How To Behave In The
House Of God
Dear Berean Family,
I wrote a booklet recently while visiting in Arizona. I was contacted by a friend about a church that had recently gone very casual by the Pastor and leaders. I was so disturbed by what I heard that I began to study very hard and pray to see what the Word of God has to say about how those who preach in the pulpit should dress when in the Lord's house on Sunday. I am sharing the opening pages of this study. My prayer is that our church family would realize that the worship of God is the most important thing they can do. How we worship God reflects our heart attitude and our view of God Himself. I will make this entire booklet available soon. Please understand I am not advocating a dress code that will be policed by church officers!! I am just suggesting that those who serve in the church consider how they dress when they approach the throne of God in throne room worship. If the pastor and the leaders of a church set a high example the rest of the church will follow. God bless you all.
I am not expressing my conviction on casual dress out of jealousy of the successes and blessings of other pastors. I have always taught that true success in the ministry is being faithful to God and in proclaiming the whole counsel of His Word. Through the years I have seen fads, false doctrines, and movements come and go. What alarms me now is the adoption of casual worship that seems to have swept across all of Christendom in the West. I pray that what I have to say in these pages, will not come across as judgmental or condescending to those with whom I differ. I do not wish to cause any division or confusion for any church leaders or pastors. I am passionate about what I believe concerning biblical worship. I am convinced that what I hold to is biblically correct. Nor do I not desire to enter into endless debates with those who wish to argue a different opinion. If you read these pages and do not agree with me, you do not need to worry about what I think. We need to be concerned with what the God of the universe thinks about our beliefs and actions. At the end of the day, we each answer to the Lord. I do, however, ask you to pray about what I am saying here. I would ask you to avoid making a quick emotional response. I am asking that you read this carefully, slowly, and prayerfully and see if the Lord does not speak to your heart. Hear what I have to say on this subject of casual worship in the house of the Lord. Weigh all the evidence that I am going to share with you.
I am writing on behalf of many ministers, who like me, are dismayed at what they see in the churches across our land. I have seen young ministers, who preach at enormously large churches, dress down, appear casual and cool while at the same time bringing excellent messages. Does this justify how they dress? The answer is no. I believe the impact of their ministry would be deeper and richer if they gave serious thought as to what they are wearing in the pulpit is saying about them, about their God, and about what the world thinks of them. In the Old Testament God not only required His priests to dress appropriately He also made sure their priestly garments were designed in such a way to ensure their dignity and respect.
To teach that ministers and the Lord’s people should dress appropriately for worship is not a popular thing to do. One person’s casual clothes may be another person’s dress up clothes. I am suggesting that pastors give this subject of how they dress in the pulpit and in church prayerful reflection. We all want our churches to be filled with the glory of God. We desire that our services will be characterized by the reverent spirit of God’s presence. Let us pray that the Lord will guide His people and give each pastor wisdom in leading his church in corporate worship in such a way that will not distract from the glory of God or hinder the message of the gospel. If all I accomplish here is to cause the Lord’s people to rethink this subject I trust it will be of some benefit to the glory of God in His church.
In the Christian church God’s people have always understood that how we worship God is of profound importance. There are, among the various segments of Christendom, great debates, discussions, and differences of opinions on how we should worship God. While other religions also have debates on how to worship, it seems that nothing has been comparable to the worship wars and confusion that is found within the Christian church. The question that I’m asking in this study is this, “Does casual dress in our worship services by both the ministry and the laity, enhance or distract from biblical worship? I believe the answer is “yes, casual dress hinders the worship of God.”
To support my answer I want to appeal to four different sources of evidence that speak either directly or indirectly to this subject. The four areas of discussion will include, Scripture, Tradition, Common Sense and Cultural Compromise.
I admit that I have personal preferences on this subject. Our answer to the question “Does casual dress in our worship services by both the ministry and the laity, enhance or distract from biblical worship?” must not be based on our prejudices and personal preferences. First, and foremost, we must be convinced and guided by the Word of God. Only after we have sought counsel from the Scriptures can we make appeals to church traditions, common sense and cultural compromise. But none of these other areas of argument can in any way conflict with the Word of God.
The subject of casual dress in worship must not be confused with the trivializing of Christian worship by unbiblical innovations. While casual dress is a part of the problem of trivializing Christian worship it also stands alone as its own concern. A church might maintain proper forms for worship while allowing for casual dress in the worship service.
To make people feel more comfortable in church many pastors are now wearing jeans, sport shirts, T-shirts, shorts, and other types of casual clothing when they preach. Many young pastors, and even some older ones as well, will be heard to say, “You can come to our church dressed any way you like. We have no dress standards here.” Is this really a biblical thing to say? Does this kind of thing help reach the unchurched? One Christian leader spoke directly to this subject and made a good case for rejecting casual dress for worship:
“I’ve always heard it explained that the purpose of casual dress in the church is to reach people and relate to them on their level. That sounds noble enough on the surface (and I’m all for reaching the lost), but follow that logic just a little deeper and there are big spiritual problems that are hard to reconcile. To start with, casual dress gives the impression that the things of God are neither serious nor holy. Those of us who are aware that people’s eternal destinies are at stake should consider the ministry of Christ too important to treat casually.
