What Not to Wear…at Church

Written by Drew on September 15th, 2006

A recent article published in the Salt Lake Tribune got me thinking about a conversation I had a few years back with a friend from college. My wife and I were going to be passing through her community on our way back from a vacation, and she invited us to church, since we would be coming through there on a Sunday. We acted interested, so she started telling us what to expect. She mentioned that her church was not like the one we attend. Already I began to be troubled. If an invitation to this church required a disclaimer, I might not want to accept it.

She said a number of things, but the thing that finally led me to decline the invitation related to the way I dress on Sundays. “Drew,” she said, “please don’t wear a suit.”

“Why not? I always wear a suit on Sundays.”

“We’re casual. We try to cultivate a more relaxed feel,” she said in tones of cultural refinement.

“Well, can I wear a tie?”

“I’d rather you not.” When she said this, I told her that if there was a dress code designed to enforce casual wear, I’d just as soon go somewhere else. And we did.

The Salt Lake Tribune article addresses what people are wearing in Utah churches these days. The styles range from business attire to flip flops and t-shirts. While many groups still dress up for worship, the trend puts comfort before formality.

One anecdote the article shares illustrates an all-too-common attitude.

Catholic educator Dan John was getting ready for church on a recent Sunday and put on a pair of sandals. One of his teenage daughters at first queried, “Sandals at church, Dad?” and then answered her own question: “Well, Jesus wore sandals.”

“That was the most appropriate answer I could have heard,” John says. “The most important thing about church is going. That’s it.”

The controversy over appropriate dress is not limited to church. I remember a news report that came out around the time of President Reagan’s death. Americans were coming from all over the country to view his body. Some of them were dressed appropriately, but others showed up in tank tops, halter tops, shorts, t-shirts and sandals. All over, respectful attire is on the decline. Modesty, as a serious subject for discussion, has been left on the back burner.

I’ve heard the excuse a million times: “God sees past neckties and dresses. What if a person can’t afford nice clothes? Would God not want him to come to church anyway?”

The problem with this argument is that members of churches in poorer districts are better dressed than those in affluent neighborhoods. This isn’t about wealth.

And God does care. Reverence is a major factor in worship. When David worshiped, he declared, “Holy and awesome is his name!” (Ps. 111:9). Somehow, sweat pants and flip flops send a slightly different message.

Under the Old Covenant, which was a shadow and example of things to come, the Israelites were commanded to offer their best to the Lord–the best of their flocks, the first-fruits of their grain. The mode of worship has changed, but attitude the Lord expects remains the same. Clothes send a signal. They may bespeak respect and honor, or they may say comfort is more important.

What have you been wearing to church?


8 Comments so far ↓

  1. Wes says:

    I realize that there is a great need for balance and sensitivity with this issue. Really it all comes down to how we show respect and reverence for another person. At the very least we should show God the same respect that we show others of importance in our life. I think that the prophet Malachi speaks to this point when he describes the poor offerings of the Jews. He says,
    “Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly? says the Lord of hosts”
    The implication is that they were being disrespectful of God in ways they they would never think about treating their physical rulers.
    Also, the way that we dress affects the way we preceive the seriousness of what we are doing. We must take care to avoid the extreme of a dress code, but we must also avoid the extreme of thinking our dress does not matter at all. Yes, Jesus wore sandles. We must acknowledge that our culture sets standards of what is respectful and disrespectful. While many of those things are changing, as Christians it is not our place to be on the cutting edge of changing that culture (1 Cor. 11, Philemon)

  2. Theophilus says:

    “The most important thing about church is going.” I don’t think so. The most important thing about worship privilege is the privilege to worship, to worship God, in spirit and truth. God is the object of our devotion and interests. Many “go to church,” without proper concern for this great privilege and responsibility.

    God is concerned about how we appear before Him. To Israel He said, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Exodus 19:10, 11).

  3. almcfaughn says:

    I think Theophilus hits it on the head.

    Somehow many, including many Christians (tragically) have been able to justify a complete separation of worship and the rest of their life. So long as they “put in their time” at the building, they are okay with God.

    It’s time for a lot of preaching, teaching and (as Drew has done) writing reminding us that our Christian walk should be the center of EVERYTHING we do. When we get that back in our minds, we will be more apt to give God the best in all we do; including our clothing.

