Earlier this summer, on a Sunday morning when the temperature had already topped 100 degrees, I was dressing for church when my wife asked me the sort of question husbands dread.
“Is that what you’re wearing to church?” she asked with a disapproving look.
My wardrobe choice had included shorts.
The question, of course, wasn’t really a question. It’s kind of like “Does this dress make me look fat?” Which every partner knows is a loaded question with no good answer. If you reply “no,” then you are implying that your wife is fat. If you answer “yes,” you are affirming it.
In this Sunday morning case, I weighed my options. I could say, “No. My tux is in the car and I figured I would change at church.”
That might have worked if we were going to my daughter’s wedding, but not regular services.
There was also “No. I just put this on to go get the paper.” But considering I usually just roll out of bed and get the paper, I figured she wouldn’t believe that.
Now, these were nice shorts I had picked out. I just hadn’t worn shorts to church before. And living 27 years in Utah where Protestants must keep up with the Mormons, it took my wife the last couple of years since moving back to Arizona to get used to me not wearing a tie to church.
I decided the best option was just to change, without explanation.
Upon driving into the church parking lot, the first couple we saw getting out of the car included a man wearing a nice pair of khaki shorts. Then as we walked into church, the greeter at the door was wearing shorts.
I know churchgoers had been wearing shorts long before that Sunday, but it was more noticeable how many there were that particular Sunday.
I didn’t have to say anything in my defense as we made our way to the pews. My muffled giggling was all that was needed.
“OK, you can wear shorts,” my wife said with a touch of irritation, but a sense of humor.
What to wear to church has been a cultural debate for decades but has shifted with generations.
Author Jon Bloom, co-founder of the Desiring God ministry, says changes in what people wear to church reflect the wider cultural changes over the past 50 years regarding clothing. The whole of American culture has dressed down. This has produced largely generational debates over appropriate church attire. Those who favor more formal dress suspect casual clothes reflect a disrespectful, irreverent attitude toward God. Those who favor casual dress feel it reflects a more authentic approach to God. Does either have a biblical case?
No, because as Bloom states:
“God says virtually nothing regarding how we should dress when we come together to worship him.”
I saw a question on an online Christian forum in which a churchgoer said he was admonished for attending church in shorts. And he lived in India.
So what do we wear to church? According to Bloom, humility.
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
All clothing — formal or casual — can be a source of great pride. There isn’t a clothing item or style that we can’t turn into an expression of self-centered, self-exalting self-worship.
But if we clothe ourselves with humility, if we “count others more significant than [ourselves],” then no matter how we dress, we will honor and reflect God.
Another aspect of the humility rule is your church attire shouldn’t humiliate who you are with. That means in Arizona shorts are OK for men. Just don’t wear them with black socks and dress shoes.
Andy Howell is assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.