At a Pastoral Workshop Conference, the main instructor informs his audience on how important the issue of “image” is in a man’s ministry. This particular lesson was intended to teach the ministers on how to act and look like pastors. Simply being a pastor was not enough. Looking the part was the key. The better your image, the more successful you would be.
A family getting ready for church on Sunday morning spends lots of time choosing the right clothes, lots of time in front of the mirror, lots of time straightening every collar; adjusting every tie; examining every color coordination.
One woman even said, I would instead, miss a service altogether, rather than to attend one wearing pants.
“How we look” is far from being an irrelevant or minor issue. “Dressing up for Church” is a vital subject in our institutional church series. What are we portraying to be and why?
Do we follow the culture? What does our culture say about dressing up?
It should be no surprise that our culture speaks very loudly concerning matters of dress. It is said that your clothes send a message about you. Your style of attire speaks of your economic status, social circle, sophistication level, morality and mood. How you dress can say, “poor” or “well-to-do,” or “boring,” “handsome,” “beautiful,” etc.
Right or wrong, clothes often generate judgments about a person.
Fashion designer Bradley Bayou says “Consciously choose clothes that make you feel authentic, that say something about your personality before you even say a word. Align your clothes with your personal goals. Use your clothing as a form of social communication. The clothes you wear can change the attention you get, the kind of people you befriend and even the kind of dates you attract.”
In studying the issue of dress and its impact on society, author John T. Malloy says that, among other things, "the tie is probably the single most important denominator of social status in the United States today" and that "poverty does not sell." In regards to group behavior, Mr. Malloy found that in the office place, those with dress-codes “experienced more punctuality, productivity, and initiative from employees.”
Again, in our culture, there are types of clothing that express a relaxed, common environment. These are “family times,” ballgames, picnics, shopping or dining. Then there are other types of clothing that express “importance,” or “social status.” These can be found at weddings, job interviews, etc.
Clearly, our culture says much about the way we dress.
Do we follow the Scriptures? What do the Scriptures say about dressing up?
This should be the only real question in this article. What does the New Testament have to say on this matter? Are we commanded to dress up for meetings? Is it even hinted at?
Many Christians sincerely believe that it is irreverent not to “dress properly” for church meetings although, when asked, they are unable to prove their opinion from the Bible. And, regrettably, many of these same Christians are also quite critical and abrasive in their propagation of that belief. Does God require us to dress appropriately for church meetings? Is it irreverent for men not to wear a tie? These questions must be answered.
As we look in the New Testament to see who was well-dressed and who wasn’t, we find the following examples. People who didn't dress-up in fine clothes include:
- Christ: Laying aside His material possessions Luke 2:7; 2 Corinthians 8:9; etc. It lies with those who wish to force fine clothes on us to prove that He wore any. The nicest clothes He had on earth were given to Him in mockery in Luke 23:11. He was not known for being attractive in appearance in any material sense Isaiah 53:2; and He spoke disapprovingly of the special religious items worn by the Pharisees as being for show. Matthew 23.
- The disciples: Matthew 10:10
- John the Baptist: Matthew 3:4; Luke 7:25. There was nothing cultured about John the Baptist. He ate bugs for dinner, and dressed in camel's hair. Yet, Jesus called him the greatest born amongst women Matthew 11:11.
- God's two witnesses during the Tribulation: Revelation 11:3.
- Lazarus: Luke 16:19-20.
People who did dress appropriately include:
- Scribes and Pharisees: Matthew 23:5; Mark 12:38.
- Rich man who went to Hades: Luke 16:19;
- Herod: Acts 12:21.
Which company would you prefer to keep?
Also, notice in Luke 7:25 that Jesus specifically said people shouldn't expect His servants (John) to be “dressing up.” He said rather that those who do so are the elite of the world.
In Revelation 3:14ff, Laodicea was rich and had need of nothing and the believers thought themselves (among other things) quite “affluent.” But the Lord tells us that in His eyes they were naked (Revelation 3:17). He wasn’t impressed with anything.
The issue of a believer’s dress is mentioned additionally in two other passages. In James 2:1-4, we read:
My friends, as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance. Suppose a rich man wearing a gold ring and fine clothes comes to your meeting, and a poor man in ragged clothes also comes. If you show more respect to the well-dressed man and say to him, "Have this best seat here," but say to the poor man, "Stand over there, or sit here on the floor by my feet," then you are guilty of creating distinctions among yourselves and of making judgments based on evil motives.
