Luke 22:14-20 (NIV)
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.
15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.
18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
I Corinthians 11:23-26 (NIV)
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,
24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
There is nothing more dramatic in our Christian assemblies than the Supper of the Lord. It is central to our purpose of gathering, and our worship. Through a simple practice of sharing with one another the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine we remind one another and declare to whomever may be watching the love of God, the reality of the Incarnation, the scope of the Cross, and the power of the Resurrection. Because this weekly event is so powerful, and so important it has been at the center of many a debate. People have raised important questions over the views transubstantian, consubstantiation and memorialism; they have debated over who may preside over the table (priests, elders, Joe Christian, etc.) and how often it is to be celebrated (weekly, daily, whenever the body gathers, or intermittently as determined by the leadership). Frankly, I think these conversations are healthy. We need to understand the centrality of the Supper in Christian worship, and we need to come to deeper understandings of its purpose. There are, however, some unhealthy conversations, and that is what I am posting about today.
“You’re from the ‘no tie church’,” was the statement. Now, this friend meant it in jest (I think), and I don’t think she meant it with the attitude I’m addressing in this post. But if you know me well, you know it raised a hair or two on the back of my neck.
“No, that’s not our identity, our identity is in Christ. We’re not the ‘no tie church’,” was my response.
“Well, you don’t all wear ties.”
“No, we just don’t require adherence to the traditions of man,” was my second, rather cheeky, response.
Ugh. FYI, sometimes our men have ties on, sometimes they don’t. We never require such, as God has made no such law.
Supperficiality is rampant. I once attended a congregation (who for their own sakes will remain nameless) that kept a box of ties in case a brother forgot to wear one and was going to be leading prayer or serving the Lord’s Supper. Without a tie, he was deemed unworthy and was replaced by one of the “holier?” tie-wearing brethren. It was an act of humiliation, whether intended to be or not. The “principle” involved escapes me, even though I’ve had people argue there is one many a time. I think the reason it escapes me is that never is Scripture involved in the rationalization for such judgmental behavior. In fact, Scripture outright condemns such. . . .we’ll get back to that in a second.
A brother walks into the men’s room after worship, and this is the conversation began: “It was sure difficult to focus on Jesus and the Lord’s Supper when you were up front those clothes.” The brother was not in drag, he was not unbathed, he was not wearing anything immodest. He was wearing “dress casual”. And he was condemned. AND he was blamed for the lack of concentration on the part of the critic. . . .because hey, it could not be possible that his lack of focus was from his own heart. Right? Better to judge the tie-less brother than to examine the motives of one’s own heart, I suppose.
A lady comes to the benevolence ministry in need of food and clothing for her children. She is overwhelmed by the generosity and how quickly her needs were met. It was one of those moments when you clearly see the work of Jesus being done. . . .until. She asked when the church met because she’d like to come. She asked me, the minister, if what she had on would be appropriate, since that’s all the type of clothing she had. I assured her she was fine and we looked forward to seeing her again. I later found out that as she was on her way out when she had mentioned her desire to come to the sisters working. They told her she’d need to wait while they found her a suitable dress for worship, what she had on would not do. She left deflated and never came back.
These are just two brief accounts I could give you that reflect a widespread (though THANK GOD shrinking) problem within the church. Supperficiality. And to put it is nicely as I can, I’m sick of it. It is sin–not a difference of opinion–it is s-i-n, sin.
Make no mistake, I have no problem with ties and suits and dresses. I have no problem with traditions in general, if kept in proper perspective. Here is what I do have a problem with, and I do because Christ does: Binding the traditions of man as though they are the commandments of God. This is specifically condemned in Scripture, and should be roundly, publicly and constantly condemned in our congregations.
Let’s look at a couple of passages. First, Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 and says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mt. 15:8-9 ESV) This is not the only time Jesus condemned the Jewish leadership for condemning their brothers and sisters for not holding to tradition. This was a chronic problem, and Jesus consistently condemned them for it.
Second is this passage in the book of James: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4 ESV) The Supper is not a time where this principle is exempt is it? May I, because the Supper is so important, judge the brother who does not dress as well? May I bar him from leading the prayers or passing the plates? May it never be. There could be no greater disgrace to the Supper of the One whose Body and Blood are its center than to use it as a time to judge my brother.
Interestingly enough, the only requirements that are mentioned in Scripture about the attire of Christians never include phrases like “wear you best for the Lord” or other such things you hear as justifications. Jesus never laid out a dress code for those who participate in worship. And, if you, like me, are part of the Restoration Movement churches where “being silent where the Bible is silent” is a virtue, neither can you. You have no Word from God justifying such greater requirements. None.
Such pettiness is in stark contrast to the Gospel of Jesus. It is in contrast with the Savior who bent down to greet the children that the adults wanted held back. It is in contrast with the Messiah who chose ordinary men of ordinary means and skills and, yes, clothing, to be his Apostles. It is in contrast with the God who said when looking for a king to lead Israel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7 ESV)
Which brings me to this: If we have no rule on clothing, how do we make sure no one wears what is truly inappropriate? (It’s a fair question, because not everyone asking it does so from such judgmental motives) The same thing you do when a brother or sister is wearing something inappropriate to a ballgame, school, work or a grocery store. You lovingly, patiently, compassionately share with them the principles of holy living. We are not called to a particular wardrobe or set of dressing guidelines. Such do not change the heart. We are called to live modestly–which would actually condemn the expensive show-off clothing openly aspired to by some churches. We should teach and encourage one another to make wise and godly choices about our dress all the time, not just when we are going to be “at church” or “up front” as such dichotomizing of our Christian lives only leads to the attitudes of judgmentalism addressed here. All of our life is to be pleasing to God, and what is worn on Monday or Sunday should be no different. Certainly, we need to be on guard for our own souls. We need to make sure we are not examining the speck in our fellow wayfarer’s eye while beating him upside the head with the plank in our own. When speaking about this in a study in with our congregation, we talked of how those who do not have dress codes can be just as judgmental of those who think they should dress up on Sundays. Just as the tie-wearers are sinful to condemn the non-tie’ers, the non-tie’ers must not condemn the tie-wearers. Take heed not to replace Phariseeism with Sadducceeism. Instead, set an example of looking not at the outward appearance, but at the heart, and instead of judging the wardrobe of the brother leading the prayer–pray.
We need to remember, the Supper is about our communion with one another through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is not our wardrobe or a consistent practice or tradition that bind us together, it is our faith in the Son of the Living God, our appreciation of His sacrifice, and our anticipation of His return.