Holiness Standards

Can Godly Women Cut Their Hair? Examining 1 Corinthians 11

Can Godly Women Cut Their Hair? Examining 1 Corinthians 11

 

Introduction (by Natalie)

As a young girl, I was sitting in church when the preacher began to tell us the following story. It all started with two girls very much like myself—two Holy-Ghost filled, Holiness Pentecostal girls who loved Jesus. Their parents and pastor had always warned them, “Don’t trim your hair girls!” But it didn’t make much sense to them. Their long, uncut hair was stringy and had splits ends. What would it harm to trim a few inches off? So, when they were old enough to decide for themselves, they went to the salon together and asked for a trim. As soon as the scissors began to cut—boom—something instantly changed. In sheer horror the girls felt the Holy Ghost leave them, they may have even seen a physical dove leave the room. Distressed, they began to weep and cry, “Come back, come back!” But it was too late. Their hair was irreversibly cut and they’d lost the Holy Ghost for good. 

Retelling the tale now, it sounds dramatic and unbelievable, but around the age of thirteen it scared me enough not to ask questions. There was no way I’d risk God leaving me for good. Unfortunately, I have found that I am not the only woman with this experience. Many others have come to me over the years and expressed how they are too are scared of trim their hair—scared God will leave them, scared they’ll lose special power, and even scared their husbands will have an affair or their children will die. To my disturbance, I’ve found that some circles teach a woman’s uncut hair protects her husband from cheating and will heal sick children if it touches them.

We weren’t planning on publishing an article about women’s hair on Berean Holiness because we realize it’s not a clear issue and there’s room for differing perspectives. But after receiving dozens of requests for this article (and all the personal stories they come with), I now realize that the doctrine of uncut hair has not been propagated through careful study of 1 Corinthians 11. It’s not a case of individual believers genuinely disagreeing with mainstream Christianity and Church history. Instead, the idea that it is a sin for women to cut their hair has been perpetuated through fear, superstition, false promises, and threats of God forsaking His children. That ends today.

In the following article, Nathan lays out a summary of research regarding the evidence surrounding 1 Corinthians 11 and its plausible interpretations. Our desire is that you will use his resources and examination of the text as a springboard for your own study. No matter what conclusion you come to, hopefully we can agree that 1 Corinthians 11 has more than one reasonable application and uncut hair should not be made a matter of disfellowship or wielded as a salvific requirement.

Natalie Edmonson

 

Evidence for Interpreting 1 Corinthians 11 (by Nathan)

While we can have confidence in God’s Word, the precise meaning and application of some passages is less than clear. To evidence that point, I can submit the words of none other than the Apostle Peter, who says of Paul’s letters “in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Pet 3:16)

When we arrive at these passages, the proper attitude should be one of careful study and humility. If Peter had to slow down to read them, so should we. We should strive to apply the clear commands of Scripture, such as love and unity, and realize that everyone will not arrive at the exact same conclusion. 

In fact, if everyone in a substantial congregation arrives at the exact same conclusion on a difficult passage (but at a different conclusion from a studious church across the street), it suggests that the majority are not thinking or studying at all. On the contrary, they are blindly following a few leaders and trading the approval of their peers for the approval of the God who commanded them to study diligently. I think this is a poor trade.

In that spirit, allow me to lay out an analysis of a Holiness movement standard in a different format than my typical fare. Normally, I lay the burden of proof at the feet of the party imposing the rule, find their case, and respond to it on a point-by-point basis. However, since the first part of 1 Corinthians 11 is a truly difficult passage of Scripture, my objective in this article is not to convince you of any single interpretation. 

Rather, my objective is to show that there are multiple feasible interpretations, all with strengths and shortcomings. Regardless of which one you end up on, there are still multiple ways to apply each view to the modern believer. Though I think some interpretations can safely be dismissed for lack of evidence, that will still leave us with more than one reasonable view. If you have been told that there is a single obvious interpretation of this passage that leads to a single obvious conclusion, you have been misled.

There are two basic questions at issue in this passage. 

1) What practice is Paul talking about (head coverings, hair styles, relative hair length, untrimmed hair, or some combination of the four)? 

2) To whom does it apply (the men and women of Corinth specifically, all the believers in the first century, or to all believers universally)?

First, I will provide some general context, then I will lay out multiple answers to each question, with both evidence and counter-arguments on each view. As books have been written on each of these views, I will not be able to provide a truly comprehensive synopsis, but I will get close and link relevant sources for each view.

 

Evidence from Historical Interpretations

Throughout nearly all of church history, leaders have believed this passage is about supporting physical head coverings for Corinthian women. They saw that Paul uses observations about hair as supporting evidence, and that is the only extent to which it is addressed – not as the main point of the passage.

Quotations are laid out in this reference, but Irenaeus (100-200 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (153-217 A.D.), Tertullian (160-220 A.D.), Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.), Ambrosiaster (mid-late 300s), John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.), Severian (d. 408 A.D), Jerome (345-429 A.D.), and Augustine (354-430 A.D.) all understood that Paul was referring to a material veil, which women should wear and men should not.1

Very significantly, Tertullian, writing around 150 years after Paul, records that the Corinthians themselves understood Paul’s message to have been about veils. Tertullian writes a long treatise addressing whether the veil applied to unmarried women (he argued it did) and referenced that the Corinthians agreed with him on this issue. “So, too, did the Corinthians themselves understand him. In fact, at this day the Corinthians do veil their virgins. What the apostles taught, their disciples approve.”

There seems to be a little dissent from Epiphanius (315-403 A.D.) who perceived at least that the covering was hair itself, at least for men. John Chrysostom and Augustine explicitly held that the passage provided guidance on both veils and hair. There was plenty of debate about the issue, but their debates ranged around not whether women should wear veils, but which women (married only or all women) and when (only when praying or all the time).

It’s notable that just because an early church father said something doesn’t make it so. In one of the aforementioned quotes by Clement, he dictates that men should shave their heads bald unless they have curly hair. Various church fathers disagreed with each other on many issues and sometimes their interpretations were self-evidently incorrect. However, if we see a clear trend of interpretation over the centuries, it is sensible to give that interpretation special weight over a more modern view. They lived much closer to the times and culture in which the Bible was penned. The majority position and earliest recorded position is clearly that this passage is primarily about veils. 

Furthermore, this view carried along more or less unbroken through the time of the reformers. Philipp Melanchthon, Martin Luther, and John Calvin all either explicitly or implicitly stated that this passage was about the veiling of women. 

Most modern Bible scholars agree with the historic Christian position on this passage. A quick search of the available commentaries on BlueLetterBible.org shows that every single commentary I checked holds this view (Matthew Henry, David Guzick, Adam Clarke, A. R. Fausset, Chuck Smith, Gordon Fee, John MacArthur).

The view that this passage has nothing to do with head coverings (i.e. that hair itself is the covering) doesn’t appear until at least the mid 1800s, and then not by orthodox theologians. The first scholarly defense of that idea did not occur until 1965.2  It’s possible that someone earlier held this view (such as Epiphanius, referenced above), but it was never exposited fully enough to be sure.

 

Evidence from Contemporary Culture

On Veiling

The Mediterranean culture generally supported the veiling of women for modesty’s sake. As far back as 1400 BC, written Assyrian law codes mandates that women wear veils unless they are slaves or prostitutes. Those women were not allowed to veil, because veils were considered a symbol of rank and authority.

This article explores the history in depth, but it is fair to say that the veiling of married women was common in Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture. In 166 BC, a Roman consul is recorded to have divorced his wife because she left the house without a veil.3

The Arab culture is the progeny of these traditions. To this day, Muslim women nearly all cover their heads to some degree, as they have been doing since the founding of Islam in the 7th Century. Though they have frozen this practice in time, it originated long before them.

According to an 18th century Bible commentator, Adam Clarke: “because it was a custom, both among the Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews an express law, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. This was, and is, a common custom through all the east, and none but public prostitutes go without veils. And if a woman should appear in public without a veil, she would dishonour her head-her husband. And she must appear like to those women who had their hair shorn off as the punishment of whoredom, or adultery.”4

The catacombs record that Christian women veiled during prayer as a norm in Rome. Note that prayer in the first few centuries was represented not by folding hands, but by outstretching the arms to the side and pointing the palms upward. See this walkthrough of the recently restored catacombs of Priscilla (100’s-300’s AD) for several examples.5

Can Godly Women Cut Their Hair? Examining 1 Corinthians 11

Source: BBC

Can Godly Women Cut Their Hair? Examining 1 Corinthians 11

Source: Reuters 

 

On the Significance of a Woman’s Hair

In addition to the general trend of women veiling throughout the Mediterranean world, the Greek understanding of anatomy attributed special significance to women’s hair and would have provided additional reason for a modest woman to cover it.

To make a long (and weird) story short, Greeks believed that long hair was a part of a woman’s reproductive system and that long hair on a man would undermine his ability to reproduce by making his system function more like a woman’s. Their science was “hair-brained” at best, but it does have a bit of explanatory power. The link between hair growth and puberty and the lack of hair growth in eunuchs (common in their day) was sufficient to convince them of an elaborate connection between hair and reproduction. 

This was not an obscure view – it was popularized by the Einstein’s of the Greek world – Hippocrates and Aristotle. On this view, women without long hair could not effectively reproduce and thus hair was functionally considered genitalia.6, 7

The primary Old Testament significance of women’s hair was that shaved heads were a sign of mourning commanded as a temporary reset for the captured women of foreign nations (Deuteronomy 21:12). 

 

On the Reputation of Corinth

Corinth had a reputation as a particularly loose city. Some evidence comes from historical accounts like the first century historian Strabo. He records a temple of Aphrodite that employed 1,000 prostitutes and made the city wealthy with the earnings of the sailors in the two ports it controlled. This general observation is supported by Scripture directly. Paul spends much of his epistles to the Corinthians speaking out against sexual immorality of all types as well as drunkenness and prostitution specifically.8 

More evidence for the licentious nature of the Corinthians is provided by this quotation from the philosopher Epictetus. In this passage, Epictetus, a stoic, was arguing why men should have beards because beards were a “natural” part of manhood.9

“Whom do you wish to please? The women? Please them as a man. “Well, but they like smooth men.” …Were you born for this purpose, that dissolute women should delight in you? Shall we make such a one as you a citizen of Corinth and perchance a prefect of the city, or chief of the youth, or general or superintendent of the games?”

Note the allusion to Corinth as a city known for blurring the distinction between men and women. When Epictetus thought of effeminate men, he thought of Corinth, and he knew everyone would catch the reference. His logic regarding beards is also interesting because it is reminiscent of some of Paul’s language in 1 Cor. 11. Epictetus, a pagan, argues that it is “the nature” of man to have a beard and that someone ought to do what is in their nature and not attempt to change it. 

 

Evidence from The Passage

(I have built a paragraph structure that aids understanding and added some notes in brackets. Take the time to read through this passage slowly.)

Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.

[Note the word play with the literal and metaphoric sense of “head” in the subsequent verses.]

 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head [Christ]. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head [her husband]: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 

For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 

Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

[It’s also worth noting that the structure of the passage is a chiasm, but I don’t think that mandates any particular conclusions.]10

 

Possible Interpretations

 

What is the Primary Instruction of This Passage?

A) The Veil Interpretation: This Passage is Primarily About Head Coverings

Given the cultural prevalence of veils for both Jews and Greeks, it is easy to imagine that the Corinthians would have seen head coverings as Pauls’ primary focus in verses 4-13. Indeed, Tertullian’s account, referenced above, records that this is exactly how the Corinthians did understand it – at least 150 years later. It is much easier for a modern reader to imagine this passage has nothing to do with head coverings, because they are rare in our times and do not come readily to mind.

If Paul had meant to talk about hair exclusively, he picked a confusing way to do it. He didn’t mention the word “hair” until verse 14. Contrast this with the back half of chapter 11 (17-34), which chides the Corinthians for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper. In this case, he mentions his topic explicitly by the 4th verse – he doesn’t expound on the Lord’s Supper at length before telling them the point.

It seems sensible that the point of the first half of the chapter is about “covering the head,” which Paul also addresses by the 4th verse of that section. While not used elsewhere in Scripture, this word “cover” is defined by Strongs as “to cover wholly, i.e. veil:—cover, hide.” Given his word choice and a cultural context where veils were common, his readers would have read verses 4-13 with veils foremost in their mind, and if he meant to do a dramatic switch, he would have done so explicitly. “Ha! You thought I was talking about veils – No! I’m talking about hair and you should forgo cloth veils because long hair is the real head covering!”

Paul doesn’t say anything to suggest that the earlier verses are not about cloth head coverings. Rather, he could well be referencing hair as an argument in support of head coverings. In the early verses, he talks about how lacking a head covering should make a woman feel the same as if she were bald or if she cut it very short (i.e. as if it were “shorn”). If his audience already agreed with him on the hair issue, it’s sensible to reference that common agreement as support for the issue of veils. On the other hand, Paul’s argument seems very odd as an argument for long hair. In that case, he would be saying “If you don’t have long hair, it’s just like you cut it really short.” If his audience did not agree with him on the hair issue and he was trying to prove it, proving it with itself seems an odd way to go about it.

He also talks about coverings as something which a woman should have when she is praying or prophesying in verses 5 and 13. Why contextualize the covering as something which is only required during prayer? This suggests the covering was removable. A woman could have it during prayer but not while she was at home, or perhaps while sleeping.

Furthermore, why not just interpret his words in the plainest sense? He says, “for a man indeed ought not to cover his head (11:7).” If he’s talking about veils, that makes sense, if he’s talking about long hair to people he knew would have been thinking about veils – why not just say “for a man indeed ought not to have long hair” or “for a man indeed ought not to cover his head with long hair.”

In later verses (14-15), he uses the argument of “nature” to support a covering (vs. 13). In the same sense as Epictetus, Paul addresses the “natural state” of men and women. This verse always confused me as a child, because try as I might, I could think of nothing from a modern sense of the word “nature” which backed up Paul’s point. Animals do not generally have differentiated hair length among males and females. However, in the context of Greco-Roman physiology, this makes much more sense. If long hair is a part of a woman’s reproductive system (I know it’s not, but they thought it was, see above), then it would seem natural for a woman to have long hair to fulfill her “nature” as a woman. On this view, long hair is unnatural for a man and runs contrary to his nature. 

It would not be unusual for Paul to appeal to a pagan perspective when he felt it supported his argument. He does it in Acts 17:28, Titus 1:12, and 1 Corinthians 15:33. 

Does this mean that Paul believed or endorsed this pseudo-science? On the question of belief, we have no reason to think that Biblical authors were given special revelation on topics which they did not record in Scripture. I doubt Peter or Paul knew that Jupiter was a gas giant or understood the nature of radio waves or germ theory. Consequently, they would have generally believed what their culture taught them, even if they had reservations. I personally have never been to Jupiter or proved much experimentally about radio waves or bacteria, yet I consider myself to have at least a basic understanding of the topics, because of things I have learned from the scientific institutions of our day.  

As a Roman citizen and regular visitor to Greece, it seems Paul would not have been ignorant about basic physiology like how the reproductive system “worked.” It was already old knowledge by his time and supported the pre-existing tradition of veiling women. The Corinthians most certainly knew what was being taught in Athens (only 50 miles away). This passage does not promote or even record this flawed physiology and in so doing the Scripture does not err. However, it is likely that a Corinthian would have read Pauls’ words in light of the scientific understanding of their time, and Paul makes no effort to preclude them from doing so. It is also not unreasonable to go along with a cultural practice that is attempting to promote modesty, even if the rationale is a bit off. If I visited a country where people believed you should wear earmuffs, I would probably wear earmuffs.

There’s more evidence for this view in 1 Corinthians chapter 12:22-24. In these verses, Paul is talking about the church, and using the human body as a metaphor. His general point is that every body part has a purpose, and they are all honored in some way. The presentable parts of the body are honored in the way we show them off. The unpresentable parts of the body are honored in the way we take special effort to hide them. Most translations render verses 23 and 24 similar to this: “and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,

The King James version says the same thing but requires a closer reading. “And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:”

Paul is pointing out that we take special effort to cover our private parts. In light of Greco-Roman physiology, a woman’s hair was a part of her reproductive system (but a man’s was not). As such, it was a private part, and seemed sensible to cover it. We can’t say for sure whether that was Paul’s logic, but it has a lot of explanatory power and connects nicely with Paul’s appeal to nature. 

Alternatively, if Paul personally rejected the Greco-Roman understanding of physiology, he may have been referring to the related idea that women have relatively longer hair in almost every culture in human history. Perhaps this is because men are generally more interested in a low maintenance functional appearance and women are generally more interested in beauty. The trend is strong because it leans upon the “nature” of men and women. 

Paul says that since the nature of a woman is to have long hair, this is nature itself backing up his argument that women ought to have a cloth head covering. Nature has given women one head covering, and decorum demands they have another. In the words of John Calvin:  “Should any one now object, that her hair is enough, as being a natural covering, Paul says that it is not, for it is such a covering as requires another thing to be made use of for covering it.”11

If the church fathers are right, it does lead to a question as to why this practice is not supported elsewhere in Scripture. First off, we know they weren’t worn all the time in all the churches, because Peter and Paul both advise against braided hair as flashy adornment (1 Tim 2:9, 1 Pet 3:3). This shows us that hair was visible sometimes – and since Peter’s instructions are to married women, we know that’s true for them too. It wasn’t that their hair was visible under their veils because the style was to cover the whole back of the head and leave the face exposed. Most modern head covering movements would be considered “indecent” with their handkerchiefs for coverings. It could be that the expectation Paul was creating applied only to times of worship and prayer or that it applied only to the Corinthians.

What possible reason could Paul have had to care about head coverings in Corinth, while not preaching about them anywhere else? 

The most common understanding is that some of the Corinthian women were rejecting head coverings, which had the cultural effect of rejecting the authority of their husbands. Matthew Henry holds this position and summarizes it as follows: “The misconduct of their women (some of whom seem to have been inspired) in the public assembly, who laid by their veils, the common token of subjection to their husbands in that part of the world. This behaviour he reprehends, requires them to keep veiled, asserts the superiority of the husband, yet so as to remind the husband that both were made for mutual help and comfort.”12

An alternate theory is that Paul was calling the Corinthians to equality. We look at veiling as a burden, they saw it as a symbol of rank and privilege (you could say “a symbol of power on their heads”). Married women and chaste widows were allowed to wear a veil – slaves and prostitutes were banned from wearing veils. Veils were symbols of virtue. Paul could be telling the Corinthians that every woman is entitled to wear a veil, because it is a symbol of God’s order of authority, and that order is grounded in creation, not Roman law. So, in Christ, a married slave has just as much right to a symbol of authority on her head as anyone else. This makes sense in light of the gap between rich and poor that we see in the second half of the same chapter (11:18 “when ye come together in the church, I hear that there are divisions among you”).13 

A bonus theory is that the women were embracing head coverings, but the men were attempting to get them to stop wearing them, and Paul was siding with the women. The language in the passage makes this view possible, but not certain.14

 

B) The Hair Style Interpretation: This Passage is Primarily About Loose Hair

An alternate view which leans on some of the arguments I’ve made above is that the covering is not a physical veil, nor is it the mere existence of hair, rather, it is the styling of the hair. Namely, if a woman’s hair is styled and worn up on her head, her head is “covered.” If the hair is allowed to hang loosely behind her, her head is “uncovered.”

Similarly, if a man wears long hair in the style of a woman, his head is disgracefully “covered.”

This view is not very common but is attested by multiple scholars; I will refer primarily to the argumentation of Dr. Philip Payne. His analysis does have some significant advantages over the other contending views.15

It is true that respectable Greek women always wore their hair up, as evidenced by art and statuary. Veiling is evidenced, but not nearly as universal. It could well be as Payne claims, that wearing the hair down was a symbol of sexual debauchery. 

Another benefit to this view is that it better explains how a head covering is a “disgrace” to men. It certainly cannot be that cloth head coverings or hats are universally disgraceful for men to wear while praying, because God commanded priests to wear caps and turbans for leading his people in worship (Exod. 28:4, 40). It is easier to see how we should understand that it is disgraceful for a man to have a woman’s long hair and hair style. Payne also provides ample evidence that men styling their hair like women went on in Pauline times, and that other conservative Greeks and Romans strongly opposed the practice as debase. He also points out that the specific words Paul uses are the same that he uses in other places to attack homosexual practices, which would support the idea that the men who adopted feminine hairstyles were doing so in a sexualized way.

This view also has a bit of biblical support from the passage in Numbers 5:18, where a priest would “uncover the head” of an accused adulterer, which most translators take to mean loosing the hair to let it hang down.

It also capitalizes on one of the best arguments from “the hair length interpretation” (below), by agreeing that in verse 15, hair is the only thing explicitly identified as a covering, but that the point at issue isn’t the length of the hair, but the style. 

For all the advantages of this view, it is that it is also not clear how one was supposed to derive it from the text alone. The text says nothing explicit about hair styles. To my knowledge, none of the church fathers at any point in history are recorded to hold this view, which is a significant disadvantage.

 

C) The Hair Length Interpretation: This Passage is Exclusively About Relative Hair Length (i.e. Veils Are Not Addressed)

This passage most certainly addresses relative hair length of men and women to some degree, but the question is whether that is the primary thing Paul intended to refer to by “covering.” It is possible that Paul was using hair as an argument to defend a cloth head covering, but this view holds that Paul did not intend to call to mind cloth head coverings in mind at all, but rather meant to talk exclusively about hair.

