Why I Still Dress Up for Church

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Why have so many people missed that verse in Hagamuk? You know the one–

Hagamuk 2:10: “Thou Shalt Wear Thy Best Robes to Worship.”

Okay, so I tried. As you most likely already know,  there is no “official” verse on why one should dress up for church. And since the church has been busily throwing out traditions for the last 20 years, dressing up is now completely out of vogue. It is the exception–and certainly not the norm–to see people dressed in their best for Sunday mornings. And since there is nothing official in scripture stating why one should dress nicely–well, I don’t have much I can say, do I?

And, I would like to say right here–just so you are not confused–I am in no way judging you if you do not agree with me. Since there is not anything directly spoken to this issue in scripture, what you wear to church is between you and the Lord.

But just in case someone wonders why anyone would hold onto TRADITION so tightly like my family and me–well, I thought I would give some insight. Because it is a decision that our family has carefully thought through and not based on some thoughtless dedication to a long-held tradition that has now been completely tossed to the wind by most church-goers.

As I have mentioned already, within the past 20 years churches have gradually become a place where anything goes. Wear your jeans, your t-shirts, and your shorts. All people will be welcomed, no matter what you wear. And so they should be!! But dressing up doesn’t mean that we make people unwelcome. Do you feel unwelcome at a bank? Or when you go to see a lawyer or accountant’s office? It is so interesting that people still dress up to go to work. If you go into a bank or you work in a corporation, you still find “business attire”.  It has long been understood that if you are dressed nicely, you act differently–more respectful and more professional–than if you are dressed casually.

I have also noticed that people still dress up to do things like meet the President of the United States, attend a wedding or a funeral,  or to go to a symphony. Why do they bother to go to the work of dressing up? It is because they want to honor the person(s) in whose honor they are attending the function. It is a sign of respect and honor.

And so this is why our family has continued to wear our best on Sunday mornings, when the world around us has decided not to. Yes, we know that God looks on the heart (the argument we hear over and over again about why you don’t need to dress up for church). But let’s turn it around and instead of putting the focus on ourselves, let’s move it to God. What is the best way we can honor and respect God when we worship? One of the ways our family thinks this can be accomplished is by dressing up when we go to God’s House to worship.

And, by the way, just because some people wear nice clothing to church and then have hearts that are filled with legalistic garbage, doesn’t mean that all people who wear nice clothing are doing so because of legalism. This just isn’t the case.

I will close with a quote from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “Discipline”. She has encapsulated my thoughts perfectly.

“I know I am skating on very thin ice to bring up the question of dress, since it has, for several decades, been considered by most Christians as of very minor importance or of absolutely no importance since God looks on the heart.  But I believe it is worth reconsidering in terms of respect.  Is it not an indication of my regard for another person’s worth when I am willing to “dress up”- for a job interview, for example; for a special guest I am entertaining; for a social event to which I feel honored to have been invited?  Is it not a sign of a performer’s respect for his audience and of the audience’s for the performer, when they dress for the occasion?  It may be scorned as a form of pride (“who are you trying to impress”), but it may be genuine humility of the same sort that would prompt one to polish the silver, get out the beautiful tablecloth, and have candlelight and flowers for someone greatly loved.  The attitude of students, I have noticed, is strongly influenced by a professor’s dress, as well as his manner.”

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

7 thoughts on “Why I Still Dress Up for Church

  1. Dear sibling in Christ,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful and considerate comments about dressing up for worship services. I can respect your thoughts but am concerned about a number of points.

    First, implicit in dressing up to honor God at church is the attitude that God is only (or predominantly) present at the meetinghouse of the church, which is the Body of Christ. Perhaps an emphasis on always honoring our Lord, since He is everywhere present, with our bodies and our dress, by being modest and not drawing attention to ourselves by fashion or glitz, would be even more pleasing to God.

    Second, unfortunately, an emphasis on clothing looking “good” has often “hooked” us, even as devoted Christ-followers, into overemphasizing appearance and underemphasizing the heart. Years of church history, with an overconcern (unfortunately often by my own female gender)for outward beauty and comparisons with other women, show how easily we slip into being more concerned how we look to others than how we “look” to God.

