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August 16, 2004

Thanking God, How to Dress in Church; The Role of a Pastor

The Evangelical Free Church denomination seems to be pretty sound. I attended the White Rock Community Church this morning. The sermon was on thankfulness, with attention to the marvels of daily life. The opening example was the best. The pastor had decided on a Friday at 3 to go camping by himself. He got his stuff together, went to Canadian Tire for supplies, and so forth, and set off in the early evening towards Squamish. He got to the campground at 7 or so-- and it was full. He went on to a bigger campground-- and they laughed and said it had long been full. They said he could keep going north-- and he might find a campsite, or might not. The evening temperature was great, with a warm breeze and a beautiful sunset in the making. What did he do? He drove back home, slowly, enjoying the sunset and thanking God.

I liked that. I didn't like the opening though, where he asked, "All in favor of the pastor *not* wearing a coat a tie occasionally?" and got an enthusiastic anti-tie response.

Why should a pastor wear a tie? The main reason is that he should be a figure of authority. It is harder for someone wearing a T-shirt to tell a congregation of people older than himself that they are behaving badly and need to reform their lives. It is even more difficult if he has occasion to tell that to an individual person caught in sin. Detestation for the marks of authority is usually a sign of detestation of authority. This is natural in all of us, because we want to be free to do what we want without comment from Man or God, and we want authorities to be scared to challenge our behavior, *especially* when we know we are in the wrong.

A second reason is that lack of formal dress indicates lack of respect for the position of pastor. Important men wear neckties and leather shoes. If a pastor wears ordinary clothes, that shows he doesn't think his position is any better than that of a plumber or a factory worker, and is rather less important than that of a doctor or a lawyer.

To be sure, a church can thrive without a pastor who wears a tie. But either this is because the pastor has such charisma that he can exert authority anyway or because having leadership is not essential to a church. The second of these is the more interesting. We think of a pastor's job as being to organize worship services, but that is where he is least essential. In fact, in many churches Sunday worship is either programmed by the denomination--- Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and other liturgical churches to one extent or another-- or organized by a music leader. The pastor just writes and delivers a sermon-- and it is not really very important for him to do that, as shown by the example of the Elizabethean Homilies, excellent officially approved pre-written sermons for use in the Anglican Church. For worship, a church does not need pastors or elders-- the members could take turns picking hymns, leading prayers, and delivering sermons, as happens in some Bible studies. Or, as in the case of a tie-less pastor, someone could lead worship inobtrusively and without any "pastoral" responsibilities.

Rather different is a third reason why a pastor might wear a tie: that maybe we should all dress up for church, not just the pastor. This is what comes to mind for most people, I think, since points (1) and (2) really imply that the congregation should *not* dress up, since to do so tends to elevate them to the status of the pastor. But we expect better conduct of our pastor than of ourselves, an attitude that sounds wrong but may have some justification. (A big enough topic for some future post.)

Should the congregation dress up? I don't dress up much myself. Usually I wear a coat and tie, but that doesn't really count as real dressing up. My biggest worry is from Matthew 22: 10-14:

So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.

If you are going to an event to honor someone, you dress accordingly. Or, if you are going to meet an important person and talk to him personally, you dress up. If I was going to talk to President Bush, I would dress up for the occasion. Even if I was going to meet President Clinton, whom I despised for good reason, I would have dressed up. Most people would do the same. So if church is a time to honor God, or to meet with God, oughtn't we to dress up? And shouldn't this be more even than just wearing a jacket and tie, a too-easy first step? Shouldn't I wear a real suit, and make sure it is pressed, and make sure my tie doesn't have stains? (Professors often wear jackets and ties, but we never have to really look sharp, and in fact would face disapproval from our peers if we did.)

On the other hand, does God really care about the appearance of a worm such as myself? Or, if He does care about me, isn't it my thoughts and other behaviors that matter more? (I can't say, "isn't it the thought that counts," because dressing casually reflects the thought that it is ok to take no effort in my dress, so we return to whether that thought is okay or not.) I have concluded that God wants me to allocate my effort carefully, and to spend my limited energy on careful dress would be wrong. In addition, I need to consider the effect of my dress on other people. Formal dressing is easily interpreted as trying to show off, and I don't want people thinking that serious Christians show off-- though I should not be averse to their thinking badly of me personally because I am trying to show off if I am not. Worse yet, dressing up can distract other people in church, because they admire it, they are inimidated by it, or they start wondering why I'm dressed that way. So I don;t depart much from the norm. But I'm open to argument.

Posted by erasmuse at August 16, 2004 08:17 PM

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Tracked on August 17, 2004 11:18 PM


Eric, here's my solution: Dress like a slob the rest of the week and then a mismatched coat and faded tie on Sunday IS dressing up!

Posted by: Chris Atwood at August 19, 2004 01:47 PM

Yes, it's the thought (frame of mind) that counts, and a neat, clean, attractive set of clothes sets the mood for self and maybe others.
Jewelry is a whole 'nother bag of worms, to continue your expression. I can't see much of a leg for pro-jewelry people to stand on, nor could Paul.
Do I wear jewelry to church? Yes, but I have hope that worship will eventually cure me of this particular weakness. (jewels in my crown? hmmmm..

Posted by: M. Rasmusen at August 28, 2004 11:21 PM

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