Last night my Church voted to make the wearing of pants optional for membership and communion.
I have to confess I didn't see this coming. Wearing pants isn't really an issue near and dear to my heart - I wear them and see wearing pants as an issue the Bible speaks to under the general heading of modesty but I recognise that some Christians don't wear pants. Even in my congregation there has been some varied practice lately - but I assumed the Church as a whole was content to leave the constitution with the minimal requirement that people wear pants to weekly Church services and communion. Not so...
The meeting started off with some people expressing appreciation for the tradition our Church has of wearing pants. It was acknowledged that this makes us different from some - but that the difference was based in our desire to follow Jesus and should be embraced.
I spoke after a while - I wanted to challenge the congregation to wrestle with the issue of pants by turning to Scripture. I feel strongly that the inability of people on both sides of the issue to articulate their position about pants with regards to the Bible indicates our spiritual weakness as "Biblical Authority" becomes a principle we claim to subscribe to but don't actually practice. Being pro-tradition or anti-tradition isn't really the point.
I also shared that I knew when I became a member three years ago that the most important issue confronting our congregation was the issue of change and direction. What will we be like as a congregation in 5 years or 10 years? I knew when I joined that the congregation was moving in a particular direction - and as I've grown to know the people in the congregation better that impression has been confirmed. Everybody knows we're moving in a particular direction (some are happy about that and others less so!) but we don't talk in any sort of congregational fashion about this trend (and pants are only one small data point on the trendline).
Our congregation has already lost (for practical purposes) much of New Testament teaching about separation from the world, about the dangers involved in pursuing money, status, and things. We will lose (I predicted) particular teachings about nonresistance and marriage that are found in Scripture but not common among much of Christianity. We have an impoverished ecclesiology that no longer reflects the full message of the New Testament about the Church that has best been expressed in anabaptism and other "Believer's Church" traditions.
All those issues are more important to me than the relatively minor issue of whether we require communicants to wear pants. I see us as drifting away from Biblical authority, of losing many of the truths of the Bible as our minds are increasingly shaped by our culture and we coast on the cultural capital of previous teaching and instruction. My comments were echoed by a few, but most spoke in favor of the change.
Many shared their feelings of exclusion - that because they would not wear pants they are not allowed to take communion or that their spouse does not belong to the Church because of the issue of pants. How can we judge by looking at the outside when God sees the heart? How can we exclude simply based on an article of clothing?
Others felt that while it is true that the practice of the congregation regarding wearing pants has shifted, this shift represents maturity and growth. To focus more on Christ and less on externals is not drifting but maturing, and the relatively minor issue of whether to wear pants to communion is not something the Church should be mandating. Many expressed support for the principle behind wearing pants and even encouraged those who feel so lead to wear pants as much as they want.
One younger brother stood up to offer the view that he didn't understand the fuss over pants. His experience is that people are not put off by the requirement to put on a pair of pants to come to Church or take communion. That's not a huge requirement after all!</satire>
I can't remember, now, all the comments that were made. I was saddened (though not suprised) to see us move in this direction. It seemed to me that my challenge to wrestle together on the basis of scripture was ignored - most of the comments could have applied just as well to the exclusionary effects of our beliefs about divorce and remarriage. They even sounded familiar to anyone who has followed the Prop 8/Gay Marriage debate here in California. While I appreciated the heart and concern of many who spoke out in favor of the change to our Church Constitution, I can't help feeling that the grounds of the debate, the appeals to tolerance and exclusion and judgement apart from the teachings of Scripture confirmed my concerns.
OK: just to reassure those who might not be in on the joke - the report above is satirical. My Church didn't really discuss pants and, just for the record, if you visit us PLEASE WEAR CLOTHES!
Ahem. The actual issue we discussed was different, but the arguments I reported are pretty much the same, and my own comments in particular are as accurate as memory allows. One thing I did say that I didn't include in the report was to commit to communicating more with my congregation and encouraging us to communicate more honestly as a body.
This blog needs to play a role in that process - so keep your eyes peeled for changes in this space. And if you're one of my tech readers (probably wondering what the heck I'm talking about) yeah - I've got something for you too...blog comments powered by Disqus