Clothing has an important role in life on numerous levels. It’s used in many ways and it holds various purposes. From the very beginning of humanity, individuals have used clothing to protect themselves and to serve specific needs. As time progressed, clothes began to have other forms and purposes outside of function. Clothing in today’s culture continues to do the same with several elements contributing to use; fashion, desire, and meaning. As culture has changed it’s the Christian Church has seemingly followed. Changes in culture have significantly effected use, style, function, purpose, and preference throughout the centuries. As clothes have changed in culture, the change can also be seen in the church. Church denominations, geographical areas, as well as political views all play a role in the decision of what to wear to church. This can be particularly seen in today’s Christian churches. So the question is, how do certain clothing decisions effect our church experience, personal connection to others, and the Divine?
Many church goers have opinions on this topic however the discussions of clothing and the church does not seem to be well articulated, nor for that matter in current written form. While individual opinions are ever present, detailed thought on the subject is lacking compared to other theological topics and “preferences” when it comes to church. Church music, preaching styles, missions focus, and other topics have much more discussion.
Clothing has changed quite significantly over the last few thousand years in form, function, style, and material. Cultures use of clothing has seen changes in the work place, places of leisure, recreation, politics, and sports. The trend seems to also be impacting church. Some professions, have seen little change over the last few decades while others have seen immense change. Professions such as banking, financial advising, politicians, and attorneys continue to have a standard of dress that still sees a suit and tie as the standard of expectation. The cultural expectation for those in our financial industry: advisers or bankers is to wear suits and dress clothes to serve our financial needs. Politicians are also expected to dress in certain ways when speaking to the nation and working to get elected. In the financial industry and political venues this is the standard while at church a pastor or parishioner who is dressed in this fashion is stuffy, unapproachable, and seemingly a hindrance to preaching the Gospel message. So why is this and how can Christians put a well articulated discussion on the table to take into account more than just preference, comfort, stiffness, tradition, and “approach-ability?”
This article is not written to spark debate about what clothing should be worn to church or to take a specific position. It is written to develop awareness, understanding, and assist in the development of the way people think. A persons ability to articulate answers and make statements regarding these types of topics is important. Having and answer or holding a position is important, not for show but as an understanding and dedication. Having answers question shows knowledge and awareness. While this topic might not be an issue to some, it inevitably effects believers. This article is also looking to help to foster Christians ability to verbalize a belief and make an argument for their belief that is much more than a single statement or regurgitated idea.
This discussion can be a starting point. Further in-depth study can be simple. The use of a concordance can give insights into scripture. A simple systematic theology study can be done to deepen topic understanding. (The Gospel Coalition has a good article on these available resources) Simple searches through online resources like, Blueletter Bible, Bible Gateway, Bible Study Tools, Study Light, Bible Hub & Logos software can help someone search further. Diving deeper illuminates much more than knowledge, it immerses a believer in God word and gives a greater ability for the believer to answer questions like, “why is this important”? As culture changes and moves toward a person centered existence, the necessity for thoughtful answers by believers is critical for evangelism and disciple making. The use of canned quotes or excusing the topic this topic only weakens a believers ability to walk along side others and support them in meaningful ways.
For instance, a typical argument or dismissal of this topic is generally something along the lines of “its not a salvation issue”, “its not a major issue, we should major on the majors not the minors”, “what’s in our hearts is more important than what we wear externally”, or “God knows my heart”. A statement on the other side is made with something along the lines of “our dress is a part of worship and it is also important to show reverence”, “if God is so important to us, then why do we treat God the same as we treat this world”, “God deserves our best”, or “there is a dress code when we meet our president or king so why not God” .
A solid biblical argument could be made for all of these statements, on both sides of the discussion. Both sides can consistently point to parts of scripture and theology to support their stance. Just because something is consistent doesn’t mean it is accurate. Simple answers may be acceptable but the deeper level of the questions still remain. Some simple answers may be OK for non Christians or even young Christians in their faith, a long time or mature christian answering in this way seems concerning. There is definite truth that this topic is not a salvation issue or even a topic that most will desire to have due to its “minor” position in the larger discussion of Church. However, it is a topic that is visible and does create conflict among church attenders and believers. It is not a topic that unites but one that divides. If Christians are divided on a topic then it should be one that is worked out and not just put away and ignored.
