Why Do We Wear Shoes in Church?

Ever wonder why Christians wear shoes in church? Is it because the Christianity we have received through Western tradition has just become increasingly lazy? It it because the frigid northern-European climate? Is it just that the winters just were impractical to have people take their shoes off on hard, cold floors?

Why do people in other cultures seem to take their shoes off when they enter their places of religious worship? Doesn’t it seem far more reverent to do something like this, take your shoes off before you come to worship? Muslim worshippers commonly remove their shoes. Have Christians just lost reverence for God?

Joshua seems to have taken his shoes off; Moses took his shoes off when God was before him, for he was standing on holy ground. The Lord said to Moses in Ex. 3,

Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Even Christians in Japan, or in certain parts of the world take off their shoes. And there is a theological reason for it right? It’s to show reverence for God. (Haha, and there are some cultural reasons…it keeps the floors clean and such). But really, it is to show (‘shoe’ – a shamelessly awful pun) that we are God’s servants.

But, I do want to show that I think wearing shoes in church actually does have significant theological grounding. It isn’t just cultural. I think either practice is appropriate so long as we have good intentions, and realize it is the heart remembrance, the heart of worship, that matters.

This can be best explained from the book of Ruth. Honestly, these few verses are probably the core of my advocation, but the rest serve as just supplementary details.

Ruth says in 4:8

Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal.

You see, the man gives over his shoe symbolically as in giving his right to the property. They are following a custom explained in Deut. 25:5-9. The giving of shoes is giving a right. Yawheh gave shoes to his bride, the church, and we wear our shoes even when we worship in our gathered sanctuaries to demonstrate that we have inherited the earth, as was promised to Abraham. This also seems to correspond with the biblical idiom that says the land extends “wherever your foot treads” (Deut. 11:24; Joshua 1:3).

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1828)

Liethart has an article that speaks to this

Walking the boundary of the land was a way of claiming it, of “treading it down” and taking dominion over it. As conqueror placed his defeated enemy under his feet, so the owner of a land placed his feet on the “conquered” land. Removing and giving away the shoe was a symbol of giving away ownership and dominion over one’s dominions…

…I think rather that our shoes say something profound about the new world we live in: It means God has given us dominion in the place of His dominion; we can tread, with our shoes, on His ground, because in the Seed of Abraham we are, at long last, heirs of God and heirs of the world.

Moreover, another aspect of the concept can be seen partially as symbolic of the armor of God. (Ephesians 6:5, 15)

And, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace…and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

And, though the really important verses that speak to this topic are above, I could multiply the symbolism: As the Prodigal Son returning, so too do we have shoes on our feet, like the Father giving his wayward son by grace the best of his possessions. (Luke 15:22)

“But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;

The Hebrews leaving Egypt even ate the holy meal with shoes on their feet, prepared to leave at any time, showing that even very holy events took place with shoes on.

‘Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste–it is the LORD’S Passover. (Ex. 12:5)

Song of Songs 7:1 says

“How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O prince’s daughter! The curves of your hips are like jewels, The work of the hands of an artist.

We, as the Church, as the Lord’s bride, look good in shoes (I am quoting the above verse mostly for laughter in case you were questioning my exegetical method; this is just a pedagogical tool).

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