How we dress (especially for special occasions) comes and goes as the decades and centuries roll by. Given enough time present fasions will disappear… but the principle of dressing for the occasion will not.
Dressing For Sabbath Services
Over the years most questions, concerns, and controversies over clothing at Sabbath services has focused on what the women wear: clothing that is "too sexy", or "too masculine". Western culture has shifted such that the subject of men's attire is now a point of debate.
Many men would like to adopt a more casual type of dress. Specifically, they want to dispense with jackets and ties. Society at large is moving away from jackets and ties for men... why doesn't the Church of God jump on the trend... maybe it would boost our attendance!
Surely, God wants me to be comfortable...
There are even some arguments out there saying jackets and ties are a problem:
- Such modes of dress are statements about projecting our economic or social status and should not be part of Church life... a place where there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free etc.
- That such modes of dress are merely traditions of men which the Church should not perpetuate because they are demonstrations of pride and social distinction James 1:1-4. However, this argument is weak. We could just as easily be showing favoritism to man in an expensive jacket and tie and dissing a man in a a cheap jacket and tie.
- That God only really cares about what is in our heart... our attitudes... which are not connected to the clothing we wear... Matthew 23:27 we don't want to become like the Pharisees of Jesus' day who He called "whitewashed walls" ... hypocrites who looked good on the outside but inwardly were bad.
What Does the Bible Say?
There is no explicit command for us to wear certain types of clothing to services. Jackets... ties... robes... togas... tunics... dresses... pantyhose... sandals. God leaves us to our own devices in inventing different ways to dress. How we dress (especially for special occasions) comes and goes as the decades and centuries roll by. Given enough time jackets and ties will disappear… but the principle of dressing for the occasion will not.
What scripture does is give us precedents, principles, examples, and expectations we can look to or guidance. These apply whether we are in Indonesia, Nigeria, or North Carolina.
Many of the examples I'll use go back to the OT... so, there is the potential for you to say... those are not relevant to the New Covenant and don't apply to us. However, It is good to remember that when the New Covenant Church of God began the OT scriptures were what they used. The times and circumstances had changed a lot but the principles, examples, and expectations were... and still are... relevant to how we conduct our lives and how we present our self to God.
Appearing Before God
Exodus 19:10, 14 before the people were to come before YHWH and hear the commandments God wanted them properly prepared. He told Moses to sanctify/consecrate them.
The word sanctify/consecrate (quadesh) means to make (or declare) something or someone clean morally or ceremonially... to set apart for holy purposes... God's purposes. For example, God sanctifies the Sabbath day, God sanctifies the priest etc.
Isn't it interesting that to sanctify them for this special occasion they were to wash their clothes. Surely, God was more concerned that the state of their heart be properly respectful coming into His presence... but He chose something about their clothes to signify this.
Exodus 28:1-5 those serving before YHWH were held to a high standard of dress. Surely God was more concerned with the moral standards of their lives... but notice God's use of clothing to signify outwardly what should have been going on internally.
Numbers 8:21-22 when the Levites gathered and presented YHWH for service an important part of their purification was washing their clothes.
Ezekiel 42:14 the setting here is the millennial temple. Like before, those ministering before God will have special clothes. Notice that they were not to wear these same clothes for common activities. Their garments were special clothes for a particular service. Therefore, God wanted them to make a distinction between everyday clothes and the clothes with which they came before Him.
What Guidance Do We Get From These Examples?
The instructions related to the priesthood are part of the old covenant and we are not bound by them. BUT, they do establish a principle we can use. We are to make a separation between what is common and what is holy. The Sabbath day is holy, not common. The assembly we are called to every 7th day is holy, not common.
- Come before YHWH with respect - respect is two-fold: 1) it is an attitude you hold in your heart and mind 2) it is a discernible display of that attitude. Genesis 22:12 God didn't simply beam a mind probe into Abraham's psyche to see what he was really like... God looked at what Abraham did.
- Come before YHWH with appropriate attire that is both: 1) clean 2) not the same clothing used for common activities. That addresses the argument which goes "everybody has stopped wearing jackets and ties at the office, so I should stop wearing them to Sabbath service".
- What we wear to work was never the deciding factor for what we wear at a holy convocation.
There is no biblical support for the idea that it is appropriate to come before God in a casual manner.
What passes as dressing for the occasion in Nigeria is very different from what it is in the U.S. What the people of Indonesia wear to visibly demonstrate respect is different than it is is the U.S. What we wear is based on the culture are a part of.
Clearly, cultural norms are unraveling in the United States. We are entering a sort of transitional limbo. But for the time being when a man wants to make a favorable impression to a judge or a congressional hearing he still wears a jacket and tie.
Using the principles of dress we just covered the United Church of God says that we would like those speaking and song leading to wear a jacket and a tie (I personally think it would be best to apply this approach to those giving opening and closing prayers). Beyond that, there is no dress code at UCG services.
The only exception is cross dressing Deuteronomy 22:5... but even that is based on cultural norms rather than explicit biblical description.
What Should We Do?
American culture is quickly shedding all outward displays of respect for office... respect for occasions... respect for others as fellow human beings... respect for gender. Adopting that way of thinking is bad for your heart and mind. It will not be the approach Christ takes when He returns.
We are to be different from those around us... not conforming our self to the world around us.
Matthew 22:1-14 its obvious that the parable is about being spiritually prepared for Christ's return. To be clothed in robes of righteousness is about how you live. But notice the use of clothing as an analogy for the state of a person's soul. Both old and new testament use clothing as an outward symbol of what's going on inside.
We still use clothing to make statements about how we see our self and how we want to be seen by others. What do your clothes say about you?
Culture has changed over the centuries... and it will probably change again. Jackets and ties will probably disappear for men. I kind of hope so. I don't find jackets and ties practical or comfortable. I personally like the beautiful flowing robes they wear in Nigeria. But for now the jacket and tie are still a recognized cultural way to visibly demonstrate respect.
Without them men do not have any culturally recognized way to visibly display respect.
Some think wearing expensive clothes shows respect. But, a pair of acid washed jeans… with designer tears is just the right places… topped with a beautiful black leather bomber jacket… and finished with some serious looking combat boots might be the best and most expensive clothes in your wardrobe. But, do they visibly display respect? No, everyone knows they are carefully curated to convey the opposite effect.
These clothes may have cost much more that the inexpensive jacket and tie you keep in the back of your closet. But which is appropriate for the occasion?
What is Pleasing to God?
What can you or I give to God. He created and owns all things. He doesn't need our gold or silver, he doesn't need our crops or livestock. What He really wants is your heart and mind. To love Him, respect His ways and demonstrate that love and respect in tangible ways.
Words and deep thoughts are good… but the living God is also interested in concrete reality.
The old testament makes extensive use of the giving of an offering as a way to give to God. I think it is yet another use of outward displays to indicate the spiritual condition within.
Giving an offering was a display of a willingness to give something up to demonstrate your attitude before God. The principle has not changed…
Malachi 1:6-9 surely the meat of a lame, or blind, lamb tastes the same as the other lambs in the flock. The pleasing smell of the smoke rising from the altar is the same. What's the difference… what is God dissatisfied with? The difference is in the heart of the giver. What they are doing is an outward display of what's going on within them.