Issue #136 -------
July 25, 2004
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked upon as something shocking.
But now, Heaven knows, Anything goes!
Cole Porter (1892-1964)
From his musical: Anything Goes
I was raised in northwestern New Mexico, near the four-corners area, on the Navajo Indian reservation. From the time I was about 4 or 5 years of age, until I graduated from high school, this vast area was my home. Such places as Shiprock, Sheep Springs and Naschitti (which means "badger") hold many fond memories. I remember hiking for miles with my little sister into the desert, when we were preteens, with no real concerns, for we knew the desert and the Navajo in the area knew us and would keep watch over us. My mom was a school teacher and my dad a principal, and the majority of their careers were spent working among the Navajo. We were so isolated that I could sit on our front step and shoot my .22 rifle at crows without breaking any "city ordinance" (there was no city), although one day my shooting caused a team of horses to bolt with their wagon, and I remember my dad was not pleased!! However, there was great freedom on the reservation, which I came to love. In those years I also came to appreciate the simplicity of a people who loved the land and the beauty of the Great Spirit's creation.
We had no video games, no DVD movies, no computers. Every month or so my dad would order a large reel-to-reel Hollywood movie, make popcorn in a big machine (which I got to help with), and would show the film at the school building. The Navajo would come from miles around to watch the movie with us. It was a "big event." We got invited to a Fire Dance in the mountains one time (quite a rare honor for "white men"), and I remember the Medicine Man asking my dad to say a prayer! A fascinating mingling of cultures and religions! I also remember the task of helping my dad raise a TV antenna -- I think it must have been 30 feet high, and was always waving in the wind, causing poor reception -- so we could pick up a couple of stations from Albuquerque. My favorite show, and I couldn't wait to get home from school to watch it, was The Dick Bills Show. He was a TV cowboy who lived in Albuquerque, and he hosted a show for the kids every afternoon during which he would show Roy Rogers and Gene Autry films, and also cartoons. I can still remember the theme song he sang at the beginning of every show: "Riding down the trail to Albuquerque, saddlebags all filled with beans and jerky. Headed for K-circle-B, TV ranch for you and me, K-circle-B in Albuquerque." He would show a variety of great cartoons, but those days when Betty Boop appeared were especially memorable!! They didn't have girls like that on the reservation ... well, they didn't attend my school, anyway!! There were names for girls like that, but I had never heard them, although I can still hear the sound of my grandmother's gasp one day when she spotted Betty on the TV. Grandma obviously saw Betty in a different light than I did.
Betty Boop wasn't real. She was just pen and ink put to paper ... and then to film ... in 1930. Harmless, right? ... even though her sidekick was named "Bimbo," which ought to have told us something!! Yes, she was portrayed as a sweet, innocent, clueless but cute, girl; every boy's dream, and every mother's nightmare! It was not so much her actions, although, yes, she was certainly a bit flirty, as it was her apparel. Betty Boop dressed provocatively. Her attire was guaranteed to entice and arouse those boys who beheld her, and generate whispered scorn among the girls. You see, there are girls boys take home to meet mama, and then there's Betty Boop! No matter how one might try to rationalize such attire, and the attempts are legion, it is nevertheless true that when women (or men, for that matter) dress in a provocative or enticing manner, they are making a declaration as to the nature of their character. Someone once observed, "You can tell a lot about a person by what they wear." You can also tell a lot about a person by what they don't wear. This brings to my mind Gene Kelly's line in the classic film An American in Paris (1951), where he told a woman who was provocatively attired, "That's quite a dress you almost have on!" When Shelly and I lived in Europe back in the early 80's, we saw some very similar "fashion statements."
As Christians we have a responsibility to behave in a godly manner. This includes how we dress. Yes, there will always be cultural variances in what constitutes "modest apparel." A woman showing her face in an Islamic nation is viewed by many of that culture as immodest. Among some primitive peoples a woman is considered a "hussy" if she shows her ankle, although bare breasts are culturally acceptable. Paul talked about the disgracefulness of a woman having her hair cut short, or her head uncovered, at certain times (1 Cor. 11:5-6). However, in the passage even Paul implies that this is more a matter of diversity of culture than divine command. Christians are to be perceptive of their environment, and they should not seek to violate the standards of modesty of the cultures in which they live.
