Stop dressing so tacky for church
We have heard about the “come as you are” approach to dressing down for Sunday service, but is getting too sloppy.When we scans the pews of churches, we can see rows of people dressed in their Sunday worst. They saunter into church in baggy shorts, flip-flop sandals, tennis shoes and grubby T-shirts. Some even slide into the pews carrying coffee in plastic foam containers as if they’re going to Starbucks.“It’s like some people decided to stop mowing the lawn and then decided to come to church,” rector at the Church of the Good Shepard in Massachusetts. “No one dresses up for church anymore.”
Church leaders have harrumphed about declining dress standards for Sunday service for years, while others say God only cares what’s in someone’s heart.But which side is right? What does the Bible actually say about dressing properly for church? And does Jesus provide fashion advice anywhere? Wasn’t he a homeless, Galilean peasant who wore flip-flops?The answers to these questions are not as easy as they may seem. The Bible sends mixed messages about the concept of wearing your Sunday best. And when pastors, parishioners and religious scholars were asked the same questions, they couldn’t agree, either.
What the Bible says
The Bible says that’s not true – people had to prepare themselves internally and externally for worship.In the Old Testament, Jewish people didn’t just “come as they are” to the temple in Jerusalem. They had to undergo purification rituals and bathe in pools before they could enter the temple, says Cherry, who is also a professor of worship at Indiana Wesleyan University.Both Old and New Testaments suggest that people should not approach God in a casual manner, Cherry says. Psalms 24 urges the faithful to “ascend the hill of the Lord …with clean hands and pure hearts.”When Jesus taught in the synagogues, he also observed the rules and decorum of being in God’s house, Cherry says.Cherry isn’t calling for a restoration of first-century cultural norms, such as women covering their hair in worship, or a rigid dress code. She says churches should meet people where they are, and make even the poorest person feel welcome. She just says that preparation for worship should give less thought to people and more thought to the divine.“There should be some sort of approach to God that will include certain steps to honor the God that is not our buddy but fully The Other,” she says.Others back up Cherry’s call to keep the Sabbath special. Dressing up really makes a difference on Sunday, they say.
“It puts you in a different mindset,” says Tiffany Adams, a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who grew up wearing jeans in church. “It actually sets the Sabbath apart from every other day.”And there are still pockets of church culture where no one has to persuade people to look sharp on Sunday.The African-American church is one such place. Many of its members still insist on dressing up on Sunday because of the historical struggles of blacks. Sunday morning was often the only time in the week that a black person could assert their dignity, says Durley, the Atlanta civil rights activist who also is a retired Baptist pastor.“On Sunday morning, when you put on your tie, your shirt and put your palms together and slicked down your hair, you were no longer the hired help, you were a trustee, a deacon or you chaired this board and you dressed accordingly,” Durley says.