About six months ago, I stopped wearing a tie when I preach (at least at my home church). It was an intentional, considered decision. One that I made prayerfully with reverence and out of love for God and the people and church that I am privileged to serve. For me I feel that the most reverent thing I can do is not wear a tie when I preach.
Let me explain. The church I serve was recently seriously injured by someone who sought and was admitted into leadership, all the while (over a period of several years) expertly concealing that he functionally rejected sola scriptura in favor of “capital F” Fundamentalism.
I’m not talking about the fundamentalism of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy that affirmed the five fundamentals of the faith, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Christ and the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, as enumerated and expanded in the series of essays that came to be known as The Fundamentals published between 1910 and 1915 (which I would wholeheartedly and unreservedly affirm). Rather I’m talking about the kind of Fundamentalism that concerns itself with extrabiblical cultural matters (like dress or music or literature or movies or hobbies) and pronounces some things God approved and other things as sinful without using the plain teaching of the Bible as the standard.
Now hear me clearly, there are cultural things that are inherently sinful because engaging in or viewing or listening to or reading them (or how ever they are imbibed) violates the standards of scripture. You can’t look at pornography (even if it is not called pornography by the culture, think Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black) without sinning, and you can’t listen to music that glorifies violence or sexual immorality without sinning. (And of course there are other examples, but let’s be honest, this is not a confusing concept and we all get it.)
But there are areas which are “gray.” These are areas in which we have to use wisdom, and in which we are allowed to have preferences because there is no clear requirement or prohibition in Scripture. And the existence of preferences is the crux of the matter.
Although for this man music was the triggering issue, the problem went much deeper than just music. I was absolutely flabbergasted when shortly after the church affirmed him as an elder he sat across from me and said “judging from the website I guess you believe in preferences.”
He evidently was referring to this part of our statement on music (you can read the full statement here):
Music is not just a matter of biblical conviction however; it is also a matter of preference. Scripture is absolutely silent on style of music, other than a general commendation of variety (Colossians 3:16), therefore PBC esteems no one style of music above another. But we do have a preference. At Piedmont Bible Church, we tend to prefer more traditional modes of musical worship (on Sunday mornings) and we usually sing traditional hymns accompanied by a piano (although we do occasionally sing theologically rich contemporary hymns and songs).
If you have a different musical preference, we would love for you to join us, and want you to know that you are entirely welcome at PBC. As believers, we are called to prefer others to ourselves, and one of the ways we grow in love for one another is by practicing preferring one another.
If you prefer traditional worship music, we want you to know that you are welcome at PBC, but we also want you to know that we are a multi-generational and multi-cultural body and our focus is not on music, but on the faithful preaching of God’s Word and growing together in love for one another and more importantly love of God.
I see how that could give the impression that the church believed in preferences, that was kind of the idea. And as a corollary, if the preference of the people of the church changes, the musical styles used in worship will change, because it is just a preference.
Without rehashing all the events (which are still painful to contemplate) he argued that everything he found sinful, like playing the Getty hymn In Christ Alone or preaching in a blue shirt could be shoehorned into the phrase “and things like these” In Galatians 5:21 and therefore he was not denying sola scriptura (I’m still not super clear on how singing In Christ Alone is like sexual immorality or wearing a blue shirt while preaching Eph 5:1-6 is like sorcery).
Over a year of prayer, meetings, and eventually a meeting with two of the directors of our regional fellowship of churches, he was convinced that his view was outside of the church’s understanding of sola scriptura (you can read about it here in our statement of faith), and that the church was not going to change its view, so he left the church. And by the time he left the church had shrunk by about 75%.
Which brings us back to ties. Once a month I have lunch with a small group of likeminded area pastors. And a dear brother who has been faithfully serving in a reformed Baptist church in the next town over for more than two decades said to me “John, you know why Fundamentalists come to our churches (he had recently gone through his own troubles)? Because we wear ties when we preach.”
It is a quirk of our geographic area and its culture that the Hawaiian shirt wearing preacher is essentially entirely absent. And it is also a quirk of our area that there is a sizeable population of Fundamentalists who verbally deny they are Fundamentalists while holding fast to extra-biblical cultural standards as the rule for faith and practice. (I have had more than one visitor to the church make sure to work into our first conversation that they don’t even have a T.V.) And it seems that they equate wearing a tie with someone who believes as they do, or at least someone who will be receptive to their ideas.
So I thought to myself, if a faithful man who has been around the area for 20 years says all I have to do to protect the church from the kind of trouble we just went through is to stop wearing a tie, why not.
But, it was surprisingly hard to take the tie off. I’m a suit and tie guy, I always was, even before I was a Christian, let alone a pastor. I have two racks of ties in my closet, and I have kept my favorite “going out” suit in case of the unlikely event that I am ever again a 46 athletic and that that unlikely event coincides with three button suits coming back into style and me going to a jazz supper club.
More importantly, I was trained to equate wearing a suit and tie in the pulpit with reverence for the sacred desk and the preaching of the Word. Countless times in seminary I heard the admonishment “Even sportscasters wear a tie, because they take their job seriously, and you should too.” Countless times I was told that to not wear a tie was irreverent.
But the more I thought and prayed about it, the more I became convinced that this too is a worldly standard, just like those of the kind of Fundamentalism that had just caused so much harm to the church (although, and I want to stress this, no one at TMS ever said that not wearing a tie to preach was sin).
I’m fairly convinced that if I dressed like Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada in the pulpit, though I would be wearing a tie, no one would accuse me of taking the preaching of the Word seriously. And though I would love an excuse to go out and buy a tuxedo (or at least a blue velvet dinner jacket) if I dressed like a boxing commentator in the pulpit, I don’t think the first thought in the mind of visitors would be “wow that guy is reverent.” Those are kind of jokey examples, but if I wouldn’t take my sartorial cues from Don Cherry, why would I be obligated to take them from Al Michaels? Aside from the fact that in light of church history we are not that far removed from the prevailing wisdom being that wearing a suit and tie in the pulpit is showy and prideful, Scripture is entirely silent on how we should dress to preach. It is a matter of wisdom and preference.
And although my preference is to wear a suit and tie in the pulpit, wisdom tells me that if by taking the tie off I can lessen the chances that another stealth Fundamentalist will pick our church as a place to infiltrate and attack the concept of freedom in Christ, I should take the tie off.
One of the things that Scripture is absolutely clear on is that while man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart (1 Sam 15:7). And reverence is a matter of the heart. And because I take the Word of God seriously, both what it says about our freedom in Christ (Jn 8:36, 1 Pt 2:16, 2 Cor 3:17 etc.) and what it says about shepherding the flock of God (1 Pt 5:1-4), out of reverence, I don’t wear a tie.