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Modern Modesty - Questions and Answers

by John and Ellen Duncan

Since discussing these ideas with acquaintances, we have received a lot of feedback. Some were personal  attacks deducing that I had bitterness in my life or that I was simply a “liberal." While those are unfounded speculations, these personal attacks failed to address the issues raised. We would like to answer some of the best sincere objections that we have received. Here they are:

Q: If a denomination says for example, "You must dress like Ma Ingalls in order to be modest" that would be adding to the Word of God. If [you] say, "If you dress like Ma Ingalls you're immodest and inappropriate" that is ALSO adding to the Word of God. …because the "prairie dresses" would "draw too much attention to themselves". This is totally subjective and cannot be proven from the Bible.

[ref. Ma Ingalls was from the TV Show "The Little House In The Prairie" based on a pioneer family that lived in the 1800s]

A. One of the points of modesty is that it is not exaggerated but moderate. Are prairie dresses adequate, suitable, appropriate, and moderate for the USA in 2011? Are we as Christians to dress in a way to:

a. draw attention to ourselves or
b. not draw attention to ourselves

The point about drawing attention to ourselves IS a subjective one, since a kilt worn in Scotland would probably blend in, while a kilt worn in Athens, GA would turn heads. So we must consider the current customs of a society.

Ma Ingalls would be immodest if she walked through the Atlanta Airport because she would be drawing attention to herself. However, she may have a personal conviction and still be justified in her “immodesty.” Ma Ingalls could be a great Christian in 2011. There were some in the Bible who broke the rules of modesty for a specific reason. This does not mean that they are not Christians.

Q. It is sad that we have "standards" for electrical codes, building codes, health regulations, drivers licenses, vehicle fuel mileage, safety regulations, pet collars, lawns, customer service, etc but if a church or preacher expects it out of its members they get crucified with words if not by actions.

A. Oh, but Christians DO have “standards” that are governed by Biblical principles and Christians DO stand out. But let us not make extra-Biblical laws regulating length, colors, or other details that the Bible never mentions. Christians should be recognized by their love one for another but I am afraid that some would not be recognized as Christians if they lost their outward standards. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

Q. Yet if we are called to "come apart and be ye separate,” to be, "a peculiar people", the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" and, "a city set upon a hill that cannot be hidden" how can you say that a "little house on the prairie dress" is immodest because it is so drastically different that it "calls attention to oneself"? Might we not say the same thing about Christian T-shirts?

A. I believe that all of the things you have mentioned (“a peculiar people,”  “salt of the earth,” “light of the world,” etc) are accomplished by having a Christ like spirit and loving your neighbor, which runs drastically contrary to the way our society thinks. This is comparing apples and oranges as “dressing in a way that makes you stand out” in itself does not fulfill all of these metaphors.

As far as dress is concerned, we are called to be separate but in a moderate way. We are not to run around naked if the rest of the world does, but to be decent and godly in our attire moderately, not in a sinful way. Christian t-shirts hopefully bring attention to Jesus Christ, not to self.

Certain groups are certainly “peculiar,” though I do not think that Jesus meant for it to be taken as “dress yourself as weird as you can.” Such groups usually do not seem to be the “salt of the earth” or the “light of the world” or a “city set upon a hill that cannot be hidden” since they do not have an impact in our society.

All of these (“a city upon the hill,” “salt of the earth,” etc) are qualities of a people who are affecting and impacting their societies for Christ, people such a Hudson Taylor who became a Chinese (in all non-sinful ways) in order to reach them for Christ. Such people have a zeal and fire for evangelism and a burden for souls which religious groups such as the Amish are not necessarily known for. Even their services are held in a different language for the most part.

Q. Some of your Christian friends are even quoted as saying we should "blend in" with the world. That sounds a lot like the salt losing its savor to me.

A. If you define “blending in with the world” in a sinful way, yes. If the world is running around naked and you take your clothes off to be like them, yes. However, if you are dressing like the Chinese (in a non-sinful, non-lustful, gender sensitive way) to reach the Chinese that is true salt.

I do not recall one instance where it was pointed out in the Scriptures that Jesus did not “blend in” with the world around Him by His dress. I would appreciate it if you could show it to me because Jesus Himself would be losing His salty savor for dressing too much like them if that is so. Remember that back then followers of Christ were few and if all Christians are to “look” different from the world, they should have been able to pick the few out of the crowd, especially in the early church days when Christians were persecuted. That should even be true today in countries where Christians are dying for their faith… I would hate to be the one to say that these brothers and sisters are not being obedient to the Lord because they are not dressing in a “peculiar” way.

Q. "On the one hand you would condemn someone who says, ‘A knee length hem line is too short to be biblically modest’ yet you in essence say, ‘An ankle length hemline is too LONG to be biblically modest.’"

A. No. My stand on modern modesty does not condemn ankle length hemlines at all. As a matter of fact, I believe that most women’s pants legs are longer than the majority of women’s dresses that you refer to, so they cover more.

