12 May 2006

On proper attire for church

My turn to post on top of James Spurgeon.
by Phil Johnson

Dan's post yesterday made an important point to which I add a hearty and solemn amen. The comment-thread that ensued prompted a secondary discussion about whether our attire for church ought to be formal or informal. I want to bring that issue up out of the meta.

Here's how it came about:

Somewhere under Dan's post, Sharon added a comment bewailing the epidemic of informality that has changed the look and feel of church services everywhere since the days of "Leave it to Beaver." Hers is not a popular point of view these days, except among schoolmarm types. After all, everyone knows that legalism is a greater threat than irreverence, right?

Well, maybe not.

First of all, thanks to Jerry Wragg for saving me some time (once again). I haven't time to say everything I would like about the issue. So see Jerry's lengthy comment in this thread for a good summary of my view.

But I wanted to add this:

Regarding formality

There's important truth on both sides of this question. Scripture gives no dress code for when the congregation assembles—except that we're expressly forbidden to favor people with fine attire (James 2:2-4). Selah.

It's also possible to be both formal and immodest.

Moreover, I've been in very formal environments where the formality seemed designed mainly as an opportunity to parade one's finery. To whatever degree that's someone's motive for dressing up, it's a sinful motive.

So I wouldn't argue that church must be formal. I've ministered too often in undeveloped countries and non-western cultures to suggest that neckties are a biblical necessity. (Ask Jay Adams if you don't believe me about that.)

Oddly enough, however, it seems to me that in less affluent cultures, people are usually more inclined to see the church service as an occasion to wear one's best clothing. For what it's worth.

Regarding informality

On the other hand, even those who claim to eschew every kind of dress code would surely deem some things too informal or otherwise inappropriate for church attire. And "modesty" is not the only issue here. If Sharon showed up at Chris Freeland's church in her band uniform, if Frank Turk arrived in a zoot suit, if I came in my lederhosen, or if James White showed up in his kilt (even with his bicycle tights underneath for modesty), I bet Chris would raise an eyebrow (or at least swallow hard).

Except for certain Anglicans, I'm betting most of us would agree that clown suits are generally inappropriate attire for church.

So even if we don't have a legalistic dress code, practically all of us would recognize that some kinds of attire are more appropriate than others for church.


If there's an imbalance today on one side or the other, it seems to me that it's largely in the direction of cheapening, informalizing, and trivializing everything that's sacred.

Which is to say that while wouldn't necessarily suggest that it's a sin to dress like this, I'd wonder about a Christian who dressed that way for church.

In other words...

There's an important and valid principle in what Sharon is saying, and those inclined to blow it off ought to pause and listen first:

To a certain extent, our attire in church reflects our attitude toward the significance of corporate worship and the holiness of the One whom we worship, and we ought to give some thought to that fact when we decide what to wear. The tendency toward making Hawaiian shirts, Bermuda shorts, sandals, bare midriffs, and gold chains the standard attire for corporate worship is related to the very same mentality that is cheapening and trivializing every other aspect of our worship.

Phil's signature


DJP said...

You know, as I was considering graphics for my post, I looked at that one, paused, then thought, "Ahhhhhhh.... no."


Mike Y said...


I certainly understand the point you're making in 3rd world countries with ties. Though I have certainly seen my fair share of programs to equip such foreign mission converts with them (from my IFBx days).

Likewise, I understand the extremes both ways. Sunday can be a fashion parade and often is for some. Similarly, I have not adjusted to seeing shorts worn in the worship service. Years ago, just after I became a convert, my pastor was kind enough to mention to me that it was a bit too informal. Honestly, I thought he was right and made a course correction.

WRT to what is proper and what isn't, I do think there is a level of appropriateness that is generally expressed by the congregation. I think of Romans 14 when I get to this subject. And I also think of 1Tim2. This subjective measurement varies with time and with culture. So I'm reluctant to come up with any hard and fast rule.

Now for the tough question. Do I think dress clothes (with or without tie) is the way to go? Not necessarily. Do I have an issue with blue jeans vs. kahkis? Nope. Low plungin tops on women? Now we're getting warmer. And ripped/torn jeans on guys? Wouldn't suggest it.

Perhaps this will be viewed as beating around the bush. For women the mandate is appropriate and decent with an attitude of modesty. And for all things in general, there is conviction by the Holy Spirit-- but not to doubtful disputations.

Having spent so much time in fundamentalism fighting the conveyance of what is ultra spiritual based on outward appearance, I am comforted by the fact my pastor doesn't wear a tie on Sundays. Although he and the other staff members did wear them on Easter Sunday.

How did I view the change? I actually thought it was considerate for them to make an exception on a day we were expecting many visitors. They did not want some to be distracted by the lack of the required uniform. This is my perception, though I never actually asked about it.

I do trust that if someone has an issue with my attire, he will confront me before it ever becomes an issue. As a general rule, I don't wear anything I wouldn't wear to work. So, Kilts are unfortunately out. Though I have been asked by customer and the like to make an exception-- one of the downsides of working for a UK-based company, I guess. I've especially had to deny the request for traditional wearing of such garments when combined with the added stipulation that I also ride my Ducati to work. I don't think it meets the decency requirement. But this too may be subjective.

Thanks for jogging the thoughts and the need for being considerate of others.


LeeC said...


I do not dress for my wife, for you, or my culture when I go to worship, I dress for worshipping my Creator, and Saviour.

I grew up going to a church where thrre piece suit was best, but you could get away with a two piece...but you might be taken for a backslider.

My parents stopped going to church when I was 14. Through my young adult years I wanted to go to church but I knew the clothes I had would not meet those standards,and I could barely afford fod, let alone suits. When my wife and I started looking for a church I was very nervous. All I knew was my old churches standards, and a Church of the Nazarenes which was the exact opposite, all shorts, mohawks ect. And I knew I did not hold to thier theology.

