Monday, September 10, 2012

How Should We Dress for Church?

The Worship, Music, & Arts Committee at Riverview recently sat down to reevaluate our current dress code for those who serve in worship (note that the code applied to those who serve in worship, and not to those who simply attend services).  The dress code that we had revised and adopted in 2005 seemed out of date, and was based more on what was considered socially acceptable dress at the time (although it actually reached back even further to, I think, 2001).  Basically the old dress code prohibited a lot of styles of dress that have, since that time, become acceptable forms of dress.  In short, the dress code was not realistic.  We decided to revise it yet again.

But this time there was an important twist.  We decided that rather than creating a dress code based on present day styles and trends, that we should be looking to answer the question: what does the Bible say about how we dress?  We found three significant themes in scripture that guided our thoughts on the issue:

1. Modesty (Matthew 5.28, 1 Timothy 2.8-10, 1 Peter 3.3-4, 1 John 2.16)  Scripture teaches that we should not draw attention to ourselves by what we wear, and that our primary concern should be for inner beauty and not outward adornment.  Therefore, we determined that we should not dress so as to attract attention to ourselves or cause others to stumble be wearing revealing or provocative clothes, or clothes that draw specific attention to the one wearing them.

2. Conscience (1 Samuel 16.7, Romans 14.5, 22, 2 Corinthians 9.7)  The Bible explains how many religious attitudes and observances are matters of conscience, and therefore that different Christians can have different understandings about what is, and is not, acceptable apparel) assuming that it meets the requirement for modesty).  Therefore, we encourage all people to determine for themselves what manner of dress is or is not appropriate for them, based upon their own examination of scripture and conscience.

3. Consideration of the sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 14.15, 19, 15.1-2, Ephesians 5.21, Philippians 2.3-4)  Scripture teaches us to be constantly looking for ways in which we can submit to one another in love and humility.  Moreover, we are commanded to consider the desires of others before ourselves.  Furthermore, it is our desire to be obedient to scripture by conducting ourselves in ways that lead to peace and not ton incite quarrels or divisions.  Therefore, we believe that the individual's process for determining appropriate dress for worship should take into consideration the sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Notice that these guidelines don't appeal to personal preferences or cultural standards.  Our authority is scripture, and we should appeal to that.  If we simply appeal to trends or preferences, we'll always have disagreements within the church about what is or is not acceptable dress.  That being said, these guidelines don't eliminate all differences of opinion within a congregation, and they certainly won't do so in ours.  The point is, though, that our standards are based on scripture, and not on any individual's or group's man-centered opinions on what is or is not acceptable attire.  I really like this approach.

Another good thing that I like about it is that it encourages people to take into considerations the preferences of their brothers and sisters.  I had the chance to share these guidelines with our worship team last week, and I essentially told them that if they think these guidelines give them freedom to dress however they want, they've missed the point.  We do have freedom to dress however we wish, but not to the extent that it causes quarrels, divisions, or to lead other people to sin.  That being said, those who hold a more conservative view of how people should dress for church likewise need to take the same approach toward doing and saying things that lead to peace.  We all need to realize that we think differently on this issue - and are even convicted differently on this issue - and be willing to extend grace to those with whom we disagree.

If our only standard is what is popular, or is what one group of people prefers over the other, that's a sure recipe for fighting and disagreements. But if we all appeal to scripture, and we realize that people can be convicted in different ways, then we have a grace-filled common ground to start from.  Will there be disagreements?  Yes.  Will some people insist on wearing a three piece suit?  Yes.  Will some people insist on jeans and a T-shirt?  Yes.  The point is, they can all do whatever they want, as long as they've considered the three principles listed above.

My personal position is this: dress however you want, as long as you're not dressing so as to bring attention to yourself, you've thought about the spiritual ramifications of how you dress, and you've considered what your brothers and sisters think.

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