Shorts and flip flops at church. . .

I had a bit of a “revelation” recently. I started thinking about Christ’s enemies, the Pharisees. In Matthew 23.27-28, Christ proclaims judgment on the Pharisees for their hypocritical behavior. In the previous verses, he condemns them for cleaning the outside of the cup, but leaving the inside filthy, full of greed and self-indulgence.

Conversely, Jesus proclaims blessing on the tax collectors (who, in that day, were known for being cheats, swindlers, and thieves, in addition to being traitors to Jewish tradition by allowing the Roman government to sign their paychecks) in Luke 18.9-14. Christ commends this man for his honesty. For his willingness to come face to face with his brokenness and ask God to forgive him. The man went to God in the middle of his sin; he didn’t cover it up or hide it behind nice clean robes. He put his rags out there for all to see.

I’m not saying that throwing on a pair of jeans to go to church is equivalent to putting our sinfulness on display. But I’m gonna let you in on a little secret about myself. . .

Growing up, getting dressed up for church was the thing to do. Everyone at church was in a jacket and tie or a nice dress. As I grew up, I began using the suit as a way to keep people out. As I tied my Windsor knot (or Four-in-Hand, as the occasion or shirt collar called for it), I would look in the mirror and notice that I looked well put-together. To the casual observer, I had everything in order.

But to the keen eye (namely, God’s), my life was a mess. Underneath the necktie, the European-vent suit coat, and the crisply pressed shirt was a man whose brokenness was suppressed. I lied to myself every Sunday.

I lied to God every Sunday.

I’m not an advocate of being casual at church. I’m an advocate of being honest. I’m an advocate of letting God see inside you. For me, that meant tearing down the barrier of the suit. I know where my mind used to go whenever I put on the jacket. Somewhere in the back of my thought closet a voice would say, “Put on the jacket. God can’t see through that.”

But how can God fix us if we’re not willing to reveal the fact that we’re broken?

20 thoughts on “Shorts and flip flops at church. . .

  1. @Ida As a writer, I will create a vehicle to carry a certain idea. The suit is not my scapegoat. A cursory reading could yield that conclusion though. It could also lead to the equally misguided conclusion that I’m referring to Christ’s command to “cut off” or “pluck out” whatever commits an offense. While the principle is there, I want to address something deeper. I want to pose the question, “What are we using as a shield to try to hide from God’s view?”

    So you’re right, Ida. The issue isn’t dress standards at all. It’s about being honest with God. Like I said in my post, how can God fix us if we won’t admit to him that we’re broken?

  2. I guess I should explain this post. I’m recounting personal experience and not trying to impose my standards on others. Maybe what I’d like to do is to make the reader take stock of his/her own life and discover whatever is hindering an open and honest relationship with God.

    It’s different for each individual.

    But Jason had an interesting point. What signal are we sending others? Yes, I agree, the gospel message is, in itself, an offense. But are we giving off vibes of love and invitation, or are we exuding exclusivism and judgmental attitudes? Can we look at ourselves from the outside and see if we’re doing anything to hinder the gospel?

    Is it possible that Jason’s unsaved friend may have heard the message more clearly without the noise of a dress code ringing in his ears? I can’t say; perhaps he would have found something else to harp on, but what if his feeling that people were judging him for his dress happened to be the only thing standing between him and Jesus?

  3. Wow. Ida, I grew up in your church–I remember you as a tot. And so I’m going to say this with love: you seem really angry. I don’t know if it’s because Nate described something that is a real problem in that church and you’re defensive about it or what. I don’t think he was blaming his lack of brokenness on a suit. What he was describing was his experience of believing that by following “the rules of that church”, namely dressing up in a suit, that he was “spiritual”. I can relate because when I went to that church, I felt that unspoken rule and lived by it too, fooling myself of my “righteousness”. And yes, I looked down on outsiders who came in not dressed like the rest of us. I was telling them, “you’re not one of us”. Shame on me for ever being that way.

