Plain Clothing

Some independent Baptists and fundamentalists in general seem to be reacting to the worldliness of many churches by adopting a “plain clothes” style that is akin to the old Mennonite fashion. I can understand the rejection of worldliness, but I question the plain clothes position and fear for its end result. We should not establish doctrine and practice on the basis of “reactionism,” but upon solid Bible teaching. 

I know of dozens of families and churches in five states that are moving in this direction.
The Charity Fellowship (which I have written about elsewhere) has had considerable influence in popularizing the plain clothes position among some independent Baptists. 

Following are some comments I would like to make about the “plain clothes” position:

1. I believe in liberty.

The believer is free to dress as he or she pleases before the Lord within the bounds of biblical modesty. When Romans 14:4 says, “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?” it is talking about judging others on the basis of the Bible’s silence. When the Bible is silent on a matter, there is personal liberty before God, and to make laws that go beyond Scripture is legalism. This is obvious from the context. Paul used the example of diet to illustrate his principle (Romans 14:2-3). There is no divinely-ordained New Testament diet, so this is a matter of liberty.

Immodest and unisex styles of clothing aside, there is individual liberty in dress. As far as I am concerned, you can wear a 1930s B.C. Ur of the Chaldees pleated robe or a 1930s A.D. Zoot suit! 

Please understand that nothing I intend to say here is with the objective of taking away your freedom in Christ or discouraging earnest people who are seeking to please God. If you want to dress in some kind of plain uniform, that is your business at the end of the day. 

You say, “It is my choice; I don’t make it a law for others.” Well and good. I’m not here to condemn godly people who want to do right before the Lord, but I would challenge you to examine why you have chosen a particular style and its possible repercussions. 

2. I believe in modest dress. 

Our book
Dressing for the Lord goes into the subject of modest dress in considerable detail. The Bible definitely has something to say about how we are to dress in this sin-cursed world. Dress is not a “non issue” or a “non-essential.” Dress is a language. Men look on the outward appearance and are affected by the outward appearance. The giving up of modest and godly standards of dress is one of the signs of end-times apostasy and is a large step toward the emerging church. 

In this plain clothing article we are not dealing with immodest or ungodly styles of dress, but I wanted to remind my readers of my position on these things so there will not be confusion. 

3. Woman is the glory of man

The Bible says the woman is the glory of the man and her hair is given for her glory (1 Cor. 11:7, 15). There is nothing wrong, then, with the woman fixing herself up in an attractive way as long as she is modest. 

The prudent woman of Proverbs 31 didn’t dress plainly. She weaved wool and flax and clothed her household in scarlet (Prov. 31:13, 19, 21). 

The word “modest” in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 means “restrained by a sense of propriety, not bold or forward, not loose, not lewd ... not presumptuous or arrogant ... chaste, pure” (Webster 1828). It refers to discretion and moderation. When Paul says, “not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array,” it does not mean that the Christian woman can’t fix her hair or wear jewelry or make up of any sort. This is a doctrine that has been forced upon the passage and it puts people into a legalistic bondage. It means, rather, that this must not be the woman’s emphasis and it should not be done in worldly excess. The external appearance and fashion should not be what characterizes her. She should be characterized, rather, by “shamefacedness and sobriety and good works” (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Paul is talking about moderation. 

This is clear when we compare Scripture with Scripture. Consider1 Peter 3:3-5:

“Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

If this passage is pushed to extreme literalism, it would say that the woman should not put on apparel, which is ridiculous. Ever since man sinned in the Garden of Eden, it has been God’s will that the man and woman be clothed. In reality, Peter is saying the same thing as Paul, that the woman’s focus should not be on adorning her hair and wearing jewelry and following the latest fashion, but her focus should be on developing an attitude of godly submission to authority and “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” 

Again, it is a matter of moderation as opposed to ostentatiousness. For a woman to fix up her hair within moderation and to wear some type of modest jewelry and makeup and such is not wrong. It becomes wrong when it ceases to be moderate and modest, when it detracts from godliness. Her external appearance should reflect and adorn her inner character rather than contradict it. 

It is obvious that there is a lot of personal liberty in the context of this biblical principle.

4. We must not strain at gnats and swallow camels 

Jesus charged the Pharisees with straining at gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23:23-24), because they focused on things of lesser importance to the destruction of the most important. They majored on the minors. There are two great lessons here. First, Jesus taught that everything in Scripture has some importance (contrary to the popular “in non-essentials liberty” doctrine), but He also taught that everything is not of equal importance and should not receive our equal attention. 

