Dressing up for church

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.

12 thoughts on “Dressing up for church

  1. I’m with you, Matt. While one can certainly dress up for the wrong reasons (e.g., to belittle others, to show off, etc.) the concept of expressing respect and reverence for God, by means of our appearance, shouldn’t be that hard to grasp. Unfortunately, our culture now seems to consider one’s “comfort level” to be of supreme importance. Hence, we see church community mailers headlining the fact that there’s no “dress code” at their church – “come as you are.” While we are certainly obligated to welcome anyone into our midst, should we be about emphasizing a “dress down” mentality?

    This issue is by no means limited to the church environment, either. The business world has seen a dramatic decline in how “professional attire” is viewed. For those who state, “I could do a better job in shorts and flip-flops”, I ask, “If you had to appear in court, would you want your lawyer to show up dressed in shorts and flip-flops?”

  2. In our modern, industrialized society, it does not cost much to dress up a bit for church. Granted, two hundred years ago, when one had to spend a month’s wages on a clean shirt, this was an issue. But, it is not an issue any longer. I do not think there should be a church dress code, of course, but one should be appropriately dressed for the solemnity of the occasion. If I attend a business meeting, I dress for the occasion. If I show up slovenly dressed, I disrespect everyone present and reveal myself to be less than professional. A lady or a gentleman will dress not to impress or belittle, but to respect his brothers and sisters. On the other hand, a $1000 Italian designer suit would also be inappropriate, as it would evince a sort of materialistic pride. A balance must be maintained. Simple propriety is the key. I once heard a wise preacher say that the mode of delivery should fit the message. Thus, a Barney costume, for instance, might be appropriate for a silly song, but it would not be appropriate for the preaching of the Gospel. If we attend church to serve the saints, relative propriety in attire should be kept in mind, for, serving the saints is no small thing. In doing so, we serve our Lord Himself.

  3. I would also like to say that my comment on your former post about the “All White Trash Saints Church” was not meant to disparage anyone. I have known many poor people in my time who were far from “white trash.” There is a qualitative difference. Being the “trash” of society is a state of mind, a way of life, not a socio-economic state.

  4. No one truly “dresses” for himself. I get dressed because I love my neighbor, and do not want to cause him distress, and my naked body would cause him a great deal of distress.

    Very often the message we send to others is quite different from the one we think we are sending. I may think I am sending a message that I am a free spirit and independent, when the true message is disrespect for others, selfishness, and laziness, or that others are despised.

  5. I was going to say that Pastor Powell always says we dress so we do not walk around naked. That is it. I was also going to say, in todays society the young women of church, in general, need to be respectful as well. I have heard of young men saying that it is very hard to sit through church and worship when they are getting a skin show everywhere they look. I have not seen this in our church, but in other congregations.

  6. Tess,

    Your comment speaks as much to general dress as it does to “church” dress. Christians should not advocate a Muslim style burka, but modesty is certainly a Christian virtue. When a woman bares her body in her dress, she is, in effect, displaying a “for sale” sign. Of course, unlike the street whore, the woman who bares her body in her dress, doesn’t even have the advantage of being paid for eliciting the lust of onlooking, strange men. Now, a woman may certainly look beautiful. It is not as if she must dress to make herself look ugly and unattractive, like a barbaric, ungodly Mohammeden. After all, even modest, male dress is designed to make the man look thin, broad shouldered, and, in short, manly. However, there is a boundary. There is a certain secret to a woman’s form that must be kept for her husband alone, reserved for the man who truly loves her and is committed to her in all that he does. There remains a womanly treasure that is priceless, which requires a life devotion in exchange for its divulgance. Our culture, unfortunately, perceives a certain power in the female form, a power of sexual attraction, as if the female gains power over the male by reducing him to a salvating dog. In reality, the woman is reduced to a slave, a concubine, as if the woman were designed to serve base, male lusts instead of being a companion for life. I believe the pop culture deems this dymanic “girl power.” What the woman is really doing is selling herself, selling her priceless secrets for nothing. Something in her soul is lost in exchange for this lustful power. From an eternal perspective it is quite sad. Certainly, no one will physically lust after a rotting corpse as the soul burns in eternal flames. Christians should not be prudes. But, Christians should be contextualized prudes. A woman’s body belongs to her husband. She shames him and herself when she bares it indiscriminately for all to see. As you have indicated, it is especially dispiriting when this worldy practice is displayed within the walls of a church. Instead of dressing to attract, a woman ought to dress as if she were made in the image of God, for so she is. She should dress to accentuate the modest womanhood, the exquisite, subtle beauty that is the substance of her divine pride. She should dress as if she were a great prize to be won, or a prize already won by her husband. A woman ought to be like a priceless piece of art to the general public. She may be admired by all as beautiful, but touching that beauty is out of the question, as the beauty might thereby be spoiled. I think, therein lies the difference between feminine beauty and the shameless eliciting of base lust.


  7. Great post. Very instructive.

    Andrew, I appreciated your comments as well. I am particularly concerned with the dress of young women in our churches today. Although not so bad on Sunday morning, the dress of Christian girls outside of church often makes them indistinguishable from unbelievers. (Unfortunately, one of the reasons I had to disallow my children from attending my former denomination’s camp was because of the scandalous attire of many of the young women—and councilors.)

    Christian young women, and especially their parents, need to seriously consider what you wrote. They also need to realize that when girls display themselves in that way, they can be a party to adultery, due to their manor and dress (Mat. 5:27-28).

    In addition, the Lord looks upon these types of displays harshly. Consider the first two verses of Isa. 3:16-26:

    16) The LORD says,”The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles.

    17) Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the LORD will make their scalps bald.”

    Instead, parents (myself ncluded), Christian young women, and pastors and elders need to consider what the Lord desires, as described in the first three verses of I Pet. 3:2-6:

    2) as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

    3) Your adornment must not be merely external–braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;

    4) but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the mperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

  8. Of course, it is easy for me to wax stalwart on the female dress issue, being that I have four sons and no daughters. The truth is one thing. Making teenaged girls comply is quite another, indeed. Although, I suppose I will be busy trying to keep my sons from chasing the scantily clad women. Ah, the exquisite joys of modern parenting!


  9. Just keep praying that my girls are not scantily dressed, although I really do not see it happening with any of them, I will just say “Go ask daddy,” and that will end that. Thank God for good daddies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *