I was in college when our pastor took two or three of us fledgling ministers to the church sanctuary and showed us how to sit up straight on the platform without slouching.
“Wear a crisp white shirt and be sure your socks are long enough,” he said. “Don’t forget you speak for God.”
I’ve often thought about this training session over the years, especially so in this time when pulpit dress has changed. In fairness, business dress has changed, too. “Business casual” used to be on Fridays, but it’s every day in many places.
I don’t often get to visit other churches. The last time was over a year ago. The pastor wore tennis shoes, jeans and a T-shirt (I couldn’t tell if the T-shirt was crisp, and I didn’t see his socks).
What a pastor should wear in the pulpit is an unwinnable argument. For every “dress down and be approachable” argument there is the UMC Bishop Will Willimon argument who asked why a courtroom judge wears a robe.
“His robe shows respect for what he represents,” Willimon answered.
It’s best for ministers simply to ask what acceptable pulpit wear might be in the places they’re invited to serve.
Nor is it a clear-cut argument what worshippers should wear.
Contemporary church leaders insisted an excuse many had for not attending church was they didn’t have proper clothes. Therefore, these influencers suggested we ease up. And we have. I remember an event congregations used to observe in mid-summer: “No tie in July.” Now I think this would only affect two or three of us at our church!
But there is an enduring principle about modesty in worship.
Paul urged Timothy to maintain propriety in the Ephesian church. He cautioned the women not to display “elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel.” James included men when he wrote about a wealthy man with costly jewelry and apparel (James 2:2). This means we don’t come to church to show off our affluence.
Paul also said women should wear “decent and appropriate clothing” (1 Timothy 2:9). The Temple of Diana or Artemis was in Ephesus, and Paul taught that the attire in Christian worship should be above the standard of that worn in the pagan temple (1 Corinthians 11 deals with the same concept).
Thus, worshippers shouldn’t go to the house of God to display their wealth or their physique. We go to God’s house to honor him. The only thing we should call attention to is our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
It used to be that we saved our finest for Sunday to honor the Lord.
Today we reason that reverence is best demonstrated by a heart of humility.
“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.