This past week, one of my worship team members asked me an interesting question, "does God care about what we wear in worship?" She explained that in the past she had used makeup and clothes to hide who she was out of a feeling of inadequacy but that a few years ago God convicted her about her use of cosmetics so much that she stopped using them for a while. Through that experience, she learned that she was beautiful just the way that God made her and that she didn't need her brushes and bottles to make herself acceptable in his eyes. However, she still struggled with whether or not wearing makeup or fancy clothes while leading worship was somehow necessary, for lack of a better word. After all, we're supposed to bring God our best, right?
The question she is asking effects all of us, not just women. Personal appearance is important. The way we present ourselves - our clothes, speech, and mannerisms - goes a long way in determining how others perceive us. Even so, we know that "man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Sam 16:7). What is the right thing to do?
While it is possible to find people in America today who have made radical simplicity a virtue (the Amish come to mind), the vast majority of us live in a culture that hyper-focuses on appearance. Whether we are looking at the professional world or the influence of the media, there are expectations and pressures to ensure that we look a certain way. On the one hand, physicians are often required to wear a white coat; lawyers must wear suit and tie; and worship leaders aren't recognizable without a deep v-neck t-shirt, skinny jeans, and outrageous facial hair - fortunately that's only for the men. On the other hand, celebrities become icons of body image and fashion and entire industries have arisen to critique the best and worst of the Hollywood elite.
These pressures tend to push people to extremes. For some, the temptation is to hide behind the clothes out of a sense of inferiority. They feel like if they look the part others will accept them - fake it 'til you make it. For others, the draw is to use their wardrobe as a way of gaining attention for themselves. Fear and pride, respectively, drive them to extremes. Neither option is a biblical response to the culture. Both are highly invested in their appearance as an indicator of their personal value.
The value of a human life is not determined or even expressed by the clothes we wear. The life of each individual is precious because everyone has been made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Man or woman, adult or child, short or tall, fat or skinny, movie star or septic tank cleaner we all bear the image of our Maker. It is as reflections of the glory of God that we find our worth. It is not a value intrinsic to ourselves, determined by our birth or accomplishments. It is the free gift of God and in his sight we are all highly valuable.
There is, of course, a problem. While we do bear the image of God, it is a disfigured likeness. It is twisted and marred by sin but still recognizable. We all know that something is wrong and we try to cover it up with makeup, fancy clothes, or good deeds. Sometimes we simply try to forget and pretend that nothing is wrong. Either way there is nothing we can do to fix the problem. We need more than an image consultant. We need to be re-imaged.
This is where Jesus comes in. In him, all things are made new. This includes us! He redeems the image in which we were created when we place our faith in him. He restores that image back to its original glory as we are progressively made more like him through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. In Christ, God looks at us and says, "it is very good" (Gen 1:31).
At this point, I'm sure some of you are thinking, "yeah, we know all of that. Whats your point?" Simply this: we need to keep our priorities straight. Peter's exhortation to wives (1 Peter 3:3-4) is instructive for both women and men. His point is that we need to take more care of the inward matters of the heart and how God sees us than we do for our outward appearance. Peter isn't saying that we can't dress nicely. Rather, our emphasis needs to be on the things that matter to God. As worship leaders, if we spend more time and effort on how we will look during the worship service than we do preparing to lead our brothers and sisters into the presence of God then we need to do some soul searching.
New Man, New Clothes
As mentioned above, there is a desire in worship that everything be done with excellence and that we bring our best before God. When it comes to physical appearance, we need to avoid the one extreme of hiding behind our raiment and the other of using it to bring attention to ourselves. Beyond this, there remains a wide variety of options ranging from extremely casual to the very formal. What is appropriate will vary from one context to another based on the culture of the church and the individual. We need to take these into consideration because as Christians we represent Christ to the world not simply in what we say and do, but also in how we look.