In defense of this view that the length of hair is the only thing at issue, the word “veil” does not appear in this passage. However, that could just be because Paul was trying not to be overly prescriptive. He’s saying, “cover your head,” but not specifying the exact article of clothing that must be worn to do that. Quotes from Irenaeus in the 2nd century reveal that some early versions of verse 10 did use the word veil. “A woman ought to have a veil upon her head because of the angels.” While this is probably not the original text, it is possible given that it was circulating in the 2nd century. Regardless, it is a point of evidence that this word made sense to Irenaeus in light of his understanding of the passage.16 

Another simple refutation of this argument is that Paul talks about coverings as something which a woman should have when she is praying or prophesying in verses 5 and 13. Long hair is not the sort of thing women put on to pray and take off to sleep. If a woman has long hair, she has it all the time. Why would Paul bother to talk about specific circumstances under which the covering was needed, if hair was the covering he had in mind? 

The strongest argument that defenders of this view give is that verse 15 specifically says “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”

As noted above, there are two ways to view this. Either the hair is one covering, which evidences the need for another, or it is the only covering Paul intends. Let’s look at the strength of his arguments under either condition.

If Paul’s main point is that women need to veil (and his audience already agrees on the hair issue), here is his argument outline for the whole passage:

 

Verses 3-6.

Premise A. (common ground). There is a chain of authority in creation.

Premise B. (initially disputed by the Corinthians). That authority structure is honored by women’s head coverings, but not men’s.

          Sub-Premise B1. (common ground). Short-haired women and bald women are shameful.

          Sub-Premise B2. (new idea, probably not disputed). Hair is similar to head coverings.

          Sub-Conclusion. If women shouldn’t forgo their hair, they shouldn’t forgo their head coverings. (Premise B is now proven)

Conclusion. Ergo, women should wear head coverings to honor the authority chain in creation.

 

Paul then reiterates and rewords these arguments in 7-12 (with the bonus evidence that “angels” benefit from this head covering in some way).

 

In verses 13-16, he unpacks a similar argument.

Premise C. (common ground). “Nature” teaches you that men should have short hair and women long.

Premise D. (previously introduced, implied) Long hair is similar to head coverings.

Premise E. (common ground, implied) We ought to do what is natural.

Conclusion. (asked rhetorically in 13). Ergo, it is improper for a woman to forgo a head covering.

 

If Paul’s main point is not about veils at all, but rather merely that women need long hair (and his audience thus does not already agree that women need long hair), here is his argument outline: 

 

Verses 3-6.

Premise A. (common ground). There is a chain of authority in creation.

Premise B. (disputed by the Corinthians). That authority structure is honored by women’s long hair, but not men’s.

          Sub-Premise B1. (disputed by the Corinthians). Short-haired women and bald women are shameful.

          Circular Conclusion. Since short hair on women is bad, not having long hair is bad.

Conclusion. Since premise B is still disputed, Paul proves nothing with his argument, but merely asserts that women should have long hair to honor the authority chain in creation.

 

Paul then repeats and applies the conclusion which he has made no real effort to prove (with the bonus evidence that angels approve of this long hair in some way).

 

In verses 13-16, he reiterates the dispute:

Premise C. (disputed by the Corinthians). “Nature” teaches you that men should have short hair and women long.

Premise E. (common ground, implied) We ought to do what is natural.

Conclusion. (disputed by the Corinthians). Ergo, it is improper for a woman to not have long hair.

 

By comparing these two lines of logic, one looks like a case that builds from common ground about hair, angels, and the order of creation to reach a conclusion. The other looks like a rambling circular assertion of the point to be proved (that long hair is good) with the thing to be proved used as the primary evidence of itself. To be fair, Paul had the apostolic authority to assert something without proving it, however, that doesn’t explain why he would go through the effort to build a logical argument that was so unconvincing.

The first argument looks like Paul’s style—the other looks like Paul was having an off-day at best. 

If you had a hard time following that, let’s try looking at it in miniature. Take verse 6. The words the KJV translate “shorn” and “shaven” mean “to cut short” and “to shave” respectively, so I will replace them with their definitions.

Watch what happens when I replace “cover her head” with “long hair.”

“For if a woman will not [have long hair], then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a woman to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her [have long hair].”

It feels strange and circular because it is strange and circular.

Now let’s try replacing it with the word “veil.”

“For if a woman will not [wear a veil], then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a woman to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her [wear a veil].”

It is no longer circular, and if the audience already agrees on the hair issue, it moves into the territory of being a solid argument.

The Hybrid View (The first part of this passage is about veils, but the second part offers an alternative to veiling)

One interesting hybrid view is that while the early part of the passage is about veils, long hair is offered as a substitute for veils in verse 15. On this view, Paul is telling Corinthian women to wear veils, but offering an alternative to those who do not wish to veil, of which modern women can also avail themselves.

This view has the advantage of resolving the circular reasoning that the “hair only” view creates in the first part of the passage. It also has a bit of textual support in minor translations.

The majority of translations, including the KJV, NIV, ESV, and NASB, all say that hair is given “as a covering” or “for a covering.” A few minor translations, like the ISV and Young’s say that hair is given “as a substitute for a covering” or “instead of a covering.” By volume, the split here is 37 in the “for” camp and 9 in the “instead of” camp.

Here’s why this matters. If hair is meant “as a covering,” which is to say, “hair is a covering,” it means a covering is required. If a covering is required, then hair is either the only covering required or Paul is using it to evidence the need for an additional covering (as in the veil or loose hair interpretation). But we can safely rule out that it is the only covering, because that interpretation would make the first part of the passage circular and nonsensical (see all of the analysis above). If hair is a “substitute” for a covering, it means that though cloth coverings are normally required, when hair is long, they are not required. This would seem to resolve the issue.

A quick search of the how the Greek word “anti” is used in other parts of Scripture reveals that either view could be correct. Since the word can be used in either sense, the question comes down to one of context, which we can assess for ourselves.

The immediate context is one of a rhetorical question in verse 14. “Does not even nature teach you…?” A rhetorical question is typically how you would find some common agreement, which you would then use to support your primary argument. This is what most translations think Paul is doing when he says that a head covering is supported by the fact that women have longer hair than men “by nature.” It would be very odd logically for him to use this rhetorical question to introduce a completely new point and waste the easy opportunity to support his primary point.

Imagine I write an essay about why busy professionals should prefer cats as pets. Towards the end of the article, I ask a rhetorical question, and use the agreement to tie it back into my main point. “Can’t we all agree that while dogs are friendlier than cats, cats are more independent than dogs? That’s why a busy professional would be better off with a cat.” How odd would it seem, if I asked this rhetorical question, and used it as a springboard to make a completely new claim, unexplored in the rest of my article. “Can’t we all agree that while dogs are friendlier than cats, cats are more independent than dogs? That’s why a busy professional could get a wombat instead of a cat.”

The broader context is also one in which most of the Corinthian women already had long hair. We know this for reasons historic, as well as the implication in the early part of the passage (where the audience seems to agree that a woman with a man’s haircut is shameful) and the fact that the question was asked rhetorically. If they already had long hair, and long hair is a substitute for the head covering, then there is no point in writing about the covering at all. They would all be exempt from Paul’s rule.

While the Greek could support either interpretation, the context significantly favors the view that the bulk of translators chose. A woman’s hair is not a substitute for a covering. It is a covering.

If it is the only covering, then Paul’s logic is nonsensical in the first part of the passage. If it is one covering that evidences another, then his logic is sound.

 

What Does This Passage Definitely Say About Hair?

So, perhaps proving that a woman’s hair ought to be long is not Paul’s main point. But he does certainly address hair length as a supporting point. Here are things Paul plainly says about hair:

  • It is a shame for a woman to have very short or no hair (vs. 5-6)
  • It is a shame for a man to have long hair (vs. 14)
  • It is glorious for a woman to have long hair (vs. 15)

A few observations. We know that long hair on men is not universally morally wrong, or God would not have commanded it for the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6). For some reason, Paul himself took a similar vow for a period. In Acts 18:18,“Paul … sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.” 

The word translated “shorn” is the same word in 1 Corinthians 11 regarding the type of haircut that Paul says is shameful for a woman. Essentially, this means that at Cenchrea, Paul got a short haircut, to close out a vow (other translations support this interpretation as well). If a haircut closed the vow, that implies that he had grown out his hair to some length. We don’t know how long Paul’s hair got, but it would have to have gotten longer than normal, or there would have been no significance to him having grown it out. In other words, it is likely that Paul would have been disallowed to preach from the platforms of many conservative churches during his vow (I dare say that would be their loss).

This doesn’t undermine Paul’s point that long hair can be shameful for men. The fact that it was abnormal in their time is what gave the vow significance. The bottom line though is that while Paul says long hair is a shame on men, it is clearly not a sin under all circumstances in the way that something like blasphemy would be. Consequently, one would have to evaluate a particular man’s long hair with an eye toward motive, or else you would stand in judgement of Paul himself.

By the same token, Numbers 6 explicitly says that women could take the Nazirite vow, which mandated shaving their heads at the end. Ergo, even shaved heads are not universally wrong for women.

Some argue that the shame of men’s long hair in this passage is contextual. According to Dr. Payne, who’s broader view was explained as “the hair style interpretation,” Paul’s philosophical contemporaries were disdainful of men’s long hair. Homosexual practice in Corinth was associated with men styling their hair as women, and Paul uses the same three Greek words to describe men’s long hair as he does for homosexual practices (“a shame”- atimia, against “nature” – physis, and “shameful” – kataischynei). On Payne’s view, this shame is primarily due to the intended sexuality of the wearers in Paul’s day, and thus a man with long hair is not necessarily in violation of this passage depending on intent and style. Paul would not have styled his hair like a woman during his vow and therefore would not have “shamed” himself.

On the other hand, it is also rather remarkable that two millennia after the words were penned, in nearly every culture, women have longer hair than men. Even when women have very short hair, they tend to style it differently than men. Clearly this hairstyle distinction between the sexes is very intuitive to people everywhere and provides a cultural nod to God’s distinction between the genders.

Note that taking the view described above does not actually prohibit Corinthian women from trimming their hair. Even if you see this whole passage as being about hair length, with no reference to veils or hairstyle, a Corinthian woman could still have indisputably long and feminine hair even after cutting off a few inches.  In the same way, to the degree that this passage is forbidding a Corinthian man to have long hair, if a long-haired Corinthian man were to trim an inch off, it is hard to fathom that Paul would then commend him for making his hair masculine once again. Even if you embrace the hair length interpretation as the best one, this view would still allow Corinthian women to trim their hair, provided it stayed notably longer than a man’s.

 

D) The Untrimmed Hair Interpretation: This Passage is Primarily About Untrimmed Hair

One attempt to fix the poor logical flow created by the assertion that this passage is not about head coverings is to give a special meaning to the word “long.” On this view, the Corinthians would have agreed that women should have long hair and men short (providing common ground), but the Corinthian women were trimming their hair slightly. Thus, Paul is telling them that trimming is just the same as cutting their hair in a masculine style.

This view asserts that the Greek word “komao,” used in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 to refer to “long hair” should actually be translated “uncut hair.”17  Thus, the “covering” of the previous verses is uncut hair, not merely “long” hair, as in the hair length interpretation (C). A possible exception is granted for women who have cut their hair previously, if they never do it again. In the words of the author of the Holiness Handbook: “How long is long? I think that it is long enough for God as long as it’s not being trimmed or cut.”18

I am always skeptical when someone’s argument rests on the idea that the true meaning of a Greek word is unknown to any Bible scholars. No English version of the Bible translates the word “komao” to suggest uncut hair, rather than merely “long” hair. Look at the verse in parallel. Here we have ~25 separate translations, which represent the opinions of anywhere from 100 to 300 biblical scholars, and not a single group of scholars concluded that the translation should express the idea of uncut hair.19 

The best way to determine what Greek words meant at the time, is from context in other parts of Scripture. Since this word only appears here, that doesn’t help us. The next best thing is to look at ancient literature (which doesn’t suggest the idea of “uncut”) or perhaps the root of the word. The root word “kome” refers to having “tresses” or “locks” of hair. It doesn’t say anything about whether those tresses are shoulder length or waist length. And there is nothing in the word itself that refers to cutting or trimming. 

It is sensible to believe that respectable Corinthian women trimmed their hair. Hair cutting for women was practiced in ancient times for purposes including mourning, trimming split ends, bangs, and even the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:1 explicitly says a woman could take this vow to leave her hair uncut for a time and then shave it).20 Egyptian women had short, bobbed hair at various points in history21 and Roman slave women also kept short hair.22 

Given the likelihood that the Corinthian women trimmed their hair, if Paul wanted to condemn this practice, he could have just said “women should not cut their hair” or “women should not trim their hair.” In 16 verses, he doesn’t come close to saying this and he uses the word for “long” when he could have used the existent Greek word for “uncut.” If he’s trying to make that point, he picked a fantastically obscure way to make it.

This author, provides much more analysis and evidence in opposition to this view.23 

Additionally, instructions to not trim hair are listed nowhere else in Scripture, including in the two other passages that address women’s hair in the New Testament.

The view of the untrimmed hair interpretation is that Paul wrote a 16-verse diatribe against women trimming their hair, with only one reference to trimming, which was a single Greek word which doesn’t refer to trimming anywhere else in Scripture or in any ancient text known. On this view, we could essentially rework any passage in the Bible to mean anything we want, by choosing one word and asserting without evidence that it means something different than it says.

To make matters worse, redefining the word “long” to mean “uncut” also creates another problem for holders of this view. The corollary would be that it is acceptable for a man to have waist-length hair, provided that it had been trimmed at some point in his life. If waist length hair, less a trimmed inch, violates a woman’s mandatory “covering,” then a man in the same condition must logically be fulfilling his mandate to be “uncovered.”

 

Which of the Four Interpretations is Right?

In summary, this is a confusing passage, and reasonable people can differ. But not all positions are equally substantiated by the evidence.

There is a decent case for each of the first three views (veils, hairstyles, and hair length). The “uncut” view leans very heavily on poor Greek and I think can safely be dismissed.

The hair length view seems to force Paul to make rather unconvincing arguments by making his reasoning largely circular. This view can be defended, perhaps better than I did, but it doesn’t seem very strong against the remaining two views.

Both the hairstyle and veil view are comparably strong from the text. In my estimation, the strong bias of the church fathers to the veil view gives that position the edge.

I have also seen proposals of hybrid views, in which Paul is addressing multiple of these issues at the same time.

 

Do These Instructions Apply Directly to Modern Times or Are They Specific to Corinth?

Now that we have addressed the evidence for and against the four basic views of this passage, that still leaves us with an additional question. Regardless of which view is correct, we still have the question of how we ought to apply it in modern times. 

The Bible plainly commands New Testament believers to greet one another with a holy kiss – in four different books (Rom 16:16, 1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor 13:12, 1 Thes 5:26). Despite the clarity of this command, I don’t know of a single Christian who believes this command is applicable today. If you tried to write an essay on why we shouldn’t kiss each other, it would actually be quite difficult. There is nothing in the passages that provides an easy out. Yet, every Christian I have ever met thinks we can apply the spirit of that command without following the letter. We can greet each other in a friendly and holy way in the spirit of the command but limit the expression to a hug or handshake as prescribed by our culture.

This is meaningfully different from say a command not to commit adultery. There is no way to keep the spirit of that law without also following the letter.

The bulk of the passage is clearly not about Corinthian specific issues. Paul alludes to the order of creation, not the order of their times. However, the thrust of most of Paul’s argumentation is to establish a spiritual authority hierarchy, with head coverings, hair styles, or hair length as a specific outworking of it. 

To judge the modern application, it’s helpful to consider the point of the practice. There are a few specific reasons why a woman ought to have her “head covered” (whatever we think that means). We’ll start with the part affecting women, then look at men separately.

 

What Was the Point of This Practice for Women?

1) To honor her husband (v. 5)

2) To have a symbol of authority because of the angels (v. 10)

3) To pray properly to God (v. 13) 

The precise interpretation of these three points is largely dependent on how we define a “covered head,” however, I will do my best to provide application that would work regardless of the covering.

 

1) Honoring a Husband

It is sensible for women today, as then, to do their best to honor their husbands. Just because a veil or an “updo” hairstyle was associated with respecting husbands in 1st century Corinth, doesn’t mean the culture has that association today. From this passage, wives should honor their husbands by their appearance, but the form that takes could vary based on cultural norms. This may have varied by location even in their time, which is why these instructions were given to only one body of believers.

 

2) A Symbol of Authority for Angels

This is a difficult verse to decipher, and there are at least four completely different theories on who the “angels” are – and many more for why they care about hair. In brief:

  • The “angels” could refer to unbelievers who reported on the conduct of the church (if the word angels means human rather than divine “messengers” as in Matt 11:2-6).
  • The “angels” could refer to church leaders or “bishops” as in Rev 2.
  • The angels could refer angels in the usual sense.
  • The angels could refer to demons or “fallen angels.”

Without building a complex tree of possible answers to each of the four types of angels and why they might care about hair, the simplest general interpretation is that the symbol of authority honors the next link in the authority chain, namely a husband. Thus, insofar as a wife is honoring her husband in her appearance, it may be possible to do it in a way other than with a “covered head.”

 

3) To Pray Properly

This too can be tied to the same authority chain linkage as the other two. If a woman is actively dishonoring her husband, how can she simultaneously be smiled upon by God? However, if a woman can honor her husband in a more culturally relevant way, then it seems sensible that she can be in right standing with God, regardless of her covering status.

 

What Was the Point of This Practice for Men?

1) To honor God (v. 4)

2) To not disgrace himself (v. 14)

In general, both points require a man to evidence his right standing with God through his embrace of his role as a man and as a husband. It also requires him to not reject his gender by adopting distinctly feminine appearance as some of the effeminate men of Corinth were wont to do. It is logically possible to do so even if cultural norms about precise acceptable hair length and/or hats change over time.

 

Applying the Passage Today

In my view, a localized understanding makes sense, because it is possible to fulfill the intent of this passage without following the prescription Paul gives to the Corinthians. It’s no different from how Titus 3:9 says to “avoid genealogies” and provides the context of avoiding argument about meaningless things. Since fights over genealogy don’t divide our church like they would have the early one (with Jews’ historic concern for lineage causing the problems), I can learn about my family tree without fear of causing a church split. Thus, I can study my genealogy without conviction that I stand in violation of this command. 

Like the Titus passage, this is also limited to a one-time command for a single body of believers, with a clear explanation of the “why” behind the command. Since we can obey the spirit of honoring the authority structure of creation without the command of veils or updos, I think it is reasonable to do so. 

However, I do think the belief that this passage offers a current command for coverings is reasonable as well. If you hold that view, I wouldn’t degrade your position, but neither should you degrade the view that some commands have limited application, even if you don’t think this passage is one of them. You cannot feasibly hold the extreme position of applying every New Testament command without regard to the fact that it may be limited by context. If you try, not only will you have to go around holy kissing everyone, but in accordance with Matthew 10:8, you are also obligated to “raise the dead.”

Furthermore, this passage may have principles that apply in specific ways in our culture that they did not in Paul’s time. That’s the point of the passage. Paul teaches a general principle about headship and makes a specific application to the Corinthian time and place to provide an example of what right can look like. Thus, we should take the principle and not merely strip the Corinthian application but also look for applications for our time and place.

In Paul’s example, the head covering (be it a veil, an updo, or long hair) seems to have been a way that Corinthian cultured honored the institution of marriage and the authority chain of creation with a physical symbol. Our culture has something similar as well—the wedding ring. The wedding ring is a symbol that announces the wearer is happily married, intends to be married until death, and even has a gender variation in design to show that the wearer is also embracing his or her married role. People generally take their wedding rings off when they are discontented with their marriage, are rejecting their spouse, or intend to be unfaithful to him or her. The wedding ring is a cultural acknowledgment of the value of a divine institution. If Paul wrote this passage today, he might well admonish Christian women to put on their wedding rings to “honor their heads.” Of course, this passage isn’t about rings, so I won’t say it’s a commandment, but it does seem like a fair application of the same principle.

 

Conclusion

There you have it. There are more ways to understand that passage than you might have known.  I think that reasonable people can disagree on the answers to both of the key questions raised, because there are multiple segments of the passage that can be interpreted differently. 

While I cannot provide you with complete confidence, I hope I have provided good information and analysis that can assist you in your own processing of this passage. There is no reason to be dogmatic about a passage so difficult. Overconfidence merely blinds us to contrary evidence and fair points which can be made by opponents of our favorite view. Healthy dialogue among the saints and scholars will lead us to better understanding.

Confidence is a poor substitute for truth.

—Nathan Mayo

 

Find this interesting? Check out our article, “Can Godly Women Wear Pants?” For a full list of our articles tap here.

We love reading your feedback! Thank you so much for leaving your thoughts and kind words below.

