dialogue with "anonymous"
Among the comments I received about Tuesday's post, the longest was from an anonymous poster who raised several issues on the topic of legalism. Rather than respond in the comment section, I thought I'd share my response in a post. The anonymous poster's comments are italicized.
First, though, let me say thank you to whoever put the time and thought into their comment.
Hi Shannon, I appreciate your post and certainly understand some of your concerns. However, there were a couple of comments that I felt the Spirit move me to comment on and perhaps encourage you to think about during your quiet times with our Lord.
I hear an awful lot these days from our church and others within the Body about the need to beware of "legalism" and keep clear of it. I believe there's an element of truth in that and an element of falsehood. Clearly we see examples in Scripture of Paul admonishing Believers for their excesses. You commented, that you "didn't see a correlation between respect and God's view of bare-legged boys." While I would agree with you that God views the "bare-legged boys" hearts and not their outward appearance, I don't see how one can argue that there is a direct correlation between how one dresses and the level of respect they may be showing given a particular circumstance. This is difficult at best to explain in this forum but let me just suggest that if there were no correlation, the term "Sunday's Best" would have never been coined. Why do people dress up for a wedding or a funeral if not for respect? So what's the problem with dressing up a little for one day during a chapel service?
You make a good point, A. There's nothing at all wrong with dressing up for a wedding or a funeral or for church. As I noted, even some within our church like to dress up -- and there's no problem whatsoever with that. The only problem I have is when dress is a mandated issue, or when people look at outward appearance as an indicator of inward devotion.
One woman came to us from another much more conservative church in town after they put on a skit for their children to introduce the new Sunday school curriculum. She told me what happened. "The pastor called two women up on the stage. One wore a nice dress, nylons and high heels. The other wore denim overalls. After the kids looked at the two for a minute, the pastor then asked the group, 'Okay, kids. Now tell me ... which one of these women is a Christian?'" This broke my friend's heart because, as she told me, "My mother would be someone who would show up to church in overalls, if she ever got a notion to come. Is this the sort of welcome she'd receive?"
I also have a friend whose family came to us after the pastor of their church questioned her youngest son's salvation ... simply because he had let his hair grow long.
On a side note about weddings, after Dave and I eloped, we decided to have a second wedding ceremony six weeks later (in August) to include our friends and loved ones. Only the inner circle knew it was an actual ceremony. Everyone else thought they were coming to a reception. In the invitations, we urged people to come dressed comfortably and to be prepared for swimming (we held the service in the backyard of my parents' home, which sat on the edge of a lake). It delighted me to see people walking up to my parents' door wearing shorts and flip-flops, and I got a kick out of overhearing my good friend say to her husband, "Hey! This isn't a reception -- this is a wedding!" The reason we did this was simple: I had once attended a lengthy Catholic wedding on a sweltering August day and nearly fainted from the heat. I remember sitting in the pew thinking how much I hated the hot, merciless nylons clinging to my legs and longing for the second I could yank them off. I didn't want my guests to feel that way. I wanted clothing to be the last thing on their mind. Instead, I wanted them to have a wonderful time celebrating with us. And they did! People sat on blankets on the lawn and swam in the lake (we even had one impromptu baptism) while friends from college played the guitar in the background. It was simply perfect.
We are also told that we're to be all things to all men in order for the Gospel to be put forth.
That's kind of the point of Tuesday's post. What gospel are we advocating? The gospel that says God waits for you to clean yourself up before you're acceptable to Him? That's not my gospel. Nor is my gospel one that says, "This spot (day, activity, etc.) is holy. God is here. He's not over there, though, so that's where you can relax and let your hair down." My gospel says, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
We are admonished to consider the weaker brother. We are exhorted to esteem others more than ourselves. Isn't it possible that acquiesing to the school's Dress Code might help strengthen a "more conservative's" efforts at teaching their child respect. If outward appearance is not important, then why did God go to such efforts to tell us in His word of example after example where He specifically was meticulous about dress and other ceremonial practices? What is God trying to tell us in 1Cor 4-16? Why do we sometimes go to God as Our Father, sometimes Daddy, and sometimes as God Almighty? Why do we pray sometimes driving down the road, or on our back in bed, and at other times on our knees?
First, God is all those things to us at all times. He is not sometimes Father and sometimes God Almighty -- He is both at once. The difference is in us and in our need at the moment.
As to the weaker brother, Romans 14 makes it clear that the weaker brother is the one living under and trying to adhere to a lot of self-imposed rules. We're told not to despise each other, which, applied to this situation, means I'm not to judge the one who feels it's necessary to dress up, but by the same token, they are not to judge those of us who don't dress up. Verse 4 says, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." It would never occur to me to criticize those who dress up on Tuesday mornings. I'd just like them to do the same for me -- respect that I've brought the issue before the Lord and I feel the freedom to choose. (And can I say here that we DO have Tera dress up on Tuesdays? We've taught both kids that it's important to adhere to the rules of the school. But when our friend was sent home last year because he forgot and wore shorts, and Tera told me this week she'd probably be separated from the other kids and sent to the back row for wearing shorts, that's where, in my opinion, a rule crossed over and became a judgment.)
