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.