It is quite dramatic to see how our society has changed in the last few decades. Words that had a particular meaning now mean something totally different. Button down shirts in more formal settings would never have been left untucked. Now the most up to style shirts are designed to be untucked. Pronouns used in talking with a person used to lead to a possible correction or clarification. Now there is potential for outrage and even unspoken declaration of a worldview if a pronoun is not correctly used. Also, the old school business concept of “Do what is best for the company” has been replaced by “Do what is best for me.” What is the most challenging of these changes is the forceful media, social media, and cultural acceptance of these changes brought on with a demanding approach to conformity.
Now not all of the societal changes are bad of course. One positive change is a person may now establish reasonable boundaries to their work schedule. Another benefit is the jeans that have only a few strands of thread covering holes can now be sold online for more than what the pants originally were priced at. Planning in advance is becoming a lost art, but the procrastinator is now seen as spontaneously creative. It is a mixed bag now for sure.
With my fellowship group, I have been going through the book of Exodus for the last 9 months and one thought has entered my mind several times regarding change and our relationship with God. My thought centers around how we worship God. I grew up in a church where we used hymnals to sing worship songs. These hymns have a deep, theological wealth to them that has spoken to my heart both theologically and emotionally. I remember when the change came to worship music that had chorus’ or songs that were much more in-line with modern musical styles. These songs also spoke to my heart and emotions. Many of these songs will fill my mind with God-centered worship even to this day. There has also been change to church appropriate clothes. When I was young, the term “Sunday best” was understood to be a suit-like ensemble that was reserved for weddings, funerals, and Sunday morning church services. Now Sunday best would have many people wearing their cleanest NFL jersey! And is there a problem with relaxing a little bit? When I was in college my parents moved from the Midwest to the West Coast. It was then I realized I now could get away with some of the clothing choices I wanted when picking out my Sunday morning attire. A more casual look was not looked down upon. And I have to hand it to my Mom, she did a good job in adjusting to this new West Coast standard.
As I have been working through Exodus I have been struck time and time again with the excellence that God insisted upon in worship of Him. Take the priestly garments God gave instructions for Moses to have made for Aaron and his sons to wear in the service at the Tabernacle. Exodus 28:2-6, “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. These are the garments that they shall make: a breast piece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked.” Notice the words used to describe how these garments are to be crafted. Skillfully woven, fine twined linen, work done by a people “whom I have filled with a spirit of skill.” And the reason for all of this excellence in craftsmanship, v.2 “for glory and for beauty.” This glory and beauty is not related to the priest or the people they represent. Rather this is to recognize who God is and to give him honor with glory and beauty. God tells Moses and those who are setting up the Tabernacle that He expects beauty, glory, and honor from His people as they worship Him. He expects them to bring their best when they come before Him. The descriptions of the furnishings of the Tabernacle point to creative, beautiful design, and those who are to build these accoutrements are given the Holy Spirit’s ability to create these items.
Very specific instructions are given to Aaron and the priests as to how they are to come before the One True Holy God. They are to cleanse themselves, make sacrifices for themselves, and put on the intended appropriate clothing. And the ramifications if they did not adhere to these instructions was significant, death. God was very serious about how people approached Him and viewed being in His presence.
So, what has changed? Has God changed? Now that the Old Covenant has been fulfilled with Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, does God not care how we approach Him? Are we free just to “chill’ with God and not worry about offending Him with flippant actions and attire?
I am not going to take on the issue of the particular clothes that people wear to attend church. I think there is a strong Biblical case to be made that Jesus met people where they were and thus having people comfortable in their attire has some credibility. I also think the current equivalent to “long flowing robes” of the scribes were condemned for in Luke 20 shows that the heart with which a person comes to worship God is the most important thing.
All this being said leads me to the personal convicting thought that I wish to convey. When we come to church and do not prepare for an encounter with the One True God, we are taking His mercy for granted. We should not only look forward to corporate times of worshiping God, but take the time to prepare, confess sin, get the sleep needed to be totally present, and discipline ourselves to listen well to the Word of God being preached. We should also focus on the words of the songs that are meant to draw us into a right posture before Him. It takes focused discipline not to get distracted with random thoughts as we sing songs of worship to our King.
I think we can use some remembering who God is and how holy He is. This should motivate us to prepare to encounter the Lord with humility, joy, and openhearted self-reflection. This will help us to be transformed into the people of God He calls us to be.