What Should the Dress Code Be for Sunday Services?
If you were to join my church on a Sunday morning, you would be met with a strange sight. It is a sight that can be found in many other churches too, but one that can only be described as strange nevertheless. There is no dress code for our Sunday Services and it may be the same for your church.
Some of the people there would be very well dressed. Others would be wearing clothes that could be described as smart-casual. And yet another group, including myself, would be dressed in very casual clothes such as jeans and a T-shirt.
I can't think of any other situation in which we would find people dressed in such a wide variety of ways. Everyone would dress down to go shopping, for example, while everyone would dress well to go to a wedding. And we would never find two people who do the same job at the same place of employment turning up to work in a suit and jeans respectively. The sight at my church, then, can only be described as strange because of the lack of a dress code.
So, what does God make of the way people dress at the services of my church and of churches where something similar is found? Has one group got things right? Or has one group got things better than the others? Or is it even more complicated than that?
To begin with, we can note that when people go to a wedding or a funeral, they would never dream of going casually dressed, unless for some reason they only possessed casual clothes. Weddings and funerals are rightly seen as very significant and important occasions, and dressing well is viewed as a way of demonstrating just how significant.
It is surely true that a Sunday service is even more important than a wedding or funeral. We are meeting especially for the purpose of worshipping the one, true, almighty God. Given that it is considered appropriate to dress well on important occasions, there is surely a lot to be said for dressing well at Sunday services. It allows an outward demonstration of how important the occasion is.
Furthermore, I think it is true that when people dress casually for Sunday services this can sometimes help foster a casual atmosphere. And I think a casual atmosphere can mean that God is sometimes not treated with the reverence He deserves. For another reason, then, I think there is a lot to be said for dressing well at Sunday services.
If this was all there was to say on the matter, we could conclude that everyone should dress well for Sunday services. However, there are other factors to bring into consideration.
Although there is a lot to be said for letting outward things demonstrate what is going on inwardly, if too much effort is put into what is external, sometimes the focus can actually get onto the outward things themselves, and away from God.
This was one of the concerns of the Reformers in the sixteenth century. The Roman Catholic Church at that time put a lot of effort into making Christian things impressive externally, yet inwardly the professing Christians were largely spiritually bankrupt. I think dressing well can potentially carry with it some danger of leading to this kind of problem, although the danger is probably not that great.
Another problem with dressing well is that it can put people off coming to the services. For me as I consider this issue, this is the clincher and the reason why I dress casually for Sunday services.
Ever since I have been a Christian, in the churches I have been part of there have been people who have come along to Sunday services who are in various respects on the margins of society. Some have had severe mental health problems. Others have had bad drug problems. I think in some cases, not only is it unlikely that they owned any smart clothes, but they may well not even have owned any smart-casual clothes.
No one would dispute that it is very embarrassing to be in a place where you are dressed differently from everyone else, whether over- or under-dressed. I am sure that if everyone went to Sunday services dressed in smart or smart-casual clothes, some of the impoverished and marginalised people in society who might otherwise come along, would choose not to. They only have casual clothes, they see people on a Sunday dressed in the sort of clothes they don't possess, and they steer clear of those services, even if they have some interest in attending. Not only would they have to venture into an unfamiliar environment, but they would have to look foolish to do so, so they decide not to go through all that.
Even in the case of poor or marginalised people who do own some smart or smart-casual clothes, there could be a similar problem. They may wear these clothes so rarely that the prospect of having to wear them to a church service might make them think that attending that service would be an even more uncomfortable experience than it could well be anyway. They too, therefore, may decide not to bother.
In 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 the apostle Paul specifically refers to non-Christians coming to church gatherings, and we should certainly expect the same often to happen today. Surely we should do what we reasonably can to make everyone feel that they are welcome to join us at Sunday services. Besides, Jesus was renowned in His ministry for associating with people who were on the margins of society. We ought not to put any barriers in the way of people seeking the truth.
This is the reason why I dress down for Sunday services. In fact, as I write this I can think of one young man who has had a long history of problems and who has often been to Sunday services at our church. I haven't seen him for a while but I pray that God will bring him back to us again soon. Every time he has come he has been dressed very casually, and if I had to guess, I think that he might never have come along if everyone had been dressed even in smart-casual clothes. Even if he had come along, I think it is unlikely that he would have done so as often as he has. For me at the present time as I consider this issue, this is the clincher. If I dress down, then I am welcoming poor people who only have casual clothes, or people who are not used to wearing any other type of clothes, to join us.
That said, I realise that many people would feel uneasy about wearing casual clothes at a Sunday service, and I respect that. In fact, I think that as long as there are enough people who are casually dressed, poor and marginalised people would probably not be put off coming along, even if there are also some present who are well dressed. Perhaps the strange situation of well dressed and casually dressed Christians at Sunday services is the best option for my church.
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