I should also point out the “straw man logical fallacy” that you used - giving a misrepresentation of the opponent's position and then refuting it, thus giving the appearance that the opponent's actual position has been refuted.

Q. Where I disagree with you … you think the Amish dress is wrong (not because of their possible wrong motives) but because it is so obviously different from the world. This I contend is impossible to biblically prove - which ironically is what you claim is the point of this status

A. You are right. I cannot Biblically prove that the Amish dress is wrong in the same way that I cannot Biblically prove that men’s kilts are wrong. I must appeal to customs, society, etc. In this article, as stated in the beginning, assumes a good heart motive from the start because the focus of the article is “modern modesty” with an emphasis on outward dress. I did this because of the lack of materials available on the subject.

Q. [A modern modest Christian] evidently takes her fashion cues to some extent from the world, as evidenced by her saying that "prairie dresses are immodest and inappropriate" and look as though they "came out of a time machine" yet she also says that, "Yes, if prairie dresses came back in fashion I would probably get one and would think Laura Ingalls was not sticking out like a sore thumb anymore." (!)

[ref: Laura Ingalls is from the famous family TV series "Little House In The Prairie" based on a pioneer family that lived in the 1800s]

A. Yes, we all take fashion cues from the world, even you though you deny it. The Amish have taken their cues from the 1700s, some Pentecostals have taken their cues from the 1800s, and we who wear non-form fitting denim pants are pretty current with what is non-sinful, adequate, suitable, appropriate, and moderate for the USA in 2011.

Again, even an Amish person may have a personal conviction that causes them to be immodest but that is the “cross” of having a conviction. Am I saying that the Amish are going to Hell because of the way they dress? No. I am simply saying that their dress does not belong in this culture at this time.

The Amish have been successful at forming a subculture in the USA.  I believe that if anyone wanted to minister to the Amish – to reach them as a missionary would – this person should dress and behave as the Amish do to reach them for Christ.

Q. When I see Mennonites in my community they ARE very different as you say. But rather than judge them as "immodest" I personally thank them for having a higher standard of dress than the world does... 

A. It seems like you have come to believe that the “more antiquated the better.” The Amish or Mennonite dress is not better or worse from other current modest dresses as far as holiness goes before God. Their modesty or holiness is not “higher” than that of a modern woman who dresses herself modestly and who has a relationship with God just as genuine. They are just two different styles or standards. I think that any Christian woman who is mindful and lives by the principles of modesty deserves a “thank you” for having a godly standard of dress. You may have a personal liking for Mennonite dresses but that does not make them more “godly” or earn them a “higher standard” of holiness. What are you measuring these degrees of standard by? How much skin they cover? The age of the said fashion? The color?

Would a young Christian lady be modest wearing a burga (the muslim female covering with the front mesh) in a service at your church? Should she be praised and encouraged to wear a burga at Wal-Mart? Will she influence anyone to be born-again by wearing one? Is the burga holier than the Amish dress because it covers more?

What then is the highest standard of modesty in your opinion? If the Amish is the pinnacle of modesty, why don’t you and your family dress like them? If they are NOT the pinnacle of modesty, then what is? I know that these are ridiculous questions, but this is my point: when you open the door to an extra-Biblical rule and make it a law, then other rules will be gradually added by the same logic.

Should the Amish fashion once again return to America, the Amish will once again blend in with society AS THEY DID IN THEIR ORIGINS – unless they find that in order to keep their safe distance from the world around them they must change their fashion clock to the 1600s to keep a distinction. :-)

Q: "So what you're saying is, "Get your tongue pierced and attach the ball and chain to your lower lip so you can relate to the modern hip hop culture!" If you can put ‘em in your ears, why not in your eyebrows and belly button? I DO NOT subscribe to the "seeker friendly," "culturally relevant" ideology!  I've read too much early church history to know how "culturally" relevant they were.....NOT!"

A: No, I never said that one must get their tongue pierced. This is the pendulum effect where it is either “all or nothing.” I believe that there is a happy medium, a modern modesty that does not conform to the extremes of our society and that can be achieved in a godly way.

As mentioned before, modesty is a lot more than “being different” in the way you look. You can wear a banana suit and look different but that does not make you modest. The ball and chain example given would violate the first principle covered in this article, which is to not advocate a sinful life by the way you look but to be wholesome in appearance.

I also want to point out that this is a “straw man argument” - presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent's position and then refuting it, thus giving the appearance that the opponent's actual position has been refuted.

Church history proves that AS FAR AS DRESS IS CONCERNED, Christians did not look all that different from those around them but were diametrically in opposition with the way they lived.

Again, I do not recall one instance where it was pointed out in the Scriptures that Jesus (or His disciples) did not “blend in” with the world around Him by His dress. Remember that in the early church they were heavily persecuted for their faith but I do not recall that they were picked out of society by the way they dressed.

