Truth Matters Newsletters – Aug 2009 – Vol. 14 Issue 8 – Come As You Are? – by Rev. Bob Liichow
Discernment Ministries International
Come As You Are?
By Rev. Robert S. Liichow
The large room slowly filled up. The men entered wearing “wife-beater” tee-shirts and sandals, women in shorts, sleeveless dresses and their children in a motley assortment of garments ranging from Goth-wear to skateboard attire. At first you might think I was describing a crowd entering the local movie Cineplex, but no this was the usual Sunday go-to-meeting clothes, commonly worn today in most worship services across our country.
Let me begin by stating very clearly that I am no advocate of clothesline religion i.e. what you wear determines your level of sanctification. Clothesline religion is found within fundamentalism and some branches of Pentecostalism. It entails strict law regarding what one is allowed to wear. It might include such regulations as men’s hair length (and women’s) skirt length (I am all for modesty), long sleeves on both men and women, no jewelry on women etc. Also, I certainly would agree that ultimately God is not as concerned with our outer appearance as He is with the attitude of our heart:
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near [me] with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Isa. 29:13
Biblical worship is above all else a “heart” condition (see John 4:23) and not a time to parade our haute couture.
One truth I have learned over the years from my own spiritual journey is that spiritual BALANCE seems to be one of the most difficult things to achieve in this fallen world. We as people seem to lean one way or another; the pendulum swings to the far left or to the far right. For example, we have congregations that are doctrinally dead-on, but with little spiritual passion or exuberance. Then again, we have congregations whose members are ignited by the fire of the Spirit, passionate about others coming to know Jesus Christ as Savior, unrestrained in their worship and yet an inch deep doctrinally. It seems almost impossible to find any group that is equally balanced with Spirit & Truth.
Over the last twenty years I have seen a subtle change in dress and attitude on the part of the people of God in America. As a child in the late 1950’s and 60’s I grew up going to church having to wear what we called “my Sunday best.” As a young boy this meant my best trousers, my shine able shoes, a button-down shirt and at least a clip-on-tie, possibly a sport coat or a suit. These clothes were set aside specifically for church. Why wear such a uniform? It was because my parents were trying to instill within my young skull the reality that we, as a family, were coming to worship the transcendent and yet personal God who was totally holy. There was nothing blasé about attending church and approaching the altar of God.
The decline of church attendance, especially within the mainline Protestant churches gave birth to what we know today as the “Church Growth Gurus” of whom many of the most prominent were (and are) charismatic sign/gift enthusiasts such as Dr. C. Peter Wagner and the late John Wimber who started the Vineyard churches. The operative philosophy behind the Church Growth Movement (CGM) was to try to remove anything that would offend the non-churched visitor or seeker. (1) This meant removing crosses and crucifixes from sancturaries because such symbols point to God’s bloody sacrifices for our sins. The use of the hymnals went out the door as well; they hymns are old, traditional and unfamiliar lyrically and musically to the seekers. Pastors were encouraged to stop wearing any form of vestments or clerical garb because one does not want to present any distinction between the seeker and the pastor. (2) The congregants themselves were encouraged to dress casually so as to help create a more “homey” and easy-going atmosphere. Naturally the pews had to go as well. Pews not only point to traditional worship, but they also tend to somewhat force people to sit together and if not padded can be uncomfortable. The CGM gurus did studies, took polls and tried to determine what would make the un-churched visitor most comfortable if/when they felt led to attend a service.
Within the seeker-sensitive mentality one of the gravest of sins is to offend the lost person’s sensibilities. So the CGM collated their data and sold its programs to desperate pastors and denominations. Presto! Now we have congregations that no longer have any form of the cross in their buildings, sing no hymns, have no pews, and dress like attending a picnic versus coming into the presence of the Ancient of Days. To be sure these are outward actions, yet like all “leaven” it spreads.
Once the outer changes had been made then the CGM gurus began to proclaim the need to change the message being presented. They realized that just changing the furniture around was not going to entice and keep any potential sheep. Oh sure, now a pastor might get some visitors to come, enjoy the comfortable stadium seats with cup-holders for the gourmet java distributed I the narthex (oops I meant “the welcome center”), but what if they are offended by the preaching? Naturally, once you got the seeker in the seat you want them to fully enjoy the “show.” The show consists of having engaging music performed by professional musicians and dancers, (3) moving PowerPoint presentations and then a short message on how to be the best one can be using biblical references.