At the end of the day, however, our outward image is of secondary importance. The real issue is how well we are conforming to the image of him who called us out of darkness. Paul reminds us to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 13:14). While it may not be fashionable in the world's eyes, we know that it brings a smile to the Father's face when we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ - and of all the critics, he is the only one who truly matters.
So, to sum up, there is nothing wrong with dressing nicely and wearing our best to worship - feel free to wear that old tuxedo that's just hanging in the closet - but there is also nothing wrong with wearing more casual clothing. The thing that matters is the heart. We need to ask ourselves, why am I wearing this? Who am I trying to impress? And most importantly, am I more concerned about being Christlike or being cool? Let's make sure we keep our priorities straight. To paraphrase Romans 14:17 - the kingdom of God is not a matter of clothes and makeup and accessories but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
This is the second in a series of articles that looks at the impact the Trinity has on Christian worship. The material has been adapted from my doctoral thesis.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated that he dreamed that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color or their skin but by the content of their character.” Character is an interesting thing. One has it before any action is taken, but another cannot see it until it is displayed by action. Character is something intrinsic to the person. An individual’s character defines him. He is his character. It is the same with worship. It is easy to think of worship as something the church does; after all, worship is a verb. But there is another sense in which the church brings glory to God by its existence. The church is worship.
How can this be? Simply put, it is why humanity was created. Genesis 1:27 states that “God created man in his own image. . . male and female he created them.” God did not create an individual but a pair, a community of people. Even in the following chapter in Genesis where Adam is created first, the story highlights the fact that the individual was meant to live in community with his own kind (Gen 2:18). While creation in the image of God does confer all individuals with worth and natural rights, the image of God applies equally to the creation of the community and its most basic unit, the family. From the beginning, this original community included God, but the presence of sin has broken this fellowship. It is only through the work of Christ that true community, a community that embodies the image of God in relationship with God, can be reestablished. This restored community is the church.
The hallmark of the Christian community should be the same as that of the Divine community: love. God has many attributes, but love is only one that applies to God in himself. All of the other qualities we think of – goodness, holiness, mercy, etc. – are in relation to created beings but love his how the persons of the Trinity relate to each other. Likewise, love is meant to saturate the church. At the first, this love relationship is expressed between the church and the triune God because, as the adoptive children of God, Christians share in Christ’s filial relationship with the Father thus participating in the life of the Trinity. The reality of the life of the Trinity as the model for the Christian life means that the relationships expressed within the Trinity are as important as God’s character and his commands. We are to love others – both inside and outside the church. The trinitarian relationships of the church can be expressed in the same language as the relationships with the Godhead. Inside the church, we find three primary categories: unity and diversity, authority and submission, and mutual indwelling. Relationships outside the church can be expressed in terms of mission.
Unity and Diversity
Within the Trinity, there exists a unity of being/essence and a diversity of persons, as well as a unity of purpose within the whole and a diversity of action in the particular. In the same way, the church is one body made up of many local assemblies, or on the smaller scale, it is a local gathering comprised of many individuals and ministries. Christians do not share a single essence as the Trinity does, but rather a kinship, all being made sons of God and coheirs with Christ. All of the redeemed, being clothed in Christ, stand equal before God (Gal 3:28). Even so all Christians are not the same and reflect a wonderful diversity. As with the Trinity, so with humanity, there exists no conflict between the equality of all and diversity.
The key here is diversity as opposed to division. In the Spirit, believers are united in Christ but there exists a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, purposes, and gifts (1Cor 12:12-14). We are to honor and respect the differences among believers so long as those aspects are not contrary to God’s character or law. As sinful creatures, it is easy to distort the variety that God has ordained for good. On one hand, there is a tendency toward uniformity, which by necessity erases all distinctions, and on the other, is the desire to turn distinctions between individuals and groups into barriers of fellowship. The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 which leads directly into the famous love passage. The point is that the diversity of the body of Christ is a good thing when expressed in love, for it is love that leads to unity and from unity love leads to expressions of diversity. With the Trinity, contemplating the three leads back to the one which in turn leads back to the three – and so with the unity and diversity of the church.
