If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that I’ve been heading in a specific trajectory and there are a whole lot of practical questions that remain outstanding. Now we’re going to be covering a lot of ground quickly, so let’s quickly review what we’ve covered so far:
In the first post, we introduced the topic and gave a broad look at the categories of women in churches that have concerns about modesty (or a total lack thereof). I mentioned the four categories of woman as those interested in a) biblical modesty, b) historic modesty, c) cultural modesty and d) those interested in being “Christian hotties.” Another way of thinking of those categories are woman whose main concern is a) the theology, b) the clothes, c) not causing a brother to stumble, and d) not getting blamed for some guy’s lack of self control. So far, this series has mostly aimed providing answers for ladies in categories a and b.
In the second post, we looked at the biblical terminology by exploring the two main passages in the New Testament where the word “modest” appears: 1 Cor. 12:23 and 1 Tim. 2:9. I only did that because the verses with the term “modesty” in them are generally the passages that people talk about when the topic comes up. In 1 Cor. 12:23 we discovered that the idea behind “modesty” isn’t primarily one of appearance, but rather overall demeanour. In 1 Tim. 2:9 we discovered that the idea behind “modesty” is one of “order.” The women that God esteems are women who are marked by restraint and dignity; they’re honourable women. The idea of a woman adorned in “respectable apparel” (“respectable apparel” being “modesty and self-control“) is contrasted with one who is not adorned “with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.” Again, 1 Tim. 2:9 aims at character rather than rules about clothes, though people often take the “braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire” to be some concrete rules about “not dressing like a prostitute.” At the end of that post, I suggested that the idea that “gold and braided hair was the mark of a prostitute in ancient Roman culture” was a myth.
In the third and fourth posts, I attempted to thoroughly debunk that myth. In the third post we looked at the actual mark of a prostitute in ancient Roman culture; wearing the male Toga (often made out of thin, revealing Coan silk). In the fourth post we looked at what gold, braided hair indicated in ancient Roman culture; wealth and status.
In the fifth and sixth posts, we took a look at the main remaining biblical text that was untouched: 1 Peter 3:1-6. That passage also makes mention of avoiding merely external adorning (“the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear“) and rather adorning oneself with “gentle and quiet spirit“. The whole idea was one of making oneself beautiful (read “desirable”) by means of character rather than clothing, and the situation was one of a wife who was attempting to win the heart of a (possibly rebellious) husband.
Now, I’m going to wrap everything together and process all the information. Then, I’ll deal with the remaining elephant in the room.
Wrapping and Processing
Okay, probably not the best picture. I plead “male” and let’s just move on before this gets more awkward. Here’s some thoughts:
1. The focus of modesty isn’t clothes. The focus is character. The whole idea from the various scriptures we looked at was that women who are “modest” are women who think, speak and act in an elegant and regal manner. That’s why I suggested (in the previous posts) that proper synonyms for “modesty” would be words like “courtly” or “seemly” or “reverence”.
2. Women can be fully covered up and still be immodest. In gaining an understanding of Roman hair and fashion, it becomes fairly clear that women’s hair was a main advertisement of her wealth, not sexual promiscuity. There are plenty of women in evangelical churches who bare no skin and yet utilize their clothing to advertise their wealth in rather overt ways.
3. The women who wear a few thousand dollars worth of fashion to church but look down on the younger women who show off excessive skin are the immodest ones.
For example, imagine that an older women showed up at church wearing an outfit that included this handbag:
It’s not cheap.
It’s not practical.
It’s not superior quality.
It is a whole lot more expensive.
In fact, the sole purpose of having a $4,300 handbag with a highly recognizable logo (for those who know about such things in the first place) is so that certain people will know you have a $4,300 handbag.
That is why it’s immodest to take it to church; it’s sole purpose is to advertise that you’ve spent as much on your handbag as some people have spent on their car.
And on a side-note, a knock off bag would serve the same purpose and be equally immodest. A knockoff bag is meant to make people think you’ve got a real bag…and the fake ones are still ridiculously expensive too.
If this is a new idea to you, you may need to go back and re-read point 3.
I’m not saying that the young women who show off excessive skin are off the hook; they’re just not being immodest (based on a biblical understanding of “modesty”). Don’t worry, I’ll deal with the scantily-clad women soon enough.
4. Modesty is a big ingredient to a healthy and lasting marriage. This isn’t just because of what was uncovered in the fifth and sixth posts, but also because modesty has a lot to do with sinfully flaunting money. Money (namely unnecessary and irresponsible spending) is a thorny issue in many marriages. Many marriages are ones where money is tight and it places a lot of stress on dad when mom regularly gets the message of Cinderella wrong.
5. Men can be equally immodest too. Guys can (and do) flaunt their wealth in church. It happens in different ways, but it still happens and shouldn’t happen.
And now for the remaining elephant in the room.
Dressing Inappropriately…or like a Harlot
Throughout this whole series, I still haven’t addressed what most people think of when they think of immodesty; women who show off too much skin and/or dress like prostitutes. None of those questions have been answered!
What about skirt lengths?
What about causing a brother to stumble?
What about deep necklines or plunging back lines?
What about clothes that force attention to the in and out bits?
What about 1 piece vs. 2 piece bathing suits?
What about the crazy clothing that are ironically involved in most marriage ceremonies?
What about this?
What about that?
Yeah. I hear you…but once again this post is already long and addressing that whole side of things will make this post way too long. Also, I haven’t written that part yet.
So, I’m going to try to have the final post up in 2 weeks (hopefully), seeing that it’s going to be a bit of a bear to write.
I know, I know.
That’s the down and dirty stuff you’ve been wanting me to get to, week after week.
The last post in this series will deal with that whole side of things, as thoroughly as I can within the restraints of a blog post. I’ve already alluded to the nature of that post, but I’ll fill in a lot more dots when it’s up.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “I’m starting to get good at this ‘cliffhanger’ stuff!” Unger