I Timothy 2:9-10: In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but with good deeds, as is proper for women who claim to be religious.
Similar instructions about clothing are given in 1st Peter 3:3-4.
From the Scriptures, we can draw the following conclusions that dress should be modest; specifically, dress is not to be overly showy or ostentatious. The Lord is pleased with the inner qualities of a fine character and is unconcerned with outward appearance. Discrimination based on dress is wrong.
We can see that the society of the first century was much like ours in its attitudes about clothing. We can also see that these attitudes are in direct conflict with the teachings of the Holy Spirit.
Do we follow our church? What does the church say about dressing up?
On the subject of dress, the church today clearly sides with the values of our culture and society over the values of the Scriptures. Can there be any doubt about it?
The tradition of the church is that a "Sunday morning worship service" is a semi-formal, dress-up event. Jackets and ties for men. Dresses or skirts for ladies, with appropriate make-up and hosiery. The expense and effort involved has already been mentioned, but members accept the tradition and its importance. It is so universal that it is taken for granted.
How can we justify it? We can't. But as with everything else, here is some of the lame-brain reasoning’s that people offer as being spiritual and marks of a true Christian character:
- "The priests had special clothes in the Old Testament and all believers today are priests."
The only commendable thing about this argument is that it at least attempts to use the Bible. But to model the physical aspects of “worship” after the Old Testament practice is surely to confuse the nation Israel and the church! Along with special clothing for the priests, the Jews were to have special altars, sacrifices, anointing's, etc. How can you say that special clothing is to be kept while throwing away all of the other physical aspects of their worship? This is totally irrational (which shouldn’t surprise some). To keep the physical aspects of Jewish worship is to miss the point of the New Covenant as clearly taught by the Jesus in John 4:20-24. Today, “worship” is not based on physical forms, but it is to be "in spirit and in truth."
- "We want to impress our visitors so they will want to come back."
Which visitors are we trying to impress? Would a "poor man in ragged clothes" be impressed? Would he want to come back? Would he feel welcome to do anything at “the church?” What would James have said? Did the Christians he wrote to want to impress their visitors, too? These reasoning’s have been used to justify expensive church buildings and leads to another consideration: is the church supposed to be noteworthy for its “affluence?”
-"Dressing up shows reverence and respect. Wouldn’t we wear our best for a meeting with the President or our business associates? Then we should wear our best for God."
This kind of reasoning is heard more frequently and more loudly than the rest and invites a host of questions.
Does the Bible teach that reverence and respect is shown by dressing up? Doesn't "best," as we use it, mean "expensive"? Is this how the Holy Spirit defines "best?" Weren't the women who wore the elaborate hairstyles and gold jewelry in the first century wearing their "best?" Why weren't they applauded for their reverence?
Do the President and God use the same values in judging us? Or are you simply assuming that the Lord must be like the President? If my "best" suit is a tuxedo, wouldn't I be showing “great reverence” by wearing it? Was the "poor man in ragged clothes" irreverent? If reverence and respect is really shown by dressing up, why are we not “dressing up” on Wednesday nights? Or for home Bible studies? Or all the time? Does the Lord only require us to be reverent on Sunday’s? Are we trying to impress God? Or maybe our fellow Christians? Do you actually think God will favor you more and help you grow spiritually because you are wearing a nice dress or a suit and tie?
-“You need to make yourself look presentable!”
This is closely related to the previous reason. Think about that statement. Presentable for whom and why are we trying to make ourselves "presentable" before God or each other? In the body of Christ isn't it only Christ who makes us presentable before the Father? Isn't our acceptance of one another in the family of God to be based on Christ's acceptance of us rather than anything external? And besides, do we really act this way around our natural families? Why do we regard our Christian family "in church" so formally and so differently (not to mention artificially) from our natural families and the informal, sincere relational interaction we have with them?
-Dressing up is part of doing things in a "fitting and orderly way." (1 Corinthians 14:40).
Again, why weren't the women who wore elaborate hair styles and gold jewelry commended for their propriety? Wouldn't a tuxedo be fitting and orderly? Is a "poor man in ragged clothes" violating this instruction? Are we then doing things "chaotically" on Wednesday nights or in home studies? Finally, is this passage really discussing clothing? Is it discussing physical appearances at all?
-"Any clothing that attracts attention is immodest. If I don't dress up like everybody else, I would be dressing immodestly."
