Politically Incorrect Prophets (Speaking Truth In an Age of Timidity)

When modern ears hear words like “prophet” or “ prophecy,” they typically invoke imagery of futuristic predictions or something sensationally mystical. Most people relegate the role of prophecy to the ancient scrolls of the Old Testament. And, prophecy does often involve a God-given vision of the future. Furthermore, the prophetic role certainly seems more prominent in the Old Testament.

To understand the role of prophecy today, we must begin by understanding the ancient prophets’ role. Otherwise, it’s like trying to understand algebra without a rudimentary knowledge of addition. It doesn’t take much casual browsing through Scripture to realize that biblical prophets were intensely controversial, mostly misunderstood, extremely negative, and overwhelmingly politically incorrect.

To understand the role of prophecy today, we must begin by understanding the ancient prophets’ role. Otherwise, it’s like trying to understand algebra without a rudimentary knowledge of addition.

It doesn’t take much casual browsing through Scripture to realize that biblical prophets were intensely controversial, mostly misunderstood, extremely negative, and overwhelmingly politically incorrect.

The Role of Biblical Prophets

Pre-Pentecost prophets were politically incorrect centuries before politically correct speech, and behavior was embedded into mainstream culture. Contrary to what most modern “prophets” peddle, their predictions of future events were rarely rosy. Their predictions were typically terror-inducing warnings straight from the mind of God. Aside from eschatological prophets (like Daniel and Ezekiel), their warnings were anything but vague. Prophets were acutely aware of the looming death penalty if they lied or spoke out of turn (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). God despises false prophets who invoke His authority to speak lies or manipulate people to their own will (Jeremiah 23:9-40).

God despises false prophets who invoke His authority to speak lies or manipulate people to their own will (Jeremiah 23:9-40).

Deuteronomy 18:20-22 was the backdrop that framed the mindset of true men of God. They feared the judgment of God and eschewed the opinions of men. To be sure, that nobility of heart and strength of moral character took a toll. Habakkuk felt abandoned by God (Habakkuk 1:2-11). Jeremiah mourned the prosperity of the wicked and felt the loneliness of being discounted (Jeremiah 12:1-4, Jeremiah 20:8). Elijah longed for death (1 Kings 19:4). Noah succumbed to strong drink after the fulfillment of his prophecy of worldwide judgment (9:21). And, God instructed Hosea to marry an unloving prostitute (Hosea 1:2) and endure a lifetime of heartbreak. Their difficulties and struggles don’t make the prophetic calling particularly compelling. Modern readers glamorize the prophetic life, but the reality described in Scripture is sacred, scary, and sacrosanct. To put it mildly, most people claiming the prophetic gifting have more in common with Balaam than Elisha.

To put it mildly, most people claiming the prophetic gifting have more in common with Balaam than Elisha.

Further convoluting the confusion surrounding prophecy, the definition of prophecy itself is mostly misunderstood. Old Testament prophets did more than predict the future. They bubbled forth the Word of the Lord. They were God’s mouthpiece. They spoke what God spoke regardless of the personal repercussions. They taught they reproved, rebuked, informed, corrected, and did all of this with long-suffering. In other words, they operated much like the preachers described in the book of Acts. That being said, in many ways, all preachers carry the prophetic mantle.

Old Testament prophets did more than predict the future. They bubbled forth the Word of the Lord. They were God’s mouthpiece. They spoke what God spoke regardless of the personal repercussions.

The Role of Apostolic Prophecy

The five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13) is divided into distinctly separate categories by apostolic thinkers. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are usually viewed as non-overlapping roles. Even those who theologically recognize the simplistic nature of this way of thinking revert back to it in practice. However, every New Testament preacher operates with a blending of the five-fold ministries. The prophetic mantle rests on the shoulders of every God-called preacher of the Gospel regardless of official title or position.

Every New Testament preacher operates with a blending of the five-fold ministries. The prophetic mantle rests on the shoulders of every God-called preacher of the Gospel regardless of official title or position.

Modern preachers should be fountains that bubble forth the pure Word of God. They are keepers of the Word and carriers of the cross. They are the original truth to power brokers. Tweaking the Word for convenience is unacceptable in the eyes of God. Refusing to speak the full revelation of God’s Word is a perversion of the prophetic office. To pollute, dilute, or exclude any God-given words for profit is detestable and stirs God’s wrath. I am genuinely concerned that many apostolic preachers are losing the courage to remain righteously counter-cultural and unavoidably politically incorrect. I say “unavoidably” because it’s not possible to be biblically correct and politically correct at the same time. Politically correct preachers are really just biblically incorrect preachers.

