I just traveled across the country, lots and lots of miles, and the reality of today’s religious scene impacted on me. There is a dramatic scarcity of true church of God congregations. Oh there are many church buildings. There are many congregations, but very few true churches. In the area where Notah lives ( and he has a very long driving distance threshold ) there are at least 5 ‘Church of God” churches. He visited all of them. I believe he said that two were false tongues movements and the others were modern congregations with no difference in message than any other denomination.
Then I think of the ‘real’ church of God congregations that I’ve been associated with during my life. The lack of unity among them is appalling. Each little group has its own set of “standards” and refuses to fellowship any other that doesn’t maintain exactly the same ones. I’m not talking about abandoning immorality, impurity, indecency, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper), selfishness, divisions (dissensions), party spirit (factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies), envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. And adhering to love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence.) (Galatians 5:10-24) In those areas they at least give lip service.
The deeper schism occurs over those areas that are often termed “gray” areas. How long must a woman’s hair be to distinguish her from a man? How short is short for a man’s hair? Can it be too short? Is it the length or the style that differentiates between men’s and women’s hair? Must a woman wear a scarf or ‘prayer cap’ type of covering? Can a woman deal with her long, long hair by braiding it or twisting it up? ( I Peter #:3 “plaited, broidered hair”) Or must it be loose? Or tucked inside a cap or scarf that hides it all at all times?
What exactly is modesty? A woman’s style of ‘trousers’ is very different from a man. Do they still “pertain to the man”? Are loose trousers on a woman always more ‘modest’ than a skirt? How about countries where the woman’s style of clothing mandates long trousers? How long and in what style does a woman’s skirt need to be to qualify as ‘modest’? Who determines that? It even comes down to colors of clothing! Should clothing for men and women be only pastels, grays and black or white. Is there a specific style or pattern to be adhered to in women’s dresses? How about men’s shirts and pants? How about neckties?
What exactly qualifies as ‘worldly amusement”? Why is television unacceptable and not radio? Or are both unacceptable? How about videos and DVD? Are fairs and farm shows unacceptable? How about parks, picnics and playgrounds? Are sports events worldly?
What exactly does the ‘wearing of gold” mean? Wedding rings? Watches? Hair clips? Bright buttons? Do the scriptures ( I Peter 3:3-4 and I Timothy 2: 9-10 specifically) actually prohibit these things or only recommend good works and meekness in preference to them? Do the strictures apply only to women or to men also?
These all sound like foolish issues when set out this way, but I’ve heard every single one of them hotly disputed among the churches of God. And sometimes the disputes themselves breached the limits of peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness veering dramatically into enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper, selfishness, divisions and dissensions. Why does going to a fair, wearing lipstick or watching a tv program matter when the individual is being angry and accusatory and divisive in his insistence on his own conviction? Yet I’ve heard men (and women) vehemently maintaining their own righteousness above that of someone who had a television…or whatever.
Now keep in mind that I’m not disputing holiness in any of these things. I believe that skirts are more becoming to a woman professing godliness. I believe that a woman’s adornment should be a meek spirit and good works. I believe that a woman must not endeavor to adopt any of the traits of a man or usurp her husband’s position in the home. I believe that a woman’s hair must be longer than the man’s. And I’ve lived my life that way, much to the irritation of many. I will not however shun any sister who does not see these standards the same as I do. Nor will I question or condemn her salvation.
The difficulty comes in when we put so much emphasis on these standards that we “strain at gnats” and ignore the ‘weighter issues’ that have greater impact on our following God. I‘ve found women (I’ll talk about women because I know them better. *smile*) who had nice long skirts and long hair and no make up, no wedding ring either, but who have such nasty, managing, bossy spirits that their husbands don’t dare make an I dependent decision. They will cut their neighbors and sisters in the Lord with a caustic tongue not giving it a second thought, claiming their right to speak their mind! Yet they are accepted as good Christian women, while the sister with a sleeveless dress and a wedding ring is rejected in spite of her humble, quiet, loving spirit. This false standard ought not to be.
I have a friend with whom I share with on line. We have enjoyed some good spiritual truths in the Lord. Recently she discovered that, as a memento, I will occasionally wear a piece of jewelry given me by a close relative and also that my hair is shorter than her church deems acceptable. I’m no longer addressed as “sister”. It saddens me. I will never confront her. Nor will I condemn her. I’m sure she believes she is doing the right thing. It is just a sad fact that should not be spoken of among those who call themselves the People of God.
Satan is doing a great work among those who should be standing for the Lord and reaching the world with the message of truth. We have gotten away from trying at the spirit of people to “decide” whether or not they are living for the Lord and have begun making decisions about their experience based on outward appearances—what color their clothes are, how long their skirts are, whether or not they have colored buttons or plain ones, whether a man wears a necktie or just buttons the collar band around his neck. How foolish that we allow Satan to work ill among the people of God. We destroy our witness when we put so much emphasis on these things that sinners cannot hear the message of Salvation and Joy in the Lord for the static of fleshly quibbling.
As Christ told the Pharisees, these we ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Matthew 23:23 We ought to live out the convictions that the Lord has laid upon us as individuals, not spend valuable time impressing it upon others. Instead we ought to be teaching the story of salvation and portraying the joy of God. As Christ said, the first is not unimportant, but the greater things are getting left undone. We must do both.