An After-Service Theology Arguer?

Almost every congregation has at least one!!

Am I referring to the pianist?


Am I referring to the deacons?


Am I referring to that lady who complains at length to all the visiting preachers about her husband (she no longer has her own pastor's sympathetic ear!)


I am referring to that dread of all visiting preachers, the after-service theology arguer!

Those of us who have moved around quite a bit and preached in various places have all met them.
These individuals (for some reason that I cannot understand, they seem invariably to be men rather than ladies), will listen intently during the sermon for something which they can later argue about; it really makes one wonder how much they are missing which could be beneficial to them! But, then again, these 'theology arguers' often seem to feel that they have already attained all biblical knowledge so, perhaps, that does not worry them! If they cannot find anything, they seem to get a little depressed; they will not cheerfully say 'goodbye' to the preacher/minister when he leaves, but will just summon-up a kind of grudging 'half-smile'. The truth is, they have not got into a theological fracas and so the morning/evening just has not been the same for them!

Almost always these individuals will have some 'flare point' - something they have set themselves up as being 'church-watchers' to guard against; it is no good one attempting to guess what this might be because one is almost always wrong, but there is always some particular thing which they have put themselves on (unofficial) guard duty to watch out for.
If the congregation is Arminian in overall approach, they may be looking out for the slightest indications of Calvinism creeping in. If they hear that word, grace, their ears immediately twitch, since "everyone" knows that only Calvinists use that word, don't they? If the congregation is Calvinist/reformed in overall approach, perhaps such individuals will be 'standing guard' against too much mention of 'good works' in our lives - has not our Redeemer already accomplished those good works? Certainly, if the congregation is in the fundamentalist deep south of the United States in which the 'KJV only' banner has been proudly raised, any visiting preacher should beware of even being seen with any non-KJV Bible, since that may well be the 'flare point' for any lurking after-service theology arguers!
Sometimes it is the slightest indication of 'liberalism' which they set out to guard against. But it soon becomes glaringly obvious why these 'watchers' are purely unofficial - they are almost invariably bad judgers of the facts and are mostly greatly handicapped by a serious lack of knowledge. The truth is, they are far too concerned with looking for shortcomings in others and don't appear to realise that they have fallen into a judgmental rut without enough spiritual acumen or biblical knowledge to even be aware of this!

These people often present a problem for visiting preachers since they often pounce so suddenly on something which just seems so inconsequential to the unprepared visitor. Then - quite often - they will be prepared to raise their voice and loudly argue their point. The unfortunate 'under-attack' minister will usually quickly discern that the person's problem is that they just simply don't understand their 'flare point' subject as much as they think that they do.
But its been said that the hardest people to argue with are those who think that their own knowledge of a subject is the sum total of the available knowledge on that subject!
Neither does any visiting speaker (who could even be under consideration as a future pastor) want to be remembered as the one who got into that almighty argument with 'stubborn old Joe Jenkins' - should not the preacher have known better? Indeed, might this even be deemed as a lack of pastoral skill?

My recent encounter with one of these sincere, but so often misguided, folks was an encounter which I really should have seen coming! At the conclusion of a very pleasant service I made my way, with others, to the large room where tea, coffee, soft drinks and biscuits were offered to the congregation. During the course of enjoying a nice cup of tea I noticed a man whom I had spotted before in this congregation. The man never appeared to be in a group with others but seemed to stand alone a lot (this should have alerted me!!). I thought that it was a little unfortunate that this rather intense looking man was enjoying his drink well away from the others, so was determined to go across to him and to offer him a firm and friendly handshake, which is what I did.
The man was wearing a pullover/jumper which was, perhaps, not in its first few years of life, but such a thing would never bother me - perhaps he was struggling financially. The conversation started well enough; I heard no complaints about the service or about the sermon. Then suddenly I heard a few words which alerted me to the fact that I may have collided with yet another 'after-service theology arguer' - "Its terrible the way some of them come in here!" I was a little taken-aback and I also had no idea what my friend (whom I will now call 'Bill') meant!
The weather had been hot so some were coming to church in very light summer clothing. I initially thought that Bill was addressing his comments in the direction of some of these people, but checked my thoughts upon reflection that Bill himself was no model of 'Sunday best' smartness. But I had got it wrong - massively so. Apparently, Bill's problem is that a few of us dress ourselves too smartly for church services!! This, apparently, is Bill's personal 'flare point' "They just dress themselves up all smart in order to impress each other - no other reason on earth to do it" said Bill.
I quickly attempted to point out the other side of this: that if we felt that we were going into the company of Queen Elizabeth II, we would all attire ourselves smartly in honor of her office, is that not even more so when we are coming into the company of the Lord Jesus Christ??

