Getting Dressed For Church!
Pastor John McWilliams
It is interesting to see the types of clothes people wear in different situations. Over the years, clothing trends have changed dramatically at various times in our society. I recall for instance, seeing a picture of people around the 1920's attending a Major League baseball game. The crowd was virtually all men and just about every guy in the stands was dressed in a suit and tie. I find it difficult to fathom what it would be like to go to a ball game in August in a suit and tie. Iím very glad for the change to more causal dress in our baseball stadiums. Back in the fifties and early sixties, when one boarded a commercial airliner, they were usually dressed in what might be considered their "Sunday best!" with men wearing suits and ties and women in full dresses, hats etc. Even corporate America has "loosened its tie" so to speak, and instituted "dress down" days when employees are encouraged on specific days to come to work in much more casual clothes.
What one wears to Church has certainly also changed over the past 20-30 years. For instance, the number of men with a regular suit and tie can be very much in the minority, even in the most traditional of Churches. Casual clothes are certainly taking over as the acceptable clothing for Church and that may be just fine. Certainly the thing that matters most is whatís on the inside of a personís soul, versus whatís on the outside. That was made very clear when Jesus spoke to The Pharisees in Matthew 23:25-26.
However, how one dresses does impact those around them in any setting and my wife and I have noticed what we consider to be some disturbing trends in Church dress these days. A significant amount of Christian folk these days seem to be dressing for Church in ways, that in many cases, is causing problems for others, which they themselves fail to see.
Plainly put, some Christians (and for whatever reason it seems to be mostly female Christians) are dressing for Church in ways that many simply find inappropriate, but few are discussing. Iím not talking about teenagers with jeans, or tee shirts and sneakers. I am however, talking about Christian teenage boys with their pants slung so low that we all get to see what brand and color of boxers theyíve chosen for the day. Iím talking about Christian teenage girls as well as grown Christian women, with tee shirts and tops so tight, there is little left to the imagination and jeans that are so tight they actually do appear painted on. How one dresses does impact those around them in any situation and this issue is addressed in Scripture under the lager scope of modesty. In I Tim. 2:9 the issue of dressing in a modest manner is clearly brought to our attention.
When Christian women are raising their hands in praise to The Lord and at the same time are exposing a significant portion of their bare abdomens, over low cut jeans, something seems out of place. My wife and I were recently in a seminar led by a nationally renowned Christian radio show host, who had the guts to address this issue and said he actually had to move to another seat in Church recently, due to the way women were dressed sitting near him. Last week, a woman was sitting in front of my wife and me, wearing a halter top, that allowed those sitting behind her to see her entire bare back and created the illusion, at least from where we were sitting, that from the waist up, she was wearing nothing at all. Scripture clearly teaches about modesty, and with good reason.
However, modesty seems to be something that has been related to the past, even in Church. My wife and I are certainly aware that this whole thing may seem somewhat prudish, or that some people may feel this really isnít a valid issue. Yet, if you take a look around on Sunday morning these days, and weíre talking about solid Biblical, evangelical Churches, you will likely see Christians dressed in ways that are more appropriate for M. T. V. than for Church. The Apostle Paul is clear in I Cor. 8 that we should watch out that we never become stumbling blocks for others with our behavior.
On numerous occasions, my wife and I have seen women wearing tops that reveal way too much. Light, virtually see through fabrics simply are inappropriate for Christian women to be wearing in any situation. My wife suggests that before leaving for Church, one might just pass by the mirror for one last look to see if anything is visible or presentable that in fact should be covered, that perhaps one missed in the process of getting dressed. I Cor. 12:23.
Please notice clearly that Iím talking here about Christians. Iím not talking about nonbelievers who come into Church dressed like the world dresses, because that is what we might expect from the world. Although, interestingly enough, many nonbelievers seem to be more aware of dressing more modestly for Church these days than do many Christians. Rather, Iím talking about committed Christians who have basically adopted the dress code of the world in what they wear to Church and for whatever reason, seem oblivious to it.
Perhaps an analogy here might be good. Generally speaking, when I go to Church I can be there for hours and never hear people cussing and using foul language. In the world it can be a very different story. Yet in Church, Christians do not generally use foul language when addressing each other. Cussing at one another would not be a credible witness to anyone in Church. Scripture is clear about the fact that cussing and foul language is inappropriate behavior for Christians. Col. 3:8. Yet in the case of how so many Christians dress today, both in and outside Church, appropriate Scriptural modesty, somehow seems to have taken a back seat to wearing whatever is on the cover of the latest fashion magazine.
Perhaps itís time for Pastors and Elders to speak out and share with their flock, that certain types of dress are outside the lines of what Christians should be wearing, and that certain types of dress are sending some very strong and very wrong messages to those around them.
Now I realize that it would be really tough to stop people at the door and suggest they are inappropriately dressed for Church. The Church should be open to the world, and when the world comes in, we should expect they might be dressed like the world dresses. However, if they see no difference between how they are dressed, and how others in Church are dressed, the message of The Church on such things is surely going to be lost. It seems to me that if Christians in Church dress in ways that are more modest than the world, which seems to be clearly what Scripture teaches we should do, then in due time the folks from the world will get the message, without it having to be inappropriately shoved in their face at the door.
I was at a Church dinner recently, and a young fourth grade little girl was sitting at our table. She had streaked hair and was dressed like Britney Speers. If you look around, you really will see provocative and inappropriate dress, even in the youngest of our children, which is also sending a message to them and to others that to look like Britney Spears is no big deal and in fact, is something even The Church seems to approve of these days.
I wish I had all the answers to this problem, but in my opinion, the issue has to be addressed directly and now. Perhaps something in The Church newsletter or in a special sermon or in whatever way each Pastor and the governing body of each Church deem appropriate would work best. It should of course be done with as much pastoral sensitivity and love as possible, and it is something that some will of course take offense at, but so it has always gone in Churches since day one.
Feel free to reprint this article as often as it might be useful in your situation and with Godís Spirit we can pastorally and loving deal with this bit of teaching from Godís Word that will make a difference for many.
About the Author
Pastor John McWilliams is a Presbyterian pastor and full time missionary with Campus Crusade: Russia. The ministry takes him to various parts of the world to train future pastors and Christian leaders. He is a graduate of Princeton Seminary and pastored two Churches in The Northeast for 21 years before going into mission work full time.
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