Morals have so degenerated that sensuality has become a lost art. In its place is a stark, barbaric, National Geographic-ish exhibitionism. Modesty is actually sexy now.
I was in a fundamentalist camp one summer as the missionary speaker. The rule was that none of the girls could wear pants, just culottes. Fine. The problem, however, was that these girls in the West were active and wanted to do everything the boys did. Fine again. That is unless you are acting as volunteer balayer for rock climbers.
Since I had had a little bit of experience in rappelling and rock climbing I belayed while teens took turns trying to ascend the cliff. Every time I looked up to check on my culotted charge, I caught an eyeful of panties. I mentioned to the pastor that pants would be much more appropriate for the activity. They would be more modest, I suggested. He said, “Modesty is not the issue.” Then he proceeded to lecture me on how women shouldn’t wear anything that pertains to men and blah, blah, blah. (The day you catch me in my wife’s jeans is the day I’m registered Section Eight.)
Well, I don’t really care if you are a no-pants-on-women type of person. I don’t think it makes sense, but everybody has a right to not make sense. My wife wears pants as often as she can. (And so do I.) However, whatever your view about clothes, I happen to think that modesty is the issue. It is the issue even for those people who have liberated themselves so much from the legalism of the culottes-only Gestapo that the mere mention of clothes stirs them up into an intifada. Whenever we begin to talk about clothes they begin hurling the worst insults they can think of: “You Fundamentalist.” (Ouch!) Then they get explicit and pious: “You hard-nosed, out-of-touch, typically-legalistic Fundamentalist. Clothes don’t matter. It’s all about the heart.” But clothes do matter. And since we live in an increasingly immodest society where God’s men are going to have to address the issue (even at the risk of being called a legalistic fundamentalist), I’m going to take the risk.
My wife and I spent the day in Chicago last week. We relaxed for a couple hours at a Starbucks café on the street corner watching people go by and talking. It’s the kind of atmosphere we love: a peopled place that constantly provides fresh reminders that we are commissioned to love them and preach to them. We love people. We love the city. And the city is where people are. People and their belly buttons.
If you’re sitting, your eye level is right around every pedestrian’s midriff. We must have seen a million belly buttons (innies and outies) in the time that it took to sip a caramel macchiato. I consider myself to be a red-blooded male who has a somewhat accurate notion of sexiness, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what is sexy about the navel. And, of course, that’s the least offensive of the exhibitions we were accosted with by our half-naked fellow citizens. But sex appeal is no longer relative to the issue of modesty because immodesty is degrading. An entire culture slouches with the baggy pants. Sensual dress has slipped from the merely coquette to the crass. Immodesty has descended from sensual to just plain stupid.
Morals have so degenerated that sensuality has become a lost art. In its place is a stark, barbaric, National Geographic-ish exhibitionism. Modesty is actually sexy now. A woman with dignity, put-togetherness, and clothes has an appeal that the bare-breasted tribal Amazonian could never have, but half of Chicago dresses like a tribe from some barbaric hinterland. I half wondered if my attractively modest wife didn’t catch the ogling eye of men just because she stood out in a sea of shameless indecency. I know we had to stand out. We were modest.
Now, we are not super-models. We’re not even models. We would never be considered for modeling anything unless there was a job for modeling average. And I don’t want you to think that we were dressed like Mennonites. (Or certain Baptists, for that matter. My wife and I can spot the jumpers and culottes from a long distance whenever we go to Wal-mart. They might as well wear placard signs that say, “I’m from _________ Baptist Church.”) No, my friends, we were not dressed like the Mennonites or culotte-only Baptists. We were dressed like Americans dress when they don’t take their clothes off. I was in shorts and sandals with a polo shirt. Jennie wore capris and a stylish, but loose-fitting top. Hardly Amish. But when a young couple obviously on a date passed our table dressed very much as we were, we wondered if they were Christians or from another planet! Then my heart sunk: probably Mormons. They both looked so attractive I nearly pulled a muscle straining my neck to observe their every move. I don’t even recall what they looked like, but they were attractive because they appeared fresh, clean, and to be the owners of a lost treasure: dignity.
If you want to start an argument, talk about clothes. Suggest that it matters to God how one dresses and you will guarantee vehement opposition from the freedom police within evangelicalism/fundamentalism who are just as obnoxious, emotional, and unbiblical as the clothes police in right-wing fundamentalism. But it is a conversation that God’s men should not shrink from. Some people think that it is none of our business as leaders to offer our opinions on the clothing of God’s people. While I have thoughts on style and ideas about modesty, the point of these posts will not be about how much skin should actually be covered, but rather a justification of the man of God’s interest in the subject of clothing. (And hopefully a kick in the pants to whoever needs to stand up and start addressing it.)
Why talk about clothing? I will suggest five reasons:
1. The ambassadorial obligation.
2. The historical consideration.
3. The attitudinal implication.
4. The sociological impact.
5. The Biblical imperative.
1. The ambassadorial obligation. It should be natural to talk about clothing because we are called to reflect the glory of God in the ambassadorial work of reconciling men with their Maker. Thus, the nature of our calling and the nature of men call for careful consideration of the subject of clothing.
2. The historical consideration. Saints who have lived before us considered the subject of clothing to be one of critical importance to Christian living. The Puritans recognized the importance of a Christian view of clothing.
3. The attitudinal implication. Modesty is not as much about covering as it is about attitude. This is one of the intangible aspects of modesty that cannot be taught by anyone but the Spirit.
4. The sociological impact. There are sociological and psychological implications in clothing.
5. The Biblical imperative. The Bible clearly talks about clothing as in I Timothy 2 and I Peter 3. Clearly, it should not disturb the Believer to talk about what God talks about! Nor, should it surprise us if He has some instructions for us to follow. If we are truly yielded to Him we will not hesitate to seek out the mind of God on this sometimes sensitive subject.
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