Really? Yes, really. I have decided to write a lengthy blog series about the standards issue. I can already see some of you reaching for the unsubscribe button; I accept your overreaction and I am at peace with it. I have already cleared out space in my inbox to deal with the furious responses; I accept that overreaction, too, and I am at peace with it. What I am not at peace with is maintaining silence in the face of the constant assault on what I believe to be an important expression of Christianity. In today’s post I will attempt to explain why I am undertaking this (almost certainly) thankless task. As always, I welcome your (thoughtful) feedback along the way.
I have several things I wish to accomplish with this blog series. Foremost, I would like to permanently remove from your mind the fallacy that our appearance does not matter. In order to accomplish that, I plan to discuss numerous Bible principles that relate here. In so doing, I would like to furnish you with the reasoned (rather than emotional) explanation of standards necessary to help you to stand against the spirit of the age. If I do my job correctly, I will also help you formulate standards related to your appearance, standards that are not driven by me (or in overreaction to me or any other pastor), nor standards that are driven by you in your fear, carnality, or pride. Instead, I want to help you formulate standards driven by your desire to reflect the holiness of Christ and your love for Him. And underneath that last sentence, I want to ensure you understand that how we look is not an isolated thing, that it does not make us spiritual in and of itself, but neither is our spirituality divorced from it.
To prepare for this series, along with what I learned growing up in the conservative, independent Baptist world, I will use a plethora of Scripture passages. I have also found the following books helpful in my study: “Dress, The Heart of the Matter”, Shirley M. Starr, Lori L. Waltmeyer; “Cliffs and Fences, Holiness and Personal Separation In Biblical Perspective”, Paul Crow; “The Beauty of Modesty, Cultivating Virtue In The Face Of A Vulgar Culture”, David and Diane Vaughan; “Dressing for the Lord”, David Cloud; “What in the World should I Wear?”, Cathy Corle. Bear in mind, I have my differences with the subject matter of each of these books and with their authors, but in the main I found some good, thought-provoking content in them.
Along the way, some of the subjects I plan to address are biblical teachings relating to Bible principles, the concept of standards, the body, modesty and immodesty, the connection between nakedness and sin, lust, the heart, worldliness, trends, vanity, clothes, legalism, tattoos, jewelry, hair, and how we should handle differences between Christians on such issues. I also plan to address common objections by other Christians to what I believe to be sound Bible principle and its application. To begin, however, I am going to give you three reasons why our appearance matters.
First and simplest, we must accept that our appearance is addressed in Scripture. Abstain from all appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5.22). Additionally, we will discover scores of passages that reflect on our appearance. If God speaks to it, then we should study it, learn it, and apply it.
Second, we should realize that our appearance is the way others see our Christianity first. The Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (I Samuel 16.7). Like it or not, most of the world makes judgment calls on the basis of how people look, act, and behave, on what is visible to them prior to actually getting to know the person in question. As a Christian, I should not be primarily concerned with what people think, but I should be aware that how I look, act, sound, and behave does produce an effect on those around me. And I want that to be a godly effect. I want to reveal Christ in me, the hope of glory, but before I ever get to do that with my words I must be conscious that I can either help or hinder this based on what others see when they look at me.
Third, I believe that addressing the Christian’s appearance is needed more now than ever. There are several reasons I believe this.
First, it is evident in America that we have a declining Christianity paired with a growing paganism. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind (Mark 5.15). When a person individually or a society corporately is operating under the affect of the devil or the affect of Christ it is evident in their appearance. What do we find in America today? Undeniably, we find a growing breakdown of any public sense of modesty. Yoga pants, which leave nothing to imagination, rule. Activists increasingly advocate for the right for women to be topless. Local governments routinely look the other way as pride parades violate public decency laws, and no one breathes a word of opposition. And I could go on and on here.
Second, we see the cultural captivity of American Christianity. Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean (Ezekiel 22.26). Contemporary American Christianity, which is the largest portion of American Christianity, has been built to be like the world. So it is. Which means it almost entirely fails to teach and preach against the world. As a result, it looks and acts more and more like the world, all with nary a blush or sense that anything is amiss.