Praise God I found a grounded church in that regard! I wear what I consider to be respectful, nt what would wear to my buddies house, but instead if I were meeting someone who demanded my respect Which I am doing in fact).

Now what that clothing looks like is up to you to decide for yourself. I have had people ask me why I do not occasionaly wear my kilt to church. When first asked I didn't know. In fact one of the churches I went to when looking for a church was Presbyterian with a strong Scottis bent and they had quite a few people wear their kilts on St. Andrews day. I did also at that time, but I was not confortable with it.

After much reflection on myself and the Word I realized that the only reason for wearing my kilt was to draw attention to me, and I am their to worship and give glory to my God.

What should you wear to church?
Meditate upon why you are going there and what that means. Think about if their is any way that your dress might cause a brother or sister to stumble. Then dress ccording to your concience.

LeeC said...

I am an editors nightmare....one of these days I will learn to take the time to preview for typos.

Kim said...


That picture of Tom Jones... all I can say is EWWWW! Yuck!

I think he needs some PyroWear.

Great post, btw. I think you had a really balanced approach to it.

Aaron said...

I was thinking about the issue of "Christian liberties", since much of this dress code concern seems to be a liberty issue (aside from passages like James 2, which Phil mentioned, 1 Peter 3, etc.)

I was going to say this:

Don't the passages that speak of liberties (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8, Galatians 5) seem to speak more of deferring them, rather than exercising them?

To which the answer, I think, is "yes". But then I thought:

So then...who's liberties get deferred? The 3 pc. suit guy, or the bermuda/flip flop guy?

I guess I haven't made this any easier? :o)

Scott Roche said...

If my wife pulls clothes out for me I go formal (though almsot never a tie), if I pull them out I go casual (shorts or a kilt if warmer than forty degrees). In her case she was raised to "dress" for church and it stuck. In my case Iwas taught the same thing and saw how shallow most people who dressed up were (not meaning to imply that this is the rule, just my experience). The clothes I wear are always clean and never torn or ratty, suitable for meeting my father in.

theinscrutableone said...

Thanks, Dan and Phil, for the fine posts on this subject.

As I think of it, the question of how formally one ought to dress pertains not only to church but also to every venue in which we find ourselves. There's simply no area of life that doesn't pertain to the greater glory of God, dress included. So, whether we're at church, the office, at home, or at the beach, we ought to consider whether we are honoring God in our choice of attire.

On one hand, there's nothing inherently wrong with dressing nicely, and on the other there's nothing inherently wrong with dressing for comfort. However, we need to bear in mind that what we wear matters not only to _me_ but also to God and to those around me.

In today's ultra-casual environment, I fear that we all too often forget about how our dress can suggest either respect or disrespect to others. Obviously, if I'm safely burrowed away at home, or if I'm mowing my lawn, digging in my garden, or hiking through the wilderness, casual attire is eminently suitable, but when I'm going to work, the shopping center, or church, I think I ought to consider how my attire reflects my respect for other folks. Obviously I want to be comfortable, but I want to also consider the comfort level of others. By showing respect for those around me, I make them feel more comfortable.

Back in the 40's and 50's, people seemed to understand this principle a little better: jeans, shorts, etc., were for truly casual occasions, but when you went out or entertained company in your home, you dressed up more nicely.

As for how we ought to dress in church, I'd say that we ought to consider how we show respect not only towards our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also towards God. How this works out in practice is of course a matter of conscience. For me, I dress the same way for church that I do for work (business casual), whereas some other folks dress more nicely for church than they do at the office. In any case, it's my view that we ought to try to dress more nicely for church than we would for pulling weeds in the garden or vegging out in front of the TV.

In a nutshell, we ought to consider not only modesty in dress, but also respect towards others.

Solameanie said...

While I can't look into individual hearts and judge motivations, I can comment on what I have observed personally (and conversations I have overheard)

While some may well have a good heart motivation in some of these informal practices, there is a large dollop of "what makes ME comfortable" under the guise of being spiritual. We had an issue with some on our worship teams who insisted on going barefooted on the platform. The excuse given was that they are "standing on holy ground." In reality, I suspect it was more along the lines of "I just don't feel comfortable wearing shoes but I have to make it sound sanctified to get away with it." Also, there is a bit of rebellion going on. These people know slovenliness deeply offends elderly people who were taught to behave with propriety and respect at church. They love tweaking people whom they feel are "legalistic." How this jives with 1 Corinthians 13 and "love is not rude" I am not quite certain.

I agree that the Lord is probably not too worried about people wearing Cartier to church vs. some neat, clean Wal-Mart clothing. However, I have a huge problem (and I am sure the Lord does also) at someone visibly wearing thong underwear and jeans cut so low you can see the lower back tattoos and the crack of one's posterior. (Our former piano player tried that once).

Without being overly legalistic and insisting everyone wear three piece suits, hoop skirts and corsets, I would think modesty, common sense and humility ought to rule the day. We are not called to worship so we can indulge in self expression. We are called to bring glory to Him. Dressing in a lascivious manner does not bring glory to anyone except the enemy.

Father Brown said...

Allow me to take a moment to challenge the comparison that everyone wants to make between going to church and meeting a dignitary. I am seeing many people say that I should dress up when going to "meet" God for the same reason I would dress up if I went to meet the President. Now I agree that if I were to meet President Bush, I would certainly wear the nicest thing I could find. But the reason for this is that President Bush is a product of a culture which says that important occasions call for dressy clothes. Therefore, wearing an Hawaiian shirt with sandals would indicate that I do not respect the President's authority. But this disrespect will only be recognized provided that we remain within the context of the culture. That is, if we take away all cultural norms and expectations which currently restrain us, then we would have no basis upon which to declare my Hawaiian shirt disrespectful.

