Modesty Wars – the conservatives vs. those who are not

The main takeaway in my Too much skin, girl. Too much skin article was the following:

I exhort you to dress in such a way which does not capture the gaze of any person. It matters not if you’re male or female. Our Christian duty is to point people to Christ.

Paul said it this way: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)

To glorify God is to spread His fame to all the world by making His name great in your sphere of influence. He is the One we are to magnify because He is the only hope for this life and the life to come.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! – Psalm 34:3 (ESV)

Paul taught us how everything we did should have a magnification of the LORD focus. This is an all-encompassing command from the apostle. Most certainly this means our thoughts on clothing must fall under the rubric of spreading God’s fame.

What is your motive?

The starting place for all of our decisions begins with the motives of the heart. When you buy a clothing item, what is your motive? How do your motives influence what you wear?

Maybe you can ask the question in reverse: how do your clothing choices reflect your motives? What do your clothes say about you as a person? What do your clothes say about your relationship with God? These should be soul-stirring and heart-penetrating questions.

I think sometimes we forget we are missionaries. Where we live and how we present ourselves matters. Missionaries who live in foreign places are cognizant about how their life and message works in tandem to communicate the Gospel of Christ to their area of the world.

Though we are not missionaries in the sense in which most of us understand the term, we are missionaries nonetheless. We are aliens who have been placed within the human community to share the Gospel to the perishing.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 2:11-12 (ESV)

We are either influencing or we’re being influenced. If you do not spend time thinking about your clothing choices with a motive to spread God’s fame by those choices, then you’re more than likely not influencing your culture for Christ, but are being influenced by your culture.

The modesty wars

This brings us to the modesty wars within the Christian community. I suppose there are several factions in this war. For this article I have separated the factions into two main groups–the conservatives and the non-conservatives.

My conservative friends clearly see the dangers of dressing sensually. They are not blind. In this respect, they are generally more clear-headed than our less conservative friends.

They know sex sells and are painfully aware how too many of their brothers and sisters in Christ are promoting the sensual cause of our culture. Their goal is to resist what they believe to be a deadly error in judgment.

I agree with them. As a counselor I’ve had the opportunity of seeing their complaint in a clearer way than most Christians. Sensual thinking and sensual attire is nearly always associated with adultery, porn, general marital problems, and divorce.

This is a serious matter which is not arguable from a biblical counselor’s perspective. Adultery, porn, and divorce are not isolated behavioral events, which have no relation to a person’s motives and choices.

You don’t fall into adultery or make an out-of-the-blue decision to live a lifestyle of porn. There is a long trail which leads to these patterns. The beginning of that trail finds its genesis in the heart of a person.

Over and again a couple will come to me with issues such as adultery or porn and you’ll nearly always discover sensual patterns of the heart, which have spilled out into their lifestyle.

My conservative friends have something to say about these matters because they are correct in some of the things they have observed in the Christian culture. I think sometimes the place where they err is how they over-steer the car.

Anybody seen Jesus?

It is possible to draw attention to yourself by dressing in such a way in which you become a hindrance to the Gospel. Jesus was a relevant guy regarding how He dressed, as best we can understand how He related to His culture.

He wasn’t ostentatious or showy and He was not oddly conservative in His dress. When someone spent time with the Savior they said, “No one ever spoke like this man” rather than, “No one ever dressed like this man.” (See John 7:46)

There was nothing about Christ’s appearance which distracted His audience from His message. He fit into his culture. He was not in the conservative or the liberal camp. He was outside both camps (Hebrews 13:13).

There were times when people could not find Christ in the crowd because He looked like the crowd (Matthew 26:48). It appears He did not dress in such a way to be noticed. They were more aware of His character and His message than His adorning.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. – 1 Peter 3:3-4 (ESV)

An appeal to my conservative friends

There are generally two groups of Christian people who miss the point on the modesty issue. Christians in each group have their own ditch they like to hunker into while tossing grenades at the other side:

  1. My conservative friends, who have an unbiblical view of worldliness and, therefore, dress as opposite as possible from their culture.
  2. My anti-conservative friends, who have an unbiblical view of modesty and, therefore, dress as opposite as possible from their conservative friends.

