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.

“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 2:5)

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.


36 comments so far

  1. Travis James on

    Good points. Sure, there are alot more important things to think about. However, there are also alot of people who need to see how ridiculous it is to harp on a topic like this or at least to examine why they do what they do.
    It is important to be presentable and appropriate. But, it’s not the most important, by far.
    My name is Travis, and I too wear a suit to church.

    • Curtis on

      I have understood your sentiments on this subject. Yes, I believe there are traditions that merit observing. However, I really believe this is so petty. First, we know God is not really concerned about our dress. Second, I have seen so many turned away from the church because of this trivial concern.Third, I have found that there is a certain humility exhibited by persons who come dressed down to church. As a pastor, I am trying desperately to rid our church of this idea. So manny persons come to church dressed like businessmen while not really handling God’s business in their lives. My job is to persuade peope to get ‘in Christ” not in a suit.

  2. […] I Say “Amen” in Church 26 11 2007  Recently a friend of mine posted some thoughts he had about wearing suits to church and his reasons for doing so. The post obviously was not […]

  3. Todd Griffin on

    I fine article. I enjoyed reading it. I also happen to agree.
    Would you consider a companion (or perhaps an addendum) on the points commonly made for why not to wear a suit to church?

    You did such a fine job pointing out the other common arguments I think you’d have some light to cast towards the other side.

    Essentially, this topic is about NON-essentials, but all the more reason to have definite reasons for doing what you do– especially if you are a church leader and likely to be asked.

  4. Mark on

    Right! Traditions are not inherently wrong. But every Christian should examine each of his traditions. Here is the Bible standard for dress and every other tradition: Matthew 15:3 “But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” The real question we need to ask is this: “Am I transgressing any commandment of God by keeping this traditional dress?” My name is Mark, and I wear a suit to church when I am in countries where suits are the acceptable tradition. When I am in the Philippines (for example) I would say “My name is Mark, and I wear a barong to church”. Have a good day!

  5. Shane on

    Tradtion is the main reason why dress is pushed in fundamental Baptist Churches. i enjoyed the article. I am glad that someone had some scripture to back up the dress code issue. My Name is Shane and I too wear a suit to church.

  6. Bryan Valentine on

    When you are ministing God word it should not matter if you wear a suit or if you just wear a shirt and some pants. The annointed of God is not in the clothes you wear, but it how you live and what you say. I am a minister and I feel that you don’t have to wear a suit to preach. People payed more attention on your suit then your word.

    • heather on

      i see it differently. if you are a minister i personally think you should be wearing a suit. why? because when you are a minister you are representing God. and you want the church to look up to you, a suit wont do that though. if you have a suit in your closet the you should wear it. you should wear the best clothes that you have. and if you just wear jeans and a t shirt and you get up there and preach then its like you are saying you arent serious and you dont care. i guess it just depends on what your opinion is, this is just what i think. its a personal opinion. so i would just like to know why do you think its ok to wear casual clothes to preach in?

  7. […] methodology were flawed, I wanted to defend them from a different angle. For example, I posted on Why I Wear a Suit to Church, not because I thought it was necessary to do so, but because I felt that the typical […]

  8. John on

    My name is John and I am a young preacher who has been part of a fundamental church my entire life. My girlfriend, who now lives in the South, is from California. She has been a part of contemporary services her entire life, and we have a few issues about the “Dress Code.” As a young preacher in the South, I’ve been taught to dress respectful, and I feel that it is respectful to dress formal. She, on the otherhand feels that formal dress will scare away the unchurched. She argues that the unchurched should feel comfortable in church. And my statement of formal dress lies in the following: When the unchurched and unsaved feel comfortable in church it’s a sccary situation. The church should be sperated from the world, and I believe that dress separates the church from the world. If the church and the world must remain separte items, else there is no conviction and no spritual progress in a dwindling nation. The bible tells us we should be “sojourners in a foreign land.” Dress to respect God and the Holy enviroment you’re in, but dress to be a sojourner. I’m John and I too wear a suit.

    • James on

      If the church is separated from the world then, how can the church reach the people of the world? As Christians, it is our duty to spread the word of God where it is needed. Not just behind the four walls of the church.

  9. Damien T Garofalo on

    Hey John,

    Thanks for your comments. I just want to have you to understand that this post was written in 2007, and some things have changed in the way I look at things. I think I still agree with the thrust of what I’ve written, but I am now more sympathetic to the arguments of the casual-dress side. My personal feeling is to do what the church does. If its a suit wearing church, I’ll wear a suit. If not, then I’ll be happily comfortable instead.

