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|CHRISTIAN DRESS AND ADORNMENT
THE IMPORTANCE OF OUTWARD APPEARANCE
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
he story behind a book may sometimes be of as much interest to readers as the content of the book itself. This book began as a chapter of my larger study entitled Christian Lifestyle, where I examine vital aspects of Christian living such as devotional life, work and leisure, marriage, divorce, sex, music, sports, movies, dancing, abortion, dress, and adornments. While writing the chapter "Christian Dress and Adornment," the conviction deepened within my heart regarding the need to publish this study separately in view of its relevance for our Seventh-day Adventist Church and for the Christian community at large.
Expansion of Original Manuscript. I asked several of my colleagues at Andrews University to evaluate the first draft of this book, which consisted of about 60 pages. Their comments were most valuable to me. They were all favorably impressed by the research I had done, but some of them encouraged me to expand some chapters by tracing historically the correlation between the use of costly jewelry, colorful cosmetics, finger rings, and suggestive clothes on the one hand, and the spiritual growth or decline of Christian churches on the other hand.
Being a church historian by training and profession, I gladly accepted the challenge. I felt that a historical survey of dress and ornaments in the Christian church in general and within some denominations in particular could offer us some valuable insights relevant to our contemporary situation. For several months I read extensively both primary and secondary sources dealing with past Christian attitudes toward dress and ornaments. The result was that my original 60-page manuscript grew threefold to the size of the present book.
A Difficult Book to Write. I must confess that of the ten books I have written, this has been the most difficult to write. This is so not merely because of the scarcity of scholarly studies dealing with this subject, but primarily because of the sensitive nature of the subject. Dress and ornaments are not merely external coverings; they touch the inner self. In fact, this study touched me and my wife in unexpected ways, causing us to rethink our position on certain things, including the wearing of the wedding ring. None of my previous books have caused me to do so much soul searching. It is thus in a spirit of humility that I present this study, not to condemn anyone, but to help fellow believers, including myself, to better understand and accept those principles that God has revealed to us in His Word regarding our outward appearance.
The subject of dress and adornment is sensitive because it touches what some people treasure most, namely, their pride and vanity. What we wear is very much a part of who we are. Our clothes and ornaments reveal not only our social, economic, and educational levels, but also our moral values. What we wear tells what we want the world to believe about us. Most people want the world to admire their outward appearance, not to criticize it. If you express your disapproval to some friends or church members for the suggestive clothes or glittering jewelry they wear, chances are that they will tell you, "What I wear is none of your business! If you dont like it, dont look at me!"
Such emotional outbursts can hardly encourage preaching or writing on this sensitive subject. This may explain why sermons and books on Christian dress and ornaments are rare. In view of this fact, you may be wondering how I could dare to write on this subject at all! Let me assure you that it was not because I have a "martyr complex." I have learned from experience that writing on a controversial subject can be costly, emotionally and financially. One can become embroiled in endless controversies, lose the friendship of fellow believers, and suffer economic penalties.
Awareness of Felt Need. My criterion for deciding what to write about has never been the popularity or unpopularity of the subject, but rather my perception of its relevance and importance for the church today. The need to investigate the Biblical teachings regarding dress and ornaments has been brought home to me many times by what I have seen and heard in scores of congregations where I have ministered across North America and overseas. It is becoming a common sight in many congregations to see some members wearing miniskirts, low-cut blouses, casual slacks, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, finger rings, and heavy makeup.
When this issue comes up for discussion on Sabbath afternoon during the Question/Answer period of my seminars, there are always some members who will defend the immodest dress and jewelry they wear by making comments such as these: "What is wrong with wearing earrings, necklaces, bracelets, finger rings or fashionable clothes? Everybody wears them! Adventists should not look like scarecrows! Jewelry is part of the formal dress of a woman, like wearing a tie is part of the formal attire of a man. There is more to Christianity than arguing about jewelry and clothes. Adventists should not allow these minor things to obscure the more important truths of the Christian faith."
These are real issues that confront every pastor and Christian concerned to help fellow believers follow the directives of the Word of God rather than the dictates of fashion. In fact, many times pastors have shared with me their sense of helplessness over the increased use of jewelry, cosmetics, and immodest clothes in their congregations. Some pastors concede that this permissive trend is here to stay and there is not much we can do about it; we might just as well learn to live with it.
