Sunday Best

2 Weeks of Pagan Christianity

Chapter 6, “Sunday Morning Costumes,” is a short but interesting description of the pagan history of church fashion, including the clerical collar, vestments, and the perfidious history of pantyhose.

With the development of textile manufacturing clothes became more affordable to common people. Dressing up for church is “the result of 19th-century middle-class efforts to become like their wealthy aristocrat contemporaries, showing off their improved status by their clothing.”

In 1843, Horace Bushnell argued that “sophistication and refinement were attributes of God and that Christians should emulate them in order to honor God.” Today, many Christians still believe that it is “irreverent to dress in informal clothing when attending a Sunday morning church service.”

Problems with the practice:

  • The belief that God cares what you are wearing.
  • Pretense and image management.
  • Social class distinctions.

Clergy attire has its origin in the dress of Roman secular officials. Potential problems with the practice of clergy attire are:

  • Distinguishes a professional class.
  • Symbolizes spiritual authority.

This whole topic was brilliantly addressed in Andrew Jones’ classic post, Sometimes I Dress Like a Pagan.

“Wait a minute . . . where’s my pagan tie?”

You will enjoy reading or revisiting this post by Andrew.

The idea that certain clothing is appropriate or inappropriate for church is still adhered to in many churches today. What do you think?


17 thoughts on “Sunday Best

  1. The answer to your question, very simply, is that I think it is ridiculous and does in fact reek of trying to get everyone to show their social status. I grew up in a church where one guy got up and walked out when the man who came to preach walked in without a coat and tie on (because his car had broken down and it was 100 degrees outside). Asinine people like that make me crazy but you are right, it does still exist. Some people can attend Sunday morning church all their lives and still not get it. They substitute rules like that for things that actually matter.

  2. just last friday at dinner a good friend of ours, a pastor’s wife, made comments about another pastor’s wife (who has 8 children by the way) who showed up in blue jeans (gasp!) to a community worship service and then my friend boasted that one of her parishioners came up to her and said she knew my friend would never wear blue jeans in church.

    It was all said in such a matter of fact, “of course any respectable woman would never wear jeans to church, never mind the PASTOR”S wife” kind of way. I kept thinking, “how long have you known me- and still you’re talking to me like you think I agree with this?” I just smiled and said nothing.

    I felt sorry for her a little. to be in her 40’s thinking that what she wears makes a difference to God, but also feeling justified in bad mouthing that other woman for her choice of clothes. I honestly think that in her mind God has a little clicker counting up offenses (like wearing jeans) and good deeds (like wearing dresses). How worrisome and frightening it must be to serve a bean counting God.

  3. I generally wear whatever I want to wear, to church or work or wherever. It seems (at least in Minnesota) that we have become a very casual culture. I pretty much wear shorts from the end of the school year in spring to the start of the next school year in the fall and that includes wearing shorts to church (I don’t think I have worn them to a wedding or funeral though). Cindy, I think I would have worn out the “clicker” you mentioned by the number of times I have worn jeans to church. I must say however, that when it is my turn to serve communion I do tend to wear slacks and not jeans or shorts.

  4. I’m not sure this is helpful, but before Levi’s (pun intended) were invented, God used to associate with naked people and they felt no shame. That’s probably why people who wear jeans to church should feel ashamed. That gives me an idea. Maybe God is hanging out with the the folks at a beach nearby….

  5. If we want to refer to Scripture (everyone’s favorite) I think God prefers to see us naked and unashamed (Gen 1:25). So perhaps our true Sunday “best” is nude ;) …

  6. am enjoying this series, grace, but something struck me this morning.

    this series is averaging about 30-comments per post in disecting these Sunday morning rituals. would there be as much interest if we were talking about what we as Christians do the other 167 hours each week?

  7. Having just returned to the blogosphere, I am just coming to discover the PC excitement. I must say, your series has been ever so helpful in catching up. Thanks!

    I haven’t read the book (and probably won’t get the chance for some time), so I will trust your review. I am passionate about history and understanding the origins of practices (which is important in this respect).

    I am shocked at a couple of the quotes from the book, though. I guess I’ll wait and see. Thanks again!


  8. would there be as much interest if we were talking about what we as Christians do the other 167 hours each week?

    Ed, that’s actually pretty much a big part of the point. Many Christians are led to believe that what happens on Sunday morning is the extent of their experience with God.

    If they dress right, pay enough of a membership fee (“tithing”), listen to someone tell them what God is allegedly trying to say to them, and smile at people and shake hands in 15 seconds of “fellowship”, they are in a good place with God.

    What most of us have come to realize is that “the other 167 hours each week” have a whole lot more basis in the NT than the Sunday morning routine. And that the Sunday morning routine actually does a lot to hinder what should be happening the other 167 hours.

