The topic of appropriate attire for church is one that many Christians have differing opinions on. Some believe that shorts should never be worn in a house of worship, while others see no issue with more casual summertime clothes. What guidance does the Bible provide on this issue?
This article will examine relevant biblical principles about modesty, respect for God’s house, and liberty of conscience. While the Bible does not explicitly prohibit shorts, it does lay down principles that can help us determine what is appropriate to wear to church. There are good arguments on both sides of this issue, so we must think carefully and aim for biblical wisdom.
- The Bible emphasizes modesty in attire, especially for women, but modesty is a heart issue that applies to all.
- As God’s house, the church building deserves honor and respect in how we dress.
- Freedom in Christ means utilizing wisdom, not flaunting liberty. We should avoid offending others.
- Both legalistic and licentious attitudes toward clothing can be unbiblical extremes.
- Practical considerations like weather, culture, and church standards are relevant factors to weigh.
- Rather than judging others, we are best served focusing on our own walk with Christ.
Principles of Modesty and Respect
One of the clearest biblical principles for attire is modesty. Passages like 1 Timothy 2:9 instruct women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety. The motivation given is that good works and godliness should be our focus, not outward beauty and appearance. While directed at women, modesty is arguably a universal principle. The Bible condemns ostentatious displays of wealth and pride (1 Peter 3:3, Isaiah 3:16-23). As Christians, we are called to focus on inner beauty that comes from a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4).
So how might this principle apply to shorts? Modesty involves not drawing undue attention to the body. Shorts tend to reveal much of the legs and upper thighs. For both men and women, very short shorts may be considered immodest by revealing too much skin and highlighting the private areas of the body. Biblical modesty would imply a certain level of conservatism in shorts length.
In addition to modesty, the Bible emphasizes showing proper respect for God’s house. 1 Corinthians 11:22 admonishes us to be sensitive about the manner in which we honor God when we gather for the Lord’s Supper. While not specific to clothing, the principle applies. We want to avoid causing offense or communicating disrespect by how we dress at church.
Very casual attire like gym shorts or threadbare cutoffs might imply that we don’t take gathering before a holy God seriously. The church building is God’s house, a sacred space deserving of reverence (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). How we dress can communicate our attitude of respect for worship.
Liberty and Conscience
At the same time, the New Testament grants great freedom in matters of personal conscience and Christian liberty. Romans 14 instructs us not to judge or despise fellow believers over debatable matters like food, holidays, and Sabbath observance. Matters of clothing and fashion would arguably fall into this category as well.
Paul writes in Colossians 2:16: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” The principles would apply to judging others based on shorts or clothing.
So the Bible allows for liberty. Within biblical principles, we have freedom to decide. Shorts are not intrinsically immoral like theft or deception. However, Paul adds an important qualification. In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, he urges consideration of how our freedom impacts others. Will our liberty cause others with stricter consciences to stumble? Paul is willing to give up lawful freedoms if it will serve the advance of the gospel and avoid offence (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Following Paul’s example, wearing shorts out of Christian freedom is fine. But if it would disturb or distract our brothers and sisters at a particular church, foregoing shorts demonstrates Christlike humility and care for others.
Given these biblical principles of modesty, respect, and liberty, two extremes should be avoided when considering shorts for church attire:
Legalism – Imposing strict rules not explicitly taught in scripture. Declaring shorts sinful adds manmade rules to what God requires. The Bible warns about such religious asceticism (Colossians 2:20-23).
License – Flaunting liberty without care for how it impacts others. Wearing immodest or overtly casual shorts at a conservative church out of rebelliousness. Paul encourages limiting freedoms to avoid causing offense (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Either extreme can be unbiblical. The legalist judges anyone wearing shorts. The licentious person defiantly flaunts their freedom to wear whatever they want. The more Christlike way is to aim for modest shorts styles, while also graciously accommodating the conscience concerns of a particular church or community.
Along with these biblical principles, some practical considerations can help guide decisions about shorts:
- Weather – In hot climates, shorts may be necessary for comfort and avoiding distraction. Long pants on a tropical island or a southern summer would not be reasonable.
- Culture – Expectations for dress code vary greatly by culture, ethnic identity, country, and context. Cultural norms provide a baseline to reference.
- Church Standards – Many churches have written or unwritten standards for attire. Understanding and accommodating these demonstrates care for that congregation.
- Appropriateness – Shorts ranging from gym shorts to professional shorts display varying levels of appropriateness for public settings. Discernment is needed.
- Age and Gender – Younger children often have more freedom regarding clothes. Standards for shorts tend to be more restrictive for adult women than men.
Considering these practical factors along with biblical principles can help believers exercise wisdom in decisions about shorts rather than being legalistic or licentious.
Focusing on Our Own Walk
In the end, the Bible calls Christians to examine their own walk rather than judging others over debatable matters of personal freedom. Romans 14:10 reminds us: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” Our energies are best directed to living according to our own Spirit-led conscience, allowing others freedom to do the same.
If shorts at church unsettles our conscience, we can choose to avoid them personally. If our conscience permits shorts, we are free in Christ to wear them – keeping in mind how it impacts others. Condemning fellow believers over opinions about clothing risks serious biblical warning (Romans 14:4, 10, 13).
Love should be our guide. Romans 14:15 warns, “if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.” We demonstrate Christian maturity by focusing on our own walk, not demanding that others conform to our manmade standards.
The Bible does not expressly prohibit wearing shorts to church. Principles of modesty and respect for God’s house suggest shorts should meet reasonable standards of appropriate length and not be immodest or excessively casual. Liberty in Christ grants freedom in choosing attire, but exercising that freedom with wisdom means avoiding offence to other believers with different views. Seeking to walk in love and limit freedoms that could stumble others demonstrates biblical care for God’s people. Shorts are not intrinsically right or wrong in God’s eyes, but legalistic and licentious attitudes toward them can be. As Christians, we want to major on the majors in God’s word, granting grace and freedom in matters of personal conscience.