The Standard September 16, 2021
How many of us got ready for church last weekend and thought to ourselves that it was after Labor Day so we should not wear white below the belt? There is a cute Peanuts cartoon which shows Lucy reading aloud, “Miss Manners says that white shoes may be worn only between Memorial Day and Labor Day.” Snoopy thinks to himself, “What about white feet?”
While my family growing up was not particular about clothing rules, my parents did care about social etiquette for thank-you notes, responding to invitations and telephone calls. One night a friend of mine called and my father answered with, “Emily Post says anything past ten o’clock is rude!” and hung up. While there are obvious benefits to avoiding disturbing people during sleeping hours or to letting a hostess or host know we are coming to an event so they can plan appropriately, there are numerous other social traditions which truly are simply a matter of taste. Like restricting the wearing of white, these supposed rules change over the course of time.
As Christians in the places where we live and work, it is especially important for us to identify certain preferences which are fine and personal, but are completely irrelevant to following Christ. Does God care what color we wear and when? Does it matter to God whether or not we mail out a high-quality invitation? Does it offend Jesus if we eat a holiday meal on paper plates with paper napkins instead of on china with cloth napkins? Of course not. We are free to dine the way we enjoy. It almost pains me to admit it, but I doubt God cares whether we mail an actual thank-you note or simply thank the giver face-to-face or electronically. We should not judge others for having their own ideas about such things. A sincere thank-you should be met graciously, in any form. What matters in these matters is our attitude.
In the church we must distinguish between our likes and dislikes as opposed to Scriptural mandates. Different people have different tastes in worship music. Pre-recorded music is not unspiritual. Everyone should be made to feel welcome at worship and at church functions. The way we dress is irrelevant, unless it is provocative or aimed at calling great attention to ourselves. James warns us about treating others differently based on superficial things like attire.
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2: 1-4) “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2:8-9)
We remember that the Pharisees were bad about adding to the law and demanding practices that God cared nothing about. Jesus calls them out. “Thus, you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” (Matthew 15:6b-9) It is normal for us to have our own likes and dislikes; in one culture something that is considered beautiful might be seen negatively in another culture. Expecting others to conform to our taste has no place in the body of Christ.