Asher Witmer

rediscovering Jesus

A Discussion on Modesty

What comes to your mind when you hear that we’re going to have “a discussion on modesty”?

clothes on rack

Forewer/Depositphotos.com

Perhaps you think, “Oh no! Another person is going to tell me how I should dress.” Or maybe you think, “Modesty is not a type of dress, it’s a principle.”

Do you recall a particular sermon that left you feeling sour and used? Or do you think of a really good sermon that you recommend to everyone?

Anymore, discussing modesty is almost like discussing music: we never get anywhere. People have their strong personal opinions and the focus isn’t so much on learning from each other as it is on convincing you that I’m right. But just like music, modesty is actually quite crucial to our lives, though not necessarily for the reason most people think.

If you come from conservative Anabaptist background, which I do, the teaching on modesty is often approached as though it is a certain dress or style of clothing. The extreme example would be the cape dress or wearing long sleeves. Furthermore, modesty is taught as a part of holiness so the assumption is if you’re going to be holy you will wear the cape dress.

It has evolved extensively from this particular example, but that main idea still pervades much of our thought.

In recent years, however, there has been valuable teaching on modesty as a principle of humility. This teaching talks about how it’s possible to be immodest in our “modesty” and plainness. Powerful truths! Yet, a pattern I have seen coming from those that teach this is that people soon discard modest clothing. I don’t think anyone sharing this message would say that because modesty is a principle and not a particular style of dress means that modesty in dress doesn’t matter. But the subconscious, logical conclusion is that “If modesty isn’t a style of dress, but rather a principle, why should I have to dress a certain way?”

Therefore, when people hear this message they let go of any previous modesty in dress.

But what does modesty in dress mean? Maybe they think they are being modest?

And many are.

Two Clarifications about Modesty

Before we get much further in this discussion, there are two things I want to clarify and then two questions I’d like you to answer. Now, I have the luxury of talking at you because this is an article and you can’t interrupt what I’ve already written. But I really want to hear from you. I want this to be a discussion.

I have two main convictions that I will share with you at the end, but I’m not going to tell you how you should dress. I’m not going to tell you what modesty is. I’m going to ask some questions and share observations, but I think this should be a discussion that is open-minded, inclusive, relevant to my generation and the unique opportunities or temptations we face, and above all respectful. I expect to be disagreed with in some things I say, but I value what you have to say. So feel free to share, and my promise to you is that I will moderate comments so that you feel respected.

The first thing I want to clarify is that when we talk about modesty, it’s like talking about worship. What part of worship are we talking about? Worshipping through music? Worshipping through sharing testimonies? Worshipping through hearing the word of God or through prayer? Or a lifestyle of worship, which means my focus is centered on and consumed with Jesus. Worship is pretty vague. If we’re going to get specific we’re going to narrow it down to one of these particular areas.

Modesty is a principle, and it’s one that scripture refers to quite often: being sober-minded (1 Pet. 1:13-16), walking in humility (Eph. 4:1-2), and women are to have a meek and quiet spirit (1 Pet. 3:4). Scripture talks different places about not doing your works so that many see them and praise you, or not adorning or flaunting yourself. So this principle that we are to live with humility, not drawing attention to ourselves but reflecting the glory of God—this principle is biblical. But it touches many aspects of our lives. To discuss modesty is vague. So I am clarifying that we are looking at modesty in our dress.

Here’s the second thing I want to clarify. If you come from a background where your church leaders regulated what you were supposed to wear, it will probably be difficult for you to sort through some of the things we discuss without reacting from your past.

I don’t come from that background. Everything I believe about modesty I came to on my own. I was never told I could not wear that shirt. My Dad had preferences, and that is perfectly appropriate for fathers and their children. As children become adults, it changes—or should. But I do not believe that there is biblical basis for church leaders regulating what people wear. That is an add-on—one stemming from godly intentions. But might I suggest that to do such actually promotes future immodesty in dress because people react to such control.

I want to discuss modesty in dress, but I want to discuss it with you about our dress. Try not to let your past offenses cloud our discussion.

Two Important Questions about Modesty

Along with some of the questions I’ve already asked, such as “What is modesty?” I want to ask you two questions and then I’ll take the rest of the article to discuss them.

  1. Does modesty in dress matter? If so, why does it matter?
  2. Do you and I carry personal responsibility for dressing modestly?

I think much of the frustration felt about the traditional way of regulating modesty is that when we get specific about what clothing should look like, we are drifting from scripture. It’s not that clear in God’s Word what modesty in dress is supposed to look like, yet many times modesty in dress is made a spiritual issue.

If we were to simply go by how specific scripture gets about modesty in dress, I would suggest it doesn’t matter. But what if there is more to it than whether or not you can put a Bible verse behind it? And what if when we see the larger picture, we realize Scripture actually does address the greater issue quite a bit?

Most men are sexually aroused by sight. I can’t find any hard stats on it, but I’d say it’s true for about 99% of men. That’s pretty common knowledge. I doubt any of you will disagree with me. Women should watch how they dress because we men are aroused visually, right?

Did you know one in three women are also sexually aroused by sight? Did you further know that pornography is not just a male issue—women struggle with it too?

I knew this from some of my own research, but was reminded again recently by an email I received from a counselor who works with women. She suggested that the reason these women don’t talk about it is because of the incredible shame that comes with it. It’s common for men to struggle this way (and we tend to shame them for it), but if a woman admits that she struggles that way, she receives all the more shame.

My point is not to discuss pornography, but simply to point out that if 99% of men and 33% of women are aroused visually, that means most of the world (roughly 55%) is sexually aroused by sight. What you do or do not wear sexually affects 55% of those walking around you.

Obviously, if you’re a guy it’s more like 33% of those walking around you, and if you’re a lady it’s 99%. But guys are not off the hook. A man should not require is wife to dress “modestly” if he is not also willing to dress “modestly” for the women around him.

I don’t think modesty in dress has to do with gaining spiritual brownie points as much as it has to do with guarding and protecting our sexuality. People will struggle with lustful thoughts if we are not appropriately clothed and it’s not because they have perverted minds. It’s physiological—the way God made them.

I suggest that modesty in dress matters because it’s the most important element in guarding sexuality because most of the world is aroused by sight. Not only does my modesty protect you from lustful thoughts, it protects me from being used for your sexual fulfillment (and vice versa).

Now I am not suggesting that as long as you dress modestly you will never be sexually violated. Sexual violation is just that—it’s a violation. Someone is using you for their own sexual fulfillment without your permission and with no regard for your personal well-being. It’s selfish, and it’s abuse. And you did nothing to deserve it.

Sexual violation exists because sin exists. Wearing longer clothes does not remove sin from the world.

But not everyone who struggles with lust are sexual perverts. Wearing modest clothes that protect and guard your physical body will help the rest of the world who might otherwise be aroused.

It is interesting to me that when Jesus heals the man possessed by a legion of demons in Luke 8, it says the town’s people came and saw him sitting with Jesus, fully clothed and in his right mind. There is a connection between freedom in Christ and being fully clothed. It doesn’t explain what type of clothes he wore, it simply says he was fully clothed.

Could being unclothed signify that one is not completely free in Christ?

I think modesty in dress matters, but I think it’s dangerous to spend more time regulating specific types of dress as opposed to getting to the heart of the issue.

You and I are personally responsible for bringing glory to God. Which means that when others look at us they should not be distracted by us, but rather they should see God and His glory.

Again, that’s fairly vague. But we know that flaunting wealth around is going to distract people. Flaunting our differentness from the rest of the world is also going to distract people if that differentness is not the result of an indwelling of the glory of God in our hearts. And as I’ve mentioned before, flaunting our sexuality also distracts people.

What I am concerned about is that I’m not sure my generation of American’s (Christian or unchristian) cares about our sexuality.

“If I want to dress this way, isn’t it okay?”

I wonder, sometimes, if we see the value and beauty of having reserved sexuality as both men and women. I’m talking specifically of the physical features that would arouse that 55% of the world’s population.

Paul exhorts us to flee sexual immorality. Then he asks the question, “Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you who you have from God?”

We house an awesome presence. That verse in 1 Corinthians is often quoted for various reasons, but do we realize the incredible responsibility that comes with such holiness abiding in our lives? Because of God’s Spirit within us, we receive God’s love (Ro. 5:5). But with that comes the call to protect our physical bodies.

We all agree that a lifestyle of McDonald’s diet is not good for your physical health. Yet, the Bible never says that. We learn that through physiological studies and personal experience. Could we also learn through physiology that modesty in dress matters?

And if it matters, you and I are personally responsible to do something about it. I don’t think pastors should go around regulating every inch of dress a lady wears. Neither should I demand my brother not wear what I am uncomfortable wearing, myself. But we really shouldn’t have to wait for pastors to come tapping our shoulders or brothers to express their concern. We should already have embraced that we are personally responsible for dressing modestly if I want to protect my own (and others) sexuality.

Apply that as you see fit in your particular context and as you listen to God. But I really believe it does matter and we are personally responsible.

Do you?

What are your answers to the questions? What is modesty? Does modesty in dress matter? If so, why? And are we personally responsible for dressing modesty? I’d love to hear from you! Share in the comments by clicking here.

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About Asher Witmer

I am a son of God, husband, father, and difference maker. I love helping people sort through hard questions they face and rediscover Jesus. I have written three eBooks dealing with church frustrations, and send out daily posts addressing faith, church and relationships.

  • Cheri

    Hey Asher –
    Your post was interesting!
    Out of curiosity, does the Bible say that we should cover oursleves up in order to reduce temptations for each other?
    I read about inner beauty, quietness, submission, but I didn’t find a verse like that specifically. Also, this points back to me for not doing my research.
    Anyway interesting post!

    • Cheri, great question! The first two verses that come to mind are the one in Romans 14:13 that talks about not putting a stumbling block in front of your brother and the verse in Galatians 6:2 that says we are to bear one another’s burdens. That burden has to do with something that is leading him into sin. If it’s causing our brother to sin, we’re supposed to come alongside him and help him to victory.