Words such as “sin, sinner, hell, damnation, and depravity” have been erased from the vocabulary of any successful seeker-sensitive pastors, such as Joel Osteen and Robert Schuller and all their clones. These words can offend the hearer, after all, who wants to hear that they are a miserable sinner from the pulpit, let alone get down on their knees and confess such a reality openly to God and others? (4) Obviously such changes in vocabulary point to significant changes in the messages presented. Jesus ceases to be the Savior of sinners, instead He becomes more of a “life coach” pointing all of us onwards and upwards towards unending success in this life. The people cease to be sinners in need of a Savior. This is a huge departure from the message the Apostle Paul shared when he said:
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners: of whom I am chief. 1 Tim. 1:15
Paul would not be welcome to preach in any of the mega-churches in America today. He is too old-school and most certainly off message for today’s seeker. Sadly, the Biblical Jesus would not be welcomed either.
The CGM has radically transformed the face and substance of Biblical Christianity in America, South America and Europe. Church now is almost totally man centered. Everything that can be changed has been changed to facilitate the comfort of man both physically, esthetically and spiritually. Attending church is now about having an “enjoyable worship experience” as opposed to coming to worship the God who saved you and who has something to say directly to you via His Word and Sacrament.
Come As You Are ?
After that short romp through the history of the CGM we arrive back at our topic regarding the blasé manner in which people come to worship the Lord of Hosts. Seeing all that has changed regarding much of our worship format it is easy to see how the un-churched were never taught to treat coming to church as a privilege. The un-churched or lapsed visitor looks around sees how everyone else is dressed and follows suit. Obviously, I do not expect the un-churched to know how or why to properly dress when they initially begin to come to church. The old adage is very true — “you have to catch the fish before you can clean it.” The point is they are to be taught, instructed, discipled if you will, regarding their daily walk with Christ and then how to comport themselves in the house of God during a worship service. Shocking as it may seem dear friends worship is all about God and not about us. We come passively to receive the free and good gifts of God and then we can respond with our sacrifice of praise. (see Heb. 13:15).
The priests in the Old Testament wore special clothing (see Ex. 28:2-4; 29:5, 21; Lev. 6:11) that they took off when they were not serving the Lord specifically. They had a format of worship, a liturgy which they followed. No one worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wearing whatever they wanted and however they wanted.
Today, all of the Church is considered by God in the following manner:
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ…9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:5,9,10).
If you were invited to the Whitehouse to see the President, how would you dress? Naturally, most of us would wear our best clothing out of respect for the office if not the office holder. Even today upscale restaurants require men to wear ties and some even jackets when dining! How much more then should we attire ourselves in our best clothing when we approach the Living God to whom we owe our every breath?
Church is not a fashion show. Nor are congregations to show any favoritism to those who are obviously wealthy as James warns us:
For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there comes in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4).
What I am talking about is reestablishing a sense of decorum and modesty within our worship services. Modesty seems to be another word which has fallen out of favor within the people of God. During the hot summer months we are subjected to a wide range of immodest attire on the part of both men and women. Skintight jeans, shorts, no bras and sleeveless tee-shirts do not help any of us focus on Christ Jesus. Yes we are “free” in Christ, but that freedom is given so that we can now obey Him from our heart and we are surely not to use our freedom as a license to sin (see Rom 6:18-23).
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with god works. (1 Tim. 2:9,10).
Again, we see church worship is not a fashion show, but a sacred time that is carved out of our day, set aside (sanctified) to be devoted to our loving God.
Ask yourself a simple question, why not dress up in your Sunday best for church? If you don’t is it because no one else does in your congregation? If this is the case, so what, worship is ultimately between you and God (while not ignoring the important corporate aspect). Start a trend! Or perhaps you have the attitude that “God knows my heart, what I wear is not important.” Well I might give the opinion that if ones heart is truly set on Zion then ones dress will be appropriate. Studies have shown that even in secular schools when the children all wear similar uniforms that behavior and grades both improve. Dressing nicely also works on ones self-esteem (that ought to be enough of a draw today). Personally, when I am dressed nicely I feel better about myself in a way. Dressing for church reminds me that I am going to a sacred place and spending sacred time communing around the altar of God with both the saints on earth and all the saints in heaven! ♦
Copyright 2009 Robert S. Liichow
1. Congregations who bought into the CGM ministry philosophy have become known as “seeker-sensitive” churches. There is legitimate theological debate whether or not any lost person genuinely seeks after God.
2. Let me simply say here that there is no difference in value before our God, He loves all His people equally. However, there is a distinction in function within the Church and its worship service regarding the pastor and the congregation.
3. Naturally I want “professional” musicians in any church setting, but I am really referring to professional entertainers.
4. No worries for the seeker, their churches are not equipped with any for of “kneelers” because they are not going to kneel for anything during their services.