The so-called "worship wars" of recent years may have produced a winner. Many congregations remain divided between traditional and contemporary styles, but in most places the contemporary appears to have gained the upper hand.
What's more, our worship services have become increasingly relaxed and informal affairs. You can see it in what we wear. Church for today's worshipers is not a dress-up event. Whatever is clean and comfortable seems sufficient. Christian students in particular have been taught by their seniors — or has it been the reverse?— that when it comes to church, attire doesn't much matter. They understand there is nothing particularly spiritual about a dress or a coat and tie. God is scarcely impressed by such things. "People look at the outward appearance," we are reminded, "but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7).
I do not intend to wade into the broader debate over worship styles; that's a different discussion. In any case, I'm content with either traditional or contemporary if they're done well. But I do wish to raise a question about this last notion: namely, that when it comes to public worship, our clothing doesn't matter. This common assumption, it seems to me, deserves more scrutiny than it typically receives.
Over the last several generations, American attire in general has lurched dramatically toward the informal. A feature that quickly dates an old photograph, for instance, is the men wearing fedoras; most today wouldn't know where to find one. Those who are old enough can remember when travelers got spiffed up to board an airplane. Today's travelers think nothing of flying in duds they might wear to the gym. Or consider the rise of the term "business casual." In most parts of the ...1
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