The Christian's Appearance

The Christian is to take up his cross and follow Christ. Those who are born anew in Jesus Christ are new creatures in him and have "put off the old man with his deeds [and] put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge" (Col. 3:9, 10). Because of this change, they will no longer live by the world's life style. As Paul wrote, "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:2). This is a central truth in the Christian knowing what the will of God is.

To "be not conformed to the world" is to "be not fashioned according to the world" (ASV) and "do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world" (NIV). This is the natural outcome of discipleship, in response to the preceding verse: "by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom 12:1). This can be done by being "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (v. 2b). The two actions allow the Christian to "prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (v. 2b).

These truths will effect the Christian's appearance and dress. The serious Christian will not follow the fashions of the sinful world. The world is not interested in living a life patterned after the Word. The unregenerate prefer dress that draws attention to their bodies, and which reflects extravagant and changing fashions. Christ spoke of the danger men face: "That whosoever looketh on a women to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). The motivation behind the Christian woman's appearance is not to draw undue attention to the physical form of her body. The Christian man, likewise, should seek a godly appearance. There are evils to avoid and principles to follow in Scripture for proper Christian dress.

Paul, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, wrote about Christian attire: "that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefaceness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array" (I Tim. 2:9, 10). Another version states,

    that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment. ASV

    I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive cloths, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. NIV

The Christian women should dress modestly and not costly, or outlandish, to draw attention to herself.

Paul is not the only New Testament writer who addressed the Christian's style of dress. Peter, through the same guidance of the Holy Spirit, wrote that Christian "adorning let it not be that outward adorning of platting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or putting on of apparel: But let it be the hidden man of the heart, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (I Pet. 3:3, 4).

    Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart. ASV

    Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit. RSV

    Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine cloths. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. NIV.

The KJV and ASV versions are not as clear today as was when they were written. It would be absolutely ridiculous to think that Christian women would not put on clothing. The problem is that "apparel" referred to robes or fine clothing when the KJV was written. The Christian women should not be vain in appearance to attract attention to her body. It is not fancy and fashionable outward adornment that is important but the hidden inner self, that is, the women's heart or personality. "These Christian virtues are far more than adornments which are put on for a while so that men may see and admire and are then taken off again" (Lenski).

Both Paul and Peter's mention of platting or braiding the hair does not refer to the simple braids many young Mennonite, Amish or other girls have, but to first century's elaborate and startling coiffures.

Since women do not generally look upon men as men look to them, Christian women may not think modesty is all that important. Because of this they should pay attention to what their father or husband, if married, or the church says about dress. If they don't, they can get caught up in the immodest life style of the world.

Clarke writes about the form of early dress in I Timothy 2:9:

    That women adorn themselves, kai tas yunaikas en katastol kosmio. The apostle seems to refer here to different parts of the Grecian and Roman dress. The stola seems to have been originally very simple. It was a long piece of cloth, doubled in the middle, and sewed up both sides, leaving room only for the arms; at the top, a piece was cut out, or a slit made, through which the head passed. It hung down to the feet, both before and behind, and was girded with the zona round the body , just under the breasts. It as sometimes made with, sometimes without, sleeves; and, that it might sit the better, it was gathered on each shoulder with a band or buckle. Some of the Greek women wore them open on each side, from the bottom up above the knees, so as to discover a part of the thigh. These were termed phainomarides, showers (discoverers) of the thigh; but it was, in general, only young girls or immodest women who wore them thus.

    The katastola seems to have been the same as the pallium or mantle, which, being made nearly in the form of the stola, hung down to the waist, both in back and front, was gathered on the shoulder with a band or buckle, had a hole or slit at the top for the head to pass through, and hung loosely over the stola, without being confined by the zona or girdle. . . . A more modest and becoming dress than the Grecian was never invented; it was, in great measure, revived in England about the year 1805, and in it, simplicity, decency, and elegance were united; but it soon gave place to another mode, in which frippery and nonsense once more prevailed. It was too rational to last; and too much like religions simplicity to be suffered in a land of shadows, and a world of painted outsides.

    With shame facedness and sobriety. The stola, catastola, girdle, etc., though simple in themselves, were often highly ornamented both with gold and precious stones; and, both among Grecian and Roman women, the hair was often crisped and curled in the most variegated and complex manner. To this the apostle alludes when he says: . . . Not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearl, or costly raiment.