Modern preachers should be fountains that bubble forth the pure Word of God. They are keepers of the Word and carriers of the cross. They are the original truth to power brokers

Tweaking the Word for convenience is unacceptable. Refusing to speak the full revelation of God’s Word is a perversion of the prophetic office. To pollute, dilute, or exclude any God-given words for profit stirs God’s wrath.

Politically correct preachers are really just biblically incorrect preachers.

Six Prophetic Tensions

I’d rather eat glass than jump into impossible-to-resolve eschatological debates. And, there’s probably no stickier debate than the question of who the Two Witnesses are in Revelations chapter eleven (Revelation 11:3-12). However, it would be foolish to overlook the appearance of burlap-wearing, fire-breathing, element-controlling, loudly-testifying, plague-inducing, death-defying prophets roaming the streets in the last days. When God calls two witnesses to preach during apocalyptic times, they will be eerily Old Testament in nature. And yet, more often than not, New Testament preachers seem frightfully out of step with the biblical prophetic legacy.

Every self-aware preacher wrestles inwardly with the tension that exists between their human desire to be excepted by men and their calling to be godly counter-cultural mouthpieces. Some bow, some bend, some break, and some refuse to surrender their will to anyone but God. No one desires to be politically incorrect, but it’s the nature of the calling. The truth (especially God’s Truth) is rarely mainstream, annoyingly inconvenient, and stubbornly unchanging. The world desperately needs courageous modern godly mouthpieces that will speak the truth in an age of timidity.

Truth is rarely mainstream, annoyingly inconvenient, and stubbornly unchanging. The world desperately needs courageous modern godly mouthpieces that will speak the truth in an age of timidity.

I’ve noticed six growing tensions developing in the hearts of ministers in my lifetime. Every politically incorrect prophet must win these battles that rage within their hearts and resist the pressure to become just another name on the long list of false prophets. This is a real-life and death, and Heaven versus Hell battle between good and evil. Not only does their eternity hang in the balance, but the souls of their followers do as well. Many have lost their stomach for the fight, others are just learning the importance of the struggle, yet a powerful remnant of true prophetic men of God are stepping to the forefront of spiritual warfare.

1. Truth vs. Timidity

Postmodernism has been eroding the perceived value of truth for at least sixty years. Just calling a biological man a man is considered borderline hate speech in our stupefied society. Peddlers of confusion malign and attack simple voices of reason. Spiritual truths are betrayed, minimized, and shunned by purveyors of moral ambiguity. Preachers are portrayed in pop culture as buffoonish curmudgeons or wild-eyed lunatics. Sometimes, godly truth-tellers are physically punished or stripped of their comforts.

In America, they are silently bullied and quietly derided (at least publicly) in an attempt to intimidate or embarrass them into submission. More and more, western preachers feel the urge to be timid about truth. They fear preaching controversial topics and eventually avoid speaking of the things God cares about altogether. But true men of God choose to shake off the shackles of timidity and speak the truth with boldness (Acts 28:32, Proverbs 28:1, Acts 4:13, Acts 4:31, Ephesians 6:19).

2. Clarity vs. Confusion

God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). True prophets clarify. False prophets confuse and convolute. Genuine preachers aren’t vague, cryptic, or overly speculative in their preaching. If a prophetic preacher generates more confusion than revelation, he’s more than likely a false prophet.

False prophets confuse and convolute. Genuine preachers aren’t vague, cryptic, or overly speculative in their preaching. If a prophetic preacher generates more confusion than revelation, he’s more than likely a false prophet.

3. Conviction vs. Compromise

Have you ever noticed how excruciatingly uncomfortable the Last Supper must have been for the disciples? Judas was on the verge of betraying Jesus, and Jesus was painfully aware of that impending “kiss” of death. Judas was probably acting super strange. Jesus was always perfectly willing to make people squirm. So, naturally, He decided to mention a betrayer was in the room. That little grenade caused a lot of commotion.

As if that wasn’t enough drama for one night, Jesus took the opportunity to warn the disciples about all kinds of discouraging things (John 16:1-4). He told them they would be kicked out of synagogues and become societal outcasts. He even told them they would be killed by people who thought they were doing the work of God. Surely the disciples thought this is the kind of stuff we should have been told a long time ago. And, Jesus perceptively addressed those thoughts by assuring them that even though He was leaving in the flesh, He would remain with them in the Spirit (John 16:5-7).

During this revelatory conversation about the coming of the Holy Ghost, Jesus laid out a description of what the role of the Spirit would be on the earth (John 16:8-11). Jesus didn’t mince words; He said the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin, reveal their need for righteousness, and warn them of the coming judgment. Notably, conviction is one of the primary roles of the Holy Ghost.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin, reveal their need for righteousness, and warn them of the coming judgment.

