By John McCort
Christianity is not all black and white. There are some gray areas in which we must all use our better judgment as to whether the practice is expedient or not. There are some things that might not be condemned but are wrong because they are not expedient. “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:23-24). “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15). “. . . I have become all things to all men that I may by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
Our main concern in life should be the salvation of the souls of the lost. I need to be willing to make some sacrifices to obtain that end. Thus, there are some questionable practices that I need to be willing to forego in order that I might lead some to Christ. Whatever hurts my influence as a Christian needs to be deleted from my life even if the practice is not technically wrong.
To be more specific I have become concerned recently with an attitude I detect among some brethren, especially among some gospel preachers. It is an attitude of nonchalence toward personal practices which are damaging their influence. Some have taken the attitude that they could care less what people thought of them. Unless someone can demonstrate that what they are doing is sinful then they will continue to practice such regardless of what the general public thinks.
Some preachers have become very slovenly in their appearance. Many have started wearing beards and dressing in a very casual, almost slovenly way. It cannot be argued that this is hurting the influence of some preachers in the community. I am not saying that a beard is sinful in and of itself. What I am concerned with is this: what kind of image are we projecting to the communities we live in when our appearancd is so casual? It is my contention that some preachers are projecting a very poor image to the community. Technically the preachers are not sinful for appearing the way they do in public but it is certainly not expedient. What is not expedient can become sin.
In a recent issue of T.V. Guide, the Professional Bowlers Association was featured. The thrust of the article centered around the efforts of the PBA to clean up their image. The PBA has decided to project a cleancut and wholesome image to the public and thus had adopted some rules that all Professional Bowlers must follow. No beards are allowed. No drinking of alcohol or smoking is allowed during tournament play. Personal dress must be neat and personal appearance must be given attention at all times. I am ashamed to say that the PBA would not allow some of our gospel preachers in their association because the preachers would not project a cleancut and wholesome image to the public.
“I can relate better to the young people if I have a beard and dress like them.” This argument is used to justify the “hippy look” among preachers. I do not believe that young people relate as well to a preacher of this sort. Young women, for example, lose respect for their mothers if mom begins to dress and act like a teenager. They expect mom to act mature even though they do not require the same things out of themselves. Young men do not need a big brother for a father. They need a father. They do not gain the respect of their sons by acting like a young child. Young people need a preacher to set an example for them. They do not need a lumberjack or a hippy for a preacher. Older people are especially offended by the slovenly appearance of some of our younger preachers. Do we have a responsibility to try to reach older people or is our only obligation to young people?
“I just want to show people that a preacher is just like everyone else.” I can appreciate the efforts of some preachers to try to get people away from the idea that preachers are in a separate class from the rest of the brethren. I do not believe, though, that the lumberjack look is the proper approach to the problem. I do not have to get a beer in my hand to show an alcoholic that I am no different than other people. Like it or not, there are some double standards in society. Children set one standard for their parents and another for themselves. We set one standard for public officials and another for ourselves. People expect a little more from a minister because his manner of life is to be impeccable. Right or wrong these are prejudices that we must work with and live with. We must not engage in practices which cause people to lose respect for us as preachers. If a beard, or anything else, diminishes our influence then we need to get rid of it.
I am not trying to sit in judgment of those of you who wear beards and dress casually in public. I cannot condemn something that I do not know is sinful. I am concerned with the “I could care less what people think” attitude that I detect. What other people think of us is important if we are ever going to convert anyone.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 11, p. 170
March 12, 1981