To dress up, or not to dress up; that is the question! At least in evangelical church circles today it is. There are so many great theological deep wells to dive into and discuss in God’s Word. Topics such as Eschatology, Ecclesiology, the Trinity, Soteriology, the Lordship of Christ, and many more. But none have been more heavily discussed within the Bible belt than the church dress code. As believers, we should be willing to discuss any topic; under one condition. This condition being that opinions and personal preferences are left at the door, and we can filter our conversation through scripture alone.
The problem with discussions regarding things inside of the church is that by nature, we look more towards personal preference or what has been done rather than going to the true authority of God’s Word. Our preferences do not matter. So regarding the Biblical doctrine of church dress code, lets see what God’s word has to say about the matter.
Before we dive in, let’s be clear that there are two sides to every story. Two opposing opinions. And each side deserves a fair representation. But again, the word of God needs to be what we base our opinions upon. When discussing this matter of dress in church, those that are in favor of a dressy dress code almost always quote something like this…….
“The Bible says we are to give God our best in all we do.”
When pressed to validate their claim with scripture, most will begin to quote Ecclesiastes.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,” Ecclesiastes 9:10.
However, if we read the full context of this chapter, we realize that Solomon was writing about our work and toil, not the church. It would take a great deal of stretching, bending, and theological gymnastics to get a dress code out of that verse. As the saying goes in the South, “That dog won’t hunt.” Do we need to give God our best? Absolutely. But that best should come out of an overflow of our hearts, not our wardrobe. When it comes to dress code, it gets down to an issue of intense semantics.
We would need to ask the question, “What is considered dressed up?“
Coat or no coat? Tie or suspenders? Dress slacks or khakis? And if khakis, pleats or no pleats? Dress shoes or Dockers? And if dress shoes, tassels or no tassels? Cuff links or plain buttons? Solid color shirts or mixed?
You see, one persons idea of dressed up may not be another’s. And then, with all these factors, a simple decision ends up turning into legalism. The pharisees in scripture always had to be wearing the nicest clothes and hats, and they were the ones getting rebuked by Jesus the most.
So what is the verdict? Which is the right way to come to church? Dressed up or dressed comfortably and modestly? The answer is both. Neither way of dressing is wrong. If dressing up is your preference, dress up to the glory of God. Just don’t tell others that they should dress like you, because your way is right. Again, that is the same mud hole the pharisees kept stepping into. So again, lets consider what God’s word says on this issue of dress.
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.
God is not concerned with us honoring Him with externals. We so often forget that God is not like man. We can clean up the outside of our appearances and look like we have it all together while our hearts are in darkness. But God sees inside. Some may say, “Well thats an Old Testament passage, not Jesus.” Which on a side note, honestly makes no sense seeing that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New, Jesus. But just for kicks, lets see what Jesus in the New Testament would say about clothing preferences.
“And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” Luke 12:22-23.
To contextualize His point, Jesus tells us not to make issue of these things such as clothing. Because life, death, and the implications of the Gospel reaching the lost world are far more pressing concerns than what we will wear. So based on this text, what if someone were to ask Jesus, “Slacks or blue jeans?” His answer to them might sound something like this, “I don’t care, eternal life doesn’t hinge on this.”
Think about John the Baptist. Many of the religious despised him because of his bold preaching, and also because of his external appearance. Look at what Christ said of his cousin.
“When the messengers of John had departed, He began to speak to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Luke 7:24-29.
Jesus points out that John the Baptist wasn’t clothed in the finest things. But Christ goes on to call him the greatest of all prophets. Jesus didn’t see Johns outward appearance. He looked much deeper into his heart.
Consider the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians. In the verse below, Paul describes his poor conditions.
“To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless,” 1 Corinthians 4:11.
Many churches today would sooner bar the doors than let a “poorly dressed” person inside. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul being banned from entering a church due to the dress code? I have actually met and invited people to church before who have never stepped foot into a sanctuary. Do you know what their number one reason for not coming is the majority of the time?
“I cannot come to church, because I don’t have nice dress clothes.”
This is the impression much of our modern church culture has given off to the outside world that we are suppose to be reaching! Now lets be clear about something. When Paul states in the verse above that he was “poorly dressed” this is not talking about being immodest with dress. Paul is talking about not being able to wear the nice robes and hats that the pharisees had made so fashionable in his day. Paul was saying he didn’t have a nice Louis Vuitton suit. He couldn’t afford it! If it were today, Paul may have been saying, “All Ive got is an old pair of cargo pants and a polo.”
When it comes to how we should dress, Paul gives us just a few guidelines.
1 Timothy 2:9 says ” Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments,”
Modesty and discretion. In short, we are not do dress in a way that would draw attention to our bodies. This could be dressing so casually as to draw attention to our flesh, or dressing so fancy that we want to impress others with how proper we are. Paul mentions not dressing in “costly garments.” So if anything, Paul is saying don’t go all out and get the most fancy clothes for church, and don’t dress immodestly. Why would he say this? Because when we do this, we are saying without saying, “Look at how nice I look” or “Look at my body.” Church becomes more about putting the focus on us rather than Christ.
Sadly, many can hardly hear the message on Sunday mornings all around the globe because they are more concerned with the church dress code rather than God’s word being spoken.
There was a story circulation on the internet a while back about a new pastor being hired on at a church. None of the congregants had met him, and they anticipated the upcoming Sunday morning in which he was to preach. During Sunday school before the Sunday service, a poorly dressed man entered and sat at the back of the room. Everyone in the class whispered and complained about his poor dress. When the class was over, some were even irate that a person would dare come to church without a dress coat. No one so much as spoke to the poorly dressed man.
After Sunday school, everyone filed into church to hear the new pastor. The chairman of the Elders walked up to the pulpit and said, “I would like to introduce our new pastor.” With that, the poorly dressed gentleman made his way up to the pulpit. He had proved his point, and the congregants knew it. Our dress is a poor indicator of what really lies in our hearts. In fact, Jesus said the same thing to the pharisees in the verse below.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:25-28.
The Pharisees were great at setting rules and telling others what to do based on their preferences. They appeared to wear all of the most fancy clothing and looked so amazing. But Jesus wasn’t impressed or honored by their extravagant dress. He was more concerned with their hearts, which were filthy.
Consider Peter’s words on the matter below.
“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 “
Again, Peter echo’s Paul’s letter to Timothy in saying,”Don’t get hung up on your outward appearance.” What matters to God is what is inside our hearts. Yet so often we tend to put more emphasis on the outward because of decades of man made traditions that over time, we have made religion.
Church dress is a matter of preference. Some people like to feel more dressed up and others more casual. And both styles are fine and acceptable forms of dress in church. We just need to be cautioned not to make our clothing preferences Gospel. The nature of our hearts will drive every aspect of our lives. Modesty and humility are our guidelines for dress, nothing else. Don’t make worship and living for Jesus about secondary matters. Because its the little things that tend to divide churches. And if you find yourself offended by the dress of others within the church, let this verse speak to your soul.
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7:24.
We honor Christ with the purity of our hearts, not with the external.