"Whatever happened to putting on your 'Sunday best'?"

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mmartin's picture

Does it matter what we wear to a church worship service?

Yes, it does.

I don't believe we have to be fancy, but sloppy doesn't cut either.  How we look on the outside does matter.

Bert Perry's picture

I would argue it is one of many indicators of one's heart--does one show up, what is one's attitude, etc..  Dangerous to point too much to it, because you start picking on the poor family for whom frayed jeans ARE their Sunday best, but I think quietly, one can start pointing and say "it's important to me to do X, Y, and Z because I WANT to be here, I WANT to get to know HIm better, and..."  I'm thinking it's one of those places where the pastor ought to hint to the deacons, the deacons then (if they're qualified) will quietly let everyone else know.

My 2 cents, and a bargain at half the price.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

James K's picture

Hopefully it died the death it needed to with some of the other culturally driven nonsense the last century embraced.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

farmer Tom N's picture

Every time I hear this question, even from those in my own church, I wonder if they have read James 2 lately?

2" For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? 8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." ESV

Why is it that fundamental Christianity came to the conclusion that God is somehow glorified if we all dress up like bankers, lawyers and ladies of the evening when going to church?

I Samuel 16:7 "7 But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."

Let me tell you a quick story. Back in my Bible college days the college president spoke in chapel one Friday morning on this very subject. Made it clear that good fundamentalist Baptist Christians wore a suit and tie to church on Sunday. Lectured us for our laxity in our dress standards and told us in no uncertain terms that we as students there were required to "wear our Sunday best."

Several of us went back to our home churches that weekend. My roomate told me the following story on Sunday evening when we got back to school. A deacon in his fundamentalist Baptist church was a licensed Dr. of Veterinary Medicine. He was also a deacon in that local church. A true man of God who lived out his faith everyday while serving the farmers in his community. He also took one week of his vacation each summer to go to Bible camp and organize the small group Bible studies of the Senior High campers. 

Anyway this particular Sunday morning. Dr. V had to go pull two calves from cows that were having trouble delivering on their own. His business area was about 20 miles east of the church, and by the time he drove to the two different farms, pulled the calves and made sure they were going to live, time was getting short. The last call was only about 7 miles from the church. He could have driven the 13 miles back to his home. Changed into his Sunday best, then drove the 20 miles back to church. But, he was already late.

So Dr. V showed up for church late that Sunday morning, wearing jeans with a little bovine effluvia on the pant cuffs, a flannel shirt with some small blood spots on it and a pair of pliers hanging from his hip. It just so happens that this was communion Sunday. So Dr. V came in the back, heard a few minutes at the end of the sermon, and then joined the other deacons in serving the Lords Table.

My roommate's question that Sunday night was this, "Do you think God cared that Dr. V came to church with effluvia stains on his pants, blood on his shirt and pliers on his hip, but a burning desire to be with God's people, in God's house, remembering Jesus Christ and His shed blood in observance of the Lord's Table,  or should we believe that God was much more concerned that Dr. V show up in his Sunday best?

Yes it's a rhetorical question. And yet it shows the absurdity of having a standard of outward appearance as a determining factor in discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. 

I knew and loved Dr. V, a man who loved God, a true follower of Jesus Christ in word and deed. And I am convinced that God was pleased that Doc took the time to worship in the house of the Lord with his fellow believers, regardless of his attire.


Ron Bean's picture

I have been told by a number of well-meaning, serious minded people that God is pleased when men wear ties and suits to church and that men who don't wear ties to church are disrespecting God.

A hurricane devastated a small town. When Sunday came, power was still out and the little church had its morning meeting outside. One of the elders arrived wearing warm-up pants, a tee shirt, and Crocs. The pastor (with his tie and white shirt) pulled the elder aside and asked, "Why are you wearing that?" "It's all I have," replied the elder.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

I think the primary problem in this discussion is that it tends to revolve around particulars. To claim a coat and tie is "always" what should be worn is demonstrably false since no one wore that in the Bible. We get further when we look for guiding principles than we do trying to articulate specific applications. This where we got the idea of "Sunday best" in the first place.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Bert Perry's picture

....and others who have or will note that when we make "Sunday Best" a hard and fast rule, we inevitably run into cases when sweats or bovine-tinged overalls IS their Sunday best at that particular time.  Along the same lines, I once received a rebuke about not always being on time--never mind the difficulty of getting six kids into the car, and never mind that it's (per Chip) also not a Biblical principle, as the affordable personal clock was first brought to market in 1860.  "Oops."