As to the detailed instructions God gave for ceremonial dress, one of the most beautiful aspects of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the fact that although the High Priest wore very elaborate dress for every other occasion, on that particular day -- the one day a year when the sins of Israel were atoned for -- the High Priest was to take off all the elaborate garb and wear a simple linen robe when he went into the Holy of Holies. That meant the priest looked no different at that moment than any of the other Jewish men waiting in the courtyard. The picture is two-fold (in my opinion): it prophecized that the Messiah would come in their midst looking just like the rest of them (not set apart by finery), and two, that when we come into God's presence it's the heart He's interested in, not our outward adornment.
The Bible I read tells me that our God is not the author of confusion but rather there is order and discipline to how our God works. We are called to be in the World but not of the World. When others look at us, whether we like it or not, sometimes the only testimony they will have is our outward appearance. I see Scripture as clearly telling us that we should be different. That others should see Jesus in us and an evident difference between us and the World. Sometimes I see very little difference between those who call themselves Believers and the World. A good case in point is Howard Dean's most recent comment where he self-identified himself as a White Christian. I won't go into that because that's definitely another issue, but who would know he's a Christian by his outward appearance and things he says and does?
I'm not sure what to say about the confusion issue, because I'm not sure what you mean. I suppose I could say that it's confusing to me to understand which "accepted" mode of dress is more holy -- the Little House on the Prairie denim jumper, or the big, wild hair and spider-leg eyelashes of TBN? Neither of those alternatives is attractive to me. I'd rather dress simply and without drawing attention to myself.
As to Howard Dean, you could argue that he certainly dresses the part. But it's behavior that matters. We can't wear our Christianity like a sandwich board. It takes time to earn the right to enter someone's life and share your faith. Hopefully, what they observe in me is not that I look like the world's idea of a Christian (by my dress) but that I love others.
Remember, Jesus did not say that the world would recognize us by our appearance. Instead, He said this: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)
Your blog specifically mentioned, "I'm talking about piercings and tattoos and mohawks and dredlocks and jeans on Sunday -- and all the people I love and fellowship with who have and/or wear those things." If you were to classify those things as either Godly or Worldly, which category would you put them in? Are piercings, tattoos, mohawks etc. done because God called them to or because of peer pressure, to be cool or in some other way to be accepted by the World. We are called to esteem others more than ourselves - and that goes both ways true enough - but has anyone ever considered how difficult (if not impossible) it is for me to instill respect for my beliefs from my children when all around them they get a different message. Including within the church? If I tell my kids that they can't have green hair (or piercings, or tattoos, or wear cutoffs with their underwear three inches above them at church, etc etc.) because it's dishonoring and disrespectful to me and the family name, and that if God wanted them to have green hair He'd have created them with it, then how is the church helping me when it's all over the inside? Please don't get me wrong, I know there's a danger in dwelling too much on those things. But I do believe there must be a balance. Just as there is with God. He is Holy and Righteous, Merciful and full of Grace, vengeful, a judge, and yet loving and forgiving. We cannot be totally legalistic and yet we cannot go without standards.
Ever since reading "A Quest for Godliness" by J.I. Packer several years ago, I've been intrigued by this notion of whether or not things are "Godly" or "Worldy" (Packer classifies them as "Sacred" or "Secular.") I was fascinated by his description of the Puritans. "As their Christianity was all-embracing, so their living was all of a piece ... There was for them no disjunction between sacred and secular; all creation, so far as they were concerned, was sacred, and all activities, of whatever kind, must be sanctified, that is, done to the glory of God." There's much more to it, but what I read there challenged me to see that it all belongs to God and He is in it all as long as we acknowledge Him and sanctify our activities to Him.
I'm sure you're doing a great job instilling those values in your children. But I'm also sure you tell them, "Our rules are our rules -- not everybody else's." As for our family, my children have learned that God's arms are open to all, and that a life yielded to Him becomes a thing of beauty. They've learned that there's freedom in Christ and that it's not what goes into the stomach (or on the body) that makes us clean or unclean, it's what comes out of the heart.
I agree wholeheartedly with the comment that Nancy made. If you wouldn't wear your hat to the dinner table, then why would you wear it in church?
We have to be careful to distinguish between what is scriptural and what is cultural. Whereas in our society, men (mostly in the past) took their hat off as a show of respect, in other cultures the opposite is the norm. A Jewish man wouldn't think of entering a holy place without covering his head with a kippah. So who's right? The answer, I think, is in Romans 14:14, "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." If you feel convicted to take your hat off in church, you'd better do so. To NOT do so would be sin to you (Rom 14:22, 23). If you feel the freedom to wear a hat, do so with a thankful heart to the One who gave you peace to do so. Elsewhere we're told, "To the pure, all things are pure." It's a matter of conscience.
