Every single Sunday, we need to choose what to wear to the worship assembly. How should we dress for the worship assembly? Does it even matter to God? Does God have anything to say about this matter? In this article, we want to see that the way we dress for worship does matter to God, and that we can find principles to guide our choice of clothing in His revealed Word, the Bible.
What is worship? The Greek word translated as “worship” is the word “proskuneo”, which literally means “to kiss towards”, that is, to show reverence, to pay homage to, to honour. When we worship God, we are doing actions that revere Him and honour His great name. The attitude with which we worship God is important. In John 4:24, Jesus Himself said that “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth”. We need to worship God with the correct attitude, that is, the correct spirit. It must be a spirit of reverence and respect. Psalm 89:7 says that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him”.
In the remainder of this article, we will see that we ought to dress for worship in a manner that Reveres God, Reflects Local Customs, and Respects the Elders.
Our attire in worship can show whether we revere God or not. In the book of Exodus, when Moses came before the burning bush, the LORD instructed him to take off his shoes (Exodus 3:5). Would Moses have been revering God if he had refused to take off his shoes? When the Israelites were at the base of Mount Sinai, just prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments, the LORD told Moses to instruct the people to wash their clothes in preparation for the LORD coming upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people (Exodus 19:10-11). Would the Israelites have been revering God if they had refused to wash their clothes?
As we have seen from these two examples from the Old Testament, our attire in worship does reflect on our attitude in worshipping Him. Seeing that the Old Testament is no longer binding on us today (cf. Colossians 2:14), is there anything in the New Testament that will tell us what kind of attire in worship will please God and show our reverence towards Him?
REFLECT LOCAL CUSTOMS
The New Testament teaches that in order to revere God, our attire in worship ought to reflect local customs, insofar as these customs do not contradict God’s standard of modesty. In 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, Paul discusses the issue of wearing head-coverings with the Christians at Corinth. In summary:
Men who pray with their heads covered – they dishonour their head, that is, Christ
Women who pray with their heads uncovered – they dishonour their head, that is, the man
The wearing of head-coverings / veils was a local custom that changed from time to time and from place to place. For example, in the 18th century B.C. in Canaan, Judah assumed that his daughter-in-law Tamar was a prostitute because she was wearing a veil (cf. Genesis 38:14-15). In this context, women who wore veils were disreputable. However, in the 1st century A.D. in Corinth, women who did not wear a head-covering were regarded as rebellious women, who dishonoured their head (i.e. the man).
Paul instructed the Corinthians to “judge in yourselves: is it comely (i.e. proper) that a woman pray to God uncovered?” (1 Corinthians 11:13) In other words, the Corinthians were to use their own judgment and assess, based on their local customs and practices, whether it was appropriate for a woman to pray to God without a head covering.
What are the local customs concerning our attire in this part of the world? When we are attending an important occasion, such as a job interview or a wedding, it is customary to dress upwards – to dress more respectfully than one’s usual dress. When we are meeting an important person, such as the Prime Minister or other important official, it is again customary to dress upwards, as a sign of respect for the other person.
Is not the worshipping of God the most important “occasion” that we attend each week? Is God not the most important “person” whose presence we will come into?
Surely, we ought to dress for worship in a manner that reflects local customs and thus reveres God.
RESPECT THE ELDERS
Even within a particular locality, there are variations in local customs. For example, in some law firms, it is customary and even expected to wear a shirt, pants, and tie to the office. On the other hand, in some tech companies, many employees are usually found wearing smart casual attire such as a polo tee-shirt and jeans. Does the Bible provide us with a way to determine our dress for worship, if there are variations in local customs?
God has authorised elders to be put in place to shepherd and oversee individual congregations (cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4). The elders cannot change what God has put down in black and white (e.g. the day of worship, men leading in the worship assembly, etc.), but they do have the authority to lead and make decisions in areas of expediency (e.g. what time to start worship on the first day of the week, which men will lead in the worship assembly, etc.). Ultimately, the elders need to make sure that the worship of God is done in an orderly fashion that brings glory to Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:40).
The members of the church ought to submit respectfully and willingly to the elders’ decisions in these areas of expediency. Hebrews 13:17 says that we ought to “obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls…” If we do not submit to the authority of the elders, we are not submitting to God.
When the elders have made a decision that the men-to-serve are to be dressed in a shirt, pants, and a tie, they have made this decision so that the worship service can be run in a dignified fashion that brings glory to God. Both visitors and members can see by the dress code that this is a congregation of people that revere and respect God greatly, even in the way they dress. One has the liberty to choose the clothes to wear, but one does not have the liberty to disrespect the elders and the decisions that they make so that God is revered.
Brethren, I know that much of what I have written will be uncomfortable to read, and many of you may feel that I am a “hard-liner” or “overly conservative”. I make no apologies for that. My only desire is that we all come to an understanding that our dressing for worship does matter for God.
We must dress for worship in a manner that Reveres God, Reflects Local Customs, and Respects the elders.
God bless each and everyone of us as we humble ourselves and follow His revealed will.