“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (1 Chron. 16:29).
In the not too distant past, the only acceptable way to attend church was for men to wear coats and ties and women to wear attractive looking dresses. However, today there is a growing trend where people are coming to church dressed much more casually. In many of the traditional Protestant churches, men wear open collar sport shirts and slacks while women wear dress pants. In most of the smaller, non-traditional churches, it is not uncommon to see both men and women wearing jeans and sweatshirts.
The argument for dressing this way is that God doesn’t look on the outer appearance but on the heart. They say that instead of God being interested in what kind of clothes we wear, that He is much more interested in our attitude toward Him. As long as we come to sing praises to His holy name and listen to His word, it doesn’t really matter what we have on. They further point out that very often people come dressed up on Sundays only for show rather than being concerned about worshipping God. Therefore, it is claimed that prideful behavior can be eliminated by dressing casually.
On the other hand, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still encourages its members to dress more formally and discourages the wearing of casual clothing when attending church services. The stated reason for this is because it is a sign of reverence. However, we also believe that God is our literal Father and that Jesus is our elder Brother. As such, we are all family. And if that is the case then it could be said that this strengthens the Protestant argument that our Father or Brother in heaven is no more impressed by what we wear than our father or brother on earth would be.
Yet, even while dressing casually, Protestants have a reverential view of God as someone who is far beyond anything any human could ever hope to be. On the other hand, Latter-day Saints have a tendency to be somewhat casual in their relationship with their Father and Brother in heaven precisely because they are viewed as family. Rather than seeing God as some unimaginable, incomprehensible Being, we understand Him as creating us to look and become just like Him. Therefore, when we come to church to worship Him, although we are nicely dressed, we have a habit of behaving a little less reverential than many Protestants do at their worship service.
Then are the Protestants more correct in their understanding of how to worship God or are the Latter-day Saints?
Perhaps it is a mixture of both. As members of the LDS faith we teach that our Father in heaven is an exalted man as we someday hope to become, but in many of our discussions we tend to overlook what this actually means. Therefore, in order to know how to properly worship God, it might be helpful to gain a better understanding of who our Father in heaven actually is.
In the law God gave to Moses we are specifically commanded not to take the name of God in vain (Exodus 20:7), and the reason for this commandment is that the very name of God is holy. By that it is meant it is something we should treat as being sacred and should be used with great respect and honor. While we tend to think of God as being our Father, who is loving and kind, we should never forget that He is also our God. Even though Jesus Himself stated on many occasions that God was His Father, yet He taught that when we pray we should say, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9).
The word “hallow” means “To make or set apart as holy. To honor or respect or revere” (Webster’s dictionary). The very name of God is something that is holy and is worthy of being treated with honor, respect, and reverence. When we use the name of God lightly or too casually we tend to diminish the sacredness of His office and often end up treating it as though it were a common title. But there is nothing common about being God! The word “God” is an exalted name, meaning that it is superior to all other names, and, as such, is a name that deserves and demands respect and honor. And there is a very good reason for this.
As Latter-day Saints we speak of our Father in heaven as being an exalted man, which He is, but we often fail to appreciate exactly what that phrase implies. Although the plan of salvation is designed to allow each of us the opportunity to become exalted in the same way as our Father in heaven, the road to godhood is anything but easy. In order to become like God we must become completely righteous as God is righteous, and, in order to do that, we must endure to the very end in overcoming and avoiding all manner of wickedness and sin. But, even then, if it wasn’t for the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made to atone for our sins, along with the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, not one of us would ever achieve exaltation. And even with Christ’s sacrifice and the help of God’s Spirit, the vast majority of God’s children will never become exalted beings.
To understand why, we can compare it to something we know on earth. In the military there is an elite fighting force known as the Special Forces. Not everyone wants to become one of these vaunted soldiers, but there are many who do. However, of those who eagerly apply for the training, most of them do no qualify because they do not meet the necessary requirements to enroll in the course. Of those who are accepted, only a small percentage will endure to the end in completing the grueling training.
