When I was growing up, it was common to hear people talk about their “Sunday best,” referring to their “best” clothes that they wore to church. While people still understand that phrase, the idea of wearing our “best” clothes to church is no longer common. But is that a bad thing? Where did we get the idea that we should wear “special” clothes for church?
It is still common for people whom I meet to say that they can’t come to church because they don’t have the “right” clothes. Sometimes they ask me, “What should I wear if I come to your church on Sunday?” My usual answer is, “I’d prefer that you wear clothes. If you show up without them, it would be a distraction. But as long as you’re dressed, you’re welcome.” I’m pretty sure Jesus would rather have us in church is “regular” clothes than staying home!
In order to answer the question, “What should I wear to church?” we need to ask a few other questions. First, why do we “go to church?” And what does that even mean? Second, does the way we dress have anything to do with our reason for going to church? And third, are there different rules for what we wear to “go to church”” and what we wear for the rest of the time? Answering these questions will help us to better understand “what should I wear to church?”
In Acts 2:42-47 we discover what the believers did when they gathered together: they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, the worship (the “breaking of bread”), and to prayer. Verse 46 says that they met together at the Temple each day – presumably for worship and prayer. Most Christian churches still do those things today.
However, when people talk about “going to church,” they are primarily thinking about worship. That makes sense, because (a) God deserves our worship, and (b) God is looking for people who worship him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Now, no church exists solely to provide a place for worship. God has also called us to join him in his Kingdom work. The church provides opportunities for us to do that. The church gives us a place to use the gifts that God has given to us for his glory.
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1).
When I was in law school, there would be days – particularly in the fall term – when a number of students would be dressed in suits and formal business attire. Why? Because they had job interviews! On other days, they would be dressed more “normally” – jeans, shorts, T-shirts, perhaps some other casual shirt. Nobody wore swimsuits to class, because there was no pool! We dressed according to why we were there that day.
In the same way, we should dress for church according to our reason for being there. If our purpose for “going to church” is to worship God, then the way we dress should reflect that. If it’s a “work day,” we’ll be dressed for yard work, or cleaning. People often dress more formally to attend a wedding or a funeral. So if our reason for going to church is to worship God, our attire should be consistent with that purpose.
That brings me to the third subject: are there different “rules” for what we wear to church than what we wear any other time? The way we answer that question will go a long way toward helping us to understand “what should I wear to church?”
While Paul’s comments to Timothy are within the context of talking about the “place of worship” (see 1 Timothy 2:8), Peter’s comments are much broader. Peter is giving his opinion on styles of dress in every setting, not just “in church.” I think that’s important to keep in mind. There should not be a separate “dress code” for church and “the rest of life”; such an approach creates the impression that we should act differently “in church” than we do the rest of the time. No!
In Colossians 3:12-14, Paul comes at this subject by using the metaphor of how we clothe ourselves to describe our lives in general: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”
One other factor to consider is that we aren’t worshiping God in isolation. We worship with other people who have gathered for the same purpose. The way we dress should not attract undue attention to us; all of us are there to focus on God. Now, that doesn’t mean that we should judge or criticize each other because of our clothes. It simply means that we should be open to the Spirit’s direction in regard to everything we do – including the way we dress for church. I don’t want to attract attention to myself, whether people are complimenting my clothes or criticizing them.
That brings me to my final thought. The reason that people ask, “What should I wear to church?” is because at some point, they were told that what they were wearing wasn’t “right.” There are any number of reasons why someone might do that, but none of them seem to me to be good reasons! Even if we think someone else’s style of clothing is inappropriate, that’s not really our place to judge. And though we may think we’re “right,” Paul reminds us to make allowance for each other’s faults.
Maybe if we make allowance for their “faults,” they’ll make allowance for ours!
Written by: OchriO