What should I wear to church?

Clerical Garb?It is common to hear some among us say that a person ought to wear their very best to the assembly. They reason that when we go for a job interview we wear our best. Or, if we were going to meet some dignitary we would put on the best clothes that we have.  If we are going to put on our best clothing for mere men, then should we not do so for God?  It is said that wearing our best to the assembly shows our reverence and respect for God. In addition, we want to make a good impression upon our visitors so they will come back again. These are all good opinions but our opinions really don’t matter. What does the Bible say we should wear to the assembly?

What does the Bible say that Christians should wear to the assembly?

The Bible says nothing specifically about what our attire should be when we meet together. The Bible tells us that Christians are to dress modestly as we learn from the two passages below addressed to women.

“…women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.”   –   1 Timothy 2:9-10

“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”  –  1 Peter 3:3-4

But these passages say nothing about the assembly; Christians are meant to dress modestly at all times.  We are also clearly warned about showing partiality based upon a person’s apparel.

“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”   – James 2:1-4

These passages say nothing about a “dress code” beyond modesty. James says that we are not to treat people differently based upon what they wear to the assembly!  Beyond these passages, there is nothing else in the Bible that I am aware of which would indicate how Christians should dress.  It would seem that the Bible’s only instruction for how we are to dress is that we dress modestly.  This is true whether we are at the assembly or not.

What does tradition say that Christians should wear to the assembly?

While most will admit that the Bible does not require us to “dress up” for the assembly, what we really believe can be learned by our actions. Actions after all, speak louder than words. Men who are leading the assemblies are “encouraged” to wear coats and ties.  Young men who attend wearing jeans and casual clothes are admonished (often in a joking manner) to come better dressed and with a clean shave even though they are dressed modestly.  Young families spend money that they could put to better use elsewhere on expensive clothes for themselves and their little children who will soon outgrow them.  Some will skip the assembly altogether if circumstances don’t allow them to go home and change before services even when the clothing they already have on is modest.

The tradition of the Churches of Christ is that a Sunday morning assembly is a semi-formal, dress-up occasion. Ties and coats for men and dresses or skirts for ladies, with all of the appropriate accessories.  It is usually acceptable that Sunday evening assemblies are less formal and Wednesday evening is more casual still.  Until someone can show me a Scriptural basis for this tradition, I must conclude that this tradition is based upon the preferences and opinions of men.

Arguments for the church “dress code”

Dressing up shows reverence for God. If we would wear a coat and tie to meet a VIP, then we should wear our best when we “meet” God during the assembly.  This reasoning at first seems compelling but I wonder if we wear our best to be pleasing to God or to be pleasing to men? After all, when we dress up for a job interview or to meet with a VIP, are we not trying to impress them? Is God “impressed” by the best clothing and fashion we can afford?  Is God impressed by the same things that impress men?  Do we only show reverence on Sunday morning? Is God only to be revered and respected on Sundays?  What about when we meet on Wednesdays or in someones home for a Bible study?  Are these not also important occasions?  If wearing our best is important and shows our respect for God, then if I own a tuxedo I should wear it to church. Indeed, if wearing our best is important and shows our respect for God then I should be wearing my tuxedo all the time.  He isn’t only watching me on Sunday. Has God told us in the Bible that we show reverence by what we wear to church?

We want to impress our visitors. If fine apparel is how we impress visitors, then we should also construct elaborate cathedrals which are lavishly furnished instead of using spartan meeting houses.  After all, if they are to be impressed by outward appearances we shouldn’t skimp by just wearing fancy clothes. With what are we trying to impress them?  Are we trying to impress visitors with our fashion sense and affluence? Is not the gospel message sufficient to bring them to God?

What kind of visitor are we trying to attract?  Will people who cannot afford to buy expensive “church clothes” feel comfortable among us?  Will they not feel “under-dressed” and be self conscience?  Will we call upon the brother dressed in “poor” clothes to lead a prayer or serve in some other way? Do you not think this is awfully close to the partiality that James condemned? Is this how we are meant to treat others?

Dressing up for church is part of doing all things “decently and in order”.   Then I suppose we are “out of order” and “indecent” on Sunday and Wednesday nights when we dress much more casually?  Is a poor brother who cannot afford a coat and tie sinning when he assembles?  Is he introducing confusion and disorder by his shabby clothing?  Why didn’t Paul and Peter commend the women whose outward adornment was composed of fine apparel, jewelry and fancy hairdos if such brings about order and decency?

If we insist that the men who participate in a prominent way in the assembly “dress up”, how many steps removed are we from one day requiring clerical garments?  If this is our requirement (and in some congregations it is) then coats and ties already are our clerical garb!  Jesus warned about those who dress in certain ways in a religious context.

“But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.”  –  Matthew 23:5

What should we wear to the assembly?

The bible is silent about what kind of clothing we are to wear to church so therefore we have the freedom to choose. The only requirement is that we dress modestly which is something that Christians should be doing always.  If a person sincerely feels they should wear a suit to the assembly to show their reverence then that is exactly what they should do. However, they must not bind this opinion upon others!  Remember, it is an opinion if there is no book, chapter or verse to back it up!  When we choose what to wear to church, we must do some soul searching to determine if we are dressing up to be seen by men.  If so, our motivation is wrong.

The Lord is not pleased when we show preference to the rich and snub the poor.  If we really believe that other Christians compose our spiritual family, why not just dress like we would for an informal gathering of family or friends?  By dressing casually, we will tend to bridge the social divides and barriers that might otherwise keep Christians of various backgrounds separated.  Since the good news is for everyone, we should do all that we can to make people of all social backgrounds feel at home.  Our gatherings should be a time when we don’t feel pressured to impress others or promote ourselves.  Remember, God looks upon the inward man and our heart is the primary place where we must show respect and reverence to God.