Thank you for your sensible and persuasive essay on dress. It is a nice contrast from some of the more stringent and pharisaical content that I’ve seen and heard, in that you are able to make a sound, scripture-based argument without beating anyone over the head with personal views. Your reasoning shows little personal bias and that can be a challenge some times.
This article is especially helpful because my congregation has fractured severely over the issue of dress; particularly as it pertains to men participating in the worship service. Our eldership prohibits men dressed in sandals or an un-tucked shirt from participating in worship. For example, if a man attends services in sandals, he has automatically excluded himself from serving. If his shirt is un-tucked, he is asked to tuck it in. Failure to comply will result in your replacement. This is habitually done without notice. From time to time, a man may accidentally serve in nonconforming attire which often results in verbal condemnation from the elders. Typically, the man is told the following:
- You have disappointed us
- Your attire is unacceptable and demonstrates a lack of preparation
- Your attire is a distraction to the assembly
- You will be excluded from future service if your attire does not meet our standards
Notably absent is strong scriptural support for the eldership’s position on dress. Many have expressed concern about this and implored the elders to substantiate their position scripturally, but that request has not been completely satisfied. The primary response we receive is that the elders have the authority and discretion (which I respect and obey) to establish guidelines like a dress code to facilitate an orderly and edifying assembly. If any scripture is referenced, it is often a passage like Romans 14:13 which is used to establish offensive attire (i.e. sandals, loose shirts) as a stumbling block to our weaker brothers.
Consequently, many of us are of the impression that our elders’ emphasis on the superficial supersedes the import of the inner man. And that the heart is somehow inferior to image. However, in my adult life I have never failed to be uplifted by a man with long hair, disheveled appearance, or unstylish clothes that worshipped God in spirit and truth. I have been discouraged more than once by empty suits.
I also find it problematic that the emphasis placed on dress is not in response to immodesty, but on traditional preferences. There is no question in my mind that the Bible addresses the issue of modesty and that oversight falls into realm of an elders responsibility. But that is not what is at issue here.
Suffice it to say, many men, myself included, are in an exasperating conflict with the eldership on this issue and it has reached critical mass. Many families have left and those that remain have developed a “one foot out the door” mentality. I am still optimistic that this can be resolved amenably and that is my desire.
If you have any thoughts that might help my understanding of this issue, I welcome them.
I'm glad you found the article useful in your studies. It was written to warn people that they cannot impose dress standards beyond what the Lord has done through his word. What is interesting is that the standards your eldership is imposing would exclude well-dressed people in some parts of the world. For example, in the Philippines formal attire for men includes the wearing a barong, which is worn un-tucked. And of course in such a hot climate, sandals are the common footwear.
Yet, it is possible to go too far in the other direction. I would like you to consider another article: "You Can't Tell Me How to Dress!" Here the consideration are those who purposely push the standards of society and call attention to themselves by what they choose to wear. It is possible to make a spectacle of yourself by your clothing choices. Using the Philippines as an example again, I would stick out like a sore thumb if I wore a full dress suit -- not to mention that I would probably faint from the heat. One must consider the region and expectations of the people you are with, whether you agree with them or not. This is not an issue where either side should be so stubborn as to cause a congregation to split.
"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you" (I Corinthians 9:19-23).