    With shame-facedness or modesty, meta aidous. This would lead them to avoid every thing unbecoming or meretricious in the mode or fashion of their dress.

    With sobriety, meta swphrosuvas. Moderation would lead them to avoid all unnecessary expense. They might follow the custom or costume of the country as to dress itself, for nothing was ever more becoming than the Grecian stola, catastola, and zona; but they must not imitate the extravagance of those who, through impurity or little of mind, decked themselves merely to attract the eye of admiration, or set in lying action the tongue of flattery. Woman has been invidiously defined: An animal fond of dress. How long will they permit themselves to be thus degraded?

Clarke seemed to have caught the sense of Paul's thoughts on dress. The modest dress he described is a long ways from the current world and Christian idea of proper dress. The first-century Christians could follow the general dress style of their culture with some minor modification, but twentieth-century Christian women surely cannot follow today's popular dress standards. Clarke's ending question concerning dress-"How long will they permit themselves to be thus degraded?"-needs answering. The answer of Christians should be, "No longer!" They should throw away their slacks and blue jeans, and their form-fitting and short dresses and adapt a form of dress following the biblical standards. It sure would be a noble act of Christian women to adopt the stola or the Mennonite and other plain groups' modification of it, the cape dress. These clearly are designed to modestly cover the body. Churches should encourage Christian women to look away from the world's patterns to such a dress pattern, not in a legalistic way, but in a way that encourages Christians to follow biblical standards.

There is another area of woman's dress that the Scripture speaks to, that is, the wearing of slacks, jeans, etc. First, let us say these should have no place in the Christian woman's life because they are immodest.

Secondly, these type of cloths are condemned as an abomination by God. Deuteronomy 22:5 states, "A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whoever does these is an abomination to the Lord thy God." Well, one might say, isn't this a part of the Mosaic Law that Christ done away with? Brenneman answers this objection. Concerning a study of Deuteronomy, Brenneman wrote:

    It seems clear there are certain things that our holy God abhors and despises. Among these are idolatry, deviate sexual behavior, using the power of Satan in an attempt to determine the future, taking unfair economic advantages of another through false measurement, and the breaking down of the distinction between the sexes in clothing.

    What are the implications of this? All of us would agree that the above list with the exception of the last item are things which are eternally wrong because of their very nature. We conclude they are still despised by God. His holy nature revolts against them. Therefore they are not mere Old Testament prohibitions but abiding principles based on the nature of God. But what about Deuteronomy 22:5?

    Dare we say that clothing does not involve a moral issue? The other sins mentioned in this study are unquestionably evil. Dare we conclude that because our American culture approves a certain practice that it also has the blessing of God? Would we not be far safer in saying that any form of dress which tends to break down the distinction between male and female in any way is to be avoided because the eternal holy God calls it an abomination? The Word of God, not peer pressure or cultural approval, is our only safe guide (from "Abomination, A Word Study," Pastoral Messenger, reprinted in the Sword and Trumpet, April 1978).

Thus slacks, jeans, etc. are not to be worn because they are immodest and called an abomination by God.

A Christian must remember that the way a person dresses is a definite indication of what kind of person he or she is. Attire can be an important part of our testimony. Dress for both man or woman should respect the Bible principles of modesty, with ornamentation, non-conformed to the fads and fashions of the world, and express humility and simplicity.

A person should ask himself, What does my dress tell others about me? Does it draw attention to the me or bring glory to God? Am I consistence in my dress? Some can see the Bible's commands of not wearing gold, pearls, and such but have no problem wearing look-a-likes. Gold-colored watches, round pearl-like buttons, etc. This is legalism, that is, living according to the letter of law and not according to the spirit of the Word. "Soft jewelry," things like ties, lace, ruffles, etc., can also be in violation of the tenor of the Scripture speaking on adornment. Whenever we look at the Word of God, let us keep the principles in mind and not violate or avoid the intent of its teachings.

Improper dress should not be a problem for the Christians, and if it is, the person should do some soul searching. The person who has repented, being born again, and having taken up his cross to follow Christian should lovingly and joyfully followed the Word.

The quotations from the NIV should not be taken to imply we recommend this version. They are given since this is currently the most widely sold Bible.

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June 22, 2000