Sneaker Seeker Sensitive Churches

Article by   March 2007

I've been preaching through Acts and have been making some references to the "meat offered to idols" issue. And it crossed my mind, "This has some bearing on sneakers and church!"

Right! The connection is tenuous, to be sure. Let me explain. Paul's argument with the tenderloin at knock-down prices sold outside the local pagan temple is that in itself it is adiaphorous - that is, a thing indifferent. It's meat after all and if it's cheaper, to boot, all the better! It's when nitpicky folk start asking questions that get weak consciences bent out of shape that trouble arises. "Ask no questions for conscience sake," is Paul's advice (1 Cor. 10:27).

You are following, correct? So, what has this to do with sneakers? Just this: why do we think we need to dress up for attending church? And if so, why do we do so in the morning but not in the evening (unless you've drawn the usher straw then its suit and tie for the evening, too). Are we saying that formal worship requires formal dress? And if so, how formal is formal? To one, a black suit, white shirt and tie are formal. To another, simply wearing a shirt that's "tucked in" is formal. To another it's simply the shirt! Forgive me, I keep my illustrations masculine here for fear of offending; but, then Gap® are currently running advertisements suggesting "gals' can wear the "guys" jeans, so my attempt may already have offended.

Clothes in themselves are 'adiaphora;' but, they also say, "This is what I feel like wearing right now;" and, "I'm wearing this rather than that because I want to be fashionable and trendy." We dress up for weddings, but down for a baseball game; up for a visit to the Symphony, but down for the (forthcoming) 'Police' gig in New Orleans. Why these conventions? Is anything remotely important set by these seemingly arbitrary rules? Should we simply give up on these and whine that everything is going to the dogs, or that people just don't get up and give their seats to the women anymore for fear of some feminist making a scene?

So why should church be any different. And when it comes to fashion and church, we must ask: is there a commodity which we can label "sacred" - time and place where conventions apply: things like rules of behavior (silence, punctuality, engagement), or dress code (clothes in certain contexts and worn by certain people - and 'figures' are hardly neutral)?

Times change, of course, as do the conventions of what is appropriate for certain age groups. I cringe at the thought of someone discovering photographs of what I wore in the sixties. Did I really wear bell-bottomed trousers and brightly colored shirts? One way or another, fashion changes. It is set these days by clever advertising designed to ensure a constant market demand. The gods of Madison Avenue are a greedy, insatiable lot and every shift in fashionable convention reveals their "divine' footprints.

It used to be that Sunday worship was done wearing "Sunday's best." The argument was that in church we met with God - in his presence, as it were. Like meeting the President in the White house! Interesting, as we have pointed out before in these columns, the furor caused by the lady caught on camera wearing flip-flops in the Oval Office! Is anything "lost" by wearing casual clothes in gathered worship services? Is it a "lost cause"? Are there more important issues? (Yes, yes and yes). My point is to relate a sense of sadness at the loss of certain conventions. No one can convince me that it is a form of legalism to engage in convention (even of dress). We all have conventions. Ask the youth why it is they must have the latest style of jeans and you will see that conventions rule in every sphere. They may be changing conventions, but they are just as demanding - perhaps more so.

The trend (in Emergent Churches and West Coast PCA churches) is for ministers (called by their first name and never 'ministers') to wear a Hawaiian shirt. The message is casual, fun and definitely hip! Hmm. But sacred?

But, if someone insists that we cannot be holy without black suits, white shirts and ties - I'm going with Paul and saying, hand me the Hawaiian shirt! Aloha.

Derek Thomas' Understanding the Times will be appearing as a weekly item. They appear concurrently in the publication of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS, called,
The First Epistle.

 

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