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September 23, 1998

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Q/A -How women should dress (legalism)?

Last week-end's Matthew study on "Legalism" raised some retorts and questions. Of the items on the example-hypothetical "list" in the study, the matter of women's attire was what came up. Due to the nature of the subject, we're going to treat this subject somewhat differently from usual Q/A's. I will use one of the queries (from an American woman) as a jumping-off point to touch on a few things that I don't believe we've addressed before here at VW, in this manner.

This subject is a bit more "touchy" for two reasons. 1) I'm a "man" speaking about a "women's" issue. As it is, there are some of you who already feel that I have a "problem" where women are concerned. That I "hate" women, and have it "in for" them. That I'm a "chauvinist" for stances on women not being "in authority" in the church, etc. ...and a couple of you (not-so-kindly) remind me of your perceptions of this from time to time. But I don't mind being "stupid."(as labelled)-smile-

2) This mailing list is "international." While we in America have certain ways, other areas of the world are different. What would be considered "conservative and modest" in this country, would be considered "naked" in some Mediterranean/middle-eastern countries. In other countries, public nudity at beaches is a common thing and people think nothing of it. When I grew up in rural Japan in the 50's, people were generally conservativly modest. But would think nothing of running naked from the house to the bath house before the "whole world." Or if a woman was nursing a baby, and a stranger came to the door, there was no thought to "cover up." And people (men and women alike) would think nothing of relieving themselves along public roads, in plain sight. (This last item can result in arrest in this country.)

So, I guess I'm being a little bit more "graphic" in this introduction for the sake of the "legalist Americans" who might feel that "nothing else exists" besides what's in America; that "our" way is the only ("right") way. That, indeed, there is a matter of "culture" to consider in some of these things. Paul did write, "To the ??? I became as ??? ...I am made all things to all men, so that I might by all means save some." (1cor9:20-22)

So...take a deep breath...here we go...!

I sometimes enjoy David Cloud's web site. I found an article about how women should dress and was stunned to see that he thought women should not go to the beach(in a bathing suit), should not wear pants and should not wear their hair short. He even quoted scriptures that do seem to back this up (Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Corinthians 11).

Well, actually, Deu22:5 is talking about trans-gender cross-dressing. The kind of "perversion" that is featured on a lot of the Jerry Springer shows. I think it's more than a little obvious that there's a "difference" between men's and women's pants. "Pants" for pants' sake alone, on a woman's body, obviously does not disobey Deu22:5. If that is wrong, then, what about the "kilt" on Scottish men? In many rural oriental countries, pants are as "female" as skirts are in our culture.

Regarding 1Cor11, I must confess that I do not fully understand "everything" Paul speaks of there. And I'm not too sure about the explanations that many people (like DC) give for many of the things in it. I have a feeling that there may likely be a lot of "culture" hidden in there someplace, too. If it was a "sin" for men to have long hair (1Cor11:14) what about the Jewish nazirites? e.g. Samson? (Judg16:17) And if women are to have "long" hair..."what" is "long" and what is "short?" Are we going to establish "so-many-inches" as the standard?

However, the aspects that "a man should be a man" and "a woman should be a woman" should not be lost amongst whatever questions there may be in that chapter. There should be a distinct, discernable "difference" between men and women. That's the way God made us. "Male and female." (Gen1:27) God made Eve to be a helper "suitable" to complement Adam. (Gen2:18) So, stuff like "unisex" haircuts and clothing should be avoided...in whatever way that translates into practicalities.

If a person were to totally condemn being at the beach in a bathing suit, it would be as though to condemn the "beautiful" body that God created. (Gen1:31,2:25) The problem isn't the body, or the suit (Well, in some cases it "is" the suit) so much as it is "lust and sin". And, quite frankly, lust is going to happen whether the body is fully clothed or completely naked; as I can attest to before my unequal yoke left with her male companion. She was of striking appearance and would turn heads. If we went for walks it did not matter if she was wearing pants, a long skirt, or a short skirt. The "looks" from passers-by in the cars, or at other places, was the same.

I know of no condemnation against women for being beautiful, nor the men for looking. (SS2:14,Gen24:16,26:7) God made both the beauty, and the eyes which behold it. "For the earth is the Lord's and the fullness of it." (1cor10:26) But for looking "to lust." (Mt5:28) And then, there's the part where women are to behave becomingly. (1Pet3, 1Tm2:9,5:14, Tit2:5) In the context of your question/s, not being improperly provocative.

These scripture are right there but at the same time I thought how they would change my life. I would not be able to take my two-year old daughter to the park. How can one climb and run wearing a modest dress? I am not a feminist by any means, but I am grateful for pants when chasing my children around.

