I’m a millennial and I still think it’s best to wear our best to church. Recently my brother (Jonathan) and his wife (Vera) launched an online tie store called French Thread (shameless plug). Their company is awesome and it’s a great conversation starter. In particular, the issue of the so-called church “dress wars” comes up from time to time. No, I don’t think a suit will save you or jeans will jinx you; I just think God’s house deserves our respect. I can hear the groans from latte sipping, skinny jean, cashmere wearing liberals now… and yes, I know the Church is made up of people, not buildings. In fact, I’ll take you all the way down that road; our bodies are literally temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19). Meaning, it matters how we dress, speak, talk, eat, live, and on and on. And not just at church, but every day. Our bodies represent Jesus. His holiness, His majesty, and His royalty dwell within us. I want to represent the Holy Spirit to the best of my ability (whatever that may be).
Having said that, the church house is a building specifically designated and dedicated to worshipping a God that is awesome beyond our wildest imaginations. His presence is everywhere, but a church is dedicated to worship and the Word. When functioning properly, a church is a collection of unified, Spirit-filled, enthusiastic individuals who show up to lift up the name of Jesus. They come to learn, grow, praise, and experience the presence of God in a way that only collective worship allows. The singing is sacred, the preaching is powerful, the prayer is purposeful, and the atmosphere is faithful. A gathering of the Church in any place or building on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Psalms 118:22-26) is a convocation of holy people worshipping a holy God (i.e. a holy convocation). Basically, church is a big deal, God is the biggest deal, and because worship is not a casual thing we should not dress informally. I dress up for church for the same reasons I dress up for weddings; it’s a sacred time and I want to honor it.
Psychologists know that how we dress impacts our mindset greatly (here, here, here, and here). Schools have found that uniforms foster a focused classroom. Conversely, anything goes dress codes promote lazy, casual, and disrespectful demeanors (here, here). Studies of businesses show that productivity dramatically decreases on casual Fridays (here, here). We all instinctively know this to be true deep down. There’s a reason we buy special clothes for vacation; certain types of clothing make us feel more relaxed (you can always spot a tourist). It’s not a coincidence that people dress a certain way to go clubbing or hit the bars, they have a certain goal and a certain mindset and they dress accordingly. There’s a reason why politicians, lawyers, business professionals, newsmen, doctors, pilots, military personnel, pastors (at least historically), and even late night comedians mostly wear dress clothes while representing their endeavors. They are showing respect for their profession, themselves, and others. They exude confidence, competence, focus, command, and elicit trust.
I know there’s a certain charm to feeling the liberty to wear jeans and T-shirts to church (or whatever). It’s easy, casual, convenient, and relaxing. And therein, lies the problem; church is not designed to be easy, casual, convenient, or relaxing. Yikes! I know how politically incorrect that statement sounds, but nevertheless it’s true.
Church is meant to be exciting, exhilarating, exalting, and life changing. If you think that sounds sillier than passing up a Krispy Kreme when the “hot” sign is on, it’s because you haven’t experienced the moving of the Spirit in a tangible way (at least not recently). Like it or not, preaching is not inherently designed by God to only be positive and encouraging K-Love radio, sometimes it’s for correction, conviction, instruction, and rebuke (1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Luke 17:3-4, Mark 16:14). I don’t want my pastor looking like he’s about go camping for the same reasons I don’t want my lawyer looking like he’s about to go play video games in his Mom’s basement; it reeks of immaturity, incompetence, indifference, and frivolity. None of those images inspire confidence, gravitas, or respect. Furthermore, church is a sacred time where we come into direct contact with Divine anointing, revelation, illumination, salvation, sanctification, and the list could go on for miles. Bottom line, it’s not casual.
Let me address objections that I often hear from the promoters of super casual church attire. It usually goes something like this “Isn’t it a waste of money to buy dress clothes?” It’s normally followed up with “Couldn’t that money be better spent another way?” Typically, a caustic accusation of vanity is leveled as well. First, those statements are eerily like the arguments that Judas employed against Mary for breaking her alabaster box over the feet of Jesus (John 12:3-8). An argument that Jesus promptly rejected (I wouldn’t call Judas a great role model). Second, dressing in a respectful, dignified way doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Third, I recently performed a wedding alongside a pastor who was adamantly against wearing a suit and tie to church. Ironically, he spent a lot of time bragging about his $300 name brand jeans and his $400 distressed leather boots. I don’t necessarily care what he paid for what, but obviously hip “casual” clothes can be just as expensive and vain as a suit and tie.
If you walk away from this article assuming I think a tie has some salvific value you’d be dead wrong. Neither do I expect guests to change their wardrobe before they walk through the doors of the church house! Also, I fully acknowledge that if people aren’t careful, “dressing up” can devolve into vanity and showiness! I do think, however, that as we mature spiritually our level of reverence towards the things of God should grow exponentially (1 Timothy 3:14-15, 1 Peter 2:5). As that happens, we should begin to dress reverently for church (Hebrews 12:28).
This excerpt from an article by CNN writer John Blake offers a further perspective:
The reasons why people stopped dressing up could fill a book. Yet Fulwiler offers one explanation that’s seldom mentioned – lack of gratitude.
Fulwiler’s revelation came one day as she watched scruffily dressed people board a plane. She flashed back to a black-and-white photo she had seen of her grandparents boarding a plane in the 1940s. Most of the passengers were dressed in suits and ties and dresses because air travel was such a privilege at the time.
“We dress up for what we’re grateful for,” she says. “We’re such a wealthy, spoiled culture that we feel like we have a right to fly on airplanes,” says Fulwiler, author of “Something Other than God,” which details her journey from atheism to Christianity.
Church is like air travel now – it’s no longer a big deal because people have lost their sense of awe before God, Fulwiler says.
Yet some of these same people who say it doesn’t matter how you dress for church would change their tune if they were invited to another event, Fulwiler says.
“If you had the opportunity to meet the Queen of England, you wouldn’t show up in at Windsor Castle wearing jeans and a T-shirt,” she says.
Shouldn’t people have that same reverential attitude when they show up at church to meet God, some ask? After all, doesn’t your dress reveal the importance you attach to an occasion?”
The real underlying question here is “should you choose to approach church casually or reverently”? Before you decide, ask yourself if it would be disrespectful to show up to a wedding in flip-flops and a T-shirt? Take that thought a little further, if you were the bride how would you dress? Certainly, as the bride of Christ, we should be reverent in our dress code as we gather to worship our Groom. Saints of old viewed it symbolically as a foretaste of the Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelations 19:6-9). Dressing “up” was a symbol of their profound respect for the things of God. I think they were right.