But Bill was no longer listening as he had launched into a tirade against anybody who might suggest that one should attempt to attire oneself reasonably smartly when attending church! Of course I knew by this stage that I had indeed come into the company of a 'theology arguer' and I knew from sheer experience that he would rather raise his voice into a yell than even consider some other point of view. The words continued to pour from Bill....
"The Bible says it plain: God does not judge by the outward appearance but by the heart! We are to worship in spirit and truth - what we wear does not matter!"
By now Bill was indeed yelling. The tragedy of it is that Bill was certainly partly correct (and partly in error) I would have loved to explain the best approach to this whole topic from the Scriptures, but Bill did not want that. Why should he bother about that? He had already set himself up as the (unofficial) guardian of the wearing of what he considered to be the most appropriate clothing for Christian services, so why should he listen to any other point of view? And of course, all 'after-service theology arguers' always seem to lack balance; they have usually adopted an extreme position and will not budge.

So what of this matter of appropriate clothing and apparel for church services?

Well, this varies around the world and that is fine. There is no doubt that some of the early missionaries were mistaken in their efforts to get people in places like Africa to dress like Europeans in order to be 'decent' - cultural differences should be respected. It is also certainly true that a few have taken 'Sunday smartness' to an extreme; the ladies must wear hats, the men must wear suits, preferably grey, blue or black. I know a congregation not too far from us just like that! It would be unthinkable for one of the men in this congregation to wear an open-necked shirt with no tie even in the most scorching of weather!
But is this not a little silly? If its fine for a lady to wear a dress or blouse which has an open neck and short sleeves - why not men? Where is the 'commandment' which says that this must not happen?? Also there is no doubt that, in these circumstances, a very few dress themselves simply to impress others. But where I would take issue with Bill is that I believe that it is only a very few who attire themselves in such a way just in order to impress others. Okay, to dress smartly to go to a Christian service has become something of a tradition, but I happen to think that it is rather a good and appropriate one, since we need to make a difference to the way we do things when we come into the company of Jesus Christ! (Matthew 18:20) Going to church is not just like going to the beach or to the shopping mall! Bill was right in saying that God does not judge by outward appearances, but that is no argument for purposely 'dressing down', wearing sweaters, tee shirts and old jeans when going to church (which Bill advocated).

As James pointed out, if we show partiality to others according to the way they dress we actually sin (James 2:1-7). But James was speaking in a time and context where a few were extremely poor and a problem had developed where more wealthy Christians apparently thought themselves superior to these people - James rightly condemned this attitude. But in today's western world, even the poorest are able to wear smart and pleasant clothes; if we still discriminate against them or show prejudice toward them because they are less well-off, we sin. But nothing in any of this tells me that we should not wear appropriately smart clothes when we attend a Christian service. Certainly, if we wear outlandishly eye-catching clothes (and, frankly, a few of you ladies do occasionally err here), then we do wrong - but we should honour the importance and occasion of coming before God for spiritual teaching.

A further Scripture which we may consider here is the Parable of the Wedding Banquet! (Matthew 22:1-14). Of course, the message in this parable was that the Jews were being set aside in favour of the Gentiles. But as an aside during this parable, verses 11-13, the man who attended in inappropriate clothing was plainly considered to have been an insult to the whole occasion, but especially to the host (in typology, God the Father!) Of course, the real meaning here speaks of the necessity to wear the fine, clean apparel of Jesus Christ - we are to be clothed with righteousness! But we can't just reject the particular typology which God has used to illustrate the point: anybody clothing themselves innappropriately at a Jewish Wedding was considered to be dishonoring the occasion and the host!

So I would make a plea for wisdom and balance in this area of appropriate apparel for Christian services! Do a few come along in jeans? Don't judge them! Do others prefer to wear smart suits, skirts or dresses? That is fine, and is probably more appropriate.

But, perhaps more seriously, what of these perennial 'after-service theology arguers'?

I'm afraid we are probably always going to have them! My own opinion is that they tend to be insecure people; unfortunately, they can also be bombastic, overly-assertive and sometimes just plain rude!
Why don't we all just decide to pray for these people?

Does your congregation have one?

Might it even be you??

Robin A. Brace.



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