Monday, February 10, 2014

Blue Jeans & God's Glory

This last Sunday was a first for me. I preached a Sunday AM sermon wearing blue jeans.

OK, now all my generic Evangelical friends are rolling their eyes. Their pastor has probably worn blue jeans for years, maybe even shorts and flip flops. After all, with the advent of Rick Warren and the Hawaiian shirt, isn't this issue passé? Unless one attends a mainline church in an über-professional environment, or maybe a fundamentalist church someplace other than Kentucky, hasn't the Church moved past this issue?

Maybe. But also maybe we never got the memo in my little town of West Liberty.

Don't misunderstand. I've never been a formalist. While I've worn suits throughout my entire time in pastoral ministry, I did it as an accommodation. For some reason, in 2 out of the 3 churches I've ministered at, most folks found some sort of significance in "wearing one's best" to church. For some stranger reason, some committee in the nascent years of Evangelicalism decided "one's best" was what lawyers wore to court when defending drug dealers. Thus the preacher and the Sunday morning suit began their long and storied relationship.

Also, don't misunderstand the opposite way. I'm not anti-suit. In fact, I quite like it when women look like ladies and men look like gentlemen. There is something dignified and proper when a young man puts on a suit, polishes his shoes, and resolutely stands by the door on a frigid Sunday morning just to be able to open it for those coming into the church. And especially now that the thin tie fad of the 1960's seems to have died the final death, I admit a well chosen tie is the ne plus ultra of the business-formal look. Well, that and cuff links. So, to be sure, suits still have their place in our society and our churches.

So why am I even talking about this? Isn't this whole conversation just silly?

Well, yes. It is silly. But then again, this is a blog and those two belong together like potlucks and Southern Baptists.

Actually, the blue jeans were merely an object lesson. A subtle way of introducing a more important conversation; namely, Christian freedom. Jesus promised his followers a real and radical freedom. "If you abide in my word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," (John 8:31,32). Freedom from sin, death, and judgment. But also freedom from the burden of the Law and the unbearable weight of man-made traditions. The New Testament, if its clear on anything, is clear on the fact that the believer is "not under the Law but under grace" (Rom 6:14) and that "we are now released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code" (Rom 7:6).

This means we are free from the crushing burden of the Old Testament law (fulfilled for us in Christ). It also certainly means we are free from those silly add-on traditions invented by humans. Jesus had scathing words for the Pharisees who added these burdens upon the people and Paul equally warns against those who force upon the church human traditions (Col 2:8) or religious structures (Gal 4:9-10). Such persons create a list of rules, a set of things we must not do ("do not handle, do not taste, do not touch, ", Col 2:21) and a set of things we are required to do ("the commandments of men", Mark 7:7). 

Jesus calls this "vain worship" (Mark 7:7).


Last time I checked, that wasn't the best compliment of one's worship. My guess is you'll never see that on a church's website ("Join us Sunday for some exciting, lively, and vain worship led by our praise band").

So what does all this have to do with blue jeans? Is wearing a suit now automatically placed in the category of vain worship and legalism? Can we only be freed from that by wearing blue jeans?

No, that's just replacing one legalistic standard for another.

Anyone who imposes an extra-biblical standard is a legalist. Pure and simple. Peter warns us about such people, saying they "promise freedom but are themselves slaves of corruption" (2 Pet 2:19). That's because such standards always fail. They never produce holiness. They always produce sin and pride. Paul tells us that such rules may "indeed have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion...but are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh" (Col 2:23).

This means I can never make a rule about the length of my daughter's skirt that has the ability to promote in her a spirit of modesty. I can never make a rule about what my boys wear to church that can effect an attitude of reverence for the King. There is no rule I can invent about what movies that we watch which has the power to produce holiness in my family.



To produce those things I must take them to Christ. Nowhere else. Only Christ.

So next week it's probably back to wearing suit pants. Back to accommodation. Back to the familiar. But that's OK. Wearing blue jeans was never the goal. The larger goal was recognizing, at least for myself, that a suit has nothing to do with offering God reverence, praise, and respect. It added nothing to his honor. Nothing to my worship. Neither did the jeans.

Just fabric covering a naked body, which covers a redeemed heart. A heart that is free. Free to live for Christ. Free to bring him glory!

1 comment:

  1. Amusingly enough, even though I sat through your sermon, listened, took notes, and was watching you through it all... I never even noticed that you were wearing jeans. Now, I suppose if you were wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt, I probably would have noticed.

    Out of curiosity, did anyone notice (and comment) on your jeans?