Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dressing for Church

It has long been a controversy between the young and the old. "What is appropriate attire for church?" Some eras, it has been the old pushing for formality, while the young push for informality. Other eras, it has been the old comfortable in their informality, and the young pushing for nicer clothes and more formal experiences. The current swing appears to have the older Christians generally pushing for "dressing up" and younger Christians pushing for "dressing down." The two theories appear to go like this:

Dressing Up/Formality: Church is where we come to worship God. Part of worship is telling the object of worship how important they are by your dress. This is why we dress up when going on a date with someone new, and why we wear elaborate dresses and tuxedos to a wedding. God is the most important being in the universe and our lives individually, so we should wear our best when coming to worship him.

Dressing Down/Informality: Church is where we come to worship God. God is not one who looks at the outward person, but who looks at the heart. Our worship is a set of actions welling up out of an internal reality of love and devotion, and our outward appearance has little bearing on the inward reality. While we do not want to overtly disrespect God with our outward appearance (Paul advises us to "dress modestly"), it is simply not a matter that otherwise is important. So worshipers should be comfortable coming to worship in whatever clothing works for them.

I have spent most of my life in the latter group, and did not understand the former. "If God was not concerned about David dancing naked before him," I thought, "It will be no great issue to him whether I show up in a suit and tie, or a tshirt and jeans." But recently God has been working on my heart, and showing me that at least some of this attitude in me has been pure selfishness. I did not want to wear uncomfortable clothes, so I was looking for excuses to wear comfortable ones. Thus, for me, it has been more important of late to dress up a bit to show God that I put him first. But this is just my walk, and I do not plan to press this "revelation" on anyone else. Perhaps for others, "dressing up" is a sin of pride, for example, and God may ask them to dress down for a time.

What do you think? Where do you fall? Do you think church (or synogogue, etc.) should be a place of dressing up/formality or dressing down/informality? I am interested to read the reactions of other Mod-Bloggers. I know we don't all see it the same way.


shadowmom1 said...

I am somewhere in the middle. I think we should look as nice as possible - well groomed, etc. I do not like jeans or, especially, shorts. On the other hand, if you are going someplace after church where very casual clothing is the appropriate thing, I am sure God would rather have you there worshiping rather than skipping worship because you don't have time to go home and change clothes between commitments.
If you do not HAVE "nice" clothes, just COME to church - and worship and learn and fellowship. We had several wonderful brothers-in Christ do that several years ago, and everyone was happy to see them every time they came. Their old, ripped clothing did nothing to our love of them, nor did they inhibit true worship on their part.

If I had to choose a side, though, I would chose the dress-up side.

Sean said...

I tend to not think about it - so I guess that would put me in the informality group. I'd never wear anything gross, and I do hate it when people wear shorts church. I tend to be in the camp that as long as it's modest and in decent condition (no rips, stains, etc...) then it's fine. I generally wear jeans and a polo-type shirt to church, not because I'm making any type of statement, but because I'm just not thinking about it very much.

CRCHAIR said...

I tend to think that you should dress better than you would an average day of the week. (This might not apply if you wear an Armani suit to work each week day.) By dressing better you are showing respect to God, but I am not legalistic about it.

But think about your hearts attitude. If you wear shorts or jeans because you are lazy or just want to be more comfortable, then you are probably entering into church in the wrong attitude to truly worship God.

Sam said...

What I wear on Sunday morning is of no more theological importance to me than what I wear any other day of the week. Being a stay at home mom going to church is the fanciest thing I do on a regular basis so I take the opportunity to dress up. If I'm having a rough morning I'll just settle for neat and clean (or just mostly clean if it's a really bad morning). I am often one of the most dressed up people at my church where most everyone trends towards everyday casual.

I grew up in a church tradition where everyone dressed to the nines for Sunday services and only slightly less so for mid week services. That really irritated me as it was clear that how well dressed people were had no bearing on how Christian their behaviour was. I always argued with my parents (if I wanted to wear pants or my favourite dress one time too many) that if someone had time to notice and be critical of anything I wore to church then they weren't paying attention to the right things.

I was very relieved when I went off to college and discovered churches with a more casual attitude towards Sunday morning dress. I found this attitude particularly refreshing in winter since I could dress for the weather rather than other people's expectations.

Ward said...

Funny story...

Around December of our first year at our current church, a woman in the congregation called Muse and told her that she understood that we were "poor" because of going to college, but she thought I should dress better as a pastor.

My attire that particular morning? A $40 pair of slacks, a $50 dollar button down dress shirt, and an $80 pair of shoes. But it didn't matter because I didn't wear a tie. Since I wouldn't wear a suit, even a cheap one would have done it, I was dressing too poor for my role.

I've always believed that you should look like you care about coming into the Lord's home, but some insist that in order to qualify for that means wearing a suit and tie. If that is someone's vision of dressing up, then I rarely have tolerance for it. In all honesty, I have shirts that cost more than some people's suits and look more tasteful too, lol.

Sean said...