    I do agree with you, and against your girlfriend on this though. Church is really an exclusive club. Though I think visitors ought to feel welcomed, I have no problem if they feel uncomfortable – and they should. But I wouldn’t say it’s the dress that gives us that distinction, it’s the message, the Truth, that is being preached and lived within the church.

  10. Tim Byer on

    I just finished a lengthy conversation with a great friend on this. My name is Tim and I preach in attire other than a suit.

    To refer to the above comments. The Church’s sole purpose is to reach the lost or the “unchurched”. They should feel comfortable entering and they should feel welcomed to join our community of Christians. That should be comfortable for them. We exist to reach the world, not alienate them.

    I fear many fundamentalists place unwavering importance on issues that are NOT core to the Christian faith. Many things are non-negotiable. Dress is not.

    Once in the church, unsaved people SHOULD be uncomfortable, not because of their dress, but because of the presence of a HOLY GOD and the conveyance of His Holy Word. Which should launch their lives into repentance and relationship with Jesus.

    Church should be a comfortably uncomfortable place for ALL. Even those in fellowship with Christ need to be challenged with the Word of God.

    Church = Come as you are, but don’t stay as you are.

    John, I side with your girlfriend on this…. but again. This is NOT a hard and fast issue. Dress as you will.

    As the Church is the body of Christ, what do you think He would wear in today’s society? A suit? Just a thought.

  11. Jason Quinlan on

    Interesting view on this topic. I came from a regular independent baptist church, and dress was never a real issue of focus other than to dress modestly. Some people wore suits, some people just wore a shirt and tie, some people wore polo shirts, jeans and t-shirts, or a sweat shirt. I never thought it to be an issue. I gladly came to church with a heart ready to worship and receive God’s word preached. When I got married and moved to where my wife lives, I joined her church, which is an independent fundamental baptist church. I will be honest, my first impression was that it was a little stuffy. I was in the minority of men that didn’t wear a suit. I felt a little out of place. I do not, and never have owned a suit in my life. I dress neat and modest, but do not feel the need or conviction to spend that much money for a suit for church. It doesn’t bother me as much being in that minority of non-suit wearing members now. Since this issue is not black and white in scripture, everyone has their own convictions about what they should wear (within the limitations of modesty of course), and if it is a major concern, one should pray about it and follow the leading of the Spirit for direction on this issue, and many of the other gray area “standards” that many churches teach, without causing anyone to stumble of course. Thank you for the thought. I enjoyed it.

  12. Ben Krug on

    Let me start by saying mans convictions should never be turned into a spiritual law. Many years ago I started going to a church that really believed in every man in a suit or he wasnt “holy”. One day I was driving to a major city and I picked up a homeless hitchhiker. We talked for a while and he asked me to take him to church. He wasnt smelling very well and had bubble gum from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet as if he had been laying on the ground somewhere. The trip was about 30 miles to this church. Before we arrivied, this wayfaring man told me what the preacher was going to preach on. I kind of dismissed it as him just talking. When we got there, you could imagine the looks he got from that church. When the preacher started preaching in his very fine suit, it turned out that the very thing he preached on is what the stranger said he would. I asked myself who is this person? Soon after, a young preacher in all his fine garb came up to my guest and started preaching to him as if he were lost. I stopped the young man and said, “No, he doesnt have need of what you are saying, you have need of what he will say to you”. Freddie, took the young preacher outside for about 20-30 minutes to talk with him. When the young preacher came back in, he was as white as a ghost. He was stutering and said,”This…This…This is a man of GOD! He told me about my life and things that no one ever knew and what I would do in the future for the LORD”. I just smiled because Freddie had done the same thing for me and later my wife when we offered him a place to sleep that night. After the service, the preacher in his fine suit and tie, I could tell looked down upon freddie because of his street clothes. The scriptures tell us to be careful to entertain strangers because sometimes they could be an Angel from the LORD. I learned a valuable lesson that day. If you want to wear a suit, do it. Never force your convictions upon another person. If it is not in the WORD of GOD, leave it alone. Yes, dress modestly but I guarantee most Angels you would ever meet come very humbly. Holiness is on the inside and we are commanded to go into the hiways and biways and preach the Word to a lost world. Suits, ties, modest dress, any type of clean clothes and an occasional homeless man with bubble gum down his dirty back is what makes up the true Church of Jesus Christ! And by the way, Freddie did turn out to be an Angel unaware. If you want to know the whole story, e-mail and I will reply.

    • john on

      Hi I would like to hear your complete story. What a blessing…..

      God bless, John

  13. Steve on

    …and in addition to all the above: I wear a suit because it is a way to show respect for others. Wearing a suit says “You are worth my attempt to present myself at my best.I would not offend you by dressing as if what you think of me is of no consequence.” – and suits have generally been accepted to be our best dress in western cultures for a fairly long time. It takes a little time and effort to dress more formally,and some occasions merit that.

    • heather on

      i like this comment and i totally agree with you!!!

  14. heather on

    and again im not trying to force my opinion on anyone or anthing like that.

  15. Marietta Haywood on

    I so much agree with you! I am so tired of our Baptist Children minister to wear jeans, tennis shoes and polo it tshirt every Sunday!!

  16. Jeffrey on

    My opinion on this topic is that I’m forced to wear a suit because of tradition and for the following reasons: U cannot preach, pray, prophecy or do anything else if u dont wear a suite, further the gospel is watered off because of every1 wanting to do as they please. I’m an ordained deacon and being a follower of God and an example as the Scriptures teaches my opinion is not to please man but God, He is the one thats going to judge us anyway. The problem I have with suits is the its like a burden laid upon u whereas I’m convicted that its not all about wearing a suite. Being in right standing with God is much more important in other words the fruit that the person produces says much more! I normally wore shirt, pants with a short sleeved jersey b4 and I felt comfortable as all body parts were hidden lol. We shouldn’t force traditions upon each other since I can be cast in hells fire with or without a suite. Thanx for the topic.

  17. Tim on

    I have been in church my whole life and am serving full-time at my church as a music minister and “many-hat-wearer”, but I NEVER wear a suit. I have blessed love handles and suits seem to exaggerate them. I don’t like the way suits make me look. I DO however wear clean, pressed shirts (w/tie) and slacks that relatively match one another – because that’s my pastor’s vision. All topics included, we cannot knock other customs because we DON’T know that particular pastor’s vision for his church and flock. My name is Tim and I wear slacks on the boulevard.

  18. Carrie "Cece" Jones on

    What’s the condition of your heart underneath that suit and hat? Do you still bear the all the fruits of the spirit and keep the word of God? If your answer is YES, you’ve earned the right to dress up.

    If NO, Do you dress up to camouflage who you are or fit in with the majority? Do you dress to respect tradition? Monkey see, Monkey Do? Fear of judgement? Self-righteousness? Examine your underlying intentions and motivations.

    God looks at your heart not your Benz, Rolex, Suit or Sunday Hat. The Bible says “Come as you are”.

    My name is Cecelia and I am not afraid to rock flip flops and jeans to church.

    • Rev. James C. Johnson Th.D on

      The come as ye are ( reference ) was directed at their spiritual state of being, meaning that the person need not wait, till they had purged themselves of, are divested themselves, of their sins, and habits, that were not Godly !!!

  19. Joel on

    I know this is an old thread, but I felt as if what I have to say is necessary.

    First, as a Christian, I am coming to hear the word of the lord and I am NOT there for people to look at me. As long as I am covered, the people of the Church should be focused on the word of the lord.

    Secondly: Some people say that wearing a suit is the best representation of the lord. Well, if was so, then as Christians, you should be wearing a suit every walking second of your life, because we’re suppose to be representing Christ every second of our lives.

    A suit is for the eyes of man and not for the eyes of the Lord unless like the children of Israel, the Lord speaks to you and tells you a suit is holy garments and should be worn in the church.

    As Christians, we have to understand what is important. What’s in your heart is important. If you still feel a suit represents God then fine, you should always have a suit on. Not just on Sunday while the Church service is going on.

  20. Charlton on

    Wow Interesting topic, i think one can wear a suit if he has it, but if he does’t have it just like me, he can wear clothes that makes him feel comfortable. I usually wear a long sleeve shirt and a tie.