      However, I purposely avoided making a scriptural argument in this article because that’s part of the problem when discussing modesty. Either we twist scripture to say things it doesn’t, or we say “since there’s no verse that talks about it explicitly, it doesn’t really matter.” However, there are many things in life that we do because of what we know from human experience. We don’t eat a steady diet of french fries because we know from human experience a diet of fries will clog our arteries. In the same way, 2 out of 3 people are sexually aroused by sight. It’s not necessarily lust. It is how God designed us to work. When arousal happens in a setting outside of the context God designed it for, it becomes a stumbling block or burden that could lead to sin.

  • Michelle

    I have heard many of my female friends argue the fact that women are not responsible for men lusting. And they have become angry when people pin women as the fault or reason for men lusting.

    Maybe the reason women are supposed to dress modestly is because we are made to be men’s help-meet. We are supposed to help you not lust either by being married to you or dressing modestly if we’re not married to you.

    This is all part of the whole beautiful relational oneness and unity that various relationships within the church and family are designed to portray the trinity or God’s relationship with us.

  • Randall Horst

    I’m glad to see this discussion, it’s great to exhort each other and have our own beliefs challenged. One thought I’m pondering is whether modesty in clothing is just about covering the body or if it includes not trying to draw attention to ourselves. If modesty includes not drawing attention to my self then I wonder whether plain clothes could be immodest. In a public setting a woman wearing a cape dress does stand out and attract attention to her clothes, (maybe not lustful attention, but it draws attention to herself.)
    Let’s keep having these discussions and seek first the kingdom of God!

  • Hannah

    Okey dokey, time to take a deep breath and join the fray. I, as one of the younger generation, have many questions. (Dear older people, do not despair. Please realize that each generation must ask its own questions, shocking though they be, and each young person must develop their convictions on each situation. If they have no convictions, they will inevitably fall away. We’re not a lost cause…we just need to know Jesus and His power and grace for ourselves. We can’t piggyback on your experiences. So understand that, in questioning, we will become either stronger or weaker. But we can’t avoid the questioning because there is a chance we MIGHT fall away! ) Ahem, anyway, moving on… I have questions….

    My belief is that the mode of one’s modesty is a personal choice. Can that be practically carried out? I really don’t know…one can’t experiment with church standards when one is 17. 😀 But anyway, my question is, we really need these specific guidelines, are our hearts in the right place? (i sound so cliche) But really, if we would all abandon our modest clothing if the requirement was taken away, were our hearts ever really seeking God’s Kingdom in the first place? Quite often, our appearance reflects our hearts. Is it really the best thing, then, to regulate it so everyone must wear the same thing? If we would all be dressing in bikinis if we were allowed, are we pure and sanctified? Really? It seems to me that not having specific clothing standards could almost be a sign of who is actively trying to seek Christ. If “Gertrude” would go off the deep end because she was allowed to wear a *gasp* skirt and blouse, wouldn’t have “Gertrude” eventually have gone off the deep end anyway?

    Well, that was one question. 😛 😀 Another question… One girl brought up the question of whether or not modesty can be relative to the culture. Often this sort of question is brushed off with a sort of “NAH, of course not! Mennonite dress spans all borders and boundaries and is applicable to everyone and every culture in the entire world” (even though it is of very european and western origins). In one way I agree, I suppose. But in some ways, its ludicrous. There are some cultures in which Mennonite dress would be considered immodest. And there are some cultures where far different things would be considered sexual. In India, for example, bare ankles are immodest, while having a small amount of naval or side uncovered (because wearing a saree can be a little bit tricky 🙂 is totally normal and acceptable. Now, I certainly don’t think that American missionaries should go there and start wearing crop tops! But I would think it extremely poor for Mennonite missionaries to go there and preach “to go to heaven, you must wear this outfit that is immodest in your culture.” In fact, I think it a very sad thing indeed when Mennonites press their dress standards onto their converts as though it is key to their salvation. Yes! Preach modest, decent dress! But don’t make people in third world countries have to learn how to sew cape dresses in order to get to heaven. Apply the gospel to their culture. If Botswanans all wear brightly printed clothing, don’t make your converts wear only navy blue and brown. It’s ridiculous. And what’s more important, I think its detrimental to the Gospel in a lot of ways!

    Well, that was an interesting question(lecture)! Thank you, Asher for your well thought out blog post! I really enjoy reading your blog. Sorry for the rant everyone! God bless you!

    P.S. ( i think i’m addicted to exclamation points!!!)

  • A blossom

    I stayed out of the discussion (’til now). It touched too close to a still-healing wound: My church story. Beautiful because of redemption, it’s also ugly with scars.
    I’m writing now to plead for the children whose fathers ask hard questions and won’t settle down. Children whose fathers live and breathe for Jesus, but their honesty, their confusion, and sometimes their bullheadedness, make them unable to fit into the statement of faith and practice you’ve agreed on.
    If they would only conform, you’d love to have them! You really do care. But they just aren’t willing to subjugate themselves.
    Or if they would just go find another church to plug into. You could accept that. But they don’t know where else to go–and you’re at your wits’ end.
    That was my family, all through my teenage years. I don’t have any wise, seasoned advice to offer–only a plea from a young girl’s heart.
    Don’t cut my Daddy down in front of me! Don’t try to set him straight with all the children here, watching.
    Really reach out to us–even if we aren’t making any move to become members.
    Really pursue us if we leave. We may not come back, but we’ll know you care.
    Don’t quit praying for us after we leave–my faith in God and the church (and my parents) has taken a hard hit.
    There were people who honored Dad in front of his children. People who reached out; pursued us; prayed for us. It must’ve been hard. Especially when it changed very little, outwardly.
    There were people who didn’t–and probably felt . It changed very little, outwardly.
    But one response sparked faith in a child’s heart; the other squelched it.

    • A blossom

      For those wondering what on earth the above has to do with a discussion on modesty, one of the issues Dad wrestled with was the cape dress and plain suit.

  • Chris

    I am always troubled by this type of conversation. It seems to only take a short time before the discussion divides into two “camps”: A. Those who promote and advocate church standards as a way to avoid immodesty. and B. Those who advocate for something else. After these two “camps” emerge the discussion gradually seems to center around church standards. Group A thinks you MUST have church standards or chaos awaits. Group B is not sure. They don’t necessarily advocate AGAINST church standards, but, they have some experience with church standards. They are far from convinced that church standards are a solution. I generally tune out when the discussion reaches that point. At that point we are not even discussing modesty we are discussing something else entirely.

    I comment here only to point out one fact. The issue of modest dress is an infinitely simple one. A person need use only one word to sum it up. Desire. Those people who go to churches with “Standards of Practice” who DESIRE to reveal their bodily form through their clothing, do so with relative ease. Those people who DESIRE to serve the Lord and cover their bodies in a modest and discreet manner do so just as easily, regardless of whether their church has rules or standards commanding them to.

  • Ryan Grove

    Many will trivialize this subject as not being a matter of the heart. The interesting thing is that, it seems that modesty does actually affect the heart.
    Finny Kuruvilla addresses this in his message Fashion, Jewelry , and immodesty. It can be found at followers-of-the-way.org

  • Asher,

    I appreciated your article and also the discussion in the comments! I thought you made a couple really good points:

    “But I do not believe that there is biblical basis for church leaders regulating what people wear. That is an add-on—one stemming from godly intentions. But might I suggest that to do such actually promotes future immodesty in dress because people react to such control.”

    “I think much of the frustration felt about the traditional way of regulating modesty is that when we get specific about what clothing should look like, we are drifting from scripture. It’s not that clear in God’s Word what modesty in dress is supposed to look like, yet many times modesty in dress is made a spiritual issue.”

    One of the problems that we have in discussing modesty is that what one considers “modest” and “immodest” is largely based upon their upbringing. What the one lady said above about wearing knee length shorts to a gathering of Old Order Amish versus jogging down the street is a prime example.

    Here’s how it can work: First, explain to a boy, from little up, that ladies in sleeveless tops are immodest and that he shouldn’t look at them if he doesn’t have to. As he grows up, emphasize the sin of looking at immodest women. (Note: that sin is actually a man-made sin. The real sin, according to Jesus, is looking at a woman, immodest or not, to lust after her.) Finally, when he’s eighteen to twenty-something, have him take a modesty survey and ask him if sleeveless tops cause him to stumble. If everything has gone right, he will say yes, as I would have at one point.

    However, if sleeveless tops are accepted in his family and haven’t been made a big deal, he probably won’t have a problem with them.

    For the last four years, my dad has been working on a book entitled The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment. It’s currently somewhere around 400 pages. What he has learned is that while modesty would appear to help prevent sexual sin, it actually ends up backfiring and making things worse. The book is not ready yet, but it will be available for free at http://www.biblicalresearchreports.com/ when it does come out.

    I don’t believe that we should throw all ideas of decency and propriety to the wind and go around dressed like prostitutes. It’s just that making rules about modesty–rules that God has not given–is adding to God’s Word, and as He warns us in Proverbs 30:5-6, it results in us being found liars.

    What God really wants us to focus on is our heart and our attitudes, and being led by Him, and I think a lot of the rest will take care of itself. He tells us that the world’s method of making rules to keep from sinning will not work, and gives us the true answer:

    “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

    “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry…” (Colossians 2:19-3:5)

    Blessings!

    • Roses and Chocolates

      Very well stated. I would like a copy of your dad’s book. Your comments express my heart, especially the Col 2 reference. It helps to remove the “Anabaptist filter” and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Truth to our heart. We just might be a bit surprised at the result. When we ask Jesus to be Lord and Master of our life, that includes our dress too.

