Someone asked online the other day whether the church I attend has a dress code, saying she didn’t have “dress-up” clothes and didn’t want to feel out of place. I responded by saying, no, there’s no dress code there. Come as you are!
She said thanks.
Someone else took that a step further, saying that any church that has a dress code is being exclusive.
I let that go because I didn’t want to get political over a sincere question. But I do have a response.
While churches should welcome all who visit, I grew up in a church that did have a dress code. I wore a suit and tie to church as a teenager. (Perhaps that’s where my lifelong rebellion to ties comes from.)
While a suit and tie (or a long dress) is not a symbol of comfort, it has a specific purpose. Those who wear formal clothes, in a business or church setting, are showing off their best side. Formality shows dignity and respect to those we interact with.
Again, formal clothes are not meant for comfort (although they shouldn’t be distractingly uncomfortable). They serve a higher purpose. We are giving our best. We have standards. It costs money to buy formal clothes, and in certain settings, they are necessary.
Weddings and funerals require more than T-shirt and flip-flops. Why? Respect for those we are honoring.
Having no dress code on Sunday mornings is fine, to make sure that no one is excluded. But I think we’ve taken that thought too far. We are so casual, we’ve forgotten who the God of the universe really is. It’s hard to offer respect in a T-shirt and flip-flops. We can start there with God, but should we remain there our whole lives?
I’m reading the book of Leviticus in the Bible with a group of friends. It’s a long list of rules for animal and grain sacrifices, purification rituals and standards for daily living. It’s hard reading. Does it even apply to 21st century America?
Oh, yes. My study Bible offers this commentary:
We may be tempted to dismiss Leviticus as a record of bizarre rituals of a different age. But its practices made sense to the people of the day and offer important insights for us into God’s nature and character.
Israel, from the day God formed the nation, had to follow different rules than every other nation did. Israel was set apart. Its standards for living were much higher. The Israelites didn’t always appreciate that. At one point they wanted a king, solely because every other nation had one. God said He was their king, but that wasn’t good enough for them. God said fine, but you’ll have problems as a result. And they did.
The higher standards remained, even as Israel rebelled.
The Ten Commandments, as well as all the Levitical laws and rules, didn’t apply outside Israel. But inside Israel, they did.
God had something special planned for the nation. The higher standards benefited Israel as much as it did giving God the honor and respect He deserved. Do not commit adultery, for example: When we do commit adultery, the side effects are obvious and horribly damaging. But we do it anyway, don’t we?
As Christians who inherit this lifestyle, we are held to this higher standard. It’s easy to point fingers at us when we fall short. We all do, you know, whether we admit it or not.
Here’s the kicker: Those outside the church by definition aren’t following God’s standards. They follow their own man- (and woman)-made rules, many of which are based on Biblical principles (again, whether we admit that or not).
Where God’s standards and man’s standards differ is where we clash. Hard. It’s difficult to find compromise when we see life through different eyes. I’m not talking Republican and Democrat; I’m talking much bigger than that. I’m talking Christian and non-Christian.
Those two groups read the Bible differently, and here’s the explanation. Do we read Leviticus, for example, as a list of bizarre rituals, or insight into our holy God? Same words, two totally different meanings.
Best foot forward
The business world understands this better than the church does. Business executives put their best foot forward to lure customers to their product or service. If a business cuts corners, customers eventually will find out – and leave for a competitor.
High standards have a cost. Businesses have to put out time and money to research and build the best products and services, and then they charge us accordingly to consume them.
With God, the high standards are a lifestyle choice. That choice affects the way we think and live, the lens through which we see life. Are we willing to submit to a high standard, or not?
There are consequences and side effects whichever choice we make.
With God, it’s not a decide-once-and-live-happily-ever-after decision. Perhaps that’s why so few people accept God’s standards. It’s a daily thing. When we fall short, we ask God (and each other, when necessary) for forgiveness. Then we do it again. Forgive, and be forgiven. Seventy times seven times, in Jesus’ words.
I wish more people in the church understood holiness. In our efforts at being casual, it’s a lost theme.
But God is God and the standards remain, whether anyone follows them or not. Israel learned that the hard way over time in Old Testament days. I fear we are learning that the hard way today as well.