Now, when we "meet" God, indeed we are meeting the Dignitary of all Dignitaries. But, to assume that God's expectations for our attire have been shaped my modern Western culture is completely ridiculous. In God's presence, you can wear a tuxedo or a toga; it really doesn't matter. Perhaps you can disrespect a cultural creature such as the President by meeting him in shorts and sandals. But, it is a rational absurdity to assume that you can disrespect God (who is outside of time and therefore outside of culture) by wearing your Hawaiian shirt instead of your three-piece suit.

The same goes for a funeral or a wedding. Both of those functions are [culturally-established] events that are intended to give [culturally-recongized] honor to [culturally-created] human beings. The reason I won't wear a white suit to a funeral is because that would be a cultural message to the deceased person's family that I do not take their grief very seriously. But, again, all of this is 100% dependent upon pre-established cultural norms. In 100 years, maybe it will be inappropriate to wear anything BUT Hawaiian shirts and sandals to meet dignitaries and attend weddings. So, will the Pyro readers of the future all be telling my great-great grandon that he should wear his Hawaiian shirt to church instead of his suit?

Mike Ratliff said...

Doesn't God look at the heart not the outer appearance? If I wear my suit to church for His glory then He is all for it. If I wear my suit for my glory He hates that. If I wear informal stuff, but my heart is all prepared to worship and I am there for His glory, I'm sure He doesn't care about that. However, if I wear shorts and a T-Shirt to church and my attitude is all wrapped up in self then BAH!

Isn't it all about our hearts not our clothes?

In Christ

Mike Ratliff

Aaron said...

Father Brown made a good point in showing where the illustration of "meeting the President = meeting God" breaks down.

Since God is more concerned with our attitude rather than our attire, then it's true - at least to this extent - that God "doesn't care" what we wear.

So, I agree that God's standards aren't in the least influenced by our Western culture, but the culture does dictate what is appropriate in certain situations (meeting the Pres, going to funeral...and attending church).
Perhaps then, "On proper attire for church", the issue is more about what will or will not be offensive to others, as it is an offense to God (again, assuming our hearts are right). This explains my thoughts on Christian liberty in an earlier comment.

As I say this, I'm also realizing that my reasoning would justify a more relaxed west coast church having shorts & sandals as it's "culturally appropriate & acceptable" attire, since most everyone there wouldn't be offended by it. I'm not sure I want to go there (not to the church, but to this conclusion :o)...so I've got more thinking to do on this.

Thanks Pyroteam, for such a forum to think out loud.

Two final disclaimers:

1. I'm only concerned about what others think in terms of not wanting to display my liberties in a way that causes them to sin. The unhealthy extreme of this, I do understand, is to have a fear of man. I hope I've found the balance here.
2. I don't wear a suit, or a tie to church. :o)

Steve said...

I'm glad for your affirmation of Sharon's comments, Phil.

I cannot help but think of God's commands to His chosen people in the Old Testament. When it came to bringing sacrifices to Him, God asked that they be without blemish. In other words, He asked for their best, and nothing less.

In other ways in Scripture, God asks for the full measure of what we have to offer Him--for example, love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength.

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul exhorts us to be living sacrifices--and the picture is one of total yieldedness to God. As we all know, a sacrifice isn't supposed to get up off the altar and walk away.

Though none of these passages or pictures have to do with our clothing, the underlying message in all of them is that of giving God our best. And I cannot help but think that behooves us to think carefully about how we "enter His presence" as we visit church on Sunday.

You can bet that many a subject who has been invited before an earthly king or queen in ages past fretted over how he or she could look his or her best before his/her majesty.

How much greater consideration is deserved by the King of kings and Lord of lords Himself!

Father Brown said...

"You can bet that many a subject who has been invited before an earthly king or queen in ages past fretted over how he or she could look his or her best before his/her majesty.

How much greater consideration is deserved by the King of kings and Lord of lords Himself!"

Apparently, Steve, you didn't go for the points I made in my previous comment. But, nonetheless, if we are going to apply this principle of "give God your best" to what we wear, then why would we ever NOT wear our finest clothes? If wearing a suit is the equivalent of me giving God my best, then you'd better believe that I'm not going to stop at wearing it to church. By golly, I'm going to wear that sucker in church, in my home, in the grocery store, in bed, even in the shower.

Aaron said...

Brown, I see your point, but wouldn't you agree that there is something "sanctified" (set apart, holy, seperate, otherly) about the Lord's Day worship that's different from other days and other times and forms of worship (quiet times, family prayer, etc.)?

Can we honor the "spirit of the Sabbath" without being Sabbatarians?

Paul Doutell said...

This debate is just too clothes to call for me, Mr. Johnson. But I think it's really settled by the lyrics of the well-known church song, "Come, just as you are, to worship."

How can I come "just as I am" if I have to deck out in my Sunday best for worship?

Maybe I'm missing the cogency of your point.

Phil Johnson said...

1. The song "Just as I Am" has nothing to do with clothing in church.

2. I really hope the guy who rolls out of bed a little late on Sunday morning doesn't apply your logic while he's still in his pajamas.

3. The point of Sharon's original comment and my post isn't really just about clothing, either. It applies to many things, including the expression you wear on your face to church.

4. Of course God looks on the heart, not the outward appearance. Nothing in the actual point being made suggests otherwise. In fact, the point is practially the polar opposite: To whatever degree what's in your heart translates into your outward appearance (whether it's your facial expression, the cleanliness of your body, or the neatness of your attire), to that same degree it's legitimate to give some thought to what you are actually cultivating in your own heart and communicating to others.

5. The biblical practice of applying sackcloth and ashes as symbols of mourning is rooted in this very principle. It's not something uptight and repressed women in our great-grandmothers' generation made up out of thin air just to get revenge by making church uncomfortable for their husbands and kids.


