Opinion: Does it Matter What We Wear to Church?
In recent years, there has been a struggle between wearing our “Sunday best” and the call to “come as you are.” There are dangers to both views on this.
“Many come to bring their clothes to church rather than themselves,” 17th century theologian Thomas Fuller claims. He warned against the idolatry of dressing up to simply parade status. Perhaps this is why the “come as you are” culture in church is so prominent today. Historically, people concerned themselves with dressing their best to simply keep up an appearance at church. In the process, judgment would fall on those who didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, dress the same.
Times have changed drastically since Fuller made his stance. Whereas in previous generations, wearing “street clothes” would show lack of reverence to God, now it is the opposite. Dressing up is an offense, a way of showing God that you can present yourself well without his help. Essentially, as Jon Bloom writes for Desiring God, this issue presents a juxtaposition between respect for God and authenticity before Him.
It seems that Liberty University leans on the side of authenticity. It is rare to see college students in suits and ties or formal dresses going to churches. The culture of Liberty, both on campus and in church on Sunday, is an invitation to wear what you want and let God change your heart.
Whether in this age or previous ones, there are at least two considerations to make concerning church attire. First, be modest (specifically in terms of drawing attention). We should not go to church to show off ourselves but to marvel in the glory of God and serve each other in love. At church, no matter what we wear, our primary directive is to “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good…” Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:9, 13). If this is our primary concern, then we will carefully dress ourself in a way that is neither tempting or distracting, but instead one that shows a heart of service to the church.
Of course, the Bible does not list specific guidelines for how to go about this. There is no verse that says “Ladies, no crop tops, and guys, no tank tops.” The Bible gets at the more important issue and expects us to use discernment in working this out. When our hearts are set on worshiping God, we will welcome both the man with the gold ring and the man with the tattered clothes (James 2:2-4).
The second consideration is that we do not elevate our church apparel to a place of idolatry. If we can’t stand dressing up for church or we feel as if we can’t worship God in formal clothing, we may cling too tightly to the comfortability of casual clothing. On the contrary, if we can’t worship in a casual setting, we may be focusing too much on the appearance of church.
The Bible stresses the importance of how to dress our heart. We need to let go of the things we once idolized, putting on the garments of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience (Colossians 3:12). If we concern ourself with this first and foremost, we will humbly and compassionately be able to discern what to wear to church every week.
The Bible reminds us that our heavenly outfits will be the same. Because of the saving death and resurrection of Christ, pride, temptation and attention-seeking will cease to exist. Then, everyone will wear robes of purity (Revelation 7:9). We will wear clothes as pure as our hearts in the presence of our God. Until that day, the most important thing about attending church, however, is that we dress our heart appropriately.
Bower is an opinion writer. Follow him on Twitter at @j_with_the_pen.
Thank you so much for addressing this issue from each side of the spectrum. If we are too far either way we need to take a closer look at the intent of our hearts. We need to be able to become naked before God, with a pure heart so that we may bring others to Christ just the way they are. Because that’s the way He accepts us all.