  4. Lee Fenner says:

    I can vividly remember this anecdote some ten years ago. My brother and I were not Christians but we were looking for the truth. After being invited to a gospel meeting I showed up dressed like I just came from the beach or the gym—shorts and muscle shirt. As the evening drew to a close I saw the elders making a beeline course from the very front of the auditorium to the very back (where I was). I thought, “Well, they like to offer a lot of personal attention!” To the contrary, they gently rebuked me for my improper attire. Nevertheless, I didn’t storm out of the building in a fit of fury. And neither did I have a problem wearing more reverent attire at my next visit. Nearly three months later, my brother, mother and I were baptized into Christ on the same evening!

  5. Daniel says:

    Great thoughts Drew!

    There’s a reason why most people won’t wear pink bunny slippers and a Hawaiian shirt to a funeral; that is, reverence and respect. If we will respect and honor the dead and reveal that in how we dress on an occasion, can we not reverence the living God in our attire?

    Good thoughts!


  6. Ike says:

    In defense of the Reagan funeral…

    I was in DC at the time on business. I had an opportunity to go, but passed it up for two reasons.

    One — the viewing happened during the only window I had that week for free time, and the lines were very long. I chose to relax instead.

    Two — the lines were hours long, and it was oppressively hot. I recall temperatures in the mid-90s. The local Red Cross was handing out bottled water outside to keep people from passing out.

    Now, consider that a lot of those tourists who were in DC had no idea they’d need to pack for such an occasion, and didn’t have the means to buy clothes. I certainly wouldn’t have enforced a dress code under those conditions — that would have been lethal.

    Everything else, well said. Just not a good supporting example.

  7. The Berean Examiner says:

    God look at the heart more than then the outside while man look at the outside more than the heart.

    I remember along time ago go to the type of church that Drew was talking about. At that time, I was very much of a legalist so what happened blew my mind. The reason that I was a legalist at the time is because I was raised up by very strict legalist. Thank God that I found the truth and the truth set me free. Praise God. I remember having my head down and eyes closed thinking about Christ on the cross during the Lord’s Supper, during that time, I heard what sounded like flip floops so I raised my head up to see what I was hearing. Guess what. The guy serving the Lord’s Supper was wearing flip flops, shorts and t shirt. That blew my mind. I lost my train of thought. I should not have took the Lord’s Supper at the time but being a legalist, I thought that I must take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and only on Sunday so I took it.

    To close and tie this back to what Drew said. Yes, God looks at the heart and man looks at the outside. God’s greatest two commandments are to love God and to love your fellow man. One of the ways to love your fellow man is to help his faith, not hurt his faith. As Drew said, So, what do you wear to church? Is what you wear to church going to help or hurt your brother’s faith?

  8. Josh Woods says:

    Drew, I understand what you mean about showing respect to God through our attire, but I also think we must be careful to avoid binding a dress code as God’s law. Maybe we should view it simply as a good rule of thumb.

    I grew up at a church that more or less communicated that God does not recognize worship that comes from someone not wearing a suit. If there are churches at the other extreme – that is, openly discouraging suits – I think we’ve got just as serious of a problem.

    Personally, I try to dress in a way that will best fit the particular church I’m worshipping with. I worshipped with several different churches this past summer, and a couple of them, I knew in advance, were pretty casual. No, I didn’t wear shorts and flip-flops, but I did dress it down a little.

    At the congregation I worship with most of the time, we have a diverse group of Christians, and several different styles of dress are represented. I often try to wear a suit, but if I’m running late, I don’t hesitate to just throw on a pair of khakis and golf shirt. Both styles of dress are well represented among the people I worship with.

    I’m comfortable with that because it helps send the message that we want anyone to be able to come into that church and feel at home. If someone comes in wearing his or her Sunday best, they’ll fit in just fine. If they come in looking terribly less than fashionable, they’re still fine.

    An interesting note: At at least one of the places I worshipped over the summer, there were some artsy types among the worshippers. Knowing several of these people personally, I’ve never seen them in suits, and frankly, I can’t imagine them putting one on – even to go to the White House. They just wouldn’t look right. 🙂

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