    I’m not saying that everyone in that church is that way or that even the majority of the folks are that way (my parents STILL are members there), but because I was a member longer than you’ve been alive, I can say with reasonable certainty that it’s a common problem there.

    Nate knows he didn’t become “broken” by putting on shorts and flip flops. He first realized his brokenness and realized he didn’t need a suit–he needed God. And so I think his change of attire was just a physical representation of his inward change. I think his humility in admitting he even had a spiritual problem is taking responsibility like an adult. He admitted pretty much to the world that he’s not perfect. Which is somthing I NEVER once witnessed in anyone at our former church. No one ever admitted their sin unless they were confronted with it and couldn’t run from it.

  4. The gospel is offensive to the world… thats what the bible says, but our dress, words, and actions should be filled with Love concern and thoughtfulness. We ought to live peaceably with all men as much as possible. I take that to mean we should make unbelievers feel as welcome and loved as possible at any time we are around them

  5. and also, Jason, wouldn’t the fact that this friend of yours didn’t know Christ as his Savior make him uncomfortable in itself? I don’t know one unsaved person that feels comfortable when presented with the truth of God’s word.

  6. Nate, I guess my real problem with the entry is not really at all the issue of dressing up or not dressing up in church. It’s the fact that you blamed your inability to be broken before God on your suit, an inanimate object, instead of just taking the responsibility for yourself like a responsible adult.

  7. That’s a great point, Jason, and I wanted to bring it up. I’m willing to bet that any church–those that are more formal in dress and those that are not–when sending a missionary out into the field would encourage that missionary to adopt the customs of the culture they are trying to reach. Customs in dress, food, language, etc…If that is the case, then how come we don’t do that for our OWN culture?

    I’ve never seen a verse in the Bible where God asks us to “dress up”, so I’d put that in the category of a man-made “rule”. What I do think God asks of us is that we remain modest in such a way so that we don’t cause anyone to struggle with lust. There’s a difference. I can dress casually and modestly at the same time. I can “dress up” and still dress immodestly and visa versa.

    Regarding “dressing down” being associated with the liberal movement, and “dressing up” so as not to “offend” others–aren’t liberal Christians still Christians and thus, still our brothers and sisters? To look down upon them for the way they dress demonstrates a lack of love. Worse, in that attitude, one usurps God’s authority by judging his servants. The reverse is true too. Those of us who love to dress casually shouldn’t look down on those who don’t.

    Again, the spirit of love should prevail, and one’s heart and mind should be bent towards pleasing God alone and not worrying about what others will think of us if we dress down (or perhaps up), unless it involves a question of modesty and/or a real desire to reach the lost around us.

    I love my bros and sisters who love to dress up and I love my brothers and sisters who love to dress down. But I love most when my brothers and sisters are authentic in heart and spirit regardless of what they’re wearing.

  8. recently an unsaved acquaintance decided to show up at my old church in MI in which the majority of men wear at least a shirt and tie and he came in shorts and a button down shirt… though he said everyone was friendly he admitted he couldn’t help noticing that people noticed him and how he was dressed. He said if he didn’t know a few of us guys at the church he would have felt extremely out of place and unwelcome.

    I’m not at all suggesting abandoning dressing up a little as we go to church but I have been thinking on this topic a lot lately and trying to figure out how it all works together and I thought I would throw this out there since everyone is talking about this.

  9. Interesting post, as always, Nate. While it is good to step back and examine why we are wearing what we wear to church, we can almost put too much emphasis on “formal dress” as a problem and create other problems: unnecessary attention to ourselves, criticism of those wearing formal dress, or offense to (I hate how overused this term is) the “weaker brother.” Yes, I often catch myself spending time picking out what to wear to church so that I look good and so that everyone else will think so, too! That’s not right. But I’ve never felt that I was hiding my heart condition from God by doing this, and so perhaps I’m not understanding exactly where you’re coming from. I just know that if I decided that in order to be unhypocritical I would go casual at my “formal” church, a lot of people would see that as me trying to make a statement, and not a positive one. They would connect it with the “liberal” movement, and while perhaps that is their problem, I have to be aware of the association and message my dress sends, too. And that obviously could depend on the situation and type of dress your church is accustomed to. All that to say, perhaps we should expand Calvin’s statement to: “Love God, love others, and do as you please.” After all, aren’t those the two greatest commandments?