Reasons for Hope. Frankly, I do not share this pessimistic view. My conviction is that most of the Christians who adorn their bodies with excessive cosmetics, costly jewelry, and eye-catching clothes are seeking for love, attention, and acceptance from God and from other people. When they discover that Jesus and the community of faith love them and accept them as they are, in their natural beauty, they gradually lose the desire to bedeck and bejewel their bodies. When they recognize that what Jesus loves most about them is not their outward glittering ornaments and costly clothing, but the inward adorning of the graces of the heartthe gentle and quiet spirit (1 Pet 3:4)they are willing to follow the simplicity of Jesus lifestyle, even in their clothes and appearance.
It is this conviction that has motivated me to write this book. We cannot blame church members for wearing what is wrong if we as leaders do not help them to see the Biblical reasons for wearing what is right. There are many sincere members who are sincerely doing what is wrong. They sincerely believe that there is nothing wrong in premarital sex as long as they love their partner. They sincerely believe that Christians can watch violent or sex-filled movies as long as they do not become emotionally involved. They sincerely believe that they can listen to rock music as long as the beat is not too strong or the words are not too profane. They sincerely believe that they can divorce their marital partner if they no longer find fulfillment in their relationship. They sincerely believe that they can consume a moderate amount of alcohol and drugs as long as they do not become addicted. They sincerely believe that they can wear different kinds of jewelry as long as it is not too gaudy or too expensive. These are the people who frequently ask me: "What is wrong with . . .?"
One wonders, How can so many Christians be sincere and yet be sincerely wrong on vital aspects of Christian living? It would seem to me that part of the problem is a lack of understanding of the Gospels claims on our daily lives. The prevailing concern of evangelical churches today is to teach people how to become Christians, rather than to train them in how to live the Christian life. There seems to be a reluctance to help people understand how accepting the Gospel affects the way we eat, drink, dress, adorn, and amuse ourselves. The result is, to use the words of Hosea, that "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hos 4:6).
Fear of Legalism. Perhaps it is the fear of being labeled as "legalists" that has kept many from addressing some of the specific aspects of Christian living, such as dress and adornment. There is a fear that such teaching can cause a sense of guilt and insecurity in the minds of those who do not live up to Gods expectations. To avoid troubling consciences, many writers and pastors choose to dwell on the "doing and dying" of Jesus, or to put differently, on His unconditional love and forgiveness. The message seems to be: "You do not need to feel insecure about your salvation because Christ has done it all. He accepts you no matter how you live or what you wear. Just trust in His doing and dying for you and you are saved." This message is true but incomplete. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus accepts us as we are but He will also empower us to become what we ought be.
To be faithful to the Biblical mandate, we must teach people not only how to profess their faith and love for Christ but also how to practice such faith and love in their daily living. This is my reason for writing this book on Christian dress and adornment. During the past 25 years of teaching and preaching around the world, countless times I have seen radical changes in the lifestyle of people who became convinced by Scripture and convicted by the Holy Spirit that certain habits or actions were wrong. There are many sincere Christians across denominational lines who want to know how to live according to the principles that God has revealed in the Bible. They appreciate someone taking time to show them from the Bible and from personal example how to live the Christian life. It is to these sincere Christians that this book is humbly dedicated.
Objectives of Book. The objective of this study is to develop some fundamental principles regarding dress and ornaments from a careful study of the Biblical examples, allegories, and admonitions regarding jewelry, cosmetics, and clothing. Chapters 5 and 6 address the specific questions of the wedding ring and unisex fashions in view of their relevance to Christian life today. The last chapter summarizes the highlights of this study by developing seven principles on dress and ornaments that emerged from the examination of the relevant Biblical material.
My ultimate objective for writing this book is to help individual believers and the church as a whole to win the battle against worldliness in dress and ornaments. I believe that this battle cannot be won by merely passing new resolutions. Ultimately this battle will be won when each Christian decides in his or her heart to live in harmony with the Biblical principles of modesty and simplicity. The purpose of this book is to help Christians win the battle through a deeper understanding and appreciation of such principles.
Procedure and Style. The procedure I have followed throughout the book consists of two major steps. First, I have examined all the relevant passages of the Old and New Testaments to establish which principles are found in the Bible regarding dress, cosmetics and jewelry. Second, I have endeavored to apply these principles to our contemporary situation. To gain a historical perspective, I have briefly surveyed the Christian attitude toward dress and ornaments in the major periods of the church and within a few denominations.