Below are several website and blog posts that have some content addressing the topic. There are several different stances listed below as well as different ways of communicating view points. These are listed as references as well as to show the depth of content available. None of these depict an exhaustive approach to the discussion. (It should be stated that it was somewhat difficult to find articles and content with some level of legitimacy and detail of point.) In order to help create dialogue, it is important to first know what is out there for the average reader online and of what is readily accessible in making an impact on peoples view points. (Overall the amount of well detailed and articulated discussions are lacking).
- Why Do they Dress That Way? Peoples Place Book No.7
- The Look: Does God Really Care What I Wear?
- Modesty: More Than a Change of Clothe
Online content and Opinions
Again this discussion is not designed to pin one group against another or say that one clothing style is required for church attendance or worship. For Christianity to effect the world it is important to have discussions and answers. The discussion here is to increase knowledge and understanding on a base level. Parsing out scripture verses and/or focusing on an exegetical stance to understand what scripture says will be a deeper work. To simply brush the topic off as a non essential is too easy and lazy. At some point in an individuals faith journey they will asked, “What should I wear to church?”, “What does God expect of me?”, or “Why do some do this while others do that?”. The simplest answers are the easiest but also may not be accurate. Answers to these questions do not have to have hour long discussions or presentation of content that takes up a thousand pages in a theology book. The answers do require a legitimate thoughtful response. Sometimes a short answer is all we have time for or it might be the best option. A short answer though should not be all that we have. After a simple answer, a christian should continue to have more to give as their foundation and knowledge is sound.
It is important to note that individuals should not be focused on impressing God or others with the clothes they have and the success they have achieved. It is important to recognize that our earthy clothes will fade, they will decay, and will ultimately not look like they did when they were new. What people have materially today will cease to matter in a few years, decades, or centuries.The discussion about clothes in church is not a discussion of the exterior appearance but of an interior decision and mindset. Our cultures decision to choose more casual clothes at work or when attending church should and needs to be discussed due to the internal decision going on which does impact our external actions. Each decision an individual makes can effect their connection to the divine. God desires connection & humanity is built for it. Humanities connection and humility to God is what this discussion is about. While many may think that clothing has little or nothing to do with “their connection” with God, the decision on why they choose the clothes they wear could. It is known that clothing can effect someones psychological state as well as unity with others. This can be seen with fans of sports teams, players on teams, Military uniforms, and others. The discussion of clothing in the church is deeper than preference, ritual, expectation, or caparison with culture.
God meets unbelievers where they are at. God desires heart felt love rather than action oriented show. Believers are held to a higher standard of living and faithfulness as a result of their faith and commitment to God. Dressing in a certain ways does not mean one is or is not saved nor does it guarantee that they are more Holy than another. It is important to ask though, what does a person clothing choice this say about a Christian? Is there a concern for comfort rather than commitment? The church needs to be aware and concerned about their stances on issues.
Clothes play a role in every job. Certain jobs require specific rules to follow and roles to function in. The attire that an individual wears for the job can very depending upon specifics of the job role, safety/function, job location, as well as how the attire helps the individual connect with a customer, individual, or group being served. Clothing effects how people work, play, and rest. It should not be out of the question that clothes play a part in worship, the question is how big of a part does it play and of what importance?
God may not mandate a specific set of clothes to be worn today. However, does God this give a believer the right to do what he/she wants? If people are more willing to dress up for work, an event, holiday, or going out for dinner, than why is it not the same for church? If someone is so focused on presenting themselves to the outside world with what they have, are they also too focused on impressions of man and the divine? The questions needs to be asked so that believers have the ability to answer. The world has questions and Christianity needs to be ready. If believers are actually focusing on God, what would their clothing decision actually be? Is the decision a divinely inspired one or predicated on our comfort and our desires. The concern on both sides of the argument seemed to be focused on the individual rather on the Divine. It is interesting how cultural trends have effected the church more than the church effects the culture it is serving in. Is this one of those times and topics?
A believers faith in God can and should impact every area of their life. As a believer grows and matures, answers to difficult questions and topics must be developed. What do clothes have to do with it? Maybe not a lot on one hand, but maybe significantly on the other.