What we wear to appear before God on His Sabbath says something about us.
Our Sabbath-keeping reflects the relationship we have with God. God uses the Sabbath as a test for His people—and He gives us a test each Sabbath.
He watches to learn something about our character, how much we understand about who He is and what He is doing. How important is it to us to learn more of His mind and His ways?
There are four primary principles of Sabbath-keeping (see " How to Keep the Sabbath Day Holy ," May 2005 United News ):
1. The command tells us not to work.
2. The command tells us to rest.
3. We are told to assemble with others for worship. Most commandments can be done by yourself, but in the case of the Sabbath for most, we are required to congregate. The purpose of congregating is to worship.
Leviticus:23:3 calls it a "holy convocation," which implies we have been officially summoned to worship.
4. Hebrews:10:23-25 tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, and even more as the day of Christ's return approaches.
But the key to all of this is found in Leviticus:19:30, which says: "You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the LORD." To "revere" means "to regard with awe, great respect or devotion; honor." We worship God in spirit and truth. We may meet in a plain building, sitting on metal chairs, but we in spirit come into the very presence of God.
Clothing and Worship Are Inseparable
If Christ were to decide to spend the day with you, would you dress any differently than normal? Would you rush out to buy new clothing? Maybe you would make sure you were dressed formally or make sure you dressed modestly? Maybe you would put on what the world calls its "Sunday best"?
The Bible is filled with examples of how God's people dressed up to reverence God's sanctuary—to reverence His presence. They made a big deal out of this one important facet because, spiritually, the outward and the inward should agree and reflect our relationship with our God.
In Deuteronomy:31:12 the people were called together to hear God's Word "...that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law."
Matthew:22:11-12 shows the calling to the wedding supper. Yet a man came in without a wedding garment, and he was cast out. Why? Because he was not prepared to meet Christ. Revelation:19:7-8 and Isaiah:61:10 show that fine and clean clothing has always been a part of God's thinking, as representative of righteousness.
David in Psalm:110:3 talks about "the beauties of holiness." The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary says: "In the beauty of holiness is a poetical phrase for holy garments such as those worn by the high priest on the great day of Atonement. Here it refers to the same event as Revelation:19:7-8 and Revelation:1:6 where Christ's people wear as their priestly garb the beauties of holiness unseen by the world. It is then that the inward beauty (God's character) will be seen as depicted by the robes of the high priest on Atonement."
Leviticus:16:1-4 and Exodus:39:2-5, 8-31 show how much work went into preparing the high priest to meet God in His sanctuary. The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary says these garments "are called holy simply because they were not worn on ordinary occasions, but assumed in the discharge of the sacred functions (reverencing the sanctuary of God). In material it was elaborate embroidery and color and it had an imposing splendor... being all made of linen, they were symbolic of the truth, purity and other qualities in Christ that rendered him such a high priest."
In Exodus:19:4-6 Israel was called "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." In 1 Peter:2:9 we are called the same. Exodus:19:10-11 and 14 shows that they were to come with clean clothing, prepared to meet God. Again clothing, cleanliness, etc., were all a part of meeting God and reverencing His sanctuary and presence.
Does Your Appearance Count Before God?
In recent years the fads have been dressing down and dressing to draw attention to the body. These things are perfectly acceptable in a society without understanding, but not in God's Church. An abysmal lack of training in dress, grooming and hygiene is seen every day. The problem is, the more we are around this thinking, the more we think it is normal.
Listen to an article the Cincinnati Enquirer ran Aug. 10 titled "Got a Job Interview? Then Ditch the Flip-Flops": "'There's something that's definitely happening with the younger generation now,' says Joseph Rosenfeld, an image consultant based in San Jose, Calif. 'There's a lot of "Accept me now, accept me for who and what I am, and give me whatever I want right now."'
"For those students, the real world provides a harsh wake-up call... Denise Bober... says she's amazed by the number of young women who show up for job interviews showing way too much skin. 'If you look in the mirror, and you look sexy,' she says, 'change'... 'We've had applicants come in with bare midriffs or flip-flops,' says Jennifer Loyless... 'This does not give us the impression that they respect the work that we do'...
"'Grads should never delude themselves into thinking that grades trump attitude'... Once you learn the company's dress code... dress one step above it."
This is the attitude out there among some. We should not bring this into God's sanctuary. This attitude was reflected recently when the women's champion lacrosse team met President Bush at the White House. Several came wearing flip-flops. They had no idea what is proper dress when you meet the highest dignitary in the land. Remember the question about what would you wear if you were to meet face-to-face with Jesus Christ? Sadly, some have never learned or refuse to be taught.
In 2 Corinthians:6:11-18 Paul gives a series of principles on removing yourself from the spirit that infects our present society. It means simply to come out of the way this world thinks about fashions, hair, clothing, religion, etc. Don't worship your God like the people around you.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans:12:2).