 

Resources:

  1. A. Philip Brown II, PhD, A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Aldersgate Forum 2011.
  2. Abel Isaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple a Study with Special Reference to Mt 19:3 [fejlagtigt trykt: 13] – 12 and 1. Cor
    11:3-16, 1965.
  3. Wikipedia, “Veil,” Accessed 3/18/22. 
  4. Adam Clarke, “1 Corinthians 11:5” in Adam Clarke Bible Commentary, BibliaPlus.org.
  5. Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome,” YouTube, Uploaded by Smart History, 2014. 
  6.  Hippocrates, Generation. Nature of the Child. Diseases 4. Nature of Women and Barrenness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).
  7. Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals (The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project).
  8. Strabo, The Geography of Strabo, book VIII, chapter 6, published in vol. IV of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927, penelope.uchicago.edu.
  9. Branson Parler, “Hair Length and Human Sexuality: The Underlying Moral Logic of Paul’s Appeal to Nature in 1 Corinthians 11:14,” in Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 51: 112-136. 
  10. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” NewHumanityInstitute.org.
  11. John Calvin, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Regarding Headcoverings,” Covenanter.org. 
  12. Matthew Henry, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11,” BlueLetterBible.org.
  13. Sarah Ruden, Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time (New York, NY: Image Books, 2010).
  14. Les, “A Difficult Verse: 1 Corinthians 11:10,” BibleBridge.com, 2018.
  15. Phillip B. Payne, “Wild Hair and Gender Equality in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16,” in the Priscilla Papers: The Academic Journal of CBE International, Cbeinternational.org, 2006. 
  16. A. Philip Brown II, PhD, A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Aldersgate Forum 2011.
  17. Raymond Woodward, “Because We Are His: Biblical Studies in Practical Holiness,” RaymondWoodward.com.
  18. The Holiness Handbook, HolinessPreaching.org.
  19. 1 Corinthians 11:15, Parallel Versions, BibleHub.com.
  20. “The Meaning of ‘Komao’ or ‘Have Long Hair’ in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15,” StudyHoliness.com. 
  21. Rachael Funk, “Egypt’s Hairy History,” Greatvaluevacations.com.
  22. Sarah Lewis, “Romans Haircare,” Coriniummuseum.org, 2016.
  23. “The Meaning of ‘Komao’ or ‘Have Long Hair’ in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15,” StudyHoliness.com. 

The Problem with “The Problem with Pants”

The Problem with "The Problem with Pants"

Why write a book response to The Problem with Pants? Why not just accept that some Christians choose to wear skirts? Isn’t that their prerogative? Of course it is, and we have nothing against that. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to only wearing skirts. Our issue lies with the fact that books like The Problem with Pants were not merely written to say, “Here’s why I prefer skirts.” Instead, they claim that women wearing women’s pants is morally wrong, an abomination, even anti-Christian. This not only causes confusion, it causes division. We have seen the Body of Christ tear and break as Christians who believe women’s pants are inherently evil continually disfellowship and even shun those who disagree. (In contrast, we have never heard of a case where Christians are disfellowshipped or shunned for wearing only skirts). This behavior results in church hurt and conflict that is completely needless; it distracts from the gospel and hinders the work of Christ. This must end. In an endeavor to see positive change, we have decided to respond to some of the arguments at the root of the tension.

We want to be abundantly clear that the following book response is in no way intended as a personal attack upon the book’s author. We respect Rev. Carter and his family. We view him as a brother in Christ, we appreciate the work He does to spread the gospel, and we agree with him on all the essentials of Christianity as well as many secondary issues. The author of our article (Nathan Mayo) has never met Rev. Carter, and addresses him with the same courtesy and bluntness with which he would engage any other stranger. It is not the author we take issue with but rather his arguments. We ask that this is where you, our readers, would focus your attention as well.

Without further ado, here is Nathan’s response to The Problem with Pants.

 

Introduction

Rev. Jamie Carter’s book The Problem with Pants is the most comprehensive argument we are aware of from a Pentecostal Holiness perspective. When polled, the majority vote of Berean Holiness readers asked us to respond to it. Even though it is not widely read, its mere existence has provided some reassurance to those who believe women’s pants to be sinful. For my part, I would encourage you to read Rev. Carter’s book for yourself if you’re interested in the topic, and read my article on pants as well

Note that this is not my logical and comprehensive case as to why I believe a godly woman can wear pants. That exists here and I will not attempt to recreate it. This is a deconstruction of the most cited anti-pants document. We would also welcome Rev. Carter if he wished to write a rebuttal to my article – we would gladly publish it on our site.

 

The summary of my previous argument is as follows:

1) The passage in Deuteronomy 22:5 may actually be referring to women wearing armor.

2) The Old Testament law would have permitted women to wear pants if that was the custom of men at the time – men and women wore slightly different garments, not fundamentally different ones.

3) The New Testament references that men and women are different and that they must embrace their respective roles, but says nothing about a particular distinction being required in their clothing.

4) There is no effective link that can resurrect the verse in Deuteronomy without also resurrecting dozens of other Old Testament laws which address principles repeated in the New Testament (such as stoning your children).

5) The origin of pants for men was a matter of practicality, not rebellion. The origin of pants for women was fundamentally a matter of practicality, not rebellion.

6) Rebellion from some individuals that wore women’s pants does not taint pants any more than it taints any other clothing we wear (such as the “pagan” skirt and the prodigal suit inventor).

7) If pants are inappropriate for women for reasons related to their original, biblical, or current use by men, this would rule out socks, stockings, hose, t-shirts, boots, hoodies, belts, skirts, button down shirts, many styles of hats, and much more.

8) If some pants are modest enough for men, then there are some modest enough for women.

9) Restricting women from wearing pants precludes them from participation in many wholesome activities and from many forms of exercise which would help live longer, healthier lives.

Although I cannot respond to every line in this book, I will layout a response to the core arguments made in each section – all of which will sound familiar to those acquainted with the issue.

 

Argument 1: Some Bad Women Pioneered the Wearing of Pants

Rev. Carter opens his arguments by working through a list of sixteen individual women and associations who wore and/or allowed women’s pants in their early days. His lists ranges from Amelia Earhart to the Oneida community—a perfectionism cult. One by one, he points out their flaws and erred beliefs, not regarding pants per se, but things remotely related as well. For instance, he highlights the fact that some women who wore pants did not use the word “obey” in their wedding vows. Why mention this? The explanation is found on the first page, “Most of the women who popularized pants and promoted dress reform were women who had questionable character, and were not God-fearing people.” (pg. 1)

The only argument Rev. Carter gives us to explain how the actions of bad people make a thing bad is
“the principle of first mention.” (pg. 1) This is the belief that when a subject is first mentioned in Scripture, it generally carries with it the same theme throughout the rest of Scripture. The problem with this hermeneutic is that almost no one uses it because it is completely unworkable. The exceptions to this principle are so wide and numerous that it provides no insights on Scripture. Additionally, the English order of the Old Testament is different from the one used in Jesus’ time – so which first mention do we go off? 

Regardless of the validity of this principle in Scripture, there is no logical link between it and history. If we were to apply it, then democracy would need to be rejected, because it was first mentioned by the Greeks (a godless society). Algebra would need to be rejected because it was pioneered by Muslims. Plumbing would need to be rejected because it was pioneered by Romans. In fact – almost everything we do has its “first mention” in the pagan past. 

I don’t dispute that some bad women wore pants. In fact, some bad people been involved in the pioneering of most new things, because people who deviate from social norms are most interested in trying new things. The inventor of the suit and the popularizer of the clean-shaven look was a dreadful womanizer – Holiness preachers now demand the clean-shaven look and encourage suits.  A common and grotesque practice by many early supporters of the American Revolution was covering British sympathizers in boiling pitch and feathers. Does this barbarism mean that the American Revolution was without merit, and its resulting country should be rejected as the work of Satan? Paul spoke to Corinthians and did not forbid the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Clearly, if anything could taint the meat, it would be actively using it in pagan rituals. This general “guilt by association” or even “guilt by first mention” principle is both unbiblical and logically untenable.  

If Rev. Carter wishes to maintain his logic regarding why pants are bad due to their promotion by bad people, he will have a much longer list of things to get rid of. For instance, his first reference to pants comes from the failed utopian experiment of Robert Owen in New Harmony, Indiana. Carter points out that the architect of this proto-Marxist town encouraged practical clothing that promoted equality among classes and sexes, such as women’s pants. I would agree that New Harmony is not a great model for a society, but does that mean every new thing they tried was wrong? Other things popularized by Robert Owen was the eight-hour working day and the idea of universal education for children. 

The next protagonist of pants Rev. Carter cites is Fanny Wright, whom he summarizes as “a very wicked woman.” While he does fairly point out that she opposed religion and advocated for sexual freedom, Rev. Carter also shares with us that she promoted many other causes which were novel and outrageous in the early 1800’s. She spoke publicly from a podium, freed slaves, and attempted to build a community of them – failing that, she sent them to another country where they could retain their freedom. She promoted abolition, birth control, women’s suffrage, and legal rights for married women. 

If we are to follow Rev. Carter’s logic, then we should view with deep suspicion every countercultural stance that Owen and Wright took.  Thus, we should decry the eight-hour work day, universal education for children, birth control, abolition, women addressing crowds of any sort, women’s voting, and legal rights for married women. But surprisingly, Carter doesn’t take this stance. He picks a single thing out of the long list of “firsts” that these trailblazers initiated, and only says one – women’s pants – is the thing we should cast out.

This doesn’t seem like an intellectually honest study of history. It seems like finding what you are looking for. I could do this analysis with all the subsequent lineup of “bad women who wore pants” that Rev. Carter trots out before us – essentially all of whom promoted the freedoms that his own family enjoys. I would love to see his pamphlet on why women should not have the right to own property, divorce under any circumstance, vote, work among men, or any of the other “outlandish” ideas these women pioneered. It would be a better position to say that each of these women promoted some ideas that were good, some that were bad, and the ideas will have to be distinguished on their merits. It is also worth noting that a lot of the harsh criticism of these women came from contemporaries who had an axe to grind with these women over their views that we all now share. Consequently, the critics that Rev. Carter cites were very biased at the time and inclined to exaggerate the transgressions and negative perception of these women in order to discredit their “shocking” ideas, like the notion that women should be allowed to vote.

 

Argument 2: The Real Reason Women Started Wearing Pants

In this historical exploration, he also stumbles upon the real reason why mainstream women eventually adopted pants: practicality. He quotes Susan B. Anthony, “I can see no business avocation, in which women, in her present dress, can possibly earn equal wages with a man – and feel that it is folly for us to make the demand until we adapt our dress to our work.” (pg. 8)

He also quotes a segment from Elizabeth Stanton (pg. 6), which I will expand. “In the spring of 1851, while spending many hours at work in the garden, I became so thoroughly disgusted with the long skirt, that the dissatisfaction – the growth of years – suddenly ripened into the decision that this shackle should no longer be endured. The resolution was at once put into practice. Turkish trousers to the ankle with a skirt reaching some four inches below the knee, were substituted for the heavy, untidy and exasperating old garment…  

“I wore the short dress and trousers for many years, my husband, being at all times and in all places, my staunch supporter. My father, also gave the dress his full approval, and I was also blessed by the tonic of Mrs. Stanton’s inspiring words: ‘The question is no longer, how do you look, but woman, how do you feel?’” 

She goes on to express the advantages of the outfit in “its lightness and cleanliness on the streets, its allowing me to carry my babies up and down stairs with perfect ease and safety, and its beautiful harmony with sanitary laws… All hail to the day when we shall have a reasonable and beautiful dress that shall encourage exercises on the road and in the field – that shall leave us the free use of our limbs – that shall help and not hinder, our perfect development.” (See the original quote here)

Even this list of women, women of “questionable character” whom Carter brings forth to make pants abhorrent to us, are giving only practical reasons for adopting pants. The ability to work in occupations that require manual activity, exercise, bicycling, and to avoid carrying dung around on the hem of a long skirt were all cited as primary reasons. Elizabeth Stanton in particular did this with the full support of the men in her life, in part so she could easily carry her babies down stairs more safely. This hardly seems like radical rejection of femininity to me. This seems more like sensible improvement of women’s condition in keeping with biblical values.

It is an interesting historical footnote to ask why pants, if they are so practical, were not adopted thousands of years prior by both sexes? While pants were occasionally worn by men and women in the pre-modern era, they were never common. The reason for this is quite simple. Prior to the industrial era, the most labor consuming part of making clothing was spinning the thread. According to Virginia Postrel, author of The Fabric of Civilization, a pair of jeans has about six miles of thread in it and required 13-15 eight-hour days to make. A bandana would take about three working days to create. Because textiles were so precious, popular fashion always favored clothes that required the minimum amount of thread. This meant clothing that allowed a rectangular piece of cloth to be stitched together with minimal cutting. The robe, tunic, sari, and kimono all accommodate this well, but pants require a lot of tailoring and discarding of cloth, which would entail snipping off literal days of work. Because of this, they were more labor intensive, expensive, and generally impractical for all but the rich until the industrial revolution made fabric cheap and readily available. Once pants became a feasible part of a wardrobe, men adopted them first and it was only a matter of time before women would follow suit. 

 

Argument 3: Pants as a Slippery Slope

“As with anything, you have to look at the end result.”, Rev. Carter stated (pg. 16), and he then goes on to announce that the end result of women’s pants is “short shorts, barely covering anything at all.” This is essentially a “slippery slope” argument – an argument that once we start down the road of reforming 19th century women’s dress, we may slide farther than we wish.

Slippery slope arguments are not illogical per se, but they are often framed as a unique harm on one side of an issue, when in fact they exist for both sides. So why restrict the argument to pants, when it is present in so many other aspects of life and fashion? Holiness women do not wear the same clothes as the women in the 1800’s. The modern skirt or dress can also slide down the slope into indecency. I’ve no doubt that I could present images of skirts and dresses that “barely cover anything at all.” Does this mean it was wrong to abandon the corset and hoop skirt for the maxi skirt and denim jacket? And don’t men’s pants live on the same slippery slope? Surely, if some shorts are too short for women, then some are too short for men – not to mention Speedos. Does this mean that Rev. Carter would like men to go back to the robe and tunic, in an effort to stay out of this danger zone? Modesty is not a problem that is unique in any way to pants, and if some pants are modest enough for men, then some pants must be modest enough for women.

The good news is that God doesn’t leave his children slipping down a thousand slides into destruction. As I have lain out in “Where Do We Draw the Lines?” – God gives us plenty of tools to navigate a world full of pitfalls and the capricious dictates of church leaders isn’t one of them. We cannot opt out of slippery slopes in our life. For even if we make a thousand hard and fast rules about life, then we have slidden down the slope of legalism.

 

Argument 4: Women’s Pants as a Central Factor in Moral Breakdown

There are many allusions throughout the book to the pitiful situation we find ourselves in because of pants. Divorce rates, gay marriage, and moral decline are all attributed to pants. Rev. Carter says, “As pants have progressed where they are today, we find that the morals of ladies have also taken a downward spiral to where many talk and behave in a manner much worse than men.” (pg. 22)

A few problems with this statement. First, he assumes that the morals of women have uniformly degraded, without providing any evidence. People tend to view the past through rose colored glasses, which is not justifiable. Slavery, eugenics, racism, warmongering, Indian displacement, and many other ills are in our not-too-distant past, all supported by some or most of the women in dresses. Second, he assumes that women are inherently more moral than men and by extension infers that men have more excuse for debauchery and vulgarity than women, since they are not equal moral agents. Most importantly, he arbitrarily identifies pants as the culprit, from a lineup with many more likely suspects.

But why pick pants? Why not choose another modern trend and say: “as women have started having fewer children, we find that the morals of ladies have also taken a downward spiral to where many talk and behave in a manner much worse than men.”

You could attribute moral decline to rising prosperity, the sexual revolution, the decline of church attendance, the expansion of the welfare state undermining the family, the church’s turn from outreach to being more inwardly focused, conservatives abandoning the entertainment industry, media, and arts, the rise of state-run education systems. There are thousands of possible explanations for moral decline, ranging from the obvious to the absurd. Pants are not on the obvious end of that spectrum. Yet, Carter addresses no other possible reasons for moral decline, which he doesn’t even bother to prove exists.

 

Argument 5: New Testament Evidence for a Difference between Men’s and Women’s Clothing

The author offers a handful of passages from the New Testament to make his case. 

First, he references the Corinthian teaching on hair (pg. 23). This is certainly inadequate alone because it literally doesn’t address the topic at issue.

The second passage is from 1 Cor. 6:9, in which Paul denounces the “effeminate.” The Greek word here is referring to a specific homosexual act, that has nothing to do with clothing. Nearly every other translation makes this clear, but the King James translators tended to be a little more squeamish about referring to homosexuality in direct language. Regardless, the Strong’s concordance backs up this meaning to the Greek. It is true that the word has an alternate meaning – a literal meaning of “soft to the touch.” This literal sense of the word is clearly the wrong translation in the context of a list of sexual sins. But it is to this interpretation that Rev. Carter refers, to say that the point of this verse is to denounce (at least to some degree), men in feminine clothing. The problem is that this is not what soft clothing refers to. The term is used in one other context in Scripture (Matt 11:8 and Luke 7:25). In both places, Jesus is talking about John the Baptist and the fact that he did not wear soft clothing, because the people that wear soft clothing live in kings’ courts. Soft clothing refers to luxury, not femininity. This passage is useless to his argument.

Subsequently, Carter makes a classic KJV early modern English error in his interpretation of 1 Peter 2:9 (pg. 25). He uses the KJV word in the phrase “a peculiar people.” The problem here is that Carter uses a modern definition for peculiar (e.g. special). He should be reading Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, in which he would find that peculiar means “Exclusive property; that which belongs to a person in exclusion of others.” I provide more evidence for this in my article on respecting the original language. But the point of the verse is that Christians are the possession of God, as every other translation shows. The King James agrees with the other translations on this point, but modern readers do not understand the 18th century vocabulary and thus misinterpret verses. This verse has nothing to do with the appearance of God’s people to outsiders.

Finally, Carter also cites the directive to women to wear modest “apparel” in 1 Timothy 2:9 (pg. 34). He then shows through the etymology of the word, which appears only once in the New Testament, that apparel referred to a flowing garment – which could not include pants. He also references that this word appears in an early Greek translation of Isaiah 61:3. This verse refers to God metaphorically clothing his people with a “garment” of praise. As this usage refers to both men and women being clothed in such a garment, any claim Carter makes that the usage of this solitary word in 1 Timothy 2:9 is revealing some unique dress code for women disintegrates.

Even more telling is how Carter introduces his appeal to 1 Timothy 2:9. He writes, “Does the Bible give any hints as to what women’s attire is?” (pg. 34) He neglects to address the obvious question this raises. Why should we need to go searching the Bible for “hints” as to what God wants all people throughout all of time to do? If this is a universal moral imperative, why didn’t God think to state it plainly in the exhaustive tome of the New Testament cannon? It can’t be because He didn’t know it would ever be an issue.

All the specific argumentation that Carter makes throughout this section on how appearance can be used as a witness would make far more sense if he were advising us to display t-shirts, tattoos, and bumper stickers with biblical messages. Surely, that is a more direct way to share the gospel through appearance than the creation of a denominational dress code, which I can assure you communicates nothing but an unattractive dogmatism to most people.

 

Argument 6: The Old Testament Argument

The Old Testament argumentation feels a bit stale. We have the classic address of Deuteronomy 22:5 (pg. 23), with no analysis of the scholarly evidence that this passage may be forbidding women from wearing armor (Carter’s own Hebrew definition hints at this interpretation). He also makes no argument as to why the differences between men’s and women’s pants today would not have been acceptable in Old Testament times, given the only slight distinctions between the men’s and women’s robes of the day. 

He makes no argument about why Christians are still bound by elements of Mosaic law unsupported in the New Testament – he merely asserts it. It is true that his view of the partial fulfillment of Old Testament law is common in many circles, but it is a view that inevitably leads to people presenting arbitrary and unbiblical standards for which elements to pluck from the law. The verse Carter then cites in Colossians 2:14, to explain why “ceremonial laws” are no longer applicable makes no such distinction. It merely says that Christ’s death “blott[ed] out the handwriting of ordinances that [were] against us.” This passage refers to the law as a monolithic unit – not to some subsection of the code. I have previously provided a far more biblically consistent standard for applying Old Testament commands to modern life. 

As to why this particular verse should be one of the cherry-picked laws we preserve, he pronounces this based on his typical commentary on the word “abomination.” I have addressed this claim at length elsewhere. Rev. Carter adds the new twist that “abomination to God” is a special category of unchangeable ills. In his words, this phrase signifies “a gross moral sin, something inherently and obviously wrong, and equally condemned in the New Testament.” (pg. 28)

The obvious question is, how do we know that it is this special phrase that identifies a “keeper” law, and not some other phrase or code word? Carter goes painstakingly through each law in the chapter of Deuteronomy 22 and neatly labels for us which laws are ceremonial and which are moral. But when he labels the law to have a safety fence around the roof of your house a moral one (pg. 30), what are we to do with that? I understand the rationale of building codes, but does Carter really preach on this every time he sees a Christian that owns a potentially dangerous horizontal surface?

Furthermore, in Deuteronomy 25, a long list of things is given which are proclaimed to all be “abomination unto the Lord thy God.” These are things listed in that category – a man who refuses to marry the wife of his deceased brother (unclear what he is supposed to do if already married) and a wife who intervenes in a fight on the side of her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man (for which the recommended solution is to cut off her hand). Another practice decried as an “abomination before the Lord” is a man remarrying his own ex-wife (Deuteronomy 24:4). Or maybe we are supposed to infer a different meaning from “before” rather than “to” the Lord. It seems to me that Carter has not found a secret key to Old Testament interpretation – rather he is resorting to creating arbitrary rules of interpretation that support his pre-existing conclusions.

Carter frames two contradictory opinions on Old Testament clothing. First, he states that there was clear difference based on the silhouette of men’s and women’s clothing in the Old Testament – how, he does not make clear (pg. 30). Second, he cites a biblical commentary that says, “a few articles of feminine clothing carried somewhat the same and basic pattern; yet there was always sufficient differences in embroidery, and needlework so that in appearance the line of demarcation between men and women should be readily detected” (pg. 31). So, he simultaneously presents evidence to prove that there was often no difference between the basic form of men’s and women’s clothing and at the same time asserts that there was. As evidence, he cites Rebekah’s identification of Isaac as a man from across a field in Genesis 24:64. He doesn’t address the numerous possible ways Rebekah could have Identified Isaac as male besides his clothing silhouette – including the fact that he almost certainly had a bushy black beard

Carter raises the valid point that long-distance identification of gender is more difficult than it was when women only wore dresses. I will concede that this is true, and as a former Army scout, I know how important long-distance identification is. However, the main reason I needed to be able to identify someone at a long distance, was so I could determine whether we needed to kill them. This is not something that comes up in my daily life as much. When did long-distance identification become a crucial factor in clothing? If it is, why not just have women wear neon orange? That significantly improve our ability to identify them. And why not with LED lights for easy identification after dark? I don’t think this is a particularly important point.