  • Tim Miller

    Good evening, Asher. Just a few more questions to keep the discussion going. You make two statements; “I don’t think modesty in dress has to do with gaining spiritual brownie points as much as it has to do with guarding and protecting our sexuality” and “modesty in dress matters because it’s the most important element in guarding sexuality because most of the world is aroused by sight”. Is modesty in dress really so one-dimensional that God’s only purpose in requiring modesty is so that 55% of the community around us isn’t tempted to sexual lust, or to protect us from the lust of that 55%? Are the principles of modesty in dress only given for other’s sake? Doesn’t the Scripture have anything to say about modesty in dress for my own sake? For God’s sake? For issues beyond sexuality? How much does Scripture connect sexuality and dress compared to other issues God raises connected to dress?

    Blessings

  • Tim Weaver

    Just a question, a comment, and a quote.

    Where in the NT do we see Jesus or any of the apostles encouraging independent thinking and expression? Rather there is an encouragement to personal humility, corporate submission, and constant carefulness to avoid offense especially within the church.

    It is not fair to NT teaching to compare the adorning of the body to using our talents to the best of our ability or to the beauty of creation. We are quickly led astray when we attempt to be attractive.

    Doug Bursch says about Donald Miller and other “Christian” bloggers, “In recent years there has been profound growth in the celebrity Christian blogger, author, conference-speaking-guru category. This group of “Christian experts” has increased in audience and influence. Although there influence in shaping the dialogue has expanded, their accountability to the local church has waned. It is almost as if the blogosphere and Christian publishing media industry has created a new crop of loosely accountable Protestant popes: men and women writing and conferencing their church edicts unencumbered by the accountability of experiencing the effects of those edicts on the local church. In other words, they write in seclusion, publish to the masses, conference those they convert and avoid the relational consequences of their teaching at a local church level.”

    Asher, that quote is not meant to anger or offend you; but as a church leader, I plead with you to consider the accountability you assume as a blogger.

    • Tim, thanks for sharing.

      My Dad is a pastor. Has been all my life. And He has a passion for the church of Jesus Christ. He passed that passion on to me and I care deeply about the Bride of Christ. In fact, that’s what motivates my writing. I have great respect for the shepherds among us, and certainly intend no offense to any church leader. Most of my mentors are pastors (including my current local pastor) and I deeply appreciate them and the wisdom they share into my life. If you’d like, I can give you their names and email addresses and you can hear from them.

      Although I understand being a pastor keeps a man busy enough, I would love to see more of our pastors engaging in online writing and using the venues of blogs and so forth to teach and shepherd.

      Thanks for sharing your concern.

  • Old Timer

    We don’t want to wonder too far afield from the discussion on modesty although there are many closely connected issues. So this is not the place to give a complete exegesis on I John 2:15-17, although I think it is relevant to the discussion.

    Do we have a practical application of modesty in our lives or is it relegated to the inner life? When someone says they have never seen immodesty in a church, it is evident they have completely abandoned any application of the principle. And along with that abandonment goes a lot of other Bible teachings. Included is the acceptance of the Protestant “me salvation” as an event rather than the Anabaptist understanding as the beginning of a lifelong pursuit — repentance, surrender, and obedience.

    I would never claim that plain clothes or church standards will bring about a holy or spiritual people. That is the work of God in the heart. I view a common purpose in modest clothing among the believers as an aid and a great benefit to the brotherhood. It is one of the many practical visible issues that binds us together and sets us distinctly apart from the world. This kind of brotherhood is mine by choice.

    I would suggest that those who chaff at a church standard can practice there modesty unhindered in most any Protestant church unhindered. But I believe it will not bear the fruit of a godly and holy people in your family and personal life. We need each other and the strength of common teaching and practice on the subject of modesty, in a group of like minded people.

    Old Timer

  • Chester Weaver

    To those of you would like to research the question of Anabaptist attire consider the following as starters.

    1. Mennonite Attire Through Four Centuries by Melvin Gingerich
    2. Why Do They Dress That Way? by Stephen Scott
    3. Separated Unto God by John C. Wenger
    4. Pride and Humility by John M. Brenneman
    5. The Mennonite Encyclopedia – five volumes dealing with all sorts of Anabaptist/Mennonite topics

    Mennonitism faced an identity crisis about a century ago. To deal with encroaching liberalism, unfortunately the Old Mennonite Church turned to Fundamentalism for some of its answers. Strict clothing prescriptions were part of that generation’s answer to check the drift into general worldliness. This was a departure from the traditional Anabaptist approach to bringing one’s entire life under the lordship of Jesus Christ. The other Old Mennonites who adopted liberalism (a surrender of the ultimate authority of Scripture) a century ago are now struggling with homosexuality issues and the breakup of MCUSA. Ideas have consequences.

  • Sarah

    Old Timer and Chester, can you recommend any sources of information on the history of conservative Mennonite or Amish dress? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that uniform Mennonite dress is a recent development (within the last 200 to 300 years). I’m confused when I hear people recommending the “time-proven” uniform dress of anabaptism. The first couple hundred years of anabaptism had no uniform. Or maybe I’m wrong on that? This is something I’d like to learn more about.

  • Old Timer

    Yesterday I made a mathematical error. It was 55 years ago instead of 65 years ago when I was in high school and college. This does not change my point. A church without practical applications of Scriptural principles will morph into a church like any other around us. Individual interpretations of modesty will not produce the fruit so desired.

    There were some sincere students and faculty in my Mennonite school. The drastic reaction you are forecasting among the “spiritual” in twenty years from now happened in my generation. It will happen again in this generation. People choose what kind of homes and churches they want to belong to and they hlep make them what they become.

    Now really, is a church uniform such a bad thing? Why does the army require a uniform and not leave it up to individual taste? And how about UPS with its bad choice of colors? Or the airlines?

    I’ll say it again. I like to know which side I’m on in the battle and that there are others with me on the same side. Modesty does not stand by itself in church life. Many other practical issues are linked to it.

    What kind of church fellowship do you want to be a part of? What kind of church do you want your children to be a part of?

    Old Timer

    • Rachel Peachey

      Many thanks to our ‘old timers’ for sounding the trumpet! Some of us in the younger generation share the concern you’ve expressed, and by God’s grace we will keep seeking the old paths.

      Chester, we are still sharing the DVD, “A Peaceful Revolution” that you sent us. To anyone who has not seen it, it is quite relevant to this discussion.

      If you are following this discussion with any interest, may I beg you to listen to this discussion at the Anabaptist Identity Conference 2012? http://www.anabaptistslive.org/?p=423

      As a person who comes from a non-Mennonite background, I chose to join and submit myself to a conservative Mennonite church precisely because I appreciate the guidelines, rules, teaching, fellowship, community, love, caring and accountability we share. Folks, there’s nothing out there in that so called ‘freedom of conviction’ that you are talking about. It is unstable, and has not stood the test of time.

      Listen to the message I linked to above, and you will understand why I say, “I would wear pink polka dots forever, if that’s what it takes to protect my children.”

    • Brenda

      So you refer to organizations such as UPS and the military, who have no reliance on the Holy Spirit to control their people, as examples of how the Church of God should be? This is not the first time I have heard somebody do this and I have always wondered how they use 1 John 2:15-17 to endorse “uniforms” for God’s people in the same way a worldly organization would do. This seems very worldly to me–relying on what human organizations can come up with to control people’s actions without the Holy Spirit.

      Maybe my question will finally be answered after all these years.

      Am I completely against church rules? No. I have always been in a church with cape dresses. It concerns me deeply to hear older people refer to organizations, who are not claiming godliness, as examples to younger people of how it works to use the same methods.

      I hope our conservative Mennonite churches were built on much more guidance from the Holy Spirit than UPS or the military. I hope there is a way to have church rules AND the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe having “church uniforms” is a guarantee of being led by the Spirit. We can protect or children and our churches from the world with our rules and still not be led by God’s Spirit.

      Here is my question. With all due respect to you old timers, I would like to hear how this was done. How did the Spirit of God guide the conservative Mennonites to start requiring a “church uniform”? I have studied enough Anabaptist church history to know a “uniform” has not always been required.

  • Seeking God

    Thank you Joanna. Amen and amen! Appreciate your timely and well-written thoughts! Also am grateful for the respectfulness of those who are commenting.. It does seem like this subject can often tend to ruffle feathers.. (Why is that?) but it is God-honoring when we can disagree or offer another perspective without bashing or disrespecting. Thankyou Asher for being willing to talk openly about these difficult subjects! Your blog has been a huge blessing and inspiration to me.

  • JoannaMartin

    This has certainly been interesting! Good thoughts especially on churches deciding dress issues. I dug this article out of my archives, its my response to the original article. It’s a bit lengthy for a comment section, I apologize.

    There has been a question eating at my brain like a monarch caterpillar chomping milkweed.
    It seems every article, sermon and discussion on lust eventually morphs into a exhortation on modesty, and modestly is most often discussed with the primary focus being on preventing lust. That seems a little odd to me. Are they somehow intrinsically conected?
    To be fair, There are a few notable authors and speakers who don’t go this route. Their names are Jesus and Peter and Timothy and Paul.
    Here are their articles on the respective subjects:
    On lust:
    Matthew 5:28
    But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
    Galatians 5:16
    But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
    1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
    For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
    Colossians 3:5
    Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
    1 John 2:16
    For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.
    James 1:14-15
    But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
    Job 31:1
    “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?
    Psalm 119:37
    Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
    Romans 13:14
    But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
    Exodus 20:17
    “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

    And on modesty:
    1 Corinthians 6:19-20
    Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

    1 Timothy 2:9-10
    Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
    1 Peter 3:3-4
    Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
    Proverbs 11:22
    Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.
    1 Tim 3: 2-3
    Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
    (The word translated ‘respectable’ here is the same word used in 1 Tim 2:9 –
    Kismios)
    A little while ago, my husband and I were driving, and I saw it. A house- an enormous, beautifully designed, lavish, perfectly manicured, immodest mansion. “Slow down,” I said. “Look at that house! I want that house!” About three miles on down the road, the ever faithful Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder. “You’re lusting,” he said.
    You see, I have some convictions about being a stranger and a pilgrim on this earth, and about how I’m just a steward of the resources I have been given, and about how spending those resources on my own luxury and comfort is not God-honoring. And I know the end of pursuing luxury and comfort is not what I want for my life. The Bible has a lot to say about it too. Yet in that moment, I wanted what wasn’t mine, and never would be. And that is the definition of lust. To feel a strong desire for something, generally something that is not yours to have. Often used for sexual desires, but not limited to that.
    When I realized what I was doing, I repented, and started praying for those displaced in the Boko Harum terror) which is my current strategy for clearing my mind of materialistically lustful thoughts.
    But here is the interesting part. It never occurred to me to connect my lust with the sin of flaunting wealth. I didn’t feel I should should start exhorting others to live in more modest houses to ‘protect’ me from lusting. I understood that that house had little or nothing to do with my sin. My lust came from places of discontent within me. From the part that is still in the process of sanctification.
    See, the problem with encouraging modesty based on ‘protecting’ others from lust is this: whether I am dressing with the goal of drawing people’s attention to myself, or I am dressing not to draw people’s attention to myself – the focus is still on people! If I had to sum up Peter 3:2-4 in two words, this would be it. Change focus. When Peter was writing, he was living a social climate that placed huge emphasis on outward appearances. His encouragement to women seems to be to stop focusing so much on what you are wearing, and spend time cultivating the beauty of your heart.
    There have been times when I have spent an ungodly amount of time in front of my mirror with ungodly motives – while my thoughts were consumed with trying to impress others being super stylish without being too overtly immodest. But I have also spent an ungodly amount of time in front of the mirror with ungodly motives – trying to get my hair just right and choosing the most conservative clothes I own while my thoughts were consumed with the religious people I was going to be around, and what they might think of my outward appearance.
    Whether you are dressing to attract attention to your body, yelling modest is hottest, or dressing just right to impress the religious around you – in your heart the motivation is still the same. You are dressing to please people, and you are not free. Your focus is wrong. And to tie discussions on modesty to the problem of lust is to keep the focus right there.
    I’m all for modesty. It is an amazing and freeing principle. But can we please discuss it based on its own merits, and not as a byproduct of the battle against lust? It is a concept that is so much bigger and worth so much more than that. Sure, it’s an easy answer, but I think we would be better served by encouraging woman to use the time while they are dressing to pray and worship, rather than thinking about how others might perceive their outfit. Furthermore, let’s not divorce the discussion of modesty in dress from the modesty in the houses we live in, the cars we drive and the things we put on social media. Modesty is a fruit of the redeemed places in my heart where my focus has become, by the grace of God, more on him than on those around me.
    And by all means, let’s discuss lust. But there is a sneaky little thing that happens when I get lust and immodesty all interconnected in my mind. I see the guy wearing the fitted, designer tee shirt and the self-righteous little place in my heart starts going “excuse me, you really think that is a modest thing for a Christian to wear??” And then I look again. And the sin becomes mine. Because somehow thinking he should be more modest distracts me from the fact that I am lusting. My husband has long told me this is true in his life. He feels that when immodesty is always taught beside lust, it makes it easier for him to justify a second look. As in, “wow, she’s dressed immodestly!” As he takes a second look. When he always hears that Christian woman should dress more modestly to help him with lust, it becomes harder for him to take full responsibility for his eyes and thoughts. It’s a direct paradox to how we typically think about this subject. It seems to me it would be more biblical to see more people walking around with missing hands and missing eyes, and hear a little less exhortations on ‘protecting’ others from lust.
    Jesus seemed to understand that natural tendancy we have in the unsanctified parts of our hearts to blame others and justify ourselves. Maybe that’s why, knowing he would send his Holy Spirit with its resurrection power to live within us, the power that gives us more than enough ability to move our eyes, guard our thoughts and walk on in freedom, he spoke about lust completely removed from any discussion of what we might see and be tempted to lust over. He spoke about lust like it comes from inside, like every other sin:
    And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23
    The truth is lust comes from my heart, not from what I see. I can feed my lust by what I look at, but what I see can’t cause lust.
    So let’s talk about lust -in and of itself. Let’s talk about that it is within us that causes us to lust. Discontent? Selfishness? Hidden sin? Addiction? Materialism? Let’s talk about it like Jesus talked about it, in the context of how to root it out of our lives, how to armor ourselves against it, how to give it so little breathing room we render it powerless. And let’s not give our desperately wicked hearts any room to take that second look and secretly justify ourselves ‘because they’re dressed immodestly’.

    If we separate the the discussion of lust from the discussion of modesty, and the discussion of modesty from the discussion of lust, we strenthen both.

    • Amen!

    • Joanna,

      thank you for sharing. Powerful truths, here! You’re right, modesty is much broader than the clothes we wear, and that’s why I clarified for this post I am addressing (1) whether modesty in dress matters, and (2) if we have personal responsibility to dress modestly.

      You see, I think what confuses a lot of us is not understanding the difference between God-given desire and lust. There is big difference. And the sexual arousal a man gets (and many women are this way, too) through sight is not lust. That’s a God-designed arousal and very good. Which I why I suggest modesty in dress matters and, yes, you and I (women AND men) have personal responsibility for dressing modestly.

      But I think what adds to all this confusion is that many churches regulate every itty-bitty detail of their clothing. If the difference between wearing a cape and not wearing a cape affects a man’s sexual arousal, then he is most certainly living in lust. That’s not the type of “sight” I’m talking about when I say we’re aroused by sight. I’m talking about whether things are tightly form-fitting, or being scantily dressed.

      My personal observation is that getting technical over what modesty means exactly is counterproductive. But I do believe modesty in dress matters (just like modesty in housing and the cars we drive and what we put on Facebook), and I believe we are individually responsible for living out modest lives (including dress). That may mean wearing cape dresses for one. It may mean a long skirt for another. And at times, yes, it may mean appropriate pants. For us guys that means keeping our shirts on, not showing our buts and the list could go on.

      I think everyone should be free to apply it as they wish. But dress modestly so that people don’t face a temptation they’d rather not have to face and so we keep our arousing physical features for our spouses.

      Thanks again for sharing, Joanna.

    • Duane Hostetler

      Thanks so much Joanna for your thoughts. So much here to think about!
      I appreciate what you shared concerning lust and modesty finding themselves in the same discussion, but one thing that came to mind as you were sharing about the nice house with the well manicured lawn is that our physical being and are minds are cohabitating. The eye gate is one of the entrances to our hearts. To separate these two in our discussion may have merit, but to discuss them as one and the same has merit as well.

      In fact just because Jesus uses the example of plucking the eye out, rather than being cast into hell with two good eyes, in no way suggests that this is the answer to man’s problem with lust.

      The apostle Paul makes the comment that if eating meat offends his bother, he wouldn’t eat meat as long as he lived. So the idea that protecting each other by what we eat, say, do or wear has a biblical bases.

      If we consider the Genesis account regard man’s fall, we find that clothing and lust do have a lot of common ground. If there would be no lust (sin), we would all be naked, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. That fact remains that the story goes quite differently. God’s original plan didn’t include clothes. It was the sin of lust that brought it into focus, and it was man’s feeble, failing attempt at covering his sin and guilt that created the foundation for what we know today as the “principles” of modesty.

      I really do understand why you’re making the distinction between lust and modesty, and I receive that. However, the Christian family is quite from the society we live in. The world believes that if you leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone, and we’ll get along just fine. The believers in Jesus in the other hand believe that everything touches everything: what I do may have an affect on you, good or bad, and vise versa.

      The idea of clothing starts in the book of Genesis. At least part of Adam and Eve’s original sin included lust, if it was not entirely lust. This in turn brought guilt and shame. In their attempt to cover the shame and guilt, they sewed clothing of fig leafs.

      According to the account we know that their clothing was inappropriate. So God made made clothing that was appropriate. And apart from the discussion about shedding of blood for the atonement of their sin (which has merit), there is more we can learn from this account.

      In fact, in this account, we find the entire principles of modesty. I list them here in three points:
      1) If lust was man’s sin, and appropriate clothing for man’s nakedness was God’s idea, not man’s, then it follows that God wants us clothed.
      2) If man’s nakedness is to be clothed, then sheer clothing are in violation of that principle as well.
      3) If sheer clothing are a violation, then form-fitting clothes violate that same principle, because in this case, nothing is left to our sinful imagination.

      So in conclusion, I want to thank you for speaking so directly to the subject of lust apart from modesty. It is my prayer that I would be faithful myself and do what I can to avert the temptation of lust in others by Godly conduct.

      Many thanks as well to Asher, and all who have commented on this lively thought provoking discussion.

  • James G. Landis

    I’ve heard all this discussion before. Sixty-five years ago. In a Mennonite high school. In a Mennonite college.

    The reaction against concrete standards for modesty does not produce spiritual churches or spiritual people. Unless you believe that churches with no concrete standards that are no different than the world and other Protestant churches are spiritual and God honoring. A look at the fifty and sixty year reunion graduates of my class finds little to offer to the world. Broken homes, involvement in politics, rock style instrumental music, immodest clothing, and no veilings of any kind, to name a few things.

    The above is where the aversion to church standards will take your church. And that school I mentioned, has coed dorms, hires homosexual teachers, and the wife of the former President advocates the use of nude art. Is that modest?

    I love a close fellowship with standards for veilings, cape dresses, and plain suits and that practices the holy kiss. I like the security of knowing who is on my side in the battle for right and truth.

    And according to I John 2:15-17, if you feel uncomfortable being different than the world in the way you dress, you have a spiritual problem.

    Old Timer

    • Chester Weaver

      We Old Timers notice that there is nothing new under the sun. All the contemporary issues were the old issues. The old issues are the new issues. Sometimes the arrogance of youth would like to re-invent the wheel all over again. Why? “New Light” has dawned! Finally, we are getting the thing figured out!

      Don’t confuse me with the facts; I have already made up my mind.

