By James W. Adams
What is your attitude toward modern dress style affected by professed Christians in the public worship, particularly by those who lead in that worship, and the casual and familiar form of address characteristic of the prayers in the assemblies of the saints? (Texas.)
The question above has been asked me by so many people throughout the United States in the last several years that I hesitate to identify it either by place or person. So many have inquired about this matter here at Pruett and Lobit where I labor that I recently wrote and published an article concerning it in our local bulletin which is not mailed out. I have been urged to give it wider circulation. Some of these matters have been argued at some length in the past, and I do not imagine what I have said will add anything to the discussion. However, the following constitutes my attitude for whatever it may be worth.
Long ago, the Psalmist contemplated the problems inherent in the attitude of the “saints” toward God and was inspired by the Spirit of God to exclaim, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (Psalms 89:7). We live in an age in which a considerable segment of humanity is dedicated to the complete destruction of all traditional values, customs, morals of human conduct, and institutions. Reverence for God and Divine institutions, love of country, love of home, respect for parents, chastity, honesty, honorable toil, ambition, bodily cleanliness, respectable dress, conventional behavior, and the elevation of and respect for womanhood are passé”. They are regarded as outmoded and selfish inventions of the “authoritarian establishment” which have been created and maintained for the exploitation of fellow human beings.
God’s people have been seriously affected by the spirit of the age. Many of our young people particularly have adopted its clichés, fashions in dress, morals (or lack of morals), disrespect for authority (Divine, parental, and state), contempt for religion (especially what they choose to call “formal religion”), and spirit of uninhibited familiarity with God. Respectful formality in religious exercises is held to be spiritually stultifying, coldly hypocritical, and grossly irrelevant to the problems and needs of the “free spirits of our liberated generation.”
Let us note several concrete examples of the encroachment of the “spirit of the age” upon God’s redeemed people. In recent years, a great many have adopted a familiar style of address when approaching Jehovah. The “sacred style” of address so long in vogue among Christians has been abandoned and the common or vulgar “you” has been adopted. It is contended that “sacred style” was unknown to the koine Greek in which the books of the New Testament were written originally, hence without scriptural precedent. While it is true that the koine Greek of the New Testament furnishes no evidence of “sacred style,” the current use of the vulgar “you” is by no means justified on the basis of this fact. We do have a recognized “sacred style” of address in English. This being true, proper reverence for God would suggest its retention when addressing Deity. A happy solution of this matter seems to me to be that which was adopted by the translators of the New American Standard Bible. They retained the “sacred style-the thees and thous” when Deity is addressed and use the more common “you” in all other places.
Our text illustrates an attitude which was common among the Israelites of Old Testament history — God’s special people for fifteen hundred years; namely, an attitude of profound reverence in reference to everything addressed to Deity. The Psalmist said, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (Psalms 89:7emphasis mine, JWA). The Israelites took this admonition seriously. It is a fact of history that they would pronounce the name of Jehovah only on the most solemn occasions and with reference to the most sacred matters and then only with the deepest reverence and humility.
It would have been unthinkable to one of the Israel of God to place himself on terms of familiarity with Jehovah. From my earliest childhood, I have been associated with Christians who have held the God of Heaven in the same reverence and addressed him with like fear and humility. Recently, therefore, I have been shocked and repelled to hear preachers of the gospel and others among conservative churches address God in an offhand, informal, and familiarly intimate fashion such as one would employ in casual conversation with his neighbor over the backyard fence.
It is argued by some that this casual, intimate, familiar approach to God deepens one’s sense of a “personal God.” In my judgment, such an argument plumbs the depths of absurdity. The reality of God’s existence and personal interest in and concern for -the individual person of the human family, by such an argument, is made to depend upon an assumption of equality with God manifested in vulgarly familiar address. While it is true that one’s relationship with God is intimate, real, and personal, it is not a relationship of equality. We approach God as imperfect, fallible men-sinners saved by grace. We do this “boldly through Christ” (Heb. 4:14-16), yet not with vulgar familiarity. We rather approach God as one “unworthy of the least of all his mercies” (Gen. 3 2: 10), and not on a plane of equality in our petitions and in our praise. There can be personal, meaningful, and spiritually uplifting and sanctifying intimacy without grossly casual familiarity.
Another illustration of how “the spirit of the age” has infected the people of God in our time and desecrated “the assembly of the saints” is the casual and often carnally suggestive dress of the worshippers in their public devotions. Informality is the keynote. In public life in general, people appear at formal functions involving highly dignified persons and purposes coatless, tieless, unpressed, in jeans, and, believe it or not, at times barefooted. God’s people have in many cases adopted this same attitude relative to the public worship. They rebel against any sort of formality in dress. They prefer to dress as though they were going on a picnic, a hay ride, or a fishing trip. Women come to worship in dresses which are suggestively low in back and front at the top, and short at the bottom to the point of being not simply suggestive but sexually seductive. It has been said, “Never the twain shall meet,” but the “mod” style of woman’s dress in our time has all but made this affirmation academic.
I do not subscribe to the idea that men must wear long, black coats and standing collars (if you know what that means), nor to the idea that women must be clothed in ankle-length garments with multiple petticoats and bonneted heads in the public worship. I do insist that propriety, dignity, and chastity do not have to be sacrificed to achieve a worship atmosphere that is personal, intimate, and meaningful as well as relevant. The old proverb to the effect that “familiarity breeds contempt” has not lost its meaning with the passing years and the dawning of the so-called “age of liberation.”
We ought to be able to recognize the fact that nothing is lost and much gained in the realm of civil government by a citizen addressing the head of state as, “Mr. President,” in the realm of the home by addressing those who have given us life and nurtured it as “father and mother,” and in the realm of religion by addressing the Creator of the universe in the most dignified and sacred terminology available from a posture of worship involving demeanor and dress indicative of the highest purity and reverence. Let us not permit an erosion of the “fear of God” through capitulation to the current winds of casual familiarity. There are some things which are yet sacred and worthy of the deepest respect and the most profound reverence.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 20, pp. 8-10
March 23, 1972