This article is about meeting God in all his glory and holiness in the worship service, and how we should dress for the occasion. It is about our clothing for church.

Source: Clarion, 2009. 3 pages.

“Sunday Best”?

How should one dress for church? A fair question is it not? Yet, it’s not a topic many like to talk about, for today’s trend is to dress in what’s most comfortable and casual, regardless of the occasion. Indeed, even in worship services one can detect a slow erosion of “Sunday best.” Because of the culture we live in, merely hinting at the topic of dress and worship can raise some hackles. A typical response is that God doesn’t care what clothes you wear. He looks into the heart and what’s in the heart is important. The latter point is, of course, true (Psalm 24:4), but the statement that God does not care about dress for official worship can be challenged. The current growing trend of dressing down for church is not a good one.

Bear with me for I would like to address this issue from Scripture. First, let’s note the fact that it is a tremendous privilege of divine grace that we may begin each week by going to church to worship our God and King. What an awesome prerogative to be able to come into his presence as his people and sing our praises, articulate our thanks, and listen to Him speaking to us through the Word read and proclaimed.

In order to appreciate our worship properly, however, it helps to know a little of its background and history. So let’s take a very brief look at some relevant aspects of Old and New Testament worship so we can better appreciate some of what we do and where we are heading with our worship.

From Old to New🔗

After God had set his people free from their Egyptian bondage, Israel had the excitement of meeting God at Mount Sinai. However, before they could come into his presence and hear Him, God ordered that they consecrate themselves, wash their clothes, and stay away from the mountain. To touch it would mean death (Exodus 19:10-12). God was indicating that He was holy and therefore to be respected and feared. He also indicated that it mattered to Him how his people appeared before Him. He demanded consecration, that is setting themselves apart to the Lord. This consecration broke their pattern of daily living, for it was to take place over two days. We do not read much detail as to precisely how this consecration was to be done; but, the clothes are mentioned. They must be washed. You are appearing before the Holy One! God demanded holiness and respect and that had to be evident also in the clothing.

This divine concern for how one appeared before God was also evident with the worship at the tabernacle and temple. There were graded levels of holiness surrounding these sanctuaries. The people were not allowed inside. The priests could enter the Holy Place and only the High Priest could go once a year into the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. In order to approach God, they had to dress according to his dress code. This was very elaborate for the high priest (Exodus 28:1-39). The ordinary priests had to have linen clothes that were, just as the high priest’s, designed for “dignity and honour” (Exodus 28:2, 40). The original can also be translated as “for glory and splendour.” The words used also convey the ideas of finery, luxury, and splendid beauty. The point is that the clothes were to reflect something of the fact that the priests were in God’s presence, for this apparel was to be worn when the priests worked at the tabernacle or temple (cf. Deuteronomy 12:7, 18). The importance of proper dress is underlined by the fact that even if a priest was doing something as menial as cleaning out the ashes of the whole burnt offering, he had to wear the clothes which the Lord had specified for this task (Leviticus 6:10-11).

All this has relevance for today when we realize the new context we are in. God has now set his people free from the Egypt of sin and satanic domination through “Christ, our Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7). This means that instead of approaching Mount Sinai, we may now come near in worship to Mount Zion!

As we read in Hebrews 12, But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.Hebrews 12:22-24

We may worship in the face of heaven, so to speak. But, it gets even better. Because of the sprinkled blood of Christ, we may “have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus ... let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22). As priests to God (cf. 1 Peter 2:5), we are allowed to do what only the high priest in the Old Testament could do once a year. As we worship and call on the name of the Lord, we may enter into the Most Holy Place! Who can fully fathom and appreciate what this means?

This momentous truth has implications for the clothes we choose to wear when going to church to worship in God’s very presence. If God was concerned how the priests approached Him in the Old Testament, would He be any less concerned today when the priestly privileges of drawing near to God in the Most Holy Place are open to all believers? Our God is still the same. He is holy and majestic. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords who comes to judge this world. He expects us, who by nature are but miserable sinners, to approach Him with awe, reverence, and in our best attire, reflecting the principle of the priestly dress that our clothes are for “dignity and beauty” in God’s presence (Exodus 28:2, 40; Hebrews 12:28-29).

In keeping with the age in which we live, the age of the Holy Spirit, God leaves the details of our dress to us. We should not need to draft rules for how to dress for worship. The Lord our God has enabled us to make such decisions since we have both the relevant principles spelled out in his Word, as well as the gift of his Spirit who is able to guide us by means of the Word. But, we in turn need to make sure that the Spirit has the necessary room to work in our lives so that he can mould us and our thinking in accord with God’s will. We need to consciously continue to work on developing a counter-culture that challenges the norms of a neo-pagan world around us, also in the area of dress, and certainly when it pertains to worship.

The Way Ahead🔗

It is very easy to become unwittingly influenced by the culture around us. People dress down and turn their noses at authority, including God’s. The lack of respect is widespread in our current society. In that kind of a culture, we need to prepare very deliberately for the Sunday and heed the admonition of Ecclesiastes which can be paraphrased: “Guard your steps when you go to church!” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). When we enter church, we are entering space specifically reserved for worship where as congregation we officially enter into the presence of God and where our worship and prayers take us into the Most Holy Place. The clothes we wear must reflect this awesome reality.

It is one thing for an unchurched person coming to church out of curiosity or because of hunger for spiritual food. He may not have had a chance to prepare himself properly or may not know what worship involves. That cannot be said of those raised in the church. When one considers that even our current worldly culture honours dress codes to ensure proper apparel for all kinds of occasions, even for playing golf at upscale courses, is it not dishonouring to the most high God when people approach Him in official worship in clothes that are less than Sunday best?

There is also something else to note. Not only is the congregation a holy priestly people, but it is also bride of Christ. As bride of the Saviour, living in the expectation of the great marriage feast, believers prepare for Christ’s coming and for the day on which He will clothe them in the white robes of redemption (Revelation 19:7-8). In anticipation of that day, should we not honour our Lord and Master by now already dressing in our best when we appear before him in grateful worship?

A well-known Old Testament scholar noted that “the way in which one appears physically before God frequently betrays one’s attitude of mind (cf. Matthew 22:11-14)” (R.K. Harrison, Leviticus, p. 75).

Let us not lose our sense of awe and wonder at being in God’s presence. It is a privilege we cannot take for granted. As Scripture exhorts us:

Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.Hebrews 12:28-29

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