But it goes beyond that. There are some things, regardless of cultural dictates or norms, that are simply not appropriate to godly behavior. When someone seeks to entice the opposite sex into inappropriate sexual behavior by their actions or attire, that is sinful. If men or women intentionally expose themselves in such a way as to inflame the passions of those who look upon them, they have gone beyond what God deems acceptable behavior. We know this happens all the time in the world about us, but it becomes especially troubling when we see it happening with Christians. We ought to be living by a higher standard of behavior, but too often we follow the foolish fads of the worldly.
The Bible speaks clearly to the matter of what motivates us in the choosing of our apparel, and the manner in which we present ourselves visibly to others. Paul told the young evangelist Timothy that "women making a claim to godliness" (1 Tim. 2:10) should "adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly" (vs. 9, NASB). The NIV reads, "dress modestly, with decency and propriety." There are three distinct thoughts conveyed in these few brief words:
In 1 Tim. 2:9, the apostle Paul goes on to list some aspects of one's presentation, in that culture and time, that could very well be representative of a misplaced focus. He spoke of "braided hair" and gold or pearls or costly garments. These outward, flashy adornments are then contrasted (in vs. 10) with visible displays of "good works." Paul is not specifically forbidding the wearing of costly garments (suggesting all our clothes should come from Goodwill), nor is he saying it is sinful to braid one's hair or wear jewelry. He is talking about those whose whole focus is outward, rather than inward; who are more concerned with what they wear, than with the works of service they perform for the Lord and their fellow man. We can easily become so enamored with the former that we completely lose sight of the latter. That is Paul's concern. A woman who spends all day braiding her hair and decorating her body, probably has little time to adorn the "inner being." Aesop (6th century B.C.), in one of his fables, noted: "Outside show is a poor substitute for inner worth."
A perfect illustration of this misplaced focus (outward rather than inward), and its inevitable consequence, is found among the people of Israel during the time of the prophet Isaiah. Hear his words of warning, for they apply as much today as then --- "The Lord says, 'The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the Lord will make their scalps bald.' In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and ankle chains and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls. Instead of fragrance there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-dressed hair, baldness; instead of beauty, branding" (Isaiah 3:16-24, NIV).
The reader from North Carolina says he struggles with how to deal with the 16 year old girl who comes to the worship assembly in rather revealing apparel. He is not alone! I suppose every congregation, at some point in their history, is forced to deal with members who choose to present themselves before men and God in something other than "proper clothing, modestly and discreetly." What are we to do when this happens? May I offer the following suggestions; insights gained over the years, sometimes the hard way, from dealing with this situation and observing others doing so effectively:
The world is increasingly encroaching upon the Family of God. More and more of our brothers and sisters are reflecting less and less the image of Jesus Christ. The values and morals and behaviors of those walking in darkness are becoming our own, and it is sucking us downward into the mire. We are children of light, and it is time for us to evidence that reality in our daily living! Frankly, there is more of the world than the Word in a man or woman who seeks to expose as much flesh as they can get away with in an assembly designed to spiritually edify, not sexually entice, the brethren! We have remained passive in the face of such perversion long enough, and we are not the better for it.
We, who make up the church, are the Bride of Christ Jesus, and Paul said his desire was to present us to the Bridegroom "as a pure virgin" (2 Cor. 11:2). Yet, if we go by the dress of some today, that "pure virgin" may come to Jesus attired as one who is neither pure nor virginal. I think our Savior deserves better than that, don't you?! We are to be holy, just as He is holy! "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God" (1 Thess. 4:7-8). There are those among us, both young and old, both men and women, who, by their conduct, are falling far short of the grace of God (Heb. 12:14-15). We must "see to it" that no person surrenders his or her "birthright," as did Esau (Heb. 12:16), for a moment of fleeting self-gratification. There is too much at stake to remain silent. That young 16 year old girl is doing herself no lasting favors by "parading her privates." Yes, she will gain the attention of a certain element of young boys and men, and she will be "popular" with that same element, but the price she pays in the long term is not worth the small return she will experience in the short term. She, and others like her, need to have this impressed upon them now, before their flirtation with darkness reaps its inevitable reward of death!
