Worship: Dressing for the Assembly, by Alexander Campbell

The following is from an 1839 article by Alexander Campbell, “Worshipping Assembles — No. I / The Appearance of Things”:

Our meetings of all sorts are greatly defective in many respects, and in none more visibly than in the dress and manners of the professed worshippers. The present costumes and general displays are in extremely bad taste. They are so in the judgment of all well informed men of sense, out of the church; and certainly of all persons in the church of unquestionable piety.

There’s a congruity between the persons, places, and employments, which can never be violated without detriment and disgust, if there are any persons of good education present. To see worshippers appear in church as at a marriage feast, a presidential levee, a theatre, a dance — either in dress, manners, or general demeanor — strikes all persons of reflection as snow in summer or a plaudit in the midst of a prayer.

… On the Sabbath and in the cathedral, the nobility dress in their plainest garb. They reserve their splendid equipage, their courtly attire, their gems and coronets, their glittering decorations for courts and carnivals, for tilts and tournaments, and appear in the sanctuary as though they sought not to be worshipped, but to worship God. But we frequent the houses of prayer and the places of worship with all our “finery” upon us, as though our synagogues were theatres for fashion — and the “Ladies Book,” rather than the New Testament, was the guide to our devotions. …

Kings and Prophets, the saints and the martyrs of other times, were oftener seen in sackcloth and ashes than in the gaudy fashions of a flippant and irreverent age. …

“Slovenly neglect and rustic coarseness,” though also incongruous with good Christian taste, are nevertheless more tolerable in Christian assemblies, than the gaiety and style now in vogue amongst the American communities … .

Then let him change his apparel, sell his finery and gold to those who can afford no higher honors, no brighter glories — give the proceeds to the poor, and dress himself according to the Christian mirror, in the plainest and most unassuming garb, and try himself kneeling or lying upon the earth, in some deep cavern, in some lonely alcove, in some deep forest, or in the secret chamber in the lonely hour of even, or at midnight, and see how he feels in divine converse with his Divine Father, or seated thus among the faithful at the communion board, compared with himself on former occasions, with all the pride of fashion thickly set upon him.

Vol. 3 The Millennial Harbinger No. 1.

 

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  1. We must remember that he was a gloomy Scot. Had he been Irish or even Spanish, the lecture would have been different, I guess.

  2. And how do you meet a King, Price? Even the kids in the Royal families abide to certain standards that reflect the majesty of their household.

    Alexander

  3. Alex, why not dress as the “KING” does in righteousness. no rags, only clothed in righteousness.
    Now that would draw a lot of attention. :)

  4. What I like about Alexander Campbell – which is also a weakness – is his strict rationality. He puts together arguments in the most profound and intelligent ways. Yet, he had some difficulties with the outburst of emotion revivalists are famous for. The greater therefore the miracle that he and Barton Stone could cooperate.

    As for this article: Concise and convincing.

    Alexander

  5. Even as well spoken on the matter as AC was, I still couldn’t picture him in Levis and Hawaiin shirt hanging out. I believe he wore suit and tie every Sunday as well as most days during the week when doing anything of a public professional nature and not working. Not sure this is a rational to dress down, just to not try to be different than anyone else in your manner of dress in the assembly. Not to put on airs. Certainly, if everyone else was in dungarees and tee-shirt a suit would seem out of place but vice-versa too.

  6. Alexander Campbell encouraged plain and modest clothing, but not “casual” dress. and he addressed it. He would certainly not have approved of today’s practice of somehow “privatizing” such apostolic principles. The actual application surely (or even out of necessity) is a (necessary) inference, but it is based of command and example.

    Alexander

  7. Alexander said;
    And how do you meet a King, Price? Even the kids in the Royal families abide to certain standards that reflect the majesty of their household.

    We all have probably been guilt at one time in our lives of believing that we were going to the church to meet the “The King”. The fact is if you believe that he is over there at the assembly, indicates that you don’t believe that he is within yourself.
    (John 14:20 NIV) On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

    These verses are addressing you, not the church assembled.
    (John 15:3 NIV) You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
    (John 15:4 NIV) Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
    (John 15:5 NIV) “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

    So the purpose for Christians to assemble is; to encourage one another.
    (Heb 10:25 NIV) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
    There are many other references in scripture that support this message.

