Q. I’m truly put out with the way some folks dress for church. They wear jeans and t-shirts. They don’t wear a tie or even a coat. Dresses are almost unheard of now. Don’t you think people ought to dress their best for God when they’re in church? They dress better for weddings than they do to be in God’s house. I think we need to hear more about this, too. How about it?
A. The question is candid, clear, and sincere. I’ll do my best to reply in kind. Let must confess straight off, however, that somehow through the years I’ve missed the text that says the more uncomfortable you are and the more you sweat, the more inherently pleasing you are to God and the easier it is to keep your mind on worshiping him. It likely precedes the passage that talks about how Jesus regularly gave the “what for” to the prostitutes regarding their choice of clothing, but then again, I’ve missed that one, too. Be that as it may, with the Scripture I am familiar with firmly in mind, three thoughts surface.
1. Dress up is for dolls, not the Deity. “Dress your best for God” is the best you’ve got? It might sound like good theory, but how does it play out in the real world? Not so good. Playing dress-up is no biggie for the rich, but it’s a back-breaker for the poor; their best can’t compare with what the rich wear when they’re gone fishing.
How does “dress your best for God” play out with Scripture? Not so good. We’re reminded that human beings look on the outward appearance of a person for indications of value or worth, while God thinks very differently. Is God impressed by fine clothes or jewelry? No, but he is quite sensitive to our considering others before ourselves. We give our best to God not so much by what we wear, but by the way we’re sensitive to not wear on each other’s nerves. Consequently, we must not dress in such a way that the differences between social classes are accentuated. We are a part of the “church of Christ,” not the “church of crass.”
Or are we actually more concerned with keeping those subtle, and some not so subtle, distinctions in place? First Corinthians and James’ letter, anyone? You’d think the ink was still wet on the words of Paul and James for these issues are just as much alive today as they ever were in the church … or perhaps even more so since we live in the wealthiest nation in history. We’re not to be about subtly, perhaps even unconsciously, filtering out the poor or keeping them “in their place.” We are to be about deliberately breaking down needless, worldly barriers that separate humanity. We’re to be one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). We’re to be about deferring to the needs of others. How about Romans 12 and 14? The onus is on the well-to-do to consider others before themselves, not on the poor to do the impossible.
2. Restrictive clothing should be restricted. What does that mean? It means whatever restricts the truest expression of the character of the living God should be relegated to the recycle bin. Free your mind to think afresh about these things. Here are three springboards:
a. If a church’s clothing guidelines (written or unwritten) restrict a believer’s ready identification with the congregation (such as expecting the preacher to wear a suit and tie when he’s virtually the only person in the building who wears such anymore), then the guidelines need to be revised. Clothing shouldn’t separate people with symbols of role or rank. That’s for the army, but not God’s army.
b. The habitual wearing of attire that is highly suggestive, provocative, showy or ritzy will surely restrict the ability of some others to think on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, etc. Consequently, it should be recognized for what it is, clothing that restricts a believer’s expression of our Lord’s use of restraint in his life. If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it. If you don’t have it, don’t try to fake it.
c. Clothing that restricts believers from thinking outside of an “us and them” mentality should be relegated to the trash heap. Questions? See 1. above.
3. Brothers and sisters should wear clothing that binds. We are not our own; we were bought with a price and have been added together to the family of God. So then, believers should dress in such a way that reflects, not distracts, from, that fact. When we come together as a church, part of our worship to God is to express our “boundness in Christ” in every way possible. As Christ-followers, it should be our joy to choose to dress in such a way as to assist in bringing the body of Christ together, not in making some sort of blatant statement about our own body, personal abilities, gifts, or attainments. Try to wear clothing that helps bind Christ’s body together. This is the best way you can dress your best for God.
We would all do well to ask ourselves some honest questions. Here are five for starters:
a. “Does my clothing draw attention to me or does it help others stay focused on the Christ within me?”
b. “Would I be caught dead wearing this in the presence of the holy, living God who is quite well aware of what sort of messages my clothes send every day of my life?”
c. “Does my attire contribute to the encouragement or discouragement of my brothers and sisters?”
d. “What does my concern for what I see others wear say about me?”
e. “Is my perspective based on Scripture or rooted only in routine or tradition?”
When we gather together as a church, all things should be done to the end of building up the body of Christ, and that includes the choices we make in what we wear and how we perceive others, despite what they do or do not wear. Dress in such a way that the cords of fellowship are cinched all the more tightly, not stretched and frazzled.