Dress in church is a hot topic for some Christians. I have heard reports of churches that have clothes closets for visitors who come in “inappropriately dressed,” which means all kinds of things. I don’t know if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
There are those who think that you should “give God your best” (who never seem to show up in a tuxedo or a formal dress). There are others who think it doesn’t matter (who are pretty easy to spot).
The Bible, so far as I can recall, says two things about dress in church. In 1 Timothy 2, women are told to dress modestly, with a list of what that means. Interestingly, the list does not include plunging necklines or rising hemlines, both of which I oppose in church (and most other places). It actually includes jewelry and personal adornment.
What’s the principle? Do not call attention to yourself.
In James 2, the church is warned about treating people based on the clothes that they wear.
What’s the principle? Do not let clothes be the issue that includes one in the church or excludes one from church.
So how should we dress for church?
I think there are a lot of people who, IMO, try to hard to “dress up” and “look sharp” for church. They make a bigger issue out of it than they should. I think the are others who, IMO, try to hard to “dress down.”
First a disclaimer. I grew up in a suit and tie culture. I learned to tie a tie as a very young child because my dad tied his ties and I wanted to be like my dad. My mom would cut the tie to a length that would work for me but she couldn’t do anything about the width, so think the wide ties of the seventies on a five or six year old … the knot was as big as my head (insert your own joke here). I wore a tie almost everyday from the time I was in 9th grade in 1983 until the day I left my job in retail sales for the last time in June of 1993. I actually did wear a tie two days into my first ministry position until I figured out I didn’t have to. I like ties. I like suits. In church, that is my comfort zone.
Having said that, I don’t wear a suit or tie very often these days. I will wear one to marry you and bury you (in neither occasion will you be thinking about me), and on rare other occasions. Why? Because of my community. I get the sense that the last time most people wore a tie and coat somewhere was their senior prom. And they probably rented that one.
Do you know the only time I see someone in my community in a tie? Here’s a hint: It is the same guy I see many mornings in the diner. He usually sits about three or four tables away and getting ready to go to his job at City Hall. He’s the judge. I am not sure that is a good model to follow for the people I want to reach.
You see, I think this is a wisdom issue. The Bible gives no directives on the matter, and therefore Christians, in whatever time and place God has providentially placed them, should use their wisdom.
I am persuaded that we should dress in a way that does not stick out in the community among the people we are trying to minister to. Remember the principle of modesty in 1 Timothy 2? Do not call attention to yourself.
In order to do this, you need to understand your culture. You need to know what people in your community are like, what they wear to work and to leisure.
Someone recently asked me what I thought about how SS teachers, ushers, deacons, etc., should dress in church. My response was this:
Since the Bible gives us no directives, it is a wisdom issue for the church, and I really can’t answer that question for a community I don’t live in and don’t know anything about.
I would ask the business owners what kind of dress they require for their public employees (receptionists, salespeople, etc.). I would look at the salesmen, who make a living convincing people to buy something from them. I would look at school teachers who teach everyday for a living. Why? Because these are the kind of people who regularly communicate with others in the community, and they probably dress in a way that makes sense in their community.
These days, I preach on Sunday morning in a pair of dress pants and an open collar during the summer and a sweater during the winter. I could very easily wear a suit and tie. I did for years. But that’s not my community.
As with many things, I think we probably just need to open our eyes, be sensitive to the people God has called us to reach, and be sensible in our thinking