Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 6


At the beginning of the twentieth century, many clergymen wore white collars with a tie. In fact, it was considered highly improper for a clergyman to appear without a tie.

Don't I know that? How vividly I recall the day in the early 1990s when I decided to take a huge risk and not wear a tie one Sunday. I made sure that I wore the best pair of slacks I had, a shiny pair of shoes, a powder blue expensive Polo shirt and a wool tweed jacket.

Monday morning (my "day off") I received a call from the "Church Chairman." He wanted to take me out for lunch to "touch base."

The primary issue of our conversation was the missing piece of about 16" of pressed cloth hanging from the middle of my neck to just below the navel. My effort to reason with him by reviewing God's choosing of David through Samuel at Jesse's house (you know "God doesn't look on the outside...") was futile.

So I apologized and assured him it would not happen again. Oh, He did buy me lunch.

Being the rebel I am, the following Sunday, I put on a pair of worn khakis, my casual shoes, a yellow button-down shirt and one of those 1990s "relaxed" knit ties and no jacket. To my astonishment there was no call on Monday or (NC lingo) "nary" a word said about my wardrobe. Amazing what the presence/absence of 16" of pressed fabric could do about 15 years ago!

But things have changed, haven't they??? This brief chapter details how "dressing up for church" evolved. But read it carefully. It's not just about clothes.

The proliferation of the textile industry in the 19th century made "fine clothes" affordable and available to common people. Before that time only the rich could dawn exquisite apparel for social events.

In 1843 a Congregational minister named Horace Bushnel published an essay called "Taste and Fashion."

In it, Bushnell argued that sophistication and refinement were attributes of God and that Christians should emulate them. Thus was born the idea of dressing up for church.

So what's wrong with it? What's the big deal about "dressing up" for church? It is hardly a burning issue. However, it is what dressing up for church represents that is the burning issue.

First, it reflects the false division between the secular and the sacred. To think the God cares one whit if you wear dressy threads on Sunday to "meet Him" is a violation of the New Covenant...

...Second, wearing attractive, flashy clothes on Sunday morning screams out an embarrassing message: that church is a place where Christians hide their real selves and "dress them up" to look nice and little more than image management... Dressing up for church violates the reality that the church is made up of real people with messy problems... It is a study in pretense that is dehumanizing and constitutes a false witness to the world.

...Third, dressing up for the church smacks against the primitive simplicity that was the sustaining hallmark of the early church... the early Christians made concrete efforts to show their absolute disdain for social class distinction.

It is tempting to raise an argument that the "seeker-sensitive" influence of the last 10-15 years has allowed congregants to dress down. That may be true but the nature of the institutional pretense still exists inside the walls of the distinguishable edifice. I have observed first-hand how the "sophistication and refinement" have been transferred from attire to aesthetics and production.

The premises of the building and the "Worships service" are now "dressed to kill." The new garb is parking lot attendants, banners, color, lights, aroma, nursery pagers, sound, musicians (who have survived a rigorous process akin to American Idol) - all for the purpose of giving the presentation an "excellence" and "quality" so the audience will not be "distracted."

I personally started becoming lost in aggravation with this when I had flesh-colored ear set microphones fastened with surgical tape to my neck and face and people in the production booth waving me to get back in the field of the stage lights when I spoke.

"This can't be what Jesus intended!" I thought more than once.

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