What is the Church’s dress code?
It's time to "put on" Jesus and demonstrate his love in practical ways to a nation greatly in need of it
Published 08 June 2012 | Tony Ward
The British are world-renowned for talking obsessively about the weather, and the Queen’s Jubilee weekend provided an opportunity (if one was ever needed) to do so once more, with much media coverage of how, notwithstanding it being the month of June, over a hundred people were taken to hospital suffering from potential hypothermia following the Thames River pageant on the Sunday. Clearly there were many revellers at the weekend who were not sufficiently insulated against the biting wind and driving rain of the traditional British summer.
It reminded me of how, not long ago, a weather forecaster was berated by a radio news presenter of Five Live for predicting bad weather, as if it was somehow his fault. His instant reply was profound and thought-provoking. He said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.”
The Bible not infrequently uses the analogy of appropriate or inappropriate clothing as an indicator of the state of our relationship with God. Perhaps the most widely known example is the wearing of sackcloth and ashes as an appropriate sign of being remorseful and repentant. On the other hand, in the New Testament, Jesus tells a parable about a man being excluded from a wedding banquet because he was inappropriately attired, lacking the requisite wedding garment. Then, later on, the Apostle Paul commands us to “put off the deeds of darkness and clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).
The Christian faith comes with the constant challenge to get rid of what is inappropriate in our lives, and to “put on Jesus”. This is equally applicable to the Church as Christ’s Body, as it is to the individual. The Church has all too frequently worn the inappropriate apparel of theological bickering, archaic language and incomprehensible ritual rather than displaying a practical demonstration of how to live out true Christianity.
The Bible passage read from Romans 12 by David Cameron at the Jubilee Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral stresses how the church needs to be a place where grace is epitomised in practical action and ministry. How encouraging, therefore, that so many churches up and down the nation took the opportunity afforded by the Queen’s Jubilee to host celebratory street parties for their local community. “Practise hospitality,” says the Apostle Paul in verse 13 of that chapter. Some of the local residents who flocked in to the party I attended at a church in Wales were amazed that it was free, without even a donation basket. One family had arrived, only to realise they had no cash on them, and were inquiring where the nearest cash machine was. It took several moments for them to grasp the fact that the meal, the bouncy castle, the face-painting and the puppets were all provided at no cost. And then, at the end, they departed with a free souvenir Jubilee edition of the New Testament.
The announcement a few days ago that 655,000 of these commemorative Diamond Jubilee New Testaments were ordered by churches and individuals is a cause for huge rejoicing. National events such as this offer wonderful opportunities for the Church to build bridges with the community. It is essential that the Church recognises the evangelistic scope that exists in embracing the significant days in society’s calendar. Remembrance Sunday, Father’s Day, Mothering Sunday and many other such occasions and traditions have enormous potential, which in the past many churches have neglected. But evangelism aside, the Church is simply called to portray the character of Christ by having the sensitivity and compassion to “rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn” (verse 15) whenever such occasions occur.
Given Britain’s current spiritual climate, now is surely the time to change the Church’s “dress code” – to “put on” Jesus, and ‘flesh out’ his love and grace in everyday living. It’s said that when a foreign student was once asked to name his favourite translation of the Bible, he replied “My mother’s”. His friend inquired, “Is that a translation into English?” “No”, he replied, “It’s a translation into action”. That’s the dress code that the Church needs to adopt, so that we avoid the perils of spiritual hypothermia!
Tony Ward is a Bible teacher and evangelist who was ordained in Zimbabwe. He currently lives and ministers in Bristol.
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