Monday, January 5, 2009

How should I dress for church?

Here's one from the archives. I wrote it for the church newsletter the year the Packers last won the Super Bowl. (What a distant memory that seems compared to this year!) On the day of the NFC championship, everyone kneeling for communion at one point was wearing Packers garb of some sort, be it a jacket or sweatshirt or T-shirt. Now I was as rabid a fan as any of them, but that picture just didn't look quite right to me. Here's what I came up with to address the larger issue, which I think is still relevant:

I have noticed lately that more and more people are coming to church wearing clothing which has on it the names of sports teams or names of companies or slogans or various pictures and symbols from the secular or entertainment world. Is it appropriate for Christians to dress this way in the Lord's house? And if not, why not?

To begin with, we don't want to make up some sort of arbitrary and legalistic code about what a person can and cannot wear that goes beyond what the Scriptures teach. We do not wish to encourage our sinful human pride by setting up a system whereby people are judged by their clothing or are shown partiality by how they dress. The Scriptures speak of this in James 2: "If there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,' and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,' or, ‘Sit here at my feet,' have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?"

But this does not mean that we can simply dress however we please, either. For the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that when we gather for the divine service of the Word and the Sacraments, we are coming into the very presence of Christ. "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). The way we dress should reflect this reality that our Lord Jesus is truly present among us in worship. Just as we wear our best when we go out to a fine restaurant, so we are to wear clothing that is fit for feasting at the banquet table of the Lamb of God, partaking of His Holy Word and His precious body and blood. To do otherwise is to act as if Christ is not really present or that His presence isn't all that important or worth honoring. It would be like wearing sweats and an old T-shirt to your wedding.

This is not to say that we should be showy in our clothing, dressing in such a way as to draw attention to ourselves. Rather, modesty should be the rule. St. Paul speaks this way when he tells women how to dress in I Timothy 2: "I desire that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works."

Our real clothing as Christians is the righteousness and holiness of Christ which He has freely given to us. "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:27). It is this spiritual clothing that should be reflected in our earthly clothing.

Especially when we gather for the divine service, our dress should exhibit the fact that we are people who have been called out of the world in Christ; we are certainly in the world, but we are not of the world. Worldly clothing with worldly philosophies and agendas, then, should not find its way into the holy house of God. "Come out from among them (the people of the world) and be separate, says the Lord" (II Corinthians 6:17).

Here, then, are some simple guidelines for how to dress for Church:

+ Avoid wearing clothing with any words displayed on it, especially if it's promoting some person or team or company. This isn't the business of the church, and it can be distracting to others.

+ Avoid wearing clothing with any sort of pictures or symbols that represent the things of the secular or entertainment world. Again, the divine service is not the place for these to be featured.

+ Dress in such as way as is fitting in the presence of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

+ Dress in such a way that you don't draw improper attention to yourself. Modesty is the key word.

+ "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering. . . But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection" (Colossians 3:12-14).

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