From a Preacher in Kentucky:
I read with great interest your recent thoughts in Reflections #132 -- The Children of Elders: Must They Be Baptized Believers? Very pointed. Very insightful. I knew Bro. H.E. Phillips and used his commentary early on in my preaching. I must strongly agree with your conclusions about his comments! Thanks again for all that you do! May God's presence be with you and in you at all times! May you always know the wonder of His love!
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Brother Al, Thank you, again and again, for all your in-depth Reflections that continue to give us such good food for thought. I cannot remember if I told you, but I was so happy to see the bicentennial retrospection in Issue #131 about The Springfield Presbytery: Last Will and Testament (June 28, 1804), wherein you especially noted our brother in Christ: Barton W. Stone. What a wonderful account of a godly and loving man dedicated to the unity of all Christians. May we all follow his good example as he followed the pattern of love and humility so beautifully portrayed in the life of our dear Savior and Lord.
From a Reader in Colorado:
I have changed my email address in an attempt to reduce the amount of unwanted garbage advertisements that I have begun to receive lately. Please make the change in your files. I do not want to miss any issues of your Reflections articles. I devour them as soon as I get them, regardless of the hour. Your articles have been a great source of encouragement for me and my wife as we have been forced to rethink much of the traditional Church of Christ doctrine that we grew up with. For a time it seemed as if we were alone in our thinking, and that was somewhat scary and even depressing. Thank you.
From a Preacher in Indiana:
Al, you are one of the few guys I know who could write an article about hemorrhoids!! The only other person that I have heard teach on the subject is George Faull -- www.summit1.edu. You are a blessing to me!
From a Preacher in Mississippi:
Al, that was a very biblical Reflections article on the use of wine, and your postscript to the reader from Georgia (in Issue #135) was even better! Too many in the church, on both sides of an issue, are adopting the "in your face" attitude of our culture. Thanks for presenting a balanced view of "liberty" and "responsibility." Oh, that we would learn from Paul's words, "Everything is permissible for me -- but not everything is beneficial."
From a Reader in Georgia:
Very interesting about the emerods. I had never thought about the term or the ramifications of it before. Something else to consider --- The Israelites had come to worship the Ark of the Covenant itself, rather than the God it represented. When they lost the Ark, they had brought it to the battle to save the battle they were already losing. They did not look to God for their salvation. They had become legalists. Keep on keeping on, brother. You are doing a great work!
From a Reader in Texas:
When I first started reading this article -- Five Golden Emerods -- I almost fell out of my chair laughing. Not at you, of course, but it is evident that you can develop and write on virtually any subject. Good lessons to be learned for sure. This puts a new slant on the term a "pain in the butt." Also, your article on wine was excellent. "Much" wine says it all, does it not?!
From a Preacher in Illinois:
I went to the archives of your Reflections and did some reading. I have studied after you for some time now, and have read one of your debates, and I see that we are too far apart doctrinally speaking for me to derive any needed information from much of what you write or have written. Your thinking and writing is so radical that I cannot endorse much of what you write, and I see nothing good to be accomplished by reading your loose thinking, and often Christ-dishonoring doctrinal positions, on any number of subjects.
From a Reader in (Unknown):
This is to inform you that I love your web site and what you have written, especially your reviews of the modern Bible versions. I also like what you wrote regarding the five-point doctrine of Calvinism, which is commonly known as TULIP. Even though I had heard of this doctrine for many years, it was not until I came to your web site that I learned more about Calvinism, and this gave me all the more reason to reject it. As a believer in God and the Lord Jesus Christ, I can not imagine how this doctrine so quickly became popular during the Reformation period and has been embraced in various ways among a significant number of Protestants. This doctrine even appeared in the venerated King James Version, as you mentioned in your review.
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