A story we did a while back, “Korn’s Brian Welch on Why There Is No ‘Christian’ Look” sparked a fair bit of conversation among our readers about what to wear to church and what to wear in general. Reading people’s opinions got me thinking about the question I’ve posed in the title, and I’d like to offer a few thoughts on what to wear to church.
What follows are common responses I’ve seen to this question and my take on them based on my understanding of scripture. I’m going to do my best to stick to this question and not get sidetracked by related issues, however important they are. So while the questions, “What should worship look like?” and “What makes clothing modest?” are important, I’m not going to address them.
How do people answer the question of what to wear to church?
1. What to wear to church is trivial and not something worth discussing.
I can see where people are coming from with this point of view. Clothing is not a matter of salvation. But something wonderful about God is that He cares about the details of our lives. He actually cares about how the flowers of the field are clothed. He pays attention to how many hairs are on our heads. And He was the one who clothed Adam and Eve when their sin left them naked and ashamed. (There is a ton we could unpack just from the first chapters of Genesis, if we had the time.)
So no, we shouldn’t let this issue become something that divides us. But I think it’s safe to say that God cares about how the people who bear His image clothe themselves.
2. People should “dress up” for Sunday morning church because God is a King, and we’re entering His presence.
This one is somewhat compelling to me. People who disagree with this position offer these reasons (among others):
- God isn’t concerned with how we dress. He looks at our hearts.
- If we’re going to be consistent with this position, we should dress up for all other services, including those on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, which tend to be more casual.
- Actually, if we’re REALLY going to be consistent, we should dress up every moment because we are always in God’s presence.
- If anything, New Testament instruction on clothing would seem to encourage us not to dress up when gathering in worship (1 Timothy 2).
Also, Karl Vaters of Christianity Today makes the following pointabout what to wear to church that I find intriguing: “Sure, there’s a dress code for meeting a king – unless you’re the king’s kid, of course. Which we are.”
I suppose someone could counter that even the king’s children dress up in certain scenarios. Which begs the question: is something different or special happening when we meet for corporate worship, something that sets it apart from our daily lives? I think a case could be made for the answer being, “Yes.” We’re gathering as a body. We’re likely partaking of the sacraments.
But even if we answer “Yes” to that question, does that mean we ought to dress up? Frankly, if the instructions for worship in the New Testament don’t command us to dress formally when we gather together, then saying that dressing up is something people “should” or “ought to” do is legalism.
If dressing up is how people honor God when they meet together, great. But if what to wear to church becomes legalism or a point of pride, that’s sin.
3. It doesn’t matter what we wear because God looks at the heart.
I think this statement is almost true. Certainly God values what’s going on in our hearts over our appearance. He tells Samuel exactly that. If we’re more concerned about how people dress than the state of their souls, something is very wrong with our perspective. We have no business making judgments about people based on their appearance because we’re not God and we don’t know their hearts.
However, I don’t think we should take this idea so far as to say that what we wear doesn’t matter at all. As this author says, “Because worship is a matter of the heart, which I believe is often reflected in our appearance, we cannot entirely conclude God doesn’t care about what is worn to church.”