If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that I’ve been heading in a specific trajectory and there are a whole lot of practical questions that remain outstanding. Now we’re going to be covering a lot of ground quickly, so it seems like it’s time for a quick review of what we’ve covered so far:
In the first post, we introduced the topic and gave a broad look at the categories of women in churches that have concerns about modesty (in various ways). I mentioned the four categories of woman as those interested in a) biblical modesty, b) historic modesty, c) cultural modesty and d) those interested in being “Christian hotties.” So far, this series has mostly aimed providing answers for ladies in categories a and b.
In the second and third posts, we looked at the biblical terminology by exploring the two main passages in the New Testament where the word “modest” appears: 1 Cor. 12:23 and 1 Tim. 2:9. I only did that because the verses with the term “modesty” in them are generally the passages that people talk about when the topic comes up. In 1 Cor. 12:23 we discovered that the idea behind “modesty” isn’t primarily one of appearance, but rather overall demeanour. In 1 Tim. 2:9 we discovered that the idea behind “modesty” is one of “order.” The women that God esteems are women who are marked by restraint and dignity; they’re honourable women. The idea of a woman adorned in “respectable apparel” (“respectable apparel” being “modesty and self-control“) is contrasted with one who is not adorned “with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.” Again, 1 Tim. 2:9 aims at character rather than rules about clothes, though people often take the “braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire” to be some concrete rules about “not dressing like a prostitute.” At the end of that post, I suggested that the idea that “gold and braided hair was the mark of a prostitute in ancient Roman culture” was essentially a myth.
In the fourth and fifth posts, I attempted to thoroughly debunk that myth. In the fourth post we looked at the mark of a prostitute in ancient Roman culture; wearing the male Toga (often made out of thin, revealing Coan silk). In the fifth post we looked at what gold, braided hair indicated in ancient Roman culture; it was the flaunting of wealth and status.
In the sixth and seventh posts, we took a look at the main remaining biblical text that was untouched: 1 Peter 3:1-6. That passage also makes mention of avoiding merely external adorning (“the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear“) and rather adorning oneself with “gentle and quiet spirit“. The whole idea was one of making oneself beautiful (read “desirable”) by means of character rather than clothing, and the situation was one of a wife who was attempting to win the heart of a (rebellious, if not functionally reprobate) husband.
Now, I’m going to wrap everything together as best I can.
That’s basically the extent of my wrapping ability.
Let’s see if I can do better with the idea of modesty in the Bible:
1. The focus of modesty isn’t clothes. The focus is character. The whole idea from the various scriptures we looked at was that women who are “modest” are women who think, speak and act in an elegant and regal manner. In our culture, the term “modest” has become synonymous with a manner of dress, but that’s a very sub-biblical view of the idea. That’s why I suggested (in the previous posts) that appropriate synonyms for “modesty” would be words like “courtly” or “seemly” or “reverence”.
2. Women can be fully covered up and still be immodest. In gaining an understanding of Roman hair and fashion, it becomes fairly clear that women’s hair was a main advertisement of her wealth, not her sexual promiscuity. There are plenty of women in evangelical churches who bare no skin and yet are immodest; they utilize their dress to advertise their wealth in rather overt ways.
3. The women who flaunt their wealth via fashion have no ground from which to look down on the women who show off excessive skin. The women who flaunt their wealth by means of fashion are immodest.
For example, imagine that a women showed up at church wearing an outfit that included this handbag:
It’s not cheap.
It’s not practical.
It’s not superior quality.
It is a whole lot more expensive.
In fact, the sole purpose of having a $4,000 handbag with a highly recognizable logo (for those who know about such things in the first place) is so that certain women will know you have a $4,000 handbag.
That is why it’s immodest to take it to church; it’s sole purpose is to advertise that you’ve spent as much on your handbag as some people have spent on their car.
(And on a side-note, a knock off bag would serve the same purpose and be equally immodest. A knockoff bag is meant to make people think you’ve got a real bag…and the fake ones are still ridiculously expensive too.)
I’m not saying that the women who show off excessive skin are off the hook; they’re just not being immodest (based on what I’ve arrived at as a biblical understanding of “modesty”). Well, they *are*, but that’s not the real problem with them.
Don’t worry, I’ll deal with that issue next.
I haven’t forgotten.
4. Modesty is a concern for both men and women. Guys can (and do) flaunt their wealth in church. It happens in different ways, but it still happens and shouldn’t happen.
Writing as a guy, I know some lads who do things like buy a watch like the one above (or a knockoff, hoping that people will think it’s the real thing). The watch above is a Chronoswiss Opus Skeleton, and it costs more than my first car. Guys who wear $6,000 watches do so because they want other guys to know that they spent lots of money on their watch…because that’s how they roll. They want the people who recognize names like Audemars Piguet to know that they bought an Audemars Piguet, and they absolutely love it when someone is silently staring at their wrist and trying to find out if they’re wearing the “cheap” Millenary or the expensive one.
Buying a $16,000 watch for no other reason than having other people recognize the brand name and recognizing that you spent lots of money on your watch is blisteringly immodest.
The scenario above occurs for men in plenty of other areas; buying cars, clothes, jewelry, computers, etc.
And now for the remaining elephant in the room.
Dressing like a Harlot
Throughout this whole series, I still haven’t addressed what most people think of when they think of immodesty; women who show off too much skin and/or dress provocatively. None of those questions have been answered!
What’s WRONG with me?
What about skirt lengths?
What about causing a brother to stumble?
What about deep necklines or plunging back lines?
What about clothes that force attention to the in and out bits of the anatomy?
What about 1 piece vs. 2 piece bathing suits?
What about the crazy clothing that is ironically meant to represent purity and is involved in most marriage ceremonies?
What about this?
What about that?
I hear you, and those questions are next.
This post is already long and addressing that whole side of things will make this post way too long.
I know, I know.
That’s the down and dirty stuff you’ve been wanting me to get to.
You’ve been waiting for me to talk about clothes, causing a brother to stumble, etc. for eight posts now. I’m guessing that some of you are feeling frustrated; like we’re rolling around but never getting anywhere.
We’re done rolling around the aisles.
The last two posts in this series will deal with that all the issues that people typically think of when the issue of modesty comes up; clothes, skin, stumbling brothers, etc.