Clothing Matters: What We Wear to Church
We all understand that the wrong clothes can distract our fellow worshipers. Elaborate, showy attire may reflect a prideful, elitist, egocentric display of wealth, status, and power (Mark 12:38; Luke 16:19; James 2:3). Or it may serve as a mask, a facade behind which lurks a very different reality (Matt. 23:27). In this way and others our choice of clothing can be sinful. But this does not render our everyday ("common"), come-as-you-are attire "spiritual" or "honest." If we care for our fellow worshipers as we ought, we will take them into consideration as we dress for worship. We will clothe ourselves in ways that edify them and strengthen their own worship. We will attempt to avoid the nonchalant attitude that says this event is entirely routine; that it merits nothing special from me; that my only consideration in what I choose to wear is what is easiest and most convenient. Such a self-centered attitude is corrosive to a true spirit of worship. Instead, the goal in our choice of clothing should be to express to the Lord and those around us that this event matters, that I view it as a holy occasion, one which deserves our highest regard. If the first audience for our nonverbal messages is God himself, and secondarily, our fellow worshipers, dress that best suits these first two audiences may also serve a third: outsiders who join our public worship.
Evangelistic gatherings can in many ways be designed to fit the unbelievers we are trying to reach. But this is harder to do with our corporate worship. The church must first shape its worship to honor God, a goal to which all else must be subordinate. But thankfully, watching believers do what they do can have its own evangelistic effect. When Christians are worshiping as they should, says the apostle, and "and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you" (1 Cor. 14:2425). Attire that genuinely reflects a God-honoring attitude toward worship may well contribute to a similar result.
Now We See In a Mirror
None of the above leaves us with a dress code for public worship. It certainly does not translate automatically into coats and ties for men and fancy dresses for women. Idealizing bygone eras won't work here; the meaning of human clothing is too contextual for that. It varies too widely from place to place and time to time, and there are too many other variables to consider. We are left having to judge for ourselves what is appropriate for worship and what is not.
But all of the above should at least warn us away from the glib assumption that God does not care about what we wear to church; or that what I choose to wear for worship doesn't matter; or that how I dress for church is a purely personal affair; or that my own convenience and comfort are all that need concern me. The truth is, one of the ways we express ourselves as human beings is by the way we dress. Wittingly or unwittingly, our clothing gives us away. God certainly does not need this expression to know our hearts. But as for the rest of us, we do indeed look on the outward appearance, even when peering into our own mirrors. In this way the clothes we choose for church may have things to tell us about our hearts that God already knows, but that we need to hear.