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Do you have guidelines for proper appearance and conduct in your worship services?

In previous Q&As, we published guidelines for opening and closing prayers, and for preparing and giving sermonettes. We pointed out that our weekly and annual Sabbath services begin with a song service (usually by singing three congregational hymns), followed by an opening prayer, a sermonette or short spiritual message of about 10 to 15 minutes, the singing of another congregational hymn, announcements, followed (occasionally) by a special music presentation (especially during the Feast of Tabernacles), the sermon or main spiritual message of about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, and we conclude with a final congregational hymn and the closing prayer.

As all of these elements are part of a worship service in honor of and dedication to God, it is important that we always appear before God in the proper attire and with the right attitude, and that we exemplify correct behavior throughout the entire service. In the past, we have published numerous Q&As, setting forth the principles and guidelines as to how men and women should dress in general; what should be the proper hair length for men and women; and especially, how we should properly dress at Church services and social functions during the Feast of Tabernacles, including at pool or beach parties.

Here are a few selected excerpts from the above-cited Q&As, as they apply to worship services:

“That we ought to appear properly dressed for worship services, has been the long-standing teaching of the Church of God, and for good reason:

“We must understand that we are appearing before GOD. God is a great King. God is the Creator of everything that is good and costly and priceless. He is the Creator of beauty. He most certainly is the Creator of quality. He owns all the gold and silver, and it is He who made it all. If we were to be invited by an earthly king, how would we appear in front of him?… Would you want to appear in unwashed, dirty clothing, wearing washed-out jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers?

“How much more should we appear before GOD, the KING over His creation, in proper clothes! The famous parable in Matthew 22:10-13 about the king’s wedding feast for his son contains a spiritual lesson, but it also describes a physical principle–that we dress appropriately for the occasion. It DID matter to the king–God the Father–how the guests were dressed for the wedding of His Son, Jesus Christ.

“In this context, we must not neglect culture. In the Western World, it is normally appropriate for men to wear a suit, or a nice combination, with a shirt and a tie… In the U.S.A., Canada or in England [and we might include continental Europe as well], men don’t dress up, when they appear in worship services with an open shirt, a T-shirt or jeans.

“Ladies should also wear appropriate clothing, of course. In addition, their dresses should not be too short or too tight or too revealing–but this principle would also apply in general, not just during Church services…

“God gives us the freedom to determine what is appropriate clothing, within the acceptability of proper dress in our cultures, but to clarify, God does not give us the freedom to violate His specific instructions so that we can follow our culture. For example, God has told us how to wear our hair. We are told that it is a shame for a man – young or old – to wear long hair…

“In addition, some brethren are scattered. They cannot physically join with other members on the Sabbath, so they listen to sermon tapes, or they sit in and listen to live Internet worship services (In passing, those who can physically attend are commanded to do so, and they are not permitted to just use Internet access as a substitute and as an excuse for not ‘having’ to attend Church services in person). If scattered brethren have Sabbath worship services ‘in their home,’ while listening to tapes or to live Internet Church services, they still appear before God during that time, and again, we don’t want to appear before God uncombed, unshaved and unwashed, or by just wearing our pajamas…”

“When God gave instructions for the creation of ‘holy garments’ for the priests of Israel, He specifically wanted them made ‘for GLORY and for BEAUTY’ (Exodus 28:2)… Regarding how both men and women dress when attending Church services, we find a meaningful example in the time when the children of Israel were commanded to wash their clothes in advance of appearing before God (Compare Exodus 19:10,14). Likewise, the priests were to wash themselves when appearing before God (Compare Exodus 30:19-20); and, they were to wear special clothing (Compare Exodus 28).

“It has been the practice of the Church of God to recognize that we are appearing before God when we assemble for Sabbath services along with other special commanded assemblies as given by God [such as commanded worship services throughout the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, even though only the first day is a Holy Day]. As such, we do recommend that each person present himself or herself in the best apparel they have available. The foremost idea is to specially prepare to appear before God to honor HIM!…

“God takes great exception to the self-absorbed and self-willed practices of people who lose all restraint. This applies to inappropriate sloppy appearance, as well as to the over-emphasis on wealth and riches… Our responsibility is to dress modestly and yet to dress with quality garments that reflect our honoring of God…”

It is critically important to understand that we appear in front of God during the entirety of our worship service; and this means that every aspect of the service is to reflect our worship of God. This is true whether we are attending together with our brethren in a Church hall, or whether we are, due to necessity, listening in to live Church services from our homes. This means we stand up respectfully and humbly when participating in the opening or closing prayer, and we stand up and participate joyfully in the singing of the congregational hymns.

We concentrate on and listen carefully to the messages (including the announcements, as well as the sermonette and sermon). It is understood, of course, that parents will have to take care of their babies and young children, which might even require at times to take them out of the Church hall, when they get too loud and disturb others. But apart from these sometimes inevitable distractions, there is no excuse for not paying close and undivided attention to services. It would be highly inappropriate to engage in jokes or unnecessary conversation during services (except for unavoidable situations, such as when our technical staff may at times have to communicate with each other to make sure that the services are being properly broadcast, etc.). It would also be offensive to God if someone were to get up during services (whether in a Church hall or at home) to walk to the kitchen for a snack or a meal, or even a cup of coffee or tea or water (excepting necessary circumstances), or to take a nap during services.

In services, most of us do not have many opportunities to audibly participate, except for saying “Amen” to the opening and closing prayers, after having listened carefully and attentively to every word of the prayers, and for singing joyfully during the song service. We cannot overemphasize the importance of participation in the song service with all of our heart, concentrating on each word which we are singing, and agreeing with it completely, knowing that we are not doing so to impress others, but because we are worshipping God when we sing out loud. There have been rare occasions when a brother or sister was told not to sing so loud, but this would be highly inappropriate “advice.” In fact, the song leader should encourage the congregation in words and by his own example to sing out loud and with enthusiasm.

Notice what we read about singing songs and hymns to God:

“Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious” (Psalm 66:1-2, AV).

Consider Psalm 95:1-3 (AV):

“O come, let us sing unto the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, and a great King…”

Notice Psalm 149:1-5 (AV):

“Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King… let them sing praises unto him… Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud…”

And take note of Psalm 150:1-6 (AV), showing that God expects of us to sing to Him with emotion and with our whole heart:

“Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary… Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel…  praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbrals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.”

Whether we are speakers (giving sermonettes, sermons, opening or closing prayers, or announcements) or whether we are part of the “listening” congregation, we must all appreciate the truth that we are appearing before God and His holy angels, as well as with His chosen holy people. Speakers have to conduct themselves appropriately, when speaking from the pulpit; they are not to engage in improper comments or “foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (compare Ephesians 5:4).

The saying that “familiarity breeds contempt” must never be applicable to our conduct in Church services. This is one of the reasons why our speakers will generally refer to other brethren as Mr. and Mrs., when addressing them publically, rather than using their first names. Church services ARE FORMAL WORSHIP services, in dedication to God and in fellowship with His holy people, and all of us must always keep this in mind throughout the entirety of the service.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link