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Church Clothes Part 1

Church Clothes Part 1
Jan 21 Tags: clothing | 11 Responses Print Save as PDF

The Current Issue

In 2012 the Christian rapper Lecrae came out with a popular song entitled “Church Clothes.” In the song he referenced the hypocrisy of many churches where people with no hint of repentance are involved in worship. He writes the song from the perspective of a street kid who is judged by what he wears by people who are openly living in sin and promoting a false gospel.

 “I walk in the church with a snap back
And they tellin’ me that that’s a no no?
That’s backwards an I lack words for these actors called pastors
All these folks is hypocrites,
And that’s why I ain’t at church”

A stumbling block

What we can learn from the huge success of this song among young Christians is that they often feel the same way. From the success of artists like Lecrae and other hard-hitting preachers we can see that this generation wants reality.

They have been raised in a make-believe world of video games and Facebook “friends” and many of them are tired of the phoniness. So they go to church where they think they are going to hear about the meaning of life and are driven out by some guy in a long robe telling them they shouldn’t look so weird.

Casting out the youth

That was exactly the experience of a friend of mine from High School. He was one of the skater kids with a “snap back” (backwards baseball cap), weird t-shirt and crazy haircut. He went to his parents’ clerical church and was told by the priest that he couldn’t come dressed like that, so he gave up on church, which to him meant giving up on God.

In his mind, and so many others, people that dress up for church are playing a game.  So we need to ask ourselves, “do we want to be another stumbling block in his way?” Let’s look at the Bible and see what it says. The answer may surprise you. It doesn’t have as much to do with changing our wardrobe as some might think.

Disclaimer 1: No dress code in the Bible

The Bible, both Testaments, simply does not give us a dress code of things to wear. “But what about the Old Testament laws about clothes?” You might wonder. Well I’m glad you asked. Here are a few of them:

Leviticus 19:19 “You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you.”(Interestingly, this verse comes right after Leviticus 19:18 “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” more on that later).

Deuteronomy 22:5 “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”

These were the two major laws for the Hebrew about dress, two stipulations, but hardly enough to be called a “dress code.” As for what to wear, they were simply informed that they had to cover themselves, as the prohibitions against nakedness in Leviticus 18 stated.

The New Testament has even less to say about what to wear, which will be examined tomorrow. The point here is that if you’re looking for a verse in the Bible to back up some policy about dressing up for church, you’re searching in vain. To force a dress code on those in fellowship (even for speakers and song leaders) is simply not backed up by Scripture.

Disclaimer 2:  Not taking sides in a “casual vs. dress-up” debate

The intention of this article is not to stir up strife about a taboo subject. There are some people who feel it is necessary to dress up for church, and others who feel the opposite. All I want to say here is what the Bible says, and I think it speaks to our situation today.

It is also important to note that there are Christians all around the world to which this article may be a mystery, (and bless the Lord if you are one of them). There are cultures in which people simply don’t have the funds to dress differently for a church meeting. And others where there are cultural customs in place that hinders this from being a big deal (although the Bible still speaks to these cultures).

I happen to live in one of the latter cultures. Here in Mississippi, part of the Bible-Belt, everyone assumes that you dress up for church. So no one thinks it odd to wear nice clothes on Sunday. This used to be true across North America, but the culture has changed, and hence the current debate. Whatever side you may lean toward, and my wife and I tend to lean in opposite directions on this issue, the Bible has something to say to you.

Disclaimer 3: It is not wrong to dress up

There of course was an Old Testament dress code for the priests. The reason for this given in Exodus 28:2 was “for glory and for beauty.” God didn’t want his representatives looking ragged. The Tabernacle, which became the Temple under Solomon, was based around sensory worship.

That is, worship that was physical. Worship you could see, smell, hear, touch and taste. It only made sense that the priests should dress differently from everyone else, so they were commanded to dress for the occasion in specific garments.  There is not a direct connection between the dress of the priests and what church saints wear as we now worship in Spirit and in truth.

The Bible speaks in several places of dressing up. In Ezekiel 16:10-14 the Lord tells how fine he dressed Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus told a parable about someone being thrown out of a wedding for not dressing properly (Matthew 22:1-14). Of course these last two are symbolic references, but it would be hard to argue that the Lord looks negatively on someone who dressed up for a special occasion.

Tomorrow we will take a specific look at what the New Testament says about clothing and how it applies specifically to the church.

Mike Donahue

Mike lives in Prattville, Alabama with his wife Danielle and three little children, where he works as a high school English teacher. They attend Central Bible Chapel, just outside of Montgomery. Mike is particularly interested in evangelism. He spent two years with the Good News on the Move team and he and his wife spent two summers with the Cross Canada Cruisers. Mike enjoys speaking to youth and people of all ages about the good news.

11 Responses to Church Clothes Part 1

  1. Barefoot Hippie Girl

    Good points! I am looking forward to part 2.

  2. I am one who does “dress up” to go to meeting. I feel that if I can go to other functions (weddings, social gatherings, etc.) and “dress up” for those occasions why not “dress up” for meeting with the Lord. I would not in any way insist on others having to do this. It is my personal choice. In our assembly many dress casual and nothing is made of it. I remind myself what scripture says “man looketh on the outward appearance but God looketh on the heart.

  3. Thanks Bernadette and Fred.

    Fred, it sounds like your assembly has a good perspective on this issue. We also enjoy fellowship with believers that don’t judge other’s based on their dress. As I said, people dress up at most churches in Mississippi, but since we are in a college town there are occasionally visitors who don’t dress up and it’s a great testimony when they are welcomed and not meant to feel out of place.

    Just wondering, on a scale of 1-10, how big of a deal do you think this is in your assembly?