Carter refers to the KJV “breeches” as though they are one and the same as pants. However, we can tell from the biblical description that they are not. Exodus 28:42 describes, “And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:” The Hebrew word “miknac” is a derivation of a word for hiding (as in, to hide the private parts) because these were not “pants,” they were underwear. The Bible makes it clear that they were worn under robes, by priests, for the purpose of hiding “nakedness.” 

They went from the waist to the thighs (they did not necessarily cover the thigh completely), which makes them equivalent in length and usage to modern boxer shorts. Carter asserts that they went to the knees, but this is not what the passage says. They went to the thighs. As a side note – he also imagines the “girding of loins” never exposed above the knees, but since the distance from the knee to the top of the waist is longer than the distance from the knee to the ground, his theory would require that men wear garments which drag along the ground in regular use (because tucking the bottom of the garment into the top necessitates its length being divided in half). This is certainly not what they did, as we know from the depictions of Jewish dress engraved by the Assyrians.

Additionally, the Bible puts no restrictions on who else could wear such attire. In fact, other than a few pieces like the ephod, all of the priestly garments were of the same basic style worn by all men and women at the time. There is no reason to believe that the wearing of miknac was banned to men or women any more than it was banned to wear the robes, sashes, coats, and belts all described in Exodus 28 as the garments of priests. Yes, they probably couldn’t have worn the exact colors and styles as the priests, but the basic garments were all the same. There are other garments which only men are recorded wearing in Scripture, such as the “girdle” or belt – and it is mentioned far more times than breeches (38 times). If the author’s logic is true, he should be quick to decry women’s wearing of belts of any kind – the biblical case is much stronger. Proving that mosaic priests wore boxers is a far cry from proving that pants are a universally and irrevocably masculine garment.

 

Miscellaneous Arguments

The author concludes his work with a series of softball questions and answers, followed by a smattering of quotations from people who agree with him, as well as a set of anecdotes about prostitutes and lesbians, and even a poem. Though most of this section just repeats previous arguments with less analysis, there are a few notable additions.

In response to how women are to ski, climb, swim, ride horses, etc. in skirts, Carter’s position is that women simply ought not do anything that cannot be done in a dress. “If a woman is participating in an activity that she cannot be modest in a dress than it is not a feminine activity; it is a masculine job or activity.” (pg. 37)

In response to the charge of legalism, Carter cites that legalism means adding to the plan of salvation – since he isn’t saying women must wear a skirt/dress in order to gain salvation (but rather to keep it), he believes he is exempt from this charge (pg. 40). By this logic, one can add literally any rule for Christians to follow, as long as you don’t claim that the rule is required to gain salvation. 

He says that a women’s silhouette is indecent, but a man’s is not (pg. 35-36). This is completely an arbitrary appeal to his own authority. He cannot possibly infer that from Scripture, because no men in Scripture wore anything resembling pants, except as an undergarment.

What Carter doesn’t do in this section is take on the tough questions, such as “what of the numerous articles of clothing originally designed for and worn by men, such as T-shirts (originally invented for men’s military use), boots, tennis shoes, baseball style hats, belts, socks, sweaters, stockings, and hoodies?

 

A Woman’s Perspective

Natalie also has some thoughts to share on this section. Here is her perspective:

On page 37, Rev. Carter shares an article about giving up women’s pants written by Bethany Vaughn. It was originally published on the Beautiful Womanhood website (formerly called Ladies Against Feminism). When I visited the site today, I found it interesting that her article has since been taken down. Instead, I found the following paragraph on their Start Here page:

“There is no uniform for women in Scripture, and there is a lot of room for creativity and freedom within the commands to be modest, pure, and feminine. We cannot hold others to a man-made standard of dress. If we have personal convictions about clothing, they must be grounded in God’s Word, and we must treat others with charity and grace. Not everyone has reached the same conclusions that we have, and we don’t shun women based upon outward appearances.”

On pages 41-42, Rev. Carter addresses the fact that the great majority of Christian woman have no conviction against women’s pants. In response, he quotes a man by the name of Bro. Potter who dismissively replies, “Big deal. Does that give you permission to rebel against the Word of God?” (pg. 41) Rev. Carter then elaborates in his own words, “The reason many claim to not be convicted is because they never study it or seriously pray about it.” (pg. 42) As a woman who did seriously pray and study Scripture and history regarding women’s pants, not for a few days but rather several years, it’s hard not take this assertion personally. Because Rev. Carter believes his interpretation of “hints” (pg. 31) in the Bible is correct, he simply assumes women like myself are lying regarding our own careful study. This is somewhat frustrating because how can I prove I genuinely came to a different conclusion when I am dismissed as dishonest? Far from half-heartedly looking over Scripture with the intent of “justifying” women’s pants, I studied the topic because I wanted to prove to Nathan that Scripture teaches women must only wear skirts. The more I studied, the more I realized I was the one in the wrong. After many years, I’m finally willing to admit that.

Another quote Rev. Carter shared to support his position was this one by a Mrs. Cathy Corle,

“So what do your pants say about you? ‘I’m my own boss. I’m taking the reins and my husband or my parents have no right to tell me what to do. I refuse to obey my God-given authority.’ Rebellion: plain and simple.” (pg. 45)

Really? And who ascribed this meaning? In my experience, the only people who believe pants say “rebellion” are the handful of people who claim women must wear skirts because pants say “rebellion.” And what about women like myself who have husbands that prefer us to wear pants in certain circumstances? In those situations, wouldn’t wearing a skirt be rebellion? Ironically, the same people who claim I’m a bad, rebellious wife for wearing pants would also tell me to continue wearing skirts even when my husband asks me not to. In other words, they don’t actually care about whether or not I’m a godly spouse. Their accusations of “rebellious wife” are all about pressuring me into fitting their dresscode, not improving my marriage.

The next quote that caught my attention was this one by Walter Isenhour (pg. 36),

“…It certainly doesn’t look womanly and ladylike to see a girl, or woman, wearing slacks. She looks ‘slack’ all right. She looks slack in her dress, slack in her walk, slack in her manners, slack in her womanhood, girlhood and motherhood. Many who wear men’s breeches and slacks are slack in their conduct, slack in their morals, slack in their character, slack in their spirituality.”

There’s no argument to this quote, it’s entirely insults based on assumption. Can you imagine if a man preached that women who wear jean skirts are “slack in their conduct, slack in their morals, slack in their character, slack in their spirituality?” It would never be tolerated. So why are these insults not only tolerated in regard to pants, but published in defense of “holiness living?”

Further into the miscellaneous argument section, Jack Hyles is quoted saying the following,

“If many of you were to tear up all your ‘britches,’ you would have to wear a barrel to the store to get something else to wear. The way you look in them, a barrel would fit you perfectly too! There’s not a man in this room tonight who wonders why it’s wrong for a woman to wear slacks, unless he thinks it’s okay to examine you like he would a pig at a county fair. You know it’s true!… This pant-wearing crowd is sapping the femininity out of our girls. That’s why they show their thighs when they put on a skirt; they don’t know how to sit because they wear pants most of the time. I’m saying, ‘Go home and burn your britches!'” (pg. 49)

In case you think we’re taking these quotes out of context, here are Rev. Carter’s exact words following the section written by Jack Hyles, “I really like this article. I believe the author summed up this whole study rather precisely and concisely.” (pg. 49) How someone cannot see that Jack Hyles, Walter Isenhour, and Cathy Corle’s words are little more than demeaning accusations, I have no idea. All I know is that I’m so grateful to be in a healthy Christian environment surrounded by godly men who honor me, value me, and treat me with respect and dignity. They don’t assume I’m a rebellious wife because I clean my house in capris, they don’t accuse me of having no morals because I show up in flowy palazzo pants, they don’t call into question my womanhood, femininity, or prayer-life over taking a run in joggers, and they never would tell me to wear a barrel or compare me to a pig. To all my sisters in Christ surviving in churches where such insults are dished out without qualms, please know that that’s not holiness. I pray you will find a church community where you will be cherished as the daughter of God you are, and never again beaten down or manipulated with careless, rash accusations.

Back to Nathan.

 

Conclusion

I am not averse to conceding when my intellectual opponents make valid arguments. In fact, I prefer it, as it generally leads to the discovery of more truth. Unfortunately, I find no compelling arguments in the 60 pages I read in The Problem with Pants, which begin to undermine my understanding of the issue.

While my response to this work is not intended as a comprehensive argument for women’s pants (that is here), it is worth noting that this issue does not stand alone. In contrast to reoccurring theological arguments (such as the extent of eternal security) upon which many people disagree across a variety of denominations, believing women’s pants are an abomination is part of a package. People like Rev. Carter are not bringing us an isolated argument, they are bringing us a worldview. It’s a worldview against evangelism, outreach, and fellowship with anyone who doesn’t wear their preferred garments. They offer a method of biblical interpretation that assumes that the 1950s in America were the high point of morality and then seeks to justify every standard that the American church held at that time (as well as many standards they didn’t hold). It is a worldview that strains at gnats and swallows camels. It is a worldview that it is high time to move on from.

—Nathan Mayo

 

Book Responded to:

Carter, Rev. Jayme D. The Problem with Pants. 2nd edition. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2015.

 

Find this interesting? Check out our article, “Can Godly Women Wear Pants?” For a full list of our articles tap here.

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Idolized Identity

Idolized Identity

What do the following have in common? Backsliders that won’t wear short sleeves, the idea that Holiness Christians are the “best people in the world,” an “us” vs. “them” mentality, hostile comments on Berean Holiness posts, a rewriting of Holiness history, and a girl who lost her sense of worth and value… They all point to one thing: a Holiness identity that has been idolized above identity in Christ.

This is a sensitive subject, so before I begin, let me briefly address two common critiques: “I’m Holiness and I have never experienced this,” and, “This happens in more denominations than just Holiness.” To the first criticism, I don’t invest hundreds of hours writing about unhealthy tendencies because I like problems. I do it because I want to see problems go away; I want to see churches and Christians thrive. So if you or your church don’t struggle with what I’m about to write about, that’s good news. To the second criticism, I completely agree—this problem exists in more places than just Holiness circles. Unfortunately, I’m very limited in how I can help in those circles (not enough experience in them, access to them, etc.). Thankfully, I can help Christians in Holiness churches, so until God opens more doors I will do my best to be faithful in the opportunity I have.

Now without further ado…

 

Who Am I?

I was alone that day. I packed box after box and rushed them out to my car. I was in a rush, because I not only needed to pack up my home, I also needed to clean it and still make it to my job on time. I loved my job at the bookstore. I loved explaining the differences in Bible translations, giving my opinion on the best Christian music, and selling everything from The Screwtape Letters to Reasonable Faith. But now that it was clear I could no longer attend, live, and serve at a Holiness church, I had to leave. My self-worth suffered as I grappled with the fact that I was no longer a “Holiness girl.” With nowhere to go, I put in my two week notice and crossed my fingers that I could find safe places to sleep until my last day on the schedule. (Thank God for hospitable strangers.)

When my last day at work finally came, I was relieved to get on the road. I drove and drove, still trying to process what had just happened. I had no home to go to, so I chose a state where not a single soul knew my name—Colorado. I’d never been there before. Once again, God provided strangers to host me until I found a place to rent and a church ministry where I could work. With over a thousand miles between me and nearly everyone and everything I knew and loved, I finally had space to think.

What would cause a girl to pack up everything she owned and move a thousand miles away? At the time I didn’t know, I was in a daze—I hardly knew who I was—but in hindsight, I see that that’s precisely why I left. It was because I didn’t know who I was. I had lost my identity, because my identity had been placed in my “holiness” instead of in Christ.

 

Did Everyone Else Compromise?

When I attended Holiness churches, it wasn’t just a church membership. It was more like becoming a spiritual VIP. Again and again we described ourselves as, “The best people in the world.” Even when I was included as one of those “world’s best people,” this perspective of ourselves made me uncomfortable. After all, the gospel teaches that we’re nothing apart from Christ. The more I read biographies of missionaries, martyrs, and persecuted Christians, the more troubled I became at how we looked down at all other branches of Christianity—not to mention the unsaved.

I remember confiding in one Holiness lady (not from my church) that I was planning to attend a non-Holiness church after I moved Out West; she was immediately concerned. She told me that the rest of Christianity used to believe in Holiness standards too, but they had all walked away from them. Holiness people were some of the only Christians who hadn’t “given up biblical holiness.” The message was clear; no matter what church I chose, if it wasn’t a Holiness church with Holiness standards, then it was a backslidden and compromised church. I had a hard time seeing her perspective, so I began to dig deeper into the roots of the Holiness Movement, dress standards in particular.

The deeper I looked into Church history, the more apparent it became that, no, Christianity has never been united on a dress-code. There were a few Christians in history that held views similar to Holiness standards. For example, in the 200s AD, Tertullian chided the women who wore makeup and jewelry, but in the same writings he also condemned colored clothing and hairstyles. Furthermore, Tertullian degraded women as  “the devil’s gateway” and said they ought to walk about “mourning and repentant” since it is the woman’s fault that Christ died. [1] Ironically, Tertullian was criticizing Christian women who were clearly not being taught these things by their church elders. So just a few generations after Christ, the Church was not united on outward appearance. (See: “The Holiness Standard in Church History.”) Tertullian’s rigid views only represented a minority, and he unfortunately went on to become involved in a heretical group. [2]

As I continued to read original documents from the Early Church, it became clear that Early Christians didn’t believe their separation from the world came from outward appearance. Consider this quote from The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, written in the 200s:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity… But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life… They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. [3]

It’s true that there were a few, small sects scattered through Church history which abstained from jewelry and/or makeup. However, this was often due to taking an oath of poverty or to better share the gospel in the slums, not because they thought it was morally wrong. Take the Waldensians for instance. [4]

So where does the idea come from that Holiness people are some of the few, uncompromised Christians left? In summary, the forerunner ideology of Holiness standards was “plain dress,” which became popular around the time of the reformation. Plain dress was extremely minimalistic. It was a healthy rebellion against the inordinate and lavish extravagance of the Catholic Church. It spread through many branches of the Anabaptists, including the Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, and the Brethren, as well as the Mormons, Adventists, and Moravians. John Wesley was influenced by these Christians and encouraged their plainness for Methodists. [5] The Holiness Movement arose out of Methodism around the 1840s, and was largely composed of leaders who had backgrounds in plain-dressing churches, thus plain-dressing tended to be practiced among them.

Interestingly enough, “holiness” to the early Holiness Movement was not referring to their dress. “Holiness” referred to their key, defining belief, the belief in the “blessing of holiness” or as we might call it today, instantaneous sanctification. The Holiness Movement, which had been interdenominational, began breaking into their own independent churches and groups beginning in the 1880s. These branches further divided and formed after the Azusa Street revival. By the early 1900s, a myriad of groups had branched off from Holiness roots, including: Pilgrim Holiness, Free Holiness, Congregational Holiness, The Church of God, the Assemblies of God, the Nazarene, Free Methodists, Evangelical Methodists, Independent Methodists, the Salvation Army, Church of Christ Holiness, and many, many more. As these foundling denominations formed, they were faced with the question, “Should we pass on our remnants of plain dress traditions, and if so, how?” During the Holiness revivals in the 1800s, plain dress had primarily been a matter of personal choice, but as Holiness denominations in the 1900s found out, it’s not a choice every Christian makes. Some churches attempted to create uniformity by turning plain dress into a set of rules and enforcing them. Any Christian who wouldn’t abide by the traditions would have their membership revoked and their salvation called into question. This caused such confusion and harm that, one by one, most rule-making churches prayerfully reconsidered what they had done, and removed their restrictions. Independent Holiness Pentecostal churches are among the minority which have not yet re-thought their earlier decision. In summary, no, Christianity didn’t backslide and leave Holiness churches as the only ones who wouldn’t compromise. Rather, a very small subset of Christianity started imposing a dress code 100 years ago that most of them came to regret and revoke.

As I continued to research, I was amazed to find out that Holiness churches have actually “let down the standard” themselves. The original plain dress standard was far more strict. It included a head veil for women, neutral colors only (often only dark colors), no patterns, no designs, no lace, no ruffles, and occasionally it even required stockings and forebode buttons and collars (more about this in, “Which Old-Time Holiness Should We Go Back To?“). This raises the question, “If it’s wrong to deviate from clothing-tradition now, why wasn’t it wrong for the Holiness Movement to deviate from the original plain dress tradition?”

 

“Us” Vs. “Them”

Sadly, most Holiness Christians do not know their own history. The idea still persists that Holiness Christians are, and I quote, “the best God’s got going,” the only ones who refuse to compromise, the only ones with holiness “without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). All too often, “holiness” is perceived and preached as rules regarding dress and entertainment (entertainment restrictions are also a trickle-down from Puritan, Pietist, and Anabaptist influences—except those groups even forbade picnics and plays). Rules vary from area to area, but they tend to stay along the following lines: no pants on women, no cutting women’s hair, no jewelry, no makeup, no sports, no movies, no facial hair, and a very strict sense of modesty (long sleeves, etc.). Many Christian sects follow these rules, including subsets of Baptists, old order Mennonites, certain Wesleyans, old school Church of God, and other Holiness movements, but the movement I grew up in rarely recognized these Christians. For whatever reason, we saw them as compromisers as well. They certainly weren’t part of “us.”

“Us” was a very important word. There was “us” and there was “them.” “Them” was everyone who wasn’t us. And, if you listened to some sermons, you’d think “they” were out to get “us.” That’s why we had to avoid “them.” There were Christian ministers we weren’t allowed to listen to, Christian books we were told not to read, Christian Bible Studies we weren’t supposed to go to, Christian churches we were warned against fellowshipping, and Christian friends we weren’t allowed to have. And I don’t mean that we were warned against a few fringe groups, I mean we were warned against mainline Christianity. Speaking for myself, I have been told before not to listen to any contemporary or modern Christian music, only Southern Gospel and hymns. I have also heard authorities say to never use a Bible study written by a woman who wears pants and to never read a book about Christianity written by a man who doesn’t speak in tongues (unless the book pre-dates the 1900s, for some reason those were fine).

Most impactful on me personally was how I was frowned upon for doing outreach and charity work with brothers and sisters who were not part of the “us” group. Were they hurting me spiritually? Far from it. In America, we studied apologetics together on Wednesdays, had girl’s Bible study on Sundays, and walked through the mall and city streets on Fridays sharing the gospel one-on-one. In Albania, we cared for young girls who were rescued from human trafficking, we fed and loved on the street kids who had no one else, we visited the elderly and the mentally sick, we reached out to teenagers through English classes, and we planted churches where the gospel hadn’t been for dozens, if not hundreds, of years. I was so excited for what God was doing in my life and through His people around the world, but every time I befriended non-Holiness Christians, I felt shame and suspicion from my own denominational subset—the “us” group. Shame because I was associating with “them.”

The pressure not to affiliate with other Christians put me in a quandary. I knew my non-Holiness friends were blood-bought, born-again, genuine believers. I knew they were pushing me towards Christ. I knew unity among believers was Christ’s desire and prayer. I was (and still am) passionate about ending human trafficking, abolishing abortion, reaching local communities, defending freedom of religion, and sharing Christ through apologetics. With all due respect, Holiness churches tend to work as Lone Rangers, and because of that they just aren’t making any significant headway in these areas; these causes demand that Christians work together. If I could’ve had it my way, I would’ve attended Holiness churches for who knows how long while continuing to work hand in hand with my brothers and sisters on the frontlines. However, I didn’t feel like I was being given that option. The message was, “Them or us. Choose.” So I chose, and naturally, I had to go with the Christians who were doing the heavy lifting in impacting our nation for Christ (besides, they weren’t the ones creating the dichotomy).

 

The Puzzle of Holiness Standards

When I initially set out for Colorado, I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know who I would become. I felt at a loss. My self-esteem was suffering. My value felt like it was tanking. I had always identified and respected myself because I was a “Holiness girl.” Sure, I hadn’t believed Holiness rules were biblically required, but I followed them all my life because that’s who I was. I was “Holiness,” and Holiness people identify themselves by following the Holiness traditions. But now that was all behind me, a thousand miles away. So who was I now?

I took many long hikes and walks; I needed to think and pray and ponder. How should I live? How should I dress? The first pair of pants I wore got a full modesty check. I turned full-circle as two other Christian girls inspected my appropriateness and granted their approval. For just a few dollars, I bought a cross necklace and some basic, Walmart makeup. I watched a real Disney movie, Christopher Robin—the first movie I’d ever watched by myself. My stricter friends warned over and over that I was headed out down a slippery slope, sure to end up off the deep end at any moment. The ironic thing is, when it comes to outward appearance, I’m actually more conservative now than I was when I stopped attending Holiness churches. That first pair of pants I wore? I never wore them again; I came to prefer a loose-cut jean or flowy capris. I still wear skirts on a regular basis, I currently don’t have a daily makeup routine, I rarely wear jewelry besides my wedding ring. I’ve never worn a low-cut shirt, never cut my hair, never got a piercing, never got a tattoo, and my entertainment/movie criteria has remained abnormally strict. I say this for one reason, that I have nothing against the Holiness standards in and of themselves. I place great value on modesty, discretion, femininity, conservatism, and purity. There are many restraints I have on myself that aren’t biblically required, they just happen to be where I personally draw my lines. Besides this, I have continually stressed that if someone feels convicted to live more strictly than myself, then they definitely should! There’s nothing wrong with skirts, long hair, no makeup, no jewelry, no movies, or anything else the Holiness standards entail.