    • Rev. James C. Johnson Th.D on

      The concept of wearing your best to Church can be traced to the old testament, concerning offerings to God, the offering was to be the best you had. Thus, it stood to reason, that would apply to the present, as we offer, ourselves a living sacrifice to God. In so much, as we are not, commanded to wear a suit by scripture, but by our desire, to present ourselves as a living testimony of God to the unsaved, the Church presents it’s self, as such, to those who come through the doors as honoring GOD’s house. And thereby dress’s to honor the Lord Jesus Christ, as he is, per scripture, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. So it is in this vesture inside the walls of the Church which is Gods house, we present ourselves to God, with respect by dressing in a manor that reflects, our due respect to the deity God. I choose to wear a suit for the above reasons. A suit is my choice of dress in the house of God

  21. spencer52 on

    I am a 59 year old Baptist preacher, I have been preaching for 18 years I was taught by my father in the ministry that a preacher should always wear a suit on Sunday morning because he represents God and yes, because it is a tradition. I since relocated to another city and joined a huge Baptist church. During the summer months this particular church has a periond of “casual” or “dress down” Sundays which has been decreed by a rather narcissistic pastor. With that said, the pastor becomes deeply offended whenever I go against his personal wishes and wear a suit; he has hinted that I am a distraction to his church and a phony because of the suit I decided to wear. He even prayed publicly for the Lord to deal with the distraction I am causing. This did hurt me very much and makes me feel like an outsider when all I really want to do is serve the Lord. I don’t want to be a distraction and I am certainly not a phony I could only leave it to the Lord as do what I should do. It seems trivial, but it really isn’t.

  22. Richard on

    I wear a suit to church. I don’t do this necessarily for god, I do it because of what I learned from one of my professors in college. He had everyone in his class dress up for exams. He believed that when you are more formal you expect more of your self, you feel as if you have to be respectful and appropriate. I wear my suit because it makes me take church more seriously. A suit adds to the over all attitude of your church as well. When everyone in the congegation is trying their best, the entire church benefits. The suit is not for god, it is for me.

  23. Dmnifov camplisson MTS on

    Criticizing other traditions for being gaudy just displays a typical Protestwnt lack of awareness of the church before the reformation. Vestments were not created to be showy. They were the morel educatev Roman’ s street clothes. As rome was conquered but the brbariwns ( goths) the average romans gradually were influenced ad dressed like them. But churchmen emphasized continuity with the historical church and ther link to historicsl Christianity by continuing to dress as romans. Intersting,y te same in seen in the east when the defeated Byzantine people adopted Muslim dress, the clergy didn’t Thus the dress of the clergy gradually became distinct. If you are a minister you should know some basics about the history of Christianity and ot be criticizing people because they dress in a different way from you, for church.

  24. Don Morell on

    I would not want for a person to feel uncomfortable coming to church because he didn’t have a suit. Jesus didn’t require suits, He associated with people who were far from being well dressed. Our church is very contemporary in style and dress, but the Word of GOD remains the same.

  25. Adam on

    The first tell-tale sign to me that someone is spiritually immature and/or misguided is that they wear banquet clothes (suit and tie, etc.) to church. Why the hell would you wear a suit and tie to war (The Great Commission; the purpose of the church). God laughs, and cries, at this.

  26. Shawn on

    Sometimes I wear a suit and sometimes I do not. But I have that right….because God is not looking at the clothes…He Is looking at the heart! But you are to dress modestly in church. I can’t stand when people have something to say or look at you different because you aren’t wearing a suit in church.

  27. parsnips8174 on

    i dont wear a suit to church or to a funeral, but would at my own wedding…suits can be really pricy and ties are really complicated to put on…which takes a lot of time for paying attention to looks…besides i dont really want a portable noose around my neck!

  28. Perry(877) 370-2353 on

    I think what a person wear is important and it should be talked about. First natural then spiritual. What a person wear is a respect to the office that he or she hold… The judge, doctor, police, preacher, nurse: what if your doctor came to examine you wearing a beech shirt or judge without the proper attire? The Pastor/Preacher is the highest office in the land and I think it should be respected by at least wearing a suit or other clergy attire
    Thanks for the article

  29. Bryan on

    Good post. Agreed with most of it and totally understand where you’re coming from. I do disagree that a suit is modest. I guess it depends on the suit, but many suits are tailored to show off a man, or at least our culture’s image of a man. Wear a suit or don’t, really doesn’t matter to me, what does matter to me is when someone looks down on me for not wearing one, or says I am unfit to serve a particular role in the church due to dress code issues (suit and tie only). Did the disciples wear a suit or tie or even dress pants? It’s totally a western cultural thing. Traditions change over time, some slower than others, but eventually everything changes. If we want old time religion, then lets toss out the microphones, indoor plumbing and HVAC and see how long the suits stay on in July. Let s not major on the minor. Love goes a long way. Again, good post, thanks for sharing and starting a discussion. My name is Bryan and I don’t wear a suit to church, but I don’t mind the guy next to me who does.

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