Anonymous said...

Father Brown, I couldn't have said it better; I agree with you 100%.

NEB said...

Padre Braun said:

But, to assume that God's expectations for our attire have been shaped my modern Western culture is completely ridiculous. In God's presence, you can wear a tuxedo or a toga; it really doesn't matter.

Two observations here. First, I've spent precious time with my Savior in my bathrobe. When it's just me and my Creator, of course attire doesn't matter. But the assembly of saints is a community event, and sensitivity to the cultural norms around you goes beyond wise to necessary. I don't have a choice; I must be concerned with whether or not my brothers and sisters are unduly distracted by my choice of attire.

Second, while God is not a product of culture, you most certainly are. I think it's worth considering whether or not the way you dress for corporate worship reflects your own culturally-shaped attitude toward the most important events of life. If you you are honestly conditioned by your culture to believe that casual is the new black for every occasion, knock yourself out. But if you believe certain events call for upgraded gear, well, maybe you should consider how important you think corporate worship really is.

David said...

Can I say "Amen" loud enough? No, I don't think so.

I don't think dressing for worship is the only issue here. Somewhere along the line, growing up and being a man (or woman) stopped meaning growing up and dressing like one. There's an issue of maturity here.

Momo said...

I'm not so much disappointed by the fact that Phil posted right over the top of me as I am by the fact that he did it while wearing a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops.

On another note I was really coveting that "Playing with Fire" graphic with the man pointing at his wife for one of my own posts and that really disappointed me too, but not as much as the flip flops.

(Note: any bearing this may have on the on-going discussion is purely unintentional. Carry on.)

Father Brown said...


I completely agree with your first observation. This is why I am fine with wearing casual clothes to a casual church in South Padre over spring break and dress clothes to my rather traditional baptist church at home. Your emphasis on not being a distraction is exactly where the emphasis should be placed (in my opinion). But this means that we need to be okay with leaving our suit at home if we are attending a church where everyone wears jeans.

Unfortunately, I don't agree so much with you on your second point. Yes, I will grant you that certain occasions call for "upgraded gear." But, I refuse to lump going church into the same category as (let us say) going to the symphony or going to a wedding. You challenged me to evaluate how important I think corporate worship really is. Well, my response is that I think corporate is SO important that I am not willing to make my standards for going to corporate worship the same as going to the symphony. Throwing church in there with all the other "important events" cheapens it terribly. My point is that church should be so important that it transcends all of these petty cultural dress codes that we impose on other things.

Caleb Kolstad said...


I think balance is really important here. Let me make an observation for whatever it's worth...

When i moved out to Indy (from So. Cal) i was surprised how similiar many things were between Carmel and Santa Clarita.

I was invited to a wedding (here in Indianapolis) and i showed up wearing a nice collared shirt and dress pants. The men from our church were primarily wearing suits to this occasion (most of them don't wear ties to church on Sunday morning mind you). I actually felt under-dressed even though i was dressed up (in my judgement at least).

At a recent funeral i noticed the same trend (the people were far more dressed up for this occasion then for church Sunday AM).

Now i am ALL for wearing proper clothing attire (to show respect for various occasions); What does not make sense to me is how people can view church as less important than a wedding event or even a funeral service.

I guess someone could argue that weddings only happen a few times a year and church is every week...

BUT STILL we're talking about coming together and worshiping the GOD of the Universe! "If it bears His name it's worth our best, right?" I know we GET to do this every single Sunday but still....

It does not get much better than corporate worship folks!

I am not trying to be legalistic here. If you truly think clothing attire means nothing than show up in your flip flops and your red Hawaiian shirt at your sister-in laws wedding.

Or wear a pair of shorts to your grandpa's funeral.

I'm all for balance but let's keep Sunday sacred (in a Baptistic sense). :)

Anonymous said...

Father Brown: Your conclusions regarding the context of contempory culture are dead on the money. I had mentioned Hawaii in the other thread; there, a nice Aloha shirt is considered exceedingly appropriate for what Islanders would call formal. The fashion of Western Culture is so distinctly its own, and often so linked to climate (as is degrees of modesty), I find it humorous that so many people are adamant about such an issue. It really has nothing to do with Christian liberty or piety, but more to do with being "all things to all men" for the purpose of the Gospel.

Phil: While I respect you immensely I think when you say this:

To whatever degree what's in your heart translates into your outward appearance (whether it's your facial expression, the cleanliness of your body, or the neatness of your attire), to that same degree it's legitimate to give some thought to what you are actually cultivating in your own heart and communicating to others.

you make a mistake that can be taken in either the direction of false humility (smelly hippy)or false piety (perfectly groomed car salesman). I am reminded of the wolves in sheep's clothing of Matt. Ch.7. Outward appearance is the easiest part of piety to fake. We are to be recognizable by our fruit, not by our fashion statement. Paul demands women not clothe themselves in the finery of the day, but rather clothe themselves in right actions. That should be the only concern. I am not suggesting that we should not be thoughful in how we dress, but I am suggesting that our mode of dress is totally unrelated to piety.(with the obvious exception being sexual provocation)

While this may seem off topic, I think thoughtful application of this excerpt from Chesterton's Orthodoxy hits near the heart of what the outward appearance of a follower of Christ has the potential of communicating:

No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The mediaeval saint's body is wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive. There cannot be any real community of spirit between forces that produced symbols so different as that. Granted that both images are extravagances, are perversions of the pure creed, it must be a real divergence which could produce such opposite extravagances. The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards.

The wasted and wide-eyed saint makes me think further back to John the Baptist. How many people would feel uncomfortable with him sitting in the pew in front of them. This whole thread has made me think that a lot of Christians out there maintaining presuppostions with very ugly implications. I wonder how many slander in their thoughts fellow brothers and sisters in Christ simply because they rather not shop in the dress/casual section of Mervyns. xa

Father Brown said...