Conviction. Sin. Righteousness. Judgment. All of these are becoming taboo topics. But if these topics are the primary issues the Holy Spirit was sent to address, then preachers who refuse to handle them are not Spirit-filled. Compromising eventually places preachers in the position of actively resisting the work of the Spirit. Essentially, they become an enemy of God.

Compromising eventually places preachers in the position of actively resisting the work of the Spirit. Essentially, they become an enemy of God.

As people search for “safe” spaces, and Truth is viewed more and more as confrontational hate speech, preachers are placed in a precarious situation. The temptation is to avoid conviction and replace it with an ooey-gooey, warm, and fuzzy brand of non-intrusive, conversational preaching. Please understand, there’s rarely a need to be intentionally offensive or off-putting, but God’s Word usually offends carnal sensitivities. Conviction isn’t comfortable, but it’s irreplaceable and indispensable. Preaching conviction is a huge part of the prophetic job description. Prophets who never preach conviction of sin into the hearts of their flock are not prophets at all.

4. Faith vs. Fear

The spirit of antichrist doesn’t care if prophets speak the truth as long as they whisper it in fear and cower in the corner. Anxiety is normal and often justified, but true prophets overcome their fears with faith. They preach fearful things, but they temper it with faith that encourages and edifies. They preach doom and coming judgment, but they also preach that faith will bring us into an eternal relationship with God that is blissful beyond comprehension. Faith and fear are not compatible. One eventually pushes the other out. True prophets allow faith to cast out their fears, and they inspire their followers to do the same.

Faith and fear are not compatible. One eventually pushes the other out. True prophets allow faith to cast out their fears, and they inspire their followers to do the same.

5. Reverence vs. Irreverence

There is a growing sense of irreverence towards spiritual things, even among “religious” people. I believe this is reflected in many ways, including how people dress for church (check out Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church?). Ancient prophets brimmed with righteous reverence for the things of God. They demanded the same from those listening to their divinely inspired words. Modern Christianity must overcome the growing tension between reverence and irreverence in our culture. God will not accept irreverent sacrifices in His name. British theologian Thomas Smail gives an interesting warning in his book The Forgotten Father:

“Abba is not Hebrew, the language of liturgy, but Aramaic, the language of home and everyday life… We need to be wary of the suggestion… that the correct translation of Abba is ‘Daddy.’ Abba is the intimate word of a family circle where that obedient reverence was at the heart of the relationship, whereas Daddy is the familiar word of a family circle from which all thoughts of reverence and obedience have largely disappeared… The best English translation of Abba is simply ‘Dear Father.”

I think Smail was attempting to strike the delicate yet hard to achieve the balance between reverencing God and simultaneously feeling closely connected to God. In the apostolic movement, many have over-corrected away from highly liturgical denominations (like Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians) whose reverence is more like a cold indifference, into a mushy “God is my best buddy” mindset. Not only does this endanger reverence, but it also breeds lots of unintended theological fallacies as well.

Modern Christianity must overcome the growing tension between reverence and irreverence in our culture. God will not accept irreverent sacrifices in His name.

6. Power vs. Prosperity

Perhaps, the worst degrading of prophecy has come from the proponents of prosperity theology. The “God will double your money if you send me a thousand dollars right now” crowd. These charlatans, either genuinely or disingenuously, believe that wealth, health, and fame are spiritual success measures. But, ancient biblical prophets were far more concerned with spiritual power than earthly power. They called down fire from heaven while barely having enough food to eat or a place to live. If prosperity theology is correct, the ancient prophets were wildly out of the will of God.

Most people reading this have long ago rejected prosperity theology; however, there is a lingering (unspoken) assumption that struggling preachers are somehow out of God’s favor. This assumption is a subtle trick of the enemy. It’s just another way to shame godly preachers into conforming to the will of the carnal majority. The real measuring stick of apostolic authority isn’t bank accounts. Instead, it’s the manifested power of God. Interestingly, as materialism grows, manifestations of the Spirit decline. Men of God should seek the power of God, not positions or materialistic prosperity. I’m all for the blessings of God, but never at the expense of the power of God.

Conclusion

The household of God is built on the blood-soaked foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus is the chief cornerstone of that unshakable foundation. Next time you read through the Gospels, pay attention to how astonishingly politically incorrect Jesus was in word and deed. He wasn’t trying to be odd or quirky. It wasn’t a gimmick or a facade that Jesus put on for attention. He just spoke the truth even when it was unwanted.

God is calling a fresh generation of preachers who are willing to be completely unashamed of the Word of God. They will preach without thought for their safety or societal security. They will leave their comfort zones and abandon the shackles that carnal culture wraps around their minds. They will seek to grow the Kingdom of God and not their ministry. They will value the Truth above tolerance and wisdom above worldliness. The spiritual revolution is already beginning; which side of it will you be on?

