Question Time - Does the Bible specify a dress code for the meetings?
Richard Collings, Caerphilly, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Does the Bible specify a dress code for the meetings?
It is easy to assume that the ‘biblical’ dress code for the meetings is the one that prevails in the part of the world where we live. However, to do so overlooks the fact that what we wear may not be suitable for, affordable by, or available to, believers living in another culture or location. It is also a mistake to think that the style of clothing worn today is the correct one for all time because fashions change, a look at very old photographs proves that point. In contrast to this, God’s standards will always work. They are not restricted by place, time or ethnicity and therefore, whatever teaching is given in the scriptures regarding a dress code will be achievable by all Christians everywhere at any time.
An analogy that is used to indicate that we must dress up when meeting together is that if we were to be presented to the Queen, or some other dignitary, we would not go along wearing our ‘ordinary’ clothes. Whilst this analogy has some merit it ignores a couple of important points. Firstly, the Queen is only able to assess our attitude towards her by looking to see how we dress; she cannot look into the heart. God does not need to look at our external appearance to know what we feel and think about Him, for He knows us through and through. Secondly, if we were the Queen’s children we would not dress up to meet her for we would be part of her family. Our salvation has brought us into a relationship with God, for we are His children and He is our Father.
The question refers to a dress code ‘for the meetings’ but the New Testament doesn’t deal with the issue of what we wear ‘to the meetings’. Under the terms of the ceremonial law instructions were given regarding the garments of the High Priest, and those that served in the priesthood, but those instructions do not apply today and I am not aware of any instance where the apostles, or the believers in the early church, changed their clothing in order to meet together. Unlike the employees of a well known burger restaurant who are all required to wear the corporate livery, God has not stipulated a standard mode of dress and, therefore, we must be careful not to legislate where God has not.
However, this does not mean we can dress carelessly, for God has given instructions that should control our appearance at all times. One of the primary principles that must govern what we wear is modesty. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul states, ‘And those members of the body which we think to be less honourable, on these we bestow greater honour; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need’, 1 Cor. 12. 23-24. The apostle is teaching that there are parts of the body that should never be on public display, they should be covered up. This means that no brother or sister should dress in a manner that is immodest, that accentuates their sexuality and which may stimulate impure desires in others.
Another principle that ought to regulate our appearance is motive. Whilst there might not be anything inappropriate with our clothes, the reason for wearing them could make it wrong to do so. If we dress in order to attract attention to ourselves (be that positive or negative attention), or to show off our affluence, or to rebel against authority, then we are amiss. In the meetings, Christ and God ought to be the centre of attention, not us, and therefore we should avoid wearing anything that would make us the focus of interest. Furthermore, we are to be subject to those whom God has raised up as elders, ‘Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls’, Heb. 13. 17. Elders will need to ensure that they are not imposing constraints unnecessarily, and which cannot be substantiated from the Bible, but it is the duty of the flock to comply with their leadership.
In addition to what has just been mentioned, there are a number of questions we can ask ourselves which will help us make right choices. Do my clothes indicate that I am careless about the things of God? Having thought about things, is my conscience at peace regarding what I wear? Am I more concerned about what I wear than what I am? Will my standard of dress give the impression that God is interested only in the middle and upper classes? Am I showing an indifference to the feelings of others? If we can genuinely answer ‘no’ to all these questions and that what we have on is comfortable, modest, not ostentatious and our desire is to please God then what we wear will be acceptable to the Lord.
There is one form of dress code the New Testament does stipulate for us all, ‘Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’, 1 Pet. 5. 5. Our outward clothing ought to be a proof of the humility of our hearts.