      • Brother Chester, that goes to show something still remains quite broken. I appeal to you, please don’t go the route of belittlement. There are many godly youth who seek to live fully for God, and I’m afraid they would look and ask questions in such a way you would label as arrogant. Is that redemptive?

    • Thanks, James, for sharing.

      I’m not sure that’s a complete or very full interpretation of 1 John, but depending on what the dress is and depending on what the “world” is, the passage is applicable.

      I appreciate your desire for truth and following God. I would suggest, however, that in the next twenty years you will see drastic reaction to strict standards on things that aren’t found so clearly in scripture, and it’s not because those people are just rebellious, but because that’s like putting a band aid on a boil: the problem goes much deeper than making sure people wear the right clothes and have a head covering. If it’s not an internally owned and embraced belief, it will backfire on those who forced them to live by it. And that forcing can come through literal forcing, spiritual intimidation, belittlement, guilt and many other ways.

      Why not preach the Gospel, the beauty of God-designed sexuality, and the beauty of keeping it in the context that God designed it for. I have seen first-hand people come to embrace modesty in dress and the woman’s head covering without ever telling them it’s something they needed to do. And they are so full of Life–true spiritual life. I’m grateful to have witnessed that kind of discipleship, and that’s the way I want to make disciples.

      Thanks again for your input.

      • Chester Weaver

        In any way that I was arrogant in my reply, I publicly apologize. I certainly wish to be redemptive when discussing these issues. I would love to prevent the errors of ignorance that quite frankly appear from time to time. I also realize that prophetic statements are often not appreciated or even understood by the ignorant. (I’m sorry, but am I too strong to be using the word “ignorant”?) In my experience I have literally discovered people saying in essence, “Don’t confuse me with the facts; I have already made up my mind.” So did Jeremiah the prophet.

        On the other hand I delight to observe the honesty, objectivity, and insight that has been presented on this blog. Honest questions deserve good, adequate answers. I am also delighted to observe some young people desiring the entire truth, not just part of it. None of you deserve to be cheated out of consideration of the big picture. A great cloud of witnesses surrounds us and stretches way back into the past. That cloud of witnesses still speaks and we are fools to ignore the message. I hope your voices become part of the ever-expanding cloud of witnesses in your generation.

  • Anon

    My stomach tensed up when I read the title of your blogpost. Our church is in a large Mennonite community and since I’ve moved here from a small church 12 hours away, the tension over this issue has been constant. I think almost every preparatory service before communion has had some issue with clothes. For awhile, I was angry. It felt so legalistic, and to be fair, some of it was. But, like some of the discussion in the comments here, it’s not just that simple. There will be in every organization some people who simply will not comply. If there are rules, they will not follow them. If principle is stressed, they still go their own way. Is there any other answer than revival? I certainly don’t see any! And if you and your church were in a situation where you could quite possibly die for your faith, these issues would mostly resolve themselves. The temptation to stray from what we KNOW God is asking of us would be much more stark.

    Even having said that, my heart and mind are so conflicted here. I did not grow up in a church where clothes were made much fuss about. Principles were taught, there were a few rules, but beyond that there was not much that needed to be said. The heat of the discussions that surround me here are overwhelming sometimes. I almost cry when I think of my three sweet sons growing up in this mess. I have everything here from those that think the woman’s desire to be beautiful to anyone other than her husband is wrong to those that just flaunt themselves and still talk about how modesty is SO important:)

    The points about modesty in men were well put. I get ANGRY and feel violated when a man goes on about modesty in women, but half his rear hangs out when he bends over or his immaculate, buttoned-all-the-way-to-the-top white shirt is so tight that his nipples show. Can you imagine the stir if a woman did that? Hey I’m allowed to be sarcastic – I’m anonymous!:) I do realize that somethings are simply more erotic and make more of a statement when it is from a woman. And not that it’s a big deal, but when someone says women shouldn’t wear pants because they are immodest, then I wonder if their men wear a dress? If its immodest on one, it is on another, right? Just saying, your argument had better hold more water than that.

    Thank you for taking this on. The world is watching Christians in this area and they are so often let down. Please, people! Be honest about how you are choosing your clothes!!

  • Chester Weaver

    Modestly-dressed women are a great blessing to us men. We are not distracted by their physical; we are called to their person. Godly women desire to be respected for their person. Ungodly women have other designs. Often women dress to please the men in their environments. I have read testimony of those who have discovered the liberation that attends modesty. So thank you, to those of you out there who care about the males around you.

    On the other hand, whether or not I feed my lust with what is available to see is my choice. Godly women must not feel guilty for my problem. No woman can make me lust after her; lust is a choice that I make. Lust is a controlling monster for many men but only for the men who allow themselves to be thus controlled.

    I have found a better Master, a pure Master, a Master more powerful than lust. He empowers me to love better values, the values of personhood, respect, and honor. Thus I seek the best for the women in my environment. When they thrive while working in either a godly or ungodly environment, I thrive. Again, thank you to those of you who wear the language of virtue. You preach powerful sermons.

    • I second this, Chester: “Thank you” to everyone who cares about virtue and purity and applies in their lives.

  • Nat

    I just read why Steve Jobs always dressed in the same black T shirt and jeans. He was so intense in his work that to own an assorted wardrobe was another headache, another distraction he could eliminate by simply always wearing the same thing!

    To be that intense for the sake of the illuminati, (another spiritual kingdom) blows my mind! Where does that place me? How much time have I wasted trying to dress to impress? Maybe the line of modest or immodest is dressing or undressing to impress? Am I so intense in Gods work and kingdom that I don’t have time for a wardrobe distraction?

    I suppose dress is more of a struggle for some than others. I love to dress nice and I observe everyone else from head to toe to see how they are dressed and make a mental note of that person according to his/her dress.

    I think there is a certain identity that goes with our dress. Maybe if we found our identity in our work for Christ and His kingdom as Mr. Jobs did for the illuminati kingdom we wouldn’t have time to worry if someone is going to be impressed with my dress or lack there of.

    The reason behind Steve’s dress style has given me much food for thought! Do I have a reason for dressing the way I do? If I do, what is it?

    • Ellie

      “Am I so intense in Gods work and kingdom that I don’t have time for a wardrobe distraction?” This is an interesting question. There are two ways I can think of clothes being a distraction. We can be following the latest styles so closely, and searching so diligently for the next perfect wardrobe addition, that it consumes our time and attention. We can also be following a strict uniform so exactly that it consumes our time and attention.

      Even though I am part of a church with cape dresses and the whole works, and I have no problem with the way I dress, I often wonder if this is REALLY the kind of thing God intended. We dress the way we do partly because we have the luxury to do so. We spend time and money on impracticalities like cap-stye coverings (they are expensive, hard to get someone to sew for you, hard to keep clean, and hard to be comfortable in), dresses that have to be sewn ourselves (the pattern alone can be a major undertaking- making it fit through pregnancy and baby stages and all of our body changes), suits that need to be made over into “straight cut” suits, and finding other clothes that fit certain criteria. Some people just don’t have that luxury. Should we really be pouring our time and money into these things? Do they actually matter to God as much as the other things we could be doing with our time and money and focus?

      I’m not saying the cape dress is, for sure, not the best way. I understand the reasons behind it, and I think there is value in it. But I have a lot of questions. I think we have become zeroed in on our dress because it takes a lot of maintenance (both in teaching and in implementation) and that it has caused us to lose our focus on the things that really matter.

      We have also gotten to the point where we believe OUR level of modesty (by which I mean concealing the body) is the only right way, and anything less is not okay with God. I believe in a high level of modesty, but I believe others who are at a different place can be okay too. God has never laid out any certain way of dressing in the New Testament, and I don’t think that was an oversight. Maybe he intended for us to decide for ourselves, in whatever culture we find ourselves in. How can we say we are the only ones who know God’s intentions for our dress? We are doing our best to please him, and so are some others. Let’s refrain from judging, and keep working to find God’s will for our own lives.

      I didn’t mean to write all that! But that one sentence triggered a whole line of thought. Or maybe that was more than one. 🙂

      • Sarah

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ellie. I agree that there is more than one way to waste excessive time and money on clothes. As a mother, I can also testify that sewing home-made clothes for all the multiple stages of motherhood can be an enormous burden, especially if my children need a lot of attention or if I’m too sick to sew. I like the way you point out that there are multiple demands on our resources and we need to prioritize wisely.

  • Rich

    Many and varied comments come to mind. … one that interested me is as follows: if a group agrees to practice the cape dress for the sisters, they are still not defining modesty, they are trusting that the ladies will be spiritually mature enough to make that cape dress modestly. It is still a modesty issue.

  • Sarah

    I see some people in this discussion think women’s pants are not good. How about jobs that are near-impossible in skirts? Should these be off-limits for women? Or should women do these jobs in skirts and be hindered, sometimes endangered by their skirts? Ever climb down a tall ladder holding tools in one hand and your skirt in the other? I’ve done that, and I’ve also tried pants and seen how much easier they make certain jobs.
    As for pants being a uniform of women’s lib — few Americans connect a women’s pants with the feminist movement. It may have started there, but it stayed because of practicality. Not all of women’s liberation is negative, by the way. Aren’t you glad women can have driver’s licenses and can buy a house if they need one? Even if wearing pants is part of women’s lib, that doesn’t automatically make it bad. Women’s lib is a mixture of positives and negatives.

    • One reason I couldn’t wear pants is because of modesty. Pants simply don’t conceal my figure enough. I don’t think a job that requires pants should be done by women desiring to dress modestly.

      • I live on a farm. Sometimes there are jobs that I have to help my husband and sons with. There are times when wearing a skirt is neither modest nor practical. I find your statement “I don’t think a job that requires pants should be done by women desiring to dress modestly” to be just a tad offensive. Sometimes you have to do jobs like that in life. And believe it or not, I think Jesus is more pleased with a woman who seeks to be modestly dressed (even if that means putting on loose pants for a few hours) than He is with an attitude of a Pharisee in refusing to do what is needful because wearing a skirt at all times is more important than being modest or more important than giving my husband the help he is asking of me.

