Does God Care What We Wear at Church?

"The bible actually says almost nothing about what we should wear in Church.... What is also striking is how, at times, the bible could make an issue, but does not. For example, in Nehemiah 8 when the people gathered to hear the law—the preached word—it was not holiness of dress mentioned, but holiness of celebration!" - Ref21

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WallyMorris's picture

This article conveniently ignore several issues: 1) Perhaps the Bible mentions very little specific detail about clothing in worship because, generally, inappropriate clothing was not a problem. However the issue seems to have been a problem in Corinth and with the people Timothy served (command about modesty).

2) People all over the world have become more casual in clothing/dress and this attitude/practice has influenced churches and schools, which is why people write articles such as this. Whether that influence is good or bad is the question.

3) Many churches advertise themselves as "come as you are", but they don't actually mean that literally. If someone attended every week wearing a bikini or thong, even the person who wrote this article would eventually say something. The argument "Well, at least they are coming to church" does not solve the problem. Even churches with very casual clothing practices for worship have a limit on what they would allow.

4) Why do Christians believe they have to wear casual clothing to reach an unsaved world? Who decided that casual is "better"? I "dress up" for church and have never had anyone visiting our church feel initmidated by my "dressing up". People were made to feel comfortable and welcome, and clothing did not have any relevancy at all.

5) Modesty is a clear Biblical principle, yet many (most?) churches seem unwilling to get very specific about modesty because they are afraid of the label "legalist". So, in practice, churches allow/tolerate almost any type of clothing.

6) I have noticed that more than a few people (and pastors) who promote their casual dress at worship seem to do so with a little pride that they dress casually for church. (Of course, people and pastors who "dress up" can be prideful as well.) They even believe they need to specifically mention the issue on their churches' website in order to alleviate any concerns visitors may have. Seems odd that people emphasize so strongly their casual clothing.

7) The often-repeated "God looks on the heart, not the outside" usually pulls the reference out of context. They forget that Christ told the Pharisees (Matthew 23:25-26) to clean the "inside of the cup" so that "the outside may become clean also". Christ emphasized both internal and external "clean". The debate is about what clothing appropriately represents externally/internally clean in worship.

Cool Although some do not like the slippery-slope argument, I think a significant observation is how some Fundamentalist Christian colleges have been gradually changing their dress code over the last 10 years toward a more casual dress code, to the point where almost every picture you see portrays students wearing very casual clothing, even at formal events.

Clothing for worship is not irrelevant, and God does "care what we wear at church".

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

Through most of history, most people have had one or two outfits, and hence for all but the upper middle class and rich, the notion of casual and dress clothes as separate categories was simply not part of their lives.  You might clean up on Saturday night before church (though in the Middle Ages, even that was a rarity), but you really wore about the same clothes you worked in all week.

Also of note is that most European and Middle Eastern cultures of the time--through most of history until 100 years ago or so--did not value a "good tan", and hence clothes tended (again, apart from the nobility and such) to cover pretty well.  

Hence--and you can see this in art of the past--you would tend to see a lot of workingman's clothes at church, often patched, but (apart from things like nursing mothers), not a lot of skin.  Food for thought, I think.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JD Miller's picture

Scripture does address it, but many that want to make an issue of dress in church end up teaching just the opposite of what the scripture says.

Jas 2:1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes,
 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,"
 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
 (NASB)

Scripture does address modesty in the New Testament, but the context is very clear.  The passage is talking about costly array.  

1Ti 2:9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments;
 (NASB)

It grieves me to know how many end up teaching the opposite of what these passages teach when the issue of clothing choices and church comes up.   I get that some people had some of these issues pounded into their heads by the world and the traditions of the world, but we need to look to scripture not worldly traditions.  For years, the world said that dressing the best made people more holy.  Scripture does not say that.  (BTW it does not say that dressing sloppy or casually makes one more holy either, but if we are going to talk about this issue, let us make sure we are saying what the scriptures say, not what our generations traditions say).

