Pushing the Edge on Dress Standards, Borderline Modesty vs. True Modesty
The following is from the book, “Dressing from the Lord,” which is available in print and eBook editions from Way of Life Literature in print and eBook editions.
I am not the only one to notice this. One pastor wrote as follows:
“In 2006, I visited the campus of --------- Christian College and attended a chapel service. I was grieved as I watched the students assemble. Many of the girls were wearing tight, form fitting blouses and skirts. There were a lot of skirts above the knee as well as slits that went above the knee. One pastor friend refers to the slit skirt as ‘peek-a-boo’ skirts. How can the young men possibly keep their minds pure as they train for the ministry when so many of the girls are dressing like strange women all around them?”
Another man wrote:
“Our church teaches and preaches separation. Our pastor has even compiled a small booklet on modest dress. Having said all that, we have had and still do have problems. In order to be a choir member or teach Sunday School, etc., we must sign a form saying we agree to the dress standards as well as many other standards of conduct. WHAT I HAVE SEEN IS, YES THEY ARE WEARING DRESSES, BUT MANY ARE FAR FROM MODEST. ... FORM FITTING CLOTHING [IS ONE OF THE PROBLEMS]. A lady can be actually wearing a reasonably nice dress that meets the standard, at least in their mind it does, but the problem is that it is at least a size too small for her! These folks are rarely confronted because they are wearing a dress, you know! I believe we easily forget modesty and become lost in ‘I’m wearing a dress attitude.’ To be honest I have seen more modest pants on many lost ladies than the ‘dresses on our standard-signing church ladies.’ I'm not for pants; I’m just referring to our hypocrisy! It shows either a lack of discernment on their part or a worldly desire to show off the body, maybe both.”
“I am thankful you are writing a book about dressing modestly. It is needed in this day and time when most fundamental independent Baptist Christians think that just as long as they wear a dress that comes below the knee, it’s appropriate.”
A lady gave the following description of the fundamental Baptist church that she attends:
“The teenagers wear the skirts that come to the knee but when they bend over or sit down...well you know. Their tops are low cut with a v and look like they were painted on. … My husband leads the music and he said he can’t even look at the people because there are so many short skirts, etc.”
The problem in these situations is that while the dresses might be long enough (when the woman is standing), they are still not modest because of the way they are cut or what happens to the clothing when the woman is involved with various activities.
For one thing dresses can be cut too low. Many men who wrote to me on this subject mentioned that this is a great distraction and temptation.
But we must understand that modesty is much more than merely covering nakedness. That is only a baby step in modesty. The heart of the truly modest girl or woman is sensitive to holiness and aware of her influence in this world and seeks to be truly modest from every standpoint, caring nothing about fashion or merely “walking on the edge” of modesty.
One major problem is tight clothing. In our survey of Christian men on the issue of women’s dress we found that tight clothing is at least as much of a potential problem for men as skimpy clothing. Most of the men indicated that tight skirts and tight blouses and form-fitting jeans hold a “VERY great potential” for lust.
Consider the following statements:
“You don’t even need to see skin; they provide all the curves.” Another man said: “I would say the Number One problem is any garment that is form fitting, be it jeans, pants, skirt, dress, shirt, whatever. Anything that is tight, no matter how long it is, leaves nothing to the imagination, and that defeats the whole purpose of covering the skin in the first place!”
“One thing I see in my church is tight clothing. Oh, it may very well be covering but it is revealing the shape in a woman. This can be even more tantalizing to a man.”
“The point is that it is not merely the type of clothing that can trip a man up; rather it is the amount and the level of cling to the body.”
Thin clothing can also be a serious modesty issue. One man wrote: “If a woman is standing so that light can shine through her skirt, although she may be covered with a garment, it is so transparent that everything is revealed. A woman can be covered yet at the same time uncovered.”
There are many other ways to be “seductive” even in “modest” clothing. God, through the prophet Isaiah, rebuked the women of that day not only because of what they wore but also because of the countenance and because of how they carried themselves:
“Moreover the LORD saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet” (Isaiah 3:16).
One man wrote:
“It’s not just clothing that can be inappropriate -- also high heel shoes. They cause the hips to gyrate when the lady walks. The secular world told us this, so why is it in the church? Bright red nail varnish on fingernails and toenails, red lip stick, seamed stockings -- that look from the ‘50s and ‘60s. [It screams out, ‘Look at ME!’] It’s not always what the attire is but how it is worn and the woman herself. … Excessive use of perfume and make up -- both designed to draw men; they should be used with wisdom. Also, flirtatious natures and wanting to be noticed by the opposite sex should be reigned in.”
The battleground, of course, as we have noted many times, is the heart. If a lady is worldly in her heart, she will probably not be modest even if fully clothed and she will look for ways to push the boundaries of any clothing standards with the objective of being fashionable and perhaps showing herself off.