An Error in Our Thinking
It's easy to think: What I am wearing is modest when I compare it to what the world around me is wearing. But too often it is still immodest compared to what the Church is teaching as modesty.
Let me be more specific. In the last several years five articles have been written in United News that bear upon the attitudes we struggle with in the world around us. They are titled "Modesty: A Vanishing Virtue" (parts 1 and 2 in the March/April and May 2003 issues) "Good Sex, Bad Sex" (June 2006); "Heart-to-Heart Talk With Men and Teen Boys" (July 2006); and "Heart-to-Heart Talk With Women and Teen Girls" (August 2006). We also provided a video/PowerPoint presentation on modesty to be used in all congregations.
These articles are not suggestions—they are the teachings and standards of the United Church of God on this topic.
Standards Set by Companies and Religious Groups
Many major corporations and banks have some pretty stringent standards of dress: no conformity—no job! Several large religious institutions of higher learning have set a basic standard of modesty that most of us would agree with.
We have been called out of the world. True religion, which enters into every phase of life, must have a molding influence on all our activities. Our habits of life must stem from principle and not from the world around us. Dress is an important factor in Christian character.
What Is the Teaching of UCG on Sabbath Dress?
For men: Except in the tropical climates and the islands of the tropics where formal dress may be special shirts or other formal garments, we expect the men in the congregation to wear a shirt, tie and quality slacks. We expect men to be attired this way.
We believe most men can afford a suit or jacket, shirt and tie. Some in our congregations have found suits and jackets at places like Goodwill and other nonprofit outlets for $5 to $10. (If either men or women in God's Church are having financial problems, our local pastors will privately help you.)
For women: For the ladies, we expect you to wear the best dress, suit or pantsuit you can afford. Strapless dresses, halter tops and outfits that show a plunging neckline or backside are not acceptable Sabbath wear.
This was explained in "Heart-to-Heart Talk With Women and Teen Girls" last issue on page 8: "There is a difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract. Many women wear clothing that is too low, too high, too tight and/or too transparent. Much of it is way too formfitting, defining every curve exactly. Often clothing, body jewelry and tattoos draw attention to body parts, like printed words across one's breasts or bottom.
"We suggest the 'sit-down test.' Sit in a chair in front of a mirror, see if the hem of your skirt still reaches your knees, and look in the mirror to see what others can see under your skirt. Then lean over to see if you can see down your blouse. Godly character is shown by not compromising even in small ways. '[She] who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much' (Luke:16:10)...
"Total nudity is less erotic than sexy packaging. A woman in skimpy or tight clothes is more exciting and mysterious because she is tantalizing and teasing to a man in a way similar to a striptease show. His appetite is stimulated to see and imagine more.
"The peekaboo effect is also erotic. Advertisers know that a split-second sexy image can have as great an impact as a longer scene. Likewise, high slits in skirts are like flashing lights—now you see thigh, now you don't. Also sheer clothes, loose blouses when a woman leans forward and sleeveless tops with loose armholes offer titillating peeks of skin and underwear."
In three Feast sites near beaches we face this "dress down" or "dressing to draw attention" problem. Even if you are in Hawaii, Panama City Beach or Jekyll Island, beach wear, flip-flops, beach sandals and running shoes are not acceptable for God's convocations.
Parents, We Need Your Help
It is not an easy task to shop for and encourage proper dress among our young people. But it must begin somewhere. The Church has given you some basic guidelines. We hope you will support our efforts to raise our quality of dress for services.
Some years ago, just before going to Sabbath services, my daughter came downstairs with inappropriate clothing for Sabbath services. I stopped her and sent her back upstairs to change.
It was very difficult, and it was mighty cold in the car on the way to Sabbath services that day. But a father and a mother have to do what they have to do. And I encourage you to work together as a family on this.
Offenses by Some in God's Church
Over the past few years Ministerial Services and local pastors have received a number of letters and verbal complaints on offensive clothing at Sabbath services. The apostle Paul said in Romans:14:12-13, "So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way."
Christ has given His ministry the responsibility to expound the biblical principles to encourage unity, togetherness and single-mindedness in all customs and traditions.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians:11:2: "Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you."
Many times traditions based on principles of God's Word are given to fit the needs of the Church. Paul had to make judgments in areas such as:
• Passover observance and how it was to be done.
• Hair length for both men and women.
• How services were to be conducted in relationship to speaking in other languages.
• Laziness and sponging off the brethren because they were expecting the immediate return of Christ.
• Sowing of discord and disrespect toward the ministry.
The Church today supports and teaches these clear principles from God's Word and expects all of us to follow these principles of modesty as we strive to come out of the world and become Christlike. We believe the way we appear before God on the Sabbath is very important. We encourage you to read all of the articles and revisit the video on modesty.
Our Sabbath-keeping is to reflect our character and how much we understand about who the Almighty God is and what He is doing.
Remember Leviticus:19:30: "You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the LORD." UN