This has been an age old controversy. Or maybe we can call it a debate. All I know is I have put a ton of thought into this and finally feel like I have a handle on it.
I'm 56 years old and finally can say I am enjoying true freedom in Christ. Oh, I always had it, just wasn't free to enjoy it. It took me many years to get to the place where I understand that statement and to be confident in applying it in a practical manner.
Freedom in Christ is the freedom to serve Him – but I want to go a step further and say that freedom in Christ is the freedom to serve Him with a fearless and content happy heart. If we truly exercise our freedom in Christ we will have a happiness like none other. Some would call it "joy" but I call it "free to be me."
When I ask, "Are your standards dictated by your church?" I'm referring to everything from skirt length (or manner of dress in general) to what you eat, where you go, what you say and who you spend time with. Yep, the whole shebang.
My DH and I have served in several churches, both on staff in pastoral/school teacher positions and as lay people working in ministries ranging from custodial to preaching and teaching. We have served under several pastors and have had a variety of experiences doing so. I'm in a "been there done that" position.
Here's an example of how twisted my thinking was after leaving one of our ministries.
Just after leaving one church where we served for 9+ years, I was at the mall with my husband (wearing jeans in public for the first time in years) and he said, "Oh, look there's (insert name of the pastor's wife)." He thought he was funny. She wasn't really there. He just knew my heart would jump 10 feet. I constantly tell people not to laugh at him because he's not funny. This falls on dull ears. People think he's so funny. I didn't think he was funny that day.
I knew I was in bondage when I quickly looked where he pointed in a panic. I knew I had freedom in Christ, but I didn't "feel it." I didn't have the confidence I needed to live in that freedom. I was stuck in a set of rules laid out for me. I had been so stressed out for years trying to be the perfect little pastor's wife that I stopped thinking for myself and just followed the rules – which by the way was made very clear I had to do if I wanted to serve in that ministry.
When we finally arrived to the church we are in now, I was shopping with my daughter, Jillian, when I saw our new pastor's van pulling up, everyone waving a hello to us. Uh huh. I was in jeans. But the pastor and his wife had never seen me outside of church and they were skirt only people. Of course, due to my past experience, I was curious to see what their reaction would be to our non-skirt atire. I was happy to discover that they didn't miss a beat – they rolled up with big smiles on their faces, greeting Jillian and I as if we were long lost relatives. Over the past 4 years I am happy to announce that I have a gracious and accepting pastor's family and am perfectly content to be allowed to enjoy my freedom in Christ without pressure to conform or obey a collection of works based standards.
Guess what? I did everything expected of me and more, but we still lost our ministry in that standards oriented church. Why? Because you can do your best and if your leadership has their own agenda you have no solid footing – you are at the mercy of the "man of God." It's not how well you follow the rules, or how valuable you are to the ministry, it's about how gracious and spiritually mature your leader is and if he allows you to follow God by hearing His voice rather than worshipping the "man of God" in the place of the real God, our God Jehovah, the Creator and LORD of all things.
If He is our Lord then why do we have to obey the "man of God" and put him on a lofty pedestal? You are as much a "Man or Woman of God" as he is if you are walking in the Spirit as a believer. Why do we need to be controlled by a man? If our heart is right would we not be right in man's eyes too? If our vertical relationship with God is right, would not our horizontal relationships, those with the people around us, be right too? Should we not choose those to be on staff based on their spiritual maturity and ability to follow God's call and direction rather than putting them in a box and pulling their strings to show we are in charge?
We ought not to choose a ministry to serve in that must control us. We must choose a ministry to serve in that supports us and creates a better environment for us to be able to serve in the way God that calls us. I tell my kids that they should marry a person who compliments them and is fit to be the type of partner that eniches their ability to serve God – not inhibits or traps them into a lifestyle that makes it difficult to serve. Each step in our life either leads us to or away from God and His purpose for our lives.
Don't get me wrong. We truly believe we were called by God to go to each ministry we have served in, but that doesn't mean everything that went on or the pain we endured was right or approved of God. If we had truly exercised our freedom in Christ, things would have been different – either by our leaving sooner once we detected things going awry or exhibiting the confidence to maintain our freedom in Christ by being more assertive. Either way, I do know this – I will never allow myself to be in that situation again. I am free now and once a person is completely free, they will never go back to bondage.
Freedom isn't free. Someone earned that freedom and it is a shame when we don't live in that freedom. Why did Christ die if His people can't enjoy the freedom He suffered and died for? Standards are great, but they are not a true measure of our spiritual maturity. Remember the verses, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." I Corinthians 13:1? Follow all the man made rules you can, but it will never make up for a lack of charity (love for your fellow man).
Let's focus on the good stuff – loving one another, supporting fellow believers, sharing the love of Christ, faithfully following God in all we say and do. These things should be our main focus – not making sure our neckline is only two fingers below the hollow in our neck. Sure, modesty and such are important but they are not the measuring stick of our validity. I know a believer who will not talk to a lady that is wearing pants. Is this why Christ gave his blood, so we could treat one another with contempt? I say, "Nay!."