        I think we need to be careful not to assume everyone’s life is the same as our own. Maybe one of the reasons the Bible does not give exact modesty outlining is because “one size does NOT fit all.”

    • Bradlyn Wadel

      Moral issues shouldn’t be decided on based on convenience or pleasure.

      • Sarah

        When I read the Gospels, I get the impression that to Jesus, the convenience and pleasure of other’s was a moral issue.

    • Bradlyn Wadel

      Pleasure or convenience didn’t change Jesus’ judgement of what was the right thing to do. Matthew 16:24 says “Then said Jesus unto them, if any man will come after me let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” Jesus is our example of making decisions based on truth and right regardless of the consequences even though for him it led to crucifixion. He calls us to be willing to suffer and sacrifice for him if we want to be his followers. You will need to show me where Jesus used pleasure or convenience as a basis for a teaching or decision because I can’t think of any. Convenience should only play into decisions where we have already decided that either choice is good and God honoring.

      • Sarah

        Jesus healed many blind and lame persons. This improved their personal levels of convenience and pleasure but was not a requirement for their spiritual life. Jesus disapproved of those who “devoured widow’s houses” and those who did not care for the physical needs of their parents. (Mark 7:1-13). This leads me to believe that God does care about our physical comfort.
        Following Jesus requires self-denial, but we need to think carefully about whether the things we are sacrificing are actually what He wants us to sacrifice. I mostly agree with your statement “Convenience should only play into decisions where we have already decided that either choice is good and God honoring”, but there are times when what is God-honoring varies with the situation. If wearing skirts comes into conflict with other godly principles such as paying my debts, caring for my children, or treasuring human life (my own included), then I need to consider wearing modest pants.

    • Bradlyn Wadel

      It just came to my mind that we were discussing a very similar question in Sunday School this morning. Our teacher gave the example of choosing to steal to provide for our children, and I think that we should all realize that we must be obedient to the clear teachings regardless of whether they seem most logical to us.
      As to the issue of ladies wearing pants, I don’t consider it an unpardonable sin 🙂 , but we should look at Biblical principles of modesty as guides for what we CAN do to present ourselves modestly for God’s glory, and so we should be striving to make the best applications that we can to those principles. We shouldn’t view dressing modestly as a REQUIREMENT that we have to follow and we do just enough to get by and keep God happy. In dire circumstances, pants may be the best a lady can do to be modest. The house may be on fire and she may need to climb down the fire escape quickly. Or she might absolutely have to do a job that would require pants, but for hundreds of years in our culture women would have been horrified to be seen in public wearing pants and wear well able to avoid those situations.

  • Something I do not understand is a Christian woman with cleavage. To me, that is more overtly sexual than exposed arms/legs. But many Christian women show their cleavage with apparently no thought. I believe women need to be adequately covered so that cleavage is not visible from any angle.

    However, I don’t think clothing ought to be heavily regulated. I’m more inclined toward training people toward spiritual maturity, and then letting them make wise decisions with God’s guidance.

    I also think that beauty is a God-given instinct to women, and that they should be able to cultivate that redemptively.

  • Bradlyn Wadel

    The question of whether modesty is relative to cultural expectations was brought up and I have a thought on that. The aspect of modesty that relates to covering sexual attractiveness is not relative to culture. As Asher said, the degree to which a group of people are affected by exposure of tempting body form doesn’t change the principle of concealment that Christians are to be applying in the way that they think is the most effective. The other aspect of modesty, which is demonstrating humility and simplicity is relative to the perceptions of the culture that we live in. The example of ladies wearing pants in American culture was already mentioned and is a prime example of a message that is being given to others in the culture by the way someone dresses. An application that is more relevant to most serious Christians is the choice of whether to select clothing that display a namebrand that is fashionable or cool, or associated with movie or sports stars. Also this applies to selecting any clothes that would help you fit in with current fads of culture.
    Church governance is a topic that is so much bigger than dress standards so it is hard to communicate clearly about dress standards if people are not agreed on the principles of structure and organization of the church, but anyhow, I want to present a thought on that as well. First, I feel that a distinction should be made between church leaders dictating peoples dress and a local brotherhood making an agreement about how they want to apply Biblical principles to how they dress. I think church leaders authority should come directly from the support of the congregation so I don’t think we should ever feel like the leaders are making us do something, but there will certainly be times when we don’t exactly agree with what each other person in our church believes, and in those cases it is often good to support the consensus of our brothers if it is not against scripture. With it being clear that I think church guidelines brotherhood agreement and not Church leaders regulations, I think dress guidelines are good and necessary for a church body to function effectively. First, as someone already said, just because a group says that they don’t have standards doesn’t mean they actually don’t. There is a gradual progression from modesty to seductive dress; from being completely veiled to nakedness so everyone does have a standard that they have set as to what they think is good. Now secondly, some people would say that each individual can set that standard for themselves but there is no way that you can maintain a unified, pure, and upbuilding church if you say that because if you follow that belief to its logical conclusion, eventually you will have members of your church wearing any shorts, tight shirts, and worse when they are at the beach. This is the reality in many churches that call themselves Christian. It would be possible to maintain a Christlike church without written rules, but it would be frustrating and distracting to have to call together a brotherhood meeting everytime there was a concern about the application of someone’s dress, then discuss the principles that apply and come to a consensus on the situation. Therefore, since it is necessary for a brotherhood to have and agreement about dress, we face the question of where to set that standard. We could try to set it right on the line where people can wear anything they want to without being positively immodest, or we could select a category or type of dress that we think is a good application of biblical principles, and that does not cause burdens that would hinder the work of God’s Kingdom from advancing. I would favor the second option for several reasons. First, it is simpler than trying to define if every type of clothing that comes along is acceptable for us to wear, so we don’t have to be bothered by that and can focus on more profitable things. Secondly, our dress can be a witness to the world that we are a unified body of believers who are serious about following Christ. Also, a standard that the brotherhood has agreed upon can be helpful to young or new believers who haven’t yet carefully studied the principles for modest dress. We certainly want these people to learn the basis for why a standard has been agreed upon, but for a time they may be glad for the guidance on what is a good application of modesty. I thank you for the ideas that have been brought up and am happy to think about any disagreements that someone may have with my thoughts.

  • With Asher’s permission, I’d like to share with you a survey I’ve been taking on modesty within the Anabaptist community. Men, feel free to share because everything is anonymous, and ladies, there’s even a section for you. 🙂 For some reason it won’t let me share the direct link, so type my blog link into your browser and at the bottom of the first article there will be a link for the survey. Thanks!

    set apart gurl dot wordpress dot com

  • Godsgirl

    Mark 12:30,31 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength….Love your neighbour as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.

    What would modesty look like if I did it out of love? For my husband, he alone has the right to my body. Myself, I’m worth more than a sexual fantasy in someone’s mind. My male friends, make it easier for them to be pure. My female friends, it’s not about competition. My church, because I love and respect my leaders I chose to submit to the guidelines. And of course, my Maker, my body is merely a temporary house for my soul.

    As for what role the Church plays in making guidelines, I struggle with this. But God has worked quite amazingly in my life and I’ve discovered joy in submission even when it’s not the same as my personal convictions. And yup, ya’ll would likely call my church legalistic! 😊

    I love this discussion! Keep on writing Asher!

    • Good point! So often we come at it from the perspective of our own freedom and rights. What if we saw modesty through eyes of love for others? Would it change the way we dressed?

  • “We house an awesome presence.” This line says it all!
    If we lived all of life with the constant awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence, I believe a fresh wind of contagious revival and spiritual awakening would take place in our hearts.

    • Amen, Dad!

    • Lois

      This is what I long for.I believe it would take care of the evidences of the flesh in any of the ways it comes out including dress.I have been a part of churches that legislate dress down to the color & thickness of nylons to now being a part of one that simply wants to live by God’s Word.I haven’t seen either way work out too well & I am struggling with wondering what the answer is. I believe this IS the answer-revival & a desire to live after the Spirit instead of the dictates of my flesh.I feel fairly passionately that we as women ARE accountable before God to do our part in dressing modestly.Our husbands & sons face a daily battle for purity out in the world & they should not have to face the same struggle when they come to church.I long for us to rise up & live our lives to glorify God in a world that is becoming darker & darker.Compromise is on every hand & we in the church are being affected by it as well!

  • blackfriars1

    I find the idea that someone could be legislated by a church to wear a certain type of dress, or certain type of other clothing, and in doing so be truly Biblically modest to be seriously lacking, to put it kindly. Spiritual growth is a journey and a process, and I believe having a church set specific guidelines as to what members should or should not wear stunts the spiritual growth of the members. The members never learn to think Biblically about what factors should guide their motivation in choosing what to wear, or what to buy. The church says “wear a skirt, or wear a cape dress” and that’s the end of the matter.

    What if you had a church in which you were taught principles of modesty — what the Bible teaches about our bodies, how God thinks about modesty, etc, and then allowed the members of the church to interpret those how they feel God wants them to interpret them? Maybe you would talk specific applications, certainly it should be discussed among members — without it being a “you must do this to be a member of this church” If then you have members that are dressing incredibly immodestly, at least they are being honest with themselves and where they are at as a person, and you can work from there.

    Certainly controversial, but my belief is that any church “rules” on dress is at some level a hope for a shortcut to true Biblical spirituality that is in no way attractive to others.

    • Becky

      In response to the above comment, I recognize and agree that many churches are in this ditch of regulating exactly what we are to wear, going much beyond what the scriptures actually say. And yes it concerns me that we are “looking good” without truly believing and following Christ. This is a concern that I hear often in discussion with my Mennonite friends.

      However, I am from a church where there are NO standards or even recommendations for how to practice this principle of modesty. The principle of modesty is taught, and like suggested above, everyone interprets the principle as they see fit. This sounds great, but over the years it has created a serious problem as even the leadership now strongly disagrees on how modesty should be practiced. Pastors do not have freedom to preach on how modesty should look because of the huge range of opinions. This also causes a problem with guiding the church body in dressing modestly because every has their own ideas. How is the leadership supposed to know what they should or should not be confronting within the congregation?