God is calling a fresh generation of preachers who are willing to be completely unashamed of the Word of God. They will preach without thought for their safety or societal security.

Apostolic Voice Podcast


The Top 10 Articles of 2020

I’d like to offer my warm thanks for your continued readership and support of the Apostolic Voice blog. And, for those that also listen to the new Apostolic Voice podcast, I’d like to thank you as well. It’s become a tradition at the beginning of each new year to post the top ten articles that trended in the previous year. Last year a few sleeper articles made a surge, and several staple pieces held steady in the rankings. Surprisingly, 2020 was, statistically speaking, our most dynamic year yet. Although, that probably shouldn’t have been a surprise considering all the quarantine time we all endured. I remain humbled that you would read and share my sincere rantings, beliefs, opinions, and insights.

The red marks every area of the globe Apostolic Voice reached in 2020.

For those who have been reading from the beginning, you’ve noticed I’ve made an effort to update and refresh the site. Hopefully, it is more user-friendly and easier to search for past articles. Initially, I intended to write predominantly about current events (and in the beginning, I did), but time has led me to write mostly about timeless truths. I pray you are blessed in this new year.

Top 10 Articles of 2019

At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.

Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church (En Español)?

The original article Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church has been circulated hundreds of thousands of times. Shockingly, it’s quickly approaching the million click mark!

Recently the article has been translated into Spanish. You can read that article HERE. I wanted to make it available for my Spanish speaking friends and family.

Top 10 Articles 2017

The monthly readership continues to grow here at AV blog. As always, I feel guilty over the lack of new content lately. But in case you missed one of these top 10 trending articles, I’ve linked them all below. Your support and interaction is greatly appreciated. If you’d like to make a financial donation to this ministry please click here and follow the simple instructions. This blog is a ministry of Apostolic Tabernacle so your giving will be directed through the church. If not, your prayers and shares are even more appreciated.

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My Response to the Critics – Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?

With over a million clicks, the article, Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church? quickly became the most viral article in the history of Apostolic Voice. It’s still getting thousands of interactions a day, and no one is more stunned than I am about it. Often, the articles I think will be the most interesting are overlooked, and the ones I throw together quickly gain insane levels of interest. I’ve received tons of feedback about the article (more personal responses than any other post). To be fair, much of it has been very kind and supportive. Quick thanks to those who visited the French Thread store.

On the other hand, I received a lot of criticism. Some were well thought out, well-intentioned, and interesting. Others were thoughtless and hateful. My little “…latte-sipping, skinny jean, cashmere wearing liberals…” jab probably deserved some good counter punches. I don’t mind criticism; it comes with the territory. You shouldn’t write, speak, sing, or preach publicly if you’re thin-skinned.

Surprise… Surprise…

Two things did surprise me, though; the extreme emotions that people feel concerning church attire (among other things, I’ve been called legalistic, hateful, egomaniac, haughty, jerk, old-fashioned, and my personal favorite… parasitical), and the knee-jerk reactions of the critics (many responded to the article simply by reading the title and not the content). How can you debate against a proposal that you haven’t considered? It confirms that our culture is highly opinionated yet tremendously understudied. Opinions steeped in feelings rather than reflective thinking provoke strong emotional outbursts.

I usually do not write follow up responses to my own articles, but the lively debates have exposed several key issues that I feel need to be addressed and a few clarifications that need to be made. This post will probably seem a little more disjointed than my usual writings, and for that, I apologize. It’s simply easier to respond to the critics in one public setting rather than give the same responses over and over again in private messages.

Our culture is highly opinionated yet tremendously understudied. Opinions steeped in feelings rather than reflective thinking provoke strong emotional outbursts.

Clarifications & Response to the Critics

Let me be very clear, I do not believe that wearing a suit and tie will save you. I have known many tremendous Christians who didn’t wear suits or ties to church. They did, however, dress respectfully in what they considered their best. For those who accused me of “adding” to the Gospel, the article in question was not a theological discourse. It was a thoughtful discussion about what is “best” and most appropriate for corporate worship. Mainly, what is “most” favorable for fostering a respectful and worshipful environment, which should be the goal of every church service. Essentially, I was speaking culturally about spiritual things. I know. I know. Cultural debates are dangerous… try preaching about Christianity’s ongoing love affair with sports, Hollywood, sex, and immodest fashion trends.

I acknowledge there is some room for debate regarding what respectful attire looks like in American culture. The article was directed towards Western Christians who already have a deep relationship with God. I also affirm that non-believers should “come as they are,” but my prayer is that God will transform them with His Spirit (internally and externally). The demoniac ran to Jesus from the tombs naked and tormented but left clothed and in his right mind (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20). My experience has been that ultra-casual church attire is accompanied by ultra-casual worship, and ultra-casual worship is a symptom of casual dedication.