  8. Jesus walked among all of the people while here on earth and never once do I remember a communication in scripture about anyone adorning themselves in special clothing that was not worn daily. In fact even at the Feast of the Passover when Jesus identified his betrayer and instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial to him, there was no mention of any special clothing that exceeded the normal attire for all the inhabitants of the area. Judas even had to betray Jesus with a kiss because the party that were taking him in custody could not see him or his followers as being dressed any different than anyone else that was there, even though the others were not part of the gathering of Christ’s followers.

    Who is there among you that could believe that the early church that we have so desired to replicate, dressed in special, not everyday clothing to assemble, as they were being persecuted for being Christians by the Romans and the Jews? The scriptures revile the one Christian even left his clothing in the hands of his attackers. A dress ordinance applied to the Christians at that time in our history would have been a death sentence to all. Sometimes today the only time that the world knows who claims to be a Christian is because they see an individual dressing in a fashion that indicates that he going to meet his “King” at the normal time designated for the occasion. Mankind has designed their own concepts about to present themselves to our King based on how we show honor to other men. The honor that we bestow upon other men is not what Christ expects of us and the clothing that we wear is not supposed to be how we recognize a brother in Christ.

  9. Peter at work in his fishing boat took off his coat (or tunic); Christ when washing the feet of His disciples laid aside his garments and girded Himself. Girding up the clothes was also usual during other kinds of work, or in combat … This means, even if they did not have such a wide variety of clothes, they adapted what they had to the special occasions. Those in finer and softer clothers BTW lived in the Kings courts, Christ once mentioned. He Himself clothed according to the Law, but not in the exaggerated way of the pharisees, whom He rebuked.

    So there was no other option than everyday clothing for most, but for some there was. And this is addressed: Don’t clothe yourselves with silver, gold, costly garments and elaborte hairstyles. And another note: Normally people tend to mimick the rich even if they really can’t afford it. So even the lower class girls try to look more “stylish” or more “noble”. Stylish also involved (back then as well as today) to draw attention to the shape of the body in a way to create lust. This is the declared purpose of fashion-designers today (sex sells).

    It is not about a special Christian “tribal dress”, but about modesty, plainness, shamefacedness – and there are ways to dress this way in almost every culture. But unless we speak and teach about it, we take the subject of how to dress (not just for Worship, but generally as a Christian) out of the scriptures and place it into the hands of our flesh. And that’s what we see in churches today, not only in churches, but among Christian in their daily lives also.

    The way this issue is discussed here, also shows a strong reluctance to give weight to the words of the apostles, but is full of things like: “It doesn’t matter”, “as long as love Christ…”, ” as long as we focus on the inner man” … all excuses to save the status quo from apostolic rebuke.

    Alexander

  10. Christ said, he is among the two or three assembled in His Name, Larry (Mat 18:20). And Hebrews says we enter the holy place (Heb 10:19-25), the mount Zion, the immediate presence of God in a big assembly (Heb 12:22-24). Angels are present (Heb 12:23) who should see the sign of authority on the women’s heads (1Co 11:10).

    There is a difference between Christ dwelling within us, and the presence of Christ in the assembly. The voice of Christ in the assembly is not coming from inside of us, but through the gifts He gave to the church. We hear Him through the admonitions of our leaders, the exhortations of our brothers and sisters. An assembly of mutual teaching/edification is Spirit-led, thus reveiling that God is truly “among you” (1Co 14:25).

    The focus on the indwelling of Christ can lead to an individualistic approach to faith; but God as a “corporate” approach: Church, the people of the Covenant. Therefore the meeting of the church is necessary to experience this corporate faith, this covenantal fellowship of the saints with God in their midst.

    Therefore we cannot come “as we are”, but we must prepare ourselves (Heb 10:19-25), and this will be reflectes also in the way we dress. It’s not a beach party. Not a BBQ, not work in the factory, not a business meeting, not a visit to the opera house. You see, there is no much more variety today than in NT times. So we have to be clear on what is fitting and what is not.

    There is also a difference that adds to our theme: “Public Worship”, this “Constantinian Innovation” is way different in style than the house-church-meetings from the beginning of the church of Christ. A house church encourages a much more relaxed and natural way of dress, than a formal public meeting. But that’s a whole new story …

    BTW: Let this Lord’s Day be a day for His glory! Let this be reflected in the way you talk, you move, you “shine”, you dress. Expect His word, feed on Him, rekindle the fire!

    God bless you all
    Alexander

  11. Larry,

    One that dressed special for Jesus is found in Mark14:51-52.
    51 And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him:
    52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.

