Saint Augustine said:
[S]ins, however great and detestable they may be, are looked upon as trivial, or as not sins at all, when men get accustomed to them; and so far does this go, that such sins are not only not concealed, but are boasted of, and published far and wide…And so in our own times: many forms of sin, though not just the same as those of Sodom and Gomorrha, are now so openly and habitually practised, that not only dare we not excommunicate a layman, we dare not even degrade a clergyman, for the commission of them…For it is only when we are not accustomed to them that we shrink from them: when once we are accustomed to them…constant familiarity leads to the toleration of them all, and habitual toleration leads to the practice of many of them (Chapter 80, Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love).
What sins today are now so openly and habitually practiced, that they are boasted of? The following is just one of an incomplete list that I will be offering my speculations on, take it for what you will. Just be careful that you are not justifying yourself, rather than justifying God:
I believe that the reason many of us have such a problem avoiding vanity is that it is supposedly “subjective.” For example, a lie is a lie, stealing is stealing, killing is killing, etcetera. However, what is the difference between dressing “nice” and vanity?
According to most, we shouldn’t “judge” others for being vain, because we cannot see the intention of the heart of the person who dresses a certain way. There is a problem with this, however. Vanity is not a subjective sin. It is about appearances. Not surprisingly, the Scripture twice gives specific instructions pertaining to dress and details how not to dress.
Let’s look at one Scripture to prove our point:
Your adornment must not be external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:3-4).
We have a list of three things God frowns upon. One is braiding hair. The second is wearing gold jewelry (1 Tim 2:9 includes pearls). The third is wearing dresses (apparently costly ones according to 1 Tim 2:9).
What do the vast preponderance of women wear inside and outside of church? Done-up hair (including braids,) gold, and expensive dresses. How much more explicitly can we be in sin?
Some claim that this takes the Scripture “too literally.” Instead, we need to understand the “concept” that the passage is trying to convey.
If that be the case, let’s be honest with ourselves. That does not open the door for greater permissiveness, but much rather the opposite in light of 1 Peter 3:4.
Why? How does one dress with “the imperishable quality of a quiet and gentle spirit?” Obviously, quietness means not to draw attention to oneself or make a statement. The context of the passage shows us that this is the case, because in 1 Peter 3:1-2 Peter admonishes women to not win their husbands over with words. So, what Peter is saying is simple: do not make a statement and draw attention to yourself with how one dresses.
With this understanding, we must ask ourselves, is it permissible to wear silver and diamonds, because they are not gold and pearls? Obviously not, if the intention is to bring attention to oneself. Is it permissible to do a hair style that is not braiding, but it still takes 45 minutes to set up and appears elaborate? Obviously not, if the intention is to bring attention to oneself.
Women, be honest with yourselves. How much of your dress, make up, and overall decorum’s purpose is to make you look better to others? Isn’t that making a statement? Isn’t that specifically against what Peter and Paul, by the Holy Spirit, were getting at?
Churches are afraid to preach this, because it is supposedly “legalism.” Apparently, Peter and Paul were “legalists.” However, this is not the case. Instead, we have fallen prey to the sinful culture–this is why the topic is not preached adequately.
It does not help that those who preach are dressed up in a suit and tie (in some churches, the pastor wears a $1,000 suit, a $5,000 ring, and $500 glasses.) The idea is that it is “important” to dress “nice” or “respectable” to church. This means, not wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt.
Now, I understand why we would want to dress “respectably.” However, if we were to take seriously the Reformed position pertaining the regulative principle (that we only follow teachings explicitly found in the Scripture), can this practice be justified? No, because the Bible never commands us to “dress up” in order to show respect.
In fact, think about Jesus Christ, God incarnate, and how He dressed. We do not have any specific details, but we know that He could easily be confused as a gardener (John 20:15) and that He had to be kissed by Judas in order to be recognized from a crowd (Luke 22:47).
Would it be safe to say that the way Jesus dressed was “quiet” and unassuming? While wearing a suit and tie would not stick out in 1947 in Yankee Stadium, because absolutely everyone wore one, that’s not true anymore.
Let’s be honest, wouldn’t a guy wearing a nice suit in our modern day and age raise an eye brow? If he knocked on the door, one would figure he is from national clearinghouse sweepstakes or is a Mormon missionary.
Isn’t it incumbent upon us not to create a dress code in church that would exclude Jesus Himself? This would appear patently obvious, yet it is easily ignored by the church at large today.
God have mercy and show us how to be unassuming and quiet in our dress and demeanor. Amen.