It can be uncomfortable talking about dress, but it is a necessary conversation for the church in the 21st century.
Last week’s article, “Churches, Worshippers Ponder Proper Attire,” brought up some common themes of dress in modesty and judgment. A problem in the conversation of dress is that people are not seeking to love their neighbor and to glorify God.
This conversation should be about modesty and judgment, but it should be had under the umbrella of seeking the good of one’s neighbor and the glory of God.
The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor. 10:24, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” Jesus speaks in Matthew 22:39 of the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Romans 12:10 says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
There are countless places in the Bible that speak of a Christian’s responsibility to love and honor one’s neighbor.
The sentiment that is often put forward in this discussion of dress is, “I can wear what makes me feel comfortable, and people need to stop judging me.” The sentiment exalts self over one’s neighbor, which is the exact opposite of the Christian message.
We believe that we are not our own, but have been purchased through the blood of Christ. Therefore, a Christian must not seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor as demonstrated in Jesus’ seeking our good in death and resurrection.
Although our culture loves to tell others to stop judging, Jesus wants us to judge ourselves. He says in Luke 6:42, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.”
It is easier to tell others to stop judging than it is to ask oneself, “Does my dress honor and seek the good of our neighbor?” America may value individualism as its supreme virtue, but Christians are called to seek the good of the community.
Another unbiblical sentiment is expressed as, “I really care about God because I dress up for church, unlike those informal, casual types.”
Luke 18 mentions the Pharisee who exalted himself because of his external obedience, which did not impress God, who sees the heart. We are never exalted before God because of our external appearance, but because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
So does your external dress reflect an inner heart of worship, or is it an attempt to exalt yourself before others?
Whether formal or informal dress, God does care about our hemlines, for it reveals and reflects our hearts.
Pastor C.J. Mahaney says that, “Any biblical discussion of modesty begins by addressing the heart, not the hemline.”
Through the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control. These godly virtues are controlled by the heart.
Paul says a woman should be concerned with modesty, because it is a reflection of her heart and her profession of faith. A Christian woman – and, likewise, a Christian man – should dress for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Our dress is a reflection of our faith and our faith is a reflection of our God.
So does your dress show modesty and self-control? Does your dress seek the good of your neighbor and the glory of God?
There should be a healthy discussion about what is appropriate dress for a church service, but the discussion should not only be centered on the church’s gathering.
Christians have a responsibility to live for God’s glory 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even in their dress.
If we do not frame the discussion within the larger framework of a Christian’s life in loving God and loving our neighbors, and if we continue to focus on the hemline, then we completely miss the heart.
God wants a change of heart, not just a change of the hemline.
The Rev. Dave Kiehn is the pastor at Park Baptist Church in Rock Hill. He can be reached at email@example.com.