My experience has been that ultra-casual church attire is accompanied by ultra-casual worship, and ultra-casual worship is a symptom of casual dedication.

When Jacob Went to the House of God

Interestingly, when Jacob and his family went back to Bethel (literally translated, the house of God), they did four things: they got rid of their idols, they cleaned up, they changed their clothes, and they buried their earrings (Genesis 35:1-4). Concerning Genesis 35:2, the Adams Clark Commentary says:

“Personal or outward purification, as emblematical of the sanctification of the soul, has been in use among all the true worshippers of God from the beginning of the world. In many cases, the law of Moses more solemnly enjoined rites and ceremonies which had been in use from the earliest ages.”

When Jacob and his family went back to Bethel (literally translated, the house of God), they did four things: they got rid of their idols, they cleaned up, they changed their clothes, and they buried their earrings

Concerns for the Poor

Several people have objected to dressing “up” for church out of concern for how the poor or homeless might feel in the service. That’s a noble sentiment when genuine, although it’s often used as a red herring argument. First, dressing our best doesn’t have to be expensive or trendy. Second, I’ve been to many “hip” churches that dressed very casually, but their shoes cost more than my whole outfit. You can make people uncomfortable in hundreds of little ways. Third, if you live your life by this standard, you should apply it to the car you drive and the house you live in because all those things could make a poor person feel uncomfortable.

I’ve seen many poor homeless people find salvation who desperately wanted to rise out of their situation, not stay stuck there. In fact, sometimes they feel like people are condescending when they try to be “like” them (think Gucci faux grunge in the soup kitchen). The key is to treat people from every walk of life with true love and compassion. People can tell if you really care whether you’re wearing a tie or a T-Shirt.

The key is to treat people from every walk of life with true love and compassion. People can tell if you really care whether you’re wearing a tie or a T-Shirt.

Every culture has a type of attire that is culturally deemed respectful or dressy. Conversely, every culture has attire designed to be rebellious and disrespectful (think jeans that intentionally sag down to the knees). You don’t have to be a genius to know those fashion designers intentionally design clothes to make a statement of some kind. T-Shirts are just walking advertisements. There’s even a style of dress commonly referred to as a “cocktail” dress.

It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the reality that there are types of clothing that are culturally speaking, inherently disrespectful, and vice versa. For example, most American citizens still put on a suit and tie to meet the United States president at the White House. Why? As a symbol of respect and honor for the position (even if they don’t like the man).

It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the reality that there are types of clothing that are culturally speaking, inherently disrespectful, and vice versa.

Nevertheless, there’s an astonishing theme that I’ve noticed trending from the most vehement objectors; many people do not believe that a church service is special or worthy of respect or any special consideration. Most of these objectors acknowledge that certain clothing is more respectful than others but maintain that it is irrelevant because a Sunday service is no more important than getting coffee (or a beer) with friends who happen to be Christians.

Their arguments stem from the assumption that the early Church was incredibly informal and that the whole Sabbath thing is so “Old Testament” and, therefore, completely immaterial. They consider any other view to be pharisaical and legalistic (by the way, that whole “legalism” thing gets taken out of context way too often, but that’s another subject for another day).

Is Sunday the Sabbath?

So, what about the early Church? What about the Lord’s Day? Is Sunday special or not? These are crucial questions with far-reaching ramifications. Early Christians considered resurrection Sunday to be a spiritual embodiment of the Sabbath (here’s a great article that delves deeper into that subject). John the Revelator called it the “Lord’s Day (Revelations 1:10).” Literally translated, the “Lord’s Day” means “the day belonging to the Lord.” Markedly, the Holy Ghost was first poured out on a Sunday (Acts 2:1-36). Early Christians viewed the Lord’s Day with the same pious reverence with which they had previously observed the Old Testament Sabbath. Consider how the writer of Hebrews speaks of the Church:

“Wherefore we having received a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28).”

Clearly, we are to view the things of God and his Church with veneration and admiration.

Furthermore, Jesus did not say, “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against you or me.” He said, “…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”

Consider another important Scripture that gives us a glimpse into the way the apostles viewed the Church:

“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15).”

The apostle Paul was emphasizing certain parameters that should be observed within the house of God. Early church services were not unplanned gatherings without leadership or organization. It wasn’t just a coffee break or an informal get-together. It was the sacred assembly of God’s holy people (here’s an easy to read article on the biblical distinctions between private and public worship). Private worship is important but not to the exclusion of public worship. They serve different purposes, and they are both imperative to the Christian life.

Early church services were not unplanned gatherings without leadership or organization. It wasn’t just a coffee break or an informal get-together. It was the sacred assembly of God’s holy people.

