A Plea for Modest Dress in the Church

The topic of modesty today invites three basic responses: rolled eyes, rationalization, or an emphatic "yes!"

David and Diane Vaughan discuss this topic in their book, The Beauty of Modesty: cultivating Virtue in the Face of a Vulgar Culture (Cumberland House, 2005). The Vaughans are bold and clear as they take on the problem of immodesty in the culture, and especially, in the church.

Beyond dealing with immodest dress and actions, the Vaughans point to the source of the problem, the heart condition, and they approach the topic in a positive way, not with a judgmental attitude, or through a lens of legalism, pietism/subjectivism, relativism, or parochialism. They don't make the mistake of creating an old-fashioned perspective of modesty, reaching back to the Victorian era, for example; rather, they show that modesty is based in the timeless and timely scriptures, and a principle of behavior for every generation.

The real problem, they say, is the struggle in our culture between secularism/paganism and Christianity ~ opposing worldviews. And it is one's worldview that is reflected in behaviors and choices.

Although the book discussed the need for and nature of modesty in men, children, and especially in "women professing godliness," the chapter that broke my heart in this book was Chapter 3, "The Cultural Captivity of the Church." The church is losing its saltiness, the Vaughans explain, and is intellectually lazy and morally flabby. When the church justifies sexual sins, it adopts an "alien worldview."

Later in the book (Chapter 10, "In the Courts of the Lord"), the authors deal with church order as it relates to modesty ~ how women behave and dress in church (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Female followers of Christ, they say, must "develop the virtue of modesty." Paul's admonition to women in these verses was presented in the context of corporate worship, suggesting that a person who dresses immodestly in church is trying to get attention, rather than promoting the praise and worship of God.

There is great liberty in the body of Christ, but not license to dress immodestly, or to entice others to sin. It's a matter of choices for personal purity, based on biblical truth and the truth about how God created men and women.

I recently heard a woman, clearly dressed immodestly in a short skirt and see-through blouse, citing her liberty in fashion. The men in the church "are the problem," she said, with their lustful hearts. Men do struggle with lust, but women are responsible not to incite or inflame that struggle. The human body is good and beautiful as a creation of God, but "Modesty serves to accentuate moral beauty over physical beauty by averting our gaze away from the body," the Vaughans write.

The Vaughans also note that the grand rule of Christian fellowship is love (Romans 14:15). "If your brother is grieved by your clothing, and yet you insist on dressing that way, then you have demonstrated that you do not love your brother. You really love yourself," they write. "What is more important, your hot clothes or his holy conscience?"

Though a woman may profess godliness, if she is causing (through her own choices) a brother's stumbling, she is not acting according to the principles of godly behavior.

Sadly, in many churches, a woman's wrong thinking is never addressed. Church members should care enough to speak the truth (and confront or warn) in love (Ephesians 4:15) and to stir up love and good works in the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:24). And within the culture of the church, staff members must provide the example of modesty. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

"It is a holy God who walks in our midst," the Vaughans write. "We must be holy for Him. And our holiness will be reflected in how we worship, how we pray, how we serve, and even in how we dress.

"In the presence of the Holy, we cover ourselves."

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