by Patricia Backora
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I’ve been an out-of-church Christian for a long time, but I keep up with what’s going on in the IC system I fled from (the institutional church). Things haven’t gotten much better, judging from the pieces I read online. People are still “playing church”, and being hit on for money they really don’t have to give. Since I left the States 12 years ago, something new has been invented: the “mega-church”. What a gold mine for preachers who run those establishments! All those thousands of sheep out there in Pewland just waiting to be fleeced! And how numbers bolster rich preachers’ self-esteem!
It’s all about self-esteem and image these days, in churches big and small. If Jesus walked the earth it wouldn’t be long before He’d be pressured to “shave that beard” and get Himself a new wardrobe consultant. Jesus would be rebuked for hanging out with poor down-and-outers on Skid Row instead of jetting to all the most exclusive (and pricey) Christian conventions on the planet. Unless Jesus loaded His fingers with jewelry and got Himself His own personal jet and oceanfront mansion, He couldn’t rise in the ranks of the rich IC.
The rich Establishment is already hogging the material riches of Planet Earth, but it isn’t content with temporal control over people’s lives. The Establishment wants to hog Jesus for itself, too, and make merchandise of the things of God like Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-23). Jesus is used as a marketing gimmick to make religious celebrities richer. The Jesus Revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s had barely begun before it was commercialized (remember the “Jesus” stickers, posters, record albums and bumper stickers?). Today, the “dress-for-success” go-getter has taken over popular churchianity. The “pride of life” spirit is at work in modern charismatic country (I John 2:16). Unless you look like a Forbes 500 boardroom executive or a catwalk model your ability to minister your measure of Christ to His Body will be doubted by the carnal Laodicean IC of today.
A few things I read reminded me that glamor is even more important than godliness in the ministry of the IC. Far from forsaking the world, the value system of the world is perpetuated in “Christian” success seminars which promote a materialistic mindset expressly condemned by Jesus and the early church (Matt.16:26; Luke 16:15; I John 2:15)! Just like the corporate executive will dress like a funeral director and put on a false persona to fight his way to the top, the church demands a slick, Madison Avenue “image” in those who speak at popular seminars and occupy positions of leadership within the church.
Unpaid servants (slaves) of the church, ministers’ wives, are having a hard time of it. They live their lives in a fishbowl existence, forever under the scrutiny of the other church members. I’m reminded of what I read about Princess Diana. She felt like she was forever living in a fishbowl, attracting endless unwanted media attention. Her hair, her figure, her clothes, every aspect of her daily life were all monitored by a critical press. In much the same way, prominent women of the church, especially pastor’s wives, are expected to look perfect all the time. The preacher’s wife must not be caught napping by drop-in visitors, in the shower washing her hair, or even more scandalous, still in bed at nine a.m.! She must be ready to pop on her “churchy” appearance at the drop of a hat. One woman wore her house-cleaning dress over her nice dress, so that if visitors swooped in out of nowhere, she could take the shabby dress off and instantly look decent for answering the door.
The minister’s wife must keep her home picture-perfect spotless at all times. She has to stay skinny enough to “be a good complement to her husband’s ministry.” She must always have impeccable table manners, and eat as little as possible, lest prying eyes stare holes through her at the church potluck. You’d think the typical pastor’s wife was an inmate of a stuffy old finishing school (or fat farm), instead of one sister among many in the family of God!
Preachers’ wives must forever keep their real opinions bottled up and pretend to always be content and happy. They must never betray their true feelings of weariness and frustration. They must never get angry at anybody, regardless of the provocation. They must be available for all kinds of committees and ministries in the church, even if they also work full-time outside the home. And to add insult to injury, the preacher’s wife is expected to sacrifice her own individual personality and work all hours without financial compensation! Talk about playing the martyr!
One preacher’s wife couldn’t take the heat anymore. After ten years of suffering “in the ministry” under relentless social pressure to conform to an impossible ideal, she snapped. She left her husband and kids and disappeared without a trace. Eventually someone found her up in New York State, working at a fast food joint. My heart goes out to this poor woman. Her liberty cost her dearly. She’d lost her husband, her children, her home, and her financial security. But at least she could sit down and enjoy a burger and fries without church spies measuring her bites, or wondering whether she’d drop a crumb. If she gained two pounds nobody would give a hoot. This former pastor’s wife had no image to defend anymore, and no heavy burden of responsibility to be a “perfect example” for lower-ranking church ladies. Instead of being kept on display in a glass cage, she was just one of the crew. Now she could make REAL friends and be her REAL self for a change. Even the frantic noise and stress of her fast food job would be nothing compared to the maddening of “church” life she’d just escaped. Now she was free from having to be a sugary confection of perfection. She could crack jokes with her workmates. She could wear a baseball cap and T-shirt without criticism. But what a terrible price she had to pay for that freedom! To think that the very place on earth which should have shown this woman the love of Jesus and respected her blood-bought right to live in Christian liberty, instead bound her spiritually to worldly vanities and drove her away from her own family! Christians are the only army on earth which finishes off its own wounded!