Despite this stance, the articles Nathan and I publish on Berean Holiness have received impressively angry and dramatic criticism, especially the ones that cross-examine the arguments for Holiness standards being biblical requirements. Are we trying to escape or disobey scripture? No. We want to know what scripture says, nothing less and nothing more. It is our love for the integrity of scripture which drives us to examine teachings in the light of the Word. This has been responded to by a backlash of people saying we “hate” and “attack” holiness standards. Take these quotes for example, “You seem to have an agenda to tear down our Holiness standards… I was devastated to read your posts… this is so dangerous, blood will be in someone’s hands in the end,” “Not only is [Berean Holiness] young people, but backslidden young people who are commenting and rebutting against Holiness, just to make themselves look better after backsliding and knowing they are wrong.” I find the highly emotional reactions to discussing the Holiness traditions very interesting. Interesting, because we can talk about charity work, apologetics, Church history, essential doctrines, or a plethora of other important topics with little to no engagement. But if we post something about Holiness dress-code? Social media explodes. It’s no coincidence that discussing the biblical basis of Holiness traditions causes more emotional reaction and backlash than any other topic we’ve touched.

 

Something’s Off

If the things the Holiness traditions say to do aren’t wrong, then why even talk about them? To put it in the words of one of our critics, “Why is your ministry focusing on the most trivial subjects?… Every soul that slips through your fingers their blood will be on your hands because you were so focused on traditions… you will stand in judgment because while both of you are focused on trivial things…” “Trivial” isn’t a bad label for things like pants and jewelry; whether we abstain from them or not, we should all recognize their insignificance. However, something that should be trivial, like whether or not a girl chooses to wear a purity ring, becomes very significant when it hinders and/or distracts from the gospel.

I’ve had a front row seat watching Holiness Christians for my entire life and, over the years, I’ve realized that rules against purity rings aren’t merely intended to keep congregants away from jewelry; something much bigger is afoot. After dozens of conversations, I’m convinced that I am not alone in my observations.

Have you ever paid much attention to those who grow up in strict churches and then leave and do poorly? If so, you’ll notice two camps in particular, among others, that are both sad and strange. One camp is the “deep end” group. One day they’re doing amazingly well, they’re preaching, singing, shouting, going to Bible School, and the next day, they’re committing blatantly immoral sins, living wild and loose, apathetic towards the existence of God. Another odd group who leaves strict churches are the people who completely leave Christianity—they don’t pray, read, go to church, or follow Christ’s basic commandments—but they still follow the Holiness standards they were taught. For example, they might sleep around, but they’re scared to cut their hair. They might never open their Bible, but they’d also never pierce their ears. One man I know of hadn’t attended any church in years, but he still hated wearing a uniform with short sleeves because it “wasn’t holiness.” This second category of backsliders is sometimes spoken highly of in the churches they left. I remember listening to an elderly lady testify about her daughter, “I just want to thank the Lord, my daughter is still lost, she needs to get back to God, but I am just so thankful He has kept her from putting on pants!” With all due respect, what good do Holiness traditions do us if we’re not even Christians?

It must be mentioned that some people continue to attend Holiness churches after they’ve left Christ. I’m saddened by the messages I get from Holiness young people telling me how their peers live in habitual immorality (lying, stealing, sexual sin, etc.) and yet still identify as “Holiness.” They are sometimes praised for how they got a conviction to, say, wear long sleeves, all the while still habitually sinning. This is in contradiction to what the Holiness movement teaches, but somehow these young adults are so confused that they are more concerned with following Holiness traditions than following the teachings of Christ. How could this happen?

These types of experiences have left me with so many questions. If people don’t care about serving God, why would they be afraid to break the dress-code they were raised with? On the other hand, how do you go from being a dedicated, strict-living Christian one day to living out an immoral, irresponsible lifestyle the next? As for my experiences with church-goers, where did the whole “them vs. us” mentality come from? What was stopping us from seeing other Christian denomination as our equals and working hand in hand with them to share Christ? Why did so many Holiness Christians respond to Berean Holiness with hostility? Why is questioning whether or not scripture teaches Holiness standards such an emotionally charged issue? Why did we reinterpret Holiness history so much, to make it all about standards when it wasn’t? And what about me? Why did attending church outside of the Holiness movement leave me so shaken that I wanted to run away to somewhere where not a soul knew me in order to recover?

 

The Holiness Identity

As I pondered the above questions, I came to believe that they most likely all share the same answer. I just needed to put my finger on it. One thing was for sure, the Holiness rules about dress and entertainment were more than just doctrines to us. So what were they? As I thought, a song we adapted came to mind:

I choose to be a Christian, I choose to be like Him,
Nobody’s making me do it, this is how I want to live.
You decide for you; I’ll decide for me.
Holiness is what I want to be!

Now that I’ve come to know believers from other denominations, the idea of this song being sung, say, “I choose to be a Christian, I choose to be like Him… [insert denomination, e.g. Baptist] is what I want to be” is so odd to those groups that it’s humorous. But for us in the Holiness movement, our name in those lyrics made perfect sense. Holiness wasn’t just the type of church we attended, Holiness is what we wanted to be. We used the phrase, “I am Holiness,” quite a bit. Not just when someone asked us what denomination we were a part of, put in our preaching, in our singing, in our testimonies. I am Holiness, I am. “Holiness” was how we identified ourselves. It was who we were.

What were we referring to when we said, “holiness?” It didn’t mean we wanted to just attend a Holiness church. I know that because there were people who attended our churches for years who we said, “weren’t holiness.” We couldn’t have been referring to the classic or biblical definition of holiness either, because we weren’t claiming the perfection of all virtues. We also weren’t referring to “holiness” in our movement’s historic sense of the “Holiness blessing” aka instantaneous sanctification. When we sang, “Holiness is what I want to be,” we were referring to holiness in the sense of following holiness traditions, especially the dress code. Following Holiness rules gave us the right to identify as “Holiness.” We took pride in that identity. It came with a sense of moral superiority. After all, Holiness people were “the best God’s got going,” “the best people in the world.” If any person truly sought the Lord, God would lead them into Holiness—He’d lead them straight to us. We really believed that. We really said that. It made sense to us because, without “Holiness… no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). And, yes, we quoted that to mean that no one could go to heaven without following our adapted traditions and, except in rare cases, going to our churches. The holiness standards combined with membership to a Holiness church is what we viewed as our “holiness,” and this holiness was perceived to make us holier than the rest of Christendom. We didn’t just have holiness, we were holiness. Holiness, church membership and adherence to traditions, became our very identity, who we were and how we saw ourselves. This holiness is what made us special, it’s what gave us value, purpose, and belonging.

Just like some New Testament Jews mistakenly saw circumcision and purity laws as the way to become part of God’s special, holy people, many Holiness people today see abstaining from women’s pants, makeup, jewelry, etc. as the way to become part of God’s special, holy people. Holiness traditions aren’t just doctrines, they are identity markers.

 

Putting the Pieces Together

How does grounding our identity in “holiness” answer the puzzling realities I mentioned earlier? First, if our identity is grounded in specific, nonessential doctrines, it finally makes sense why we can’t view other Christians as equals. Simply put, our identity in Christ does not supersede our denominational identity. Instead of the holiness of Christ bringing us together as one, our redefined version of Holiness (traditions and church membership) separates us into distinct, irreconcilable categories. When we find our identity in “holiness” rather than emphasizing the gospel, Christ, and core Christian doctrines, we lose our commonality with other Christ-followers. So, why would fellowshipping other Christians be seen as dangerous? Since other Christians don’t believe and stress our “holiness” teachings like we do, there’s a possibility that being around them might cause us to start thinking like them… we might stop prioritizing our traditions. To do so would be to lose who we are, to lose our special identity, and that’s risking too much. Staying away is a method of protecting the differences by which we define ourselves.

This explains the “us” vs. “them” mentality. Setting ourselves apart, not just from sin, but from the rest of the Body of Christ, drives home our belief that we are something special. We are holiness, they aren’t holiness. In order to keep us away from other Christians, it is preached and taught that non-holiness believers are determined to “steal our truth.” The only way to protect our beliefs is to avoid anyone who would question their biblical basis (in some circles, challenging questioners are compared to Satan in the Garden of Eden).

The Holiness identity also helps to explain the groups of backsliders I mentioned. The group that leaves Christianity but continues to keep Holiness standards values being Holiness more than being in Christ. For some reason, they’re not afraid to break clear, biblical commands, but if they broke a Holiness tradition then they wouldn’t be “Holiness” anymore. It’s as if they have more fear of not being “Holiness” than not being a Christian. This points to Holiness identity being prioritized over identity in Christ.

As for the backsliders that seem to lose their moral compass after leaving Holiness, this might be because they didn’t have a solid relationship with Christ to begin with. They did Christian things (like praying or staying sexually pure) because it was the Holiness thing to do. Once they had some reason to leave their Holiness identity, Christianity didn’t matter. Christianity was merely a subset of their Holiness identity and not the other way around.

As for why many Berean Holiness posts and articles are responded to with hostility rather than civil discussion, this might be is that the Holiness identity is crucial to how they understand themselves. To even consider that their understanding of being “holiness” isn’t the biblical definition feels like a betrayal of the very things that set them apart and make them special. Holiness traditions aren’t just doctrines, they’re deeply personal identity markers. This makes them highly sensitive and difficult topics.

And why did we reinterpret Holiness history so much to make it all about standards when it isn’t? Because there’s pressure to create the idea that Holiness people are the last ones standing, the true church that stayed faithful when everyone else fell away. This is how many Holiness people see themselves; it’s part of the Holiness identity. Of course, the Holiness Movement was originally about entire sanctification (which is ironically a doctrine we moved away from), so they only way to see oneself as the “last one standing” is to conveniently rewrite history and pretend our dress-code/rules have never changed.

The above consequences point to the fact that some of us have allowed “Holiness” (as defined by traditions and church attendance) to define who we are, to give us our value, and to set us apart. We are finding our ultimate identity in a movement instead of in Christ. To be clear, while there’s nothing wrong with being a part of church group and willing to say so, the problem comes when the Holiness identity is prioritized so much that we don’t know who we would be without it, so much that we derive our value and self-worth from it. And if we go so far as to prioritize our Holiness identity over, or as equal to, our identity in Christ, we have crossed the line into a form of idolatry.

 

Finding Identity in Christ

Why did I follow Holiness standards for eight years after I realized they weren’t in Scripture? It was because I saw myself as Natalie Mayo, the Holiness girl. I was the girl who followed every standard to a T. I was the girl who never broke a rule, never touched makeup, never wore a piece of jewelry, never trimmed her hair, never put on a pair of pants, never watched a movie on a television. That’s who I was. That’s what I was known for, that’s what I was praised for, and (have come to find out) that’s what I was loved for.

When I first told a Church leader that, after studying for myself I didn’t believe all Holiness standards were biblical standards, the reply was, “Then you’re not really Holiness.” “Wait, what?” I thought, “I’m not Holiness? But, I was raised in Holiness churches, I graduated from a Holiness Bible School, my family is full of Holiness ministers, I’m as involved in Holiness missions and outreach as I know how to be, and just look at how Holiness I look… but I’m not Holiness? Then, what am I? Who am I?”

In that critical moment, I had to decide where I was going to place my loyalty. I could recant what I said and keep my Holiness identity; all I had to do was just ignore where I believed the Holiness movement misquoted scripture, lie about my beliefs if anyone asked me, and I could keep all my connections, ministry opportunities, dating opportunities, credentials, perfect track records, plethora of friendships, and all my hopes and dreams—all of which intersected with the Holiness movement. Or, I could place my loyalty with Christianity, refuse to stay silent about scriptures I believed were being twisted, and risk losing my whole life and future as I knew it. The hardest part of all was the simple fact I could no longer say, “I am Holiness.” From that point forward, I would only be a Christ-follower. Could I be content to find my identity in Christ alone?

It wasn’t easy, but after miles of pacing, deep thought, and heartfelt prayer, the desire to be Christian-first won out. I had to face the fact that I had idolized the status I found in being a “Holiness girl.” I loved the praise it brought. I loved the sense of belonging. I loved feeling special. But the more my Christian identity clashed with my Holiness identity, the more I was forced to realize that I had idolized my Holiness identity in an unholy way. I had let fear of losing Holiness compliments keep my mouth closed when Scripture was being twisted. I let fear of losing Holiness community keep me from being honest about my beliefs. I let pride be my motivation for keeping a perfect record in a set of rules I didn’t even believe in. It took a lot of humility to say, “I was wrong” and to admit my own stubbornness, but thank God I did. Day by day, I’m still learning what it means to be a Christian and prioritize Christ before anything else. It’s not easy, but I’m so grateful I at least know what to focus on and prioritize now; keeping Holiness status is no longer a distraction. For me personally, putting my identity in Christ first meant losing my Holiness identity. There was no way I could serve Christ to my fullest potential in Holiness churches; I knew I had to be free to speak about what Scripture does/does not say regarding Holiness traditions. I had to give up my idolized identity. After making that hard decision, I can no longer say, “I’m a Holiness girl,” but I can still say, “I’m His girl.” At last, that’s all that matters.

If you are struggling with the same question I was, my wholehearted advice is to take a step of faith and place your full identity in Christ alone. If you continue going to a Holiness church or following Holiness traditions, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with those things in and of themselves. The sin (and all its consequences) will come when we idolize our Holiness identity as equal to or above our identity in Christ. If you’re not sure where your identity lies, ask yourself, “How would I feel if a Holiness authority told me I’m not really Holiness?” “How would I respond if I found out a Holiness teaching was at odds with Scripture?” If it would cause panic, denial, loss of self worth, or make you to question who you are, then you have most likely prioritized your Holiness identity to an unhealthy degree. It’s time to take a step back, pursue Christ, and place your identity in Him alone. Being in Christ and a partaker of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10) is the ultimate goal; being “Holiness” via traditions and church membership is only good so long as it is a tool to reach that goal and not a replacement.

 

Conclusion

“I’m Holiness from the top of my head to the soles of my feet!” I heard this saying many times growing up. Did we mean we were perfectly sinless? Did we mean we were the embodiment of God’s chief attribute? No. It was used to say that we were completely sold out to the Holiness traditions; it was our proclamation that we would never touch a necklace or nail polish or anything else that would “defile” us. This saying was immediately quoted when I told a friend that there was a Holiness tradition I hadn’t kept. They let me know I was no longer the real deal. I had given up one of the identity markers, and as consequence I must relinquish my title of “Holiness,” along with all the status, belonging, and specialness it came with. It was such a blow at first, I could’ve cried. Looking back, I shake my head: what I see now is mind games.

It’s like two small children pretending to be royalty. One child says to the other, “You’re a queen! You can’t make mud pies no more.” The second child obliges at first, but after thinking about it decides queens can make her own decisions. She comes back later and blurts out to the first playmate, “I made a mud pie.” The first child gasps and says, “You’re not a queen no more! Now you’re a slave and you can’t play with me ’cause I’m still a queen.” The second child feels stripped of her royalty. She takes the rejection personally, and internalizes the ideas that she is no longer special or valuable. She begins to wail in sadness. As onlooking adults, we have to comfort the child and tell her that it was all imaginary. Mud pies don’t defile you. Someone else dubbing you “queen” doesn’t define your worth.

After rolling our eyes at the drama of children’s games, we fall into similar traps ourselves. We let people dub us as “Holiness.” We believe them when they tell us that’s what makes us special and valuable. We believe them when they say that a metal band on our finger or a brown paint on our eyelashes would defile us. When we let them know their rules of the game weren’t kept, we let them strip us of the titles they gave us and then we cry inside as they tell us they “can’t play with us no more.” We feel worthless and lost and confused. If only we knew it was all imaginary. If only we knew it was all in our heads!

When we find our identity, value, and worth in Christ alone, we will recognize other Christians as equals—brothers and sisters in Christ; we will be able to reach the lost and impact our communities with other church groups—without being scared that we’ll lose our distinctions; we will be able to discuss Scripture honestly without worrying someone will steal our truth; we will be strong enough in Christ to remain godly even if we lose our Holiness identity; and, if our Holiness identity and our identity in Christ ever clash, we will be able to choose the latter without hesitation and without suffering loss of self-worth. Before we are anything else, let us be Christians, let us be found in God, known by God, valued by God, and loved by God. May we see ourselves through His eyes. May the identity we hold near to our hearts be the identity our Creator designed us for, to be His.

—Natalie Edmonson

 

Sources:

  1. Tertullian, “On the Apparel of Women
  2. David F. Wright, “Why Were the Montanists Condemned?
  3. The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus,” Chapter 5.
  4. Catholic Encyclopedia, “Waldensians
  5. John Wesley, “On Dress

 

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Can Godly Women Wear Cosmetics?

Woman studying Bible

Growing up, I (Natalie) often overheard conversations about “those girls” who no longer attended Holiness churches. The assumptions made about them stuck with me, things like, “It’s such a shame she would compromise and wear makeup just to get a boyfriend…” It was as if the only reason a girl would condone cosmetics was because she was so desperate for love that she would compromise Scripture. This put me in a awkward predicament. After years of studying Scripture, I couldn’t pretend that the Bible teaches cosmetics are a moral sin. But at the same time, I knew my views would be dismissed as romantic desperation. I made up my mind that even if I wore makeup for other social events, I wouldn’t wear it on dates in order to avoid such accusations.

In February of 2020, a young man from Oregon, Cole Edmonson, flew out to Colorado to visit me on Valentine’s Day. This was not only our first date, it was our first time to meet in-person. I still stuck with my notion not to wear any makeup. The same went for our second date, and our third, fourth, etc. One evening, I asked Cole on what type of makeup he found attractive. He looked at my plain face, thought a moment, and said he really liked the way I did mine, it was “perfect,” but added that he’d personally prefer I not wear anymore than I already did. I gave him a funny look then laughed out loud. I explained that I had never worn makeup around him, so “no more” meant none at all. In the time since our early dates, my now-husband has seen me wear makeup and appreciates it for what it’s worth. However, he’s affirmed his opinion that he finds me more attractive without it.

My personal experiences have forced me to reconsider my assumptions. I was told makeup is wrong because it attracts men. Yet the man whose attention I desired informed that I am more appealing without it… So, when we were dating, should I have worn makeup in order to be less attractive? And, if the rule of thumb for morality is, “If it makes you more attractive then it’s wrong,” then what about flattering dresses and pretty hairstyles? Several years ago, an older man told me he knew I had started wearing my hair down in curls in order to catch the eye of another teen. I squirmed with embarrassment, but couldn’t deny it. But was my crime actually sinful? Is it wrong for a lady, the crowning jewel of God’s creation, to put some effort into looking as nice as possible (whether her motive is to be attractive or not)? To be clear, I take time to curl my hair even when I don’t want male attention. Sometimes I just want to come across as polished for a job-interview, or boost my confidence in order to make better first impressions. Cosmetics are no different. I am blessed to have skin with few defects and natural blush, but not every girl shares these traits. Is it wrong for them to conceal a mole, smooth their skin tone, or add some color to their cheeks? Maybe they apply makeup because they’re self-conscious about how pale their face is. Is that anymore wrong than me curling my hair when my hair isn’t naturally curly?

As much as I appreciate your consideration of my experiences, the most important question is, “What does the Bible say about cosmetics?” Some Christians claim that the Bible condemns them as sin. Is this so? We need to know. I hope you will carefully consider the arguments against cosmetics, as well as the cross-examination done by my brother, and weigh both perspectives carefully in light of Scripture.

—Natalie Edmonson

 

The Burden of Proof

It is important to refresh the idea of the logical principle of “burden of proof.” This is the simple idea that the person making the claim, holds the burden to prove it. If I claim the Bible forbids zippers, you’re not going to immediately take a pair of scissors to your favorite jacket “just to be safe.” No, you would rightly demand that I provide evidence for my claim. Even if you can’t think of a single argument in favor of zippers, it doesn’t matter, because you are not making a claim which you have to prove, only I am. And the burden of proof would be mine.

In this case, some in the Holiness movement say, “God doesn’t want you to wear makeup.” They have the sole burden to prove this claim. So let’s hear their case, in their own words. This article was taken from “The Holiness Handbook.” I cite this document, because it is the only Pentecostal Holiness objection to makeup that I have found on the internet. I will keep their words in red, with no alterations, and my responses in black. I will attempt to fairly understand and respond to what they have to say, without taking them out of context or misrepresenting their arguments.

……

The Case Against Makeup, Examined

Cosmetics or makeup

The real problem with the use of cosmetics is that it represents pride and rebellion against God and his creation.

This first sentence is their main claim, but at this point it’s just an assertion. Let’s see how they defend it.

Proverbs 6:16 These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: Pro 6:17  A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, (see more verses on pride under the jewelry section)

I agree on this entirely. However, Solomon is not referring to physical traits here, but actions and attitudes. Saying that a proud look is wrong does not prove that wearing makeup requires a proud look, any more than it does that using a tooth-whitening toothpaste involves a proud look.

1Timothy 2:9  In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. 2:10  But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

The Greek word for modest is kosmious, which means orderly, well-arranged, seemly, or modest. In other words, “modest” refers to clothing that is neat and appropriate for the occasion. The Greek word that is translated shamefacedness is aidos, which means having a sense of shame, modesty, and reverence. The Greek word for sobriety is sophrosuna. This is a person of sound mind, with self-control, of good judgment, and moderate in all that he does.