Garet, did you just quote Chesterton? By George, I think you did! You rock, good sir. That's all I have to say.

Steve said...

Father Brown:

No, I didn't disregard your point. Nor was I advocating we go to church in tuxes and prom dresses.

The whole idea of giving our best to God speaks of giving some thought to how we approach Him. This encompasses every area of our lives--how we approach Him in worship, in prayer, in reading His Word, etc.

A spiritually discerning person WILL give thought and care to how he or she approaches God, and that ought to include how we dress at church. The point isn't that we should dress to the nines, but that we should dress with a consciousness that, in a very real way, we are presenting ourselves to Him.

Before we jump to the "well, that's a relative issue depending on where you live," let's remember that even in places like the Philippines and Hawaii, people have a sense for varying levels of appropriate or inappropriate dress. I've been to church in Hawaii before. And even in Hawaii (I have good friends who live there), there's discussion over what's appropriate and what's not. The fact such discussion exists even in those places should tell us something.

Ultimately (and I know some are going to vehemently disagree with this), our attitude toward how we dress in church says something about our attitude toward God. How much do we care about ensuring that we're appropriately presentable? Or do we even care? Are we more concerned about erring a bit more on the safe side in light of the fact we're with fellow believers, or about personal preferences? And so on...

Matthew said...

Yeah, I'm just waiting for flowing 1st century robes and sandals to come back in style. I bet that stuff is comfortable. :)

Kay said...

Well, the barbequed Tom Jones picture cured me of the lust problem for the moment.

There's all sorts of edification to be had on this here blog..

Phil Johnson said...

Garet: "you make a mistake that can be taken in either the direction of false humility (smelly hippy)or false piety (perfectly groomed car salesman)."

You made a mistake if you didn't notice that I expressly argued against each of those two extremes.

"Outward appearance is the easiest part of piety to fake."

I can't see how anything I have said leaves room for anyone to imagine that I would think otherwise. I agree, of course, that a spiffed-up exterior doesn't preclude the possibility that inside are death and decay (Matthew 23:27). Hypocrisy is a grievous sin, full stop.

Furthermore, too much emphasis on externals often engenders hypocrisy, or aids hypocrites in their quest to cover their sin. I've already pointed that out. I deplore and repudiate the idea that holiness is something to be applied like makeup.

In fact, I've bent over backwards not to give anyone grounds to think I believe outward appearance is of supreme importance, or even that it's something churches should try to regulate by a list of rules.

I've simply argued that those who suggest that external appearance is utterly irrelevant to the matter of personal piety are categorically wrong.

Your own words tacitly acknowledge that "outward appearance" is indeed "part of piety." Likewise, Scripture recognizes that what's in your heart affects how you look (Proverbs 15:13, etc.).

That is all quite true, and self-evidently so—to a degree. It's not the sum of all truth about external appearances, but no one here has suggested that it is.

On the other hand, the notion that one's external appearance utterly irrelevant to anything holy (as some here seem to be suggesting) is patently absurd. Would anyone seriously argue that this guy is properly dressed for public worship? No? How about these people?

I'm not saying I'd rebuke a first-time visitor or try to make him uncomfortable the first time he drives up to Sunday School in a pimpmobile and an outfit like this, but if he becomes a regular in my class, I'll definitely admonish him privately about the confusing message his appearance is sending.

Matt Waymeyer said...

I'm tempted to disagree with you just to get you to put up more links! (That's code for: "If you've got more photos, let's see 'em!")

Anonymous said...

Phil: Understoond that you argued against the extreme. And I'm certainly not going to try go toe to toe for 1)I would get whalloped 2)I think you are generally correct in your opinion, so really it would be arguing for no reason.

It was the follow-up qualifier I was quoting which I think leaves the door open for the extremes of the ridiculous (like the images you linked to). In your good taste and sobriety, you understand the nonsense of the extremes. The problem I see is the presupposition that perfectly modest, yet varied, modes of dress are indicators of what one is cultivating inwardly. I can't see how the type of fabric, cut of the cloth, placement of button, and various accoutrements somehow can be scored as more or less holy.

I know this will sound hopelessly pomo, but the other side of communication is the one who is receiving the message. If we dropped the cultural stigma's to the best of our ability, our discernment of people's hearts would probably improve greatly. I think this whole debate is fairly petty and amounts to navel gazing. The issue in the American church is not how people dress, it is how the church is plagued with a belittling view of God, and just as frequent in necktie and dress shoe churches.

To quote my buddy Dave Gadbois(I'm positive he was quoting someone else) "Right thinking is a prerequisite to right emotions and right actions." Church isn't a nightclub, it's not a wedding, and it isn't a surf contest either. Yes we are there to worship, but it is our thoughts on God that deepen that experience, not our outfit. I just loathe the whole sanctification prior to conversion mindset that rules the legalistic enclaves out there.

I would suggest any way that we can take the eyes off of ourselves and set them on the Lord is a good thing. And there is a very, very broad clothing rack to accomodate that mindset.

Phil Johnson said...

Garet: Amen to everything you said.

That even includes the dangerously "pomo" observation you made about how hearers interpret the message.

Obviously, some readers are dense enough that no matter how well-qualified a statement is, they will run to an extreme with it or stupidly misapply it. So I take your point.

Hopefully, most Pyro readers are shrewd enough to follow my point without thinking I'm suggesting that anyone's appearance is an infallible barometer of what's in his heart, and without thinking I mean you can change your heart simply by changing your appearance.

For the record, however, I categorically deny both those errors.

And I'm sure you could hold your own in a toe-to-toe debate with any of us.

Kim said...


