Friday, September 10, 2010

"How, then, shall we be attired?" or "Why I Wear a Tie to Church"

I'm glad that Tammy Jochman broached the topic of growing informality among those attending the Divine Service, yesterday, in a series of comments following our last blog post, What's Missing in Groeschel's Sermons? – A brief review of Craig Groeschel, Part 2. As Rev. Rydecki suggested, she made many fine points. This is a trend which I also have noticed, even going back to the early 1990's, prior even to joining confessional Lutheranism, and it irked me then as it does now. There's a reason why people have reserved some of their finest clothing for Sunday, referring to it as their "Sunday Best," and I think there are good reasons for Christians to continue doing so. What we do is a reflection of what we hold to be True.

What is going on in the Divine Service?
Thesis II of C.F.W. Walther's The Evangelical Lutheran Church: The True Visible Church of God on Earth states: While the one holy Christian church as a spiritual temple cannot be seen, but only believed, there are nevertheless infallible outward marks by which its presence can be known. These marks are the unadulterated preaching of the divine Word and the uncorrupted administration of the holy sacraments. It is with the Una Sancta that the true visible Church wishes to be identified, and it does this not by merely saying so, but by giving evidence of it in practice – by exhibiting the Marks of the Church in meticulous fidelity to true doctrine and administration of the sacraments. That is, the visible Church, if it wishes to be true to its designation as a Church of God, strives to give every evidence that it is the One True Church on Earth, or the Church Militant.

"Church" in this True sense, is that which the Divine Service manifests. It's not a mere meeting of people, nor is man's act of worship on display. Worship, rather, is what the Church, the Bride of Christ, does before Her Lord in joyful response to His service toward Her. In the Divine Service, the truth is displayed that the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, together as Una Sancta, worships in unity the One True God as He serves Her with His words and with His body. Indeed, She is called into Worship that He may so serve Her.

We Christians are highly privileged to enter into this other-worldly reality. Not only are the Christians in our congregation present, but so are all the saints on earth, as are all the saints and angels in Heaven. All the saints from across time and space are assembled. Our catholicity is an expression of this fact. Liturgical forms founded in the practices of the Old Testament Church have come to us through the ages, modified, not as personal preference dictated, but as corporate wisdom indicated – in order to preserve and reinforce sound teaching. A hymnody spanning the millenia of the New Testament Church has come to us from a breadth of Christian experience and cultural influence that simply cannot be reproduced within the confines of any contemporary era. The catholicity of historic liturgy and hymnody teach and remind us of the reality of the One True Church in a way that sectarian contemporary forms simply cannot.

Arrayed in Robes of Righteousness, and in our "Sunday Best"
So, how are the saints attired? Is any special clothing necessary to gain entrance to the wedding feast? Isaiah 61:10 speaks of being arrayed in special "garments of salvation," in "robes of righteousness," and Zechariah 3:4 indicates that such is a "change of raiment" – not something common, but special. In the parable of the Marraige of the King's Son in Matthew 21:11-14, the King singles out the guest who was not properly attired, who was thus bound and cast out "into outer darkness..." When the Prodigal Son was welcomed back by his father, Luke 15:22 indicates that it was the best robe which was selected for him to wear. In Revelation 6 and 7, we see vivid pictures of the saints in Heaven wearing gleaming white robes, and this is the impression we get from the many fantastic accounts of angels appearing before men in glory, along with the account of the Transfiguration. Of course, it isn't the saints who, in these references or any other, array themselves in such fine garments, but Christ Himself who gives these garments to us – the best and most priceless of garments, the gleaming white robes of His righteousness.

The Christian's choice to don his "Sunday Best" reflects the reality of his own status before God as saint – that he has been attired in His best – and displays his recognition that in the Divine Service he is actually in the company of the Church's saints. It also reflects the reality that he is actually present before Divine Royalty – that he is assembled with all the saints before the King and Creator of the Universe. Picture this: when the King or the President or some person that one regards as important, announces that he is coming to one's house for a visit, whether that person is among the poorest or the richest he puts forth the effort to appear properly, cleaning his home and grooming and attiring himself with the best that he has. The more important the visitor is, the more effort is put into preparing one's appearance. It is understood that the result isn't an objective matter of "price tag," that unless a person spends a minimum amount then he isn't showing the respect for his important visitor that he says he holds. Rather, motivated by joy and gratitude for the presence and priceless Gifts of his Divine Visitor, it is a subjective matter of the relative best that an individual responds with, representative of his means and station in life. Only an arrogant person would deliberately "dress down" when these realities occupy his mind. But do such thoughts really occupy the mind of the contemporary Christian at all anymore?

Waning importance of doctrine of the Church leads to nonchalance in practice
That we are losing the broader concept of "Church" is nearly impossible to deny. We may confess it, but in practice we are losing it, and along with that loss, the force of our confession regarding it. As we have noted in previous blog posts (see Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism and C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry) Pietism changed the Marks of the Church from 'the gospel rightly proclaimed and the sacrament rightly administered' to 'where people are living correctly,' and divided the church into groups according to subjective standards of outward behavior. Under Pietism, the Marks of the Church, Word and Sacrament, were reduced from the Means of God's work, to the measure of man's work – right living and outward behaviour. Divine Service, a reference to God's service to us, became Worship Service, man's service to God. Since the early 18th Century, the entire focus of the popular Christian concept of Church has slowly shifted from "what we believe" to "what we see," from "what God does" to "what man does," from "what has occurred and who is gathered from across time and location," to "what is occurring and who is gathered in the immediate presence the worshiper." There is no King really present, He's far away. The Christian is not really joining the saints in the Invisible Church, who'd ever think that? – maybe one day in Heaven, but not now. Right now we have service to render. We have to give glory to God. And we have to evangelize. And it seems most efficient to do both at the same time. So, we report to Worship Service on Sunday mornings, dressed in our dungarees, ready for work.

