In every issue, big or small, remember the centrality of the Gospel.
For all the wrong reasons, the modern evangelical church places fashion and style on the same doctrinal level as regulative v. normative principle of worship, strict v. soft complementarianism, and Presbyterian v. Congregational ecclesiology. Obviously, it is important to work out in Scripture what is prohibited or allowed in worship, whether the role of women transfers from the church and home to all realms of society or not, and the way an elder-led church is held accountable.
Evangelicals gain a few points in not making it an essential. I have yet to encounter someone who puts style of dress on the same level as the Trinity, inerrancy of Scripture, and salvation granted through faith and grace alone. Unfortunately, some will put this issue one step lower on the level of important issues like Baptism. To some, wearing a suit and tie to church on Sunday means being a function legalist. To others, wearing jeans and a t-shirt means being a functional antinomian.
For the sake of clarity in argument, assume the extremes are being presented: the traditionalist who seeks all to be physically pleasing to God when entering the church in strict response to the latter’s rebellion, and the modernist “hipster” who seeks to be emotionally pleasing to God by stating rebellion against the traditionalists.
The question being asked is not “how does one present his or herself as reverent before God,” but is essentially “how does one present his or herself as acceptable before God?” The traditional suit-wearer and the modern jean-wearer proclaim the former, but practice the latter. If they truly practiced the former, it would not be an issue of the body, but of the heart. The reverence we come with before God is respect and awe, but why do we have to come in reverence? We come in reverence because we cannot become acceptable.
The entire purpose of the Gospel is being made aware of the fact that we cannot make ourselves acceptable before a holy God. Being unacceptable before God, He provided a substitute and sacrifice that was perfectly acceptable. In response to this, we stand in awe at the infinitely transcendent yet intensely personal God that accepts nothing that is less than perfection, but becomes that perfection on our behalf.
In light of the Gospel, the staunch position of both sides of the issue find themselves being legalistic. What is one to say to the other, when both of their views are grounded in presenting themselves physically or emotionally acceptable when coming into worship? Can they dare say that being physically acceptable (to the “reverent” traditionalist) is any more important than being emotionally acceptable (to the “relaxed” modernist), or vice versa?
In light of the Gospel, the staunch position of both sides of the issue also find themselves being antinomians. In trying to present oneself as acceptable before God in this physical or emotional way, is not this person trying to ignore the right application of the law as a lantern unto the Gospel?
Making this issue a bigger deal than it should be is indicative of a larger problem: not seeing Christian liberty for what it is. That topic can be an entire book itself, but as Christians we have the right and liberty to literally flaunt our privileges before the world: not for the sake of a stumbling block, but for the sake of boasting of the freedom we have in Christ, and bringing people in.
I offer not a solution or answer to this “debate”, but a shifting of opinion when we think about it. Discussion needs to take place inside the framework of Christian liberty.