I was wondering why there is no little note over your Tom Jones pictures saying: "This is not a homeschool dad."

Sharon said...

My! Am I responsible for such a plethora of postings? I had no idea . . .

By the way, how does Hebrews 12:28-29 figure into this discussion? Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

I'm just not sure how one shows reverence and awe with flip flops and cut offs.

Just to take things further, I believe the informal, casual attitude of worship has manifested itself in the abundance of insipid choruses to the exclusion of majestic hymns of the faith.

What? A thread concerning itself with contemporary Christian usic? Bring it on!

rustypth said...

oh man, i hope that image of Tom Jones doesn't stick in my head!

Phil Johnson said...

Kim: Because I always thought of Tom Jones as a homeschooler. Are you telling me he wasn't?!!!???

What was that song "The Green, Green Grass of Home" all about, then?

Father Brown said...

Sharon, I'm just not sure how one shows reverence and awe with a suit and tie, either. In fact, I'm just not sure how one shows reverence and awe with ANY sort of clothing. Can it be that the passage you quote is actually talking about showing reverence and awe with our lifestyle and not our wardrobe?

And by the way, unless you want to make the claim that your Hebrews passage is referring specifically to corporate worship, then you must, by the laws of reason and logic, hold to the belief that flip-flops are wrong in ALL contexts for the Christian. That is, unless this passage is saying that we should only show reverence and awe to God on Sunday mornings, then your standard for showing reverence and awe (which apparently excludes flip-flops) becomes a standard for living every minute of the day, every day of the week. There's no way getting around that. (I'm just using your logic here.)

My mind remains absolutely boggled how someone can make a value judgment about flip-flops.

Kent Brandenburg said...

During the tribulation period, no one will be able to buy nor sell without flip-flops.

Kim said...


If "The Green, Green Grass of Home" is about home schooling, I shudder to think of what "My Delilah" was all about.

Scott McClare said...

Egad. I can confidently say that whatever latent homosexual tendencies I might have had in the past have been cured forever by that picture of Tom Jones.

I recall reading a firsthand account a few years ago online, by a guy who wanted to make a point about "giving God our best," so he wore his tuxedo to church one Sunday to send a message to his fellow congregants. I'm sure he sent a message, all right: This nut thinks he's at a hockey banquet. (I didn't ask whether he went all out with white tie, or if he just wore the black one, the compromiser.)

One of the reasons I finally settled on adopting "business casual" for regular churchgoing was because modesty goes both ways: it's possible to be immodest not only by wearing too little, but too much. Casual or dress pants and a collared shirt cover everything that ought to be covered, on the one hand, but on the other, you don't stand out by being too ostentatious.

Neil said...

Tom Jones sings a mean "Tennessee Waltz"

Chris Freeland said...

While some may well have a good heart motivation in some of these informal practices, there is a large dollop of "what makes ME comfortable" under the guise of being spiritual.

I guess I look at this from the other vantage point. Many people I know are so "comfortable" with the formal attire they grew up in church with that they're completely certain there's a dress code apparent in the original Greek.

I spent several years serving on a church staff at a church where I was required to wear a suit every week. When I dressed up, it wasn't to bring God glory - it was to make sure I didn't offend some of the people in my church who thought God couldn't be glorified in anything less than a suit and tie.

My biggest beef in this discussion is the people who offer a hearty "amen" to those who say God's focus is the heart rather than the outward appearance, but scoff out of the other corner of their mouth at people who would have the audacity to show up to worship in blue jeans.

My point, and maybe it's been lost in the argument, is that there is absolutely no way to gauge the authenticity or depth of one's worship by the clothes they wear to service.

And Phil, I'm glad you mentioned the partiality verse from James. Is that not what we're often guilty of doing when it comes to this very issue? We may not offer a nicely dressed man a better seat in the auditorium, but don't many of us look at a person in a nice suit and gawk about how spiritual he must be, while we assume the man in cutoffs and a t-shirt only showed up for a handout?

Phil Johnson said...

Chris: "And Phil ... don't many of us look at a person in a nice suit and gawk about how spiritual he must be?"

Not me. I've seen you in a suit, and I never thought it made you look spiritual.

Chris Freeland said...

That was two hours before my honeymoon began. I had other things on my mind.

Anonymous said...

Phil: We'll have to agree to agree then.

Father Brown: Yes, I quoted Chesterton. I may be the only Reformed English teacher in America who teaches The Man Who Was Thursday to ninth graders. Oh, BTW , thanks for supplying an answer to Sharon's statement on reverence in sandals. You took the words right out of my mind. I wonder if Jesus was able to feel reverent in his sandals?

Chris F.: Funny and true.

FX Turk said...

Hey: zoot suit?

zoot suit.

Wha'd I do to get accused of "zoot suit"?

Most people think I'd be more prone to wearing my underwear on the outside rather than being that flashy a dresser.

FX Turk said...

A little more seriously, Doug Wilson had a thing at his blog a coupla months ago about about what to wear to church.

While paraphrasing him will butcher his eloquent prose, his thoughts when something like this: you'd look like a dork if you showed up on a farm wearing a tux to bail hay, and you'd look like a dork if you showed up at a wedding in overalls. The reason: form follows function.

If our purpose in coming to church is to glorify God, we should be dressed to glorify God -- which is neither casual or formal but purposeful. If you ask me, we shouldn't be wearing any of our day-to-day uniforms -- which range from teenagers who are dressed in the strict conformity of alleged non-conformity to the New Business Causal to the pomo JavaJoe look -- and put on something that is intended explicitly to detract from who we think we are in public and highlight who we are in the presence of the Lord.

"so cent," you ask wisely, "what does that leave us?"

Honestly: I have no idea, but I am sure that whatever the answer is, it doesn't look like a Catholic school uniform catalog. That is to say, the right answer for my beautiful wife is not the same answer for me. Have some liberty in grace, but don't abuse it.

isaiah543 said...

