Christians' history reveals the tradition of dressing up for church services is a relatively recent convention. Throughout the middle ages and early Protestant Reformation period, most European Christians did not have different sets of clothing that could be selected for church services. While Christian writings sometimes spoke of being clean on the day of worship, dressing up for church services was typically not even an option.
Why do some Christians dress up for church?
This pattern began to change in the early nineteenth century in England. Mass manufacturing and a growing middle class led to a new variety of clothing for the common people. By the mid-1800s various churches in Europe and America began to emphasize the idea of "cleanliness is next to godliness" in regard to appearance. Emphasis on "giving your best to God" through one's clothing and appearance at a Sunday service developed as a part of Western church culture during this time. (See Pagan Christianity by George Barna and Frank Viola for more information on this topic.)
A biblical look at this issue reveals two important things. First, God looks at the heart rather than at one's clothing. In 1 Samuel 16:7 God said, "For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."
Second, an emphasis on nice clothing can sometimes reveal a sinful, prideful attitude. James 2:2-4 teaches, "For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,' or, 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" First Timothy 2:9-10 adds, "women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works."
In today's culture, there are many perspectives regarding what is appropriate to wear to a church service. The Bible, however, emphasizes modesty and wearing something that does not cause discrimination within the church. In other words, believers are taught to dress appropriately and to treat one another without favoritism regardless of how well one can afford to dress.
A good guideline for when a person has the choice is to dress to fit what is appropriate to the context of the congregation. For example, the apostle Paul sought to remove any barrier to the message of Christ (Romans 14). He also wrote, "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). His concern was not on his clothing, but rather in living in a way that best allowed him to make disciples among those he served.
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