It is my opinion that the subject of modesty must be approached asexually.
When approaching a sensitive issue, I like to line up my arguments by starting with the argument that is universally accepted and practically irrefutable. Remember: my point in these posts is to insist that we as Christians – particularly spiritual leaders – need to discuss modesty.
It is my opinion that the subject of modesty must be approached asexually. As has been proven by the preceding post and comments this is almost impossible. Almost immediately the discussion included sexual lust. I can’t help but wondering if this is not why so many discussions on modesty in clothing conclude with the participating parties at loggerheads. The subjective nature of lust (or, more precisely, what provokes lust) complicates the discussion. Therefore, I think it is a good discipline to think in a theological and spiritual vein to the exclusion of sexual implications when we begin our investigation on this subject. As a pastor I have found that approaching sensitive subjects from the objective and unemotional standpoint first usually paves the way for the more delicate and subjective applicational aspect of the controversy. My point with these posts is to defend the notion that pastors must speak to the issue of modesty in clothing. If I can stay focused, I think that many others questions will resolve themselves in the process.
Modesty in clothing must be addressed by pastors because of our ambassadorial obligation. As I stated in Part One:
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.
Clothing and the Ambassadorial Obligation.
I think that we ought to address the issue of clothing because of our representative role here on earth. We live to God (Galatians 2:19). Our bodies are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). No need to belabor the obvious, yet I am persuaded that by patiently and steadfastly ministering the message of the Scriptures not only in “word, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance” that the Christian is a “sent one” (John 20:21) on an ambassadorial mission (2 Corinthians 5:20) the responsive hearer will develop spiritual instincts that will prevail upon his or her selection of clothing. I simply cannot accept the notion that a Spirit-filled woman cannot, with the provided spiritual instincts of the new creation, know what is or what is not modest without the help of a male sinner. Ladies, if you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Galatians 5:16) even if there is no male input on your wardrobe.
The problem, however, is that a number of Christians (male or female) do dress immodestly. I am inclined to think that this problem is more indicative of spiritual immaturity than ignorance on how much skin should be shown before it causes a brother or sister to stumble. That “skin” concern in and of itself is incomplete and, as already stated, literally relegates the decision on modesty to a battle of words on what does or does not incite sexual passions, a quagmire of variables and subjectivity. This leaves the immature believer secure in his or her choice of clothing as an expression of “Christian liberty” and confident that the objections of other Christians are the fruit of overly scrupulous consciences or legalistic morality. It is not only likely to be unproductive, but is also wrong, for a pastor to impose a standard of clothing on the basis of how it is perceived by people (or how it might cause men to think).
The great truths that grip the souls of men and women and enjoy the empowering blessing of the Spirit of God are the truths of redemption, reconciliation, and representation. I am not persuaded that I will have the Spirit authenticating my personal opinions on clothing nearly as much as I am confident that the redeemed person will find true cause to celebrate the fact that we (God’s people) are “the mirror that reflects the whole effulgence of the Divine character” (C. Bridges).
These fundamentals, if preached, when approaching the subject of modesty will be blessed with Holy Spirit authentication in the hearts of all true believers. We are members of the Body of Christ which is the Church (Colossians 1:18). Therefore, we should reflect the glory of God in everything we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). The fundamental Christian principle that should govern all of our conduct is that we are not our own (1 Corinthian 6:19-20). Even as the Father sent Jesus, so He has sent us. We are image-bearers in this world and any action or clothing that desecrates or dishonors His blood-purchased temple should be repudiated. And because it is a fact of life that man looks on the outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7) and that what he sees directly impacts whether or not he glorifies God (Matthew 5:16), it should not disturb us when one asks us to consider how we dress!
The ambassadorial/representative obligation cuts to the heart of individualism. The reason the clothing discussion often gets heated is because our flesh rebels against the suggestion that “we are not our own.” Practically, this speaks not only to the person who may want to show too much skin, but to the myriads of people who choose to express their individuality through clothing with bizarre styles, sloppiness, weird hair-do, extreme make-up, and so forth. That is not modest.
