Kyle Borg on What the Bible Says About Church Clothes

Kyle Borg is the pastor of Winchester Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA) in Winchester, KS. He has served there since July 2013. Having grown up in a rural county his heart is to see the rural church flourish under the ordinary means of grace to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

This last week in Sunday school we entertained an interesting question: what did a corporate worship service look like in the New Testament? As we discussed this question there were notable differences from what many are probably accustomed to today. For instance, the biblical picture we get is that it was likely very simple. As they met in homes or upper rooms they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. They sang the Psalms and there isn’t any indication that they used a praise band much less any musical instruments. Additionally, their gatherings may have lasted quite a bit longer than ours, and they sat where they could find a seat—even in a window! But, did they have a church dress code?

Many of us are familiar with the well-known phrase: “Sunday best,” referring to the kinds of clothes that would make appropriate church clothes. We’ve also heard the tired and worn comparisons: “If you were going to meet the President wouldn’t you wear the nicest clothes in your closet?” I even had someone tell me that if I hope, as a pastor, to influence people I need to learn how to wear a necktie. I suppose one man’s influence is another man’s alienation (ahem…welcome to rural America).

Whether we like it or not a church’s “dress code” is a significant issue. There are those who have felt burdened by imposed expectations. It’s caused tensions and even divisions in congregations. It has reinforced people’s stereotypes of the church as stodgy and stuffy. It’s given as an excuse for people who feel uncomfortable or want to avoid a worship service. It’s also often explicitly mentioned on church websites helping direct visitors to what is or isn’t appropriate. To put it simply, quite unfortunately it’s an issue that has caused a lot of unnecessary offense.

To be clear there is, to express it this way, a certain theology to clothing. This first articles of clothing (garments of skin given by God himself) were intended to cover the shameful effects of sin (Genesis 3:10, 21). Biblically, one’s outward dress sometimes expressed a condition of the heart. For instance, Jacob wore sackcloth as he mourned for Joseph (Genesis 37:34),  and whatever it was and however it’s understood the head covering in the Corinthian church was a “symbol of authority” (1 Corinthians 11:10). Further, clothes sometimes designated an individual in their place or purpose. You can think of the High Priest who, according to the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, wore the ephod and turban on his head as “holy garments” (Exodus 28:4).  The Pharisees — drunk on self-glorification—were rebuked for wearing long robes as a display of their piety (Mark 12:38). John the Baptist was clothed in camel’s hair as a sign, at least in part, of his prophetic office (Matthew 3:4, see also 2 Kings 1:8 and Zechariah 13:4). Even Jesus’ coat was without seam which pointed to his priestly role (John 19:23). Additionally, clothing is a prominent mark of beauty and even glory. The Groom delights in the beauty of his Bride’s sandaled feet (Song of Solomon 7:1), and wisdom personified dresses herself in fine linen and purple (Proverbs 31:22). The glory of Jesus and what will one day be the glory of the saints in light is set forth in the brightness of their clothes (see Revelation 1:13 and 19:8).

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Source: Church Leaders

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