Growing up I attended a more traditional church. On a typical Sunday people would show up to church in their “Sunday Best”. Of course I grew up in Australia so Sunday Best could also mean dress shorts and nice sandals. One of my best friends attended the same church. I worked in construction so I wore comfortable work clothes all week and didn’t mind dressing up for Sundays. My friend worked in a bank so the last thing he wanted to do was put on a suit on the weekend too.
Here in America there seems to be a broad range of opinions about how to dress for church. Many contemporary churches have opted for the casual look while many traditional churches have kept the formality. As a young youth pastor I vividly remember the first time our pastor didn’t wear a tie, and gasp, preached with his shirt untucked. These days of course jeans and t-shirts are the norm, and even old guys like me will wear untucked short sleeved shirts. Some churches though, still hold to a higher dress code.
It’s funny though, no matter whether formal or informal, church goers will still try to make a fashion statement. The contemporary churches have websites dedicated to the preachers’ sneakers and fancy pants, while some of the folks arriving at traditional churches look like they are walking a fashion runway in their bright suits and fancy dresses and hats.
Of course the Bible doesn’t say much about what you should wear to church. The OT does give some very specific instructions to priests and ministers, but those have more to do with holiness than fashion.
So God probably isn’t concerned about WHAT you wear to church, but I don’t think it hurts to ask WHY.
The obvious point is that when we gather as the church, we are gathering to worship God, the creator of the universe, so whatever we do, or whatever we wear, we should do it to honor Him. I think this is where the idea of Sunday Best comes from. That when we are gathering for the express purpose of worshipping the God of the universe we should dress for the occasion. Most of us recognize that if we are applying for a job, or going to a formal dinner, or appearing before a judge in a courtroom, we dress appropriately. I think its appropriate to dress in a way that conveys honor, reverence and worship.
Does that mean we need to wear expensive or extravagant clothes? No, of course not. We all know that God looks at the heart, and not the appearance of a man, but I do think its appropriate to ask yourself “Does what I am wearing accurately reflect my attitude towards God?”
I doubt that in Jesus’ day people wore their Sabbath Best to synagogue. I doubt that many people had a closet full of tunics to choose from. Instead I imagine they showed up in everyday wear. I imagine that is appropriate for church today, so long as my attitude is not one of apathy or disrespect. I don’t need to wear a $1000 suit to worship Jesus, but I should at least put on a clean shirt.
The second point I would make is this. Does what I am wearing draw attention to me?, or Does what I am wearing draw attention away from Jesus?
In my years of church attendance and ministry I have seen it all. Football jerseys on Super-bowl Sunday. Adults in superhero costumes on Halloween. Patriotic clothing. Political clothing. Clothes that advertise goods and services. Farmers in cover-alls. Single adults in full plumage trying to attract a mate. Even teens in board shorts and bikinis because they were going for a surf after church. Are any of these really inappropriate? Well, perhaps the girl in a bikini, but apart from that, what is the real issue? Two simple questions. Am I drawing attention to myself? Am I a distraction for some else? I’m a big fan of the Seahawks but I don’t want someone to miss a great sermon because they had to sit near someone in a Green Bay jersey.
Even as I am writing this I can feel the offenses rising in those who will read it. I’m not trying to be religious or petty, but if we would humbly and honestly ask those questions we wouldn’t have to wonder if that dress is too short or those pants too tight? And women don’t think I am picking on you, many men should look in the mirror before they leave the house too - do we really need to see another hairless hipster’s chest, or wonder how he got into those too-tight skinny jeans?... and guys, if you’ve ever wondered to yourself, “Is this shirt dirty?”, it probably is.
As I said this is not about being religious, but it is about honor. Honor for God and honor for each other. I’m not questioning your fashion sense, or whether you should shop at Nordstrom or Costco. I am challenging us to renew our sense of awe for God and His church, to think about what it means to be invited into the presence of God, to recapture that sense of awe and reverence. In the end I don’t think it matters what we wear to church, but it doesn’t hurt to ask why. Sadly though, if you’re like me, the answer might be uncomfortably simple - it’s what was clean or what still fits.
By the way, as long as we are required to wear masks to church we might ask the same questions. For instance, if your mask is so bedazzled that your head looks like a disco ball, or if your mask looks like something a teen would wear on halloween night, or if your mask is emblazoned with a controversial or antagonistic statement, you might want to ask your self - Why would I wear this to church? Will my MAGA hat or my BLM t-shirt really draw people closer to Jesus?
You get the point.
One last thought, Paul said in one of his letters, these are my thoughts, not the Lord’s. I would say the same for this piece. Take it with a grain of salt if you like, but at least consider what I have said.