"...it is best for church leaders to cultivate a culture of modesty from the inside out"

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Darrell Post's picture

"Instead, it is better to slowly start a culture of modesty rooted in the gospel, beginning with church leadership and moving outward."

However, sometimes it is the leaders themselves who are unwilling to dress modestly, so there won't be anything positive moving outward...only a modeling of conformity to the age.
 

Bert Perry's picture

...is a pet peeve of mine, as it's really (braided hair, expensive clothing, jewelry) more about the cost of one's attire than it is about how much skin is showing.  Now I would guess that historically speaking, that expensive clothing also does tend to show more skin/draw the eye, and did back in Bible times, too--but that's simply not the core meaning of these verses.

My overall take on modesty is that to start making progress in this regard, we're going to need to really come up with a Biblical theology of beauty, and a Biblical theology of uncovering a la Leviticus 18, where "uncover nakedness" is a euphemism for having sex, and the prophets, where "lifting of the skirts" and the like is used as a vivid description of what would happen when God allowed Israel's enemies to punish His people.  

There may be a simpler, cleaner way, but my gut hunch here is that if we abandon just quoting 1 Tim. 2:8-9, and rather move to "this is how the Hebrews viewed this" combined with "do we really view things differently today?", we might get somewhere.  Another big thing to think of is that we're going to get a lot more modesty when husbands start having a say in what their wives wear--something to the effect of "Honey, that view really belongs to me, not the world", and all that. 

I personally don't believe the church has ever had a sound, Biblical argument for modesty that's been widespread--we've had social conventions that say that being pale is better which discourage immodesty, and we've had clothing (pre-stretch knits) that made it difficult to be really immodest without putting EVERYTHING out in the open, but I don't think people have ever really been forced to have this discussion before.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

AndyE's picture

Bert Perry wrote:
My overall take on modesty is that to start making progress in this regard, we're going to need to really come up with a Biblical theology of beauty, and a Biblical theology of uncovering a la Leviticus 18, where "uncover nakedness" is a euphemism for having sex, and the prophets, where "lifting of the skirts" and the like is used as a vivid description of what would happen when God allowed Israel's enemies to punish His people. 

By far the biggest impact that we've had on our children in this regard has been our daily Bible reading at supper time.  Many years ago we were reading through Leviticus and came to this chapter.  The repetition of that phrase regarding nakedness and the subsequent discussion regarding the shame of nakedness and how that idea is used in Scripture made a huge impact on their view and desire to be properly covered.   We hit this passage when they were like 7, 9, 11 or something like that. They are all teens now and they tell me now they don't even remember the conversation, but it stuck. They have a sensitively regarding this issue that I greatly appreciate and we never even made a big deal of it. It just sort of happened, just because we were reading the Bible.

Darrell Post's picture

In the article, Piper recoils from rules, but there are some other things that can be done.

For instance, many church websites will say, "Come as you are! You will be made to feel welcome no matter what you wear!" This is simply too easy of a surrender. Most reasonable unbelieving people understand the idea of ‘club rules.’ If I join this country club, no blue-jeans or cut-offs. If I work for this employer, I will wear their uniform. If I volunteer for this org, I will wear their T-shirt. Similarly, I know of a secular organization that provides therapy horse rides. They have a dress code complete with rules—beyond a few dress rules for safety, including very specific modesty dress rules simply because they want a family atmosphere.

How about this for the church website instead of the full-surrender approach?

“We welcome guests to join us for worship. If you are planning to attend, you might be asking, what will I expect from your services, and how should I dress? Please note that our services center around the person and work of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. You will hear Christ-exalting music, and you will hear a message preached from the Bible. You will find that our members dress modestly, in a way so as to not draw attention to themselves, but instead dress to honor the worth of the God Who redeemed them. Our desire is for you to not be embarrassed by attending underdressed; and so we invite you to join us as we worship God together.”

Something like that communicates to prospective attendees that we take our God seriously. The full-surrender approach amounts to telling people that we think so little of our God that we can show up for corporate worship in pajamas or what amounts to underwear for coverage--the sort of dress that should be reserved only for the inner rooms of one's home.

Bert Perry's picture

Darrell, I'm going to have to gently disagree with you because of James 2:2; club rules at a country club really serve mostly to enforce a certain standard of prosperity among the members that is opposed to what James writes.  Plus, let's consider Corinth; I would presume that every once in a while, someone escaped from the Temple of Aphrodite with a bald head and in whatever rags she could conjure up.  And on the flip side, you would have seen slaves in "vile raiment" hosted by a woman wearing some purple in Phillipi.  No?