I wish when we discuss issues like this we could talk about it terms of wisdom and not law. It's not about abusing grace or honoring God with our attire, it's about not being a fool. The question is not: am I free to wear this? It's: am I wise enough not to?

DaCatster said...

From personal experience I can say I have saw a total change in the church attendance/participation and dress.

I have been in a whole gamete of churches, and what I experienced is that churches that took a formal approach on dress were also had more members involved and more serious as to church and also may I dare say the holiness of God. Churches with less formal wear also showed decrease loyalty to church attendance and to service of God.

Unknown said...

I go to a place that is rather formal. I must admit that as much as I love the church and as much as I love Christ, the formality often puts me off.

There have been times where i have had second thoughts about showing up for evening service because of what I had one. How silly is that? For me to be worried that I would be looked and looked down on because I have shorts and a t-shirt on.

There is something wrong with an environment where we put external constrains on people. There is nothing wrong with calling the people of the church to live holy lives. I'm talking about shorts, sandals, and a t-shirt.

Even now there are times when I wake up Sunday and think to myself...Oh, I need to dress up for church. I need to look like everyone else. I don't want to stand out.

I don't think there is anything wrong with informality...As long as it's tasteful and looks ok. Shorts, t-shirts, sandals...That's my standard get up...I don't think Jesus would mind.

Jon said...

Humorous story Phil...

When I went to the London School of Theology last year at the Met Tab, I went down with a friend. Imagine us both. University students in our summer holidays having great fun in our capital city in the nice weather.

Anyway, on entering the Met Tab for the first meeting, we were without doubt the worst dressed people in the building... I mean we weren't badly dressed... We just weren't wearing a suite and clutching the hugest leather bible with a cover made from a whole cow.
We tried to sneak a seat as best as you can when you're wearing shorts and t-shirts in the Met Tab. It was like a pair of Mexicans trying to get into Texas...

Well, the long and short of it, Peter Masters MCed the meeting (and I think you spoke) but when he sat down, we were directly in his line of sight... It was horrific... A whole meeting squirming. The worst thing was, we only had brought shorts and t-shirts with us so the next 3 days were spent in embarassment.

Good times!

Chris Freeland said...


I hate it when people are able to say in one post what I've attempted to say in five. Nice work.

yo said...

If I were going to visit a King, I would wear my best. When I go visit my father, he would be offended if I dressed up... he wants me to come as I am and know that the relationship I have with him precludes any pomp and circumstance. At the same time, if my father threw a party, he wouldn't want me to be there in ripped jeans and a t-shirt.

Interesting subject, but in a world of suffering and death, where people die in ignorance, I hope that I don't ever have to spend my time thinking about this again. In light of our situation, it's fiddling in a burning city.

donsands said...

Nice post and great comments to read.
It seems to me that cultural modesty is where it's at.
What immodesty dress consists of should be taught to the church through the elders/pastors, and through one another as well, the older women helping the younger women and so on.
There's my nickle's worth.
I belong to an informal church, and we have quite an array of dress among us.

Have one Scripture question. 1 Cor. 11:4-13 Covered or uncovered, that is the question.

Renee said...

Thank You Phil (and AMEN!!!)

Chris Freeland said...

Centurion:If our purpose in coming to church is to glorify God, we should be dressed to glorify God -- which is neither casual or formal but purposeful.

I can't believe I failed to notice this on my first read of your post. I think we need a post from you explaining how the only remaining bastion of protestantism to hold out on the "purpose driven" philosophy has now gone over the edge. I do understand you as advocating a purpose driven dress code, right?

Brendt said...

Caleb: What does not make sense to me is how people can view church as less important than a wedding event or even a funeral service.

This is an improper correlation between how one dresses and the importance one places on a given event. (The following is for illustrative purposes only, but is applicable.) I'd wear a suit to my cousin's sham wedding that is only taking place because the guy she's been living with for the last 2 years got her pregnant. And I'd wear a ratty t-shirt and shorts while working in the yard of the widow at my church. I'd consider the latter much more important.

Steve: [At church], we are presenting ourselves to Him.

To whom are we presenting ourselves the other 166 hours each week?

Sharon, I think it is quite a stretch to go from flip-flops to bad theology in music. There may be some commonality, but there's not a correlation. On the other hand, statements such as yours can be (and are) taken one step further to the over-simplistic "old good, new bad" mentality. (I'm not attributing this to you, but you are dangerously close to the precipice.) Rejection of this mentaility can often result in new stuff being generated, and if the creators are not careful, it can be bad.

Father Brown, you took the words out of my mouth on several occasions.

Ransom, I started to ask if you were the guy from the Ray Blackston novels, but I can't see him wearing business casual anywhere. ;-)

Me: One of the ways in which we offend someone is to distract them from God. This can be done just as easily (if not moreso, in today's culture) by dressing too formally.

~Mark said...

What a very well thought out post! The right thing for the right setting, and always with a attitude recognizing God. I appreciate the balance given to the question, because the idea of "dressing up" is very often misunderstood when considered.

When people ask me about it, I consider the widows's pennies: if all you have is 5 t-shirts and 5 pair of jeans, and only one shirt and one pair of jeans are without holes, then to wear that set when meeting with God would show an attitude of wanting to give Him your best.

People often think I mean a 3 piece suit when I say one should dress as if going to see the King, but I don't. He knows our hearts very well, and if we are casual in spirit, he knows that very well too.

Unknown said...

I watched the slide show of the "clown eucharist." It made me curse.

MartinY said...

Interestingly a young lady who tends to informal wear at church expects her father to wear a grey suit for her wedding (I think I've got away with the yellow shirt tho')

kec said...

