Let’s Hear it for (gulp!) Modesty! (Part Three)


This third post on the subject of modesty will be much shorter, because it is perhaps my weakest point, but I still consider it to be valid. Let me remind you once again that my intention is to argue the case for pastoral teaching on the subject of modesty. Naturally, my own opinions will worm their way into all of my writings, but I hope that they do not obscure the main points that I set out to discuss in my first post.

I believe (secondly) that modesty must be addressed by pastors because

2. Saints who have lived before us considered the subject of clothing to be one of critical importance to Christian living.

The Puritans, for example, recognized the importance of a Christian view of clothing. (I can hear the groans even now as soon as I mention “Puritans!” “Of course,” some will exclaim, “the Puritans were overly scrupulous and unbearably rigid legalists who never smiled. How in the world can you use them to bolster your case?” But hold on. They should be listened to.). Christians have always discussed clothing, and it will continue to be an issue until we are in Glory. My point here is that it is ridiculous for today’s Christianity to roll its eyes in contempt on the outdated weirdos who have the gall to think that Christians ought to be concerned about the distinct Christianity of their dress.

In his classic definition of a Puritan, John Geree included the Puritan’s view of clothing.

He was sober in the use of things of this life, rather beating down the body, than pampering it, yet he denied not himself the use of God’s blessing, lest he should be unthankful, but avoided excess lest he should be forgetful of the Donor. In his habit he avoided costliness and vanity, neither exceeding his degree in civility, nor declining what suited with Christianity, desiring in all things to express gravity.His own life he accounted a warfare, wherein Christ was his captain, his arms, prayers, and tears. The Cross his banner, and his word, Vincit qui patitur [He conquers who suffers].

In the above excerpt, I notice five factors that, according to Geree, were considered by the typical Puritan when he or she put on clothes.

1. The clothing was not extravagant. “In his habit he avoided costliness”

2. The clothing was not showy. “and vanity”

3. The clothing was not presumptuous. “neither exceeded his degree in civility” This is a fascinating point. The Puritans strongly believed that Believers should submit to the Sovereign will of God for the lives by being content in the social class wherein they had been placed. As I will show in a future post, there is actually record of some disunity that occurred in the Ancient Church over the more stylish apparel of a woman who was later vindicated as godly. But, in the main, it seems that while some Puritans were wealthy and others very poor, all thought it right to clothe in accord with his class.

4. The clothing was not inappropriately unstylish. “yet he denied not himself the use of God’s blessing, lest he should be unthankful, but avoided excess lest he should be forgetful…. nor declining what suited with Christianity, desiring in all things to express gravity.” This should vindicate the poor Puritans who are often denigrated as party poopers. It is a stereotype to portray the Puritan as belligerent obscurantist. They did not see anything godly in weirdness. It behooves us to remember that strange is not a spiritual quality and if our strangeness is inappropriately unstylish we may be drawing attention to ourselves, an act that counteracts a Biblical goal of modesty! Thus, it is my humble opinion, that skiing with culottes over the ski suit weird. I am personally disinclined to see any spiritual virtue in it.

5. The clothing was functional. “desiring in all things to express gravity” They were pilgrims on the earth and their clothing showed their contentment to be what God wanted them to be and do what God wanted them to do. They would not waste God-given energy and resources chasing after the latest fad.

Let me ask: Do you, in your dress, avoid costliness and vanity, neither exceeding your degree in civility, nor declining what suits Christianity, desiring in all things to express gravity?

I have decided not to include lengthy quotes from the Puritan William Perkins (not the founder of the restaurant!) because they are almost too strange to tolerate. He clearly taught (and his teaching was consistent with others of that day) that it was inappropriate to dress like one had money when he didn’t. Now in our day of mass production and the possibility to get name brand stuff on sale at discount malls, the “offense” may not be as obvious. But I think that the same “sin of the spirit” is still alive and well. Vanity in clothing is immodest.

While our modern sophistication may resent the “puritanical fanaticism” of men such as Geree and Perkins, we must remember that these men and women were saturated with a Biblical worldview. It would do us well to remember the truths of Scripture that God has made both the poor and the rich (Proverbs 22:2) and that He expects us to live in contentment in abasement or abundance (Philippians 4:11). It is quite possible, then, that an inordinate amount of clothes in our wardrobe, a constant compulsion for more clothing, and disproportionate spending on clothing is rooted in rebellion to the tenth commandment (“Thou shalt not covet”), ingratitude, and dissatisfaction with Providence! Clearly, a biblically-based discussion on clothing must include more than just an emphasis on sexual discretion.


Note: I will be going back out of town and under the care of Deer Ridge Ministries again this week (highly recommended to you weary pastors and pastors’ wives out there), but the blog will be monitored. If you have any direct questions for me, please email me.

P.S. As for the disappearing/reappearing “recent comments” in the sidebar, that phenomenon will continue until we can get the spam commentia situation under control. Thanks for your patience on that.


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One Response

  1. As the father of three daughters, this is a very relevant topic for me.

    I thought I would throw out a question as it relates to modesty being connected to sxuality/lust. I realize this is an absurd and probably insensitive question, but it has rattled around in my mind (and should probably stay there) for a while.

    What if an “unattracive”, obese girl wearing very skimpy clothing actually repels my glance? Is she being immodest? After all, isn’t immodesty, dress that causes a man to lust?

    I have asked that question of a couple people and they gave me a weird look (deserved, I’m sure) and then said, “of course she’s immodest.” I asked, “why”? Some did not answer me at all, while others just said, “because, she is.”

    My convictions about modest dress have begun to formulate over the past year as a result of seeking a legitimate answer to that question. I have been meditating on our standing before God and our position as ambassadors. In addition, someone I respect gave me a working definition that has helped me. This person said, “Immodesty is anything that detracts attention from your countenance.” That could be, as Bob has said, a prairie jumper, a loud, obnoxious tie, or a bikini.

    Sxuality and Lust both fit into this definition. Appropriateness and distinctiveness also fit into this definition.

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