It does talk about dressing modestly in 1 Timothy 2. That’s where Paul exhorts women not to wear extravagant or expensive clothing in worship. I think a good case can be made that Paul’s point there is to warn believers against self-centered extravagance in how they dress, not to make a rule against wearing makeup or jewelry.
Since the Bible doesn’t give rules on the specifics of our clothing, our culture actually is going to determine what we wear to church…and that’s ok! Someone worshiping God who is from a tribe in Africa is going to wear something different than I am here in the United States. That’s a beautiful thing, not a reason for us to impose unnecessary rules on each other.
Here is where I’m landing (for now):
When it comes to what to wear to church, we should dress in a way that honors God, honors those around us, and is appropriate for our cultural (and subcultural) contexts.
Some relevant questions to ask ourselves when considering what to wear Sunday morning include:
- Is the way we’re dressing self-centered, or does it honor God?
- Is it done out of joy and thankfulness for who God created us to be?
- Are we being sensitive to those around us and honoring them in how we’re dressing?
- Are we people-pleasing and living in fear by how we’re dressing?
The last question might sound ridiculous and/or trivial, but I think it’s worth mentioning. For example, sometimes I hesitate to wear hats, even though I like them, because not many people wear them and I’m afraid others will think I’m strange. Most of the time, what actually happens is I get a lot of compliments and other women tell me they’re also afraid to wear hats for the same reason!
Even though this is a silly example, it does illustrate a problem in my heart: fear of people. I think it’s good to be aware of any time I’m tempted to make a fear-based decision, including when it comes to how I dress.
I can’t tell you what this will look like for you.
What dressing for church will look like will depend on each person’s cultural context and community. If you’re a pastor thinking through this question, I recommend skimming through the comments on this post from Thom Rainer. Many of the people who comment are pastors sharing their experiences and the challenges they face in trying to respect the older and younger members of their congregations, while fostering a welcoming environment.
I especially appreciated one pastor who talked about the importance of the Holy Spirit’s leading when making any decision, including one like this. He says that the Holy Spirit prompted him to start dressing less formally. His point was not that dressing a certain way is necessary when leading a church. Rather, it was that “a pattern of obedience to the Holy Spirit is crucial in any ministry work. If my heart is not bent to the Spirit and compassionate towards those I serve, no jacket or tie could mask that.”
If you’re holding church in a tattoo parlor, you might not wear traditional church clothes. If you go to church in a formal setting, it’s probably respectful to dress more formally. But if you’re attending a church primarily composed of homeless people, it’s arguably insensitive to wear nice clothing. Where you’re meeting and who is meeting there matter.
So those are my thoughts! I would love if, whether you are a pastor or a church member, you would comment on how you see any of these ideas playing out in your own churches, cultures, and countries.