A correct interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 3 helps us avoid the carnal attitude of judging every little perceived infraction of apparel. I am reminded of a family that left a good independent Baptist church because they disagreed with how that some women in the church wore slight heels and the pastor wouldn’t restrict them from singing in the choir on that basis. Some can’t countenance any makeup or any jewelry whatsoever. They are so focused on this type of thing that they can’t minister properly to those with spiritual needs. 

They are straining at gnats and swallowing camels. 

Once you start down that road, where does it end? Typically it results in a critical spirit whereby instead of seeking to help people, the individual judges them and tries to stay away from them.

5. The Great Commission will result in churches that are deeply imperfect.

A Scriptural church that is focused on fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8) will be deeply imperfect, because it will be populated by new believers who still carry lots of worldly baggage and by people representing broken homes and such who in this life will never achieve a level of ideal Christianity and family life. 

When brethren of the previously described mindset come together in an attempt to form a perfectly separated church built around a strong family emphasis, they are in danger of forming an inward-looking cult. Those in society with deeply defective families (meaning the vast majority today); those who are divorced or living together out of wedlock and are in a spiritual and moral mess; those who are single, etc., don’t feel comfortable enough around them to be helped. But these are the very types that Jesus sought out and ministered to. 

We have been church planters since 1979, and the church we are working with currently is eight years old. Practically all of the members were won to Christ out of Hinduism and the world in general as opposed to coming from other churches. Most of the members are either divorced or on their second or third marriages or married to unbelievers or single. Several of the women are married to unbelievers, and they are mistreated, some even beaten. Every week in our main service we have a representation of female visitors who dress immodestly and wear idolatrous tikkas and male visitors with ponytails and earrings and such and who are idolators and fornicators and drunkards and liars and thieves. Of course, our objective is to see them saved and sanctified, but it doesn’t happen overnight.  

This is what you find in churches that are reaching the community with the gospel. It’s messy business! 

6. The principle of being all things to all men

Along this same line, I believe the adoption of Mennonite-like “plain style” uniforms can infringe on the Pauline principle of being all things to all men.

“Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32, 33).

Paul didn’t want to offend people for no good reason, because his objective was to win them to Christ. 

Looking back, I don’t think someone who dressed like the Amish could have won me to Christ. It appears too cultish, too strange. 

By all means, I am not advocating dressing in worldly fashions in order to fit in the world. That is unscriptural. The child of God has no liberty to disobey Scripture for any objective whatsoever, regardless of how noble. Thus, a believer has no liberty to dress in unisex or immodest fashions. 

What I am saying is that Paul’s principle tells me that we should dress in a manner that allows us to “fit in” with society as much as biblically possible in order to communicate the gospel most effectively. 

We are called peculiar people in Scripture, but that does’t have the modern meaning of odd; it means that we are God’s exclusive possession because we have been purchased by Christ. The Greek word translated “peculiar” in 1 Peter 2:9 is translated “possession” in Ephesians 1:14 and “purchased” in Acts 20:28. 

The child of God shouldn’t be odd for odd’s sake, because he has a higher calling than merely to dress as he pleases. 

We should be separated from unbelieving society by our godliness rather than by living in communes and wearing eccentric dress.

I realize that for a woman to dress modestly and godly in this present world will mean that she will stand out. For a woman to wear a modest dress today instead of pants will guarantee that she stands out from the crowd, but an attractive, modest dress is one thing, whereas a plain style costume is another. 

7. The danger of tradition becoming law

How did the Amish get to where they are today? I am referring to those who ride around in horse-drawn buggies, refuse to use electricity, and dress alike in uniforms. How did they become living museum showpieces?  How did they become the epitome of Pharisaical legalism? Their lifestyle can’t be defended from Scripture. It’s ridiculous, actually. How did it happen?

I will tell you how it happened. It happened
gradually over generations as tradition became law. 

At first some of them wore suspenders and black hats as a matter of choice and personal liberty, but eventually this settled into a law whereby everyone had to conform to the same vain tradition. Those who joined them had to give up personal liberty and were required to submit to the group tradition. 

It happened originally through a desire to be separated from the evil of this present world system, but they gradually turned sound biblical separation into cultish isolationism. The Amish today, typically, don’t win people to Christ, and if they do they turn their converts into the same type of legalists and isolationists that they have become.  

I will conclude where I started. We must not establish doctrine and practice on the basis of “reactionism” (reacting to the worldliness of typical churches), but upon solid Bible teaching and principles. We must flee from legalism as from a dangerous snake. I am referring to exalting human tradition to the authority of divine law, as the Pharisees did. 

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