Contend Earnestly: What does a Christian look like?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What does a Christian look like?

I recently came back from a mission trip to Mexico and it truly shocked me. Seeing the poverty that is prevalent was atrocious. As I sat in the worship services that I was able to be a part of on our first day (one in the morning, one in the evening) I was excited to think that these are the very people that I will be worshiping God forever with. The funny thing that I thought of is that the pastor, his son and many others in the service, would be looked down upon for how they looked. Meaning, they didn't dress in a nice shirt and tie, they didn't have a suit, and some even just showed up in shorts and a t-shirt.

I was speaking to my father about this, and he had spoken to an African pastor about 20 years ago and asked him if there was anything that he did not think was right in the way that the evangelists did things that came into his village. The pastor, making sure that he first sang their praises, said there was one thing that frustrated him the most. The missionaries, after adults and children were saved, made them dress like and American businessman. They literally told the villagers that they must wear a shirt and tie and the women had to be in dresses.

I don't know much of Hudson Taylor, but I do know that he is respected in almost every circle of modern Christendom for his service to the Chinese people and the proclamation of the gospel. What I find interesting is that it was the "great" Taylor that changed for the people and didn't not expect them to change for him. I guess the question for us is, what non-biblical issues, dress or traditions do we force upon others so that they look and act just as we do?

One of my favorite things that happened at the first church I went to in Mexico, was that they had time of testimony for any who would stand and speak. So, one by one, people stood up and told the church of their praises of what God had been doing. To show how different their thankfulness is compared to ours, one man stood up and simply praised God that he had lived for another birthday. The man could not have been any older than 40, yet praised God for his mere breath. Amen! This man was in blue jeans and a colorful polo shirt and was able to stand confidently among the congregation. The question should be: could he do the same at your church?

Mark Driscoll mentions this in one of his books as a pastor came in to see how Mars Hill functions. As they were standing in the lobby, a young woman walks by, dressed goth (if I am remembering correctly) and the pastor said, "See that is what is so great about your ministry, you will have the chance to talk to that young woman and maybe someday she will be saved. " Driscoll responded saying, "She is saved. She is actually one of our volunteers in the church." (these quotes are summarized) We need to all make sure that we do not expect people to look, dress or act like us, because we "have always done it like this" or we will all turn into those described in James 2 as showing favoritism to those we think look holy, instead of looking to those who ARE holy.

My dad has told me a pretty funny definition.

Do you know what the definition of a fanatic is?

Someone who loves Jesus more than you!

It has almost come to this in contemporary Christendom to say:

Question: Do you know what a Christian looks like?

Answer: Anyone who looks like me.

May God bless you this week and when you see someone who is different than you, ask yourself why you label them before you even know them. Maybe, just maybe, they are holier than even you are! For that is exactly what I found in Mexico, holy people living for God no matter the cost, dress or tradition.

Soli Deo Gloria? Do we mean it? I hope so.


Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...


Welcome back. On the one hand, I agree with you: there is no "Christian dress code". On the other hand, though, I disagree, because there is such a thing as a "non-Christian dress code". Just as I think there is such a thing as non-Christian music. Now, I don't want to start a debate about what is appropriate and what isn't, so let me soften that to say apparently non-Christian. It seems to me that it is very important that we ask ourselves what sort of image are we trying to convey as Christians. Does Christianity really effect a fundamental change to our lives when we are converted, or is it just something that we integrate into our existing routines? In my opinion, death metal is not a genre of music (if indeed it can be called that) which Christians should revel in. A drummer in a death metal band who is converted to Christianity would not be best serving his faith by starting up a new death metal band which "sings" Christian lyrics, because what death metal conveys is intrinsically un-Christian. Similarly, a goth converted to Christianity is not best serving her religion by continuing to paint her face, because what the black-clothes-white-skin look conveys is intrinsically un-Christian. It is not unfair or close-minded of a Christian to see a goth and assume she is not converted. It is really quite a reasonable assumption, because if she were converted, she would not want to be associated with such an intrinsically secular, humanistic, selfish group of people and philosophies any more.

Just my thoughts.


Reforming Baptist said...

