Can a man go shirtless to church?


Is it acceptable biblically for a young man to attend church in just shorts? And if not, why not?


I was asked a similar question a while back: What do you think about people wearing shorts to church?

I don't know if you are extending this to mean attending church without a shirt as well or not, but I believe the point remains the same. The key point is: what attitude does the wearing of shorts portray in your society? For instance, I was in the Philippines several years ago. The climate there is very warm almost all year round. Most men wear shorts, but when they attended a formal or important event, they tended to wear long pants. But if someone came in shorts, I won't say anything because it may be all that they own.

Would I tell someone to leave if they were wearing shorts here in the United States? No. I'm glad they are here. But I would talk with them to determine why they made the choice of clothing. I want them to see worship as a time of respectful behavior.

Thanks for your response to my question on this very enlightening subject. In reading your reply I was curious as you said that you'd talk to the person and you made reference to respectful behavior. I was wondering what do you mean by this? And exactly what do you think you'd say to them?

I'm a 28 year old Australian Christian with a disability who uses a manual wheelchair and do often go around my home and town in just shorts, that is with bare feet and without a shirt on at all. Personally speaking, I find this form of dress far more comfortable and relaxing especially given that fact that when I'm wheeling my chair around I can get quite overheated and so I prefer to self regulate as best I can.

I'm asking you the questions purely because I'm astounded at the negative reactions I get from some people to seeing the site of a boy's or man's bare chest. I mean, I just don't understand what the big deal is! I truly believe that God doesn't care what's on the outside its what's in our hearts, minds and souls that he cares about. Plus, being shirtless and barefoot allows everyone to see me as I really am and keeps me from hiding anything from either other people or from God.

Clothing is just the artificial wrapping we gave ourselves out of our own sense of shame. God has already provided us with our covering that being our flesh, skin and bone. I'm proud of who God has made in me and have no hang ups in being just as God has made me to be.

Thanks again and I look forward to receiving your further response and feedback on my thoughts detailed herein.

Let's start with our behavior in church. Paul wrote the young preacher Timothy a long list of instructions. His reason? "I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15). There are certain expectations and behaviors which need to be accomplished within the church -- and by that I don't mean a building with four walls and a roof. The church is the people who come together to worship.

There is a purpose for man being here on this earth. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man's all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). God created us to serve His purpose, a duty important enough that God will judge each of as to whether we did what was expected of us. And not just our outward actions either, God will also weigh our motives. "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God" (I Corinthians 4:5).

One of the things God has always demanded is that He be treated as a being who is holy. God is not the figment of man's imagination. He commands special treatment from His very nature. When the people of Israel took an oath to serve God, Joshua responded, "You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God" (Joshua 24:19). What Joshua feared (and in time was proven correct), was that the people of Israel did not understand to whom they were committing themselves. Eventually, they would become lax in their service to God and treat Him as just one of many so-called gods. "He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good" (Joshua 24:19-20).

About fifty years prior to this, two priests lost their lives over this very issue. "Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD" (Leviticus 10:1-2). The word translated as "profane" here, is the Hebrew word zuwr, which means something strange, foreign, adulterated, or unauthorized. In other words, they used a source of fire that God didn't authorized. But what does it matter where a person gets his fire? Fire is fire, isn't it? The answer is that it wasn't so much the fire as the attitude displayed by people who didn't put in any effort to treat God as holy -- to the point that they offered a casual worship. One thing is good as another in man's mind, so they thought it didn't matter. But it matters a great deal. "This is what the LORD spoke, saying: 'By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified" (Leviticus 10:3).

Later, God gives more details on how worship is to be conducted before Him "that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean" (Leviticus 10:10). "Unholy" here is from the Hebrew word chol, which is sometimes translated as "profane." It refers to things that are common and have little value. When we go before God in worship, we must keep in mind that that worship must be something special to us -- not something that is everyday, common, or has little value to us.

Like it or not, what you select for clothing for the day is a reflection of your attitude. Now yes, there are situations where a person isn't given a choice in clothing. Some schools have a uniformed dress code. You can't necessarily tell a student's attitude when the clothing is selected for them. And a poor person has limited choices in the clothing that he has to wear. But when the choice is open, what a person selects to wear reflects his attitude.

There is an interesting parable told by Jesus. He told of a great feast being held to celebrate the marriage of a king's son. But those invited refused to come. So the king told his servants to gather the common people and the homeless to the feast. "So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:10-14). Even though the poorest were invited, everyone showed up in their best attire -- except for one man. Why was the king bothered by this? Because of the attitude that it displayed towards his son and his kingdom. He did give the man the benefit of doubt and asked him why he came so casually dressed, but the man gave no answer. The implication is that he didn't have a good excuse. He made the choice. He was thrown out because of the attitude he displayed. He treated the wedding of the prince as a common everyday event. In other words, he had no respect for the king, his son, or the kingdom.

