Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wrestling With: Reverence & Respect

Recently I was part of a frustrating exchange.  An elderly man in our church expressed his disappointment in seeing someone wear a hat inside the sanctuary.  What's more, the culprit was a minister.  (No, this wasn't at my church, but was at another church in a video we were watching.)  The elderly man proclaimed that there's not any reverence anymore, no respect of the pulpit or of the church or anything.  He acknowledged that yes, the church is not the building, but even so, it should be respected*.  To complicate the matter, two other people joined in and supported him.

Through it all I felt a growing sense of unease.  How can people think that the clothes they wear are an indication of their heart and its relationship to Almighty God?  We all know that "clothes don't make the man."  That's been around forever.  Eventually I was asked my opinion, and I said that I disagreed with them and that I saw no problem with it.  I went on to say that God doesn't care what we wear as long as it's modest and not causing someone else to sin or laced with profanity.  He looks at our hearts.  Our respect/reverence of Him has nothing to do with what we're wearing in church.

Growing up in rural Kentucky, my home church had a dress code.  For males, blue jeans or pants were to be worn at all times; females had to wear skirts or dresses.  Shorts were never allowed.  This was how I grew up, and how I thought for much of my life.  I never bothered to ask why.  It was one of those "that's just how it is" things.  Along those lines, American history shows plenty of examples of men taking their hats off before entering buildings, opening doors for women, and being generally "respectful."  Culture defined respect, and like any good Baptist, this turned into a tradition, albeit lacking any biblical support.

I was given some stern looks and questioned about my opinions.  The problem with America, I was told, is that we've progressively compromised our stands and allowed liberal theology to overtake us.  I can agree to some extent with that, but not in full.  Too often people hold to the "God is an unchanging God" mentality, that He's "the same yesterday, today, and forever" and that means that we should be the same, too.  The problem with that is that it limits how you worship God, who creates a new day every morning, who's crafted a world filled with beauty and impossible splendor.  The world is changing, just as God knew it would, and holding on to pointless traditions are inefficient at best, and downright wrong at worse.

The bride that Jesus died for is built on the Word of God, not traditions.  Traditions can teach, and there is wisdom found in them, but they are not God's Word.  Whenever the two butt heads, I'm going to choose the bible every time.  It bugs me when people say "I believe that..." or something similar.  What we believe has no matter when compared with what God says.  The bible speaks plenty on respect and honoring God.

  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. -- Proverbs 1:7
  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  -- Psalm 111:10
  • Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory, honor, and power... -- Revelation 4:11
  • Honor your father and mother. -- Exodus 20:12
The bible teaches in being reverent to God.  The bible teaches that I should live out my life in fear of Him, and that that fear is healthy and humbling.  The bible teaches us that as we fear Him then He blesses us.  Jesus taught us that people should respect one another and love one another and that our respect and love toward one another is reflective of His love to us.  The bible does not teach that wearing a hat in church is disrespectful or wrong.  That means that we can serve and worship God in a three-piece suit as easily as we can in gym shorts and sandals.

It seems to me that the Generic American Church of Denominations has a mixed bag when it comes to things like this.  We have our traditions and our practices, things that are obviously American and rooted in our grandparents and great-grandparents days, or all the way back to the Pilgrims even.  We hold fast to these things, convincing ourselves that they are right and God-breathed.  On the same hand, we cling to biblical cultures and practices when it's convenient, eager to apply verses out of context.  This double standard is frustrating and foolish.  It brings to mind James' words 1:8, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."  Man cannot be double-minded or else we're called a hypocrite.  The same goes for the church.

I just wish people would wake up and realize this.  I'm just as guilty as anyone else, blinded by my own opinions and biased to my own thinking.  But I'm honestly trying to base my opinions on the bible, not on traditions or culture or some pastor or the latest book or anything else.  God's Word is the only source of truth that we have.  The rest is just empty words.  Now I'm not saying that we should just throw out the way that we do things, but I am saying that we should think about the way that we do things.  Are we scriptural in our practices?  And even deeper, even if we don't say anything, are we silently judging somebody else because they're doing something out of the norm or worse, something we disagree with?  I'm wrestling with being as biblical as I can in my life.  I hope you are, too.

*Why?  Why are buildings worthy of respect?  God no longer dwells in a tabernacle or temple.  He sent His Spirit to us, which dwells in our hearts.  So again, why treat the building as something holy?


Bill said...

Working on the presumption that God does not dwell in the building itself, it seems to me the most valuable reason to maintain respect for the church is the psychological influence that respect has upon the members. Similar to the idea behind a pilgrimage, the physical location of the worshiper can greatly influence his attitude and thoughts. While no building (its style, decoration, or reputation) alone can induce a person to worshipful thought, it can create an environment that is conducive to it.

logankstewart said...