Perhaps the English definition of “modest” would be appropriate here. My dictionaries concur: Modesty (the state of being modest) is having or showing a moderate opinion of one’s own value, abilities, achievements, etc. It is behaving, dressing, and speaking in a way that is proper and consistent with that moderate opinion on one’s self. It is therefore obvious that we can start to discuss modesty without speaking to the issue of lust. The teen with the multi-colored hair, the athlete with the sweaty, naked torso, and the pastor with the extravagant ties may all be immodest. They all say, “Look at me.”
“Look at me” styles are not necessarily sexy. In fact, I know a woman who prides herself on her plainness. She keeps an old-fashioned hairstyle (when she does her hair) and keeps a frumpy wardrobe on purpose. “Won’t have any male stumbling on account of me.” No worry. Her deliberate frumpiness draws attention to her and away from the Lord she claims she wants to serve. Her service is limited. She’s immodest.
The point that I wish to make is that modesty in clothing is not just about skin, shape, and shifting (as one contributor cleverly alliterated), but it is about the whole Christian and his or her representative responsibilities as ambassadors.
I am painfully aware of my representative duties even while I perspire in my backyard. While off duty I might be tempted to relive my African days and present myself to the sun as a flaming white albino, but I am keenly aware of the fact that I have neighbors who could peer over my fence. I choose not to take off my shirt not because it would cause my naughty neighbors to gawk at my buff and chiseled bod. Of course not! I don’t know that my neighbors are naughty and I know that I am neither buff nor chiseled! The point of my “modesty” is not to stave off envy! I leave a shirt on simply because I am acutely sensitive to my day in and day out ambassadorship. While I am naturally concerned about preventing cardiac seizures in the neighborhood, I am more conscious of my never-ending representative responsibilities. I am never off duty. Even before my daughter, I am a representative of the throne of God. The purpose of my modesty is not to conceal an awesome figure (Oh, how I wish!), but to conserve dignity.
Our ambassadorship is not restricted to the testimonial, but includes a mandate to be influential. The sphere of our influence is not limited to the soteriological, but to the cultural as well. Therefore, when the time comes that modesty becomes eye candy (as I suggested in my previous post by saying, “Modesty is now sexy!”), we ought to conscientiously attempt to instill positive influence in society. To be attractive is not to be immodest. Dare I say it??? Even sex appeal is not immodest when it draws attention to the greater and higher standard of beauty and design that the Creator intended.
An ambassador has more concerns than covering body parts. He or she knows that clothing is always symbolic. Hillary Clinton is not usually recommended for her morality, but her wardrobe is consistently professional (and modest). She would avoid the attention that our nation’s number one ambassador, Condoleeza Rice garnered for herself when she wore an outfit that drew too much attention to itself, and not to her office. I remember the article from the Washington Post. It is granted that the columnist is not friendly to the Bush administration, but one has to wonder if the gossip is not true that Rice has toned down her wardrobe since she appeared in the sexy black boots. What American wasn’t at least mildly embarrassed by Dick Cheney’s wardrobe faux pas at the sixtieth anniversary of Auschwitz? He was our ambassador. He looked, instead, like a duck hunter. Cheney (or whoever picks his clothes out) dropped the ball as an ambassador and came across as a belligerent individualist. That’s immodest.
1. 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.
Appendix [Tongue firmly implanted in cheek]: I have been reflecting for some time on how I could get blogspotted by Phil Johnson without appearing like a groveling groupie (I am a fan). It occurred to me in the middle of the night that I should have illustrated questionable ambassadorial qualities of clothing by Phil’s Rick Warren-wannabie Hawaiian shirt and suspicious looking shades. Fundamentalist that I am, I even question his facial hair. I grant that I have facial hair. But that is to cover an ugly chin.
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