I have no reason to disagree with the author on any of these points. I think it is a fair interpretation of this passage to say that it teaches to dress appropriately for the occasion with a sense of respect for others. Nothing in this passage suggests that makeup could not be worn modestly, and its application to jewelry and clothing is addressed at length here.

Early church writings (less than two hundred years after Jesus was born) condemn the use of face painting (see below).

Early church writers did have some wisdom, like thought leaders from any age, so there is nothing wrong with consulting their writings. However, proving that dead people share your opinions is inadequate to prove the validity of your opinions. Opinions from any age must be held up to scrutiny.

“Those women who wear gold imitate the Egyptians. They occupy themselves with curling their locks. They are busy anointing their cheeks, painting their eyes, dyeing their hair, and practicing the other pernicious arts of luxury. The truth is that they deck the covering of their flesh in order to attract their infatuated lovers”. Clement of Alexandria (circa 195 AD), 2.272.

This is a particularly interesting quotation to use, because Clement is attacking jewelry (defended in depth here) and the curling of hair. Clement would have been shocked to see the hours that Pentecostal women put into the curling and teasing of their hair. Additionally, when Clement refers to “anointing their cheeks.” This would be a reference to anointing with oil, which would be most analogous to using lotion or Chapstick – something Pentecostal women are also allowed to do. The Holiness Handbook author gives no defense of why he is willing to accept Clement’s position on makeup but ignore it on hair dos and skin care regimens.

What is even more interesting than the passage the author quotes is the context he cuts. The same document in which Clement rails against makeup, he also rails against the pernicious influence of “bathing for pleasure,” men’s shaving, soft fabric, and colored fabric. We address this passage in more detail here. In short, most of what Clement says in this context is downright laughable to the modern reader – including the modern Pentecostal Holiness reader. His biblical justification is nonexistent, and his conjecture defies good sense. To pluck one reference about makeup out of a diatribe about the evils of bathing, shaving, skin care, soft fabric, colored clothing, and hair styling is not very intellectually honest.

“Whatever is born is the work of God. So whatever is plastered on, is the devil’s work…. How unworthy of the Christian name it is to wear a fictitious face — you on whom simplicity in every form is enjoined!  You, to whom lying with the tongue is not lawful, are lying in appearance”. Tertullian (circa 198 AD), 4.21.

Citing Tertullian in this matter is particularly troubling. While we have addressed his writing in more depth here, this was his basic premise regarding women.

“[speaking to Christian women] And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert — that is, death — even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins?” (“On the Apparel of Women,” Book One, Chapter One)

Essentially, Tertullian believed that women continue to bear unique guilt for sin and the death of Jesus. Therefore, they ought to reject care of skin, hair, jewelry, colored clothing, and anything other than “tunics of skin.” If this sounds extreme and unbiblical – it should.

To address Tertullian’s specific point that “whatever is born is the work of God,” let me say first that it is not found in Scripture. Second, if we were to follow it to its extreme, we should embrace all things natural. Body odor is more natural than soap and matted hair is more natural than combed hair. Cleft palates are more natural than surgically reconstructed ones. Raw wood is more natural than painted wood. On the contrary, God does not share this opinion. The temple he prescribed was full of sumptuously dyed cloth, woven patterns, and synthetically blended metals.

Philippians 4:4  Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. 4:5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

Moderation is a fine biblical principle. This could certainly apply to moderate use of makeup along with many other fine things. No issues here.

Archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of cosmetics (makeup) being used in Egypt dating back to the fourth millennium BC. They found ancient artifacts of eye makeup and objects used for the application of scented unguents. The people of Egypt were typically considered to be wicked and ungodly in the Bible. Leaving Egypt is a symbol of leaving a sinful life.

Revelation 11:8  And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. 

Exodus 5:2  And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.

Cosmetics originate independently in several places in history. Japan, China, Egypt, and Greece – essentially all the oldest complex cultures with significant preservation of their history. Nearly everything that predates Abraham was created by a pagan culture; this includes most clothing fashions and basic technology. The Egyptians are the first culture known to have used toothpaste, breath mints, high heels, and men’s shaving. Interestingly, the Holiness Handbook points out that along with eye makeup, the Egyptians were also the first to use “scented unguents.” Depending on context, this could either mean a kind of salve or perfume. Why isn’t the author attacking perfume and burn cream with the same charge of “Egyptianess” that he levels against eye makeup?

I have written extensively about this here, but suffice it to say that God commanded the children of Israel on their way out the door from Egypt to put Egyptian jewelry on their children (Exodus 22:22). Clearly, God didn’t abide by the principle that everything from Egypt was bad.

Wicked women of the Bible wore makeup

2 Kings 9:30  And when Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window.

This is the most interesting argument raised – though not developed – by the Holiness Handbook. Jezebel was clearly one of the worst characters in Scripture, I wouldn’t want to emulate her. So, why was Jezebel painting her face and what is the significance?

First, let’s look at what else she did. The King James records her second action as “tiring her head” or adorning her head. Most other translations relate this as “fixing her hair.” Even if it referred to adorning her hear with some sort of headpiece, it definitely entailed the arrangement of hair. So, if Jezebel arranged her hair, maybe we shouldn’t?

In 1 Kings 21:11, Jezebel is the only woman in Scripture who was recorded to have written anything. The particular thing she wrote was not innocuous, but was related to the conspiracy to murder Naboth. Never once does the Bible record women’s literacy in a good context. Does this mean that women shouldn’t learn how to write? If we want to use a “guilt-by-association” principle to discard makeup on these grounds, then we will also need to discard hair styling and women’s literacy.

Additionally, the admonition against makeup would not apply to many types of makeup. The word that the KJV translators chose to render “face” is rendered “eye(s)” 495 times throughout the rest of Scripture. A simple cross reference suggests that “painted her eyes” is the most precise translation. Consequently, one could only use this injunction to ban eye makeup. This would allow lipstick, foundation, blush, and fingernail and toenail polish.

Furthermore, why was Jezebel so concerned with her appearance here? Most Bible scholars believe that she knew she was going to be executed, so she wanted to look her best as a show of pride (or possibly to intimidate Jehu). She was showing she wasn’t afraid of Jehu – she would die like a queen. The Bible contrasts this haughty intent with the fact the Jezebel wasn’t buried at all; she was eaten by dogs. In any event, but Jezebel’s attire wasn’t appropriate for the occasion. Sack cloth and ashes is the right uniform for divine judgement, but Jezebel showed up in her royal finest. However, this is not an indictment of looking your best by fixing your hair or applying makeup.

This story is similar to when King Belshazzar holds a great feast in Daniel chapter 5 to celebrate the sacking of God’s temple. Belshazzar is gorging himself when fasting and mourning is the appropriate course of action. God judges him for his pride, but not for the act of eating or feasting. It was the context that was the problem, not the action itself. It’s easy to tell whether it’s the action or the context that is the problem, because when it is the action (like idolatry), God forbids it directly. When the action isn’t wrong, like feasting or makeup, God doesn’t forbid it.

Ezekiel 23:39 For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house. 23:40  And furthermore, that ye have sent for men to come from far, unto whom a messenger was sent; and, lo, they came: for whom thou didst wash thyself, paintedst thy eyes, and deckedst thyself with ornaments.

This verse about a metaphorical uncouth woman from Ezekiel is significantly less interesting than the Jezebel argument. The phrase that immediately proceeds the “painting” is “thou didst wash thyself.” The Holiness Handbook offers no reason why we should dispense with painting and not with washing. Furthermore, the subsequent phrase “deckedst thyself with ornaments” is used nearly verbatim a few chapters earlier. In the context of Ezekiel 16:11, God himself is putting the jewelry on a metaphorical Israel. “I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck.” God is bedecking a woman with jewelry as a sign of grace and favor. Thus, makeup appears sandwiched between two things that are specifically Biblically justifiable, and it is difficult to pry it out of this context and categorize it as a unique evil.

History tells us that the use of cosmetics began in Egypt to look more like the false gods and goddesses that they worshipped. In various cultures it was typical for the harlots and prostitutes to use cosmetics to draw attention from their potential clientele.

As I have addressed the observation about Egypt above, let’s consider the matter that prostitutes are more likely to have worn makeup historically. Since prostitutes are selling themselves, anything they can do to improve their desirability and noticeability is to be expected. This would include makeup, along with bathing, and arranging their hair (note that this does not make those things wrong). Furthermore, this is not the only modern common place item to have been historically associated with prostitutes. Most forms of pre-modern birth control were also associated with prostitutes, but I have never heard a Holiness preacher condemn birth control on these grounds.

Makeup is certainly not a way to recognize a prostitute in the modern era, so there is no concern about a Christian woman creating an appearance of evil. Even in older times makeup was never exclusively for prostitutes. Throughout the middle ages, women lightened their skin, most famously Queen Elizabeth. Italian women pioneered the use of lipstick in the same time period. Makeup was more a feature of the upper class, as are most of our modern luxuries like indoor plumbing, wrist watches, and eye-glasses.

Until the 1940s, the use of makeup was considered sin by most Christian churches.

An appeal to the opinions of the early 20th century American church is not much an argument without some justification of their position. Most Christian churches prior to the 1940’s had a lot of standards for women. There was a time when it was considered unseemly for a woman to vote or have a legal title to property. College and working outside the home were largely forbidden in conservative circles. And as we have covered at length, many of these churches in the Holiness lineage taught against buttons, lace, ribbons, ruffles, hair curling, colored clothing, patterned clothing and numerous other things. I think it’s fair to say that most American churches prior to 1940 would have forbidden interracial marriage as well, which is not biblically justifiable. Ultimately, the teachings of Scripture must take precedence over the opinions of dead people.

Having arrived at the end of this argument – I was honestly a bit surprised that there weren’t more interesting arguments against this. The whole argument amounted to some uncontroversial admonition for moderation and against pride. There were some cherry-picked Early Church quotations that lump makeup with the evils of men shaving their beards and bathing for pleasure. There were some tired historical arguments that everything associated with Egypt is bad, an allusion to Jezebel, and an appeal to the morality of the 40’s.

 

The Case for Cosmetics

While it is up to you to determine whether the Holiness Handbook adequately met their burden of proof, I will also submit some positive arguments for makeup for your additional consideration.

 

The Bible Never Forbids Cosmetics

I have addressed this topic at length elsewhere, but the simple question deserves to be posed in this context. If God doesn’t want his children wearing makeup, why didn’t he ever say so? Makeup clearly existed at the time of the writing of Scripture. The Bible refers to it. Yet, it doesn’t get a single prohibition in any one of the 613 commandments of the Old Testament. It isn’t mentioned at all in the New Testament. We are given many principles about how to love others and dress in a manner that respects others, but nary a command or suggestion about makeup.

Even if we are to infer from the story of Jezebel that eye makeup is bad (which is a major exegetical stretch), that still leaves face makeup, nail polish, and hair dye completely unaddressed by Scripture.

 

The Bible Promotes the Use of Several Cosmetics

One cosmetic that is promoted in Scripture in is anointing oil. Putting aside the ceremonial use of anointing oil for kings and priests, there was also a use for the sake of appearances. Oil has both scent and an appearance. It is certainly used in Scripture as a cosmetic on to the faces of men and women and in portrayed as a positive in no uncertain terms.

Ruth uses it to attract Boaz, “Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: (3:3).” David uses it to worship God, “Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped (2 Samuel 12:20).” God uses it to bless metaphorical Israel, “Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. (Ezekiel 16:9)” Jesus commands his disciples to use it, “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face (Matthew 6:17).” The only time it wasn’t used, was when there was a problem, “And Joab … said unto her, I pray thee, feign thyself to be a mourner, and put on now mourning apparel, and anoint not thyself with oil, but be as a woman that had a long time mourned for the dead:” (2 Samuel 14:2)

Additionally, scent-based cosmetics are referenced in many positive contexts as well. Perfumes are very similar to makeup in that they make the wearer more attractive to others, and unnaturally so. They also tend to draw some level of attention to the wearer and can be used to show wealth. One attracts the eyes, the other the nose, but in all other respects they are nearly identical.

Perfume of one sort or another appears over 200 times in Scripture, mostly in positive contexts. They were used in the worship of God in the temple and tabernacle (Exodus 30:23). They covered the clothing of king David and Queen Esther (Psalm 45:8, Esther 2:12). It was used to anoint the righteous dead (2 Chronicles 16:14). It was used to great effect by the lover in the Song of Solomon (1:3,12 4:10). It was given to Jesus as a gift at his birth (Matthew 2:11). It is praised metaphorically in the writings of Paul (2 Corinthians 2:15, Ephesians 5:2, Philippians 4:18). Most famously, it was used to anoint the Son of God – an act which Jesus praised (Mark 14:8).

It’s also worth noting that God and godly people used these perfumes and oils despite the fact that the Bible also associates them with prostitutes (Proverbs 7:17) the worship of pagan gods (2 Kings 12:3), and the judgment of haughty Israel (Isaiah 3:24). God clearly is far less concerned with the “guilt-by-association” ideal than the Holiness Handbook.

 

The Holiness Movement Allows Many Cosmetics

The Holiness Handbook used a general sense of cosmetics as makeup for the face (with the Bible verses they cited referencing only eye-makeup). A broad definition of a cosmetic is “anything that attempts to improve the beauty of the human body – most often the face.” Outside of traditional makeup, there are several other cosmetics that have largely been embraced by the Holiness people.

Braces are the most obvious example of this. Braces cost thousands of dollars, are medically unnecessary for the vast majority of people, and are completely about improving appearances. Yet Holiness youths flash them without shame (often with colored decorative bands as well).

Tooth whitening (either through procedures, home treatment, or regular toothpaste with whitening components) is also a cosmetic modification to the face for the sake of appearances.

Skin care regimens such as lotion and anti-aging cream serve the same basic purpose of improving the appearance of the face and are worn and used without concern by Holiness women.

Intentional sun tanning (or avoidance of the sun) is another way to alter the pigment in your skin. Insofar as time is worth money or crowds out income earning opportunities, it is also not free.

Perfumes, scented soaps, and deodorants – let’s call them olfactory cosmetics – are used very frequently by Holiness men and women.

While hair styling isn’t a cosmetic per se, it serves the identical function of improving a man or woman’s physical appearance. Spending half an hour on hairstyling (and using ample hair products for volume, sheen, and stiffness) is extremely prevalent in the Holiness community of today and was banned in the Holiness camp of yesteryear. These chemical products and the effects they achieve are not logically different from applying products to marginally improve the appearance of the face or nails. Also, my personal experience is that it takes my non-Holiness wife less time to fix her hair and apply her minimal makeup, than it did for my Holiness kin to simply fix their hair.

For men, the Holiness approve of and even mandate facial shaving – a modern practice designed to improve appearance at the expense of a more “natural” look.

Colored, tailored, and patterned clothing is also an unnecessary feature designed to accentuate the outward appearance of the wearer. It is associated with evil people in Scripture and banned by many early church fathers, civil laws, and the founders of the Holiness Movement. The parallels to makeup are obvious. Yet, we embrace these styles in our churches without a second thought.

 

Makeup Is a Celebration of Femininity

The Bible generally promotes the idea that men and women are different and tend to have different group characteristics. While not all women are the same, a general characteristic of women is that they are more attuned to appearance and beauty then men are. If your personal experience doesn’t attest to this fact, I will submit the statistic that the interior design profession is approximately 90% female. I think this is something that should be celebrated, and tactful makeup is one way that women can accentuate their feminine appearance.

This is why second-wave feminism of the 60’s and 70’s rejected it. At the famed Miss America Pageant protest of 1968 that gave us “bra-burning,” makeup was also one of the objects derided. While I think Christians can make common cause with the protestors over the fact that our culture should not objectify women, we would disagree with them about their desire to eliminate the distinguishing factors between the sexes.

Makeup is one of those distinguishing factors in both the modern era and ancient times. The cosmetic industry also opened a lot of opportunity for women as entrepreneurs, distributers, and promoters. It even provided many women with the opportunity to earn income who choose to stay home with their children.

 

Where Do We Draw the Line?

The fact is that the lines are already blurred in the Holiness camp – with people spending hundreds on tooth whitening while decrying others for changing the colors of their toenails. Or women spending long afternoons in the sun with the intent to darken their face, while tut-tutting other women for spending a few dollars applying bronzer.

Certainly, there are ways that one can displease God in the wearing of makeup. Biblically though, this would have more to do with the attitude and intent of the wearer than any absolute standard of what constitutes “proper” makeup. Additionally, every ill-intent a makeup wearer could hold (pride, self-absorption, seduction, etc.) could be held by a non-makeup wearer to the same degree. Cosmetics are neither necessary nor sufficient to commit sin.

Can men wear makeup? In general, when men wear makeup in modern culture, they are intentionally defying God’s design for gender. This intent is wrong, so the actions that accompany it would be as well. However, the nice thing about following broad biblical commands and principles is that it gives us guidance in areas in which legalism just has to scratch its head. I have worn a good deal of makeup in my life, and much of it was applied to the eyes, in violation of a legalistic rule. I’ll admit that I applied the makeup a little too ostentatiously and I would have made quite a show if I had walked through the mall with it on. As it was, my green and black camouflage stripes were for military operations and therefore violated no biblical principles. If we are to believe that the Bible forbids face painting with no regard to the intent of the wearer, then military camouflage would be out as well.

The fact is that biblical principles are a much better guide for a fast-changing world that trying to apply a list of regulations developed in a bygone era. (See “Replacing Rules with Discipleship“).

 

Conclusion

I would never say that one must wear makeup in order to be a good woman. However, makeup is just one of a broad range of cosmetics, most of which are already embraced by the Holiness movement. If your heart is right, there is no biblical prohibition against makeup anywhere in Scripture. Furthermore, cosmetics (including products for men like cologne) can be used as a celebration of God’s complementary design for gender. The fact is that the loss of makeup has largely been substituted with more time spent on hair. This doesn’t make the women more holy, but it may leave them feeling self-righteous.

My personal tastes in makeup are strongly on the conservative end. I routinely tell my wife she doesn’t need it, and she wears it only for social situations. However, my opinions are just my opinions. We would do well to separate our opinions from the Word of the living God.

—Nathan Mayo

 

Resources:

http://studyholiness.com/doc/makeup_3.pdf

http://studyholiness.com/make-up_5.html

 

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Are You One of the Sheeple?

Are You One of the Sheeple?

There is a lot of talk circulating around the internet these days about not being sheep. This sense of the word emphasizes that we ought not blindly follow the people in front of us and follow the crowd to our destruction. The corresponding Biblical injunction would probably be Jesus’ command to be “as wise as serpents.”

The problem is that the Bible says we are sheep by nature – we are predisposed to follow a crowd, especially a crowd we already trust. Ironically, a lot of the people on my Facebook feed shouting “don’t be sheep!” are backed up in their comment thread by a dozen adherents who clearly share their identical beliefs. They aren’t brilliant thought leaders; they are just in a different pack of sheep. A study of religious history will reveal no shortage of obscure heretics and cults which flame up and burn out, each fervently convinced that they have truth and all others have lost the true way.

The good news is that there are things we can do to follow the Biblical command to be wise – very practical things that will help us with both our politics and our theology.

1. Don’t be so sure

It’s amazing how quickly we lose sight of the danger of pride. Despite around 50 biblical references to the danger of this sin, we somehow think that humility has no place in theological or political discussions.

The fact is that there is not a single person on earth who holds the correct opinion on every issue, and I doubt anyone is particularly close (I am certainly not close). The Bible gives good examples of people who were open to learning.

Apollos was a great young evangelist, yet Acts records that “[When] he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” Apollos was a man on a mission, yet he needed to be instructed. Peter was a man in authority in the early church, and he had spent years learning from the Master himself. Yet, Paul records an occasion where “when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” Paul publicly rebuked Peter for racism against the Gentiles, and Peter took the correction.

In some way, we are all like Apollos or Peter, either needing to be taught that we don’t know everything yet or rebuked in that something we thought we knew was dead wrong. In either event, we need to bring humility to table from the outset and acknowledge that in discussing a broad topic, it’s not a matter of “if” we are wrong about some facet, it’s merely a matter of which facet we are wrong about.

How do we do this practically? I personally like to express the strength of my beliefs along a range of confidence.  From my study of economics, I’m nearly certain that free trade results in more wealth for both countries involved, I’m fairly sure the excess wealth will be realized within one generation, and I suspect that economic sanctions on countries we don’t like are a waste of time and a policy we should discard. That is a broad issue on which I shared three beliefs, each with a different level of confidence. If we had a debate about the issue, you would much sooner talk me out of the third belief than the first, though I admit that I could be wrong on any point.

Too many people frame all their beliefs as certainties. They are sure that the man the cop shot was a thug, or that the cop was a racist, after watching a sixteen second video clip. They are sure of what a verse in Daniel means, despite the very confusing context. Certainty should be correlated with evidence – the less evidence you have, the more loosely you should hold a belief.

Given that we hold some beliefs loosely and some tightly, how should we determine whether to believe an idea in the first place?

2. Falsify before you verify

I could expound at length on a wide variety of techniques to identify logical fallacies, analyze a scientific study, or understand statistics. While all of that would be valuable, there is one simple tool that will cut through 90% of the insane ideas that sane people fall for.

Imagine a theft is committed and you are tasked with evaluating one of the suspects. You may search for evidence to see if he committed the crime. He is the right height and build as the figure in the grainy security footage captured at the scene. His shoe is also the same size as the footprint found. His financial situation would give him motive. So, is he the thief? You’ve been looking for evidence that suggest he did commit the crime. You have been trying to verify that he is the thief.

But the fastest way to determine whether he is the thief is to look for reasons why he did not commit the crime. If you find hard evidence that he was in Brazil when the crime was committed in Wisconsin, then you have falsified the claim that he was the thief. This is why the first thing investigators do is look for an alibi – a reason why the suspect didn’t commit the crime – before they waste their time matching shoeprints and looking for motive.

