Few topics evoke greater reaction in churches than the subject of Christian apparel and modesty. As soon as any preacher speaks on the subject of modesty and apparel, they are hit with: “The Bible says that ‘God is only interested in the heart but not the external appearance’” (1 Samuel 16:7). However, these verses do not teach that we should not judge immodest dress; they merely teach that we must not judge hypocritically (John 7:24). Also, God judges both the outward and the inward of a person.
In some churches, it is almost a statement of faith to say: “Dress as you feel comfortable. God doesn’t care what you wear.”
We cannot escape the fact that our outward appearance tells much more about who we are than many of us realise. William Thourlby, a clothing consultant who advises executives and presidents on ‘How to package yourself for success’, says that when people meet you for the first time, they will make ten judgments about you based solely on your appearance. These relate to: 1. Your economic level; 2. Educational level; 3. Trustworthiness; 4. Social position; 5. Level of sophistication; 6. Economic heritage; 7. Social heritage; 8. Educational heritage; 9. Your success, and 10. Moral character. Note that our appearance reveals not only our social, economic and educational levels, but also our ‘moral character’. This means that clothes and appearance should be of particular concern to Christians committed to living by biblical, moral values.
In Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve had disobeyed God’s command, and the Bible says: ‘Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.’ However, this was not good enough for God; He Himself clothed Adam and Eve because they could now no longer walk before God in innocence (Genesis 3:8). Adam and Eve were afraid of their nakedness because of the shame it brought and, in Genesis 3:10, their shame of being naked is explained as the consequence of the guilt of sin, which is why they hid from the Lord.
Manmade coverings were by implication pronounced ineffective in dealing with sin.
In Romans 12:1-2, Paul urges the Roman believers: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ When attending church, it is expected that you dress in a way that reflects the morals and standards of that particular church. One driving principle of New Testament teaching is that we act in such a way towards one another so as to prevent each other from stumbling in our walk with God (Romans 14). The way we dress, then, is important. The implementation of dress code rules varies from age to age according to the changes of fashion. The rules also vary according to circumstance. Working on a farm, for example, requires different attire to attending a formal dinner. Nevertheless at all times, in all circumstances, we should be careful to uphold God’s standards in how we dress.
The expression ‘modest apparel’ is from the Greek word ‘adios’, meaning reverence or free from shame. The world’s fashion encourages immodesty, seduction, flamboyance and shame in its clothing. The world says: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” This generation is more sexually educated, active and tempted than any other in history.
Certain forms of dress may be modest but not appropriate. Just as we are not to dress seductively in church, we are also not to dress like a movie star or a princess/prince. Worship is not about you but about God. We are here to get God’s attention, not man’s. Any person who tries to steal God’s glory is doing a foolhardy thing.
So how should we dress in corporate worship? Formally? Casually? The Bible says virtually nothing about what clothing to wear when we come before the Lord in worship – the only exception being the ritual Levitical laws of the Old Testament, which no longer apply in the new covenant. We shouldn’t be mistaken into thinking that clothing doesn’t matter to God, however; it matters a great deal.
In his article, What should we wear to church?*, Jon Bloom writes that God explicitly tells us what He wants us to wear in church: ‘All clothing – formal, casual, work, sport, beachwear, sleepwear, underwear, headwear, every kind of wear – can be a source of great pride. There isn’t a clothing item or style that we can’t turn into an expression of self-centred, self-worship. But, if we clothe ourselves with humility, if we ‘count others more significant than ourselves’, and ‘look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others’, then no matter how we dress, we will honour and reflect Christ (Philippians 2:3-4).’
So, then, we should dress in a way that draws people to Christ and not to ourselves. May God give this Church a generation of modest, virtuous and sensitive believers, who have a meek and quiet spirit that God delights in. May we also remember our outward appearance is a constant silent witness of our Christian identity from within.
Rev Stephen Brooks