Today Christians are dying for their faith around the globe… I would hate to be the one to say that these brothers and sisters are not being obedient to the Lord because they are not dressing in a “peculiar” way where they can be easily picked from the crowd.

Q: "Modest and according to your gender is a very vague answer! Sounds like something I would read in the modern COG Minute Book!"

A: Perhaps this sounds too much like the Bible, which gives principles and not a LIST of what is allowed and disallowed as far as dress specifics go. Does the Bible teach the principle of gender distinction, or does it spell out “pants” and “dresses?” If the Bible did not spell out “pants” and “dresses” then WHO did?

If you claim divine revelation on this, could your claim be different from your neighbor’s claim? Who is to say that your divine revelation is right, while your neighbor’s is wrong if you disagree?

Beware if the Bible is too vague for you, for you will find the need to produce a list of man-made rules and dress standards in addition to God’s Word, much like the Pharisees did in Jesus’ days. The need to condemn whole denominations because their dress standard does not measure up to your personal conviction is also very concerning. Prov. 17:15 says that “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.”

Q: "My wife and daughter's long uncut hair don't affirm the campus culture or any other part of American culture! Their long dresses and skirts don't affirm it! Their lack of make up and jewelry wouldn't get them very far in their affirmation either! What do you think they need to do?"

A: This is what the BIBLE says in a nutshell: gender distinction, not seductive, and not extreme. If they do have a personal conviction from the Lord, then let them live that conviction but with the conscious knowledge that they will be misunderstood, will stand out from the crowd, and should not be expected to be respected for this conviction. A personal conviction will humble you, not exalt you or make you proud and cause you feel holier than the rest of humanity. If they do it with the right intention of heart, their reward will come from the Lord, not from men.

Q: "It will be impossible to live BIBLICAL MODESTY in 2011 without drawing "undue (in your opinion) attention to ourselves"! Now I'm sure you can come up with new definitions to justify a "MODERN MODESTY." The COG, AG, COGOP, PH, and CH can all help you with your article! They have all adopted a "modern" approach to modesty! HOWEVER, I'm not interested in "Camouflage Christianity"!"

A: The difficulty with those who want to live by an additional list of what is permissible to wear is the fact that this “list” varies from person to person or from group to group. The person above may be too “liberal” in some circles because they wear store bought dresses that are not dark in color.

Also this person must understand that there will always be people who are “stricter” than him and who will use the very same Bible verses that he does to prove that he and his family are not modest enough.

This is where having charity out of a pure heart comes into play. This brother, I am sure, would not appreciate being treated as “backslidden” or “liberal” by an Amish Christian because he is not “modest” enough. However, he treats others who are not as “conservative” as him in a way that is not in line with Christian charity and goes on to condemn whole denominations and fellowships. Sadly, this is how many who are trapped in this way of thinking behave. THEY become the standard; anything stricter is unreasonable, and those not as strict are "liberal."

Q: "These quotes are recoiling against those of us who live a separated life in our dress and our music! While I'm not fond of much of the "Holiness Movement", I must say, THEY DID NOT GIVE ME MY CONVICTIONS and THEIR HYPOCRISY WILL NEVER TAKE THEM AWAY!"

A. While no one may have given you your convictions but God, this is the exact reason why you should not impose it on others and deem them as liberals for not following “your” standard of holiness – after all, they did not hear the same voice or revelation for themselves. If you did not get your convictions from anyone, then don’t force it on anyone else.

Q: "The Bible talks about men wearing breeches - so there is your evidence that pants are for men!"

A. Let's go to the text where the Bible mentions "breeches:" Exodus 28:42, "And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach." The Bible mentions "breeches" as an attire that covered their nakedness from the loins to the *thighs* - far from what we call "pants" today that go all the way to the ground. Breeches were merely a pair of boxer briefs (underwear) to be worn under their robes (or "coats") as described in verses 39 and 40 of the same chapter.

Q: "While I have some respect for Mr. Wesley, I'm not sure that statement answers any of my questions. It is yet another vague quote that has no significant value. Let God be true and every man a LIAR!"

[ref. quote, John Wesley said, “As to matters of dress, I would recommend one never to be first in the fashion nor the last out of it.”]

God is true and God is vague in the Bible. Perhaps God did give you more specifics as a personal revelation but this cannot be imposed on others. If you feel like God has spelled out “pants” or “dresses” in the Bible, I’d appreciate to have those references. But if you cannot find it, perhaps you should read the above comment and apply it to your own life: let God be true and every man a liar.

Q: "What are the stick figures outside of the bathroom doors wearing? Aren't women wearing dresses and men wearing pants?"

A. Well, that's nice try but it is not Bible. But if you want to be really accurate with your observation, you need to mention that the female stick figure on the restroom sign is wearing a mini-dress and the man is wearing very tight clothing. :-)  I don't think this helps your point.


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