While the IC carries on with its perpetual flower show of seminars, concerts, and such like, millions around the world are dying and going to hell without Christ, and Christian families are falling under the enemy’s fire because no one truly loves them. Far better to the IC to polish the brass on the Titanic than to admit that a loveless church is a lifeless church about to go down in the drink.
Jesus died to set us free from petty rules and regulations which choke off the flow of His Life. True, our liberty must sometimes be limited for the sake of weaker Christians (I Cor.8:9-13). For example, even if you point out that Jesus turned water into wine, consuming wine in front of Christians who honestly believe drinking wine is a sin can offend their conscience. Abuse of alcoholic beverages HAS caused much harm. But nobody ever committed domestic abuse or destroyed their liver because their colors clashed. While we have a duty to others, we also have a right to enjoy God’s peace (Col.3:15). If we are forever being harassed by legalists and ruled by them, that makes for unrest, not peace. As in the case of the pastor’s wife who deserted her home in despair, there comes a point at which self-sacrifice becomes self-destruction. Paul was willing to sacrifice his own personal liberty when the furtherance of the Gospel was at stake, but he refused to live in subjection to false brethren who tried to put the Law back on him (Gal. 2:4-5;5:1). The same principle applies to ridiculous man-made rules which have no bearing on “love thy neighbor”, but are enforced on “the leadership” of the church or their wives in order to strip away their individual identities and keep them under the control of the church organization, instead of the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard it before, even in the best of churches: “Lose your identity.” Even many years ago, when I was less mature, it made a bell go off inside. I believe that phrase to be a warning sign of a cult.
The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is quoted as the model for godly women to follow, but she has been turned into a robotic Stepford wife! Talk about labor exploitation by the ruling power structure! Even secular law limits working hours and provides for rest breaks, but unpaid preachers’ wives are expected to keep going with no sign of wear and tear, lest they be accused of slothfulness! Many preachers’ families have collapsed from the terrible strain of being expected to always outshine the other members of the congregation.
The role of “pastor’s wife” (as a forever-on-call Stepford slave) is not once mentioned in the New Testament. You don’t read about the wives of the apostles having lots of public duties dumped on them, along with being pressured to play the part of the high society debutante. Peter had a wife (I Cor.9:5), but we don’t even know her name, much less who her hair dresser was! The obscurity of Peter’s wife did not make her any less precious to God than her famous husband.
Within reason, liberty should be allowed in matters of personal taste. Provocative or skimpy clothing should never be worn in the Christian assembly by either man or woman. A tie-dyed tunic might be okay in an open-air meeting, but it would throw too much of a shock into poor, blind and naked prosperity disciples (Rev.3:14-19) nodding off in the whitewashed sepulcher they call church. If you look more colorful than the stained glass window, you’ll look like a turkey at a penguin party. But there is no scriptural law against bright colors. If there were, God would be breaking His own law by creating showy flowers in nature!
I remember the beginning of the Jesus revolution back in 1970. Lots of people from the counter-culture came to faith in Christ from ”the other side of the tracks”. Many young people wore sandals, long hair, beards, striped ponchos and granny dresses. They often found Christ OUTSIDE traditional church walls because they wouldn’t even set foot inside a traditional church. They didn’t want to take on all the hang-ups of the traditional religious scene. Many seeking young people felt alienated from all things connected with the materialistic Establishment. Jesus did not wear a suit and tie (or a Rolex), and His mother did not wear a tailored powder blue suit, heels, pearls and short hair. There is nothing wrong with those styles, but they are not the Law of the Lord! Neither is there anything inherently sinful about a patchwork skirt, sandals (Jesus wore them!) turquoise jewelry, peasant blouses, or bandanas. If a woman wants to reflect her own identity (rather than group identity) through clothing choice, hairstyle, or accessories, she should be allowed to do that. No one else’s well-being is threatened when a woman wears a headband to church, and her wearing one doesn’t necessarily make her a radical subversive! Only clothing which incites lust in others is sinful. And as for the other definition of modesty, which means “propriety”, that’s entirely subjective. Unless you’re in the military, modesty doesn’t mean group uniformity. Colors can be coordinated so that they don’t clash and attract too much attention. For example, a black skirt is softened by a colorful blouse. As long as people look clean and neat, hair and clothing choices should never be a divisive issue in the Body of Christ.
The money-obsessed Establishment already controls politics, the economy, entertainment and fashion. Why should we bring it into the assembly of the saints also? We must not let the world squeeze us into its mold (Rom.12:2; I John 2:15-17).
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The money-obsessed Establishment already controls politics, the economy, entertainment and fashion. Why should we bring it into the assembly of the saints also? We must not let the world squeeze us into its mold (Rom.12:2; I John 2:15-17). Sadly to say, it is there!
This is a wonderful article to which I say--AMEN! And thank you. Beth