Believe it or not I had faced the same theological dilemma over 30 years ago at my first baptism. (I have been baptized 3 times, but that is a hitherto unpublished post) My pastor at that time was a very godly preacher, but his short sleeved shirt on baptism day revealed a tattoo of a woman in a bathing suit dated to the 1940’s. He got it I think in the Navy during WW2. As a newborn 10 year old theologian I was shocked but have gotten over it. He went to be with the Lord last year, and he had a great influence on my life. It turned out that he was able to be a pastor and a Christian with that tattoo after all.
As a somewhat progressive church planter I am willing to try almost anything to reach the lost. I dislike ties except on formal occasions, and I have no desire or need to get a tattoo unless it is my phone number which I can never remember. I reach gothic kids now and try to dress a little cooler, but there is no need to dye my hair black unless it starts to turn gray. I considered wearing a spiked collar to fit in with the Goths, but at my age it might be misconstrued for the aberration of a more dominant lifestyle. I try to be myself, but I know others who for the right reasons are a little more progressive than I am. I lose no sleep over this.
From a cultural perspective the question of what to wear and what not to wear can be complex, but from a biblical context it is simple. All women in the US have seen the show What Not to Wear, and if you are a married man you have also been forced to watch it. Some poor soul is submitted to this show by his or her friends and family who think that they could use a change. Their unique daily dress & grooming styles or lack thereof are secretly filmed for a few days, and they are then presented with the evidence and an opportunity to change. BUT, they must get rid of the old, and some people religiously hold on to 20 year old styles, mullets and the like. It sounds like a few archaic church styles that I know of.
The concept of this show is not new. The spiritual version can be found in God’s Word:
What to take off: Eph 4:25-29
- Take off worldliness
- Take off selfishness
- Take off bitterness, unforgiveness, etc. 2 Tim 3:1-4
- Take off a religious spirit. 2 Tim 3:5
What to put on: Rom 13:12
- Put on the new self. Of course this means to take off the old self. Col 3:1-7
- The armor of God. This is a big one, but I would like to emphasize the footwear here. Eph 6:10-20
- Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. This means to look like Jesus and not like us. Rom 13:10-14
- Put on love. Of course, a lot has to be removed to put this on.
Ultimately, God is concerned with the style of the heart and not the style of the clothing, hair or what part of our face we hang our dad’s extra fishing tackle. It is the heart that ultimately shows our life’s purpose or who is at the center of our lives. A heart that is properly clothed and focused on the will of the right person, namely Jesus, is prepared to be what Paul stated:
…I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 1 Cor 9:22
What determines your personal style, Kingdom purpose or just personal expression? The two sometimes line up but sometimes don’t.
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:27-28