Monday, January 10, 2022

Appearance Matters

 Standards 1


          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.


  1. Marie-Ange DesrosiersJanuary 10, 2022 at 10:03 AM

    'Fashion is a language that creates itself in clothes to interpret reality.' Karl Lagerfeld
    And I would say that our 2022 reality is far from being Christlike; so what we see is what we are: ungodly. And we wear what we are.

  2. Thank you. When we were in Suriname, my wife addressed this issue with our teenage girls. They bonded with her. They loved her. When we returned after resettling in the USA, they came to see her. One day she had me address them at a special meeting in our home. I asked for a show of hands as to how many made a total commitment of their lives to the Lord. All raised their hands. When I asked how many had surrendered their clothing an dress to the Lord just afterwards, not one of them raised their hands. It seems that in theory they wanted to commit all to the Lord, but in practice, there was something else. You ought to write a book when you finish your series.
    Bob Patton, Missionary to Suriname relocated to teach in Crown College of the Bible.

  3. Thank you so much for this series. This subject has been the topic of many conversations between my wife and I as we try to teach our children biblical modesty. As we travel from state to state and church to church it has been difficult because what we are teaching and what they are seeing does not match up. Thank you for encouraging me to continue to teach GOD'S WORD to my children no matter what others are doing because IT DOES MATTER!

  4. Bro. Tom,
    You are right on with this! I have had this same conversation many times recently with different pastors and full-time workers. There is a ditch on both sides and we have to be careful to follow the narrow guidance of Scripture, without adding our own presuppositions. We have to be careful that it is taught thoroughly and in love, completely backed by the Bible. I'm looking forward to the series!!

  5. Thank you my Bro. for your labour in this matter.

    We have moved so far from the Truth, when we see it or read it, we are startled by it.

  6. I was saved in an IFB church and have spent my entire Christian life (saved October 1974) and 40 years of pastoring an IFB church. It is without controversy that the Bible speaks of our dress/appearance. It seems to me that our problem in communicating biblical principles about modesty and separation from worldliness rests in that we addressed particulars instead of timeless precepts. Some "dress standards" are totally an American issue. Biblical principles cut across all ages and all cultures.

  7. Just dealt with this subject in our church toward the end of last year. Careful Biblical teaching with a humble spirit is vital. I always appreciate your spirit in writing and your courage to tackle the tough issues honestly and Biblically.

  8. Brother Brennan, you know from long ago in a different venue, that I respect you a ton and don't disagree in general that American Christianity has a whole lot of problems due to efforts to be like or capitulate to secular culture, but starting with your #1 I'd like to ask if you could sustain contextually the notion that I Thes 5:22 means "outward appearance" rather than "the appearing of" real evil. Blessings bro.

    1. Strictly speaking, contextually, it stands rather independent in a list of other instructions.

      Definitively, Logos defines it as "Form/outward appearance". Louw-Nida agrees in his sense description calling it "form/appearance". The same Greek word is used in Luke 9.29 to describe how Jesus' face visibly changed its appearance during the Transfiguration. In Mat 28.3, the same Greek word is used to describe what an angel looked like. In John 5.37, it is used to tell us what we do not see about God, His appearance is concealed to us.

      I am content with my understanding that it applies to our outward appearance.

    2. I don't think that to uproot the verse from it's proximal (or distal) context is warranted. The Scriptural appeal of Paul to the Thessalonians is not to avoid or abstain from that which might appear or seem like evil, but to avoid those things that are clearly actual evil, such as illicit sexual activity or responding to evil actions with evil action in return. In each preceeding verse you see real negative moral propositions are contrasted with the proper Christian response, purity or holiness and doing "that which is good." My point for the objection to your usage and interpretation is that if the usage of Scripture is not tethered to explicit context then our application will suffer a much higher likelihood to be misguided.

  9. I agree with what you are saying and our my convictions too. I do have a problem with the women who follow this teaching sometimes that dress in skirts etc. but dress sloppy and do a disgrace by what they wear. Someone in the church needs to direct them to mend their clothing and
    it clean keep . I have viewed this many times among the ladies with their old unkept clothing and ragged out fits. I think that too is an issue and might be mentioned more when preached about

  10. I applaud your energy, I agree with your position, I am appalled at what “Christian” women wear and what men defend.

  11. I have been speaking on this subject for years and have received a lot of criticism over the matter, especially by women AND even my own daughter for a short time. I read this whole article and agree totally with it; however it is really missing the meat on the subject which is specific scripture on the matter. Another thing it lacks is more meat as it concerns men as well. Scripture is vital to the understanding of ideas as to what God expects of us in the church as well as outside of the church. As I got to the end of this I was expecting there to be much much more on the subject.
    Modesty of a lot of women have been lost in a world of carnal and entitled people who think that they should be able to dress in any manner they wish without consequence and it is most certainly visible today in just about every church. This certainly should be a subject to address as we should never allow the world to creep into our church and accept it as our own practices merely for acceptance purpose in fear of offending others. Music is another perfect example but that is a subject for another time. When we allow the world into the church we are no longer a Godly church we have become a carnal church. A woman who is modest should not seek the recognition of others by the way she dresses because most of the sort who notice are oft times not the type to want to attract. What real woman seeks to have a gentleman who is looking upon those parts not attracting them to her as a person? The unfortunate part in the world today is having to feel the necessity to attract someone to them sexually and or visibly. In my eyes, a woman who feels the need to dress in such a manner to attract the eyes to them is a woman who turns me away because I want a woman who respects herself enough to dress modestly as well as a woman who is Godly. A Godly woman has no need to dress "sexy". Even though the outward appearance seems harmless to the world it is very harmful if it leads to lustful desires and thoughts which is not the way of the church and in Biblical standards of our walk with Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.
    You were right, though, when you said it would be a subject that would turn people away, because many times it has caused a flare up of emotions without thought to the spiritual nature of what God desires. That, my friend, is how the world creeps up on the church, even some in leadership. Thank you for your boldness to speak on the subject, but might I suggest more parts as this subject is far from finished here as it lacks sufficient Biblical evidence and I KNOW there is plenty of it in scripture, especially presented by Paul to the churches.

    1. To be clear, this is the first of a lengthy series of blog posts on the subject. This one was only designed to introduce it.

  12. Thank you thank you thank you!!! Please do not hold back. Most millennials that truly want to please God do not mind to hear about this subject and are rather hungry to take in what they can. Whose who scoff and scorn are whose who play cultural Christianity. Claiming to be followers of Christ but when push comes to shove their true master is the culture. They do not realize that the culture left Christianity in this dust many years ago.
    As a younger pastor, I am tried of hearing older preachers giving lip service to strong men of God from the pass (who preached fearlessly on dress and appearance) while they only administrate standards instead of preaching and teaching them. The mast majority of preachers will not preach or teach an entire sermon on this subject, and if they did it would be vague a best. Most will only make a snarky comment every once in a great while. It is time to have a open, frank and Biblical discussion about it, not just whisper behind closed doors. Keep it up preacher!!!