Bert Perry's picture

I would suggest that one big reason for the modern resistance to suits & ties and the like comes specifically from the 1950s-1990s insistence on the same.  More or less, in this period--and probably earlier--churches more or less persuaded workingmen to more or less adopt the attire (suit & tie) of the professional classes, only at a workingman's budget.  The end result is that you had a ton of people wearing polyester suit & tie (with dacron shirt!  Yay!) in churches without air conditioning in August.

My experience is that a lightweight wool suit with a cotton shirt--or better yet linen suit with handkerchief linen shirt--is tolerable to 90 degrees plus.  Polyester, you're sweating at 70.  Worse yet, budget shirts are not sold as neck size/sleeve length, but rather s/m/l/etc..  So you had a generation "sweatin' to the oldies" every Sunday, and their kids internalized the lesson "suit & tie is incredibly uncomfortable."  You had the same effect in reverse during the winter--static cling and a suit that (ironically) didn't keep one warm below 60F.

Women's fashions were similar. 

Now the tragedy here is that churches didn't recognize their mistake and simply say "hey, we screwed up, wear something that you're comfortable in, fits your budget, and looks good to you."  Instead, we responded to position A of "dress like you're white collar or the wife of someone who is" with "dress fashionably".  More or less, we made the same error in reverse.

I'm no fan of a lot of what I see--I joke that in our country with > 50% obesity, putting sparkles on the tuches of our jeans is not exactly a smart move--but I think we've got a great opportunity to really come back to (h/t JD) what Scripture says about this matter.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

I've never said men must wear suits/ties. Straw man argument. The entire question of what to wear to church needs to try to form objective standards for different cultures. Otherwise, pretty much anything goes. And each new generation will push the limit of what is acceptable/modest/appropriate. Strange how people can become accustomed to whatever clothing standards are popular, often without much thought about what they wear, except to consider if they "look good". Also: I don't know anyone who taught that wearing your best clothes to church "made you more holy".

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

T Howard's picture

My observation about "dress standards" in church is that they mostly (if not exclusively) target women. In other words, women are taught that if they don't wear the right style / length of clothing, they are causing their brothers to sin. This is why when women reported sexual predation in the past, they were often asked what they were wearing before the incident occurred.

No, my brothers, if we think dress standards are important for church, we need to apply them equally for all and make sure we're not communicating that women are responsible for men's lust / sin.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I was never taught that wearing my best clothes to church made me holy.  I do remember being taught a lot of "give your best to God" in combination with what we wore.  In reference to the James passage, I also remember being taught that since not everyone could afford the same, if a person dressed to their best on Sunday that we were not to look down on them, nor be jealous of those who could afford better than we had.

As an adult, I tend to see things more as JD put it above, though I agree with Wally that people will always push the lines on modesty and appropriateness.  Due to what I'm sure is my background and cultural leanings, as well as age, I lament the change in recent years to more casual dress, even as I have no scriptural reason to tell others that dressing up is necessary.  I'm certainly glad that most true believers see no need today to dress extravagantly to show off what they can afford, since that's unbiblical too.

On a personal note, I started dressing down quite a bit when our church started having outdoor services due to Covid, for pretty much practical reasons.  I noticed that over time, even when we had been back in the building for a while, my dress habits for Sunday had not changed.  A few months ago our church went back to having Communion more regularly, with passed-out elements instead of the pre-packaged ones.  I kind of took this as a signal that the church was done with Covid, and I started dressing up more on Sundays again.

I'm still one of the few (among the men, at least).  This past Sunday, there were only two other men besides myself wearing a suit coat, one of those being the pastor, and I was the only one with a tie.  I guess I'll just have to get used to being different.  (Since I'm fast approaching my 60's, I already expect to be out-of-step with the younger people in any case.)

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

Wally, wasn't trying to accuse you at all, but rather (see Dave's comment and yours as well) just note that suit & tie for men was the unspoken application of "give your best to God" in terms of clothes.  It was even generally the case in liberal churches when I was a teen, really, and it sure turned a lot of people against classic menswear.