Always so nice when we elevate our own personal culture above the Word of God--and my apologies if it seemed that is what I was doing in my previous comment.  Need to make the distinction clearer.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Lee's picture

Reverence is the standard for worship throughout scripture, and is communicated in many ways.  Yes, dress is one of them, though it may look quite different from culture to culture.


John J Stewart's picture

Having walked with the Lord for nearly 50 years, I go back to the days when most people dressed up for any formal occasion.  I didn't think twice about dressing up to go to church for the first time.  Nobody told me to.  It was just that I was going to a church and the church was there to worship God, Whom I later gave my life to.

A few years went on and I was teaching junior-high boys in Sunday School.  About that time there was a furor in the public schools about dress.  There was (I guess) an unwritten law that you should dress decently when you went to school, which everybody did.  ...until one day when those who were considered rebels came to school in jeans and other clothes generally considered to be unsuitable for school.  But I was not a kid anymore, so rather than come up with my own opinion about why this was happening, I asked the boys in my S.S. class why some were dressing down when they came to school. 

They said, "To defy authority, to show lack of respect."  It was a put-down to authority. 

That was a good lesson for me.  It has guided my dress for many decades.  Most of my working years were spent with full suit and ties.  Sure, I would take off the suit coat at my desk, but if I had to go with a meeting to a customer, I would want to indicate the most respect to them, so I dressed accordingly, with a suit coat on.  I wanted them to think that I respected them.  This was not the time to say, "Stick it in your ear."  And I was not trying to impress anybody; just respect them.  Do you understand what I'm saying?

In later years my church experiences have changed.  People don't have an attitude like I did the first time I went into a church.  In a "nothing matters" society, a church service is apparently not worth respecting.  I don't judge what I can't see, but I wonder why they dress to the nines for funerals or weddings, but not on Sunday morning.  I don't think they are trying to mimic kings with gold rings at the funeral or wedding; do you?  Don't you think it is because of respect?  Aren't they trying to honor someone, either the dead or the living in this case?  So if that is true, is there no honor at church?  Is there Nobody to honor?  Should we dress up for Sunday mornings but not Sunday nights?  And if someone has to come in less-than-the-best for reasons that are none of our business, why should that affect how we dress?  Do we come for our Lord or for ourselves?  Who are we dressing to honor and respect?

My own decision in these new environments is to dress to the highest level of most people in the church; "highest" meaning the one that would give the most respect to my Lord.  If jeans are the best anybody wears, then I will wear jeans.  I would never dress to be a "put-down" to anybody who dressed up for church.  I respect how everybody dresses, but prefer to give the greatest respect to the One who died for me. 



John J. Stewart

Susan R's picture


is something very personal and the surrounding heart issues can only be determined by oneself and those closest to us who know what is going on in our lives. 

I don't think asking the question is necessarily out of line, because we do show respect by how we dress - we understand that certain occasions (weddings, funerals, and the like) call for adherence to a culturally acceptable dress code. We view appropriate clothing as a symbol of our esteem and appreciation.

But the comparison stops at a point because of the the purpose and atmosphere of corporate worship and spiritual edification. Does reverence for God and the desire to encourage others necessitate formal attire?

But this does not render our every day ('common') come-as-you-are attire as 'spiritual' or 'honest.' If we care for our fellow worshippers as we ought, we will take them into consideration as we dress for worship. We will clothe ourselves in ways that edify them and strengthen their own worship. We will attempt to avoid the nonchalant attitude that says this event is entirely routine; that it merits nothing special from me; that my only consideration in what I choose to wear is what is easiest and most convenient. 

This thinking sets us up for failure. I wear to church what I wear every day because that is all I have. We aren't 'poor', but I have a limited wardrobe, and an assortment of "Sunday best" outfits are not in the budget and won't be until college for three more kids is paid for. What I wear around the house, to the library, and to Kroger is what I will wear to church on Sunday. So someone who sees me at the library, Kroger, and then at church in the same shirt, skirt, and sandals could read the above quote from the article and say "That Susan - church must not be special for her, since she wears the same thing every place she goes". The only exception is for what I call 'grubby' work, for which I have 'grubby' clothes. 

