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Dress Code

Some time ago on one of our foreign trips while I was dressed in my regular jeans and a t-shirt, a person condemningly admonished me saying: “The Bible says in Proverbs that you should dress decent for God.”

Understanding that I was dealing with a religious spirit in this person, I did not want to get into an argument with this individual. Actually, after hearing this person randomly making up scripture references to prove his point, I thought by myself; wow, where does this person get all these ideas from and where in Proverbs does it say that I have to dress decent for God and what does it really mean? Dress old-fashioned like this individual? Was that the example I had to follow? In fact, looking at this person I was horrified by the idea to have to dress like him for the rest of my life. Then suddenly, this Bible passage – about judging others about their outward appearance and favoring certain people over others – popped up in my mind which quickly settled the case for me.

For instance, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in shabby clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor” — well, doesn’t this discrimination show that you are guided by wrong motives? James 2:2-4 NLT

But still, the question is: Does the Bible have a dress code? Is it OK to wear shorts in church? What about women wearing pants to church? And what about wearing hats, veils, or slippers?

It is time to address this issue.

First of all, the clothing worn in Biblical times was very different from what we wear today. Both men and women wore a loose, woolen, robe-like cloak or mantle as an outer garment. It was fastened at the waist with a belt or sash. A tunic or coat, a long piece of cloth, leather or haircloth with holes for arms and head, was worn under the cloak. Sandals were worn on the feet. The difference between men’s and women’s clothing was small but distinctive. In addition, men often wore a turban to confine their hair, and women of some cultures wore a veil.

The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy has a prohibition against dressing in clothing of the opposite sex:

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, and a man must not wear women’s clothing. The LORD your God detests people who do this. Deuteronomy 22:5 NLT

In this verse, God commands men and women not to reverse their sexual roles as He uniquely created them as male and female. We are living in a sinful world where there are men who want to become women and women who want to become men. Therefore, this statement is not about clothing styles. It’s not the clothing style that offends God, but using the style to act out a different sex role.

There was also a prohibition against wearing clothes woven of wool and linen together:

Do not wear clothing made of wool and linen woven together. Deuteronomy 22:11 NLT

This law was meant to protect the garment of the people, because two different kinds of thread wear unevenly and wash differently. Combining them would reduce the life of the clothing.

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ command us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (See Matthew 22:39). This supersedes the Old Testament Law for Christians and frees them from strict observance of those rules.

There are two passages in the New Testament that concerns proper dress for women:

And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. 1. Timothy 2:9-10 NLT

It was apparent that some Christian women were drawing attention and respect to themselves by looking beautiful rather than by becoming like Christ in character. These women in the church had seemingly carried their Christian freedom too far and adopted offensive styles of (seductive) clothing.

It is not unscriptural for a woman to want to be attractive by wearing nice clothing, jewelry or using makeup, but real beauty begins inside a person.

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. 1. Peter 3:3-4 NLT

What the above scripture actually says is that women should not be obsessed with fashion, but instead they should be more focused on having a Godly attitude and inner spirit.

About wearing hats or head coverings

A man dishonors Christ if he covers his head while praying or prophesying. But a woman dishonors her husband if she prays or prophesies without a covering on her head, for this is the same as shaving her head. Yes, if she refuses to wear a head covering, she should cut off all her hair. And since it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or her head shaved, then she should wear a covering. A man should not wear anything on his head when worshiping, for man is God’s glory, made in God’s own image, but woman is the glory of man. 1. Corinthians 11:4-7 NLT

This section needs to be read in context of the situation in Corinth. There were two cultural backgrounds that were colliding with each other and causing division and disorder in the church. Jewish women for instance, always covered their heads in worship. For them to uncover their head in public was a sign of loose morals. On the other hand, Greek women were worshiping without covering. The apostle Paul’s solution of having all women wear head coverings, came from his desire for unity among the church members.

The bottom line is that the Bible’s rules about dress cannot be applied directly to today’s situation. Attending church in a cloak, tunic, sandals and a turban or veil would cause quite a disruption in most churches. Imagine John the Baptist coming to your church to preach dressed in clothing woven from camel hair. (See Matthew 3:4)

Standards of dress change over time and are different from church to church, but we should avoid any style of dress that is offensive or sends a message opposing the church community’s values.

For you have been called to live in freedom — not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13 NLT

In closing, as I give my personal opinion, I believe that we should dress modestly according to the standards of the society we are living in, and as a Christian not follow the vulgar tendencies the world so many times introduces. But ultimately, the most important thing is that we decisively put on the love of God, just like we put on clothing each day and let the good things of God rule our behavior and not receiving artificial strength from wearing brand names clothing or other clothes that we are attached to.

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

Copyright©2009 Edwin & Sophia Christiaan

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