The most common objections came from people who don’t think God cares how we dress under any circumstances. Modesty to them is pure legalism. Any kind of outward holiness is loathsome. Their favorite verse in the Bible happens to be an Old Testament verse, which I find interesting because this same crowd typically preaches to me about how we are no longer bound by anything in the Old Testament. They usually misquote a fragment of the verse as saying, “God doesn’t look at the outward appearance; He “only” looks at the heart.”

Does God Only Look at the Heart?

This is an important question that every Christian can and should settle once and for all. Let’s look at the actual verse in question in the original context:

“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).”

This is the scene where God was about to anoint young David through the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel. All Samuel knew is that one of Jesse’s sons had been chosen by God (1 Samuel 16:1). When he saw the older, stronger brothers, he naturally assumed one of them was God’s chosen. Especially because king Saul was a tall man with a kingly countenance (1 Samuel 9:2). But God didn’t want Samuel to make the mistake of choosing the wrong son just because of his appearance. God knew that David was a man after his own heart despite his youthful appearance and inexperience (1 Samuel 16:11-12).

1 Samuel 16:7 is among the most mishandled Scriptures in the Bible. The text does not indicate that God doesn’t care at all about outward appearance. That would contradict dozens of Old Testament (Deuteronomy 22:5, 12, Exodus 28:42-43, Ezekiel 44:17, Proverbs 7:10, Hosea 2:13, Leviticus 19:28, Genesis 17:14) and New Testament passages (1 Timothy 2:9-10, 1 Peter 3:2-5, 1 Corinthians 11:1-15, Ephesians 4:19, Galatians 5:19, Romans 12:1-2).

1 Samuel 16:7 is among the most mishandled Scriptures in the Bible. The text does not indicate that God doesn’t care at all about outward appearance. That would contradict dozens of Old Testament and New Testament passages.

The spiritual principle at work in 1 Samuel 16:7 is that God is not fooled or swayed by outward appearances alone. God is not impressed by the superficial. God has the supernatural ability to see beyond our exterior into our innermost being. He sees our true intentions, our deepest desires, and our secret longings. While a man may see physical strength, God sees spiritual weakness. Where a man may only see outward sincerity, God sees inward corruption. This is refreshing and sobering at the same time.

The spiritual principle at work in 1 Samuel 16:7 is that God is not fooled or swayed by outward appearances alone. God is not impressed by the superficial.

The Inside Scoop on Holiness

I wholeheartedly believe in outward holiness, but without inward holiness, the outward is in vain. Genuine inward holiness will produce outward expressions of holiness as well. For example, a man may love his wife with all his heart, and because of that, it affects his outward actions towards her and for her. If he abused his wife, that would be an outward display of inward problems. If he cheated on his wife, that would be an outward display of inward problems. If he wears something she genuinely hates, that would be an outward display of inward disregard. If he blatantly and publicly disrespects her, that would be an outward manifestation of an inward problem. Avoiding those things is not legalism. It’s love.

I wholeheartedly believe in outward holiness, but without inward holiness, the outward is in vain. Genuine inward holiness will produce outward expressions of holiness as well.

Modesty Always Matters

This whole discussion has brought the issue of modesty to play several times. The hermeneutical law of first mention makes the issue of modest clothing incredibly important. Remember, after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they lost their innocence and realized they were naked. In response, they inadequately covered themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). God saw that they were still immodest, so he personally made a coat of skins and clothed them sufficiently (Genesis 3:21). Modesty is a common theme that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments.

One furious individual wrote to me and said, “I wanted to speak at my church, and they told me I had to wear a collared shirt… talk about controlling.” Now I realize the Bible doesn’t condone collared shirts as sacred. And I realize collars aren’t necessarily evidence of sanctification, but doesn’t a church have the right to maintain a dress code of some kind? Most jobs have a dress code. Shouldn’t the church have some influence?

My daughter just had her first piano recital, and she was given a precise list of what-not-to-wear. We had no problem with that because we respect the institution’s stated goals of artistry and excellence. I’m not even going to bother with theological examples of authority and respect. Doesn’t common cultural decency inform us that we should have some deference to spiritual and secular authority? Apparently, it no longer does, and that’s sad.

Jesus’ Seamless Garment

You’d be surprised how many people believe Jesus dressed like a bum! Yep. I’m getting tons of emails claiming that Jesus was the son of a carpenter and probably dressed like a poor country boy. The implication being that since Jesus was poor and likely dressed poorly, we should too. One individual even claimed that carpentry should be a prerequisite for the ministry.

While I think a good argument could be made that carpentry wasn’t necessarily poverty level, it is obvious in Scripture that Jesus came from humble beginnings. However, it has no bearing on the discussion at hand. Nowhere am I indicating that poverty-stricken people should be financially irresponsible and buy fancy clothing before they attend church. Dressing “our” best may vary from person to person and from paradigm to paradigm.

To keep things interesting, let me throw out a little tidbit of information that many people overlook. As you probably know, the Bible doesn’t really say much about Jesus’ appearance or wardrobe. We can extrapolate some things based on His time’s cultural norms, but that’s about it. However, the Bible does make one mention of the Lord’s “seamless” garment (John 19:23). This is the garment that the soldiers gambled for amongst themselves. Why? Because a seamless garment was valuable. In fact, the consensus seems to be that this was the kind of garment usually owned by wealthy royalty. I don’t think this means we should all go out and buy royal garments. I’m just saying Jesus apparently wasn’t running around in rags, as many suggest.

The Vanity Objection

The final objection I’d like to address generally goes something like this, “Christians who wear suits and ties to church seem haughty, arrogant, and condescending.” Sometimes they follow up with a statement like, “It seems to me like a suit and tie fosters a spirit of vanity and showiness that would be unpleasing to God.” I know that this is often just a misperception, but I still think this is the one objection that has some real merit.

So, this is where I preach to my like-minded friends for a moment. All our dressing up out of respect for the house of God is valueless if we don’t love and respect others (1 Corinthians 13:1). If we’re condescending, unkind, derisive, or prideful, we have missed the point. My friends, I’m am imploring us all to speak the truth in love and demonstrate that holiness is inward as well as outward. If we respect God, we will respect others (Matthew 7:12, Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 2:17, John 13:34-35). Don’t let inward filth defile the beauty of outward consecration. Vanity is always wrong, no matter what we’re wearing or not wearing.

All our dressing up out of respect for the house of God is valueless if we don’t love and respect others (1 Corinthians 13:1). If we’re condescending, unkind, derisive, or prideful, we have missed the point.

Don’t let inward filth defile the beauty of outward consecration. Vanity is always wrong, no matter what we’re wearing or not wearing.

Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?

I’m a millennial, and I still think it’s best to wear our best to church. Recently my brother (Jonathan) and his wife (Vera) launched an online tie store called French Thread (shameless plug). Their company is awesome, and it’s a great conversation starter. In particular, the so-called church “dress wars” comes up from time to time. No, I don’t think a suit will save you or jeans will jinx you; I think God’s house deserves our respect. I can hear the groans from latte-sipping, skinny jean, cashmere wearing liberals now… and yes, I know the Church is made up of people, not buildings. In fact, I’ll take you all the way down that road; our bodies are literally temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19). Meaning, it matters how we dress, speak, talk, eat, live, and on and on. And not just at church, but every day. Our bodies represent Jesus. His holiness, His majesty, and His royalty dwell within us. I want to represent the Holy Spirit to the best of my ability (whatever that may be).

Having said that, the church house is a building specifically designated and dedicated to worshipping a God that is awesome beyond our wildest imaginations. His presence is everywhere, but a church is dedicated to worship and the Word. When functioning properly, a church is a collection of unified, Spirit-filled, enthusiastic individuals who show up to lift the name of Jesus. They come to learn, grow, praise, and experience the presence of God in a way that only collective worship allows. The singing is sacred, the preaching is powerful, the prayer is purposeful, and the atmosphere is faithful. A gathering of the Church in any place or building on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Psalms 118:22-26) is a convocation of holy people worshipping a holy God (i.e., a holy convocation). Basically, church is a big deal; God is the biggest deal, and because worship is not a casual thing, we should not dress informally. I dress up for church for the same reasons I dress up for weddings; it’s a sacred time, and I want to honor it.

Church is a big deal; God is the biggest deal, and because worship is not a casual thing, we should not dress informally. I dress up for church for the same reasons I dress up for weddings; it’s a sacred time, and I want to honor it.

Psychologists know that how we dress impacts, our mindset greatly (here, here, here, and here). Schools have found that uniforms foster a focused classroom. Conversely, anything goes dress codes promote lazy, casual, and disrespectful demeanors (here, here). Studies of businesses show that productivity dramatically decreases on casual Fridays (here, here). We all instinctively know this to be true deep down. There’s a reason we buy special clothes for vacation; certain types of clothing make us feel more relaxed (you can always spot a tourist). It’s not a coincidence that people dress a certain way to go clubbing or hit the bars, they have a certain goal and a certain mindset, and they dress accordingly. There’s a reason politicians, lawyers, business professionals, newsmen, doctors, pilots, military personnel, pastors (at least historically), and even late-night comedians mostly wear dress clothes while representing their endeavors. They are showing respect for their profession, themselves, and others. They exude confidence, competence, focus, command, and elicit trust.

