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Clothes & Culture

“Clothes and Culture”

By:  Greg Gwin

     Everyone realizes that cultural factors DO influence our decisions about the clothes that we wear. For instance, a person living in America today would look odd wearing the kind of clothes that Jesus and the apostles wore — and vice versa. Cultural "norms" have clearly changed.

     The Scriptures show us that two elements ought to be considered as we make choices about our clothes. First, we have the absolutes of God's law. Throughout the Bible we find that something called "nakedness" is condemned. This is not complete nudity. The term is used to describe the display of certain parts of the body such as the thigh (Exodus 28:40-43) or breast (Ezekiel 23:18-21). "Nakedness" has been associated with sin and shame in every dispensation of time. Beyond this, the Christian has the stricter command to maintain "modesty" (1 Tim. 2:9-10). This requires MORE than simply avoiding "nakedness." A modest individual will certainly stay far away from the limits of "nakedness." Other New Testament instructions order us to abstain from "uncleanness" (moral impurity — Thayer) and "lasciviousness" (unbridled lust, wanton acts or manners — Thayer) (Gal. 5:19-21). These Biblical absolutes must be carefully observed.

     As a secondary consideration, we should observe the dictates of our culture to the degree that we can without violating God"s absolutes. For example, a man in America would look completely out of place wearing a (modest) skirt. But, not so in Scotland! God's word suggests that we ought to be mindful of such factors and honor them so that we do not diminish our ability to influence others with the truth. In 1 Cor. 11:1-16 Paul taught that the Corinthian custom of women wearing a veil should be observed by the Christians who lived in that place at that time.

     Some have mistakenly argued that if a certain manner of dress becomes an accepted "norm," that it is therefore approved by God. Such reasoning has given rise to the wide-spread wearing of shorts by Christians. Others wear swimming suits, tennis outfits, athletic uniforms and similar scanty attire. The argument is made that swimming suits are "accepted" as normal on the beaches of Florida, incredibly short skirts are "accepted" as normal for women playing tennis, etc.

     These folks fail to take their "logic" to its full limit. Reasoning after this fashion would lead one to conclude that full nudity would be alright — so long as all members of society "accepted" this as the norm. (By the way, there are some places in this world where such IS the "norm!")

     We must remember that — when it comes to the clothes we wear — the dictates of culture are secondary and subordinate to the clear limits that are taught in God's word. Cultural factors may lead us to wear MORE clothes (as the veil in Corinth) or a different KIND of clothes (tunics vs. long pants), but these cultural factors can never be used to justify wearing LESS than God expects and demands.