(that latter story seems to indicate to me that 2 Tim. 2:8-9 indicates that beauty ought simply to go beyond mere adornment, not that adornment is prohibited as such)

In the same way, most people in the world have made do with just a few garments, at least until the 20th century.  Laura Ingalls WIlder finally got a second dress....when she was getting married.  She'd made do with one as a child.  We refer to the "Sunday Best"--that in itself implies only a few garments, no?  The Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus' robe--note the singular.  The art of smocking that you'll see in the South arose from women taking what cloth they could weave and making it into a garment that would be suitable for both summer and winter wear for farmers and tradesmen.

So Biblically and historically, I don't think we can support a dress code.  Dress codes are really modern luxuries that have more to do with identification and luxury than any respect for God--and I'm saying this as a guy who regularly wears wing tips and cuff links at work, and I'm not a politician or lawyer.

So I'd be more comfortable with "What to wear?  Well, our members wear everything from jeans and t shirts to suits and dresses, and we encourage you to do the same--wear something that will be comfortable for you sitting down, standing up, and in conversation with others as they welcome you and get to know you."

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

Bert, I don't think my comments were in violation of James 2:2. Issues of wealth and prosperity and lording it over the poor are dealt with there. But notice the poor man of James 2:2 had clothes. They were filthy clothes, but were still clothes. I am not advocating that we keep out people who cannot afford to dress up fancy. But when visitors check the church website and see the sort of statement that I suggested above, they will know they would be wiser to put on some pants and a shirt, rather than short-shorts and a spaghetti-strap tank-top, while leaving the pants and shirts hanging in the closet.

In short, I think its a false dilemma to say we cannot do anything because there might be someone out there who is so poor that (s)he cannot afford to modestly cover his/her body--besides, anyone that poor wouldn't afford the cost of web access where they would see the statement on modesty, and would just come anyway....if they were of such a mind to want to attend. Furthermore, at my church there have regularly been panhandlers showing up asking for handouts. We always invite them to stay for the service, but they won't, they just want money. One family of panhandlers was dressed pretty sharp, and were more modest than some of the members.

Besides, if any show up to attend who are truly so poor that they cannot cover their bodies with clothes, then it provides an excellent opportunity for the church to demonstrate the love of Christ by buying them clothes and feeding and housing them, assuming those three needs are often present together.

As to Laura Ingalls WIlder, even though she had only one dress, I don't recall reading in any of the books where she showed up to church without it on. And if you go back and read my comments again, rather than focusing on a dress code and rules, I was simply advocating letting visitors know what to expect in advance and what would help them be comfortable among us. If all the members are adequately covered, a visitor who wandered in underdressed might feel embarrassed, and we wouldn't want them to have that experience when they easily could have known in advance that these local believers cover their bodies.

Of course the NT teaches that the purpose for believers gathering together is teaching, fellowship, and edification--and the meeting itself was never intended as an evangelistic tool to reach unbelievers--but that is another topic.

Kevin Miller's picture

Darrell Post wrote:

How about this for the church website instead of the full-surrender approach?

“We welcome guests to join us for worship. If you are planning to attend, you might be asking, what will I expect from your services, and how should I dress? Please note that our services center around the person and work of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. You will hear Christ-exalting music, and you will hear a message preached from the Bible. You will find that our members dress modestly, in a way so as to not draw attention to themselves, but instead dress to honor the worth of the God Who redeemed them. Our desire is for you to not be embarrassed by attending underdressed; and so we invite you to join us as we worship God together.”

Actually, if i read this on a church's website, my first inclination would be to think that the church wants me to dress in a suit in tie or I'll be embarrassed. After all, God's worth is infinite, so if my dress is to honor that worth, I'd better really dress up. I'm not sure how an unsaved person would interpret "underdressed." Sure, they would know not to come in a swimsuit or nightgown (or naked, for that matter), but would they really know that "short-shorts and a spaghetti-strap tank-top" were off limits?

Darrell Post's picture

Kevin,

I have no problem adding that you don't need a suit and tie. Maybe even mention something like business casual. But I recoil at this idea that outsiders drive what the church does instead of believers for whom the assembly was designed.

