The Suits and Ties Controversy

Matching suits are practically synonymous with Southern Gospel quartets. Controversy arises any time a quartet does an outdoor summer event in jeans.

We ask: Does formal clothing display appropriate respect for God? What attire is appropriate to wear in the presence of God.

Advocates of wearing jeans emphasize what Jesus and His disciples wore during His time here on earth. Of course, jeans hadn’t been invented, but most of the disciples came from the jeans strata of society. (Matthew, Zacchaeus, and Nicodemus would have been exceptions.) We have every reason to believe that Jesus dressed appropriately for the audiences he spent most of His time with; a Son of Man who had nowhere to lay His head was rather unlikely to wear upper-class or royal robes. Some say it is appropriate to dress as Jesus did when reaching the lost and training His disciples—and as His followers did in His presence.

Meanwhile, suit advocates emphasize that that Jesus is now glorified. They would advocate that formal clothes are far more appropriate to honor Jesus as He is now than casual clothing.

This might surprise anyone who knows the extent to which I’m a fan of traditional quartets (and matching suits), but I’m not entirely convinced by the second position. If we stood before the President of the United States, we would indeed wear our best formal clothes out of respect for the office. Yet when we stand in the presence of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, our best is so far from good enough that it is comparable to the filthy rags of our own righteousness. No Armani suit or bow tie from my sister’s needle could impress God.

I am unconvinced that the best possible clothing to wear to worship is our most impressive outfit. Yet I also doubt that the best possible clothing to wear is our most comfortable outfit. Clothing that indicates our best efforts is no way to prepare our hearts to worship the God for whom our best effort is a great chasm from sufficient. But clothing that indicates no effort is hardly an improvement!

Are we best off wearing clothing that reminds us to rely on His righteousness instead of our own? If so, what is that clothing?

(Please, please don’t advocate showing up in fig leaves—or less. God does want men and women alike to dress modestly.)

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One more thought. What God desires is most important, and what is in our heart is second most important. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at our hearts. That said, even if it of tertiary importance, what others think is a valid consideration. That is a large part of the reason God calls us to dress modestly.

We are Christ’s ambassadors to the lost. How should we dress when representing Christ? We could probably take cues from how Jesus’ first followers dressed. With the few exceptions outlined above, most of Jesus’ earliest apostles were fishermen or similarly poor laborers. Early Christianity spread fastest among the poor, to the point that outsiders sometimes called it a slaves’ religion; after all, as Jesus said, it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. When these early apostles, who weeks or months before had still been fishermen, were preaching to those early slaves, were they more likely to wear fishermen’s garb or the sort of royal robes appropriate for a king’s court?

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I don’t have all the answers. But these are questions worthy of serious consideration and discussion.