Of course, that was last decade. More recently, even the Law has disappeared from the contemporary Evangelical's concept of Church, leaving only man, his preferences and his comfort as primary factors in his expectations of the Sunday morning "experience." The Emergent Church movement has pressed this notion further, to the point of eliminating visible Church almost entirely – Christian's don't do the "church thing" anymore, they just be Church. And these ideas are becoming dominant among contemporary Lutherans, as well. When we borrow our practices from the heterodox, it impacts our doctrine.

Dressing for Reality
The reality is, when I and my family go to Divine Service, God comes to us as He comes to all His saints on earth, and brings Heaven with Him. I am actually going to be in the presence of Divine Royalty; therefore, I am going to dress in a manner reflecting this reality. All the saints assembled are arrayed in the finest garments; therefore, I am going to dress in a manner that reflects this reality. The Words with which God Himself serves me, are the fount of everlasting life; therefore, I am going to dress for this occasion in a manner that reflects this reality and my consequent gratitude. And in the Sacrament, Christ Himself personally joins Himself to me in a most intimate way, not just spiritually, but physically, as I actually receive His body and blood in the elements of the Eucharist; therefore, I will dress for this event in a way that reflects this reality and demonstrates the gravity of its potency. When my boys occasionally ask me, "Why do we have to wear a suit and tie on Sunday," this is the explanation I give. If they protest, saying, "But we can't play in these clothes," I reply, "Church is not a social club. We are going to Church prepared for the Divine Service, not for the social activities that may precede or follow it. We should not allow those things to interfere with the purpose for which we are there." And this is true. The advice that we dress for other people, whether we are asked to dress up or dress down for others, is a request that we take our eyes off of Christ and the reality of Heaven's presence in the Divine Service and instead make man and various social criteria the object of our preparations.

Finally, I contend, such a practice is evangelical practice. Following the Service, since we are in town, our family will often go to lunch at a restaurant, and do some shopping at the grocery store, or maybe at the local Fleet Farm or Home Depot – dressed in our "Sunday Best." What is the reaction of those who see us? They are immediately reminded that it is Sunday, they are reminded of Church, of God, and of their relation to those things whether good or bad. We know because we are on occasion informed by those who see us, "I don't go to church, but I probably should." Or, "I need to start going to church again." The reality is, in Western Society, the Christian's "Sunday Best" is his "religious garb" – it openly communicates his Christian religion and his observance of it to those who see him, and opens doors of communication where inconspicuous dress would fail to do so.

I don't know how many Christians consider such things as they choose their attire on Sunday morning, but I think they ought to.

My Opinion,

Mr. Douglas Lindee


Daniel Baker said...

When the motivation to dress nice for church is related to what we can do for God, it's no wonder people are less than eager to wear nice clothing to church, seeing as God demands our best at all times and not just Sunday mornings.

When the motivation is such as that provided in this post, i.e. as a reminder of what God has done for us and our declaration of that fact, it makes the idea a bit more understandable.

We as confessional Lutherans need to do a better job of explaining why we find a particular change unwarranted, rather than just condemning others haphazardly. Otherwise, we do just come off as pharisaic (something we are clearly not).

Daniel Baker

Joe Krohn said...

Thank you, Mr. Lindee for your thoughts.

The casual attitude toward church when it affects how scripture is presented is quite bothersome to me. It was touched in the last Groeschel installment. These hipsters who seem to have to make scripture cool because it can't stand on its own is a pet peeve.

I was a fan of Third Day at one time and you could join their fan club (I didn't). They were called Gomers after the harlot wife of Hosea. Their website had this embellishment of her story and after I got done reading it, I thought wow, I need to go back and get a refresher. Were my eyes made wide open. It wasn't even close. I wondered what translation they were using!!! But this need to add to a story for the sake of a dramatic presentation is just plain wrong. And it has affected WELS. I have seen it. It still ticks me off that I communicated with my ex-pastor about it and never received a response.

This affect is seen in the last blog post; How a commentator got all of that from the woman at the well. Really? Darkening clouds at the time of the flood? How could that be? The Bible never talks about rain before the flood and you would need atmospheric conditions like the ones we live in (post flood) to see rain clouds. There is strong evidence to indicate that the earth's atmosphere and geography changed rather dramatically after the flood from the description that is given in early Genesis.

Maybe I'm a little anal about all of this, but we must stick to the facts. We can not say the Bible says something when it doesn't. That's how you eventually get bad doctrine.


Daniel Gorman said...

Thanks Mr. Lindee. I wear a tie for the same reason you wear a tie. However, we must remember that the style of apparel worn to church is adiaphora and that fashion changes over time.

For example, I remember in the 60s when coat and tie was the norm at airports. Now, people wear clothing appropriate to their destination. No man should be criticized for wearing blue jeans to church. His next stop may be his neighbor's house to fix her deck or her plumbing.

On the other hand, there are rules for clothing that are not adiaphora. This is discussed in the Augsburg Confession, Art. XXVIII, "What, then, are we to think of the Sunday and like rites in the house of God? To this we answer that it is lawful for bishops or pastors to make ordinances that things be done orderly in the Church, not that thereby we should merit grace or make satisfaction for sins, or that consciences be bound to judge them necessary services, and to think that it is a sin to break them without offense to others. So Paul ordains, that women should cover their heads in the congregation. . ."

For the sake of good order, bishops or pastors may degree that men go uncovered and that women wear a covering (1 Cor. 11). But what pastor reminds his congregation what is clearly written in scripture concerning head coverings?

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