  9. “Many Christians are led to believe that what happens on Sunday morning is the extent of their experience with God.”

    Steve – that’s my concern. This book may just be reinforcing the notion of one-hour Christianity. Seems to imply that we should focus our efforts on fixing Sunday mornings, and if we deal with that first, the rest will fall into place.

    But then again, if that’s where the people are today…

  10. Ed G.-
    I think the focus on Sunday morning “church” is a good place to start because that is where most of the people are. Hopefully, changing the way people see the Sunday experience will futher stimulate them to think about the rest of the week.

  11. Ed, I’m not sure if you’ve read the book yet or not. I read the first edition and I’m not sure that it would be accurate to say they’re trying to “fix Sunday morning”.

    I think that they are trying to deconstruct Sunday morning to the point that people would be left with the very critical question, “So what should we be doing?”

    And if they get to that question, Sunday morning itself will cease to be central and whole-life Christianity will start to come into focus.

    At least that’s my opinion based on my experience both personally and in talking with others.

  12. Ed G., Fred, and Steve,

    This is the most important discussion that I’ve read yet concerning Pagan Christianities! For me, this is the poin of the book, and of my research as well. If Sunday morning is not special, then what does that say about our meeting on Sunday morning – or what about meetings at other times? If “Pastors” are not special Christians, then what does that say of pastors and other Christians? If church buildings are not special, then what does that say of any location where believers meet together? If there is not a special order or plan for our church meeting, then what should we do?

    The Christian life as been turned into a dichotomy of sacred vs. secular. This book simply helps us remove that invalid distinction.


  13. Sonja,
    Your post reminded me of one of the most interesting [pre]evangelistic conversations I ever had — with a skeptical co-worker who asked why he shouldn’t go to church naked. I told him I had no problem with it, and was pretty sure it wouldn’t matter to God, either — but he might not feel entirely comfortable, just as he might not if he came to work sans clothes. And no, he didn’t fall to his knees and beg me to lead him in the sinner’s prayer…

  14. Alan wrote in response to Steve, Ed G., and Fred;

    “The Christian life as been turned into a dichotomy of sacred vs. secular. This book simply helps us remove that invalid distinction.”

    (…dang, where’s that thumbs-up smiley when I need it???…)


  15. The only time I’ve ever been criticized to my face for what I wear to church, is when I have worn a tie. It has NEVER happened when wearing very informal attire, which I wear much more regularly. Personally, I think most of evangelicalism struggles with the going too far the other way and judging people who dress up for corporate worship of the Creator of the Universe.

    That said, I think dressing for church like one dresses for the beach is inappropriate. Our clothes should not be the focus, no matter what we wear. I think dress is kind of like meat sacrificed to idols. If it causes my brother to stumble, I will gladly change or go along with the flow just to be sure that clothes are not the point. There are more important things to discuss than the how formal my attire should be for corporate worship.


  16. Paul gives this instruction to Timothy:

    I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes…

    And of course James has something to say about the differential treatment given to people with varied quality wardrobes.

    The more formal attire of prieslty garments mirrors the Old Testament directives about how worship was to be done. If the original Mosaic tabernacle a facsimile of the heavenly one, then such a pattern could be understood as eternal, not simply Jewish. I think the adaptation of Orthodox & Roman Catholic vestments is with this in mind.

    Protestant clerical garb another story altogether. Interesting to see how the different forms of dress became traditions within the various denominations.

    We know that the quality of dress can be an expression of respect. Even the King that prepared a wedding feast for his son questioned the unresponsive man, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes?”

    And of course it seems we will all be robed in a heavenly covering of some divine origin. I am sure the temptation to rip holes in the knees or sew bangles on the hem not going to be a problem. But I do not think the heavenly fashions will be dull, drab or one-size-fits-all either.

    James makes a much broader connection between the issue one has about clothes that can be equally applied to another’s ethnicity, or gender, or income level, or schooling, or theology, or the way one worships: “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

    James has a way of getting to the heart of the matter. I may not want to be surrounded by those dressed as whirling dervishes even though the costumes are cool. Or step into a service where all the congregation is dressed to the nines. But when I attend a wedding or a funeral I do dress appropriately.

    Same if I go on an interview. Or stand before a Judge. Or accept an invitation to have dinner with the President at the White House. Even though such attire is definitely the exception for me compared to daily wear, it is something that has its place. And it can be out-of-place if I dress in a tux for a pool party or wear grubbies to my son’s graduation ceremony. If it is within my power I should be sensitive to the proper decorum of what it is I am attending. Only those of celebrity status get to regularly ignore fashion rules & get away with it. But then, they already believe the world revolves around them anyway…

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