    Third, spending money on fancier clothing when cheaper, more functional clothing would suffice is not in keeping with God’s passion for the poor and cautions to the wealthy.

    Most importantly, we are to be all things to all people, particularly staying sensitive to the needs and reactions of those who are not yet believers. Many of my friends from work, who are “frightened” to set foot in a church building or who have come, start out by asking “Do I need to be dressed up?” Many people, particularly those who are in single parent families, do not have more than one or two “dress-up” outfits. Girls do not often wear dresses nowadays, except for Prom dresses, which obviously would not qualify as “church” clothes, though they are quite dressy. And boys do not often have dress pants, unless their school requires uniforms. I would never, ever want my non-Christian friends to stay away from church or come to church and be embarrassed by their clothing when they compare themselves to the well-dressed regular attenders.

    If you feel more comfortable in dress clothes, I’m fine with you wearing them. I love getting dressed up myself, but I want to try to be careful to stress a constantand consistent lifestyle of wearing inexpensive, relatively attractive, modest, and comfortable clothing wherever I am (even at home, to “honor” my beloved husband. =) Thanks for the conversation.

    • While I appreciate you sharing your viewpoint and I can understand some of your points, I do not agree with your general argument. To address a few of them specifically–

      First, In my opinion (and that is all it is, of course…no biblical basis) Sunday morning worship is specifically designed to be a corporate worship time. It is unlike other times (at home, in Bible Study, Wednesday night services, etc). And while I doubt God is in heaven saying “How dare they wear their jeans during a corporate worship service”, I do believe that how we dress sets the mood in a service specifically designed to worship the Almighty, Holy God of the universe and it is a sign of respect and honor.

      And, while I appreciate your comment about getting “hooked” in outward appearances, I think you are throwing the baby out with the bath water. Yes, this is a temptation for lots of people. Just like overeating is a temptation. But people can’t stop eating just because they struggle with overeating. And it follows that, just because there is a temptation to focus on the outward appearance, it is still of merit to continue to show respect in how we dress for worship…just as we would show respect if we were meeting the President. Would you wear shorts and a t-shirt to meet even a President you don’t care for? I wouldn’t. The whole thing comes down to the heart, after all, doesn’t it? WHY are we dressing up? For ourselves…to impress others? Or to show our respect and honor to God?

      I also want to address your comment about spending money on nicer clothing. This one I especially disagree with you. With clothing as cheap as it is, you can buy a nice pair of dress pants or a dress for less than the cost of a pair of jeans. It is not like dress clothing costs any more than casual clothing. We need to buy clothing. Buying nicer clothing is not going to keep you from giving to the poor.

      And, finally, I think it is interesting that history does not seem to show a correlation between dress and salvation. It doesn’t seem that we have more people being converted in our churches because of our dressing down. I would venture to say that we actually have less true converts, now that our services have become so casual (but that is for another time). If a person is truly interested in finding the Truth, nothing will stop them. Least of all, how the people in the church are dressed. However, I will say this…and this is very important…how we treat someone who isn’t dressed like us makes all the difference in the world (James 2). We should never treat someone differently because of their clothing.

      But, quite honestly, I think the whole discussion is mute, anyway. We both know that there will never be a time again where someone will walk into a church and feel under dressed. I was merely trying to show the reason why some of us have decided not to follow that trend. I am not really trying to change anyone’s mind. I do not have a scriptural basis to do so. Just trying to get people to think a little :)

  2. Dear brother/sister,

    I believe we differ on several points which we will likely not resolve. First, you seem to believe that God is somehow more present in corporate worship than He is as we live always in His presence all day long. The Holy Spirit is always fully in us, always fully present in us as believers. If our true concern in dressing up is really respecting or honoring God (not what others think or how we ourselves will behave or feel, depending on how we’re dressed), I just cannot understand how you are somehow more in God’s holy presence during corporate worship than you are as a Jesus-follower all day long. God is everywhere present and always fully attentive to us. Our goal is also to be always fully attentive and worshiping Him with our lives, our thoughts, our words, our dress.