Concerning the style of the book, I have attempted to write in simple, nontechnical language. To facilitate the reading, each chapter is divided into major parts, and subdivided under appropriate headings. A brief summary is given at the end of each chapter. Unless otherwise specified, all the Bible texts are quoted from the Revised Standard Version, copyright 1946 and 1952.
An Overview of the Book. Out of consideration for those readers who appreciate an overview of the structure and content of a book, I will briefly summarize the highlights of each chapter. Since some chapters contain historical surveys which may be tedious to some readers, I will suggest which sections some may wish to skip.
Chapter 1 opens with a reflection on the importance of outward appearance, not only in the business world but also in the Christian life. Our clothes and appearance are most powerful nonverbal communicators not only of our socioeconomic status, but also of our Christian character. They serve as a frame to reveal the picture of the One whom we serve. The inner renewal Christ has brought in the life of a Christian is reflected in the outward appearance.
Chapter 2 examines the most relevant Old Testament passages dealing with jewelry, cosmetics, and extravagant clothing. The study reveals a consistent association of the use of these articles with seduction, adultery, and apostasy. Such negative associations and the divine punishment resulting from the use of these things constitute a solemn warning for us. The removal of outward ornaments is a precondition to inward spiritual cleansing and reconciliation with God. In view of the fact that some people find support in certain Old Testament passages for a moderate use of jewelry, special attention is given to these passages and to the arguments drawn from them.
Chapter 3 builds upon the preceding chapter by examining the relevant New Testament passages. The chapter takes a close look first at the attire of the two symbolic women mentioned in the book of Revelation: the Great Harlot and the Bride of Christ. The contrast between the outward appearance of the two women has significant implications for the Christian standard of dress and ornaments. Then the chapter analyzes the apostolic admonitions of Paul and Peter regarding dress and adornment (1 Tim 2:9-10; 1 Pet 3:3-4). Both apostles contrast the appropriate adorning of Christian women with the inappropriate ornaments of worldly women. Both apostles give us essentially the same list of inappropriate ornaments for the Christian woman. Both apostles recognize that the outward glittering ornaments of the body are inconsistent with the inward ornaments of the heart, the quiet spirit and benevolent deeds. On the basis of these apostolic admonitions the study develops some fundamental principles relevant for Christians today.
Chapter 4 surveys the Christian attitude toward dress and ornaments in the major periods of church history. Not all readers find historical material engaging; some may wish to skip the first two parts of the chapter, which deal with dress and ornaments in the Early Church and Middle Ages, and read only the third part which surveys the period from the Reformation to our times. The survey shows that Christians have not been immune from the extravagant fashions of their time, yet in every age there have been Christians who have adorned themselves modestly, soberly and decently as befits Christian godliness. An important lesson that emerges from this historical survey is that the spiritual revival or decline of the church is often reflected in the dress reform or dress extravagance of its members. The history of dress and ornaments in many ways illustrates the human struggle between pride, lust, and greed on the one hand and humility, modesty, and generosity on the other hand.
Chapter 5 examines the whole question of the wedding ring from a broader historical, cultural, and Biblical perspective. The chapter provides some basic information about the evolution of the meaning, usage, and influence of finger rings both in pagan Rome and Christian history. Some readers may wish to skip the first part of the chapter which deals with finger rings in pagan history. The chapter gives special attention to the religious impact of the wedding ring in the history of the Methodist, Mennonite, and Seventh-day Adventist churches. This survey provides a basis for reflecting at the end of the chapter on whether or not it is advisable for Christians to wear a wedding ring today.
Chapter 6 examines the philosophical undergirding of the unisex fashion promoted today and the latters impact in the home, in the work place, and in the church. The study shows that the driving force behind the unisex fashion of our time is the feminist vision of a new genderless society, where the clothes and roles of men and women are undifferentiated and interchangeable. Such a vision of a genderless society is clearly condemned in the Bible. The Scriptures clearly teaches us to respect gender distinctions in dress as well as in functional roles, because they are part of the order of creation. Gender distinctions are fundamental for our understanding of who we are and what role God wants us to fulfill. The chapter closes urging Christians to respect their God-given masculinity and femininity by clothing themselves in a way that affirms their gender identity.
Chapter 7 brings into sharper focus the relevance of the Biblical teachings on dress and ornaments for our time, by formulating seven basic statements of principle which summarize the highlights of this study. This brief review is designed to help the reader gain a better overview of the fundamental Biblical teachings on dress and adornment which emerged in the course of our investigation.
