Friday, July 24, 2015

Church Clothes

It seems to me that it’s popular now to go to church dressed casually. And this is even justified with certain theological sentiments: “God isn’t impressed with fancy clothes,” “It’s the heart that he really cares about,” etc. And those things are certainly true. God’s not impressed with fancy clothes, and it’s the heart that he really cares about. But what if those things are more related than we often think? What if our clothes say something about our heart? Now obviously, this is not a hill that I’m willing to die on, but I do think it’s something that’s worth talking about.

The question that I would pose is this: How would you dress if you had an opportunity to meet with the president? My guess is that you would dress nicely, and for good reason. We dress nicely for the occasions that we deem important. So why wouldn’t we dress nicely for Lord’s day worship? The president would be justified in wondering why you’re dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. Would God not be justified in wondering the same?

I haven’t had many discussions or debates about this issue, but I imagine that here someone might challenge the comparison. Isn’t the comparison invalid? Isn’t it inappropriate to compare the president with the God who sees and knows all?

Well, no. Not really. The comparison is an entirely valid one in light of texts like Malachi 1:8.
“When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.”
Through the mouth of the prophet, the Lord is denouncing the practice of offering physically blemished animals. And the rhetorical question that he poses is powerful: Would your governor be impressed with that? No, of course not. So why would you offer it to the Lord? And here, that line about the heart being what really counts isn’t going to fly. So on the topic of church clothes, I think it’s at least valid to ask ourselves how we would dress if we were meeting the president, and to let our answer to that question have some bearing on the way we think about dressing for corporate worship.

Of course, this isn’t to say that there’s some specific dress code that God wants all of his people to follow in corporate worship. But culturally speaking, I think we all have a perfectly good idea of what it means to dress nicely. This will obviously look different from culture to culture, but human beings have a universal tendency to regard certain kinds of attire as being fitting or unfitting for certain occasions. As a debate tactic, you might demand a specific definition of “nice” clothes, but you won’t live that way when it’s time to go to a wedding or a funeral. You know what it means to dress for an important occasion. So all I’m suggesting is, keep that in mind when you’re dressing for the most important occasion of the week.

Try as we might, I don’t think we can get away from the notion that our clothes communicate. If I were to meet the president wearing shorts and a T-shirt, I think he would be justified in assuming that I don’t have much respect for him. Even if in my heart I do have respect for him, my clothes would be saying otherwise. And if I showed up to a funeral in the same casual outfit, the family of the deceased would be justifiably offended by what my clothes were saying.

As a final disclaimer, which I want to be heard loud and clear, I would never for a moment doubt a person’s love and devotion to the Lord because he dresses casually on Sunday. In the judgment of charity, I’m perfectly willing to believe that his heart indeed is in the right place, and that he takes the Lord seriously. I just wonder why he insists on saying otherwise.

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