I was in Mexico City back in November last year...we attended the Refomed Baptist Church where my wife grew up and during the whole worship service I was brought to tears. The sincerity and genuineness of the worshippers overwhelmed me since I had just come from our church where most of the saints are the frozen chosen. What a great experience to worship with believers from other countries.

Also, about 7 years ago, i attended a Russian church in Sacramento CA. with some was also amazing to sit through two sermons, prayer, singing, prayer, more preaching, and by the time we got out, the morning service had lasted close to three hours. No faint hearted Russian believers who spent most of their Christian lives underground!

Jake said...

Seth- Thanks for the post, great thoughts. Bnonn- How much do you think your ideas about what is and isn't appropriate Christian music/dress is based on culture? Pardon my example, but I know in certain African settings a woman can walk around topless and it's not a big deal at all. However, if that were done in the United States many people who were completely non-religious would be outraged by such displays of "obscenity."

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, I'm just asking what the basis is by which you're judging what is apparently-Christian (I like that way of putting it, by the way) and what is not. Thanks for sharing, I appreciate your comments and the balanced approach you're pursuing :).


Seth McBee said...

William and Bnonn...thanks for the comments...

Bnonn, I will simply say, I think there will be a lot of people in heaven that will shock us, and many not there that will suprise us as well...if our senses allow us to be "surprised" in heaven...

I guess my point of the article is that most love to think that "dressing" up is the way to go in the Christian world, but to many that is representative of a greedy businessman's attire (which is funny for me to say, cause that is actually what I am from Monday through Friday, a businessman). And greed, is one of the most talked about sins in the New Testament. The funny thing about "dress" and the church is that the only time it is mentioned is AGAINST dressing up and not for it. (1 Tim 2:9)

I would say, be careful on our opinions on dress, not restrictive. Modest, not wealthy.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Hi Seth, Jake.

I completely agree that it is possible to dress in a way that most Christians would find acceptable, but which is equally inappropriate for reasons of ostentatiousness and so on. And I also agree that my previous comments must assume a large degree of cultural context. In Outer Mongolia, I doubt that anyone would associate painted white skin and black clothes with a decidedly non-Christian lifestyle; and so such an image would probably be no problem at all for attending church. But in our culture, that image does mean something non-Christian, and so I think it is not unreasonable to be opposed to a Christian dressing in such a way.

When we get to heaven, Seth, we won't have bodies, remember—so while it's possible we'll be shocked by who is there, I don't imagine we will be shocked by their attire (;


Seth McBee said...

Bnonn...I believe we will have bodies...

Just as Christ did after his ascension...that wasn't my point though

I am not saying that the girl in goth will be in goth in heaven and we'll be shocked. I am saying those we run into here on earth, hold some presupposition towards and then see them in heaven...

we'll be shocked...

David Shaw said...


I am reminded of Samuel going to anoint the next king. He sees Eliab, David’s older brother, before he sees David. Here is the story in I Samuel 16:6, 7, “'So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him!” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart'” (NKJV – emphasis added). It is important for us to not judge someone because of their dress or we can fall into the same trap as the great prophet Samuel.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...


When you say "heaven", do you mean, as I do, that "place" in the presence of God where we find ourselves after death; before the current earth is destroyed with fire and the new heavens and the new earth are created (2 Pet 3:12)? If so, Revelation 6:9 tells us that we are souls there; and 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 seems to say that we won't receive our resurrection bodies until the last day.

A bit off-topic, I know; but an interesting discussion nonetheless.


rpavich said...

I have to agree with you. I understand what you're saying.

When a person is saved from what he/she used to be I'd think that it would be natural to reject the old life...the trappings of our former selves.

I know that I cringe when I think of some of the things that I used to think were "ok" to wear...and now I would never want someone to mistake my intentions...

To wear a white painted face, and the black goth attire here in America sends a message to those around you...I'd suspect that the person that does that wants to keep a foot in the worldly make sure that he/she is found "cool" in the eyes of the world...

(sorry for dating myself with the word "cool"...)

As to the comment about the bare breasted women in the jungle...lust is are men...culture does not dictate right and wrong...God's law does. I'd venture to say that yes, it's cultural, but at the same time they lust as any non-Christian does. (for that matter, any Christian when confronted with the same thing)

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