemed acceptable. I tend not to wear jeans, and dress pretty conservatively. But the trousers that I am wearing now cost $29 from an outlet shop at Harbour Town . Anyone who has bought designer jeans will know that you can't by $29 designer jeans!!
So how do you decide what is acceptable dress. Clearly (in some commentators' minds at least) it is style...not quality (as evidenced by cost) that is the deciding factor. And who are the arbiters of style...and why?
It is not too hard to realise that many of the statements about "watering down"...I am not here talking about clothing but more important issues like what and how people are to believe....might also be more questions of style and opinion than genuine orthodoxy.
The dilemma? This is of course is also a pretty doctrinaire sort of stance.
Personally carlinville church seems more to my liking than slice of laodicea


Noel Heikkinen said...

Well said.

Coryell said...

Well we wouldn't want to encourage the unchurched average American to come, just the Ned Flanders, dressed in khakis. After all church is a holy place, not for sinners.

(tongue in cheek)

stephen clark said...

Well that's right Coryell. My impression is that if anyone wearing jeans entered our congregation we would cheer because they would likely bring down the age profile.
Seriously, I have been humbled and gratified to see in actual cases in the last decade that congregations I have pastored have been welcoming to anyone. Piercings, tattoos, race, mental state.....most genuine Christians seem to understand what Jesus meant when he said "it's what's on the inside that counts"!

trevor said...

Church Discipline is a subject which fills me, a relative church newbie, with some trepidation. It's a topic around which some bad stories about the church have developed; for example, being asked to leave a congregation because someone wore jeans, or because a woman wore slacks instead of a skirt, or because someone was seen in a pub, or someone being publically admonished in church for some transgression (the saddest that I heard of was a pregnant teenager who was brought to the front of the church one Sunday morning and admonished for having brought shame upon her family and the congregation because of her immorality).

About the 3rd or 4th time that I ever went to my local church (as a newbie in my 30s in the early 1990s), one elderly saint stopped me after worship to speak to me on a matter of some importance. He had noticed that I was attending church wearing jeans and without a tie. He thought I should know that it had been the custom at that church for men to wear suits or jackets, and of course a tie, and although he realised that times were changing, he thought that I should reconsider my mode of dress if I wanted to attend that church, because "we want to present a good image to the outside world, don't we".

I came to church the next Sunday in jeans and without a tie, and caught sight of him with an disappointed expression on his face. Nothing more was said by him or anyone else at that congregation, but I always felt regret at being the cause if his disappointment, and wondered if I shouldn't have handled it better (or gone to another congregation).

stephen clark said...

It just seems ludicrous doesn't it.

trevor said...

I guess on the face of it, it does seem ludicrous.

Immediately after my "dress code" encounter with the elderly saint, I was both bewildered and confused. Was this what I was expected to do if I wanted to follow Jesus? At that stage, the whole Jesus-church business was very new to me.

Later I became angry. How could they worry about such little things when the great message from Jesus was supposed to be the main game?

Much later, I began to realise that the elderly saint was only doing what he believed his model of "church" required. His comments about a dress code were part of his church paradigm. For his generation, that was part of being church - you dressed in your best on Sunday morning because you were coming into the presence of your peers and of God, and how could you do anything less.

It was perhaps another symptom of those congregations of the elderly who now make up so much of the mainstream protestant churches in Australia. I guess that would be the subject of another stream of discussion.

stephen clark said...

yes, Trevor, it has a complexity about it that is not just brushed aside.
One of the things that intrigues me, though,is that the suit and tie thing also begs the question about what has happened in society.
It would never, for example, have been acceptable to go out to a restuarant in jeans even 20 years ago but now no one cares. (I think the Adelaide casino still enforces a no-jeans rule...but why?)
Religious groups have a habit of freezing their clothes at a particular point in time... the whole rationale for liturgical vestments .
But what about thsoe who still insist on women wearing hats, or wearing 19th century clothes ...the Islamic Birka or Chjab..and so on.
For me "and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit" measn God lives in today's world not only the world of the past.(which, I might suggest, no longer exists!!)

Robyn Woodside said...

I'm the webmaster for and have followed the trail of the unusual surge of "hits" to the comments posted on the Laodicea website, and now to this blog. I must say I appreciate the comments on your site--much less judgmental than those I saw on Laodicea. It's interesting that we have had more than 1,000 hits so far this month generated by the article published on Laodicea. As a "50-something" charter member of the church (now in its 26th year of existence) I can make some fully informed comments about the issue. Yes, there is an emphasis on "come as you are." After all, isn't that what Jesus said to the fishermen, the tax collector? The theology of our church is that God wants to change you from the inside out, and that if you are not changing you are not a true disciple of Christ. The teachings of our pastor are very biblically sound. I have spent my life as a deacon's kid and am fully grounded in scriptures; believe me, I would recognize false teaching. We have seen remarkable growth in the last six years (400% increase) in a town of 5700 that is actually on a decline. That, church growth experts will tell you, just DOESN'T HAPPEN! This is largely due to people feeling that they can come into our church without being "judged" by exterior trappings. (By the way, I am the keyboard player and always come to church in heels, hose, and dresses--I feel comfortable enough to dress the way I was brought up, with the "give God your best" attitude. Unchurched people have not had the advantage of being taught this principle.) More than 80% of our new members are dechurched/unchurched people and it has been thrilling to see lives being radically, utterly transformed by God. It's amazing how much visitors can soak up from a Sunday sermon when they're not worried about what other people in the pews around them are thinking about them. Our Sunday morning gatherings are "celebrations" with joyful music rather than "services" that resemble funerals. In our Sunday night home teams, baby Christians are led into scriptures while being taught the principles of the New Testament --that Christians should genuinely care about one another and know one another's hearts and souls intimately in agape love. Judging one another on appearance is NOT Christ-like! Just wanted to share a few thoughts from someone on the other side of the billboard. (By the way, you would laugh hysterically if you knew what the billboard before this one said on it! My lips are sealed!)

stephen clark said...

Thanks for your comments on my weblog about the venomous "slice of Laodicea" blog. I did write to your church address at the time I originally posted so that you might know that you were not entirely friendless.
I am glad that in the way of these of things that one of the side-effects has been that your site has had a phenomenal increase in the number of hits.
Things seem to be going well for you and your church. I wonder how Laodicea account for the apparent blessing that the Spirit of God seems to be sending on you even though youy wear Jeans!!

Every blessing