    How sad he was that Jesus asked him to do something that would take a while as he wanted to join Jesus right then. He had been obedient his whole life and Jesus loved him. The rest of the story is: True to his past, he sold all and came back with only an expensive linen cloth to cover his naked body to show his obedience, ready to follow Jesus.

    Some think its John but John didn’t wear linen and would of had more on than that.

  12. Note: I have not worn a suit and tie to a “church service” in perhaps 15 years. So, I am apparently not one of those folks who places much value in dressing in his “Sunday best” for that gathering. However, I don’t find Campbell either enlightening or convincing here, because he offers us not a single foundational fact upon which to base his complaint. He starts off with the bald fallacy that any person with an decent education will agree with his conclusions –invariably a sign of a bad argument to come– and then goes on to stack complaint upon prior conclusion, as though piling up enough horse droppings will eventually produce a horse.

    This fundamental (and still common) idea that the church service is the modern equivalent to temple worship is simply baseless, and it is the unspoken underlying bedrock of Campbell’s complaint– that somehow we stand on holy ground when the 10:30 service starts, that worship is a function of the church-house. This idea is not only baseless, but Jesus tosses it out lock, stock, and bow-tie in speaking to the Samaritans. See John 4. Take away this foundation and Campbell’s whole issue evaporates.

    Now, if Campbell chose here to criticize the wearing of finery by Christians of his day at any time as generally inconsistent with an humble Christ-like character, his argument could be of some value– although I might have some issues with it. He might even quote James about how we respond to seeing people in fine clothes in church, and address our carnality and superficiality. Plenty to speak to there. But by limiting his irritation to those who dress better than himself at Sunday services, and making such Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes an actual issue, Campbell demonstrates mere human pique more than anything revelatory. He stands on the other side of James, seating those dressed with “rustic coarseness” in the middle pews, shooing the Armani and Chanel crowd onto the folding chairs in the back, and giving the best seats to those who dress like himself.

    Sorry, while Campbell had many worthwhile things to say to the church, this was just not one of them.

  13. Do any of us really thinks God cares about how we dress at an assembly?
    Man judges based upon the outward appearance, but God judges the heart. Now, you may want to argue that my attire reflects my heart … but you cannot know for sure.

    P.S. Charles, I wear ties to wedding and funerals, but even to all of those. Mostly I wear ties, only when I’m performing a wedding ceremony. If Jesus didn’t wear a tie, why should I?

  14. Alexander, you’ve been singing the same verse of “Onward Christian Dressers” for many days now. I, for one, think it’s time to start new verse (or end the song?) because you are singing a solo and we all know that’s a CofC no-no. :-) As for me, I look at that tatooed young person wearing bermuda shorts that just got baptized and can imagine God saying “That’s my kid”.

  15. @ David

    Man sees what is outside – only God judges the heart. So we always will and cannot bbut judge by the appearance of things. I don#t want to play God. If God says: Dress modestly, and I see an immodest appearance, I don’t assume taht there might be a modest heart behind it anyway, because God Himself – in His word – says we should avoid every evil appearance (1Th 5:22 KJV Abstain from all appearance of evil), and watch how we dress.

    Jud 1:23 And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.

    Alexander

  16. @ Doug

    Jay opened this thread so we can continue what started elsewhere (I suppose) – and as for the New Christian beside you: Yes, that’s my sister, too! And now: Shall she stay the way she is? Shall she only become holy inwardly? Or not in all areas of her life (Step by step, biggies first, of course)? And: Are the other sisters setting an example of modesty and holiness? Or is their basic message: “Hey, that’s just external, don’t make a big fuss about it!”?

    Alexander

  17. Alexander
    First, this thread began as a discussion of what is appropriate dress for the worship assembly, rather than a discussion of dressing modestly. In my view those are noticeably different topics, even though they both deal with attire.

    But using your example. How it is best to teach someone how to dress modestly? Do you say, it’s okay to wear this dress, but not this other dress? Or, do you discuss how their attire may impact others around them, and then ask them to consider how following Jesus would impact their decision about what they wear?

    With my six year old grand-daughter, I might take the first approach. But with my 13-year-old grand-daughter, I think the later approach will have a more lasting effect.

    My personal perspective is that you and I differ in our view of the Text on this type of point. You seem to favor delineating detailed rules for Christian behavior (and it’s not that I necessarily disagree with those, but I see them as guidelines, not rules), while I favor teaching and relying on the underlying principles which lead us to establishing those guidelines.

    And the ultimate principle, from Jesus, is loving one another in the same way Jesus loves you and me.

    But perhaps I misperceive your perspective.

