Summary: This is a paper on the role of clothes in the Christian witness from two of the early church fathers.
One topic being raised in almost every area of society is what constitutes proper attire. There is an apparent relevance of attire in schools, workplaces, nightclubs, private beaches, and even churches. Some people have suggested that if students dressed in uniforms there would be a reduction in peer pressure and an increase in performance. Some have suggested that if workers were allowed to wear casual attire to work then they would produce more, while others feel that Friday, Dress Down Day is enough. Even at nightclubs there are strict dress codes, if you are not dressed in "professional casual" attire they will deny you admittance. Then there are some who feel that at the private beaches of our country, nudity should be an option, while others have complained about the scarce garments worn on these private beaches as being inappropriate for a family area. In all of these areas of existence there is an unending debate over the role of attire. In the modern Christian Church, this issue has not gone without incident. Some churches have decided that traditional "church" clothes does not appeal to the modern society in which the church is doing witness, while other have decided that traditional "church" clothes is good because the church-goers should dress differently on Sunday mornings than the "world" on Saturday nights. Subsequently, the questions for the Church in this modern age are does our outward appearance matter to our inward convictions and does our clothes make a difference in effective witness?
Concerning these questions, the Bible offers very little assistance. However, there are several biblical references to garments, which seem to indicate that garments are important. From the very beginning of man existence, outside of the garden of Eden, we are not told about the new dwelling that Adam and Eve will have to inhabit after the fall, but we are told about there coverings of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7) and the subsequent first sacrifice that God provided for more suitable clothing (Genesis 3:21). Vivid details concerning clothing seem to show up in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In Genesis 37:3, we learn how Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. God gives a description of the garments to be worn by the High Priest, Priests, and the Levites to Moses in great detail. In Deuteronomy 22:5, this command is given: A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this. Here I am not giving a judgment on whether these passages should become law in the Church, but they illustrate the importance of clothing to Israel.
Not only in the Old Testament do we find these references to the type of garments to be worn, but there are also references to attire in the Gospels. Luke’s gospel describes the new birth of Jesus as a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, and as a sign to the shepherds the angel of the LORD tells them that, "Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes." In Luke 20:46, Jesus criticized the teachers of the law for desiring to walk around in flowing robes. It was the best robe put on the prodigal son at his return in Luke 15:22. Especially, surrounding the mockery and crucifixion of Jesus, we find a great deal of discussion concerning how He was dressed. Herod clothed Jesus in a robe or garment that was ornate, splendid in order to mock Jesus (Luke 23:11). After Jesus was scourged at Pilate’s orders, the soldiers put on him a scarlet cloak (Matthew 27:28, 31), which was apparently a cloak or robe worn by kings, magistrates, military officers, and so forth in order to scoff at the claims of the Jews that Jesus professed to be King. Jesus’ inner garment, over which the soldiers cast lots, was woven in one piece without a seam (John 19:23).
Outside of the Gospels there is apparent problems within the early Christian community church because of the warning of the apostles concerning the right and wrong views of dress. Christian women are advised not to let expensive, showy dress or style become the thing she seeks but, rather, to let her clothing be modest, yet well arranged, showing soundness of mind. She should, therefore, give attention to her dress but should put the primary stress on the apparel of a quiet and mild spirit (1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3-5). The apostle James warns about discriminatory practices and the example that he gives is one surrounding a rich person wearing a gold ring and fine clothes versus and a poor man in shabby clothes. All of these seem to indicate that there was a witness of the wardrobe, one in which Jesus and the apostle felt it necessary to address.