“…For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b)
I’ve heard it said before that when children learn to revere God, they will dress up for church. I don’t buy it and I’m increasingly convinced that God’s glory and the tender faith of our children are at stake if we continue to subscribe to that thinking. Regardless of your preference on the matter, I invite you to consider the potential dangers of officially or unofficially mandating a dress code for church.
Biblical support of dressing up is sketchy.
Here are the only principles we can safely deduce on the subject of church attire:
- An estimation of a person’s character or spiritual suitability shouldn’t be derived from appearances. To do so is a human tendency, not a godly one. (I Sam. 16:7)
- We are not to judge or show partiality to people based on what they show up to church wearing. If we do, we are elevating ourselves to the position of judge and God considers that form of discrimination and preference to be wicked. (James 2:1-4)
- The type of adorning we should be most concerned with is the spiritual and character sort, not clothing. (I Peter 3:3-4, I Timothy 2:9-10)
- The only dress we are encouraged to avoid is attire that is immodest, seductive, distracting or extravagant. (I Timothy 2:9-10, Prov. 7:10)
- And the only other noteworthy passages on clothing are symbolic of attitudes, righteousness, spiritual readiness and the provision of salvation – they should not be taken as regulatory principles. (Matt. 22:1-14, I Peter 5:5, Rev. 19:7-8, Psalm 96:9, Psalm 149:4)
We need to be careful not to misapply scripture to support the cultural clothing conventions we find comfortable.
We may be elevating our convictions above God’s priorities.
Jesus had three years of public ministry during which he could have mandated attire for corporate worship services, but funny – it never came up. We need to be careful not to elevate the man-made, externally-focused, social convention of dressing up on Sundays to the status of biblical law. Jesus has words for people with these tendencies:
And he said to them, ’Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7).
We may be inadvertently succumbing to the fear of man.
A few years back, while battling with an athletic daughter over the logic of getting her into a diametrically opposite style of clothing for church than she would wear the other 6 ½ days of the week, I was grasping for a good reason to give her. While I muttered some unconvincing reason, my mind shouted, Because Mr. & Mrs. Proper in our congregation wouldn’t approve of what you want to wear and thereby judge my Christian parenting to be lacking.
That is the fear of man. Let’s remember that we answer to God alone for the stewardship of our children’s hearts. So if we let this matter go to fight greater battles for their salvation and holiness, then let’s be okay with the disapproval of a few. Their estimation of us, our parenting and our children carries no eternal weight and is a far inferior concern when compared to shepherding our children’s hearts.
We may miss the heart of our young people.
Years ago, after assessing my daughter’s church attire, a woman made a flawed judgement of her relationship with God. By the disapproving comment she made, she inferred that my daughter did not adequately revere God. What was sad was that this daughter was, and is, one of the most pure-hearted, Christ-like, young women I’ve ever encountered.
Remember, Jesus didn’t say “If you love me, you’ll dress-up when you come to my house.” He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) This child wasn’t dressed up for church, but the way she lives provides compelling evidence of a love and reverence for the God who has saved her. Unfortunately, this woman didn’t see that. All she could see was her sweatshirt.
We may become a breeding ground for hypocrites.
When we force children to dress in a manner completely contrary to their current tastes and styles, touting it as reverence when that’s not the attitude this exercise is producing in their hearts, we are demanding and applauding external conformity void of internal conviction. (Insert warning bells here.)
If we give misplaced commendations for external appearances of righteousness on a Sunday morning and don’t know younger believers well enough to encourage the evidence of true righteousness in other areas of their lives, it’s no wonder we pass hundreds of youth through our church ranks whose faith has never gone deeper than their dress shirt. As proper as they’ll look as kids, they ironically won’t be the ones bringing glory to God as they walk away in droves from a faith that never changed them.
We’re with the King every day.
During one of my feeble attempts to persuade my children to acquiesce to the dress-code, I found myself employing the stick-it-to-em answer given by many a Christian mother: “But we’re going to see the King!” (Insert strained smile here.)
I couldn’t say it with conviction because that one just didn’t sit well with me. The truth is that any Christian is in the King’s presence every day. If we preach God’s omnipresence to our children, we have to recognize that God sees us in our underwear, so this reasoning falls embarrassingly short.
Yes, let’s teach our children to revere God—it is the very beginning of wisdom, after all. (Prov. 1:7) But let’s not use the formality of their church clothes as a human, inaccurate and unbiblical measure of their relationship with Him. That will gain us about zero influence with the next generation of believers.
“It was the lady who disapproved of my jeans that made me want to get to know God better.”
Said no young person ever.
In the already tumultuous and uncertain years of youth, let’s stop peering down at them over our ties and blouses and instead, let’s get a little dirt on our slacks and skirts as we bend low to extend the compelling grace of Christ to them.
Even in their sweatshirts.
Originally published at janetsurette.com.