Is it true that the outward trappings of our worship and our lives matter not at all? Isn’t God concerned only with our hearts?
God is indeed principally concerned about where our hearts are. The woman at the well (John 4: 1-15) was concerned about the proper location for worshipping God, while Jesus was more concerned about the proper mind and heart, that we would worship in spirit and in truth. Jesus reiterated this same truth when He spoke of the publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18). The unkempt, unwashed publican cried out “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner” and went home justified. The proper, dignified Pharisee, on the other hand, full of pride, left the temple still under God’s judgment.
That said, it is precisely because God is concerned about our hearts that we dare not utterly write off issues of decorum. In The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis pointedly explained man’s nature by having Screwtape, the senior demon complain to the junior demon Wormwood, that we humans are amphibious creatures. Animals are bodies without spirits. Angels and demons are spirits without bodies. We have both, and they are intimately tied together.
We struggle with this in both the church and the rest of our lives. We live in an age that cherishes a casual mood and posture, somehow seeing these as the equivalent of sincerity. Order and dignity are seen as the exclusive province of the prideful and phony. As a result our worship services look like a picnic at the beach and our workplaces look like little league games. Worse still, our attitudes toward our work and not just our worship, but the God we worship are casual as well.
All of us still take seriously those events we know are serious. Precious few of us, were we honest, imagine getting married in khakis and a polo shirt. Nor would we sincerely imagine appearing at a White House function in our favorite pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. Which means in turn that we must not actually think that when we gather together for worship that we are receiving a foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb. We must not believe that we are going to meet the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
What we do when we are dressed casually we treat casually, because we are bodies and souls, not just souls.
Does this mean that we ought to look down on those whose wardrobes come from Goodwill? Of course not. Does it mean that Lord’s Day worship, or even our workdays, should become fashion shows? Of course not. Does this mean that if you were married in cut-offs and flip-flops that you aren’t really married. Of course not. Does it mean we ought to come in our best? Yes, it does.
Our fathers in the faith, in the first century, were slaves. They dressed like slaves. They were hunted down for their faith, and so met in the catacombs. They did indeed worship in spirit and in truth. But the truth is, we do what we do because we worship in the spirit of our age. Casual is as casual does. It’s time we took seriously our worship. Better still, it’s time we took seriously the One we worship.