When Christians gather together… how should we be dressed for Worship? While working on this week’s Gospel Wednesday post, my mind kept working on the parable of the wedding feast, particularly focused on the issue of being dressed for the wedding. This past summer we saw a lot of blogs raising the call for modesty (a particular issue for summer frivolities) in dress for women and a couple for men. I wanted to address this topic in a less seasonal sense.
For those who haven’t read our weekly devotional, let’s review the parable.
Matthew 22:1-14 (ESV) | The Parable of the Wedding Feast
22 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business,6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Now, the primary focus of this parable is one of faith in Jesus as the Christ, Son of the Living God. The Pharisees lacked faith and rejected the Son of the King, despite having been given their invitation through the Law of Moses (for they were teachers of the Law and overseers over God’s chosen people). To close out this thought, before moving to today’s slightly related topic, let us look to Revelation 7.
Revelation 7:9-14 (ESV) | A Great Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
How Should We Dress for Corporate Worship?
The ceremonial law within the Mosaic covenant had detailed prescriptions for the priests serving God in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. There were also some guidelines for the children of Israel. In the New Testament, we see much more emphasis on how we are adorned in our inner-being. Let’s look at those passages, beginning in 1 Timothy, since Paul is giving clear instruction to Timothy in how he is to oversee the churches that have been established.
1 Timothy 2:8-15 (ESV)
8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
Okay, so let’s address the obvious right away… Paul is clear in establishing distinct roles for men and women within the Church. His rationale is based in the Creation, not in society or misogyny. I’d also like to point out that Paul isn’t saying that braided hair, gold, pearls, or even costly attire are sinful in themselves. He is saying that they are not the means of establishing what is respectable apparel., nor do these things truly adorn women who profess godliness. What matters is faith, love, holiness, with self-control. Ladies, adorn yourselves with modesty, self-control, and good works.
It might be tempting to cry foul of the disproportionate level of instruction given to men and to women here. I mean, so far men are told to life holy hands without anger or quarreling, while women were given a long list and told they could not hold authority over men, what gives? Well, that temptation would seem valid if we failed to continue reading on into the next chapter.
1 Timothy 3:1-13 (ESV) | Qualifications for Overseers
3 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Qualifications for Deacons
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
So, Paul lays out the qualifications of holding a position of authority in the church. Notice that in the qualifications of a deacon, the character of his wife is also included. Wives, while you are not eligible for positions of authority over men within the church, your character as a wife is a contributing factor in the consideration of your husband for the office of deacon.
More on “Costly Attire” and “First-World Problems”
Now, sometimes there is a form of legalism that creeps in and tries to “adjust for inflation” so to speak and condemn Christians dealing with first-world problems here in the US for not realizing how rich they are compared to poor people in Somalia. These are seeking to engage in an empty piety contest of words and should be silenced. What is costly attire to one person may not be costly to another; therefore, it does not serve as a flat-rate measurement of adornment, regardless of whatever calculation man wishes to place on it. God looks on the heart, and He placed each of us on this Earth, in this moment, and in our circumstances for His Glory Alone. That is not to say that the rich get a pass by virtue of being rich. Skipping ahead a bit in 1 Timothy, I’d like to look at how Paul specifically addresses the rich.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 (ESV)
17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
And those who are not rich must guard their hearts from desiring to be rich:
1 Timothy 6:3-10 (ESV)
3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
The focus is still on godliness in the inner-being. We skipped over it, but Paul gives a quick statement in chapter 5 that bears this out.
1 Timothy 5:24-25 (ESV)
24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.
What fruit are we producing, fruit of the Spirit or corruption of the flesh?
Okay, But What Practical Applications?
I’m glad you asked. Let’s begin first with the leaders of the church and work toward the congregation.
Firstly, let’s talk a bit about what the Pastor is wearing as he preaches/teaches God’s Word to the congregation of the saints. I confess that growing up in NAR/Pentecostal churches, I disqualified any Pastor who was wearing a robe or other priestly garments because clearly they were copying the Pope. The liturgical vestments were haughty, gaudy, and self-serving and falsely separated them from the rest of the body of Christ. Mind you, this was while I was in a church that had a “prophetic dance team” with uniforms, banners, and ribbons… woefully inconsistent… I have repented, but it still stings. Does the New Testament prescribe specific priestly garments for pastors? No. Is there anything inherently wrong with wearing a robe, sash, clerical collar, or cope? No. Is there anything inherently holy about such garments? Nope.
Matthew 23:16-19 (ESV)
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
I hope I didn’t lose you with that quote. We’ll be looking at this passage next week, so please forgive me for having it freshly in my mind right now. The reason I bring this up now is look at the logic Jesus is using in His rebuke against the Pharisees. We’ve been reading Paul’s instruction to Timothy focusing on character of the worshiper. The Temple was the center of Jewish worship, yet the Pharisees concocted backwards regulations because they were blind to the truth, that it wasn’t the adornments that made the Temple, it was the Temple that made the adornments. Similarly, it isn’t the clothing that makes (or unmakes) the Pastor, but his character, what he preaches, and how he handles the Word of God.
So how should one physically dress for the assembling together with the saints for corporate worship? The first thing is to put on the armor of God (I know, that’s inside, we dress from the inside out).
Ephesians 6:14-20 (ESV)
14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Church is for the gathering of the saints. We invite our friends to hear the gospel and to meet our brothers and sisters in Christ, sure… but until the Lord opens their ears and eyes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ church isn’t FOR them… they are not yet dressed for Worship, for in their unbelief they only worship gods of their own making.
How we are dressed on the inward being will reflect in the outward. Sometimes it is conspicuous, other times it develops slowly. We should dress in a manner that will not draw undue attention away from the Worship service. We should consider the cultural norms and do our very best not to be a stumbling block to our neighbors and to be thought well of by unbelievers. There is a great deal of Christian Liberty here which involves a great deal of individual responsibility and accountability to the Body of Christ.
Regarding ceremonial/liturgical attire, those garments are not for the ones not wearing them; they are for the ones wearing them to be cognizant of their duties and responsibilities. Can they become a distraction and a point of boasting for their wearers? Yes… in the same way that being the cool hipster on a stage with his iPad can be. We might dedicate a later post to the topic of pastoral attire at a later date. For now, I think this gives us some good groundwork for how we are to come dressed for Worship.
Romans 14:17-23 (ESV)
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
In Christ Jesus,