Third, American Christianity, and even some in the independent Baptist movement, have wrong concepts of doctrines such as grace and liberty and legalism. There are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 4). Christian liberty does not mean you can live however you want. Grace does not mean that pastors cannot and should not draw clear lines in relation to what you wear, where you go, what you listen to, or what you watch. Having and preaching standards of appearance does not intrinsically make me legalistic. Yet for all practical purposes, much of American Christianity operates in contradistinction to this paragraph. Their wrong orthodoxy has produced a wrong orthopraxy, rather visibly and vocally so.
Fourth, there has been an incorrect or over-emphasis on standards in past generations and in some Bible colleges and schools; this has, in turn, produced an over-correction in many of the younger people in the independent Baptist movement. Solomon told us, Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life (Proverbs 4.23). God measures the heart first, most, and always, not necessarily how long your skirt is. God tells us that some things are weightier than others, and whether a man’s haircut is tapered or blocked is not on the weighty list. When colleges and ministries made conformity to outward appearance the equivalent of good Christianity they were wrong. This then produced an overreaction the other way that says appearance does not matter.
Beloved, the ditch on both sides is still a ditch. The solution to an incorrect or wrong emphasis is not no emphasis. We still need to teach what God says about our appearance even if someone else somewhere previously (or presently) misapplies and misuses it.
Fifth, increasingly, most pastors of all stripes nowadays are afraid to discuss it. Anytime pastors are afraid to touch an issue there is a deep problem. We are called, explicitly, to Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine (II Timothy 4.2). I will answer to the Lord for what I preach, why I preach it, and how I preach it. I will also answer to Him for my silence. As the old statement goes, silence is golden but sometimes it is just plain yellow. I will lose subscribers and friends, I suppose, but I must speak what I believe God would have me to speak, especially when so many men have given up addressing it.
Sixth, believe it or not, this is a church issue. I have pastored twenty five years. Most of you reading this have no idea how often I have had a man come to me struggling with the way some sister in Christ dresses, even in a conservative church like ours. Which means even more have a problem but will not actually say anything to me about it.
God’s people should not ignore weaknesses in each other. We should be spiritually mature enough and loving enough to occasionally and carefully confront one another when necessary. If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness (Galatians 6.1). Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works (Hebrews 10.24). Indeed, this issue in the American church is not a new issue. It has had to be dealt with as long as there have been Christians and as long as there have been churches.
In the early 200s, Tertullian, a pastor in Carthage, wrote an entire book on women’s dress. Here is just one paragraph, for example. “You know that in the eye of the perfect, that is, Christian modesty, carnal desire of one's self on the part of others is not only not to be desired, but even execrated by you… Why therefore excite toward yourself that evil passion? Why invite that to which you profess yourself a stranger?... For where God is, there modesty is.” Martin Luther dealt with it. The Puritans dealt with it. John Wesley dealt with it. The Westminster Catechism deals with it. In a rather astounding passage, 18th century English pastor John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace”, dealt with it.
“The improprieties of 'the tyranny of fashion' are not simply ridiculous. They are serious evils in a religious view; and, to speak of them in the gentlest terms, they are signs of a careless, inconsiderate spirit, very unsuitable to a professed regard to the gospel. We are required to attend to the things that are lovely and of a good report. Every willful deviation from this rule is sinful. Why should a godly woman, or one who wishes to be thought so, make herself ridiculous, or hazard a suspicion of her character, to please and imitate an ungodly world?
“But the worst of all the fashions are those, which are evidently calculated to allure the eyes, and to draw the attention of men. Is it not strange that modest and even pious women should be drawn into an immodest compliance? Yet I have sometimes been in company with ladies of whose modesty I have no doubt, and of whose piety I entertained a good hope, when I have been embarrassed, and at a loss which way to look. They are indeed noticed by the men—but not to their honor nor advantage. The manner of their dress gives encouragement to vile and insidious men, and exposes them to dangerous temptations. Their immodesty has often proved the first step into the road which leads to misery and ruin. They are pleased with the flattery of the worthless, and go on without thought, ‘like a bird flying into a snare, little knowing it would cost him his life!’ But honest and sensible men regard their exterior, as a warning signal, not to choose a companion for life, from among people of this light and volatile turn of mind.”
In summation, I say again, this subject needs to be studied, taught, discussed, and applied. As the Lord sees my heart, my desire here is to edify. Let us love the Lord supremely in our hearts, and let us embrace the importance of making that visible in our appearance too.