One of the regrettable features of the Church in our day is the tendency toward casual worship. It has become customary in some churches to cater both to those who prefer a "traditional" form of worship, and those who have a preference for the "contemporary". One such church in my district has an early "heritage" service, and a later "horizon" service - in simple terms, a service for the "old-fashioned" and another for the "progressive". In certain religious circles it has become popular to appeal to would-be attenders to public worship in this fashion: "Just come as you are". This is not a gospel invitation to come to Christ, in which case it would be right and proper. It is rather a sales pitch. Often it is accompanied with the caveat: "In our church you will see men in suits and ties, and ladies in dresses and skirts, and others in jeans and tee-shirts, and casual attire. All are here to worship together. We want you to be comfortable. Come and join us for worship - just come as you are." The tendency to casual appearance in public worship is, in my judgment, not a positive thing. My own opinion, though others may disagree, is that a casual attitude to dress and appearance often leads to a casual attitude to worship. This is manifested in various ways, and affects the conduct of public worship itself. The song service, the music, and even the preaching is sometimes lacking in due reverence as a direct result of a casual spirit. Casual dress in the church often stands in direct contrast to that which prevails in what many are pleased to call the "secular" world - i.e. the world outside the church. In many a work-place casual dress is not acceptable for employees. On a recent visit to New York City it was remarkable to me that both men and women, in the Financial District, were dressed in business suits. That day I shared a water taxi with many who were obviously returning from a work environment where professional dress was a prerequisite. I find it amazing that some who most likely consider such a policy for the work-place the norm, seem to think it is an unnecessary imposition to demand or expect proper dress from God's people in the house of God! Does it not "come with the territory"? Is it really so ridiculous to demand the same level of respect from a man who has come to worship God on His Day, that is demanded of him when he sits behind his desk at the office on Monday morning? If that place filled by a lady on a weekday morning demands that she dress in a professional manner, is it really such a terrible thing to expect her to dress properly in a service of worship on Sunday? I believe these are legitimate questions to ask. My wife and I were once invited to dinner by friends who were members of a Golf and Country Club. I decided to come in "dress casual" attire - a collared shirt and nice slacks. On arrival my friend asked if I'd left my jacket in the car. I had not - I thought it was not necessary on a warm evening. He told me not to worry. The club was prepared for such eventualities - they had a wardrobe of green jackets of various sizes, and would find one to fit me! You see, the club policy was that male diners must wear a sport coat or jacket. The same club had rules about dress on the golf course as well. No shorts were allowed, golfers must wear collared shirts, and proper hats/visors were also required. Again, if such "rules" are the norm in the world at large, why is it apparently wrong for the church to expect that its members be respectful in their manner of dress in public worship? Finally, if one were to be invited to a reception, or garden party, hosted by Royalty or the President of the country, would it be considered acceptable to arrive in a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt? Is there not a manner of dress which is expected in such circumstances? It might be objected that what I am advocating is just mere evangelical tradition. It may well be. But are all such "traditions" inherently wrong? In our culture there are "traditions" - such as wearing a suit and tie - that are regularly practiced, and expected, in the everyday world. Casual dress is not acceptable in those circles. Why is it acceptable in the church?
Rev. Stephen Hamilton
Rev. Stephen Hamilton is the minister of Lehigh Valley Free Presbyterian Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania.