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What to Wear to Church on Sunday: Does It Really Matter?

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul writes, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Clothing is one way we react to something God has given us, our bodies. We can either glorify or not glorify Him through how we dress. Also, our attire indicates something about how we see ourselves, our identities. I say indicates because very often, we won’t be able to tell exactly what someone’s clothing choices are saying.

Here’s what I mean about the connection between clothing and identity. For a while, I watched the show What Not to Wear, where two stylists take someone with terrible clothing choices and give them a makeover. When I first started watching the show, I thought it was fluffy entertainment. But as I watched more and more episodes, I realized that what was happening on the show was more profound than I’d thought. A lot of the time, helping the women make different fashion choices meant dealing with their identity issues. For example, some women primarily identified as their families’ caretakers to the extreme where they never spent time on their appearances. They struggled with making any time for that because their identities were so focused on helping people. Or some women equated feeling attractive with dressing in a very sexual way, so they struggled with covering up more because then they didn’t feel beautiful.

I’m not trying to inappropriately generalize here and say that clothing is important to all women. And I don’t know what this is like for men–I’m sure it’s different, although maybe there are some similarities. My point is that our attire does say something about who we are and how we see ourselves. We shouldn’t ignore that fact even though what is happening in our hearts is more important.

And the state of our hearts is absolutely more important. A man could wear a suit to church out of respect for God. The same man could wear the same suit out of pride that he is better than someone else in tattered clothing. What matters is his heart. As this author observes, the most important “clothing” God wants us wearing is humility: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

If appearance becomes a reason we judge, look down on others, or treat them differently, we are sinning. James strongly warns us against this. Even if we’re not judging others, but are inadvertently making people feel unwelcome at church, that is something we ought to take seriously.

We should dress in a way that shows we are “separate” from the world.

I know I just made the point that clothing indicates something about our identities, but I think this perspective takes that concept too far. Part of the idea here is that becoming a Christian means that as God changes us from the inside out, how we dress will change. I’m sure many people do change how they dress as they grow in their walks with Jesus…but I want to be very careful not to prescribe arbitrary rules for everyone. Is there anything inherently wrong with having short hair? Dyed hair? Tattoos? Dressing like a tomboy? I believe not.

I hate to bring up modesty as an example because I think the church has spoken about it pretty poorly. But it is a biblical idea, so I will. When I was younger, I dressed in a way that was somewhat immodest and I do believe there was some rebellion and immaturity in my heart related to that. But some people dress provocatively, not out of any ill intent, but because they’re just unaware of what they’re doing. 

So again, while dress indicates what’s happening inside of us, it’s dangerous simply to make assumptions about people.

More importantly, I don’t believe that the passage this statement seems to be referring to has anything to do with how people dress.  2 Corinthians 6:17 has the command “Come out from them and be separate,” and it’s about not being “unequally yoked” to people who are not followers of God. It’s not commanding us to look superficially different from unbelievers, so I’m not sure how it’s relevant to the question.

We shouldn’t have to dress up because Jesus never dressed up.

The underlying assumption in this statement, it seems to me, is that following Jesus as our example means wearing what He wore. Unless we want to argue that all churches should look like Jesus’ ministry in every detail, I don’t think this is a great argument. Maybe you do want to argue that all churches should copy Jesus in every detail. That’s fair. I’m just not convinced right now.

Jesus didn’t tell people what to wear to worship, and our culture is different from His. If you’re willing to accept that worship can look different in different cultures, then some cultures might dress up and some might not.

It doesn’t matter what culture says. It matters what the Bible says.

It does matter what the Bible says, and what the Bible says is more important than what any culture says. But the Bible doesn’t give rules like: “Believers always need to meet in cathedrals” or “Men should always wear ties.”

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Jessica Mouser is a writer for ChurchLeaders.com. She has always had a passion for the written word and has been writing professionally for the past two years. She especially enjoys evaluating how various beliefs play out within culture. When Jessica isn't writing, she enjoys playing the piano, reading, and spending time with her friends and family.