  18. I’m more for guidelines than detailled rules in this area. But we should provide examples to follow. Churches that don’t do anything in this direction look accordingly (in worship and outside).

    Alexander

  19. @Alexander

    Actually, I finished with this dress code discussion on the other thread, I was just having some fun. Of course, 1st Thessalonians 5 and 1st Peter 1,4,&5 are all about being sober minded so I guess having fun is banned just like bermuda’s. Shucks! There I go again!

  20. When mature believers dress modestly, the church HAS appropriate examples. “Dress modestly” IS a guideline. It’s when we want to start codifying our own “guidelines” that the dressing trouble starts. More detail than this needs to flow from interpersonal relationships among believers, not from a congregational dress code.

    If the church lacks appropriate relationships between the mature and the immature by which the immature can follow the example of the mature, that’s a problem more serious than short skirts.

  21. A man walked in a church one day and was wearing a T-shirt, jeans and flip flops. The following Sunday he came to the church again wearing a T-shirt, jeans and flip flops. After the sermon was over the preacher approached the man and told him when he comes back there again to first pray about what he should wear. The next Sunday the man came again wearing a T-shirt, jeans and flip flops. After the sermon the preacher approached the man again and asked the man if he had prayed about what he should wear the next time he came there. The man answered yes he did and that the Lord told him He couldn’t tell him because He had never been there either.

  22. Alexander,
    I was taught many years ago that we were to keep the scriptures in context and never to pull text randomly to support our own agenda. I have looked carefully at the text that you identify as pertaining to an assembly of Christians. I am providing that text here to hopefully allow you to see what in my understanding is the message being conveyed.
    (Heb 10:18 NIV) And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

    The discussion in Heb 10:18 – 23 is an action that each of us were (past tense) involved in the moment that we became a Christian, the text is instructions explaining what Jesus did for us 19- 21. This message is directed directly to individual Christians, it remains in that context until verse 24. Then it instructs individuals to “not give up meeting together”, but to “encourage one another”. These verses are not directives as to how you are to dress as you assemble, they do not identify that the purpose of assembling was called worship, unless “encouraging one another” could be redefined as worship to God. To read a dress code or a procedure to use when we assemble together out of these verses, changes the context completely.

    (Heb 12:22 NIV) But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

    Verse 22 “you have come” (past tense) “to the heavenly Jerusalem” (not on earth) and that context remains through verse 24. This is a spiritual realm not an earthly message. I must ask you have you already come (notice the past tense) to a joyful assembly of thousands upon thousands of angels on earth. To me the context of this portion of scripture is directed to each Christian explaining where he has ascended to in his spiritual journey to Christ. We are borne again as spiritual beings. (2 Cor 1:21 NIV) Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

    The messages I see in these scriptures that pertain to assembling is, that we should and the purpose is, “spur one another on toward love and good deeds”. And to “encourage one another”.

  23. Larry, the way I understand it is that in our assemblies we do connect with the spiritual realm. So, although our bodies are on earth, we meet in the Heavenlies. In fact, that’s true when we pray at home, too: We approach the Throne of Grace (Heb 4:16) in Heaven.

    The 144.000 in Revelation are “connected” in their song with the Heavenly assembly (Rev 14:1-3), and the worship of God in Heaven is connected with the earth and those under the earth (in Hades) in Rev 5:12-13; all Christians of the past and the present are joined in worship together with all angels of God. That’s the theme in Heb 12:22-24 as well.

    That’s the reason BTW why although it was forbidden to make any images of earthly and heavenly beings (to worship them) on the curtains of the tabernacle angels were displayed. There is a connection between Heaven and earth.

    We approach God in prayer, we come together unto the name of Christ as an assembly. Both are in the Heavenlies, surrounded by myriads of angels and worshipped by the spirits of those who have run the race before us. I cannot but understand the texts in Hebrews I referred to but in this light.

    Heb 10:22 Therefore let us (continually – Present Tense) draw near …
    Heb 12:22 You have come (and are still there – Perfect Tense) … to a joyful assembly.

    In both verses the verb is προσέρχομαι (to approach, to come near, to visit …) So there are two aspects. A past aspect that reaches into the present, and an ongoing aspect, whenever we draw near in prayer or as an assembly.

    Heb 10:19-25 then makes it clear that we cannot come any odd way, but spiritually prepared, in faith, cleansed (in this case not only referring to baptism, although it is included, but it has toe be read in the light of the OT ordinances about cleansing from every sort of uncleanness). Of course this will be reflected in the way we move, talk and dress, too. A Christian assembly is not a worldy affair. What we do on earth should blend into the heavenly assembly, should be in harmony with the church of old. We cannot say: We are a 21st century church and therefore we do things our own way. No, we have to fit into something way bigger!