A pastor that operates a home for troubled young women wrote as follows, “We have had girls come from homes and churches that hold to strict dress standards, but they carry themselves like strange women in modest clothing because it’s in their hearts!”
It’s in their hearts! It’s in their hearts! Whatever is in the heart will show itself in the dress.
When young women’s clothes are form fitting and push the envelope of decency on every side, it is obvious that one of two things is happening.
First, in many cases the objective is not really to be modest before the Lord but rather simply to obey man’s rules and that only as long as necessary. That is a serious issue that is reflective either of an unregenerate heart or a backslidden one. It has been said that true character is demonstrated by what we do when no one is watching.
Second, there are doubtless cases in which girls and young women simply don’t understand how immodest they really are in the eyes of men. They are naively going along with the current fashion and with the crowd. If this is the case, the lady in question will be open to correction and will respond to plain preaching and teaching and private exhortation on this subject.
How can a church, then, resist the problem we have described and gain true modesty in the congregation? Following are some suggestions:
True modesty requires education. The females must not merely be given a dress code but must be taught the Bible principles of modesty carefully and urged to apply them consistently. This won’t happen through a sermon or a Sunday School lesson every few years. It requires making female modesty a real emphasis in the church and developing a course of instruction that will educate the people properly and in addition to that mentioning it often in the preaching/teaching ministry of the church in a kind and patient way.
True modesty requires example. It is crucial that the wives of the pastors and teachers and deacons and the older female church members understand the issue of modesty and that they are committed to it from the heart and are applying the Bible’s principles consistently rather then just going by a couple of written rules. If there is a failure here, it will be reflected throughout the congregation. If the wives of church officers push the boundaries of modesty, if they are careless about their necklines and if their dresses are too tight and if fashion is more important than modesty, the church will never win this battle. Victory has to start at the top.
True modesty requires exhortation. Teaching is not enough; exhortation is also needed. The preacher is instructed to “reprove, rebuke, exhort” (2 Tim. 4:2). This goes beyond teaching. Reproving, rebuking, and exhorting are all necessary. God’s people have a sin nature that tends to backslide and go after the things of the flesh and the world, and they must be reproved and exhorted to stay in the Lord’s narrow paths. This ministry of reproof is as much a necessary part of the pastor’s ministry as teaching. If he neglects it he is compromising. Both the males and the females of the congregation need to hear reproof on all areas of practical Christian living, and that certainly includes modest dress and separation from the world. Pastors who leave this out of their preaching will find that many things slip in the congregation because of the lack of plain reproof.
True modesty requires consistency in the preachers’ children. It is not enough for a pastor to preach modesty; his family must demonstrate it before the congregation and that includes his children. I have known of many pastors who have injured their ministry by the lack of enforcement of biblical modesty in the lives of their own wives and daughters. I recall a church in Florida where the pastor was a strong preacher and a soul winner, as well as a compassionate man and a good example to the people in many ways. But his beautiful teenage daughter dressed indecently and her poor example and her father’s acquiesce in the matter helped break down the separation from the world in the youth department and many young lives were ruined by the love for the world.
True modesty requires educated, concerned men. It is necessary for Christian men to understand the issues of female modesty and to take a stand for it in their homes and to support it in the church. If the women are trying to be modest but the men are worldly, the men will put pressure on the women to be more “fashionable” and “less dowdy.” (And I must emphasize here that I don’t think Christian women should be “dowdy.” The right choice isn’t between immodesty and dowdiness. It is between immodesty and modest but attractive femininity.)
True modesty requires a wise dress code. I believe strongly in dress codes for Christian workers in this day and age, but the dress code must be thorough. It is not enough to say that the women must wear dresses rather than pants. It should describe all of the important features of a modest dress, that the neck line must not be low, that the clothing must not be tight, that it must be low enough so that the leg is covered properly down below the thigh, that it must not be clingy, that it must not be sheer, etc. The issue needs to be spelled out plainly. The dress standard is not only a code; it is a teaching tool to educate the people on this matter. And dress standards for church leaders and workers is a model for for the rest of the church to follow.
Of course, if a girl or woman is worldly in her heart she will still look for ways to push the boundaries of the standards regardless of how clear they are, but that is a separate problem altogether.
[This article is from the author’s book, “Dressing from the Lord,” which is available in print and eBook editions from Way of Life Literature in print and eBook editions.]
About Way of Life - The name “Way of Life” is from Proverbs 6:23: “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” The biblical instruction that molds men to God’s will requires reproof. It is not strictly positive. It does not focus on man’s “self-esteem.” It does not avoid controversial or unpopular subjects. It warns as well as comforts. It deals with sin and false teaching in a plain manner. It is reproves, rebukes, exhorts with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2). This is what we seek to do through Way of Life Literature. The Way of Life preaching and publishing ministry based in Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, of which Wilbert Unger is the founding Pastor. A mail stop is maintained in Port Huron, Michigan.
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