Have you ever watched an episode of The Way of the Master? It’s an evangelism/witnessing program. Folks on the street have their “goodness” challenged in comparison to the law of God. Some folks acknowledge that they’re guilty of transgressing God’s law, but not everyone admits that such a transgression means judgment. They seek to justify themselves. The most common way this is done is by comparing their morality with those around them. “I’m guilty, but I’m not as guilty as this guy!”
That’s not how it works. Most followers of the way will point that out. It’s not the standards set by the world or the people around us, it’s what God commands us. And yet when the topic of modest dress comes up, I find many Christian women justifying their attire in the same way. “I’m not dressing as immodestly as that girl!”. Sometimes that’s true, and sadly sometimes it’s false. But is it an acceptable answer or is it not so different from the folks getting grilled on WOTM?
Paul speaks to the Church in 1 Timothy 2 on some inherent issues men and women have. He points out that men have a problem with anger, and that women have a problem with modest dress. So the apostle says that women should “adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire…” (1 Tim. 2:9). But what exactly does “respectable apparel” mean? That’s the sticking point that allows a number of interesting apparel choices to go unchecked in worship services. Respectable attire, in the modern evangelical vernacular means dressing nearly as provocatively as the world, but not quite. Consider a description of immodest dress given in an article by Doug Wilson:
There are three common problems with immodesty in women’s dress – too much, too little, and too tight.
“Too much” is flamboyant or ostentatious – dressing like a hooker. The sin is not avoided if a woman uses “gold, pearls, and costly array” in order to look like a courtesan – a higher class of hooker. In either case, a woman can send immodest signals even when everything is covered. This means that her immodesty consists, not in what she is doing at that moment, but in what she is promising to do later. The language of her clothing states unambiguously that, however much of it there is, it comes off easily enough.
“Too little” means cleavage, vast expanse of thigh, that sort of thing. Women with this problem dress like a sale at J.C. Penney’s – forty percent off. Too often Christians assume that this kind of skin exposure is the only possible “modesty problem.” This is not true, but it remains common nonetheless. This immodesty is compounded by girls who wear short skirts and who do not know how to sit like a lady, showing the world what’s fore and aft.
“Too tight” is the most popular mode of disobedience among modern evangelicals. The whole world is invited to gawk at the topographical evidence concerning exactly where her underwear starts and stops, along with the exact condition, location, and size of her breasts. Many Christian women go to worship today dressed in a manner that would have gotten them thrown out of a bar fifty years ago. Ah, Christian liberty.
So if this is a problem (and it is) is the answer for women to dress in burlap sacks or to for church gatherings to look like a Little House on the Prairie convention? Nah. When Paul speaks to not wearing gold or pearls or costly attire or braiding our hair, he’s not legalistically saying that these things are bad in and of themselves. Rather they’re bad if they’re being used in a manner that does not lead to good works and godliness. So the solution is to ask how we’re glorifying God with what we wear and how our clothes might impact the brothers and sisters around us.
This is something that often just isn’t done. A pair of jeans are purchased and often the only question that was ever considered was whether or not it made the wearer’s butt look good, or big but rarely is there a purpose to wearing a piece of clothing specifically designed to make my posterior look as good as possible to whoever is looking. Should a husband have the right to visually look upon the garden that is his wife? Absolutely. Should I? Not at all and yet all to often Christian women dress in a manner that offers just that. Some of them do it on purpose. Most of them know not what they’re doing, but why would they if they never stop to ask?