If my statement causes confusion for unbelievers, then I have no problem adding more words to add clarity. But the church needs to take back its assembly from being run by what unbelievers want.

Bert Perry's picture

Darrell, I think you are assuming facts not in evidence with your appraisal of the past.  If indeed large numbers of people made do with one or two garments in the past, and (as the Torah notes) the poor would even pawn their cloak in order to get bread to survive, I don't know that it's safe to assume that a person's garment would not have tears and holes in unfortunate places back then, or would not be too small or ill fitting.  I think it's far safer to assume they saw the same kind of things we see today.  Again, are we to assume that the escapee from the Temple of Aphrodite (who Paul clearly refers to in 1 Cor. 11) would be dressed respectably?  In the same way, given the preponderance of slaves and the poor in the early church, I think that it's safe to assume that their masters often dressed them for their own pleasure--which might often mean less than full coverage.  Certainly that's what Frederick Douglass and others recorded here in the U.S, many centuries later.

In the same way, yes, Laura did always wear clothes, but she also records a situation in Walnut Grove ( I believe in "Little House on the Prairie") where the length and condition of the dresses she and Mary wore became something of a crisis.  In Victorian culture, that was a big deal, and that was in a family that was somewhat well off--where the women did not consistently work in the fields.  Pa was recorded as having noted that in Europe, they did.

I think you're also really underestimating the extent to which our culture used to enforce class distinctions.  We retain it today with saying someone's "from the wrong side of the tracks", and to this day, if you drive a truck (even a pickup or some SUVs) on a "drive" in Chicago, you may get a ticket--it's for passenger cars and buses only, and served to say that the well-worn truck of the tradesman was not welcome in certain areas.

Dress codes were part of that--schools used them to keep out signs of gangs even in the fifties, jeans were disdained by many as clothes of the poor, golf clubs and social clubs had very specific dress codes, and the like.  People who remember are going to make the connection if a church puts one in, even if it's veiled.  Which is a long way of saying that yes, a dress code, even business casual, is going to rightly be seen as at least an infringement on James 2:2.

Another way of describing the situation: the Old Testament records intermittent times of starvation, where I would assume that providing good clothes would take second place to the important business of getting something to eat.  Even in those times, however, God's people were commanded to appear at the Tabernacle or Temple three times a year--and the Old Testament records no commands for attire except for that of the priests--and that only of those who were "on duty" at the time.

We might infer--here's our doctrine of Solus Christus--that we are clothed most importantly in Christ, and that God calls us to come--just like slaves to Lydia's home--just as we are.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

"Darrell, I think you are assuming facts not in evidence with your appraisal of the past"

Bert, you say this, then make your own set of assumptions. It is pointless to try and draw arguments from Victorian America. We live in the here and now. The assembled church is for the body of believers. Recent trends in evangelical practice have been to use the services as the primary evangelism tool, and seeker sensitivity entered. Churches now govern what they do by how the lost feel when they happen to wander in. With the societal changes of the last 20+ years, the church no longer has much of any influence on societal practices. And yet churches are still free in this country to govern themselves, and yet some wish to not even assert Christianly living within the assembly out of deference to what outsiders might or might not feel comfortable with. We need to get back to the assembled church being for believers, and then put evangelism back where it was supposed to be to begin with, one on one conversations. The comfortable evangelical church in America doesn't like one on one evangelism, and would rather just show up on Sunday and hope the seekers will show up and convert having heard the sermon.

Again, I am not talking about turning people away because they show up wearing Salvation Army clothes because its all they can afford. I am talking about people who have modest clothes hanging in their closets at home and leave them there and instead wear the short shorts and tank top to church, where they put on display their body instead of concealing the mystery of their body.

But I still do not know why you would argue that because there may have been cultures in ancient history where not everyone had adequate clothing that we are handcuffed in our context from living out the modesty principle that God laid down in Scripture...particularly in the context of the assembled church.

What I am gleaning in some of my conversations with some believers is they just are throwing their hands up and saying, this is yet another lost battle, so we should just give up and give in. But when God puts down a principle of sexual modesty, it is not an option for us to simply cast it aside. The majority might behave a certain way, but that doesn't make the majority right before God.

jimcarwest's picture

We're all big boys.  We know what we are talking about when we speak of modesty.  We're talking about avoiding the kind of nakedness that has become acceptable in malls, on the beach, in bars, and in public -- a nakedness that turns the head of even the most godly among us, that focuses attention on the sexual parts of a person's body, and leads the mind astray.  Such immodesty completely distracts any of us from having pure thoughts that are necessary to be in the presence of God.  Even a female body with adequate cloth hanging on it may be presented in such a way as to appear as sensual as possible to a man.  