    Most Christians in the past took notice of what scripture says about dress; almost all women up until the 1960ies never went to church without a headvoring (because of the angels as Paul says, but it also became a cultural thing). So now, imagine the scene when the 21st century church comes into this big assembly … and what the angels and the Christians of the past might think.

    Alexander

  24. Alexander, you do realize there are Christians who know and speak Hebrew and Greek better than even you, hope that doesn’t offend you but just so your head isn’t above a friendly level.

    Who do you believe the 144,000 in Revelation is?

  25. Alexander, The 1444,000 is referring to what group of people in the Bible?

    Did having no instrumental music and being water baptized save these people…how were they saved?

  26. Sorry, Alexander, but your salad of references just reinforces my lack of confidence in the study principle of starting with an assumption, harvesting word-related scriptures from a concordance, and then arranging the latter in such a way as to confirm the former.

    There is no parallel identified in scripture between a local congregational meeting and the descriptions of the afterlife found in Revelation. Any such assumption begins outside the scripture, and then tries to attach itself to the scripture for support.

    The idea that we connect with the spiritual realm during our assemblies is true enough, but it is no more real than connecting with the spiritual realm while praying naked in the shower… alone. To argue otherwise is to revert to plain old temple worship in order to connect with God. We ARE spiritual beings, the Holy Spirit is present with us at all times, so our connection with the spiritual is a constant. A true bride is no less in love with her husband when he is away than she is when he is present. This is not to denigrate the corporate experience, which is ideally the sharing of our spiritual experience and the overflow of those experiences into the emotional and physical natures. In a group setting, it is not the worship, but the sharing of worship which is the additional blessing.

    Again, Jesus did not misspeak when he told the Samaritans that they would no longer worship on the mountain nor in Jerusalem. This was clearly not a physical exclusion of those geographic locations from worship, but a statement that the idea of worship being a function of a place was to pass away. Today, we do not “come to God” in order to connect with the divine, but rather Christ has come to us, and the Holy Spirit lives within us.

    I am of the belief that we need more interaction among believers, not less, but when Christian assemblies are misapplied and their value misunderstood, not only do we not see more meaningful “gathering together”, we actually see less of it. We are “together” at church, but mainly in the same sense that people are “together” at a movie. We spend an hour being co-located rather than being truly together, and we do not discern the difference. Paul told the Corinthians that they were not diserning the Body. We try to do the Lord’s Supper with great precision, but continue to have the exact same problem as the Corinthians.

  27. I thought I made it clear that praying at home is the same situation, Charles. Praying under the shower is possible, of course, since we are to pray at all times. But would you agree that there is a difference between a time of devotion and praying under the shower? A time devoted for meditation is surely different than praying while scrubbing your backside. A time of fellowship in the name of God as a church is surely on a different level than praying with your kids at night. There are formal, more formal and informal times. …

    Yet, we always have to put before our eyes with whom we converse. Words like majesty and dignity come to my mind, and a verse that warns us to go with the world in considering these:

    Jud 1:8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.

    Our Christ is the King of Kings, and we sometimes should take a look at Great Britain and their Royal Protocol to get a vague idea of how to approach a King. Externals are of huge importance – why? They FORCE us to humble ourselves – at least in the eye of the beholder. God surely judges the heart. But what kind of heart is this which does not swiftly and joyfully submit to the protocol – even if it simply consists of removing/covering your head or kneeling or lifting up holy hands in prayer? Let’s not even symbolically pull our Lord down from His throne to make Him equal to us!

    This again means: Approach Him with reverence and dignity, in heart, spirit and appearance.

    Alexander

  28. Alexander, The 1444,000 is referring to what group of people in the Bible?

    In my understanding, revelation primarily uses typological language. So these 144.000 stand for “the Israel of God” (see also Rev 7). The question is going back to you: Who is the Israel of God?

    Alexander

    P.S. My eschatological conviction run under “Historical Premillenialism”

  29. Did having no instrumental music and being water baptized save these people…how were they saved?

    Their salvation is not explained in detal in Revelation, but they probably got all killed in these threeandhalf years starting in Rev 13 for Christ’s sake. So it’s clear what they stood for – and even thgouigh from 12 “tribes” they were seen as a unity. And that’s how I see Christians as well.

    Alexander