Does the Bible really teach this definition of immodesty? Would a "poor man in ragged clothes" be immodest? Was John the Baptist immodest? Would a Pharisee who refused to wear phylacteries like his colleagues be immodest? Does the Bible teach that we are to pander the actions of others?
All of these reasons fail to hold up under even the least scrutiny. The only reason they have lasted so long is because we fail to search the Scriptures like the Bereans. We become complacent and comfortable in following whatever “our church” and its “leaders” pronounce. We fail to scrutinize them, as we are commanded. 1 John 4:1
The real reason we "dress up for church" is because the world has taught us so.
Our society; our culture has told us this is the respectable, commendable, and the responsible thing to do: look good outwardly and the church follows along.
Is it really important whether or not we “dress up” when we gather together on Sundays with other believers? It is important, if you invest in that clothing anything other than the fact that it is just there to cover your body and protect you from the elements. The minute you begin to think of showing some sort of reverence or respect, or the minute you attribute “spirituality” or even the appearance of spirituality to clothing, there is a problem and you have entered into the realm of great deception.
Doesn’t our text mentioned earlier, James 2:1-4, make it clear that the presence of a person wearing fine clothes in the assembly was an exceptional situation, not the standard?
It was as uncommon as someone coming into the meeting with “ragged” clothes. If fine clothes and “ragged” clothes were uncommon in the New Testament gathering, couldn’t we conclude that the norm was for Christians to wear regular clothing that was neat and clean? This of course, makes perfect sense since believers in the New Testament met in each others homes! It wouldn't even cross most people's minds to dress-up to visit their friend's house.
Again, the Scriptures state in 1 Timothy 2:9, Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discretely, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works."
This tells us at the minimum that our dress should be humble, plain and simple. Certainly our clothing should not be expensive, ostentatious or flashy. We are gathering for edification and fellowship, not for a fashion show. The goal should not be to draw attention to ourselves. Dressing-up for meetings is a sign that ensures that the attention and eyes of others are on us rather than on the Lord.
Our real adornment should be Christ-like character. Rather than giving instructions for what physical clothing to wear, the New Testament instead instructs us to "put on the new man" Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10; "put on the whole armour of God" Ephesians 6:11; "put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience ... and beyond all these things, put on love" Colossians 3:12-14). Even in glory, our adornment will be "the righteous acts of the saints" Revelation 19:8.
We should be adorning ourselves with our character. Are we to believe that God commands us to impress Him or each other with our clothing? Are we to believe that God expects us to be concerned with the outward? Isn't this the opposite of 1 Samuel 16:7?
Is reverence not important? No, but we must be reverent in the ways the Lord requests, not in the ways man devises.
In Mark Chapter 7, the Pharisees accused the disciples of being irreverent because they didn't follow the tradition of the elders. Jesus didn't commend the Pharisees for inventing new ways to show their reverence, but rather He said, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men."
Adding to the word of God isn't acceptable regardless of your motives. Insisting upon unbiblical rules isn't reverence; it is presumption; it is "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men."
The Christian life should be a normal, natural life. We should be very cautious, and even skeptical of any teaching which suggests a double standard in our lives. Owning two sets of clothes, one for the “church meeting on Sunday” and another one for everything else, certainly supports the pattern that the church is more of a show rather than a natural part of our lives.
People in the New Testament would not even have thought of dressing any differently for their gatherings than they normally did. Only the odd rich person would come to the meetings in fine clothes because that was the way he normally dressed. And only the odd poor person would come to the meetings in "ragged" clothes since that was the way he normally dressed.
And again, let us remember that those who truly believe God requires us to dress-up when coming into His presence had better be consistent. Do they dress up for their private devotions? What about their family devotions? Are we forbidden to pray in our work clothes or in the shower? Don’t we come into the Lord's presence every time we pray, not just when the church prays - Hebrews 4:16, 10:19-22? Isn’t our right to be in His presence based on the person and work of the Lord Jesus, not our clothing?
Not only are these people insisting upon humanly-devised forms of reverence, but they apply them in the most inconsistent way; and all of this without any Scripture verses!
Unfortunately, there are many in the church today who are causing contention and division among God's people by pushing a belief that has no biblical support. Insisting that we dress-up may appeal to their human reason and senses; may be how they were raised; it may be what the world expects, but it is not the word of God.
The Bible does not teach that we should dress-up for meetings. It teaches that our clothing should be humble and modest. Beyond that, the Lord desires us to adorn ourselves with Christ-likeness. Being dressed in the righteousness He gives and being dressed in His character is how we daily bring honor to Him.
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33