      The diversity can be clearly seen when on a given Sunday morning we may have 3 men up front, one with a plain suit, one with a white button-down shirt, and one with a tie. The lack of direction means many ups and downs in the history of the church, a hugely diverse youth group, and very little consistency in the church body.

      All this to say, there is a reason that church standards exist. Yes, they can go too far and be way to nit-picky and legalistic. However, I would strongly caution us against throwing them out all together. Without some guidance and direction the church quickly ends up in the “other ditch”. We need a balance.

      • blackfriars1

        In reading through the above comment, I can see where my opinion is probably too idealistic, and you bring up very good points. Although, I’m not sure that having diversity on some of these things is necessarily a bad thing — if one pastor believes he should wear a plain suit, and another feels free to wear a tie, why shouldn’t both of them be able to attend the same church and worship together in spite of their differences? Shouldn’t they be able to stand before the congregation and say I feel this way on this issue, and I know my brother feels another way, but we are able to worship in spite of our differences because we love each other? I think we could use more of that mind-set, vs a we must be uniform in our practices stance.
        More realistically, I can understand how it would cause confusion among members if pastors don’t feel free to share their views of application. And how it could lead to a lack of direction in the congregation.

        As you say, there is a ditch on both sides and my tendency is often to jump in the one on the opposite side of the road because I see the problems with the one I’m in.

        All said, I do think it extremely important for the individual member to be given freedom to define and apply modesty in at least some form for themselves, or we just tend towards legalism that hinders growth.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Pat. I think you’re right. Regulating others usually stunts spiritual growth.

      Is there ever an appropriate time to help others along? To suggest practical applications? Or should it all be talked about vaguely?

    • Jerald

      In thinking of church guidelines/rules and how much is biblical and appropriate, this is what makes sense to me.

      Each person and each family is responsible to decide how they will apply biblical principals. In the same way, I think each local church body is responsible to apply biblical principals – to make them specific and practical. In no way should a church regulate every detail of each person’s life. But, it seems appropriate for the church to agree together on guidelines and for the leadership to teach the why behind the guidelines. Doing this right will lead to variation between churches just like there is from one family to the next. And it should allow for variation within the church – again, just like different personalities within the same family.

      There is a danger of churches backing off and saying “No rules” (though often that just leads to many unspoken rules) and there is a danger of trying to regulate too many details. This applies to dress, but to many other areas of life as well. The comparison to families I mentioned above has helped me reconcile why it is OK to see differences from one church to another and why it is good and healthy for churches to have guidelines in place.

    • Ellie

      I see good points on both sides of this issue. Here is another point of view. What if we looked at standards/rules as something we use to bring together a group of people who want to live life like we do?

      Just as an example, clubs have rules, so they can bring together a group of people who are interested in chess, or knitting, or whatever. Mensa is a group/club that requires a certain IQ level before you can join. This is simply a rule meant to say, “We want to spend time with others who are intelligent and like to think. You are invited to join us if that is who you are.”

      In the same way, our churches are meant to bring together those who think the same on major issues, so that we can spend time with, and raise children around, people whose ways of dressing and thinking are near our own beliefs.

      With this way of looking at it, we can let people go find another church if they don’t want to stay with us, and no hard feelings need to be between them and us. After all, the rules are simply perimeters we have chosen to live inside.

      Of course, we have only chosen the perimeters if we, the people, come together to make decisions– and if we can all feel free to bring up issues to discuss. If rules are not occasionally reviewed and discussed, and new thoughts and ideas are not encouraged, we can easily end up with a group of people who don’t really believe what they are doing– they’ve just been told by their pastors that they should be doing it.

      I do believe that legislating every detail is harmful, and we should have as few rules as we can possibly get away with– for the reasons that have already been stated above.

      I welcome any of your thoughts on this way of thinking about rules, whether you agree or disagree.

  • Mark

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article Asher.
    God is creative. He made people in His image creative. God loves diversity and variety. His creation is more diverse then anything else that we know. What is God’s favorite color? God would probably answer “it depends”, which part of my creation are you talking about? Everything I made, I made with my favorite colors. (Also think sizes and shapes).
    The we dress should “reveal” God. We are to bear the image of God. What if dressing to our personal tastes is to bear the image of God? (Don’t twist this to justify anything). Living life for Jesus is to live in the positive, purposefully.
    Style; dress that is “in style” is not necessarily or automatically sin. All dress is some style. Some is current style, some last year’s style, some 50 years ago, some 100 years ago some 2000 years ago and everything in between. However to be pursuing or being taken up with the latest styles reveals a heart that loves the world.

    Things to consider when purchasing clothes. 1. What do I want? 2. Why do I want it?
    Open your heart/spirit to the Holy Spirit. What is He saying?
    2 Bible principals I like to consider. 1. “Why do you spend money on that which is not bread?” Avoiding luxury.
    2. “Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” The question here is who’s approval am I trying to win or gain. Who am I agreeing with? Who’s friend do I want to be?

    While there are no 123 formulas I endorse these thoughts shared by Asher and others. I hope these questions and thoughts encourage us to live in the positive, purposefully enquiring of the Holy Spirit and everything we do we do for Jesus.

    • Good questions, Mark. Thanks for sharing!

  • giftsfromabovemidwife

    I grew up in a home where we, as in my parents, promoted modesty strongly. My dad really appreciated the cape dress & longer dresses that my mother wore. My parents didn’t come from the “modest” culture, they came straight from the 60’s & 70’s Mennonite era where a “modest” dress wasn’t a cape dress & it only covered the knees when standing up. LOL!
    When attending a conservative Bible school, I grew legalistic. But God is faithful in purifying the dross from each of us. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has a series, “Modesty, Does God Really Care What I Wear? ” It is a blessing.
    Pants in women are the uniform of women’s liberation. Will I judge our postmodern culture & the Christians who wear pants? I am not called to “push” others to change. But to encourage others by listening to them, pointing them to a deeper relationship with Christ, & God’s got it!! He really does!! He is in the business of changing lives!! His Holy Spirit gently prods hearts & moves people to change, becoming holy as He is holy!
    I Cor. 11 is applied in my life. My head is covered. God made me a female & I want to worship Him by being modestly covered in womanly attire that is not drawing attention to certain areas of my body. Just covering my skin is not modest. As an ambassador for Christ, I want to be attractive in my dress…appropriate & intentional in reflecting a pure heart, with eyes fixed on Jesus. There are huge differences between seductive, extravagant & simply attractive. I do not want to appear as sexy, sloppy, or slobby for my husband’s sake, when we are not alone. I want my husband secure in the knowledge that he is the 1 person I value most, by how I dress & conduct myself in public.
    Blessings to you!

  • Sarah

    Asher, I like the way that you pointed out the varied aspects of modesty. They truly can’t all be lumped together. I am convinced that it is important for me to dress in a way that protects my sexuality. But I’m really confused on what that looks like. Here’s my question: Does modesty (in the sense of not arousing sexual thoughts in the beholders) have an absolute standard or is it entirely based on the customs of the culture? To what extent does arousal depend on what we are accustomed to seeing? For example, if I wore knee-length shorts on a visit to an Old Order Amish gathering, those people would likely notice my legs. Especially so if they knew me and and had in the past only seen me in ankle-length skirts! If, however, I jogged down the sidewalks of any average American city in the same pair of shorts, nobody would take a second glance because they are so accustomed to seeing even shorter shorts and even more attractive legs.

    Is this all that modesty means: fitting in to the expectations of the surrounding culture? Or are there some forms of dress or undress that would always tend to excite sexual thoughts because people can never become accustomed to them to point of not noticing? This is my question and it is not a rhetorical question. I do not know the answer, but I would really like to know. My conclusion on this question will have a huge impact on the way I dress.

    • Sarah, you said, “If, however, I jogged down the sidewalks of any average American city in the same pair of shorts, nobody would take a second glance because they are so accustomed to seeing even shorter shorts and even more attractive legs.”

      The subject of modesty and how it relates to what people are “used to”, is something I have wrestled with a lot. Are people just aroused by seeing more skin or body form than they’re accustomed to?

      It does seem that the world’s standards are continually becoming more immodest, with more sheer clothing being the norm these days in high fashion. The lust of the flesh longs for more and is never satisfied….

      I just wanted to point out, as a man, that the men of the world are not used to guarding their minds. They do not save their fantasy for the most attractive women they see… On the contrary, most men of the world are used to fantasizing as much as possible about every woman they see… even if the way she dresses is very “normal”. Many men discuss a woman’s attractiveness among themselves, and some others keep their fantasizing to themselves, but the majority enjoy a woman’s appearance as far as possible, no matter how “normally” she is dressed.

      This is not an encouragement to ditch modesty out the window, since men will fantasize anyway, but rather to divert attention away from our bodies to something else. What would it take to cause a man of the world to think about something other than a woman’s natural beauty?

      Rather than seeking to become unattractive, I believe a Christian woman should dress attractively and carefully, not displaying her body in a seductive way, but in a way that veils her natural glory. The goal for all of us, men and women, should be to draw attention to Christ in us.

      If we are exalting Christ in us, rather than self, there is no need to draw attention to our attractive bodies, or to draw attention to our super-holy self-righteous outfits. “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Our goal should be to glorify God, rather than ourselves.

      “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV)

      • Jesse, I really appreciate what you share, here. Thanks for commenting!

      • Jack

        “I just wanted to point out, as a man, that the men of the world are not used to guarding their minds. They do not save their fantasy for the most attractive women they see… On the contrary, most men of the world are used to fantasizing as much as possible about every woman they see… ”

        How does being a man make you an expert on what most men of the world think? You are deeply mistaken. The fact is the culture and what you are “used to” absolutely make a difference. I have Finnish friends who go in their saunas in mixed company completely nude, and they are completely disgusted at the idea that this is in any way sexual, inappropriate or immodest. They aren’t thinking about sex, despite being in the company of naked women. The same seems to be more or less true about the non-Christian men I know– why would they fanticize about a women who walks by in short-ish skirt when they can see much more with a few clicks of their mouse?