But those who graduate and are permitted to wear the insignia of the Special Forces are people whom others look up to and admire. Because of who they now are and what they had to endure to become that way, they are entitled to a degree of respect and honor that very few people come close to being worthy of. Yet these soldiers achieved this honor, not just because of what they did alone, but because they were willing to following the training of their instructors who taught, coached, corrected, and prodded them throughout their entire learning process.
The same situation applies to becoming an exalted being. There are many in the world who are not interested in that kind of a life and so they don’t even try to live righteously. Then there are many others who would like to inherit the kingdom of God but who don’t want to qualify themselves by making the kind of commitments necessary for baptism. Then there are those who become baptized, thereby enrolling in God’s training course for godhood, but who later give up. It is only those who are willing to endure to the end by continually following the instruction of the Holy Ghost who teaches, coaches, corrects, and prods them spiritually onward to successfully complete this training who then go on to become exalted beings.
To become an exalted being is not something that is lightly bestowed. Those who have achieved this distinction have done so only after overcoming all things and are therefore worthy of receiving such a glorious honor. As the Lord Himself has declared, only those who “have not defiled their garments; and…shall walk with me in white…they are worthy” (Rev. 3:4). And “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out” (Rev. 3:12). But to do this is no small feat of accomplishment, as most people can attest to.
And this same principle applies to our Father in heaven. The reason why we honor Him as God is because He is worthy of holding such a title. He is an exalted Man precisely because He has overcome all things and has been found worthy to be called God. As such, He fully deserves all of our respect and admiration, if for no other reason than for being the kind of Person He is. That is why the psalmist wrote, “Exalt ye the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy” (Psalm 99:5).
But, besides being a God, our Father in heaven is also a king who rules over a kingdom. Kings are people who have great authority and who wield tremendous power, and, as such, they are treated with an honor that no other person is entitled to. In the United States of America, instead of having kings, we have an elected official whom we call “president”. Yet, even though this person serves as our representative, when people meet with him, they treat him with great respect. Even those who intimately work with this elected official address him as “Mr. President” out of honor for his office. To a lesser degree, the same kind of behavior is shown the president of a company. Yet, the respect shown to presidents of the United States is far less than that shown when meeting with earthly kings.
The scriptures tell us, “the Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting King"(Jer. 10:10). If God is a King, not just over the entire earth but is the everlasting King of the entire universe, then how much greater should our respect be when we come before Him to offer our worshipful praise?
If someone had a chance to meet with a President of the United States who they really admired and looked up to, it is extremely doubtful they would go to the White House and visit him wearing casual or sloppy clothes. Because of their great respect for the man, in all likelihood most people would go visit him dressed as best they could. However, they would not do so to impress him with how well they looked but rather they would do so as a sign of the respect they have for him. A person who visits the President dressed in shabby clothes when they could dress better is actually showing contempt, disrespect, or indifference for the person.
When going before an earthly king or queen, there are certain rules of etiquette of the court that need to be followed and the wearing of good clothing is one of them. But just as important is the way we approach the king and the manner in which we behave in his presence. When people violate these rules of court etiquette, although the king may still grant them an audience and listen to their petition, still he would not be pleased with them nor would he be as inclined to grant their request.
Although God, our King, has seen us at our worst and we have no doubt called upon Him for help when we have looked far from our best, yet when we attend church to worship Him whom we claim to adore and love, it is only proper that we do so dressed as best we can, and behave in a manner that shows the respect and reverence He deserves. After all, if we would accord this kind of courtesy to an earthly president or king, how much more should we show even greater courtesy and respect to the King of kings?
But even if our Father in heaven wasn’t God or a King, He is still entitled to our admiration because He has created us and has given us life. As Latter-day Saints we believe that the intelligence of man is eternal, meaning that it has always existed. However, we also believed that God begat us as spirit children. That means, there was a time when we did not exist with a body. Therefore, when God first created us, we progressed from being just mere intelligences to having a spirit body that was capable of having experiences. And it is through those experiences that we grow and learn. In addition to a spirit body, God has also created mortal bodies for us, thereby expanding our learning experiences. And it through these experiences that we have the potential to inherit all that God has. Furthermore, the object and design of our existence is to achieve a fullness of joy. Thus, by creating us, God has given us the means whereby we can gain a happiness that was unimaginable and unattainable any other way.
