For many, this is an old hat. It seems like worshipers have gone their separate ways on such matters as musical style, use of screens, and Sunday dress. But for me in my context (where I serve a congregation that worships in both traditional and modern ways), this is a present reality that I have to combat as a pastor who is constantly fighting the “two churches within a church” battle. So here’s some brief, broad-brush, philosophical/theological reflection on Sunday dress. (And my saying “broad brush” is a plea for you all not to nail me with your exceptions, as I’m aware that generalizations are met with not a small amount of counter-evidence. So hear me out.)
#1: Those who defend a “Sunday best” position do so on solid theological ground. The basic idea is that God is worthy of the best we have to offer…hence our best clothes–ties, dresses, suits, heels, polish, shine, and starch. “God’s best” in worship is biblical (just think of the luxury of the OT temple and tabernacle, or ponder the implications of the Shema).
#2: (which may come as a surprise) Those who defend casual dress do so on solid theological ground. Those who hold to #1 often fail to realize that many times (of course not all the time), those who dress casually do so because they value something in particular when it comes to relating to God…and guess what: it’s biblical, too. It’s a little thing called authenticity. Perhaps #2-ers are reacting against the down side of years of #1-ness. That downside is that people can end up in ruts of putting on a show, flashing their best, trying to make themselves look good on Sunday when their home is a mess, their sin is rampant, and their life is in shambles. Now it’s obvious that #2 also can have down sides–sloppy dress can get into one’s psyche and usher a person into an overly casual approach to Almighty God.
So can #1’s and #2’s never worship under the same roof? I sure hope not! Both sides have great reasons, and perhaps the rub between the two is less a matter of good theology vs. bad theology and more of a matter of what one’s upbringing and life’s journey has shaped what their primary values are when it comes to worship and clothing. The grace-point here for each camp is to acknowledge that the other side has some decent reasons and then apply Paul’s love axiom (1 Corinthians 13) to one situation where it properly belongs.
Jesus, with Thy church abide.
Be her Savior, Lord, and guide,
While on earth her faith is tried.
May she ONE in doctrine be,
ONE in truth and charity,
Winning all to faith in Thee.
We beseech Thee, hear us.