I’ve been thinking some lately about what we wear to church. The church that I currently attend has a very ‘eclectic’ approach to Sunday morning worship wear – suits to blue jeans and everything in between. Does what you wear to worship say something about how you view worship or is worship attire-neutral?
As I’ve discussed this issue here at the seminary and gone around preaching at several churches, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ church attire. What I call ‘church clothes’ is not what you call ‘church clothes’. Basically, the discussion has centered around two points of view:
1. When we worship, we are coming into the presence of God in a unique way and therefore what we wear should reflect that. I wouldn’t show up to visit the President of the United States in jeans and a T-shirt so I shouldn’t come to worship the Lord of the Universe that way either.
2. God accepts our worship ''just as we are’. I don’t need to dress-up special for him. In fact, wearing a tie or a dress might even make me more uncomfortable and hinder my ability to worship. Don’t ask to be something that I’m not. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
I don’t know of too many people who would disagree, in principle, with either of those statements. So, in some ways, this is a false dilemma…both points of view contain truth. While I don’t think for one second that God might accept or not accept our worship by what we wear, I don’t think that necessarily means that what we wear to worship is not important.
Why? Clothing is not neutral. Clothing communicates. Now, we may make all sorts of false assumptions about what it communicates, but it communicates nonetheless. If I’ve got a swimsuit on, it’s a pretty safe bet I’m planning on being near water. I don’t put on a tie to go the grocery store. I don’t wear khakis to coach Bethany’s softball team. I don’t wear T-shirts that have cuss words on them. Some people where shirts with pithy sayings, or jerseys from their favorite team, or a sweatshirt from their alma mater. Clothing communicates.
In addition, we can, and do, make plenty of correct assumptions about people based on what they wear. If someone is wearing a Tigers jersey or a Red Wings hat, I can assume that they are a fan of that particular team. I could give countless other examples.
Clothing also reflects the nature of the event itself. The function dictates the attire. We wear clothes to fit the event. The event determines the attire, not the other way around. There is a reason that we distinguish between casual wear and formal wear. I’m not going wear a tuxedo to a U2 concert.
So the next time your deciding what to wear to church, no matter which end of the two above extremes you might put yourself closer to try to avoid the assumption that clothing is neutral – it isn’t. It never is. We should be intentional about what we wear – to the grocery store and to church.