The scriptures tell us that the greatest gift God has to offer us is the gift is eternal life (D&C 14:7), and it is through that gift that we receive a fullness of joy. Image how grateful we would be to someone here on earth who gave us a wonderful and magnificent gift. Should we not be even more grateful to God for offering us the greatest of all heavenly gifts? Yet even when we receive a gift that is simple and inexpensive, we sometimes show great appreciation to the giver, such as when two people who love each other exchange gifts. The reason why these gifts have such great value and are highly treasured is because of the love these people have for the one who gave it. If we truly love the Lord, then our appreciation and gratefulness for the magnificent gift of life itself and the opportunity to inherit eternal life should be reflected in the way we dress and behave when we come before our Creator to worship Him. As the scriptures tell us, “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker” (Psalm 95:6).
But there is a problem with receiving the gift of eternal life. It is granted only on condition of us being sinless. Since each of us has sinned, all of us have not only forfeited the right to eternal life, but we have also become disqualified from ever returning to the celestial life we once enjoyed. Because of our own sins we are now only fit to become angels to the devil and to live with him in outer darkness throughout eternity (2 Nephi 9:9). But our Father in heaven has not only provided a way to save us from this awful fate but He has also insured that the way to salvation is made available to each of us. Thus, He is not only our God, King, and Creator, but He is also our Redeemer and Savior as well.
When Jesus began His ministry in mortal life He did and said nothing else except what His Father in heaven had commanded Him. The plan of salvation Jesus taught was not His own but was that of His Father. However, it was Jesus who actually performed the atonement by which we were redeemed from our sins and saved from the awful consequences of our wickedness. Therefore, Jesus is also our Savior and Redeemer, as well as God the Father.
We have all seen television shows depicting rescues of people in trouble. Very often, those who have been rescued from a severe, life-threatening situation have become very close friends with their rescuers. They have a high degree of admiration for and a deep sense of gratitude towards those who have saved them and they show their gratitude by the way they continue to treat their rescuers long after they have been saved.
Although Jesus is our Elder Brother, we must never forget that He is our Rescuer. He risked His life and suffered our pains to save us from a life-threatening situation. But in addition to this, not only is our Father in heaven God, but so is Jesus who sits exalted on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3). When we come to church we do so to not only worship our Father, but also Jesus Christ, who is every bit as much our God, King, and Savior as well. Therefore, we need to show Him the same honor, respect, and reverence that is due the Father.
But there is another title both God and Jesus wear that is perhaps the most significant one of all. In many of the parables of Jesus He likened the kingdom of God to a plantation whose owner was the master and the followers of God were likened to the hired servants. In many of the writings of the apostles they referred to themselves as being servants of Christ, and Paul counseled that all Christians should behave as “servants of Christ” (Eph. 6:6). The relationship between a master and his servants is not one of mutual camaraderie nor common companionship. Although a master may treat his servants with kindness and even a sense of dignity, yet he is never one of them but is always separate and above them. In the same way, servants may be friendly and on familiar terms with their master but they are never equal in stature with them. Instead, their duty is to show reverential obedience to their masters.
While it is true that God is our Father and Jesus is our brother, they are nonetheless both our Lord and Master and we are their servants, bought and paid for by the blood which Jesus shed on the cross. While they may treat us with great love and compassion, we must never infer that means we are their equals or that such kindness gives us license to become overly casual in our attitude towards them. The sign of a true servant is that whatever a master requires is what the servant will do.
While it is true that God is our Father and that Jesus is our Brother, we must never forget that they are much, much more than that. They are Beings who are worthy and deserving of great respect, exceeding honor, deep reverence, and genuine adoration. Through modern-day prophets, who make known to us God’s directives, we have been told that we are to show proper reverence in the way we come to worship God. This includes the way we dress as well as the way we behave during worship services. It also entails the way we talk about God, the way we address ourselves to Him, and it encompasses our attitude toward His words, commandments, and covenants, whether they are written in scripture or pronounced by His spokesmen. That’s what it means when we sing, “Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. Oh come and behold him born the king of angels. Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation. Glory to God in the highest. Jesus to thee be glory given. Oh come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.” (hymn #202)