To falsify means to attempt to disprove. You should attempt to disprove any belief that you want to be sure is right. If you can’t disprove it, only then you can look for evidence to prove it or verify it, and after both processes you can be as confident as possible that it is true. If someone tells you that baptism is necessary for salvation, you don’t do a word search in your Bible for “baptism,” you go read all the verses about salvation which don’t mention baptism at all.

You can use this technique on any belief, whether it is widely held or obscure, however, it makes sense to be more skeptical of things that shock your pre-existing beliefs or of a conclusion which few people have reached.  If you learn something which makes you say, “I can’t believe that!” you should probably attempt to falsify it before you share it on Facebook.

Can any belief stand up to a skeptical attempt to falsify it? Of course. The truth holds up quite nicely. When I try to falsify the existence of God by seeing what atheists have to say, I find their arguments unconvincing. When I give the atheists the same skeptical test, I find that intelligent design/ creation accounts for a lot of things in nature that the atheists cannot.

Here are a few more specific ways to use falsification as a tool to evaluate an idea.

A. Choose a sample of straightforward claims to falsify

I was recently handed a document full of anti-vaccine claims to evaluate. Some of them are exceedingly difficult to falsify. It’s hard for me to disprove that big pharma companies are secretly conspiring with the government to infect us. However many of the claims in the paper were of the sort that one could look up. For instance, they cited a scientific study, which they said showed that the flu vaccine was 100% ineffective. This stuck me as rather unbelievable, so I looked up the study. Sure enough, it was from a reputable source, and it was a large study, but the anti-vaxer had completely misrepresented the conclusion. The opening line of the conclusion was to the effect of “We determined that the flu vaccine was effective in preventing the flu.” Either the anti-vax paper was intentionally lying, or just as likely, the author had no idea of how to read a scientific study, and just read the headline. I found five or six such easily falsifiable claims in the three-page document, and with the weight of that evidence, I decided that their unprovable claims were most likely as weakly grounded as their allegedly provable ones.

B. Evaluate the bigger picture

Many times the purveyors of wacky theories are highly focused on minute details, such as the way the flag ripples in the breezeless atmosphere of the first moon landing photos. However, the easiest way to falsify something is often to step out of those details and start to ask questions about the bigger picture. There were six crewed moon landings from 1969-1972. If the first one was faked, were the subsequent five faked? If the subsequent five weren’t faked, and landing on the moon was possible in November of 1969 (the second landing), then why wasn’t it possible in July of 1969 (the first landing)? If all six were faked, why is there almost no analysis of evidence of chicanery in the other five? Why would the government take on the risk of faking the same thing six times? Surely faking it once or twice would be sufficiently risky. Also, there was a failed mission to land on the moon (Apollo 13) which seems like a rather absurd thing to fake if the purpose of faking the moon missions is to create bragging rights vis a vis the Soviets.

Regardless of whether there is a good answer to why the flag appears to be waving in the breeze (there is) in the bigger picture, believing that six and a half moon landings were faked falls apart.

Lots of beliefs can be falsified with this big picture treatment. Nearly two decades after 9/11, the conspiracy theorists can wax poetic about trace evidences of thermite incendiary devices (which could also be evidence of boring old primer paint) but they still can’t give a decent answer to the question “why would the US government attack itself?” The war on terror has been extremely costly, it didn’t require 9/11 as a justification anyways, and it’s difficult to see who benefited from it in the US government if terrorism was never a real threat.

C. Make note of predictions

Another great way to falsify a source is to keep track of its predictions. Keep in mind that a prediction can be right by chance. On any given day, there is someone predicting an economic collapse, a pandemic, an ice age, and an earthquake that breaks California off into the ocean. Eventually, some of these things are bound to happen, and whoever “predicted” them most recently will get the credit for being a sage. However, wacky theories are often tied in with numerous predictions about the future that age very poorly.

When I was in high school, a local talk radio show spent hours and hours convincing its listeners that there were terrorist training camps all across the US, planning a massive attack. 12 years later, nothing materialized. I remember someone who strongly believed (based on some emails forwarded to them) that the Euro was going to dramatically collapse in value any day. I didn’t dispute this claim, I just set a reminder on my phone to check the Euro value in 18 months. Now, nearly four years later, the Euro is still holding steady, and I can dismiss this claim and its source as bunk.

Predictions can be tricky, because a lot of times they are dismantled slowly over time as the evidence reveals the opposite, so that by the time the evidence is in, the prediction has been very deliberately hidden from view and memory. Because of this ability to walk back longer-term predictions over time, short-term predictions tend to be the sincerest. For instance, the stated reason for the US invasion of Iraq was to prevent their proliferation of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs). Upon arrival, it was soon concluded that Iraq did not have as many WMDs as was feared, and the Bush administration was lambasted for that failed prediction (which if we’re getting conspiratorial, why wouldn’t the Bush administration simply fake the WMDs, if faking is such an easy thing?) This can be taken as evidence that the Bush administration was sincerely wrong, but wrong none the less. The prediction you may have long ago forgotten about was the once common knowledge on the political left that the “secret reason” the US invaded Iraq was the oil. How is that prediction holding up now? Simple research about the current Iraqi oil industry reveals that out of 23 active oil contracts in Iraq, US companies only hold two of them compared to five held by the Russians and Chinese. If the US went to war for oil, why didn’t we take any of it?

The same logic applies to biblical matters, especially end time theories. Just to cite one example, a website which calls itself “Prophecy Central (Bible-prophecy.com)” is talking about how coronavirus marks the end of the world. While they are not a Pentecostal Holiness site, they are linked to as a recommended resource by Holiness-Preaching.org and are doubtless used as a resource by many other denominations as well. Maybe they are right about COVID-19; all I can do is mark it on my calendar. But what is far more interesting is to look at the internet archive of their website, which took snapshots of the site over time, all the way back to 1998. When you look at the site over time, you see they did a lot of predicting and conjecturing that they don’t talk about anymore. Stories range from the imminent collapse of the southern wall of the temple mount and subsequent possible apocalypse (in 2002), to the imminent attack on America (in 2005), to the imminent unveiling of the long-lost ark of the covenant (in 2009).

Is the mark of the beast about to be rolled out in a coronavirus vaccine? I would encourage you to put a reminder on your calendar five years from now and see how that theory is working out. You can mark this down as a prediction from me – no, it isn’t. I could provide a dozen reasons for that, but in brief, in order for it to be the “mark of the beast,” everyone must be forced to receive it with no exceptions in order to participate in the economy. We still haven’t figured out how to get the polio vaccine to everyone in the world and it has been around since 1952.  American vaccination rates for most diseases are in the 60-85% range, not 100%. Also, the COVID-19 vaccines will not be administered in the right hand or forehead and they will not be proceeded by worshiping the image of a talking beast as per Revelation 13 … I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

If you want to falsify a new idea, just make a note of the predictions about the future and don’t let the predictor keep burying old predictions and selling you new ones.

3. Leverage bias to find truth

The best way to get you information is not from unbiased sources. You read that right. Don’t look for unbiased sources on current events. It’s like getting your information from leprechauns. They don’t exist, so I’m going to doubt anything you say you heard from leprechauns. The better way is to acknowledge that every source is biased, and to approach each source in full knowledge of its bias and leverage that bias to gain confidence.

This is not to say that all sources are equally valid. Clearly, Chinese state-owned media has a greater willingness to lie outright than the more competitive American media. There are numerous figures in the mainstream media who have lost credibility and their jobs for being caught lying (Dan Rather of CBS and Brian Williams of NBC). However, bias can also show itself in ways besides lying. Bias can also choose which stories are covered and which stories are buried, even if the ones brought to light are covered honestly.

So, if we don’t ignore biased sources, how do we use them? It’s as simple as shooting arrows with a crosswind; you adjust your point of aim to account for the wind. You observe the bias and adjust for it. The nice thing is that if a biased source admits something that goes against its bias, which they often do when the evidence is overwhelming, you can be very confident it is true. When I read in a secular publication that Christianity is growing rapidly in the developing world, I can be sure it is, because they would have no reason to exaggerate it and plenty of reason not to mention it at all.

Consider this practical application. If you search Christian sources for evidence of the Bible in archaeology, you will find long lists of “proofs of Scripture,” some of which are true and some of which are a bit … stretched. If you start with one of those lists and you compare some of those finds against a skeptical source, like National Geographic, you will find that many stand up to scrutiny, a few will fall off, and a few will be inconclusive. But this is good news! Because out of a list of 15 archaeological finds from the Bible, you will find 10 that even secularists also admit are valid. If they thought they weren’t valid, the secularists would certainly tell you. If a Mormon ran the same exercise for a list of “archaeological finds supporting the Book of Mormon,” he couldn’t stay a Mormon for long, because the critical sources would debunk all of the finds as nonsense. This example shows how leveraging biased and critical sources can lead you to truth.

The other nice thing about engaging with sources from a bias that conflicts with your own is that they will often raise an argument from logic. Arguments from logic can be faulty, but they can not be “fake.” I can lie to you about a statistic or an anecdote. I can’t lie with a logical argument. If my argument is invalid, you should be able to point out in what way it is invalid, with no further research. Let’s say your friend is convinced that elections in America have all been rigged for decades. She finds a source that responds with this logical argument: “If elections are routinely rigged, why does power keep changing hands between the Democrats and the Republicans? If someone is rigging the elections, they would have a goal in mind and not vacillate between conflicting objectives. Therefore, no one is routinely rigging the elections.” This argument from logic relies on no facts outside of common knowledge. Your friend can’t simply dismiss it based on the source, because the source of a logical argument is irrelevant to the logic itself, she has to address it to dismiss it.

The key to research is not to find some holy grail of a completely unbiased source. If you think you’ve found it, you’ve been duped. The key is to see the bias and work with it.

Conclusion

The simple ways to not be easily influenced by falsehood are: to keep an open mind, to research new ideas with an eye to finding out why they are wrong, not why they are right (by looking for things you can fact check, exploring the bigger picture, and making a note of predictions), and to realize that you must use biased sources, but you can adjust for their biases to gain confidence in their conclusions.

There are many more research tools you can learn over time, but these will get you started. If you use these tools, you will, at least at the outset, be less certain about all your beliefs. That means that a conversation with you is less likely to devolve into Hitler analogies. It means you’re more likely to change your mind and reject some ideas that are popular in your circles (you might even have to go against the flow). Eventually, you will hold your core beliefs with even more certainty than before, because you have tested them.

“Sheeple” are more concerned about being certain than they are about being right – so they don’t try to falsify any of their beliefs, for fear that they might have to change them. Don’t be a sheep. Finding truth is more valuable than being right in your own mind.

-Nathan Mayo

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Beards: The One Way You’re Not Allowed to be Like Jesus

Confused Beards

It sounds odd to say there is a Holiness standard that Holiness ministers will agree has no biblical basis, but there is.  It’s the rule against facial hair. Back when I asked questions as a teenager, I was told that men aren’t allowed to grow facial hair so they won’t be confused with the hippie movement. The hippie movement – wasn’t that something in my history book from nearly 60 years ago? And didn’t the hippie women wear long flowing skirts? I was told such skirts are godly. The oddest thing of all is, biblical basis or not, the tradition is still enforced.  Preaching in the pulpit, singing in the choir, taking up the offering, or even playing an instrument, are all denied only over facial hair. Anyone who “really gets saved” is expected to shave, while growing facial hair out signifies backsliding.  Facial hair is a litmus test of spirituality; a litmus test that Jesus would have failed. Perhaps it’s high time we evaluate this tradition in light of scripture, rather than dividing the Church over opinion.

-Natalie 

The only independent Holiness writers that I [Nathan] have read are intellectually honest enough not to condemn beards outright, though they caution against them and their alleged pitfalls. The seemingly most hip way to say this is “I would never have a beard, but they are not necessarily sin.” This assumes that beards are fraught with special traps, but acknowledges that there isn’t a shred of Biblical evidence to oppose them. I found a popular Apostolic writer named Martyn Ballestero, who expressed the stronger version of the belief this way. In his words:

“If you are not wearing it out of compromise, rebellion, or from a backslidden state, and you are wearing it just because you think it looks good on you, then would you say it is pride issue with you?

Does Your Facial Hair Tell Others That You Have A Flaming Pride Issue?

If you don’t think pride is involved in wearing of facial hair, just try to preach it off of those who have it. Every wearer I’ve met is fiercely defensive.”

Hopefully, you see some issues with those statements. If not, keep reading.

What does the Bible say about beards?

Old Testament Precedent

Beards were common: The Bible specifically mentions that David (1 Samuel 21:14), Aaron (Psalm 133:2), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 5:1), and Ezra (Ezra 9:3) had beards (among others). Interestingly, Joseph followed the custom of the Egyptians of shaving (Genesis 41:14), and is not condemned for it. Joseph participated in the culture of his day in a way that did not disobey God’s commands (Joseph obviously lived in pre-Mosaic times).

Beards were well maintained and trimmed: In Leviticus 19:27 (and again in Lev. 21:5) the Mosaic law forbids certain styles of beards: “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.” Given the context, this was likely a reference to the pagan styles of the day, which were associated with idolatry.

Cannanite

A Canaanite beard style with trimmed corners

Notably, this prohibition on shaping the edges of beards didn’t prevent devout Jews from trimming the length. In 2 Samuel 19:24, the Bible clearly records that trimming beards was normal and considered good hygiene, “And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace.”

Removing beards was explicitly allowed under particular circumstances: The Old Testament law didn’t explicitly require having a beard, and sometimes prescribed instances where they were or should be removed. In Leviticus 14:9 shaving a beard is required to prove that you are recovered from leprosy. Jeremiah records that shaven beards were a sign of mourning (Jer. 48:37) and Ezra pulls his out in shock (Ezra 9:3).

Lacking a beard was considered shameful: In 2 Samuel 10:3-5, the Bible tells of messengers who were humiliated by having half of their beards shaven. David’s prescription for their “great shame” was to take them out of action until their beards could regrow.

New Testament Evidence

Did Jesus have a beard? The answer lies somewhere between “almost certainly” to beyond a doubt.

In Isaiah 50:6, Isaiah tells the story of a captive who was slapped and whose beard was plucked out.“I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” Many scholars think this prophecy is Messianic, though the passage doesn’t say that explicitly. If the passage is Messianic, then Jesus certainly had a beard. If it isn’t, the Bible doesn’t say.

As a Jewish man, in light of all the Old Testament evidence he probably would have had a beard, but it depends on the degree to which the Greco-Roman culture (of being clean shaven) had influenced Jewish practice at that point.

Images of a bearded Jesus show up as early as the 300’s to 400’s. The earliest 2 or 3 depictions of Jesus, starting in 235 AD, show him as beardless. However, some of these pictures were of him as a youth and some were showing him attired as was the custom of the time and place of the artist, not necessarily attired as a Jewish man from 200 years prior.

800px Christ Healing the Paralytic Dura Europos circa 232

Christ Healing the Paralytic, Syria, circa 235 A.D.

What did the disciples think about beards?

The earliest depictions of the Apostles do show them with beards, and many others thereafter. Paul is pictured with a  pointed beard in the style of the Turks, which makes sense given his heritage from Tarsus, Turkey. Beards are never mentioned explicitly in the New Testament.

Beards: The One Way You're Not Allowed to be Like Jesus

The earliest depiction of the Apostle Paul

Clearly, New Testament writers did not think facial hair was a problem, because it existed in their day, and they never addressed it. For that matter, they spent almost no time addressing physical appearance and almost all of their time addressing matters of the heart or conduct towards others. 

Pride and Laziness – the contradictory assault on beards

Arguments against beards generally fall into two buckets. These arguments are defended rather half-heartedly in the Holiness blog “Answers in Holiness” by Rev. Jeremy Spurlock. As noted, he acknowledges that one can’t call beards sin, per se, but still makes many of the same remarks about them as the Apostolic writer mentioned in the introduction. He seems to say that beards aren’t the problem, but they are almost certainly the fruit born out of a rebellious heart. In his words:

“There is a trend to cast off the former “traditions” of the holiness church, and to embrace a more relaxed, casual, sloppy attitude in God’s presence.

If the motive of a young man for wearing facial hair stems from an attitude problem, or rebellion – then facial hair is just a little bit of the fruit that is growing on the tree? The root of the problem is a definitely a heart issue!”

It’s actually rather amusing, because opponents of beards call them either “unkempt” or “prideful” to cover all possible versions. If your beard looks bad, it is a sign you are apathetic. If it looks good, it is a sign you are prideful. Rebellion is a related idea to both, with the same responses, so I’ll address that concurrently. Only lacking a beard is considered evidence that you both look respectable, yet are not concerned with your own appearance.

The better question is not, “is a beard prideful,” but rather, “is a beard inherently prideful?” Everything can be prideful if your heart is in the wrong place. I’ve heard people talk about the regularity of their church attendance with evident pride. They have a heart problem, but church attendance is not inherently prideful. On the other hand, publishing a book about why you’re the greatest person in your generation is inherently indicative of pride. While not all actions will fall neatly into one pile or the other, we should be able to make a reasonable determination of where on the spectrum beards fall lie.

Is a beard inherently “unkempt” or “sloppy?”

In Biblical times, the idea that a beard was inherently sloven can be dismissed out of hand. We know from Scriptures cited above that men trimmed their beards and that to be without one was thought a great shame. Throughout most of the past 2,000 years, a large percentage of regular men wore beards. There are exceptional cultures and trends, but beards were normal for most of history. Clearly, beards have not been thought to be inherently sloppy in times past.

Is the beard inherently “sloppy” in the modern era? Perhaps one that isn’t maintained at all smacks of laziness, just like if a man were to never wash, comb, or trim his hair. However, although the hippies of the 60’s did often sport such unkempt beards, that is not the trend with modern facial hair. I did a quick Google image search for “beard” and saw that of the first 50 or so results, all were of trimmed beards, not the ones in the hippie style. Until I got to this one, which I will allow you to judge:

Absurd Beard

You would have to admit that there is a lot of maintenance going on here.

One argument that is occasionally bandied about is that the US military regulations exemplify that being clean-shaven is more refined and professional in modern times. As someone who spent nine years in the Army, I can say that while that belief is held by some in uniform, it is hardly universal among those who serve. In fact, growing a beard for some period of time after leaving the military is considered something of a rite of passage. Furthermore, well-groomed facial hair is allowed by many other militaries around the world and mustaches are allowed in the US military. The primary reason why the US military forbade facial hair in the first place was so that gas masks can seal to the face properly – this is hardly a broadly applicable cultural principle.

Outside of the military, it is increasingly difficult to make the argument that a well-maintained beard is unacceptable in the professional world. Beards have risen and fallen in popularity many times over the last 200 years, but currently, they seem to be re-surging. Many top corporate executives have adopted the beard, such as the late Steve Jobs of Apple and Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin. While I only counted seven of the world’s top 100 CEO’s with facial hair, by comparison, how many top CEO’s have face tattoos or nose rings?  None, because those things are actually considered unprofessional.

I don’t see any compelling reasons to believe that a beard makes one inherently “sloppy” looking.

Is a beard inherently “prideful?”

I should point out that trimming the edges of a beard into a clean shape is the opposite of being “sloppy.” Trimming beards was the norm in the Old Testament, though they would have trimmed the length and not shaped the corners. For many men who don’t grow facial hair evenly in a perfect beard range, shaping the edges is essential if you want to have a beard and not look unkempt.

Do men express pride through their beards? Some do, certainly. And the exact same men no doubt express pride through their hair. Does it follow that all men should shave their heads? No. It does not. The inference by Ballestero is that if you like the look of something, it must be prideful to wear it. The logical deduction is that we ought not wear anything we like the look of. Which leads you to this little brain teaser. For most of my life, I have been clean shaven, with the exception of one short period in which I experimented with growing a beard. I wasn’t a big fan of the look, and I think I look better without it. If I think I look better without a beard, does that mean that shaving is an act of pride? Perhaps I should grow a beard in humility.

There may be many valid reasons to grow a beard, just as there may be many reasons to wear shiny shoes or try a military “high and tight” hair cut for a little while. Curiosity, personal preference, the preference of a wife, or the desire to look more masculine, are all fine reasons to change your haircut or grow a beard. There are even practical benefits for men working in certain climates, as beards keep your face warmer and help filter dust and allergens. Additionally, some men, particularly black men, are prone to painful inflamed bumps and ingrown hairs if they do not allow their beard to grow (a condition known as pseudofolliculitis barbae or PFB). This reflects a way in which tacking on an extra-biblical rule has an unintentionally inequitable effect among different races.

Why are we even talking about this?

Spurlock finishes his advice this way:

“I know many good Christian men who have beards and facial hair. So I am not saying facial hair is a sin. But you must be careful to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing? Or, why you want to do what you have been told not to do by your authority.”

It is valid that we should always evaluate our motives. You should have good motives for everything you do, including growing your eyebrows out. However, there is another question left standing. Why do “the authorities” try to prevent facial hair at all? Given the case I have laid out, why was this ever brought up in the first place?

It can’t be because our culture and churches are so moral, loving, unified, sexually pure, and wholesome that we only have small details of extra-biblical opinion left to discuss. For some, it may be honest ignorance, and the unchallenged assumption that Grandpa was as close to God as possible, so everything should be done his way. However, I suspect that the reason that some authorities oppose beards is, ironically, pride.

Pride, in the sense that they think their spirituality is so refined, that even their preferences carry moral weight for other people.

Pride, in the sense that they feel their personal grasp of other people’s motives and hearts is so insightful that they can, like God, see motives deep in the soul.

