This question comes from Linda who writes “During a discussion this week, the subject of what people should wear to church and out in public came up...it has always been my belief that you should wear ‘your’ best to church whatever that best is; modest dress of course, but in the way that we are expected to tithe, I think we should wear our best to worship, but I can't find the verse in the Bible that I thought I had read at one time.”
Actually, dress for those going to religious services is prescribed only to the priesthood who attended in the Tabernacle or the Temple. As for the rest of us, the custom of dressing up for church has more to do with tradition than a biblical mandate. Indeed, if one looks to the custom of the later temple period (in Jesus' day) and to the early church, it becomes clear that dress was not much of an issue—the real issue is the issue of the heart.
For instance, in the 11th chapter of 1st Corinthians Paul chastises the church members for eating all of the love feast before others got there. His complaint most likely stemmed from the behavior of the wealthy who didn't work in the fields, but lived an easier life and could get to the house churches earlier than dusk. There they took their leisure and ate and drank. Later in the evening when the workers finally got out of the fields, they would have most likely come straight to the house church for a meal and for worship—and the wealthy had left nothing for them. What's worthy of note here is that the workers most likely came straight to worship from the fields without changing.
Then there's Jesus and his followers. Remember they traveled all around Israel on foot—they had no entourage of pack animals carrying their wardrobes. When they came to the Temple, they likely came washed, but they certainly weren’t wearing their “Sabbath Best.”
There’s only one passage I'm aware of that might imply wearing dress clothes is expected in worship, and I’m afraid this is the one of those out-of-context passages people have often used to “prove” their point. In the parable of the king’s banquet (Matthew 22), when the invitees would not comet he servants were sent into the streets to gather the poor. As the story progresses, one man didn't dress in a wedding robe and was cast out of the feast. However, the analogy almost certainly has to do with the condition of the heart (cf., Hosea 6:6) rather than a dress requirement for the poor.
In reality, whenever the church uses its traditions to impose a dress code, the church excludes those outside of the Kingdom from feeling comfortable and entering a mental and emotional state where they can hear the gospel (if a visitor comes to church in a tee shirt and jeans and everyone else is dressed "to the nines," it’s really clear to the visitor that there’s a dress code and they’re not “up to code.” Further, if everyone serving up front has on a tie or a dress, there's an implied dress code as well.). On the other hand, if the body of Christ (the church) treats worship as if it were of no importance and not worthy of the time and care it takes to offer a presentable sacrifice to the Lord, then the message conveyed to visitors is equally negative.
What’s the answer? First, the up-front worship leaders need to be aware that they’re setting a dress code, like it or not—and they need to be conscientious in presenting a level of formality that is inviting. Second, dressing up is a matter of personal style. You wouldn’t catch me dead in the dress my dad wears. And vice versa. Same goes for my kids. And I suspect it’s been so for centuries. Don’t forget it’s the heart, not the dress that counts.
Besides, I’d rather have people coming in rags than to not come at all. And if we make an issue of other people’s dress, the result will not be spiritual maturity—as if how we dress is a mark of Christian discipleship—it will result in one more empty pew.