Really, I think at certain points we need to go with Jude and say "you know, there will be people in our church who come in "vile raiment", and that is a good thing.  It's good to see worn fabric, patches, even a rip every once in a while.   At least if it's real, I guess.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

We had a guy attending some years ago who dressed in a sweatsuit for church. He wanted to sing in a quartet special, so I let him know that our standard for any leading in the worship service was a minimum of a collared shirt and khakis.

I told him this downtown at lunch where I met him on his break from work. He was wearing a tie. (Standard for his job.)

He told me he couldn't compromise his principles.

And also that I was the worst pastor ever.

I guess.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dave White's picture

I have a relative who dresses like a farmer (bib overalls) to church (in suburbia).

I find it embarrassing but at least he's there.

He routinely wears odd clothing. He and his wife shop used clothes. They aren't poor so I don't get it.

Oh well

 

JD Miller's picture

I have a relative who dresses like a farmer (bib overalls) to church (in suburbia).

I find it embarrassing but at least he's there.

He routinely wears odd clothing. He and his wife shop used clothes. They aren't poor so I don't get it.

Oh well

I learned a long time ago that when it comes to fashion, what one person thinks is odd anther thinks is cool.  I want to make all feel welcome at church regardless of my opinion.  I personally think that a polyester suit that glistens in the light looks kind of cheesy, but I want to be careful not to put down someone who comes to church in one.  When we were on deputation, a pastor wearing such a suit, was critical of my black jeans, tie, cowboy boots, and western sport coat because his standard was shiny polyester with matching shinny shoes (were were on deputation to plant a church in South Dakota).  I am glad his standard was not bib overalls.  I did not have a problem with him wearing shinny polyester.  I had a problem with him expecting everyone else to wear it.

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me, per Don's note, that there is probably a reason someone forced to wear a tie at work chooses not to at church.  At Mayo (Rochester's mostly benevolent overlords), a lot of the professionals resent it quite a bit, especially because they're not "customer-facing".  It goes back to the thing a lot of us, myself included, remember from the 1970s and 1980s.  

So I'd guess that there might be a tremendous amount of ministry that could be had in asking the "why" of why someone would want to wear sweats or such to church.

A side note is that there are a few social trends that make this a far more difficult thing to address.  First, you've got fast fashion, which tends to substitute spandex for skill and fit.  So for not a lot of money, a person can be "fashionably" attired, even if they happen to be a 32 waist squeezing into a 30 waist pant or a size ten squeezing into an eight or six.  Second, heating and A/C is a lot better than when I was a kid "sweatin' to the oldies" in a church without A/C, and hence a lot of people don't see the need to "dress for the weather" or "dress for conditions" anymore.  I see it in the family vehicles when I sit down and notice that the A/C is turned on super high on a day that's only going to get to 70 degrees.

Regarding responding to this, what I'm trying (with differing degrees of success) with my family is to point out that when you're relying on A/C and such to stay comfortable instead of proper attire, you're basically throwing money out the window, and you're conditioning yourself to need something that, quite frankly, may not be available going forward with all of the environmental restrictions being pushed.  Plus, proper attire allows you to go outside and have fun when it's 20 below or 90 degrees, get exercise, and delay the need for your triple bypass as Medicare collapses.

Might be a good option for a fun class for teens--you'd need to address it in a non-judgmental way, but it could bring generations together, etc..

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JD Miller's picture

So I'd guess that there might be a tremendous amount of ministry that could be had in asking the "why" of why someone would want to wear sweats or such to church.

John 1:14 tells us that when God became a man, he stayed filled with grace and truth.  Even though he emptied himself of so much glory, he stayed full of grace.  It grieves me that a pastor would set aside grace on such a trivial matter and miss a wonderful opportunity to minister.  I also understand that sometimes pastor's hands are tied in these matters because of long standing policies instituted years earlier.  I wish as well that the man who did not receive the grace he expected had shown grace even though he was hurt.