The short answer is “because of a British demon.”
As amusing as it would be for me to end there, it wouldn’t be particularly helpful, so I guess I’ll give the long answer too.
Prominent and Obnoxious Disclaimer: Please, read the title of this post. Note that I didn’t title it, “Why Denim is a Sin,” “Why You Shouldn’t Wear Jeans to Church” or even “Why Not Wearing Jeans To Church Makes Me Slightly More Spiritual Than Everyone Else.” I will explain this more later on. Just wanted to get that out there right away. Please do not flood the comments section with explanations of why it’s okay to dress casually at church. I totally agree. (Or rants about how I’m a conservative, narrow-minded, Wrangler-hatin’ fundametalist trying to impose a legalistic dress code on the entire body of Christ. Please. None of that.)
I was reading The Screwtape Letters a few years ago, written by C.S. Lewis from the perspective of a delightfully sarcastic demon, when I came across the following quote:
“At the very least, [humans] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”
That’s it. Right there.
What, you didn’t see it? Missed the clear logic of why I don’t wear jeans to church?
Okay, fine. I’ll explain it to you. In my case, I’ve noticed that what I wear has a big impact on my mental state. The days I wore business casual instead of my pajamas around the house while freelance writing, I got twice the work done. I never came to my college classes in sweats and a T-shirt because I knew I wouldn’t pay as much attention. And if I don’t even dress up as much for church as I do for work, for the daily routine of my life, then I tend not to take it seriously.
There’s something in the routine of wearing “special” clothes that signals my brain that this day is different. This day is a day for rest and worship and prayer. I’m not just going to church to hang out, to absorb the sermon the same way I would kick back with a movie at home.
Am I saying that people who wear jeans to church have that attitude? NO. No, I am not. There is nothing wrong with dressing casually to go to church.
But I think it wouldn’t be the best choice for me because of how it changes the way I worship.
The physical affects the spiritual. That’s the principle. I apply that principle by dressing up to go to church. But it’s going to look different for each person.
It might mean taking a few minutes of silence in your car before the worship service to settle your thoughts. It might mean bringing an old-school Bible to church instead of the one on your phone. It might mean kneeling in prayer. It might mean raising your hands in worship. It might mean not raising your hands in worship even when everyone else is. It might mean singing loudly and not caring who hears or staying silent for a verse or two, treating your Bible with more respect or writing all over its margins, forcing yourself to pray out loud in a group or breaking away for solitude.
But it doesn’t have to mean any of those things. The point is understanding your individual motives and attitudes and knowing how to deal with the ones that come between you and God.
We constantly forget. Screwtape-the-demon had us there. Even after I came to the conclusion that the physical affects the spiritual, I still forgot.
And so I changed seats in chapel so I couldn’t see the guy I had a crush on, because it was harder for me to focus on the message.
And so I tried to go to bed earlier on Saturday nights so I wasn’t falling asleep during church the next morning.
And so I moved to the back row of Gospel Choir because I realized I was performing instead of worshiping.
Because I was suddenly thinking about the “why” behind my actions, and that made all the difference, in way more areas than just the way I dressed to go to church.
Have you thought about it?
In the line immediately following the one I first quoted, Screwtape goes on to say, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
So let this thought in. Toss it around a little. Don’t grab at the first tradition or cool Christian trend you can think of and say that everyone should pray or worship like that. Don’t feel guilty for doing things differently than the person next to you.
Just ask yourself, “How does what I do affect how I worship?” Then, if you need to, make a change.
It’ll frustrate your friendly local demon.