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Does it matter what we wear to Church? Part 2

In the first post, we acknowledged that Christians often have strong opinions on what kind of dress should be worn to church, both sides appealing to scriptural principals in support. Is there a way to move beyond the impasse? I think so. In this post, I offer three reflections to help move the debate forward.

First, I believe all sides can agree that the central issue is the attitude of our hearts and the humility of our Spirits when we come to worship. The Bible does indeed teach that the worship of God is of incredible importance, privilege, and is not something that should be undertaken with a casual attitude. We should approach God with “reverence and awe,” as the author of Hebrews states. No matter what we wear to worship, in other words, there should be no such thing as "casual worship." Coming into the presence of the living God is never casual. 

Second, both sides should be challenged to see that there are dangers no matter what one wears to worship. Those who advocate more formal dress need to be reminded that formal dress does not necessarily entail a respectful attitude toward God either.  You can be casual in your worship even if you are dressed very formally. You can easily wear a suit and tie to church for lots of reasons other than a desire to respect God and enter reverent worship. Perhaps you just want to show off your new suit? As one writer put’s it “Elaborate, showy attire may reflect a prideful, elitist, egocentric display of wealth, status, and power.” Or perhaps you dress up merely because of a traditionalist sentiment and “that’s what you have always done.[1]  On the other hand, those who advocate "casual" dress need to check their own hearts as well. In and of itself, there is nothing that suggests that dressing casual helps us approach God more authentically or honestly. You can dress casually just to be cool, just to rebel, just to show off your style. And maybe your dressing casually does actually display a casual attitude towards God?  At the end of the day, advocates of both positions need to be challenged to take a hard look at themselves. Clothing does not commend us to God. No matter what we wear, we must check our attitudes so that what Jesus warned about is not true of us, that we honor him with our lips (and our clothes) while our hearts are far from him.  The truth is, whether we dress casual or formal, there is always the temptation to be focused on what we (and others) are wearing rather than who we are worshipping.

Third, we need to embrace our reformed heritage of Christian liberty. We have a whole chapter in our confession on the topic, but suffice to say for now the idea is that where God has not bound the conscious, we have no authority to bind the conscious of others. Where God speaks clearly on an issue, we must enforce without compromise. But where God has not spoken, that is a matter of Christian liberty and no Christian has the right to say that ‘their way’ is God’s way. I believe this is where we must land on this issue of what to wear in worship. God has spoken clearly about the attitude and respect with which we must approach him in worship, and we must teach on that, and call people to prepare themselves to enter worship in this way.  But, he has nowhere indicated what kind of clothing is or is not appropriate. God has not made a connection between the proper heart attitude and proper attire, and if God has not done so, neither should we.[2] It may be that casual dress indicates an improper attitude towards God, but not necessarily. It may be that formal dress displays a hypocritical approach to God, but not necessarily.

We all have a tendency to elevate our own convictions on an issue to biblical truth and then condemn others for it. This is exactly the sin of Judgmentalism that Bridges warns about. He writes, “It is easy to become judgemental toward anyone whose opinons are different from ours. And then we hide our judgementalism under the cloak of Christian convictions.” Calvin also pointedly addressed the tendency we have to do this, writing of the pride we often have that leads us to “willingly compel the world to copy (our) example. If anything please us, we forthwith desire to make it law, that others may live according to our pleasure."[3]  We must all fight the tendency in ourselves to fall into this trap. We are free to have and live by our own convictions, but must be careful not to make our own preferences (which are almost always based on our own cultural location, personal histories, and upbringing) equal to God’s law. This is how Bridges ends up handling the issue of what to wear to church. He writes, “Reverence for God, I finally concluded, is not a matter of dress: it’s a matter of the heart...Now it’s true that casual dress may reflect a casual attitude toward God, but I cannot discern that.”

In conclusion, we must keep before ourselves what worship is, the privilege of approaching God, and the reverence and humility with which we must approach.[4]  Yet any kind of required dress code or unspoken “expectation” in a church for what people should wear must be resisted. We all have ideas about what is “appropriate dress” for church (and some of us have very strong views!) but we need to temper that with the humility that acknowledges that God simply has not spoken on this issue, and that I should be more concerned about my own heart in coming to worship then that of the clothing of my brother or sister. 


[1] Further, who gets to define what “formal dress” actually is?  This is another problem with this whole discussion.  Once you say that you must dress “formally” for worship, what does that mean exactly? What we consider “formal” is not necessarily formal in another culture or setting.  Do we expect our brothers and sisters in Africa to wear a suit and tie?  You see, once we begin making rules where God has not, we have to keep making them, and no matter how well intentioned the result is always a pharisaical legalism. 

[2] Give the fact that the Gospel is going to be preached to all nations and peoples and is supposed to break down traditional barriers of politics, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class, we can see how wise God’s silence is on this issue. 

[3] Commentary on Matthew 9:14

[4] At Redeemer, we already do this in various ways, and our whole liturgy is designed in such a way as to emphasize the seriousness of coming to God in worship. 


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