Isn't it possible that with such emphasis on "not" being "legalistic", that we are failing others but not giving them the chance to understand a "Holy" God and what He means when He says "Be Holy for I am Holy?"
Holiness is a matter of the heart. It's character, behavior, attitude. Those other things? Green hair, piercings, tattoos, etc. -- all those things will be left in the grave. What we take into eternity is spiritual, not material.
As for finding another school, that's certain you and Dave's business and call. I wonder though, what's God trying to do in this situation? I'm reminded of some I've talked with who went from one church to another until they found one that they liked or that "didn't do what that other church did." I've often asked them what difference they could have made if they would have stayed where God put them and looked at what God wanted them to do in the situation rather than just getting out of something they weren't comfortable with.
That's not to say you should stay or go. As I said, that's you and Dave's call and I'm certain that you'll look to the Lord first. It's just food for thought to all who might be reading this and wondering "Why am I in this situation?"
Some may be asking what I'd do and how I'd handle it. Without full knowledge of the situation, I can only say I'd be thanking God that I have a Christian school to send my child to and I'd be teaching my kids why it's important to dress up on this one day so as to pay special tribute to God Almighty and to honor the schools officials who God has put in charge as authorities over that school. And why it also honors the other parents and children who might want to have a special dress up day to honor God. One thing I'm pretty sure of though is that picketting the school would be the last thing on my mind - not even jokingly.
I know what you mean about church-hopping. That's another issue for me. I really dislike the mentality we have in this culture that says we can just go around "kicking the tires" to see whichever church makes us feel the most comfortable or has the best donuts after service. Just as my husband and I feel "married" to our church (unlike in other denominations, we do not move our pastors around. If you plant the church, you commit to it. On rare occasions, a pastor may move to another area, but it's the exception rather than the norm. In fact, we don't even have a system in place to match pastors with churches. We'll probably be at this church until the Lord takes Dave home.), I wish that those who came would also feel that level of commitment. It's always a stab in my heart when someone just up and moves on to see what's going on in the church down the road.
But this school isn't a church. We've been here four years, and in that time we've had many opportunities to teach our children about adapting and ignoring offenses and respecting authority, even when that authority teaches something different from what we teach at home. I don't feel we're under the same sense of obligation to stick it out here as I would with a church. (Before Dave was a pastor, we once stayed at a church until it closed its doors because we never felt God was releasing us to go.)
I am thankful for all that my children have learned at this school. I'm not certain we're leaving. My husband has been gone all week at a pastor's conference and we have much to talk about when he comes home (this is not the only issue we've been struggling with at the school).
So in closing let me just say that I certainly understand some of your frustration but just as you fume over legalism, I get pretty worked up when I see people advocate no standards (or at least very lax standards) all in the name of Grace. I find it very hard to believe that when I see Jesus, He'll be full of piercings, tattoos, green hair, and wearing cutoffs and a tank top. Somehow I just believe I'll see a KING adorned as a king. It strikes me as there must have been something very striking about Jesus' appearance to have John passout when he first saw Him.
I'm not advocating no standards. We do expect that our people won't dress provocatively. To do so, especially on the part of a young woman, would be to put a stumbling block in the way of a brother. But beyond that, we just want people to come and meet Jesus.
One of my favorite brothers is a guy named Jesse. When he stepped into a Calvary Chapel in Southern California about fourteen years ago, he was shirtless, tattooed, barefoot, and in ragged, barely-there jeans. He had a diaper in one back pocket, a baby bottle in the other, and his year-old daughter perched on his hip. Did his coming cause a stir? Not a bit. Somebody scooched over, motioned for Jesse to come and sit, and handed him a Bible. The welcome he got glued him to his seat. The love he met through the pastor's words washed his soul. Jesse left his old life right there in the building when he walked out, and he hasn't stopped talking about Jesus ever since. I've sat and listened to Jesse talk from the pulpit. Sometimes I can still see that not-so-delightful tattoo sticking out from under his sleeve. And you know what? Every time I see it, I'm reminded of how great our God is that He goes out on the byways and highways and scoops orphans from ditches and brings them to His table.
I'm also reminded of something one of our pastors, Greg Laurie, likes to say: "God cleans His fish after He catches them."
I think you're right about what Jesus is going to look like when we get our first glimpse of Him -- except on one point. No, Jesus won't have a tattoo, cutoffs or a tank top (nor will He be wearing a suit and tie). But He most definitely has piercings. In fact, He has four.
Ok, that's enough. I hope I've made some sense here. Like I said, it's a difficult thing to explain without a personal conversation. I just thought I'd add a little different perspective because I felt the Spirit telling me to do so.
It is difficult to convey your heart through this format, but I do hear yours. I'm sorry if my comments offended you. They weren't meant to do that. And you did make some good points. I just think that overall, dress is a separator rather than a unifier. And the God of my Bible is One who ate with prostitutes, touched the unclean, and loved the unloveable -- despite their appearance.
God bless you, Anonymous. :)