When you wear culottes to the beach or dresses on a ski slope, you are not making God’s name great. This is akin to the Corinthians speaking in tongues in the church meeting without an interpreter. It was confusing to the non-Christian community of Paul’s day.

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? – 1 Corinthians 14:23 (ESV)

Amish-type clothing choices do not, by-in-large, point unregenerate people to Christ. The cross of Christ is foolish enough (1 Corinthians 1:18). We don’t need to place hurdles in front of the cross which confuses, distracts, or hinders our unregenerate friends from thinking about Christ.

Irrelevant attire becomes a cultural anomaly which garners a few looks, but then is quickly marginalized and dismissed as something to be mocked or devalued. It becomes a distraction to the Gospel.

This is what happened to me. Before I became a Christian I thought being a Christian meant I had to ride a bicycle, wear black slacks and shoes, with a white shirt, and black tie.

To top it off, I presumed I had to have a badge on my white shirt which said, Elder Rick. I did not know Mormons weren’t Christians, but I did know I did not want to be what they represented by their clothing choices.

Their anti-culture dress standards made no sense to me. Their message was lost in their apparel. Since their message was heretical, my being lost was not a bad thing, but I have heard many stories how the message of the cross has been obscured by hyper-Christian conservatism.

An appeal to my non-conservative friends

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. – 1 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)

Guard your heart so that your freedom in Christ is not a stumbling block to your weaker brothers and sisters in Christ who sincerely believe they are right on this issue of modesty. (See 1 Corinthians 8)

Too many of my non-conservative friends have also over-reacted. Their over-reaction is what I call the grace mistake. They have become overly focused on what they came out of–legalism–and are reacting by going too far into liberality.

This is a misunderstanding of freedom. They don’t want to be like what they disdain, so they choose to yoke themselves to their culture rather than their conservative brothers and sisters. Many of them are motivated more by anger at legalism than the spreading of God’s fame.

If you’re caught in this trap, then I appeal to you to care for your conservative brothers and sisters. Love them. And while you’re doing so, make sure you are not distracting your unregenerate friends from the point and purpose of the Gospel. They need to know Christ more than your coolness or your relevance.

Yes. Be cool. Be relevant. But remember Christianity is not supposed to be hip. The message of the cross is as anti-cultural as it can be. Christianity is a death march. It’s a call to die to yourself.

You should have a counter-cultural heart condition, which should drive all your choices. Paul and Peter were clear on how our calling to Christ should be counter-intuitive to cultural norms.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, – Philippians 1:29 (ESV)

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 1:21 (ESV)

Be cool and be relevant, but for the sake of Christ make sure you model something which is far superior to cultural relevance and hipness. Our world needs to see the hope we have in Christ which sustains us through our deepest trials.

An appeal to my brothers and sisters

Joseph was the sexiest slave in Egypt.[1] He had no church, no Bible, no friends, no church clothes, and no help. But God was with him and it became obvious to all (Genesis 39:2).

In one of the most isolated times of his life, everyone knew God was with him. How about you? How does your life communicate God is with you? Do your clothes get in the way of the message of Christ?

The Savior was a root out of dry ground and there was no beauty that we should desire him (Isaiah 53). Rather than getting a makeover, He stayed the course, went to His death, and even today He is turning the world upside down even today.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? – Matthew 6:25 (ESV)

Can we keep the main thing the main thing? Life is more about pursuing God than what we wrap around our bodies. Do not err in your legalism or your liberality. Guard your heart, love your God, serve your neighbor, and send an unobstructed message to your world.

I exhort you to dress in such a way which does not capture the gaze of any person. It matters not if you’re male or female. Our Christian duty is to point people to Christ. – Rick Thomas

In this series

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  1. [1] Quote from Charlie Boyd
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About Rick Thomas

Rick is an author, speaker, consultant, and podcaster. He has been training in the Upstate of South Carolina since 1997. After several years as a counselor and pastor he founded and launched his own training organization in order to encourage and equip people for more effective living. In the early ’90’s he earned a BA in Theology. He then earned a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry and in 2000 he graduated with a MA in Counseling. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow with ACBC. Today his organization reaches people around the world through consulting, training, writing, and speaking.
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