Authority and Submission
Just as the unity and diversity of the triune God is a model for humanity, the same is true regarding issues of authority and submission. Within the Trinity, the Father is the source of authority. It is he who sends the Son and the Spirit. For some people, relating to God as Father is difficult because of their experiences with their own fathers. Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to look at the situation. The Father is the source of all fatherhood. In the same way that the image of God was scarred by sin, all human experiences of fatherhood have been likewise damaged. We must see beyond human experience to glimpse at the truth. The Father is the perfect father, and the Son is the perfect son. Their relationship is the paradigm for all relationships where authority and submission come into play.
The Father sends the Son, and the Son readily obeys. The Son also asks things of the Father, which the Father does, but it should be noted that the things the Son asks for are in concert with the Father’s will in sending the Son. The unseen animus here is love. It is out of love for the Son and a desire to glorify him that the Father sends the Son who obeys out of love for and a desire to glorify the Father because love exercises rightful authority and love also submits to rightful authority. Because these types of relationships exist within the Godhead, they also exist among his creatures. When we live in harmony with each other in rightly ordered relationships we brings glory to God.
At first glance, the idea of perichoresis among human beings seems absurd. The closest thing to it I can imagine is dissociative identity disorder in which a person exhibits multiple personalities. Without question, this is not what God intended for humanity and cannot be an expression of the image of God. The issue changes, in my opinion, as we reflect on the Divine image among groups, specifically the family and the church. Within these groups it is not uncommon for one person to act on behalf of the whole, bearing the consent and goodwill of the larger body, and using resources gathered by the community. In such cases, the actions of the one are recognized as actions of the whole. As Christians, we experience unity in Christ through the work of the Spirit who dwells within each believer. So it is not that we indwell each other, but the Spirit who abides in all believers who makes us into the image of God.
This union in Christ by the indwelling of the Spirit creates a new community where we are connected and dependent on each other to supply our needs. This interconnection and interdependence allows for the many to participate in the actions of one, or to put it another way, for the one to act in place of the many and the many to act for the one. Where one weeps, all weep. Where one rejoices, all rejoice together. This indwelling happens in various ways: through prayer, giving, and service. True, the type of indwelling that exists with the Father, Son, and Spirit does not exist within the created order, but what does exist within the church is a reflection of that perichoretic relationship.
Lastly, we see the church as worship by virtue of its efforts to fulfill its mission. Participating in the mission of the Trinity is not a mere imitation of the trinitarian paradigm – it is a participation in the life of the Godhead itself. At no point is the mission simply that of the believer. Rather the believer, through union with the Son by the Spirit, participates in the Son’s mission from the Father. There is a tendency, to think of the mission of the church as simply the evangelization of the nations. Though evangelism is certainly a part of the church’s mission, the reality is much broader. We are meant to be an eschatological community that provides a foretaste of the full restoration of creation and images the triune God to the wider world.
In its unity and diversity, authority and submission, mutual indwelling, and mission the church enters into the life of the Trinity. Furthermore, the church brings glory to God by reflecting the image of the Trinity in the community we were created to be. This worship is done primarily through relationships within the community of believers in Christ with the empowerment of the Spirit. It has nothing to do songs or sermons, buildings or budgets. It has everything to do with how we live our lives in communion with the triune God and with each other. These are the worshipers the Father seeks.
Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Ware, Bruce A. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005).
 This statement and some of what follows can equally be applied to the individual believer. I have refrained from making the case for the individual in the interest of keeping things simple and highlighting how the community of believers follows the pattern of the Trinity.
 It is not my intent to make light of anyone’s painful experiences, but we all must attempt to understand God as he has revealed himself, and not lean too heavily on our prior experience or preconceived notions.