  4. Don

    In one survey after another, students who wore clean, neat uniforms in school were far more likely to be attentive, behave better and learn faster than those who went to school in a bedraggled fashion.
    I wonder if maybe this would apply to how we dress when we attend our meetings? Maybe?

  5. Don

    One more thing: We need to keep in context that verse “man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart”. Verse 7 of 1 Samuel 16 says “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature”. There is nothing there about his clothing but rather (I believe) that he was a handsome young man and might have looked ‘kingly’.

  6. James

    Hey, Michael. Nice work.

    I can’t wear a SnapBack in the meeting, because I can’t cover my head.

    Aside from that sort of thing, we’re really talking about fashion choices. It’s an external thing. So I kind of think it’s best to agree not to make a big deal about it–if we could only agree to that. It’s really not a big thing in our part of the Carolinas. People dress all sorts of ways for meetings here. So I confess that the whole dress code discussion feels a bit like a straw man to me.

    I do have one question. How does skater garb equal “reality,” while other (less casual) fashion choices equal hypocrisy? Seems like a case of reverse legalism. If it’s wrong to judge someone for his apparel (and I think we both agree that it is), then it is wrong to judge someone for his apparel.

    • James, so true, the millennials can be just as legalistic about not dressing up. My example of the skater kid friend of mine was more about unbelievers coming in and feeling accepted. I have literally visited meetings that have signs posted in the front entry way about appropriate dress. It becomes hypocrisy when religious leaders impose a standard of dress as a measure of spirituality.
      About the snap-back, I agree that brothers in fellowship shouldn’t wear head coverings, but could a sister wear a snap-back as a head covering? And do we tell male visitors, who may be unsaved, that they should remove their hats?

      • James

        I would rather see a sister in a SnapBack with a sincere desire to take her place in the type, than a sister with sunglasses on her head, in order to comply with the “letter of the law.”
        I think we should be prepared to explain teachings about headship, and invite believers to participate. Also, we can appeal to courtesy. When I visit your house, I expect to follow your house rules, whether or not I understand or agree with them. Same with coverings visa via visitors (including the lost).
        It’s pretty simple. “In our church, we have a practice of women covering their heads and men not covering their heads. I’m telling you this so you’ll understand what you’re seeing today. I’d love to show you where we get this from the Bible. You can choose whether you want to do this. But I thought it might help you to know about what’s going on.”
        By the way, a lot of people have a bigger issue with keeping silent than with covering. Coverings are still pretty common among African American churches and RCC.

  7. dale jodoin

    I agree…..Disclaimer 1: No dress code in the Bible. Some would say you need to wear cloth on your head, to the woman….1 Cor 11:15 says: But woman, if she have long hair, [it is] glory to her; for the long hair is given [to her] in lieu of a veil.(Darby)

    • Apologion

      I was surprised that Darby actually wrote that. To back up a bit, the comment above can be more accurately stated as “Darby says 1 Cor. 11:15 says…” When a particular translation is chosen to support a position of the chosen translation, the reasoning is inherently circular. (I’m not saying that was the reason in this case.) At best, it is an appeal to the authority of Darby.

      Darby evidently assumes that “lieu” (ἀντὶ) (in Greek) refers to the relationship of the “covering” (περιβολαίου) and the hair: namely, that long hair is given in place (lieu) of a veil. This assumption causes at least two apparent contradictions vis-à-vis verse six of the chapter. (Exegetical point: one must interpret scripture so as to not contradict or vitiate other scripture.) My own thought is that the “anti” comparison refers to the contrast of the previous verse where short hair is given to the man as a covering (at least initially :-)).

      A first point to consider is the effect of the substitution of “(long) hair” for “veil” with reference to the teaching of verse six: “if indeed a woman does not cover her hair, it is the same as if she were shorn.” This interpretation renders the plain meaning of this portion of verse six to be nonsensical: how can her hair cover her hair? Further, if her hair is the veil, then why should her hair be shorn so as to leave her with no covering?

      A second point to consider is if her hair “is given to her” (indicative mood) as a veil then why is the command “let her cover her head” (κατακαλυπτέσθω) (imperative mood) given at the end of verse six? (She isn’t bald either, how could she be shorn if she were bald?) The use of the imperative mood indicates the command is, well, imperative.

      My above points are not dispositive as to whether head coverings should be worn. In contrast, the PROCESS used to interpret scripture is far more important than this particular point of dispute. If this scripture passage is interpreted to mean the hair is a replacement for the veil because of the motivation that wearing a veil is in disagreement with our culture, then we are letting our world (or our world view) interpret the Bible. Mark 7:13 “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” We need to be careful that our traditions, including what we wear or what we don’t wear, don’t violate the Word of God (and not be as concerned about our fellow Christians’ prejudices against our actions taken in accordance with the perfect law of liberty: cf., Col. 2:16).

  8. Margaret Gutthardt

    Titus 2:12 puts things into persepctive for topics that are not addressed in the Bible such as clothing. It reads: “It (meaning grace which is found in verse 11) teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

    True grace, which is not a thing but a person i.e. Jesus, transforms people.

    Clothing becomes an issue in the local church where true grace is not present.

    When true grace becomes real and experiential in the heart of a person wearing a “snap back” (never knew wearing a baseball cap backwards was called that – now I know), they’ll be transformed and that will eventually become evident on the outside and they’ll shed the “snap back” and all that goes with that look. The transforming work of Christ transforms and empowers us to live godly and upright lives (or at least it should – that is God’s intention for bringing grace into this world).

    Sadly though there are people who dress up in nice clothes and go to church despite not being transformed by grace.

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