    Secondly, your point about dressing up to respect the President of the United States is not applicable to God. We dress to show respect based on how the person we’re meeting feels or understands respect. The President would indeed feel disrespected by someone who shows up to visit in torn and dirty jeans or in shorts and a T-shirt. I think you have taken a leap to imply that God has the same cultural standards of respect and disrespect as we have in regard to clothing. Originally, God was dismayed when Adam and Eve even put on clothes! The Israelites were instructed to wear tassels (which we don’t do nowadays), but my Old Testament professor in seminary says they were to be worn as a sign to the Hebrews that they were royalty as children of the King of the Universe (Only kings wore tassels in those days). The New Testament principles we have on clothing are to be modest (not to lead others into sexual temptation), not gaudy (not to draw attention to yourself), and to not give the appearance of evil (be careful not to dress like prostitutes dressed in those days).

    Paul is also very clear on the principle of being all things to all people, so that some might be saved. Of course, this does not mean being morally corrupt like “the world.” It does mean in matters which are cultural (such as clothing), that as long as the above principles are followed, we should appeal to unbelievers by being like them. The unbelievers in my life (the ones from work whom I invite and bring to church services) do not have very many “nice” outfits to wear to church. They have clothing that is clean and presentable and modest and non-offensive, however, and that is all I “require” of them. Therefore, that is what I try to wear myself, so that their anxiety about coming into a new situation and “sticking out like a sore thumb” will be decreased.

    Yes, God can save seekers even if they don’t come to the meetinghouse, but I would really like to make it as easy as possible for them to come and experience corporate worship and hear the message of salvation. I’m not sure how you can say people will never again feel underdressed in church. We, for the most part, still dress up in our corporate worship (only a rare adult wears jeans), so it is indeed probable that someone who comes wearing jeans will be acutely aware that they are underdressed.

    Your general statement about how many people have been saved in churches that “dress down” would be somewhat difficult to verify. Statistically, the fastest growing churches currently are the house churches in China, where I doubt they dress up for church. By far the fastest growing churches in the twentieth century (both in the West and worldwide) were the Pentecostal churches (many of which also started out by meeting in homes), then the charismatic churches, then the Third Wave churches (Vineyard, etc). The mainline churches, which unfortunately have become somewhat more associated with formality and “dressing up,” have been shrinking for decades.

    I do think you make a legitimate point about “setting a mood” based on clothing. This is the main reason I still try to dress up more for church than for working around the house. For my own sake, dressing differently for church services makes me feel the specialness (or “set-apartness”) of this time of communion with other believers. However, this is my own need and is not something to be imposed on others in any way.

    I find it interesting that you seem to be concerned that someone will judge you for staying dressed up. That would certainly not occur in our church. You are welcome in our church any day. Come on over!

  3. I love to dress up. But many years ago, our church had a variety of dress styles. One woman started attending in her simple shirt and pants. Later I talked to her, and she started to cry. She said, “This is the first church where I can come and feel okay. All the other churches one had to dress up and I felt out of place.”
    One young man who attended our church was homeless and lived in his car. His clothing was absolutely wrinkled and not too clean. Later he got a place to live, but rarely had the money to get his clothes washed. One day he came to church in an especially dirty shirt. The women of the church went to him and scolded him for his appearance. He said to them, “This is the cleanest shirt I have. Would you rather I stay at home?”
    God is most honored when we show our love to the people whom He sends to us. There will be a party at the end of time, and God Himself will dress us! Praise God!

  4. Hmmmm…I am not going to continue to “debate” this topic, so this will be my last post, no matter what comments follow. As I mentioned in my post, I have no biblical basis for my argument and neither do you. It is truly an opinion. I was merely, as I have mentioned, making it clear as to why some of us truly think it is important.

    I do want to mention, however, that church attendance does not make someone a true believer in Christ. Therefore I would never base any of my arguments on which churches have the most people attending them. I think our churches are the most powerless they have ever been. Well attended, yes. Effective, no. Of course, I am not blaming this on dress. It is a very minor factor…and perhaps not even a factor at all…of the equation.

    And, of course, I know that the majority of church-goers in America disagree with me on how to dress for church. I was expecting that. And I don’t particularly care. Thankfully, we can all continue to hold differing opinions here. One of the true blessings to living in America, don’t you agree??

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