Part 3/3 after a brief interlude!
I thought I would refrain from these personal reflections until after presenting the biblical views on disputable matters.
A matter of dress
I’ve been to some churches where everyone wears their Sunday best, and others where we routinely kicked off off our shoes and sat on the floor. I was amused then, when I was pulled aside by one of our “aunties” on my first weeks back, because hadn’t I heard the new rule? Flip flops were not allowed anymore! Perhaps I was less amused discovering how members scrutinised each other over the formality of clothes especially towards those who had ministries that involved standing in front of the congregation.
When I asked out of curiosity about the rationale behind the rule, I was told that we did not wear flip flops, or dress casually, because we wanted to respect God. Honestly I thought it was irrelevant what type of shoes we wore, because God looks at our hearts. Plus I doubted that any church elder would seriously enforced a rule against flip flops, in this city of endless summers. I did appreciate the intention to cultivate a respectful attitude in coming before God though, and agonise a bit more over my wardrobe choices on following occasions, out of respect for the people I stood before.
Each passing judgment on the other
I realised that in the same way that I may have been judged to not care about God or church, from my casual dress, I tended to be judgmental too towards the opposite group of people, for two main reasons. Firstly, I felt superior to those who I considered “weak” in being affected by such petty matters, or lacking understanding for raising the issue at all. In other words, I judged people for judging, if that makes sense. Secondly, whilst I didn’t judge people for not dressing well enough, I judged them for dressing too well. What is their intention? Are they trying to pick up? To show that they have money? Why are they overly concerned about their appearance? Truly, these are matters for God alone to judge.
Whilst dress is important, especially if it reflects a sinful or irreverent attitude within ourselves, thinking back to Romans 14, indeed the church can be divided, each with a proud heart that ungraciously passes judgment on the other. In doing so, the more important matter of unity in building God’s kingdom could be forgotten.
They are Pharisees!
One of the ways in which I judged people for judging, was that I immediately thought of Pharisees when I came across people who had “strict” rules on practicing godliness, whether that was on what they should wear, what foods they should avoid, what music to listen to, what friends they should associate with, and a host of other daily life issues (see Part 1). Specifically I remembered the many occasions on which Pharisees were rebuked by Jesus.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” – Matthew 23:27-28 (also see the entirety of chapter 23)
Reflecting on the passage one day I was struck by how it wasn’t attempts to follow the law that Jesus criticised, but the undue emphasis on external holiness with a mismatch to hearts that was far from holy, far from God. I doubt Jesus would have commented on their hand washing habits, if these Pharisees had clean heart as well as clean hands. I saw then that I should not equate strict rules to hypocritical Pharisees, for believers had the freedom to not only partake in, but also refrain from what was permissible, out of a heart that honoured God.
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry: Romans 14:1-12 , Don’t pass judgment
Got Questions? : What does the Bible say about eating food/meat that has been sacrificed to idols?
Ridley Melbourne: Disputable Matters