When you go to worship God with other brethren, what are you saying to everyone around you by the selection of clothes that you choose. Since you say that this is what you wear around town when you get hot and sweaty, are you saying that the worship of God is a casual, everyday event that has no particular meaning to you?

Now, let's approach the same issue from a second direction. You stated, "Clothing is just the artificial wrapping we gave ourselves out of our own sense of shame." By this you are stating that clothing originated with man. But this is not what the Bible teaches. When man was created we were told, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25). The reason this is given to us to emphasize that man and woman at the beginning were innocent. They did not have the concept of good and evil. Just like a small child delights in running around naked after a bath, so too Adam and Eve were free from any thoughts about the possibilities of evil. But Satan led them into sin, and with that sin came the knowledge of good and evil. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked" (Genesis 3:7). Their knowledge of their nakedness tells us that they lost the innocence they once had.

They tried to make clothing from fig leaves tied about their waists, but they both knew that this wasn't enough. When God came visiting the garden, they tried to hide from God. But God called them out and Adam explained, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself" (Genesis 3:10). Despite their attempts at making garments, they knew they were still naked. That tells us a number of things, but one is that everything worn on the body is not necessarily adequate clothing, even if it covers critical areas.

Before sending them out of the garden, God makes clothing for Adam and Eve. "Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21). A tunic is a knee-length shirt. Therefore, the argument that clothing is only the invention of man does not match what we find in the Scriptures. If our skin was adequate clothing for God, there would have been no need for God to make leather tunics for Adam and Eve.

Let's jump ahead in time to a passage directed at Christian women. Though I Timothy 2:9-10 was directed towards females, but the principles set forth are ones all Christians ought to keep in mind. "In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works." There are three words used to describe how women are to adorn themselves:

  • "Modest" (komios) refers to things that are orderly, showing good behavior, or respectable.
  • "Propriety" (aidos) refers to having a sense of shame, bashfulness, or reverence.
  • "Moderation" (sophrosune) refers to sobriety, having good sense, a soundness of mind, and a display of self-restraint.

Most of us use this passage to argue against clothing that reveal too much flesh and it is a good verse to use. The word aidos hits at the core of the problem of clothing designed to be sensual. Neither male nor female Christians should be dressed in provocative ways to arouse the passions of those seeing them. "This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:17-24).

Now it doesn't bother you to see a man's bare chest, but is it likely that that same can be said for other people? You're a healthy young man, even if you are wheel chair bound. I'm sure you're in good shape because of all the exercise you get. But do you think it is factual to say that others aren't attracted by seeing your body? And, is it proper for a Christian male to gain attention through sensual attraction?

However, Paul wasn't focused solely on lewd attire. He illustrated his point by mentioning braided hair, expensive jewelry, and costly clothing. A person putting his wealth on display is not showing self-restraint but an attitude that says,"Look at me! I'm rich!" Peter explained, "Do not let your adornment be merely outward -- arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel -- rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (I Peter 3:3-4). People ought to notice the Christian because of who she is and not because of what she is wearing. It explains how Sarah, a woman who between the ages of 60 and 90, was sought after by two different kings (I Peter 3:5-6). Such a display of pride is not proper for a Christian. "Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."" (I Peter 5:5). This attitude of sober-mindedness is what each godly woman strives to instill in her children (I Timothy 2:15).

Because of what you choose not to wear in a church service, you are attracting the attention of others. Even if it is not sensual to most, it gains people's attention because it is not typical or socially acceptable to wear in a church service. While it isn't a matter of pride per se for you, still you are gaining attention -- not because your good works gives credit to God but because people see a young man who doesn't like to fit into society. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Christians shouldn't seeking personal attention.

Yet, we still haven't fully discussed the concept of orderliness. Society has rules of conduct governing correct behavior; these informal rules include ideas as to what is respectable clothing. Christians are expected to operated within the bounds of society's expectations as our behavior influences how society perceives God. Paul told the Thessalonians to "warn those who are unruly" (I Thessalonians 5:14). "Unruly" comes from a Greek work typically used to describe an army is in disarray or soldiers who are insubordinate (that is, not following commands). Christians are not to be seen as rebels flaunting those in authority. Children are to be obedient to their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3; I Timothy 3:4). Wives are to be submissive to their husbands (Titus 2:5). Slaves are in subjection to their masters (Titus 2:9-10). Christians obey their government's laws (I Peter 2:13-16). Rebellion is a sin of pride and stubbornness.

When a person chooses to dress rebelliously, he leaves the impression that he will refuse to listen to rules. He will walk his own way and he doesn't care what anyone thinks. Is such a display of Christian meekness, submission, and humbleness? In other words, when people see you, are they left with the impression that there is a fine young Christian or do they see a young man who pushes the limits of propriety? Which gives greater glory to God?