I know there’s a certain charm to feeling the liberty to wear jeans and T-shirts to church (or whatever). It’s easy, casual, convenient, and relaxing. And therein lies the problem; the church is not designed to be easy, casual, convenient, or relaxing. Yikes! I know how politically incorrect that statement sounds, but it’s true.

I know there’s a certain charm to feeling the liberty to wear jeans and T-shirts to church (or whatever). It’s easy, casual, convenient, and relaxing. And therein lies the problem; the church is not designed to be easy, casual, convenient, or relaxing.

Church is meant to be exciting, exhilarating, exalting, and life-changing. If you think that sounds sillier than passing up a Krispy Kreme when the “hot” sign is on, it’s because you haven’t experienced the moving of the Spirit tangibly (at least not recently). Like it or not, preaching is not inherently designed by God to only be positive and encouraging K-Love radio; sometimes it’s for correction, conviction, instruction, and rebuke (1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Luke 17:3-4, Mark 16:14). I don’t want my pastor looking like he’s about to go camping for the same reasons I don’t want my lawyer looking like he’s about to play video games in his Mom’s basement; it reeks of immaturity, incompetence, indifference, and frivolity. None of those images inspire confidence, gravitas, or respect. Furthermore, church is a sacred time where we come into direct contact with Divine anointing, revelation, illumination, salvation, sanctification, and the list could go on for miles. Bottom line, it’s not casual.

I don’t want my pastor looking like he’s about to go camping for the same reasons I don’t want my lawyer looking like he’s about to play video games in his Mom’s basement; it reeks of immaturity, incompetence, indifference, and frivolity.

Let me address objections that I often hear from the promoters of super casual church attire. It usually goes something like this “Isn’t it a waste of money to buy dress clothes?” It’s normally followed up with, “Couldn’t that money be better spent another way?” Typically, a caustic accusation of vanity is leveled as well. First, those statements are eerily like the arguments that Judas employed against Mary for breaking her alabaster box over the feet of Jesus (John 12:3-8). An argument that Jesus promptly rejected (I wouldn’t call Judas a great role model). Second, dressing in a respectful, dignified way doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Third, I recently performed a wedding alongside a pastor who was adamantly against wearing a suit and tie to church. Ironically, he spent a lot of time bragging about his $300 name brand jeans and his $400 distressed leather boots. I don’t necessarily care what he paid for what, but obviously, hip “casual” clothes can be just as expensive and vain as a suit and tie.

If you walk away from this article, assuming I think a tie has some salvific value, you’d be dead wrong. Neither do I expect guests to change their wardrobe before they walk through the doors of the church house! Also, I fully acknowledge that if people aren’t careful, “dressing up” can devolve into vanity and showiness! However, I think that as we mature spiritually, our level of reverence towards the things of God should grow exponentially (1 Timothy 3:14-15, 1 Peter 2:5). As that happens, we should begin to dress reverently for church (Hebrews 12:28).

I think that as we mature spiritually, our level of reverence towards the things of God should grow exponentially. As that happens, we should begin to dress reverently for church.

This excerpt from an article by CNN writer John Blake offers a further perspective:

The reasons why people stopped dressing up could fill a book. Yet Fulwiler offers one explanation that’s seldom mentioned – lack of gratitude.

Fulwiler’s revelation came one day as she watched scruffily dressed people board a plane. She flashed back to a black-and-white photo she had seen of her grandparents boarding a plane in the 1940s. Most of the passengers were dressed in suits and ties and dresses because air travel was such a privilege at the time.

“We dress up for what we’re grateful for,” she says. “We’re such a wealthy, spoiled culture that we feel like we have a right to fly on airplanes,” says Fulwiler, author of “Something Other than God,” which details her journey from atheism to Christianity.

Church is like air travel now – it’s no longer a big deal because people have lost their sense of awe before God, Fulwiler says.

Yet some of these same people who say it doesn’t matter how you dress for church would change their tune if they were invited to another event, Fulwiler says.

“If you had the opportunity to meet the Queen of England, you wouldn’t show up in at Windsor Castle wearing jeans and a T-shirt,” she says.

Shouldn’t people have that same reverential attitude when they show up at church to meet God, some ask? After all, doesn’t your dress reveal the importance you attach to an occasion?”

The real underlying question here is, “should you choose to approach church casually or reverently”? Before you decide, ask yourself if it would be disrespectful to show up to a wedding in flip-flops and a T-shirt? Take that thought a little further; if you were the bride, how would you dress? Certainly, as the bride of Christ, we should be reverent in our dress code as we gather to worship our Groom. Saints of old viewed it symbolically as a foretaste of the Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelations 19:6-9). Dressing “up” was a symbol of their profound respect for the things of God. I think they were right.

Saints of old viewed it symbolically as a foretaste of the Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Dressing “up” was a symbol of their profound respect for the things of God. I think they were right.