Friday, May 4, 2012

Who Defines Modesty?

For some reason modesty seems to be one of those topics no one wants to discuss.  If they do want to discuss it there are two mindsets that generally prevail: Legalism and Liberty.  But, of course, there is also a third option: the mindset of humility and really wanting to understand what biblical modesty is.
“Love for the beach and the “undressed Life” is so deeply embedded in modern American culture that to question its propriety is thought to be the height of legalistic Pharisaism, a return to Puritanical kill-joyism.” Jeff Pollard, Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America Pg 50

Bishop Vincent Aslop once said that a man must have “a very hardy spirit, that shall dare cross the stream or stem the current of a prevailing luxuriancy.  So that, to have a finger this ungrateful debate, must engage him in Ishmael’s fate,--to have every man’s hand lifted up against him; seeing it is unavoidable, that his hand must be set almost against every man.”

I found more of the Bishop's words to be humbling, for I had not thought of it in this light:

“[Love] will lend us one safe rule—that we impose a severer law upon ourselves, and allow a larger indulgence to others.  The rule of our own conversation should be with the strictest; but that by which we censure others, a little more with the largest.” (Emphasis mine) Vincent Aslop, The Sinfulness of Strange Apparel, in Puritan Sermons 1659-1689 in Six Volumes Vol III

I don't expect everyone to dress like me.  The fact of the matter is, just because stylistically someone may not dress the same, does not mean the standards change.  It is not entirely about the outward apparel, but when anyone says "modesty" in Christian circles most jump to that conclusion.  But what really matters?-The heart.  There is a difference between two ladies in the same exact outfit; for out of the heart the mouth speaks, you will know them by their fruit; one will be chaste, pure, and humble in both her apparel  and actions, the other will be modest in appearance but not in the heart/outward actions.  Does that mean you throw the baby out with the bath water and forget about dressing modestly?  I vehemently and boldly declare: NO.  The standard is not the culture it is the word of God.

I recently finished the book quoted earlier called, "Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America" by Jeff Pollard.  I found it quite insightful.  He begins by addressing biblical modes of dress, then explains what biblical shame and nakedness meant, and even assesses the modern day dilemma of immodest apparel, and the deliberate demise of being covered up.

So, it's not a matter of pointing to a verse and God saying, Thou Shalt wear garments of this likeness.  Jeff Pollard does a very good job at addressing the fact that God did indeed give the standard of dress in the Garden of Eden and by that, we can ascertain just what the typical garments were like in biblical times.  It's not rocket science.  But those of us who do not understand Hebrew or Greek miss some very important things, which teachers may help us to understand.  (Note: I said understand.  Not dictate our lives, but to teach us the word of God).  

Here is an excerpt of biblical dress:
"Though we have no 'snapshots' of Adam and Eve's apparel the word coats is consistently used throughout the O.T. to mean tunic like garment.  Coats in Gen 3:21 is kuttonet (Hebrew, keth-o-neth or koot-to-neth) from an unused root meaning to cover.  The kuttonet was the ordinary garment worn by man and woman as seen in the tunics of skin worn by Adam and Eve (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol 2 s.v. "Dress").  This shirt-like garment usually had long sleeves, and extended down to the ankles when worn as a dress coat.  'Hard-working men, slaves, and prisoners wore them more abbreviated-- sometimes even to their knees, and without sleeves (Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary s.v. "Dress").  Several well known lexicons echo that it was '[the] principal ordinary garment of man and woman, worn next to the skin (The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon)... a long shirt-like garment usually of linen (James Strong, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible)... Adam's was made of fur (Theological wordbook of the Old Testament)."
-Jeff Pollard, Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America.

For several pages his point is to show that from the neck to knees was standard dress, and even going down to the ankles.  For men AND women.  This was the design God gave.  He even designed the Priesthood clothes (Exodus 28:1-5).  God did design modest apparel.  

It progresses to man's design for clothes, and how the American public slowly undressed.  It is unsettling how blatant the agenda was in makings strides to more revealing swimsuits.  What is striking is not that he goes about this from a legalistic "lets condemn the secular culture" standpoint, rather, he actually lets the secular culture tell the story about how they achieved more and more revealing swimsuits/clothing.  So, when did the culture deem it acceptable for males and females to swim publicly together?  Was it ever scandalous for a man to swim with his upper torso exposed?  When did the bikini enter the scene?  If you want to understand the history behind modern trends in fashion and how we got here, read this book; all of these questions are answered in this little book with reliable sources and footnotes.

Why would we want to press the limits of modesty in apparel, when God has laid it out in His word that we are to be modest?  This is not limited to the outward appearance.  In truth, immodesty is actually quite selfish.  Modest apparel and modest behavior display humility, it is not seeking attention by its very nature.  On the contrary, immodesty is self-seeking and wants self-glorification as well as attention showered upon itself.  This includes so much more!  I find the Westminster Larger Catechism to be very helpful in teaching the "so much more!".

Q. 137:  Which is the seventh commandment?
A: The seventh commandment is, thou shalt not commit adultery.
Q. 138: What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?
A: The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping  of chaste company, modesty in apparel... shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto.
Q. 139: What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A: The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel... unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.

