How to dress for church involves a balance of several priorities. Generally, though, I think it’s much ado about nothing.
The very top priority is that
God cares about your heart, not your clothes!
Whether you are in designer formal evening wear, or your birthday suit, God cares only about your response to Him (1 Samuel 16:7). He is pleased when that response is faith, love, trust, and obedience (Micah 6:8). He is hurt, sad, and angry when that response is stubborn rebellion, rejection, and disobedience (Zechariah 7:8-12).
The Bible teaches us not to be partial to the rich and well-dressed over the poor and poorly-dressed. Everyone is to be treated equally. This starts way back in the Old Testament law (Deuteronomy 1:17) and continues into the New Testament (Romans 2:9-11) and the early church (James 2:1-9).
Now that I have that out of the way, I can see several alternatives in between formal wear and birthday suits:
- When we are going to somewhere special, or to see someone very special, we dress nicely to respect the occasion. I wouldn’t wear my gardening clothes to a State dinner at the White House.
- In that case, I should dress up when going to God’s house for a special time with the all-powerful Creator of the universe.
- When we are with family or close friends, we can be ourselves. We know that we don’t have to dress to impress them. They will still love us even in our houseshoes and old-faithful jeans and T-shirt.
- In that case, I should dress down when going to spend time with the One who knows and loves me best.
- God is not the only one who sees us at church; our church family has to look at us also. Our clothing should not be a distraction from their time with God.
- In that case, I should dress neutral and match whatever style everyone else is wearing.
As to what the Bible teaches on the subject, I don’t find much. What I do find doesn’t specifically mention dressing for church attendance.
- Clothing is said to be changeable, so not something to be depended upon (Psalm 102:25-27).
- The “ideal woman” of Proverbs 31 clothes herself and her family well (Proverbs 31:21-22).
- Jesus reminds us that God provides for even the birds and the flowers, so we don’t need to worry about our food or clothing (Matthew 6:25-34).
- Jesus condemned those who use their clothes to designate themselves as “special” while looking down on others (Mark 12:38-40).
- The Apostle Paul’s letter to his protege Timothy says for women to dress modestly, not in fancy expensive clothing and hair styles (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
From these and other general teachings of the Bible, I come away with the concept of “Don’t make a big deal about how you’re dressed”. I want my clothes to be decent and appropriate, maybe even attractive, but not to scream for attention.
For Sunday worship services in the church where I attend, people generally wear “business casual” clothing, the same kind of thing that I would wear to my office. Within that general framework, some people dress more formally or casually than others. We may edge up a little for the more special events (such as Easter 1 ) or down a little for more casual gatherings. There are plenty of congregations that dress more formally than we do; there are also plenty that dress more casually. In other cultures, the very definitions of “formal” and “casual” are completely different. I don’t see anything in the Bible saying that God thinks any more or less of any of those options.
Mostly, I want to be more focussed on God than on my clothing (or anyone else’s). I think that He’s much more important!