Close this search box.



One of the few positive changes in the modern Church is the switch over to more casual clothing. However, a number of churches and denominations can still be found where the people are wearing their “Sunday best” to church. Men wearing three-piece suits—and often boys, too. Women and girls wearing beautiful dresses and sometimes fine hats. Is anything wrong with this? In and of itself, no, when the dressing up is voluntary and it is not done to feel superior to others. But when dressing up for church is elevated to near-doctrinal status, then yes, there is a problem.


For as long as I have been a Christian I have been around people who feel like they must dress up for church. I’ve heard a pastor say it is his personal conviction to look like a man of the cloth everywhere he goes, so he always goes out wearing a suit. I’ve witnessed deacons sweat through their suit jackets serving in after-church functions in 90-degree heat and high humidity. In the era of covid I’ve heard fellow parishioners say they wish the church would go back to parking lot services so they wouldn’t have to dress up for church. Such sights and words as these leave me dumbfounded. Is this what church is really about, what you wear on Sunday or wear when you go out living life? Absolutely not! That being the case, how did we get here?


In the times before the Industrial Revolution only the wealthy could afford fine clothing. The common people only had their work clothes plus a little bit of other apparel to wear when they had to shop and so forth. Beginning in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, with mass production, the price of clothing dropped dramatically. Now the common people could afford nice clothes also. Some thought it was a grand idea to dress up when going to church. At first, many churches resisted this idea. The early Methodists even turned people away from their churches for wearing fancy clothes. However, in the 1840’s an influential Congregational minister in Connecticut named Horace Bushnell wrote in an essay that God’s attributes included sophistication and refinement, therefore believers should imitate them. Many Christians began to dress up for church, going to houses of worship in their “Sunday best.” The idea was taken up by other ministers and as they say, the rest is history.


So many folks follow this practice but so few question why. Those who have thought about it have tried to fit the Bible to their beliefs in dressing up for church. One man told me that the Old Testament priests dressing differently from the other people was supportive of this idea. I was so astonished that I could not even muster a challenge to this. It is disheartening to hear statements like this from folks who are supposed to be mature Christians! And raising the Sunday “suit up” dress code to near-doctrinal status? No! Besides the fact that the idea of dressing up for church is a manmade concept, it also deepens the division between Sunday and the rest of the week, a real problem in modern Christianity. The early Christians, particularly in the first couple of centuries after the birth of the Church, rightly saw themselves as Christians every day of the week and everywhere they went. Their “secular” lives were not in a separate compartment from their “sacred” lives. Requiring people to dress up for church also discriminates against the poor. This is something God does not take kindly to:


James 2:1-4:  My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For 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 footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?


Philosophical (read, argumentative) Christians will then say, “What, are folks supposed to come to church in flip flops and cut-off jeans? Are we supposed to allow people to come to the house of God in pajamas?” How silly! Common sense dictates that people still dress modestly and sensibly—and cleanly if they can afford it—and that such incidences as these can be easily dealt with as they occur. There is no justification for elevating dressing up for church to a doctrine-like level when there is absolutely no Scriptural basis for it. If some man or woman wears clothing that is too revealing, or is casual to the point of being undignified or irreverent (pajamas, et cetera), or dirty when the person wearing the clothing can afford to wear clean clothes, that has to be addressed. But dressing up in your “Sunday best?” That is a bunch of manmade nonsense! It should never be forced on anyone. We should not be concerned so much with what we wear as with loving one another:


Colossians 3:12-14:  Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.



One Response