I can understand the argument that says that by dressing up you're honoring God, but it doesn't seem to hold water with me. I mean, aren't we supposed to be worshiping God all the time? So, by dressing up for this particular worship event makes me more spiritual? It doesn't really make sense to me. I'm generally against looking sloppy in public, which is primarily why I'm against looking sloppy at church. I don't think that because I dress nicely for this worship event that makes me more spiritual or honoring of God. I don't think that there's anything particularly more important about Sunday morning service than there is about any other thing I do. Sure it's when I gather with other believers to worship, but that's no different from bible study or small group or the soup kitchen - none of which do I dress up for. Honoring God begins and ends with your heart and actions, not with what you're wearing.

Innocent Question said...

You spend every day with your wife, too, loving her and cherishing her and wearing informal clothes. But when you take her to a special place (nice restaurant for anniversary), you dress up to show respect for the occasion and for her, right? Should God be any different when you meet him in church?

Wacko! said...

I think the topic of dress is a distraction from the purpose of church. It's the same thing with the kind of music a church uses for worship - it's about the culture of that church and how strong the peer pressure is to dress a certain way.

God doesn't care about our worship styles or the clothes we wear. IT IS ALL ABOUT THE HEART and not being a stumbling block for others.

I've attended both "formal dress" and "casual dress" churches. I prefer casual dress churches, not because it gives me an excuse to dress down, but because I think it creates a more seeker-friendly atmosphere.

There's also a trend to move church buildings away from the traditional church look (with steeple) into more "seeker-friendly" structures. For example, the church that Nomad and CRCHAIR attend have held one service in the "traditional" church structure and more "contemporary" services in a multi-purpose room. I think both are fine, but church members have to show grace towards people that are different themselves and choose to dress differently.

Nomad said...

Actually, services in the "traditional" church section have been abandoned in our church. Not for lack of desire by the Congregation, but because of the extra logistics around cleaning and preparing multiple spaces. And the desire to promote church unity as much as possible.

glen said...

It's not about the dress, its about your walk. God is always perfecting us. Some days, He pushing one person to dress up for one reason, some days he pushes another to dress down for another. Other days he challenges people to look at both types and realize they're both His.

There is no "group" answer. It's all about the individual this time.

Sean said...

@ Innocent Question
A) The question shows a lack of knowledge of the relationship my wife and I have - we don't go to fancy restaurants BECAUSE we don't like to have to be dressed uncomfortablely and pay too much for it.

But more to the point...

B)When I do dress up for an event, the reason I dress up is because it's a social convention and being someone who wants to be socially accepted I dress up.

C) The question assumes that church is a special occasion for me and God. Church is more about the community coming together to worship God than it is about me and God. So my dressing up or not is contingent upon the social conventions of the community with which I find myself worshiping.

D) I have to agree with Wacko! that the issue of dress is a distraction - much like style of music or the color of the carpet. I don't think about how I dress when I go to church because I feel comfortable in the presence of God no matter how I dress - knowing that God is not going to judge me differently in jeans and a t-shirt than in a $1000 suit. This goes back to the question about my wife and I. Because we feel comfortable with each other, we don't feel the need to impress each other by putting on the pretense of fancy-ness. When we're alone with each other we dress pretty grungy and only when we go out to be with other people do we dress nicer - which goes back to social conventions. I honor my wife with my faithfulness and my life, not with what kind of clothes I wear. And even if that wasn't the case and my wife asked me to dress nicer, I would dress nicer because I love her AND BECAUSE she asked. God never asked us to dress up for church - society did.

CRCHAIR said...

I would add to this conversation that there are times when you should dress up for church even if you don't think it is important. Our church has a wide range of dress on an average Sunday morning from 3 piece suits to shorts. But our church culture is to dress up more than usual on the days like Easter and Christmas. This last year at Christmas one of the people playing an instrument in the worship band was wearing jeans and a polo shirt. Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with wearing that kind of outfit to church, but it was distracting to more than one person in the congregation. So I would say sometimes dressing up for church can be a way to not "Cause your brother to stumble."

"Nick" said...

I'd have to say though, I agree that the guy should have dressed up more, but more because he was part of a group "performing", and by not being somewhat more dressed up, he drew attention to himself and off of the purpose of the band (worship).

My opinion is basically the same as most of the people here. The heart attitude is more important. We are coming together to actively worship God (as opposed to a more passive worship in your normal life). We come as we are, not as what someone else wants us to be.

We should be concerned that we don't distract others from that purpose, and that can go either way.

If you dress in a suit because you want to impress people, the motivation is wrong, and therefore you are wrong to do so. If you wear jeans because you want to "shock" some people, same thing.

And the other thing is, the culture can and does decide what is "dressed up". In Papua New Guinea the men wear gourds over a certain organ and nothing else but beads and paint. That is a ceremonial outfit. In our culture, less and less do we wear suits and ties, but we still "dress up" in expensive jeans etc.

So I think the heart attitude when preparing and coming to a worship service is the important thing, not what you wear.