Is Christianity minus the “suit and tie” more authentic than it’s formal forebear? As sermons are proliferated online, we are slowly becoming more familiar with the pastor who preaches sans pulpit with plaid shirt un-tucked and a pair of skinny jeans. This slouched approach to church gatherings reveals itself further in the relaxed liturgies (or non-existent liturgies) of many of our newer churches. The appeal is that this approach is more authentic…we don’t “dress up in our Sunday best” anymore because that is inauthentic and fake. Is this true? Does Less Formal = More Authentic?
I understand that as you read this article some of what I say will be like bamboo shoots under the finger nails, but hear me out. Yes, it is true that Christianity of the mid-1900s was as much about playing hide and seek from one another as it was about authenticity–or honesty, if we want to use biblical terminology, and I do. However, our generation of pastors and new churches have reacted against the wrong problem. The problem was not the way the people dressed. The problem was their deceptive and proud hearts. Does a suit make a person less honest? Does a tie make a person less vulnerable? Can you be just as deceptive and proud in a hoodie as in a blazer?
There is a misconception that churches whose members show up to corporate worship in jeans, tees, and sneaks are somehow closer to what the New Testament portrays than churches who prefer to worship together in suits and ties. Additionally, those who believe that less liturgy means better church are disagreeing with Christians across more than 1800 years and 1 Corinthians 14:26.
Here is what I believe is happening: We are pretending that lack of discipline is next to godliness. Christianity does happen “organically”, but it also requires persistent self-discipline (1 Cor. 9:27; Titus 1:8). In fact, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to persevere in areas that require discipline because they will lead us toward peace in righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). We have bought into the deadly “Let Go, and Let God” approach to Christianity.
But you protest: “We are becoming all things to all people, so that by all means we might win some!” (1 Cor. 9:22). All right. I’ll bite. The question is: “What if the people you are seeking to reach wear suits and ties?”
I was at the South Carolina Annual Prayer Breakfast this past Wednesday. When you attend any event held in a hotel ballroom at which The Honorable Nikki Haley Governor of the State of South Carolina will be present, best assumption is that everyone will be in suit and tie. However, when I sat down at my table, I noticed two tables adjacent to us that stuck out like a sore thumb. After some inquiry, I learned that at these two tables sat the campus pastors from a large growing church in SC…and they were all dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Chad. This is so judgmental.” Hold on, now. Here was what they communicated to me: “We know Christianity better than you, and we don’t care about honoring our Governor, senators, or congressmen.” They honestly looked like someone had reserved a table for some kids from the local youth group. These men have been set aside for the ministry of the gospel, but their appearance told the other 400 people in the room that they would rather be somewhere else.
I don’t buy the fact that less formal = more honest, nor do I buy the fact that more formal = more honest. However, I do believe that “becoming all things to all people” means that we are willing to wear a suit and tie when it is appropriate.
Call me a sellout. Call me judgmental. Whatever you say, we all need to do some growing up, and act like grownups.
P.S.–I have to thank Coach Lyle from Grove City College for helping me learn what it means to wear a suit like a man.