Does God care what I wear to church? When I get ready on Sundays, should I “put on my best for God?” Maybe we were taught wrong…
I’m grateful to a former ministry colleague for the challenging things he said in a social media post—not because I agreed with him, but because he gave me something to write about. Thinking that he was putting something positive out there, he wrote the following. For the sake of his anonymity and copyright, I’ll paraphrase:
As Christians, are we losing our influence on society? A progressive decline began a couple generations ago. Those who call themselves followers of Jesus show up to their local congregation dressed as if God’s house is any other place they’d visit. Could it be that their outward appearance shows who they really are on the inside? Paul cautioned us about this…
“I desire therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness with good works (1 Timothy 2:8-10 NKJV)”.
Now, I know you’re going to have something to say about this. Before you jump into it, take note that these instructions are motivated by holiness and godliness. Paul wants what God wants for the Church—for Christians to maintain holiness and portray godliness through our speech, manner of dress, and general aspect—both inside God’s house and outside in the world.
In our current US political climate, many Christians have joined the chants of those who mock our current President. Regardless of political beliefs, this attitude is far from Christian. Jesus’ followers need to repent from sending out such a hateful and rebellious message in society. The Bible encourages us to respect and pray for our leaders, not mock them. Such behavior is inconsistent with who we are as followers of Jesus.
If such attitudes can convey a false message about what it means to be Christian, so can our manner of dress. When you enter God’s house, you should dress for the occasion! Glorifying God in his house is the holiest thing we can do here on earth. When you get ready for church, be sure to have the mindset of holiness. This is how we “dress” our minds for God. Another way you can prepare for church is to dress in a way that honors God. Wear something on the outside that shows how you honor God on the inside.
Join us this morning at _________ Church as we join in the Lord’s Message: “Maintaining Our Witness!” We would love to have you grow closer to the Lord with us!
Social Media’s Reaction
I was horrified to read this self-righteous and superficial post but decided not to comment. Instead, I held my breath to watch the social media community excoriate him. Instead, he got such responses as:
- “People have become so relaxed that their ways are not reflecting reverence to the Lord.”
- “You can’t just serve God the way you want to. You’ve got to serve God the way He tells us to.”
- “Rest assured…I’m confident that with my past, God is happy that I show up. But I do a lot more than show up. I also put out—giving everything I know and am to build relationships and talk to people about Christ.”
- “Well said! People show up at church with flip-flops on, jeans with holes in the knees, and shorts on. I will never get used to this.”
- “Yes, you are right. Give God your best.”
I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. How could so many of his friends on social media support what he said? Some even amplified his works-based and superficial perspective. But then I remembered the echo chamber that is social media. He surrounded himself with like-minded people, so of course they were going to agree with him! They’d all been taught the same way.
How We Were Taught to Dress for Church
I should be more gracious with my colleague. After all, he and I came from the same background, so I presume we were taught the same way. When we were young, we were told that we dress up to go to church because we wanted to show God our best. Unfortunately, we didn’t know the history of people dressing up for church. In the early church, attendees didn’t dress up. They just wore whatever they had on. Think about it—since the church was in hiding, they wanted to not stand out. In fact, Paul’s words to Timothy (quoted by my colleague) encouraged believers not to dress up.
It wasn’t until later that going to church became a special occasion for folks who wanted to dress to impress. Once Christianity became the religion of the state, people started dressing to please their political leaders, who might catch a glimpse of them in church. When the church became fashionable, they dressed to impress their neighbors. As it became a place to make business connections, entrepreneurs came to church dressed to impress potential customers, partners, or investors. The problem is that people have been doing it for so long that we’ve forgotten the original purpose for dressing up for church.
Many people mistakenly believe that party clothes are important to God. “Dressing up for church is biblical,” they say, quoting Matthew 22:1-14, which says:
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’
But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad, so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Misunderstanding the Meaning
Those who support the idea of dressing up for church by quoting this passage misunderstand its meaning. Jesus wasn’t talking about clothes at all—this is a metaphor. Neither was Jesus supporting the idea of slavery, even though it’s in this scripture. He also wasn’t opposing vegetarianism by emphasizing the righteousness of eating meat, though some might make this point from the scripture. Neither was he emphasizing divine retributive justice, though many have interpreted it so. All of these are distractions from Jesus’ point about having a heart that is prepared and willing to accept God’s invitation. You cannot use this scripture to support the necessity of dressing up for church, any more than you can use it to support slavery, meat-eating, or retributive justice.
Does God Care What I Wear to Church?
So, to return to my colleague’s social media post, I must ask, “Does God care what I wear to church?” If I’m bold enough to answer myself, the answer is NO (in all caps with bold, italicized, underscore)! God cares how we behave when we’re at church and when we’re away from church. God cares what our attitudes are, both in the sanctuary and out of it. If we think God cares what we put on our bodies, then we’re making the same mistake Adam and Eve made in the garden. You can’t cover an ugly spirit with pretty clothes. If you think you can, you’ve seriously underestimated the omniscience of God.
Dressed to Impress: Who Are You Trying to Fool at Church?
Be sure to catch my next article, “Dressed to Impress: Who Are You Trying to Fool at Church?” In it, I’ll discuss the stigma of dressing down, and the Church’s favoritism of the rich. We’ll look at cultural expectations, and questions of modesty. I hope you join me in the second part of this two-part series.