What You Believe…Matters

“Don’t wear that hat in Church! It’s disrespectful to God!”

I was still new as a pastor. We were a “come as you are” church. One of our guys, an old-school dude in his 40’s or 50’s, saw a young man wearing a ball cap. Sitting in a chair, waiting for church to begin. The kid was a first time guest. He looked nervous. Didn’t know anyone. And this old-school dude decided to do God a favor. He raised his voice to this cap-wearing young man. To make the point about God and all, I guess. More likely, because the old dude was personally offended and angry.

Some of you may agree with the old guy (I’m actually an old guy now, but back then, HE was the old guy and I was still young!). But WHY do you agree?

Because you either A) think it’s OK to enforce the man-made rules of Christian culture upon people who may not have the same viewpoints, which makes you a Pharisee. Or B) believe that the church is a holy place. For the sake of believing the best about others, let’s assume it’s B): you think the church is a holy place. And that we should dress differently, act differently, speak in a different way…when we are “God’s house.”

OK…that’s a legit belief that many hold. But let’s test it. You DO test your beliefs against Scripture, right? To make sure that what you believe is, dare I say it?, biblical?

In the Old Testament, Jews had holy places. They were holy because of the Presence of God and/or an activity attributed to God that occurred there. Holy: “set apart for God’s use.”

Moses took off his sandals because God’s Presence made it “holy ground.” God allowed for his Presence to dwell with the Israelites for a time. The Jewish temple represented his Presence.

So…church is holy and we should act and dress and speak differently when we are there, no?

No. Because…Jesus.

2 huge, ginormous things happened that changed EVERYTHING.

Jesus died on the cross. For our sins. In our place. He “became sin for us who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”- 2 Cor. 5.

Remember what happened? There was a room in the temple. It represented the very Presence of God Almighty. A thick, heavy veil covered the entrance keeping God’s holy (separate) Presence from common people and things. Because common people are unworthy of the uncommon, holy presence of God Almighty (unless elaborate cleansing rituals are employed).

And then…as Christ dies…the veil is torn open. Top to bottom. No more separation. No more…”Holy Place in here.” Which begs the question: where is the Holy Place now?

And that’s the 2nd ginormous thing: Pentecost. Acts 2. God’s Spirit- his HOLY Spirit, his very Presence- begins to take up residence in common, sinful, flawed human beings. BECAUSE…Christ has made us righteous through his death on the cross. So positionally, if your faith is in Jesus, you are righteous, holy, blameless, uncondemnable…right now. Positionally. Not experientially. Because we all still have major degrees of suckage in our lives.

So, back to that church thing. Does the young dude in the hat deserve a strong talking to? The kid who makes a little noise in the church building? The people wearing flip-flops?

Yeah, yeah- I get it. It upsets you. It crosses the line of the man-made religious rules you’ve been taught. And you’re trying to enforce. But does it upset God?

Before you answer- I remember finishing a baptism and quickly changing while the worship continued. I didn’t have time to put on my shoes and socks before the worship ended, so I preached in bare feet. And older woman was beyond upset (she was continually upset at everything). I was profaning her holy place. I had gone too far this time! Yet I remember Moses taking OFF his sandals because God’s Presence made the place so holy. So maybe she was sin for NOT taking off her shoes? Nah…neither of us were in sin for our dress codes. Because…

The church building IS NOT HOLY. It’s a friggin’ building. That’s all. And if it is holy, we’ve committed the error of “Sacred Time, Sacred Space” theology. We’ve said the building is holy: sacred space. And if it isn’t, at the very least it is from 11-Noon on Sundays (unless it snows hard!): sacred time. That means we control God’s Presence. No, seriously- we decide WHEN to come into his Presence. And when to leave. And it means we are bumbling hypocrites who actually believe that the God for whom we dress, act and speak differently on Sunday mornings doesn’t see us on Tuesday afternoons at work when we’re lying to clients to get the sale. Or gossiping about co-workers. That he was impressed by that fine dress on Sunday, but didn’t notice those booty shorts the day before on the lake. Crazy, right? And, like, is it OK to gossip in the parking lot as long as we don’t do it in the church building?

The building isn’t holy. That ended with the first ginormous thing: the temple curtain being torn. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man”- Acts 17:24. That seems pretty cut-and-dried.

So then, where is his Presence? That’s the second ginormous thing from the cross of Christ and his resurrection: “By this we know that we abide in him and HE IN US, because he has given us of his Spirit”- 1 John 4:13. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God DWELLS IN YOU. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him”- Romans 8. God’s Presence is in every single follower of Christ. All of us. You, right now. Reading this.

The church isn’t actually a building. It’s a people. And God’s Presence dwells not only in individual believers, but in believers gathered together as the church: “Do you not know that you (plural) are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (plural)?”- 1 Cor. 3:16. “…you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit”- Eph. 2:22.

So WE are the church. Not the building. US. And…get this!…the New Testament gives instruction on how to dress for worship. It says- prepare yourself- NOT to dress up for church (1 Tim. 2, 1 Peter 3).

What you believe matters. The kid with the ball cap? God is concerned with his heart. Not his hat. The kid running in the bulding after church? I believe God smiles at this kid’s freedom and joy. He created it.

What you believe matters. Do you act holy in the building? Dress differently to impress God in his supposed Presence? Change who you really are in order to be in a church building? That’s hypocrisy. The God who sees you for an hour or two on Sunday is living in you all the other days. Hypocrisy grieves the Spirit who lives in you at all times.

What you believe matters. Test it against the scriptures. Throw out what doesn’t match them.