The Dress Code

One of the things that has definitely changed about church is the way people dress. Back in the olden days, everyone was expected to dress in their “Sunday-go-to-meeting” finest. All the women wore nice dresses and hats; all the men wore suits and ties. Everyone just knew that you showed respect for God by wearing your best clothes for Him. Everyone just had to know that, because they wouldn't read it in the Bible! The Bible doesn't have a dress code. Well, there is Exodus 28:42-43 that tells Aaron and his priests to make sure they are wear underwear when they are on duty. But aside from that, there is no dress code.

We don't really honor God by dressing up in our Sunday nest. In fact, James warns us not to judge others based on how they are dressed for church (see James 2:1-4). We had a church deacon who insisted that every brother who waited on the table wear a tie, and kept spares ties (very ugly ones) here at the building just in case someone forgot theirs.

I am much more comfortable with our current “come just as you are” dress code. I do try to wear a tie every other month or so, just so I don't forget how to tie one. Of course, some of our men still wear ties. Some don't. Some of our ladies still dress up; some come dress more comfortably. That's perfect-- not matter how our guests comes dressed, there will be some of our members dressed exactly like them. No one has to feel uncomfortable.

Our reading today from Matthew seems to suggest that God may after all have a dress code which is rather rigorously enforced. In the “Parable of the Wedding Feast” (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus tells a story about a king who throws a party for his son and invites the guests to come. There is something strange about the guest list—
  • The ones invited don’t come. The invitation went out throughout the land for the guests to come to the king’s party, and everyone was too busy to go. They made excuses and even killed the king’s messengers. The ones you would think would be at the party weren’t there.

  • The ones not originally invited were then invited. The king’s servants were sent out into the streets to invite warm bodies to fill seats at the table. The common folks and street people—the last you would expect at a royal banquet—we the very ones present.

Jesus had just talked about how the chief priests and Pharisees had rejected the Christ and therefore would be rejected (see Matt 21:43-46). This parable reinforces that fact. The tax collectors and Gentiles would sit down at the table of God. “The last will be first and the first will be last” (See Matt 19:20, Matt 20:16).

But the parable does end simply making the point that some of the last people you’d expect to be a the party would be there. It also makes the point that those who come to the party are expected to behave like they are at the party. There is, after all, a dress code! Look at Matthew 22:11-14—

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

There was a guest at the party not wearing the wedding garments provided by the king. If you are going to be present in the presence of the king, then you had better act like you know what that means. It’s one thing to accept an invitation you don’t deserve; it’s another thing to act like you don't appreciate the invitation!

We don’t deserve to be invited to the King’s party. But once we are there, we have to wear the right clothes. Paul says “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27). When we accept God’s grace, we accept that He calls us to live a certain way. We are to, as it were, dress up in His holiness. Paul says “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col 3:12). We can’t deserve salvation, but once we are invited to the party, we have to observe the dress code. If we don’t, we may find ourselves escorted outside, and that’s a place we don’t want to be!