You're absolutely right there, Bill. Psychological. But my problem is that people let the psychology go too far and they construct an idol in their mind, transforming the conducive environment into an actual holy place, like God sanctified and anointed it or something.

This is, of course, a two-way street, as you're implying. I don't want what I'm wearing to mar the environment that's established and cause someone else grief/ire, but I also don't want other people to limit themselves and attribute traditions to the bible when they're not there. It all goes back to respecting one another and working out your own salvation (Philippians 2:12).

Great comment, Bill. It's given me something to think about.

Okie said...

Great post. That sort of attitude always sat poorly with me.

My church also has expectations of "sunday best" at our meetings. ie - slacks, shirt and tie for men. dress or skirt & blouse for ladies.

That said, I've seen plenty of folks come in jeans, t-shirts, and other "casual" apparel and (fortunately) I've never seen them catch any flack for it. Just last week a couple of neighbor kids decided to tag along with us...the girl was in a skirt but the boy was in blue jeans and a t-shirt. One of my own kids asked me about this afterwards and it was a great teaching lesson to explain that there's no dress code for religion. We accept everyone as they come.

Our leadership has talked about this as well in some of our meetings...for regular members (and especially for those participating in the services), there is definitely an expectation of dressing in your sunday best to show respect and reverence. But they also emphasized that we should never feel unworthy to worship (nor make anyone else feel excluded) because we may not have the stereotypical church clothing.

leslie said...

we've made room for more casual circumstance, but was there room for our grandparents (or even parents)? It was a cultural thing period: town meeting, court, dance, church... there were occasions you dressed for, hats were removed regardless. dress means something. the more it is stressed, however, the meanings are harder to overcome. That said, people in the church should be more willing to bend. grace makes room, it is sufficient.

coincidentally, a friend of mine just posted about being raised up in 1 Cor. 11 scripture about head covering and women; she would chew the ends of her hair off, because she wasn't allowed to cut it. she had gone to a BSF study and they were covering that part, and the woman leading picked & chose her way through that section in a way that felt arbitrary and somewhat old-fashioned to my friend.

anyway, I'm proud of you for willing to listen and then hold your ground when asked. I bet you were respectful about it too. :)

~L (omphaloskepsis)

Alex Hagerman said...

Well articulated sir, I agree with Bill, I also agree with you in the fact of it being a two way street. I long to see the Spirit in the Bride bringing unity in Christ while we stand on biblical truth moving beyond our own styles, preferences, opinions, etc. for His glory.

logankstewart said...

@Okie: The "Sunday best" mentality is a good thing to have, and I think it originates from thinking that we should try to look our best when we come into "God's House" or something. It's compared to going to court and appearing before a judge. The problems are that 1)the building is no longer "God's House," as our culture would have us believe, 2)We dress nice in court to try to improve our situation and perception, but we're fooling ourselves if we think God is going to look at what we're wearing and overlook our sins, 3)It inevitably becomes exclusive and therefore keeps people away, such as the homeless or someone who just doesn't have much, and 4)One persons best will be different from someone elses. It's great that your leadership recognizes the problems and emphasizes that worship shouldn't be hindered based on clothes.

@L: "people in the church should be more willing to bend. grace makes room, it is sufficient." Very well said, and very very true. There is Truth and then there is Opinion, and we're very good at getting those lines blurred.

@Alex: Amen. I share that same longing, friend.

@All: Thanks for all the great thoughts on this!

Diz said...

It looks like I'm kinda late for the party, but I thought I'd toss my two cents in:)

I've noticed that regardless of the denomination, each Christian, depending on their call and commitment, acts and responds from a certain "age" (Gal. 4:3 "underage"). The elderly gentleman, for example, may be a baby in the Lord, even if he is 80 years old.

As you mentioned, we all fall short in one area or another, and if we are the more spiritual, we have to bear with the failings of the weak. In fact, Paul, not being legalistic, cautioned against behaviors that cause the weak (the legalistic) to stumble. In short, we have a responsibility to the old man, and possibly even to pray for him, that he may grow beyond the "milk" of the word and into "solids."

Perhaps even the gentleman wearing the cap, depending on who the video was produced for, wasn't aware of his responsibility to the weak?

It can be embarrassing when a fellow Christian behaves like a child, especially when it provides fodder for the naysayers. I guess it gives me more opportunity to practice mercy, forgive, and repent for the times I've judged incorrectly.


logankstewart said...

@Diz: Thanks for the comments. Even though I only know you through your blog, I really appreciate and value your opinions on following Jesus. As you've said, it is an opportunity to practice mercy, patience, and love, especially for the "weaker" brother.

This responsibility, that of catering to the weaker and less responsible brothers & sisters, is probably the most challenging thing I face. I pray that God puts a fire in hearts to desire to seek Him, and that desire grows us to maturity in Christ.

Thanks again for your input!