A Question I Was Asked:

Should We Dress in our Finest to Attend Church?

The Question:

Should we dress in our finest when going to church? I always believed that we should but some now say 'just dress ordinary.' Has this whole thing now gone too far?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Yes, personally I believe that the 'dress casual' thing has now gone too far.

I can only give my personal opinion here; there is no definitive biblical instruction, although I think there are principles we can follow.

We once attended the largest church in a particular British city. Sadly, if I am going to be honest, there were many, many things wrong with it; one of which was that anybody over about 50 was pretty much treated as though they did not exist. Pastoral care was atrocious (as even one of the congregation's two ministers admitted), and the congregation's leaders had apparently copied the Calvary Chapel 'completely casual dress' thing. On any hot summer's Lord's Day, much of the congegation would turn up in beach wear, suggesting that their main purpose was to get to the beach but they were prepared to take out about an hour to get to church first!

This church had a guy, not a deacon or anything, who seemed to have set himself up as a sort of 'church attending dress code overseer'! He once had a go at me for wearing a suit. I'm afraid that the poor man probably regretted doing that. He believed that casual dress for church was important. His attitude was something like, 'Why dress up? You are no more important in God's sight!' I thoroughly agreed with that sentiment but this man was, nevertheless, misunderstanding something really important. I guarantee that if we had been told that Queen Elizabeth II would be attending any particular Sunday, everybody would have turned up in all their finery! Queen Elizabeth is, I believe, a fine and outstanding person - but is she more important than Christ?

If one is continually 'dressing up' simply in an effort to impress others, there is probably a big problem in that person's spiritual life, nevertheless, it is good to put a difference in the Lord's Day, in my opinion. It is a good thing to wear one's best clothing for coming into the presence of Christ; it is a way of showing respect. This general principle seems to be accepted in the New Testament; Matthew 22:1-14 features the parable of the Wedding Banquet. This, of course, is all about the Gentiles being accepted into the kingdom of God ahead of the hypocritical Jewish religionists who - blasphemously - wanted Christ to be put to death. But four particular verses are of interest to us here and now. Let's look at them:

"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, 'How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?' The man was speechless. "Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
"For many are invited, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:11-14)

It seems that a lack of appropriate respect - in view of the magnitude of what our Lord was offering - was the problem here. I think we should just think on that point! Now, of course, the clothes were - and are - symbolic of righteousness; I take that point, the man was not ready for the kingdom and so was incorrectly attired, nevertheless, our Lord seems to accept the point that appropriate clothes can be a sign of respect - or disrespect. Would any of us attend a wedding in beach wear, or in jeans and tee shirt?

Now some might quote James 2:1-4 here, but I think it a different matter entirely. But let us briefly look at that:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4, NIV throughout).

James 2 considers a very different matter; it is about partiality and impartiality! We should not treat people with more respect because they are wealthy; we are all Christians and a more wealthy believer has no advantage over a poor one as far as God is concerned! Of course, it is true that in certain countries one must accept different dress codes and standards of dress - no problem. But in the affluent West of our present day, one would have no excuse for turning out in James' "filthy old clothes." But James was teaching about favouritism and showing partiality, he certainly was not saying, 'make sure you dress down as much as possible before coming into a Christian teaching assembly.'

We really should get back to looking upon church as coming into the presence of Christ and showing necessary respect to our Lord, and our fellow believers, in how we conduct ourselves. However, I am not suggesting that we need to overdo this whole thing, of course. But unnecessarily shabby or casual clothes, or beachwear, for Christian services? I don't think so. That is my considered opinion and I believe it is based upon Christian principles.

Robin A. Brace. May 7th, 2013.