Why I Wear a Suit to Church
This may seem like a strange thing to write about…because it is. It is even crazier to preach about, but those of you who have been involved in the modern fundamentalist movement like myself know just as well as I how much the subject of dress standards has been at the top of the list of must-preach sermons for many “fundamental” preachers. In fact, some probably would call Dress Standards a fundamental of the faith. I’m serious.
Well, the issue of dress standards will probably be addressed more as I (hopefully) continue this blog.
But as for now, I’d like to briefly comment on wearing a suit to church. Let me specify a bit more, however: I am coming to this issue from the perspective of a minister, not a layman (I am a ministerial intern and aspiring pastor/church planter). So, I have preachers, teachers, and other ministers in mind when I write about this.
There are typical reasons given by my fundamentalist colleagues as to why men should wear suits to church. I’d like to start by dispelling these reasons:
1. “You represent God”
This is probably the most common reason why fundamentalists say one should wear a suit to church. The argument is, since God is holy and lofty, we should represent Him by wearing things that are also holy and lofty. Now obviously I agree that when one stands to preach God’s Word in the church, he is certainly representing God. But, aren’t all Christians ambassadors for Christ (II Corinthians 5:20)? Do not ministers represent Christ outside the church as well? Following this logic, every Christian man should be adorned with a suit all the time, everywhere.
Look at what the Bible says about God:
“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1)
God’s train (the lower part of His robe) fills the temple! This is symbolic of His everlasting presence, eternal power, and awesome bigness! And you want to represent that with a suit and tie? Sheesh.
Look, if people see me and because of what I am wearing, they think I’m God…I’m in big trouble! I want them to see God in me, and His glory reflected in my life. Not in my attire.
2. “You look like a liberal without a suit!”
Rick Warren is so irreverent because he has the audacity to wear a Hawaiian shirt in the pulpit! Some preachers wear turtle necks! Some forsake the tie! (I use exclamation points here because these are the statements which usually warrant amens.)
Ok, Rick Warren has his share of shortcomings. But attacking him because of what he wears is probably just another way for fundamentalists to take their unChristian cheap-shots at another man’s ministry. I’ll be frank here: I can’t stand guilt by association. It is true that less conservative preachers are normally the ones who “dress down”, but used car salesmen, lawyers, televangelists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses wear suits, so….(understand?)
I think the words of James touch a bit on this:
“My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. 2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool” (James 2:1-3)
3. “The old-time religion preachers wore suits; that’s what I’m going to do!”
It’s funny how “old-time religion” can answer some of the seemingly tough theological issues in fundamentalism today. Let that be a lesson: when in doubt, just say it’s from the old time religion. Amens will surely follow.
This reasoning is also fallacious. It is man-centered. It values tradition over scripture. There are many things that “old-timers” had wrong, and just how far back do we go when we talk about the “old time?” Usually, it’s about 50-60 years. Christianity is 2,000 years old, though. That’s weird.
Obviously, I don’t agree with the common fundamentalist interpretation of why a suit is to be worn in church. However, the above arguments notwithstanding, I do wear a suit to church! Why? I’ll tell you. Let me preface this, though. I do not believe you have to wear a suit to church. I cannot prove to you scriptural grounds to do so. I do not think any less of Christians, laymen and ministers alike, who dress more casually. I would just like to offer two reasons (reasons I never heard voiced before) why I wear a suit to church.
1. I wear a suit because it is a good and expected tradition to follow.
Although traditions can be bad things and are warned about in scripture (Colossians 2:8), tradition is not inherently wrong. There are many traditions that Christians hold to that are not necessarily supported by scripture, but not against scripture either. This is one of those examples. A minister is expected to wear a suit. That is what society wants to see as a minister visits a hospital, makes a speech, or appears in another public setting. That is what the congregation expects as he preaches on Sunday morning. I see nothing wrong with this tradition, and in keeping with it, I wear a suit to church. I do not want to put any attention on myself by being different and opting not to wear a suit in a culture that expects me to do so.
2. I wear a suit because it is modest.
Christians are commanded to be modest.
Women are told to dress modestly (I Timothy 2:9). We are exhorted to live quiet and peaceful lives. What am I getting at here? Modesty goes beyond what must fundamentalist preachers rant about. It’s not just the length of a woman’s skirt. Modesty is not just lack of indecent exposure. It is temperate, simple, and without excessiveness or extravagance. So I don’t just wear a suit because it covers parts of me that need to be covered. I wear one because it is modest. Not modest in contrast to a tanktop and jeans, but modest in contrast to other traditional ministerial garb.
Just like it is a tradition for a Baptist minister to wear a suit, it is also tradition for ministers of other denominations to wear robes, collars, and forms of gaudy clothing. I see no reason why a minister should wear something that is so far above the people of the church. I want to communicate with my clothing that although I am serious about my work, formal about my approach, and traditional in my style, I am humble in my association with the people. A suit is a common expression of business. At church, we meet to do the business of the Lord. I modestly identify myself as a minister doing the business of the Lord, so I wear a suit to church.
These are my reasons for wearing a suit to church. You don’t have to follow them! But I wouldn’t mind some feedback. There are far more important things to talk about, but I wanted to give a different perspective on the issue. I wouldn’t preach a sermon on it.
My name is Damien, and I wear a suit to church.