    • Sarah, I echo what Jesse shared. You’d probably be surprised at what most men in the world fantasize about–and even without much help from how a lady dresses. Secular culture encourages sexual fantasies and exploring the body of a lady in one’s mind. To be honest, I believe every guy notices a lady jogging when she’s wearing shorts. Now, if looking at ladies legs are normal for them, they may not get as much sexual excitement from it–they would need something even more private and suggestive. But, I’m sure they still notice it.

      Women (and men) have such an opportunity, though, to radiate the glory of God–even among a perverted culture. Don’t give up. By how we handle ourselves, by our attitudes, by what we talk about and yes, by how we dress–all of it plays into others seeing the glory of God in our lives.

      • Sarah

        Asher and Jesse, I really appreciate you giving me your perspective on my question. So far, I have been more in danger of drawing attention by outfits that could be seen as “super-holy self-righteous” than the other extreme. I have often wondered, though, if these outfits are helpful for the reasons I explained above. I admit that I naturally dislike drawing attention to myself, and that makes it harder for me to dress differently from everyone around me. (I do not live in an Anabaptist community, but in a typical American city.) It’s helpful to hear your viewpoint. Thanks.

  • Joanna

    Two questions:
    Why does every discussion on modesty seem to circle back around to protecting others from lust?
    Why does the Biblical passages on either of these two subjects (modesty and lust), never correlate the two?
    Do we really believe that the resurrection power of Jesus Christ that lives within Christians is not enough to allow us to move our eyes and guard our thoughts and walk on in freedom when faced with immodesty?

    • Absolutely, Joanna. The resurrection power of Jesus Christ IS enough to allow us to move our eyes and guard our thoughts and walk in freedom. I am grateful for that power in my life! We are free indeed if the Son has set us free.

      But the temptation to lust in not just a matter of not walking in the power of the resurrection. I do not go into adult movie stores because I know I will face tremendous temptation to lust. Why? I wouldn’t even have to buy and watch a move. The temptation would be all around me because of what I can see visually.

      If most of those around us are sexually aroused by sight (a God-given physiological fact. Not because they necessarily have lust in their hearts), why wouldn’t we want to protect them from a temptation they would rather not have to face?

      Thanks for sharing, Joanna!

    • Ellie

      I agree that the Bible is not talking about protecting others from lust when it mentions modesty.

      I also agree that it is important to help others stay away from lust when we can, by dressing carefully. That seems to me to be a common-sense conclusion for a Christian.

    • Dale Charles

      Does 1Thess.4:1-7 speak to this question? Is “advertising what is not for sale” a method to defraud a brother?

  • Really enjoyed reading this post and the comments! I do think that as Christians , we should want to dress modestly. And I think that some churches can come across to strongly on dress, instead of leaving room for the Spirit to lead. Thanks for sharing!

    • Good point, Jolene. Thanks for sharing. I think it’s crucial that people come to beliefs as a result of God’s Spirit within them and not just because someone tells them what to wear.

  • Over the last couple of months, I have been compiling a survey of both men and women’s opinions (within the Anabaptist community) as what they seen is modest. An interesting fact is that women are very quick to take the survey (as shown that 66% of the surveyors are women) while the men aren’t as apt to share. So this may be a bit off topic, but why do men seem to shy away from sharing how they feel about this topic, when, although women struggle with it too, men are affected the most?

    • Mia

      My family comes from a very conservative Mennonite background. They had to wear certain clothing and colors and so on. My parents felt at some point there were too many man made rules and decided to leave that Church. I have no problem with people wanting to only wear dresses and head coverings and so on, but it has to be done in humbleness as well. I believe that a woman should be covered properly and the clothes shouldn’t be too tight. As Christians we should watch what kind of statement we make to everyone around us. I see Christian women coming into church with a decent dress, head covering and those nylons that have a design, I ask myself what kind of statement is that? I struggle with the fact that women think they are appropriate and for Church??

      I also think as women we have a responsibility not to make men stumble (I know ladies don’t like to hear that). Romans 14:13-23 does say to not make another stumble, now that could be done in many other ways as well, but we all now that there is a lot of cheating in marriages these days.

      I have often told my husband that I believe there are a lot of Christian men that love it when the women dress showing too much. Should Christians really dress just like the world and come to Church that way yet? Is that really appropriate? I have often observed women when they come to Church in a short skirt how they constantly pull their skirt down, why not just wear a little longer one? They are obviously feeling very uncomfortable.

      Us women want to look beautiful for our husbands. Do men compliment their wife’s when they are dressed modest or do they have to show too much skin for you to make a comment?

    • Are your findings published anywhere? If be so interested in the results!

      • I am planning to publish it at some point although it’s not currently published. Id like to find more participants first.

    • Wow–as I was preparing this post, I was wishing for specific statistics on Anabaptists. Maybe we’ll have that soon. 🙂

      I’m not sure why guys don’t talk about it. I see two potential reasons: one because guys do want their women to be attractive in physical appearance, and it can be confusing to figure out what that looks like in a conservative setting because sometimes the church rules don’t allow for a lady looking attractive.

      A second reason I see, though, and is one I may lean towards myself is that if a guy really shared how he felt, women might not like it. Sometimes in these discussions, we can get the sense that women don’t want men telling what to wear–“just get your mind straightened out.” I know this isn’t true for all women. But guys don’t like being shamed, and if what they are uncomfortable with in dress is seen as a result of lust (and lust may have something to do with it), then they will feel a lot of shame and won’t share it again in the future.

      It could be many reasons beyond what I share here, but these are a couple I think of.

      • Gwen

        “…sometimes the church rules don’t allow for a lady looking attractive.” Interesting and thought-provoking in light of the discussion between you and Darrell Miller, near the beginning of this discussion.

      • So my next question is: could I share the link on here and see if I can get more responses? Feel free to say no.

    • I would propose that the main reason guys are hesitant to take that type of survey, is that many guys do not have strong enough convictions on this subject. In Mennonite Anabaptist circles, the women are often required by the church standards to dress to a certain standard which is quite noticably different, while often times the men can follow the church standard and still not be distinguishable as “Mennonite” by a stranger. Because of this, men often do not truly question why they are dressing the way that they are, and therefore, they do not develop convictions in this area.

      • Ellie

        I see what you are saying, but I don’t think it is the wearing of something unusual that develops convictions. I think it is more likely that women are more focused on when we talk about modesty, so they think about it more. Men are not used to having to worry about it much.

  • Darrell Miller

    The one thing that I thought about that I have heard a number of times is on the issue of the style of coverings or clothing. They say that having a different covering or clothing in a group setting confuses the public and looks ununified. I guess personally I have found this to lead to questions that I can give Biblical principle and personal conviction answers instead of “Our church decided to draw the line here”.
    The other question I have had, “Where is the line of dressing nicely and dressing to look attractive?” 🙂 Is it wrong to buy clothes that we think we’ll look good in? I think God gave everyone different desires which add to the variety that I believe God enjoys. I do think we need to be conscious why we buy certain clothes and make sure our motives are pure.

    • Good thoughts, Darrell. I agree–God created different personalities, I think He enjoys the variety.

      I have a question for you, is it impure to want to be attractive?

      • Darrell Miller

        Now you’re making me think too hard! 🙂 I think if we want to dress to be attractive to others, yes, it would be impure. We need dress neatly and simply, and allow our character and our spirit to be attractive, not our dress. When our dress is what attracts, wouldn’t that be bringing attention to our body? Wow, you can only walk so far while stepping on your own toes! 🙂

        • Then, a cook should not desire to make a meal that people enjoy, and you should not do quality work that people appreciate and makes them want you to continue doing the work.

          I’m not sure God intended for us to get so technical about things. Yes, a drivenness to please others and be well thought of and attractive reveals something unhealthy on our hearts, but the desire to be attractive to others is ultimately a desire to be pleasurable to God, which is exactly the desire we want to cultivate. Furthermore, just as quality work is a way of serving others, I think dressing attractively and appropriately is also part of serving others.

          Those are some my thoughts… You bring up some great points as well and we do need to be aware of our motives and repent of any selfish ones.

  • Romaine Stauffer

    I have always worn a cape dress and it’s not a restrictive hardship. It’s a good application of the principle of modesty. A dress without a cape that is not form-fitting is modest and I have no problem with that. But since I chose to be a member of a church that requires a cape dress, it would be wrong not to comply. But at the same time, a cape dress is not a guarantee of modesty. I have seen some very immodest cape dresses. We can keep the letter of the law while violating the spirit of the law. Modesty begins in the heart and is expressed in every avenue of life, including dress.
    When modestly dressed people (male and female) go into the cities to witness on the streets, their appearance attracts rather than repels the public. I’ve heard people say we look so pure and even angelic (although that’s an overstatement).
    Dress standards can easily become a divisive issue and a distraction from the main mission of the church. We need to teach modesty in dress and action without being Pharisaical.

    • Thanks for sharing, Romaine. You’re absolutely right–sometimes people wear the “right” clothes and are still quite immodest. Modesty begins in the heart, and I also agree that when we are modest (as both men and women) we have a great opportunity in our witnessing.

      I like what you say about since you chose to go to that church, you follow their standards. I don’t think we should choose to go somewhere, then complain about the standards. Can we seek to be an influence? I believe so, but not by complaining and rebelling. Even when it is things that aren’t necessarily biblical.

      • Romaine Stauffer

        True, the cape dress is not commanded in the Scripture as is the covered head. However, the cape dress is a practical application of the biblical principle of modesty.
        Modesty IS important and for our own protection. How much skin can one expose and still be modest? “If it’s not for sale, don’t advertise it.”