I think it is interseting that we are spending so much time and thought on what everyone will wear. When meeting a world leader or dignitary, it would be wise to consider what one is going to say as much or more than considering one's clothing. Perhaps a few moments should be taken to ensure you have something clean and modest to wear and many more moments should be spent contemplating the gifts you are thankful for, the sins you need forgiveness for, and the troubles you need guidence with.

Timothy G. Smith said...

I'm not so certain the analogy of meeting a human dignatary breaksdown exactly like as has been suggested.

Is it possible, even conceivable, for us to approach worship without reference to culture and being bound by those cultural meanings and significance? What language could we possibly offer praise in that is not shaped by human experience? Can we really speak the language of heaven that is not subject to human dictionaries and human meanings?

I see no reason to think words are any less an expression of culture than dress is.

If we ignore dictionaries and try to invent some "heavenly language" that only reaveals our "pure intentions and heart" are we not denying the biblical doctrine of Creation and our creatureliness? It is true we might mean well by speaking babble (culture-less words), but would this really be an expression of true and godly motives? Would not this kind of "culture-less" babble be appropriate in private worship than in an assembly with others who wouldn't know what we are talking/dressing about?

Walter said...

I have to dress formally for work (suit and tie). When I got to church, I don't want to feel like I am going to work, so I dress more casually (business casual).

Lance Roberts said...

Father Brown, Garet,

A Worship Service IS a Wedding.
It is the marriage of Christ to his bride, the Church.

Don Sands,

I believed in the principle of headcovering for women for almost 20 years, but recently have changed my position based on this exegesis by Eric Svendsen:


It doesn't use the tired excuse of cultural relativity, as so many people use to justify all their actions.

The Bible transcends culture.

Joanna said...

Thank you, thank you, Phil. You don't know me but I just posted on my struggle with the whole casual church attire thing this week on my blog http://sweethomeschool.blogspot.com/2008/08/church-isnt-like-church-anymore.html
I was looking for others opinons on this matter and just came across your post. Your comment about what it says about our attitude hit it on the head for me.

Shelton said...

I have read what everybody is saying, what I don't see in your debate is what God has said. The question is, What attitude should I exhibit in worship to God, in particularly in my dress. Some say that we need to wear our "Best". Is not God worthy of our best in dress, our best in singing, our best in worship, our best in examples to others. God is our Lord, our King, our Saviour.

It was stated by a young lady to a brother in Christ, who had inquired about the way she was dressed, "I can worship God in a mini dress as well as you can in long pants." Question: Is there any mutual relation between how a brother or sister dress and their attitude toward the worship of God? Does it really matter, or is it just No Big Deal.

From the beginning God has shown an interest in how we dress. In the garden of Eden Adam and Eve dressed in fig leaves. That was inappropriate in Gods eyes, and he clothed them in coats of skin. Gen. 3:21. If God did not care about how we dress, why was there a dress code under the law of Moses? Deut. 22:5, "the women whall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God."

Do you not think, that clothing reflects the mood and mental disposition of the wearer? Mourners vs. Wedding participant; You would not dress the same way? In our culture we dress for the occasion. It would be disrespectful for us to show up for a funeral or wake dressed in shorts and flip-flops. Simlarly, it would be disrespectful for us to dress the same for worship.

The Bible is staightfoward in that a garment is a mark of office. The writer of Rev. in Chapter one beginning in verse 12 says, And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle". 2Kings 2:8 speaks about Elijah and Elisha wore the mantle characteristic of a prohpet of God. Zechariah 13: 4 gives us a warning of deception. Not to dress to make one think they are a prophet of God. 1 Kings 22:10 speaks of the King in his robes, and even the virgins of teh Kings were dressed special, 2Sam 13:18.

So, if God places emphasis on those that hold office what about those leading the worship services. Those that lead in prayer, in singing, in the Lord Supper, and preaching. I Peter 2:9 the writer says, that we (Christians) are a chosen generation, a royal prieshood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into ths marvellous light." Should we not dress modestly, soberly, and proper?

The manner in which one is dressed sends signals to others. Think about the person dress in leather with silver studs or and other designs and writings. We would automatically classify him as gang related. No doubt is into drugs and drinking. A person wearing his "colors" is thought of as a gang member. Probably violent. Hair style can send different signals as well. Do we dress and make up ourselves in this way to draw attention to ourselves. If we dress casual, slobby and inappropriately in the worship service, would it draw attention to you and thus distract others tfrom worshiping God?

What are the reasons for our dress? Is it because we are lazy, self willed, want to be comfortable, or just don't care.
In 1 Sam 13:4 the writer said God seeks those after his own heart.
Are we seeking God's own heart.

And finaaly, if we are dressing for comfort, what about our Saviour. I'm sure that it was not comfortable hanging on that cruel cross of calvery. Surely, he could have told the Father, Just let me come back home in heaven and skip this hideous sacrifice.

It is not what we wear, its why are we wearing it.

The Realist said...

I believe when a person steps into the church on the Sabbath Day, they should be wearing clothing that is appropriate for the occasion.

What is appropriate for being in the presence of God? Of course, if a homeless tramp suddenly awakens under the highway overpass one Sabbath morning, and he feels an urgent call within himself to find a church to attend and get his life straightened out, that God would welcome him with 'open arms.' even if he were half naked.

Now, imagine that the Pope, or the President of the United states were to, out of the blue, invite you to the Vatican or White-house, for an important reason, that is not revealed.

Who, in their right mind would go half dressed, as is seen on every stree, on every day, in every city, nearly everywhere on our earth today?

Even the very poor would do their very best to find something appropiate for the Honorable occasion, something modest.

Shouldn't every church goer if at all possible, at least, dress for Church on the Sabbath Day appropriate for the 'ROYAL' occasion of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD'S HOLY SPIRIT?