The last post, humorous though it was, raised in my mind a question that’s often brought up- is it necessary to dress up for church? And if so, why?
God is no respecter of persons. God does not look on the outside but on the inside. Dressing up earns us no favor with God. People who do not have nicer clothes should never feel embarassed or ashamed, and people who do have nicer clothes should never make others to feel ashamed.
But there is another spirit that one sees all too frequently in our society, and that is the spirit that says, “God doesn’t care what I look like, so I can come to church dressed as slovenly as I want.” “Sunday best” was an expression that had more meaning in our culture just a few years ago than it does now, for it used to be taken for granted that you should dress up in your nicest clothes to come to church. Why is that? Did people truly think that God would value them more highly for wearing a jacket and tie or a nice dress? Or perhaps people used to know something about church that has been well-nigh lost to the church today?
Consider Colossians 3:16- “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Note here part of the purpose that the apostle assigns to acts of public worship- “teaching and admonishing one another.” This is to say that our public worship is not just an individual act between myself and God. I can do that perfectly well at home by myself or out fishing. If the individual relationship to God is the only part of the Christian life that matters then church would be unnecessary. But Scripture constantly points us to the truth that God saves us by making us part of a body. The membership in the body of Christ is a crucial part of the means by which we are perfected. And when I go to church, it is not simply myself and God there, with a bunch of other people also having an individual relationship with God at the same time. We are there as a body, and we are there to teach and admonish each other.
God can look on my heart, but another believer cannot. He can only look at my outward dress. If I am invited out to a nice restaurant by a friend of mine, and I show up in a dirty t-shirt and cut-off jeans, what does that tell my friend about my respect and affection for him? If I go to a job interview dressed like a bum, what does that tell the prospective employer about my attitude? I can say whatever I like, but my clothes will be part of the message. So it is with church. How I come dressed to church will be an important part of the message to other believers about the importance I place on church, and part of my purpose in being there is to teach and admonish other believers. This is true not only of a pastor, but of every member as well. Col. 3:16 tells them to teach and admonish “one another”.
So I’m not in favor of dress codes, and I’m not in favor of turning church into a fashion show. Jesus’ warnings in Luke 20:46 are relevant here too, about the Pharisees who loved long robes for the ostentation of it. But I do think we need to consider what message we’re sending to other believers about how we value church by the way we dress on Sunday morning.