Well...how do people in various countries handle this? In America women wear pants, as they do in a vast majority of other countries. What if a person wears a dress/skirt/robe? Let's look at some Scriptural examples. Peter speaks of "girding up the loins of your mind." (1Pt1:13) This is the same Peter who had been "naked" while fishing, and put on his outer garment to go swim to Jesus. (Jn21:7) In a culture where shin/ankle -length robes were worn, he speaks of what is obviously a common expression that people were used to doing and seeing. If one, thus attired, was going to engage in some physical activity where he needed greater mobility, he would hike (gird) up the skirt into his waste band (loins). In effect...making himself "naked" compared to "normal" appearance. Paul speaks of Roman games when he refers to athletics in 1Cor9:24-27 to a people used to total nudity during competition. He does not condemn the nudity (out of context), but uses the "overall" event as a comparison (object lesson) for the Christian life.

Obviously "nudity" is the extreme. And the reader should not misinterpret what I'm saying to suggest that you run to the park with your children without your clothes on. But when Paul, an ex-pharisee, was able to make reference to something (sports) which contained aspects (nudity) that would be loathesome to "Jews", when speaking to "Gentile" Corinthians, for exemplifying the Christian walk; why can we not appropriate from our current culture that which is appropriate?

In Paul's words "decent clothing, with modesty and sensiblness." (1Tim2:9) In other words, a person is not going to wear a swim suit to a banquet, nor a tuxedo to the beach to go swimming. Nor is he going to wear heavy hiking boots, parka and grappling hooks to run a 100 meter dash. Rather, that which is "appropriate" to the occasion and activity.

I live 10 minutes from the beach but I should not go because there is the possibility that some man will lust after me! I am sorry, but if I am not wearing provocative clothing then I feel I have met my responsibility. Surely men have responsibility as well.

Seems right to me. The "clothing" and the "attitude" that may or may not be projected to others. And yes...men DO have "responsibilities."

Here the question becomes "what is provocative?"

Just "practicalities" here. I think it's more the "attitude" of the wearer more than it is "what" the person is wearing. As Peter writes that the "witness" is not as much in the clothing, hair and makeup as it is "the hidden [person] of the heart." (1Pet3:2-4) And if a woman is married, it should be in accordance to her husband's authority.(vs5-6) NOT the elders and deacons of the local church. (1Cor14:35,Tit2:4-5)

One of the biggest problems in all this is the "beams" (Mt7:3) in the eyes of the list-makers. Some of the "dirtiest" lust-filled looks my ex used to receive were in the "KJV-only Bible-Baptist" churches ('would make her rather uncomfortable, and we would walk out sometimes!) ...these are the ones, also, who tend to get their tape-measures out regarding "hemlines." ...as though "inches" was the measure of impropriety, rather than their own hearts.

But let's see these passages for what they are; against the backdrop of what "femininity" tends to be. There are so many women for whom the primary motivation of their whole existence is "how they look." The major portion of their budget goes to the latest designs, perfect manicures, salon hair styles, and makeup. To be "seen."

When Paul speaks "that women adorn themselves" (1Tim2:9) he is speaking to this very thing. While "modesty" (the list-makers' favorite word out of that whole passage) can apply to "inches/centimeters" of the hemline or neckline; in the proper context, it is actually speaking of this "over-indulgence" in "looks." Don't let your "looks" be the "matched" dress, shoes, purse, makeup and errings. But rather the "good works, which becomes women professing godliness."(vs10) Peter words it like, don't let what people "see" of you be merely the "outward" hair, jewelry, clothes...but rather "let it be the hidden [person] of the heart.." (1Pt3:3-4) Are these two saying that women should NOT wear makeup and jewelry? That they should not enhance their physical appearance? They are not really addressing that issue...except to the point where such things are "in excess", as though you are "out to get a man," and detract from (or replace) the "inner beauty" of the "meek and quiet spirit."

Since you did the e-mail on legalism this week, this question fits right in. Please advise. I am feeling guilty! Mrs.[name]

Well...yes. The list-makers have a way of making others feel "guilty" for not "measuring up" to THEIR perceived standard of "righteousness." I know that feeling well...I grew up under it. However, quite often, the ones who waggle their fingers most vehemently are, themselves, the most guilty with their own "skeletons." (This, I know about, too) And the reason they blame the "hemline" is because they have not fully come to grips with THEIR OWN "lust." ("The one saying not to commmit adultery, do you commit adultery?" -Rom2:22) They have not taken full responsibility for their own past failures, and the only way they can "excuse" themselves is to point to the "inches" of others. It's the other person's fault; not their own. Remember how "Suzie" was accusing "Johnny" of having his "eyes open" during the prayer.

If your conscience tells you that your heart is righteous, don't let the "DC's" bring you down. If you truly are not guilty, after honestly considering Scripture and your own life, remember that Jesus said to the list makers, "you would not have condemned those who are not guilty." (Mt12:7)

You sign your name with "mrs." ...what does your husband say to all this? That's what matters, ultimately....before the Lord.

Related Q/A
See also: Q/A -Women and Pants?


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