Many might argue that the reason they do dress down is because they are so concerned about the lost. I don’t doubt their sincerity, but again, the logic just doesn’t make sense. If I need a medical specialist, I am not turned off if he or she is dressed more formally than I. If I need a policeman, I don’t mind that he’s dressed up in a uniform. When receiving help from these professionals, it is actually a comfort to see them dressed in a way that shows they understand the importance of their place. I don’t need a person wearing what I am wearing just so he or she can relate to me. Why should the preacher or saint in a worship setting have to look like the sinner in order to reach them? I know Christians are trying to send the message, “Hey, we are all just like you,” but that is not our message, nor is it true. The sinner is not one of us, and the Holy Spirit is working throughout the service to show him that, so that when the opportunity is presented, he will become one of us. When we gear our worship exclusively toward the comfort of sinners (the popular but less scriptural phrase in our day is the un-churched), we are actually working against the convicting ministry of the Spirit. Let’s work on making God comfortable in our services, and we will have maximum effectiveness in preaching and demonstrating the good news of the love of Christ to the sinner.” 1
Is it possible that we are compromising biblical standards to accommodate the world in which we live? If numbers matter most and Scripture matters least then the trend to dress down in worship and the promotion of a casual and relaxed worship service is certainly the right way to go. I’m not even addressing the content of our worship, the style of music, the place where we gather or the liturgy or lack of one. I’m just focusing on how we as pastors dress when we minister at church and what we expect when we open the doors for the Lord’s people to come and worship as well. I have been a pastor for well over 40 years. I have seen many trends come and go. I have also seen the collapse of western civilization and the departure of the glory of God from most of the West including the United States. In our desperate attempts to address the free fall of the church, the departure of God’s blessing, and the encroachment of many false religions in our land I have seen many ministers resort to new measures and ideas to try reverse the church’s descent into insignificance. So far, with all these new ideas, new theologies, and new philosophies on how to do church, I have not seen anything that has really worked. The crisis of a fading Christianity in the West has not been halted. One observer of the current trends in worship commented on what he saw as people came to church:
“They saunter into church in baggy shorts, flip-flop sandals, tennis shoes and grubby T-shirts. Some even slide into the pews carrying coffee in plastic foam containers as if they’re going to Starbucks. “It’s like some people decided to stop mowing the lawn and then decided to come to church,” “No one dresses up for church anymore.” 2
One major exception to this quote is the black church in America. The black Christian community still regards Sunday worship as an important event and generally speaking they dress up for the occasion.
Those who promote and defend casual dress in worship will often cite that those who believe in dressing appropriately for worship are legalistic and judgmental to those who come to church casually. I have not found this to be true. I don’t know anyone who would be unkind to someone who came to church dressed in casual clothing. I have never heard of any pastor or church turning people away from the service because they were not dressed according to the expectations of the church.
I believe that ministers who have adopted casual dress for worship have not helped the overall health or spirituality of the church. In fact, It is my contention that this trend, although well intentioned, has hurt the Christian cause more than it has helped.
The church of the late 20th century and the first part of the 21st century will be widely known as a church that was casual, careless, compromised, comfortable, content, and carnal. When future generations look back on this period of church history they may well list among their main critiques of the church of this era, that it lacked a godly leadership that had the spiritual ability to discern between the holy and the profane.
Pastor’s who dress down on the Lord’s Day and parishioners who follow suit may seem like an insignificant issue in the light of so many other pressing concerns. However, this trend of casual dress in worship is a symptom of much deeper concerns. At the root of this popular trend are the following concerns:
- Lack of discernment
- Compromise with worldliness
- Failure to recognize the real need of the sinner—regeneration—not a watered down version of Christianity and worship to entice him to come to church.
- Failure to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit
- Failure of the ministry to teach people how to behave in the house of God.
- Absence of the fear of God in our spiritual lives and churches
- And finally, a defective understanding of ecclesiology. (This means that those who dress down for worship have a view of the church that sees worship as being casual. They fail to see that worship is ritualistic, liturgical, and highly formal. They also assume that because we are under the New Covenant we can do just about anything we want in worship.)
The real problem is not that dressing casual is sinful (It’s not), the real problem is to be able to discern that there is a time and a place to be casual. The worship service is not one of them. R.C. Sproul Jr. commented on casual dress for worship:
“It is the habit of my family to dress for church. I have, on more than one occasion, argued in print that we casually worship a casual god because we enter into his presence casually. I have suggested that on the Lord’s Day we should dress as if we were going to meet the King, because we are going to meet the King. I know, from experience, that it won’t take long for someone to point out the obvious, that God looks not at the outward, but at the heart.”3
I am not advocating for any specific dress codes for pastors and people. In the various Christian denominations there have always been standards of dress that were considered appropriate for ministers and laity alike. The orthodox priests have worn various types of religious garments that set them apart for their work and ministry. In many reformed churches the clergy have worn clerical robes. In most evangelical and independent churches a coat and tie or shirt and tie were considered respectful dress for the worship service. I am not suggesting a strict dress code that should be enforced by church officers. I believe that every pastor and church should determine what they consider to be appropriate and respectful dress for the worship service and then encourage that by example. By doing this they will reverse the terrible slide into a sloppy, careless, and casual approach to God that is becoming disgraceful and distracting to the true worship of God. As a reformed baptist minister I have always maintained a standard of wearing a suit and tie or a sport coat and tie for the official services of our church. I have required all those who preach in our pulpit to do the same. My personal reasons for this include the desire to be respectful to the office of a minister, to show to those who attend our services that we take worship seriously, and to demonstrate that we believe that how we approach God in worship truly matters. I have always believed that ministers who dress sloppy, casual or who walk around in public unkempt, dirty or smelly are a poor testimony to the world of our great Lord and His gospel. If God’s servants do not dress professionally while discharging their duties they will never garner the respect from the community in which they serve. If we do not take our ministries seriously why should anyone else take them seriously? I am challenging all pastors and churches to reconsider how they approach God in the worship service. It is my conviction that casual dress by pastors and ministers, along with the sloppy dress in the church service, is not helping us in our worship of the living God. Casual dress by pastors and people in the worship service is sadly a sign of the times. The church has been influenced by a casual and careless culture rather than influencing the culture itself.