Am I going to worry about what people think of what I wear? No. If someone wants to make a determination of my attitude toward church based on how many nice outfits I own, they are free to do so.

Personally, I think when folks stop caring about the things of God, there are other much more obvious and accurate clues than clothing choices.

On another note, the analogy I've heard most often about the need for special clothing for church is the requirement for the priest's garments and the formality of serving in the Tabernacle/Temple. However, now that we ourselves are the temple of God, the analogy breaks down. 

dcbii's picture


I used to hear a lot of the arguments about "if you would dress up for the President, why wouldn't you do so for the Lord?"  To some extent that argument rings true, but I think we fail to apply it from the scripture properly.  Others have already mentioned the James passage about partiality, and the scripture that tells us that the Lord seeth not as man seeth, but looks on the heart.  We do dress up for weddings, funerals, and to meet important personages, but in all those cases, we are honoring man.  A man can't see the heart.  What does God want when we honor him?

We have other scriptures like Psalm 51:17 that tell us that the sacrifices the Lord desires are a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart.

We also have a couple of scriptures that mention what the Lord requires.  A partial list would be to fear him, walk in all his ways and commandments, to love him, to serve him with all our heart and soul, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.  Not only are none of those having to do with dress, they mostly deal with what's in our hearts.  Isaiah makes it clear that if the heart is not right, God doesn't even want our sacrifices.

None of this means, however, that we can't dress up if we believe it's the right thing to do.  It's just not clear that this is what God really wants from us.  I'm convinced that if we put half as much time into preparing our hearts for worship, being contrite and confessing our sins as we do preparing what people see (which God looks right past), I think it would be much more pleasing to God.  Our Sunday best should mostly mean what is on the inside.

Being from an older generation, I still wear a coat to Sunday services at my church, and if I go elsewhere, I try to dress more nicely than I would to go to work or the mall (let alone a sporting event), though I will adjust that based on what is customary at the location -- I don't want to be trying to impress with how I am dressed, even though I also want to prevent people thinking I am rebellious or unconventional.  In other words, I don't want my dress to stand out -- Sunday worship should be about God, not about me.

Dave Barnhart

pvawter's picture

dcbii wrote:

I used to hear a lot of the arguments about "if you would dress up for the President, why wouldn't you do so for the Lord?"  To some extent that argument rings true, but I think we fail to apply it from the scripture properly.  Others have already mentioned the James passage about partiality, and the scripture that tells us that the Lord seeth not as man seeth, but looks on the heart.  We do dress up for weddings, funerals, and to meet important personages, but in all those cases, we are honoring man.  A man can't see the heart.  What does God want when we honor him?

I don't disagree with you here, but it's incomplete. When we gather together as the church, it is not only to worship God but to serve one another. Several have pointed out that we show respect for others by how we dress, so I think it is legitimate to ask ourselves what our dress is communicating to those around us, respect or disrespect?

JD Miller's picture

About 15yrs ago an older saint was complaining to me about the Christian youth wearing carpenter pants.  He did not like them because he said that a lot of the the teen pop singers were wearing them and they were therefore worldly.  I did not even know what the teen singers were wearing (does that mean that I was less worldly than this older gentleman? LOL)  Using his logic we should also avoid suits and ties because of the worldliness of some lawyers, politicians, and even some singers.  I like to remind people that neck ties originated with French mercenaries and are therefore worldly in their origins.  I do however wear ties anyway because I realize that few people view them as rebellious now just as few people view blue jeans as rebellious.

PS.  I really liked Tom's post above, but for those who know him, perhaps we should see if we can find him a red, white, and blue suit coat with stars on it.

farmer Tom N's picture

You know and I know that I have a red, white and blue neck tie to wear with a jacket, if I wear a jacket.

And if I wear a western style vest, I have a bolo tie with a flag on it.

I'm prepared, I just refuse to dress to a standard set by the bankers, lawyers and political hacks of the world.

Now, I struggle with whether I have an issue with nationalism over patriotism, but that's a discussion for a different thread.


donovankrebs's picture

I don't think it matters what you wear to church as long as you keep modesty in mind, yet I am the type of person who tries not to go to the grocery store in sweatpants. I think jeans and a nice shirt are church appropriate these days. I myself have many more jeans type outfits than dressy clothes because my occupation does not require me to have many dressy clothes or afford me to buy a lot of them. Just something to think about.