Someone asked me the other day, “How come you don’t wear your robe or a coat and tie in worship?”
Here’s why: One of the biggest excuses I hear from people who don’t attend church is that they don’t have nice clothes to wear. Now that may be a convenient excuse. Surely they have something nice to wear. Of course, how nice is “nice enough for my church.” As I read the Bible I can’t find any dress code for worship. In fact, one time King David stripped down to his underwear to worship God publicly (but don’t worry, I’ll never do that!). Is it possible that our cultural expectations of “Sunday clothes” limits who we reach? And doesn’t our mission statement say that we want to “reach out to all.” Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 that his desire is “to become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” If I thought wearing a tie or a robe would reach more new people then I would. I would also shave my head or pierce an ear if I thought that’s what was necessary to reach those in our community for the Gospel.
It’s not that I don’t like to dress up. I appreciate the compliments when I wear a coat and tie. But for me, spirituality needs to be separated from outward appearance. When the Prophet Samuel anointed David, God said to him, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus echoes this sentiment when he got on the Pharisees who cared more about outward appearance than inward transformation. Jesus said, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead man’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).
Dressing nice for worship is a cultural expectation that has been dying for the last decade in this country. Most people I talk to prefer to be themselves, not “put on something they’re not.” I see the leader’s job as leading the way to make newcomers comfortable.
P.S. There are inappropriate things to wear depending on the venue. Men and women should dress modestly and appropriately. So I’m not arguing for bathing suits or risqué outfits on Sunday morning!