After yesterday’s post regarding Court vs Church, someone asked me if there was an unwritten rule that women should wear a skirt or dress to church.
First let me say that my wife always wears a dress or skirt to church on Sunday’s and Wednesday’s. However, she often wears slacks or jeans out in public, and in the summer she frequently wears modest knee length shorts.
1. Modesty. The most critical issue for women related to clothing has got to be modesty. A woman could be immodest wearing a dress, skirt, slacks, t-shirt or blouse. The clothing styles of our world often emphasize the sensual aspects of the shape of a women’s body. This is so common in our culture that it is deemed normal and expected.
Most women are probably not capable of fully knowing what is immodest. They appreciate and desire to wear the clothing that is popular in our culture, but often innocently entice men to lust. Of course there are plenty of women who knowingly dress “sexy” because it makes them feel good to be looked at approvingly, but we are focusing on Christian women who desire to please God. To really know what is appropriate, a woman needs to ask a man (like her husband or father) what tempts him to lust. Most women will be shocked at what little bit of exposure will tempt men to lust.
In general, women should dress in such a way that people are drawn to their face and not their body. Tight clothing emphasizes curves and makes a serious temptation for men. Low cut shirts obviously create a temptation. Short dresses and skirts also create a temptation. You might ask, “what makes you such an expert?” Good question. Being a man for my entire adult life automatically makes me an expert on this topic. Virtually all men I have discussed this with agree with me.
2. Distinction. The second issue for women to consider in clothing is distinction. God clearly desires that women distinguish themselves from men in their dress. The Bible does not mandate that women must wear dresses. To the contrary, it appears that the robes and garments worn by men in Bible times may have looked, to the modern eye, like a dress.
What is clear is that men and women are to look different, without being immodest, and they are to serve in different roles. Consider 1 Corinthians 11:14-15, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” God says that we should know naturally that men ought to wear their hair short and women longer. The point is that it is so ingrained into the way God created humanity that they shouldn’t even need to be told. One conclusion I’d draw here is that God desires a clear distinction between men and women.
Another verse to consider is Deuteronomy 22:5 “The woman shall not wear that which pertains unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” I think this is a timeless principle and not just Old Testament law. God desires a distinction. Notice though, God did not say anything about dresses verses pants, but that a woman should not wear “that which pertains to a man” nor should a man wear women’s clothes.
For many if not most women today, wearing pants is normal and accepted. I would argue that there are many styles of pants that are clearly designed for women and that they are modest. These pants are designed in such a way that a man would look very feminine wearing them. These are meant for women and in my opinion meet the biblical requirement for women’s dress. However, I’m not sure that any pants can be as modest as the most modest dresses.
Something to consider is how our culture has arrived at where it is today regarding women’s dress. For centuries all women wore dresses. It wasn’t until after World War Two and the revolution of the 1960’s that it became popular and accepted for women to wear pants. It is interesting that this paralleled a very anti-biblical movement of feminism which argued that since women are equal with men (and they are in God’s eyes) they should act like men in every way. So women stopped staying home and raising their children and instead pursued careers and freedoms from the responsibilities of being “keepers at home”.
Here is what the Bible says on that matter, Godly older women are to teach the younger women, “That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed”, Titus 2:4-5. Those are not my words, but God’s. It doesn’t say that a woman should never have a job or do anything important, read Proverbs 31, but it does place some responsibilities upon women which were thrown off by women in our culture fifty years ago. The trend of women dressing in pants has paralleled this rebellion from biblical truth.
So wearing pants has become normal in our culture and may be just fine, but every woman needs to prayerfully ask, “Why do I want to wear these particular clothes?” We are a part of our culture and some things about our culture are not sinful, but in a fallen world where Satan is the “prince of the power of the air” we cannot assume that just because something is accepted in our culture, it is therefore acceptable to God.
3. Majesty. So let’ say you have concluded that God permits women to wear pants if they are modest and don’t look like men’s clothing, how does this affect the way women dress for church?
The trend of Christianity today is toward casual dress in church for both men and women. The Bible does not express a mandate for how we dress as the body of Christ for worship, but I do believe there are some principles to consider.
First, throughout the Bible God makes clear that approaching Him is a very serious matter. Moses was told to remove his shoes, others fell down on their face, God commanded the Israelites to wash their clothing and purify themselves before encountering God. Also, the Old Testament law required certain rituals of purity before coming to sacrifice to God. We are not in any way bound by the regulations of those laws, but the principles behind those laws still apply. We are supposed to learn what God is like by reading the Old Testament. I think we learn that approaching God officially and publically to worship is a heavy and serious thing.
Second, we are commanded to come together as the body of Christ to worship God (“forsake not the assembling of yourselves together”). I believe this should be done at least once a week and possibly more often. We call this corporate worship and it is different than personal worship in our homes. Possibly the most serious and important thing we physically do in a week is go to church to worship our God. It might be appropriate to dress in a way that shows God and others how serious we are about this task. It is not just like going to a football game or going out with friends. It is eminently more important.
Third, we should not take all of our cues from our culture. We are living in a banal culture where virtually nothing is important or sacred. Think about it, our culture does not value human life; we kill over one million babies a year in America through abortion. I recently heard that nearly 40% of babies conceived in New York City are aborted. We don’t value the human body and this is proven by the attitude toward sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and radical piercing of the body, not to mention drug, alcohol, and food abuse. We as a culture don’t value modesty, respect, or language. Consider how vulgar and disrespectfully people talk. I frequently hear men using vulgar language in front of women and children, and I hear women using it as well.
So, yes our culture values very little and when people of our culture go to church they want to dress casual because they don’t want to be inconvenienced. They want to be comfortable. But we as followers of Jesus Christ are meant to be different in many ways. Dressing up is also a cultural thing; it is a way our culture shows something is important, but it is being rejected by an increasingly valueless culture. Why should we take our cues about worshipping God from a culture that hates God? Since very little is deserving of honor and respect to our culture, worshipping God is not given external signs of respect.
Perhaps we as followers of Jesus Christ should dress in a way that shows God and the world that worshipping God is the most important and serious thing in our life. For women, wearing a dress may be a way of showing that since dresses are generally worn for more important events – weddings, funerals – and most people in our culture still acknowledge this to be true.
Conclusion. In conclusion I want to make clear that I am not seeking to set up rules for how people dress in my church or any other church. However, I would be thrilled to see people develop personal convictions based on a clear understanding of God through the Bible and nature, and an astute observation of our culture.