Over the years, and even the past few days, I have had people ask questions and make comments regarding whether God has expectations for a certain preference, style, or manner of dress for corporate worship at church. Many who ask this question and make these comments would assert that certain types of clothes are more honorable to the Lord than other styles.
I feel these are important assertions that need to be addressed and questions answered.
For this blog, I will use my own personal Sunday AM attire as our example as to not single out anyone else’s clothing choices.
OUR AUTHORITY AND STANDARD
The first place that we turn to when asking questions about what is right, wrong, honoring, or dishonoring to God is the Word of God. It is our authority. Our personal opinions and preferences are not the standard. What you and I have to say does not matter as much as the Word of God.
There have been a few people over the past years who have asserted that they felt as if what I personally wear on Sunday mornings is dishonoring to the Lord. The assertion is that there is a certain level of formality and style that the Lord prefers and expects from His people in corporate worship. I take the comments seriously because they are. They deserve a thoughtful and serious reply.
After careful examination of the Bible, my undeniable conclusion is that what we are dealing with here most closely resembles the legalism that Jesus routinely addressed with the Pharisees. The Pharisees were very concerned with outward appearance.
We see an interesting exchange between Jesus and these Pharisees in Matthew 23. Jesus said of these legalists….
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. (Matthew 23:4-7)
Phylacteries were items of leather clothing Jews would wear that contained portions of Scripture. These Pharisees would make them ornate and large so they could be seen. The “fringes” Jesus referenced were those blue or white strings that you might see on a Jewish prayer shawl today. In Jesus’ day, they were sewn onto the four corners of the hem of the outer robe. The issue was ostentatious adornment, with the three key words of Jesus’ critique being “long” and “broad” and “to be seen” (v. 5). (Douglas O’Donnell)
Jesus’ response here in Matthew 23 to this legalism is very interesting. It is swift, clear, and very harsh. The same Jesus who could defend a woman caught in adultery from the accusations of the Pharisees saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11) has now reserved his harshest criticisms found in Scripture for this sort of legalism.
You see these Pharisees lived below the line of Scripture, but then they taught others that they had to live above the line. The Pharisees were good at making up laws and then telling the people that God expected them to follow them. They were putting expectations on people that God himself was not putting on His people. Unlike Jesus who offered genuine rest for weary souls through putting on the yoke of his commandments (see 11:28–30; 28:20a; “his commandments are not burdensome” [1 John 5:3]), the scribes and Pharisees added so many man-made rules atop God’s Word that the Word of God seemed stifling, tiring, and crushing. (O'Donnell).
Jesus’ response was serious … “WOE!”
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. (v3)
“Woe to you, blind guides, (v16)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (27-28)
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (33)
“WOE” was an exclamation of judgment on these Pharisees and this burdensome legalism.
Jesus was not pulling any punches, and we shouldn’t either. These men loved being seen and put a priority on outward appearances. We should be very careful about this as the Bible clearly states, “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus was not going to let legalists put yokes of burden on his people when His burden was light. (Matthew 11:30). He was not going to let these Pharisees put words in God’s mouth.
So how do we apply this to our example? When someone asserts or calls into question my Sunday AM attire, I believe the most compelling biblical response ought to match the level of seriousness with which Jesus responded. To assert that there is a certain dress code that is more pleasing to the Lord is legalism and must be rejected as swiftly as Jesus rejected it.
My Sunday morning attire is perfectly pleasing to the Lord outwardly, but infinitely more important to Him is is that our hearts be pleasing inwardly. My aim is for the meditations of my heart, my life, and my clothes to honor of the Lord. As Paul reminded the Romans, …
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. (Romans 14:4-8)
Before my master, I stand and am convinced in my own mind. We each must do this daily with much more than our choice of attire. We will give an account to the Lord, not man. In fact, as I look at Scripture, I believe for me to change my attire based upon the pressure from any particular group in the church would be in itself sinful according to the Bible.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)
As a servant of God, I cannot allow myself to become motivated by people-pleasing, as it would invalidate my service to God.
The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:22-23)
We ought not to pass judgment upon others for what God is not judging. To start making decisions based upon people-pleasing or pressure would be not responding in faith and “what does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Now that we have examined a bit of the biblical perspective, let's look at some practical applications.
Many times, I have heard the argument for proponents of a standardized formal attire for our church services use what I call the President of the United States White House analogy. They will ask “If you were going to visit the President at the White House, wouldn’t you wear a suit and tie?”
My honest response is “maybe, it depends.”.
If I were going to an event that required and set a stated expectation for formal attire, I would most certainly dress formally.
If the vast majority of those in attendance were going to dress formally in a suit and tie, even if this was not a stated expectation, I would most likely dress formally in kind.
If I were going to meet the President of the United States and my relationship with him was only as a citizen to the President, I would probably dress in a suit and tie most likely.
But you see the problem with this analogy is that it is not a fair comparison with what is occurring on Sunday mornings as God’s people gather for worship, nor is it a fair comparison to our relationship with God. Applying the above bullet points to First Baptist Church worship services, you can see where things begin to change and the analogy breaks down.
There is no biblical mandate in the bible for proper worship attire and our church has set no dress code for those who attend.
First Baptist does not have a one-size fits all style of attire. We vary widely amongst our people. We have leaders, elders, deacons, staff, members, congregants who cover the entire spectrum of clothing choices in all three of our services. I see leaders and members in jeans, slacks, even shorts. I see dresses, blouses, t-shirts, pullovers, button-up shirts, Hawaiian shirts, suits, and ties. We have it all. So for me to dress to match our people is impossible.
Additionally, if I went to the White House to visit the President of the United States and he was my Father, my dad, and He offered no stated expectation on my attire, I would almost assuredly not be dressing in a suit and tie. Each Sunday I draw near to the throne of grace with confidence before the Lord. (Hebrews 4:16)
MOVING AHEAD AT FBCW
I would in a humble spirit of Ephesians 4:15, speak the truth in love when approaching this issue in the following ways.
For anyone who would seek to create division and disunity concerning the choice of another’s clothing, I would strenuously recommend for them to dive into God’s Word and do a careful examination. If they find that they are being motivated by something that is not supported in Scripture, then they should repent. We should be careful of turning our personal preferences into biblical references.
I can hear Jesus’ words to the church at Laodicea who had a habit of focusing on their wealth and stylish garments. “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:18-19)
LET US NOT STOP THE WORK OF GOD
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. (Romans 14:20)
We could replace “sake of food” in that verse with a whole host of inconsequential things like “clothing preferences” and the advice from Scripture is the same. We should not let this be something that stops the mission of the church and destroy the work of God.
If the church starts to impose formal dress codes upon those who attend, we will give an account to God and we will hinder some from even attending, much less coming to know the Lord. Imagine you are a homeless person, or financially struggling, from another country with different traditions, not familiar with church, new to the faith, … you would likely feel barriers to being a part of the family and community at FBCW.
Paul says he became all things to all people so that he could reach them with the gospel.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
COME TO FBCW!
So let me say to you today, hear me clearly. As long as your attire is not in violation of God’s Word, which is our standard you are welcome at FBCW. You come in your suit, slacks, dress, blouse, shorts, jeans, tuxedo, Hawaiian shirts, etc… We will come before the throne of grace with confidence and worship our King.
Come as you are!
Pastor Brad Kirby