One of the more troubling aspects of modern evangelical Christianity is its emphasis on the casual and the familiar. Whereas worship used to have a very formal and solemn atmosphere, the current trend is to make it more like a pep rally. Several things characterize this trend. One is that many preachers have stopped wearing coats and ties in the pulpit. Some wear sports coats over t-shirts, while others have taken to “camp” shirts over khaki trousers. In one church, the preacher recently wore a white t-shirt, wind pants, and running shoes. With preachers dressing in this manner, it is no wonder that the people in the pews have become more casual in their attire.
While it is true that the scriptures do not dictate a style of dress for preachers or worshipers, the trend away from more formal attire is indicative of a greater issue. That issue is the concerted effort to make God more “approachable” in the worship assembly. The result is that He is treated far more casually than is appropriate for who He is. It is not unusual today for worshipers to address God as though they were speaking to their best buddy down on the block.
An enthusiasm to have a close relationship with God is commendable, but we must never lose sight of the fact that He is God, first, last, and always. Because He is God, He must be treated as holy. This is not just the preference of an old “fuddy-duddy,” but it is what God Himself has said. When Nadab and Abihu violated God’s instructions for conducting the worship in the tabernacle, He consumed them with fire from heaven (Lev. 10:1, 2). Then God instructed Moses to tell their father Aaron why they died. In Lev. 10:3 Moses said, “It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before the people I will be honored.'”
Nadab and Abihu did not treat God as holy because they ignored His command to use specific fire in offering incense to Him. Their action showed their lack of respect for Him as they worshiped. We might be tempted to wonder what the big deal was, since fire is fire, but we must not miss the importance of what God said through Moses. Doing exactly what God commands is one way in which we treat Him as holy, and He will not overlook us failing to treat Him as holy.
Moses and Aaron learned this lesson firsthand at the waters of Meribah in Num. 20:8-13. God instructed Moses to take his rod and speak to the rock in order to bring forth water for the Israelites. Moses spoke rashly before the people, as though he and Aaron were supplying the water for them (v. 10), and then he struck the rock twice with his rod (v. 11). God brought forth the water, but He punished Moses and Aaron for failing to treat Him as holy before the people (v. 12). Because of their sin neither one of them was allowed to enter the promised land.
The requirement to treat God as holy did not end with the Old Testament, however. God is still God. He is still holy, and we must still treat Him as holy. Peter said that we must be holy in all our behavior just like the Holy One who called us, because the scriptures say, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15, 16). Nowhere in the New Testament is God addressed by His people in anything but the most respectful terms. This isn’t because He is aloof from us, but because His holiness is such that we cannot bring Him down to our level. He loves us and wants us to be with Him for eternity, but He is God, and we must treat Him as holy.