One of the harbingers of new life, spring flowers are truly abundant this Easter, especially because it comes so late. Color abounds, and the trees that are usually just blooming at Easter are already filling out with leaves. Easter also brings out color, traditionally, when women and children deck out in their prettiest dresses, hats, gloves, and purses for Easter Sunday worship. At church this past week we talked about the “hats” of the past—big, bright, and beautiful. Some were so “great” that you couldn’t even see the choir!
When I was young, those around me related how I dressed for church with my respect for God and the Church. Whether a holiday or not, “Sunday best” was the rule. Things have really changed. Very few people buy new Easter wear any more, much less wear big and beautiful hats. We wear our “best casual” to church throughout the year and even on the holidays, and friends, there is nothing wrong with that. Many churches have set aside the “Sunday best” rule for a more inclusive approach, one that makes everyone feel comfortable. My heart is no longer judged by what I wear to church, but by how I live my life.
The apostle Paul talked about rules in worship when he addressed the subject of meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:
“So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
“But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (vv. 4-8).
Meat that had been offered to idols was a point of contention in Corinth. Some considered that eating that meat was participating in idol worship, while others saw it only as fuel for the body. Do we have “idol meat” issues in the church today? Of course we do! For example, some believers hold to the “Sunday best” rule, while others, just as strongly, believe “come as you are” should be the rule so that everyone who comes into the church will feel comfortable.
Go back with me to the beginning of the chapter, verses 1-3: “Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.”
While the later discussion is about those with weak consciences, those who cannot get past strict rules that cause them guilt, the true basis of Paul’s thought is how we should live with one another in the greater Church of God . “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” When you come to church this Sunday, you may choose to wear your Sunday best, while someone next to you wears whatever they have. Your first reaction might be to judge your brother or sister because of his or her “lack of respect” for Christ. If you are the casual person, you may be judging the other person for his or her “showy” nature.
This is the exact problem of which Paul speaks. When we use our “practical doctrine” to judge another and divide the Body of Christ, we are not loving God or building up the Church, we are really acting out of a lack of knowledge. In the example above, Paul might say, Clothing does not bring us close to God. You are no better if you dress up or if you don’t.
Many church wars have been fought because a “personal doctrine” or cultural practice has been used to control others. This, of course, must never include the truths of salvation—virgin birth, death, resurrection of Christ, and our ensuing salvation. These are foundational truths and, like Paul, we must hold to that which is eternal and allow our brothers and sisters to follow God according to their own consciences.
However, if I choose to worship in a congregation that has specific personal doctrines, I need to follow Paul’s ensuing comments, that I not use my freedom to cause another to stumble. “For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge” (vv. 10-11).
I make no judgment as to who has a weak or strong conscience because each denomination/ sect/ people group has its own personal doctrines. Therefore, when I worship in and with a holiness congregation, I will not flaunt my “freedom” in dress. If I worship in a congregation that believes wearing Sunday best honors God, I will do my best to, within my conscience, do so as well.
Easter is about what Christ did for every one of us, not just a specific denomination or sect. How will you celebrate Easter? Wearing a pretty hat and dress? Show it! Attending worship as you are, but bringing a heart filled with the Spirit of joy and peace? Go for it! But however you choose to worship, do so filled with the love of God given to you; then spread it around!
A NOTE FROM EBENEZER: What will you be doing this weekend? Digging in the garden? Visiting family? Just hanging around the house? I hope you will set aside Sunday morning to visit with us at Ebenezer Presbyterian Church. Join us for a continental breakfast at 10 a.m., Resurrection worship at 10:30, and an Easter egg hunt for the children at 11:30. Come in your Easter finery or in your favorite jeans! Even if you aren’t “Presbyterian,” and even if you don’t really know what being a “Christian” is all about, we welcome you as we celebrate the Risen Christ!
Happy Resurrection Sunday, also known as Easter!
Mary Kay Glunt