A statement in writing for guests might include: "We kindly request that those attending public worship would be so kind as to come dressed modestly, which means being adequately covered so as not to distract others in their desire to come before God with pure hearts.  If you lack such attire, the church is ready to assist in supplying that need so that you can participate as we worship God.  We fully understand that worship is an attitude of the heart, but it is assisted when distractions are removed.  This is not to offend anyone nor to elevate one above another.  Our purpose is to create an atmosphere where everyone may focus on a Holy God without distractions." 

The church is ordained by God to lift humanity, not to participate in degrading it.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

On the one hand, the Bible speaks of new converts as babes. And what do we do with small children? We control and teach them with rules, knowing that later in life they will understand (we hope) the reasoning behind them. So why not do this in church with dress codes?

However, it feels wrong to try to do this in a church setting with a dress code when the underlying issue is our inherent selfishness and lack of humility. Why not start with the milk? - which is learning understand Christ's sacrificial love for us, and follow His example by acting in the best interest of others. 

Mature Christians can (and should IMO) teach modesty in behavior and appearance as well as showing what the Scriptures teach about the character deficits that result in a lack of modesty. The Holy Spirit acting on the heart will effect genuine lasting change that no dress code can match.

Then I'm thinking - why stop at dress codes? Aren't there more crucial moral and ethical issues we should address with rules and codes?

Joel Shaffer's picture

 

From my experience, the modesty issues are best handled in mentoring/discipleship relationships.  We've seen it in our church because we've had many unchurched people attend that were gang members, drug dealers, and their girlfriends, many of which did not come dressed modestly.  In the discipleship relationships that we built through both modeling and teaching, as their hearts changed so did how they dressed.  

To announce a dress code on a website is tacky and will be misunderstood by those whom you want to come to your church, both believers and unbelievers.  More than one person commenting on this post has suggested to give more details on the website in order to clear up any misunderstanding like the ones Bert has brought up.  But then it comes across like the church is overly-obsessed with the modesty issue and seems more concerned about following rules than worshipping Jesus.    

Bert Perry's picture

If we lead with a dress code (open or veiled), we're saying what is important to us.  Think about that a minute, and in that light, it's helpful to remember--sorry, Darrell, but these are historical facts--that even a "get something in decent condition out of the Goodwill store" kind of standard is something that's been unattainable for most believers who have ever lived.

And unless we want to alienate those who are less fortunate, we're going to have to learn to look past some things.   Do we want to preach the Gospel. or dress codes?

My family was actually approached this morning by a man and two of his daughters who have had a horrible time finding dresses that fit, and we just let them know that we do in fact sew a fair amount of our own clothes, but we gave pointers as to where we'd found some things and simply noted that finding things that fit well and cover is in itself a lot of work.  Because of what my family has learned with four daughters, we're inclined to be very patient about these matters.  Not everybody has the time to do what we do.

For that matter, my wife tailors a lot of my clothes for me--so even for a lot of men, "off the rack" simply doesn't fit well, either, and does become at times immodest.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

Bert,

So most believers who have ever lived were not able to acquire modest clothes? Really? Again, it is pointless to try to draw upon history, whether factual or imagined, as the guide for how we should live. God laid down principles for sexual modesty. We can choose to guard and treasure that principle, or we can choose to find every excuse in the world for flaunting modesty.

Bert Perry's picture

Not quite, Darrell.  I'm not saying that they would have been unable to acquire clothes modest by Biblical standards; I am saying that they would have been unable to acquire clothes that are modest by modern fundagelical standards.  There is a huge difference, and the quicker we start looking closely at how the Scriptures (especially the OT) describe things, the better.   And history--the difficulty of making fabric and sewing it by hand (give it a try if you doubt this, Darrell), the necessity of the urgencies of childcare in church (Nestle invented formula in the 19th century), the realities of Roman slavery, and more suggests that the early church would have defined things far differently than we do.

In a nutshell, we might end up at the same place in what believers wear--I'd guess we'd tend to have our belts at our natural waist or upper hip, wear our clothes a touch looser, and the amount of actual or implied decolletage seen in churches would decline a lot as well--but the Biblical logic of how we get there would greatly change.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.