  10. Good post Nate. My personal preference is jeans and a t-shirt…because my legs are too white and skinny to wear shorts! I don’t want to offend the weaker stomached brother 😀

  11. okay, well, Calvin isn’t God, so anything he says is not going to change what actually pleases God. My point is that the suit didn’t fool everyone, and neither do the jeans.

  12. I don’t think Nate is calling for all abandonment of formal clothing at church. I think he’s just expressing his personal experience–which happens to be, IMHO, a VERY common problem in fundamentalist churches.

    Perhaps we should dress the way we feel comfortable and do it to please God–regardless of whether it is formal or casual. If we all went to church naked, we wouldn’t have to debate this topic. 😉

    Calvin said, “Love God and do as you please”. Wise words.

  13. Except, the issue is not really about the suit at all. You can lie to God in or out of a suit, in or out of jeans. People shouldn’t stop dressing nice to church just because one guy uses it as a tool to hide his fake spirituality. That’s blaming your issues on outside things…it’s really your heart that was the problem, not what you wore, and it isn’t fixed by what you wear now. Is it inappropriate or prideful to wear a suit to see the president, or attend a wedding, or because your boss asked you to? Your pride or humility is not based on what you’re wearing, it’s your heart and your attitude.

  14. Hm. Arresting perspective, Nate. I may not see everything exactly the same way you do, (or wear jeans to church), but this is an issue almost every believer faces: how do I honor God in my dress? Definately a biggie for me, because fashion and textiles are my career choice. Personal application: skirts. To be honest, going to BJ has sort of opened my mind to the idea of wearing skirts. I now wear skirts more than ever, just because I feel confident, feminine, and pretty in them. Plus, let’s face it: they just are not that common outside of our circles. I feel that people treat me with respect and seem to appreciate my femininity more in a skirt. Howebeit, I often wear tank tops and/or other less traditional/conservative tops with them- yes, even to church. My home church is making a clear shift to the less- traditional, more casual dress. I could wear jeans, and no one would say anything. My reasons for ‘abstaining’ from the ultra-casual are quite personal:

    First, my father is quite conservative, and he told me in highschool, that he prefers to see me in skirts on Sunday morning. My conscience dictates that I respect his preference, event though he does not enforce a ‘standard’ on me. Second, I spend most of my week in manure-encrusted jeans. So, Sunday is a welcome opportunity to express my femininity, individuality, and reverence for God’s house and people. I have set a standard of dress for myself that includes wearing skirts or dress slacks… and my church family is accustomed to seeing me that way. I do not wish to draw undue attention to myself, by changing my dress standard now. Can I go to church in jeans and feel comfortable? No. I tried it. I want to go to church and set my mind on praising and listening to God… not on whether or not everyone is ok with my dress. Do I think less of someone else in my church because his or her standard differs? Certainly not. I agree with you: the important issue is: how can we, as individuals, bring God the most glory in corporate worship? And how do I keep my focus on being transparent and broken before Him?

  15. Interesting. Hadn’t thought of it like that.

    Growing up myself, I also wore a suit (though nothing mega-name brand, we weren’t that rich) and tie and such. Wasn’t till I reached college that I started wearing jeans and etc. to my church at home. To me, the suit represents stuffiness. Sure, I can rock a wuit pretty well, but when I wear it all the time for church, it’s stuffy. I’m pretty sure the disciples didn’t whip out their Louis Vuitton robes. They were WITH Jesus all the time, and wore what everyone else wore for everything.

    I haven’t quite donned the shorts and flips, but jeans and sandals are almost every Sunday’s attire. At the least the jeans are.

    Never the less, I know this isn’t quite in the spirit of your blog post, but as far as the whole dress debate goes, I’m so over it. It’s not a matter worth my time. Like the music debate. Wastes of time. Ok, off my pedestal now.

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