Chapter 8 is contributed by Laurel Damsteegt who offers insightful practical applications of the principles of dress and adornment set forth in the preceding chapters. With her gripping style she articulates ten practical principles showing how Christians can dress for Gods glory. She notes that dressing for Gods glory is not something horribly difficult, but it does take willingness on our part to let Him change our attitudes. She closes with an appeal to follow Jesus in such little things as dress and ornaments, which will silently tell the world that we live to glorify God and not ourselves.
Chapter 9 is contributed by Hedwig Jemison who applies to pastors recent research done for corporations on the importance of clothing and appearance. Her essay was first published in Ministry, July 1980. She shows that the way a minister dresses can make the difference between a favorable or unfavorable reception of his message. Prior to her retirement she served as director of the White Estate Branch Office at Andrews University. I respect Hedwig Jemison as a real spiritual mother in Israel.
Acknowledgments. It is most difficult for me to acknowledge my indebtedness to the many persons who have contributed to the realization of this book. Indirectly, I feel indebted to the many evangelical authors who have written on practical aspects of Christian living. Though very few of them have addressed the question of Christian dress and ornaments, their books and articles on related areas have stimulated my thinking and broadened my approach to this subject.
Directly, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to those who took time in their busy schedules to read my manuscript attentively and to offer me valuable suggestions on how I could improve it. Some of them wrote several pages of constructive suggestions, while others chose to meet with me and discuss their observations personally. To all of them I wish to express my deep gratitude for their valuable comments which challenged me to amplify and, in some cases, rectify the contents of this book. While I am grateful for the many suggestions and comments I received, the views expressed in this book are my own, and for them I take full responsibility.
The following list of names may not be inclusive, but it does represent those who stand out in my mind for the valuable feedback they provided me: Dr. Jon Paulien, Dr. Humberto Rasi, Dr. Woodrow Whidden, Dr. Ben Schoun, Dr. Rex D. Edwards, Dr. Elmer L. Malcolm, Elder Leo Ranzolin, Pastor Larry L. Lichtenwalter, Elder Joel O. Tompkins, Elder Thomas J. Mostert, Elder Bruce Johnston, Elder Herman Bauman, and Chaplain David G. Rand.
Special thanks to Madeline S. Johnston for correcting and improving the style of the manuscript. Very special thanks to my esteemed friend, Elder William Fagal, who went beyond the call of duty by reading, correcting, and reacting constructively to my manuscript.
Particular thanks to Laurel Damsteegt for contributing the eighth chapter, "A Practical Look at a Christians Clothing." I feel that Mrs. Damsteegts chapter adds balance to this study by offering readers practical principles and suggestions on how to dress for Gods glory. Mrs. Damsteegt has broad experience. Academically, she has earned a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Science in Public Health. Practically, she has served with her husband as a missionary overseas and as a pastors wife in the United States. She has contributed with her husband to the preparation of the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe. . . . She has authored numerous articles and conducts seminars on healthful living. Above all, Mrs. Damsteegt is a deeply committed Christian who radiates the love of Christ. Her willingness to contribute to this project is greatly appreciated.
A heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Hedwig Jemison for her unrelenting motherly interest and support shown toward me. She allowed me to reprint as chapter 9 her article "Clothing Men of the Cloth," first published in Ministry, July 1980. Above all, she spent much time reading, correcting and reacting constructively to this manuscript.
My daughter-in-law, Michelle Bacchiocchi, deserves special mention for being willing to serve as the model for the cover of the book. I really appreciate her willingness to expose herself to undesirable criticism for posing as a model of modest and immodest attire. Our youngest son, Gianluca, deserves recognition for designing the cover of the book.
Last but not least I need to express my special thanks to my wife, who has been my constant source of encouragement and inspiration for the thirty-four years of our married life. Her good taste in dressing modestly and yet elegantly has made it easier for me to understand and write about Christian dress and ornaments.
Authors Hope. It is my fervent hope that this study, the fruit of dedicated research, may help many Christians to follow the simplicity and unpretentiousness of Jesus lifestyle, even in their clothes and appearance. As Christians we reveal the loveliness of His character by dressing modestly, decently, and becomingly, avoiding glittering ornaments. Our outward appearance is a constant silent witness of our Christian identity. It tells the world that we live to glorify God and not ourselves.