What is more, the Westminster divines gave scripture proofs to their works.  If you are interested, you might find this website helpful.

As if that is not convicting enough, the men of old, brothers in the faith who faithfully taught the word of God to their congregations, have plenty to say about modesty.  I personally found, as I read through these men's words to be very humbling and convicting.  It was a sobering reminder that modesty is not all dress, but so much more.  I want to be a godly lady and I want to be a godly wife.  I don't want to stop short of what I wear, but to submit to my Lord and Savior as He works in me to conform me to His image... to honor and glorify Him with my lips, my actions, my heart, and my apparel. 

To address the notion that it is all the man's fault and women can dress however they want because of "liberty", I find Richard Baxter's words to be eye-opening.

Women sin when their clothing tends “to the ensnaring of the minds of the beholders in shameless, lustful, wanton passions, though you say, you intend it not, it is your sin, that you do that which probably will procure it, yea, that you did not your best to avoid it.  And though it be their sin and vanity that is the cause, it is nevertheless your sin to be the unnecessary occasion: for you must consider that you live among diseased souls!  And you must not lay a stumbling-block in their way, nor blow up the fire of their lust, nor make your ornaments their snares; but you must walk among sinful persons, as you would do with a candle among straw or gunpowder; or else you may see the flame which you would not foresee, when it is too late to quench it… You should rather serve Christ with your apparel, by expressing humility, self-denial, chastity, and sobriety,  to draw others to imitate you in good, than to serve the devil, and pride, and lust by it, by drawing men to imitate you in evil.”
Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory in Baxter’s Practical Works Vol 1.

Why do not more pastors teach on this subject?  Why do the youth leaders seem to have their vision blurred to this topic?

“garments were given to cover nakedness and the deformity that was introduced by sin; therefore the apostle saith, ‘Let the women adorn themselves in modest apparel’… the leaving the breasts naked, in whole or in part, is a transgression of this rule; they uncover their nakedness, which they should veil and hide, especially in God’s presence… yet usually women come hither with a shameless impudence into the presence of God, men, and angels.  This is a practice that neither suits with modesty nor conveniency; nothing can be alleged for it but reasons of pride and wantonness; it feeds your own pride, and provokes lust in others.  You would think they were wicked women that should offer others poison to drink; they do that which is worse, [they] lay a snare for the soul; [they] uncover that which should be covered… Christians should be far from allowing sin in themselves, or provoking it in others.”
Thomas Manton, Sermons upon Titus 2:11-14 in Manton’s complete works Vol 16 

John Bunyan (generally known for his book Pilgrims Progress) said this:
“Why are they for going with their… naked shoulders, and paps hanging out like a cow’s bag?  Why are they for painting their faces, for stretching out their neck, and for putting themselves unto all the formalities which proud fancy leads them to?  Is it because they would honor God?  Because they would adorn the Gospel?  Because they would beautify religion, and make sinners to fall in love with their own salvation?  No, no, it is rather to please their lusts… I believe also that Satan has drawn more into the sin of uncleanness by the spangling show of fine clothes, than he could possibly have drawn unto it without them.  I wonder what it was that of old was called the attire of a harlot: certainly it could not be more bewitching and tempting than are the garments of many professors this day.” (Emphasis mine)

What say ye?  I have not quoted scripture profusely because I believe the Larger Catechism Scripture Proofs will be immensely helpful in that process.

But again, I ask, What say ye?  

I say it is humbling and convicting all over again.  Is Christ my Lord?  Is Christ my trajectory?  Is Christ my aim in all that I say and do?  With shame and a heavy heart, I cannot say that is the case in all of my actions.  I sin. I do not always glorify Him with ALL my actions.  But how gladdening it is to know the conviction of the Holy Spirit!-How much comfort it brings to be brought to repentance.  I want to know the state of my own heart when I do sin against my God.  I am learning and growing ever more.  Even in this area, I have room to grow.  I praise the Lord that He is refining me, that He has chosen me, and sanctifies me!  I need it so desperately.  I am in need of my Lord so desperately.  His grace moves me.  His grace sustains me.  His grace alone is what took me from where I was, to bringing me to where I need to be, and not anything that is in me or of me.

So, by the grace of God, I believe He does work in His children's hearts.  Those ladies redeemed by the atoning work of Christ will heed the Holy Spirit.  It IS a heart issue.  But instead of looking the other way, why don't we have dialog going about this?  Not grace to ignore it, but grace to love.  Grace to be open and sisterly about it.  I would not point fingers, but I would charge (myself included) all born again ladies to examine themselves.  Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.  Fall prostrate before the Lord God of heaven and say, Not my will, by Thy will!-and do not decide to do what is easy, but do what is pleasing to the one you love most. (And really and truly, read the book... I wish everyone would read it!).

Sola gratia

No comments:

Post a Comment

Dear Reader,

When commenting, I would appreciate two of the following: first, that with humility of mind you might consider others better than yourself. Second, that you would not use inappropriate language on my blog.

Phil 1:21, Eph 5:3-4.

Thanks! (: