“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
I doubt anyone who grew up in the South when I did would be confused by the term, “Sunday best”. Sunday best referred to the clothing that was acceptable to wear to church on Sunday mornings. For me, it meant my prettiest dress, panty hose (yes, panty hose), and nice shiny patent leather shoes. When I was little it also meant a matching hair bow. A big one. You see, church tradition back then included dressing up in fine clothes for church.
Why? Well I asked that question once and the answer I got was that we were supposed to offer up our best for God on Sunday. Even my young mind didn’t quite buy that. I mean, God cared that my bow matched my dress? He cared that what I put on my body for church was my absolute best? But the rest of the week, He didn’t care about so much? Some of the biggest struggles I had growing up were making sure I did, indeed, look my best on Sunday mornings.
Now that I am a grown up, I know better. I understand now that while church is supposed to be a spiritual experience, it is also largely a social one. Our culture these days is decidedly casual, and if you were to use the term Sunday best on my kids, they’d look at you funny. They wear what they wear, and they understand that the Lord is more concerned over what they put on spiritually than any outer adornment they are sporting.
When my kids were little, I participated in the whole Easter clothes tradition. For a few years when my daughter was very small, my mother would make her the most adorable Easter dresses. And I would do my best to find the boys something a little extra special to wear on Easter. But there was no charade of presenting our stylish best for the Risen Savior. No, it was merely to participate in what was still, and is still to a great degree, a social tradition. And it made for cute pictures.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with church being a largely social experience. We are encouraged in the scriptures to not forsake the gathering together of the saints. We are created to live in community with other believers. If we convince ourselves that we can have a perfectly fine relationship with God apart from other believers, we have bought a line from the enemy. We are supposed to gather. We are supposed to see one another, talk to one another, and present ourselves to the group for the common purpose of loving God and loving one another. And we should wear clothes while we do that. To not wear clothes would be, well, disturbing. For the spring and summer months upcoming, for me and my friends, that usually means a pair of white jeans and a cute top.
When we cease to worry so much about church dress codes, we do open ourselves up for risk. Trust me, I’ve seen some pretty questionable outfits show up at church, and I’ve heard some pretty harsh comments from fellow believers about them. But people have to start somewhere. And what if we still required a Sunday best wardrobe for church? Well, frankly it closes the door on scores of people who think they can’t measure up in that area. Look, we already have issues of failure measuring up in plenty of areas, do we have to add wardrobe to that list? Are we going to throw them one more excuse?
Some may not believe that’s a thing, but it is. My mother’s parents never went to church. My grandfather was a farmer, and my grandmother raised the best strawberries in Blount County. They didn’t have a lot of finery for Sunday mornings. My grandfather wore overalls, and my grandmother wore house dresses she made on her pedal powered sewing machine. The only automobile they had was an old, unimpressive farm truck. The whole Sunday best was the best excuse they could come up with for staying home on Sundays and watching TV preachers on their black and white television. It was just easier to do that than to show up feeling immediately less than.
I had a friend in college back in the late 80s who intentionally wore blue jeans to church every Sunday. Trust me, that was a no-no back then. I accused him of simply being a rebel, but he told me the reason he did it was for the random visitor who didn’t know about the unspoken dress code. He said if they showed up in jeans, they could look around, see him wearing jeans and figure they were okay. See? Social experience. We can’t avoid comparison.
I went shopping yesterday for something to wear to my son’s wedding. I walked into a popular department store in the middle of their Easter dress sale. Scores of women and girls were frantically looking for that perfect dress to wear next Sunday. I just prayed they understood that it was that inner adornment that matters to Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with showing up in a pretty new dress next week, but if we show up without a real excitement for all that Jesus did and continues to do, then we’ve really missed the boat, haven’t we? I mean He did conquer death and the grave to give us an abundant life and an eternal life to come, after all.
We can still offer God our Sunday best, we’re just supposed to offer it to Him every day of the week. And we do that by loving Him and loving others. A big hair bow and patent leather shoes are completely optional.