It is simply human to want people to do things your way. I am guilty of it myself.  But we certainly shouldn’t be turning beards into a moral issue if God didn’t see fit to.

In the apt words of one critic of this belief, “Why would God put hair on my face, and then send me to Hell for it?”

Church is not a place that should be defined by man’s opinion. If you want opinions, look to the media. Only the Church has the living word of an unchanging God to share. And our opinions will not add any value.

 

Nathan Mayo

 

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Danger! Beware of Compromising Holiness

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The articles published by Berean Holiness have been met with a plethora of responses, most are super positive: upbeat, encouraging, and kind. However, there are also many which include personal attacks, all capitals, excessive exclamation points, lots of talk about rebellion, accusations of doubt and confusion, and very rarely (if ever) engage the content of the articles. In fact, it’s quite common that these commentators have not even read the articles. The gist of their messages could be summed up as follows, “You’re COMPROMISING HOLINESS!! You’re DOUBTING HOLINESS, that’s turning people away from Christ and you’re NOT going to make it to heaven like that!!” These responses are driven by fear, a fear of compromising holiness and losing one’s salvation because of it. And, do you know what? That’s a legitimate fear.

Thankfully, the Bible does not leave us to live in insecurity. There is a sure way to know that we are pleasing to Christ and walking in His holiness. Unfortunately, the danger of compromising holiness still does exist.  Compromised holiness slips in by subtly replacing biblical holiness, just as carbon monoxide replaces oxygen.  It’s no less deadly.  We must stay so closely aligned with true holiness, that we will immediately be able to recognize the counterfeit.


Catching A Vision of Holiness

Defining God’s Holiness

Our translation for holiness comes from the Hebrew word qadowsh which means “to cut.” To be holy means to be cut off, or separate, from everything else. It means to be in a class of your own, distinct from anything that has ever existed or will ever exist. Qadowsh means a second thing: to be holy means to be entirely morally pure, all the time and in every way possible.

When you put these two elements of holiness together, you’re left with only one conclusion: that the Lord of hosts is the sum and definition of what it means to be holy. He occupies a moral space that no one has ever occupied before, and as such, we have no experience or frame of reference to understand what he is like because there’s nothing like him.[1]

Holiness is not merely an attribute of God, it is His very essence-His otherness. Holiness is everything that makes God different from ourselves and our fallen world.

Everything God thinks, desires, speaks and does is utterly holy in every way.

God is holy in every attribute and every action: He is holy in justice. He is holy in love. He is holy in mercy. He is holy in power. He is holy in sovereignty. He is holy in wisdom. He is holy in patience. He is holy in anger. He is holy in grace. He is holy in faithfulness. He is holy in compassion. [1]

Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? -Exodus 15:11

The holiness of God is so radically different from everything we know that it can be hard to comprehend or even imagine. God’s holiness is utter, dazzling, moral perfection. It carries divine transcendence of beauty and glory far beyond anything we’ve ever seen. Spotless, pure, blameless, righteous, magnificent, awesome, wonderful…holy, totally holy, that’s who God is.

 

Encountering God’s Holiness

The holiness of God is not a concept to take lightly. In 2 Samuel 6:3-7, you will find the account of Uzzah, a man who was struck dead because he touched the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s holiness, to keep it from falling. The Ark was normally kept within the tabernacle’s Holy of Holies; only the high priest could enter these quarters, and he could only do so once a year. Even then, a rope was tied around his ankles just in case he was struck dead (this would allow the body to be removed without someone else going in). Thankfully, there are some Old Testament saints which God allowed to encounter His holiness and live to tell about it. Let’s hear Isaiah’s story:

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. -Isaiah 6:1-8

 

Realizing Human Wretchedness

Isaiah’s response to God’s holiness was a frightening realization of his own unholiness, his sinfulness and unworthiness. As he later explains it:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. -Isaiah 64:6

This innate wretchedness of man is also taught in the New Testament:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? -Romans 7:18-24

Notice that Paul says “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” Unbelievers do not delight in the Word of God. Paul is not telling about what it was like before his salvation, he is describing himself in the present time, while he was an apostle and author of the New Testament.

I remember testifying in church when I was around 15. I was excited and overwhelmed as I tried to put into words just how incredible it is that the God of the universe would want me. I made the mistake of describing myself as, “just a wretched sinner.” Oh, boy! The congregation visibly cringed, as lips pursed to silence. Afterwards, I was taken aside by an older Christian and sharply rebuked, “Why on earth would you say something like that?! Did you see Sis. So-And-So’s face?!” I was frustrated and confused. I had to smile, though, when a visiting minister from Kentucky thanked me for the testimony, saying, “Wretched! That’s exactly what I am!”

Denying our wretchedness and sinfully-inclined nature is very dangerous for 2 reasons:

  1. It indicates that we haven’t encountered God’s holiness
  2. It creates an unhealthy dependence on ourselves, turning into self-righteousness

The book of 1 John includes specific warnings:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. -1 John 1:8

If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. -John 1:10

God is holy. Humans are wretched. End of discussion.

Even after salvation, Natalie Mayo, in and of her human self, is not holy.  I am wretched, I am wicked, and I have a sinful nature which must be crucified every day. There is absolutely nothing I can do to create my own holiness. How then, can I obey the command to “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16)? Where can my holiness come from? How will I know when I have it?

 

Finding the Source of Holiness

Not of Works

First off, where does holiness not come from? Not works. This should be easy to agree on.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9

If works are not sufficient to make us holy for salvation, then works are not sufficient to make us holy after salvation (for sanctification). And, yes, following rules, also known as obeying the law, would be considered as “works.” The only way we could receive holiness through following rules would be to perfectly kept all of the rules. However, we have all broken God’s laws, and as a result, anyone who seeks to be holy through laws is putting themselves under the curse of the law.

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. -James 2:10

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: -Galatians 3:10-12

In summary: humans are commanded by God to be holy, but we cannot attain holiness through works or through following rules. In other words, we’re sunk.

 

In Christ Alone

Thanks be to God! He has made a way for us to live in holiness:

For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. -Hebrews 12:10

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. -Romans 3:20-28

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. -2 Corinthians 5:21

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. -Galatians 2:21

If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. -Galatians 3:21-22

For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. -Galatians 5:5

And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: -Philippians 3:9

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: -2 Peter 1:1

Scripture could not be more clear; righteousness, moral perfection, holiness-they absolutely, positively cannot come through our own works or through obeying rules. They only come through faith in Christ alone. We have no holiness; we are partakers of His holiness through faith. He became sin for us, that we could share in His righteousness.

Look at the life of Abraham. After choosing to serve God, he straight-up lied about his wife, not once but twice, and was willing to stand back and let pagan authorities help themselves to her (Genesis 12:18, Genesis 20:2). Then, when Sarah suggested he have relations with her servant, he didn’t protest one bit, he went and slept with her. If you’d like to say these things weren’t sin for Abraham because he predated the law, think again, Jesus taught the doctrine of marriage out of the first chapters in Genesis (Matthew 19:4-9). The point is simple, Abraham is biblically known as a righteous, holy forefather, but there is no way his holiness came from his works. So, how can we call Abraham holy?

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. -Galatians 3:6

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. -James 2:23

Abraham believed God, and his faith was counted for righteousness; faith not following rules.

The sole source of holiness is faith in Christ. At salvation, sins are forgiven, the Holy Spirit indwells us (Ephesians 1:13-14), and from that point onward we are called to pursue holiness as we walk in the Spirit and study the Word. It is crucial to remember that, just as holiness cannot be attained by works before salvation, holiness will not be grown in by works after salvation. The idea that holiness can be attained through things, doing things or not doing things, is the definition of legalism. Legalism is a dangerous theology that our human natures are heavily bent towards. Earning favor with God makes sense to us; we’re arrogant enough to think we’re capable of such, and almost all of the world religions are built upon this concept-except Christianity.  Christianity is radically different because it teaches that holiness and favor with God will never be earned through works and rules. Does this mean that we are free to sin? In the words of Paul, “God forbid!”

If holiness cannot come through works or rules, then what is the purpose of such? Where do they fit in the picture?

 

The Danger of Compromising Holiness

The Relationship of Holiness and Rules

God is holy, and He is the only being in the universe who IS holiness. In fact, when I was originally asked to leave a holiness outreach I served with, the reactions of my non-denominational and Baptist friends were worthy of recording. I told them exactly what I had been told by my church authorities, “We’re holiness from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet…We can’t have you working here because you’re not 100% holiness.” “Not 100% holiness?!” My other Christian friends sputtered, as their mouths dropped open, “What on the earth?! Only God is 100% holiness! You can’t be expected to be a walking, talking attribute of God!” I had to laugh at their misunderstanding. I tried to explain that the authorities really only meant I was required to believe their standards were biblically mandated. However, the dynamic reactions did make me start thinking. In all my Holiness Movement lingo, was I guilty of undermining the biblical definition of holiness?

I should take a time-out here, and clarify that I don’t believe any of my Christian friends in the Holiness Movement would disagree with the above portion of this article. However, there is a very common abuse of the Holiness Movement’s doctrine, which I have seen over and over and over again. It is this wide-spread abuse of their doctrine (not the proper use of it) which I would like to tackle in the remainder of this article. To all my friends in the Movement, if I’m wrong and what I address next is actually the proper use of your doctrine, please correct me!

Moving on. If Christians can’t be be the essence of holiness, what can we be? We can be in a deepening, daily relationship with the source of holiness, our holy God. As we grow in this relationship, He will continue to draw us to Himself and conform us into His image. One of my favorite definitions of holiness, as it pertains to humans, was given in a sermon by Jeff Pollard:

Holiness is a progressive and on-going work of God’s Spirit in which He continually renews and transforms us into Christ-likeness…Holiness in this sense is empowered by the Holy Ghost, informed by the Word of God, and manifested by faith, repentance and loving obedience.”

Because of how much God loves us and how much He desires what’s best for us, He has given us His Word and commanded us to obey it. God is the ultimate authority. So, if we believe on Him it only follows logically that we will make a significant effort to obey Him. Studying and living out the scripture will be an outflow of an authentic relationship with God. Don’t be confused, it is still not obedience that holiness comes from, our relationship with Christ is where holiness comes from, and loving obedience is just the evidence of that relationship. One cannot say they love Christ and then continually choose to break His rules. This would be as ridiculous as a wife who says she loves her husband, but then continually has adulterous affairs.

 

Biblical Rules Vs. Personal Applications

There are two primary categories of obedience to God: 

  1. There is obedience to the clear rules of scripture.
  2. There is obedience to the Spirit of God as He convicts us on how to apply the principles of scripture.

There are many sin-lists in the New Testament which are very clear rules that apply to every single believer. For example:

When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: -Colossians 3:4-10

Equally important, there are lists of rules for what believers must do. Here is one from the same passage as the above sin-list:

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. -Colossians 3:12-16

Every believer with a genuine relationship with Christ will make a continual effort to follow the above rules and many more like them (to see more, check out New Testament Evidences of Personal Holiness).

In contrast, the applications of biblical principles may very well differ from Christian to Christian. For example, I know of many Christian women who believe they should apply the biblical principle of modesty/simplicity by only wearing plain, home-spun dresses. I commend the heart behind this practice. However, I have no such conviction, and believe I am sufficiently applying biblical principle of modesty/simplicity by wearing store-bought clothes that keep me covered and aren’t flashy or overly expensive. We are both applying the same principle, and obeying our application as an outflow of relationship with Christ. Does my liberty to wear store-bought clothing make them any less holy for wearing home-spun clothing? Absolutely not. Does their conviction to wear home-spun dresses make me any less holy for wearing store-bought clothing? Absolutely not. We are both holy through faith in Christ and Christ alone, we merely have come to different conclusions about how to apply a biblical principle. Since scripture does not mandate or forbid either application, both options are totally legitimate and within the bounds of Christian liberty.

 

Stricter Doesn’t Mean Holier

It is very important to realize that the stricter/harder application is not necessarily the “holier” application. If stricter is holier, then gloves are more holy than only long-sleeves, veils are more holy than only uncut hair, burkas are more holy than only high necklines, covering feet is more holy than only covering legs, closed-toed shoes are more holy than sandals, going to church daily is more holy than three times a week, tithing 70% is more holy than 10%, and the list could go on and on and on.

In the above example, my Holiness friends would agree that wearing home-spun dresses would not make me any holier or any more pleasing to Christ. They realize that I have absolutely no conviction or logic or prodding of the Spirit which makes me believe I should apply modesty in such a manner. So, for Natalie Mayo, wearing a home-spun dress would not be an outflow of my relationship to Christ. It wouldn’t bring me an iota closer to Him, or help me to obey Him the slightest bit more, it would just be an unnecessary burden, a meaningless work, and make me feel pointlessly odd.

Unfortunately, it can be much harder for someone from a church with strict externals to apply this concept to other areas. Take the issue of women’s pants (Can a Godly Woman Wear Pants?). In scripture, there is a very undefined concept of modesty, as well the general teaching that we should embrace our biological gender. Many Holiness Christians would believe that the best way to apply these principles is by women wearing skirts. That’s a legitimate application, and I commend them for following through with their personal discernment. However, there is a vast majority of Christians who have no such belief. In biblical times, men and women wore the same type of garment (robes) and many Christians find no reason to believe men and women ought to wear different types of garments today.

There is still much backlash from Holiness Christians, saying, “No! If you really loved Jesus, you would choose the holier option!” My question is, “How is it holier?” The fact that things cannot make us holy seems to be lost when it comes to any controversial standards. Holiness only comes from a relationship with Christ, and obedience to Him is an outflow of relationship with Him. If any standard is not directly in the Word of God, and a person has absolutely no conviction/belief that the best way to apply a biblical principle would be with that standard, then how on earth could following that standard make them holier? It can’t. Unless wearing skirts is an outflow of a relationship with Christ, then to do such a work is merely to pleasing men. That’s not holiness, that’s peer pressure.

From beards to wedding rings, from makeup to cap-sleeves, any item preached against without a scriptural rule will be adamantly condemned as “less holy,” thus, it is assumed that giving it up is more pleasing to Christ. How? If giving such up was best for every believer, why didn’t God add these things to the sin lists? Makeup, beards, rings-these were all very popular in the New Testament era. Any of the New Testament authors could have easily taught against these things. But, they didn’t. So, why do we? Even if they aren’t the best options, the only way that giving them up is more holy is if a person does so out of genuine conviction. If they give them up because everyone else in their church does, that’s not holiness. That’s social conformity. (Does Jesus Obscure His Commandments)

Works cannot make anyone holy, rules cannot make anyone holy, things cannot make anyone holy. Holiness comes from Christ. If there is a person who is not led by Christ to give up beards, makeup, rings or cap-sleeves, then, for that person, giving them up is a meaningless work.

 

The Danger of Enforcing Personal Applications

If there is one thing I have witnessed over and over in regard to holiness standards, it’s been good-intentioned Christians handing a list of extra-biblical rules to someone who (they believe) needs some more holiness. The thought behind this practice is, “Here, just follow all my opinions about how to apply biblical principles and you’ll have holiness.” Can you spot the danger? This idea precariously teeters over the chasm of being made holy through works. It’s especially harmful to young people and new converts who are not spiritually mature. Too often, their relationship with Christ, the real source of holiness, is short-circuited and traded off for a list of rules. Instead of learning to grapple with scripture for themselves, instead of learning to study deeply, pray fervently, develop their own convictions, and be led by the Spirit, they are very conveniently supplied with “the end goal.” Spiritual maturity is skewed into being defined by things, things you do, things you don’t do, and this nicely formed list of things is received as a fantastic short-cut to spiritual growth. This results in young Christians living in a shell of other people’s opinions, deceiving themselves and others with facade of spiritual maturity. Meanwhile, their walk with Christ suffers greatly and their muscles of discernment lie shriveled in atrophy. Time and again, I’ve seen these Christians fall into terrible sin, go off the deep end, only for their authorities to say, “And that’s what happens when you leave holiness.” No! My insides would scream, “That’s what happens when you hand someone a list of your opinions instead of ever discipling them!” (Replacing Rules with Discipleship.)

It turns out that I am not the only person this practice has frustrated. Let’s take a look at Paul’s reaction when he found out Peter had began practicing unnecessary rules in the Old Testament, and even worse, handing out these rules to others:

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. -Galatians 2:11-16

Were the rules addressed in Galatians different from the rules typically handed out today? Yes. However, the concept is the same. There were “spiritually mature” elders who were cherry-picking and dictating which parts of the Old Testament the new converts should follow in order to be holy and pleasing to Christ. (Note, these were at least Old Testament rules, not extra-biblical ones.) Peter was afraid, so he switched behaviors and started practicing rules that were not an outflow of his relationship with Christ, but rather an attempt to please religious men. Worst of all, he compelled other believers to also follow Old Testament rules and please these men. Paul was outraged, and rightfully so. What Peter was doing was not pursuing holiness, it was distorting holiness and undermining faith in Christ. Furthermore, please note that the bad doctrine was not salvation by works, but rather sanctification/maturity by works. Check out a following section:

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? -Galatians 3:1-3

Talk about a scathing rebuke. Paul thought this idea of obtaining Christian perfection through following religious leader’s rules was ludicrous, and he had no qualms about saying so. It makes you wonder what he would think of the way certain standards are taught today. There’s more, though, look at the way he described this teaching, as well as the concept of pleasing men, in the first chapter:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. -Galatians 1:6-10

Paul didn’t just think following rules to please men was a bad idea, he slammed it as contrary to serving Christ. Oh, yeah, and the whole idea that we can be made perfect through rules? He called it a perversion of the gospel and put it under a curse. That’s as serious as the epistles get.

 

The Danger of Expecting Others to Develop Your Convictions

Many Christians who emphasize a strict outward standard would agree with the statements so far, and yet, they’d add a serious caveat, “It’s true that we must let young Christians discern how to apply scripture for themselves, and not just given them our own rules. But, as they grow in Christ, they’ll come to be convicted of the same things we have been. We’ll know they’re mature when they look like us.” Knowing they’re mature because they are following biblical rules is one thing, claiming that they’re mature because they’ve come to have the same extra-biblical opinions as ourselves is circular reasoning. It goes like this, “Spiritual maturity includes having the same opinions on holiness standards that I do, I know this because every Christian that becomes spiritually mature comes to these standards; I know they’re spiritually mature when they have them because spiritual maturity includes having the same opinions on holiness standards that I do.” Dizzy yet?

In contrast to this idea, Romans 14 blatantly teaches that spiritually mature Christians will come to different conclusions on how to apply biblical principles. Check it out:

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks…But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. -Romans 14:3-6, 10

This passage is chock full of contradicting applications of biblical principles. And, do you see how Paul responds? He doesn’t set everyone straight on which person’s convictions are the holiest. He says for each person to be fully persuaded of his own belief, and to respect his brother’s contradicting belief. That’s a day and night different from expecting your brother to “grow up” and look like you.


The Danger of Backwards Emphasis

It wouldn’t be fair to close this article without pointing out something extremely important. The Holiness standards, which immediately come to mind as a measuring stick of maturity, actually have a completely backwards emphasis from the scriptural standards. Holiness standards have everything to do with externals, and it would be easy to claim that 80% of them have to do with personal appearance. Have you ever compared this to what the biblical authors emphasized in regards to holiness? Easily less than 5% had to do with appearance. And, no, this was not because the first century had such holy cultures that there was no need to dress more modestly than the average Joe. These were cultures that embraced public, mixed bathing, as well as many other forms of nudity, not to mention rampant sexual immorality. Have you ever seen statues from this time period? Enough said. Inspired by the Holy Ghost, the biblical authors still spent very little time on outward appearance. Instead, they placed heavy emphasis on love, peace, unity, truthfulness, thankfulness, faithfulness and many more internal virtues. When they spoke of things to abstain from, they spoke against pride, promiscuity, greediness, idolatry, covetousness, gossiping, lying and other such sins. (For a detailed study, check out New Testament Evidences of Personal Holiness.) What would happen if we only preached against beards as much as Paul did? What would happen if we only preached against makeup as much as Peter? What would happen if we only preached against jewelry as much as James and John?  Would we still be able to keep our churches up to par with Holiness standards?  I think not.

 

A Deadlier Compromise

Holy, holy, holy… Holy in love, holy in power, holy in justice, holy in mercy. His majestic, dazzling purity fills the universe. His glorious righteousness transcends anything humans can imagine. Utter perfection, divine splendor, breath-taking beauty. Totally separated from everything fallen and sinful, completely in a class of His own. This is the Almighty God, Creator of the universe, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. He IS holiness.

Catching a glimpse of holiness sends humans to their knees, if they don’t die first. It fills us with a realization of our own wretchedness, sinfulness and unworthiness. There is absolutely nothing we could do to earn God’s favor. Works, rules, things-these will never gain us favor with holiness of this magnitude. The only restoration would be for Him to bear the punishment for our sin, that we might be clothed in His righteousness. Thanks be to God, that’s exactly what He did. Christ was crucified, that through faith in Him, we can be made partakers of His holiness. We are utterly dependent on a relationship with Christ for our holiness, yet, obedience to His clear rules and gentle prodding will be an outflow. By His Spirit and by His Word, God will conform us into Christ-likeness: loving, kind, merciful, gracious, forgiving, selfless, righteous, joyful, generous, truthful, gentle, peaceful… the list goes on and on. A wretched sinner transformed into a holy saint; it’s an incredible sight, nothing short of a miracle.

Tragically, this miracle is often short-circuited and traded in for a list of rules. “Yes, you were saved by faith, but you’ll need to do these things to become holy. No, these rules aren’t exactly in the Bible, but this is my opinion on how you should apply principles-and you’ll follow my opinion if you’re 100% holiness.” What would Paul say? “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you…Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?” Holiness will never come from works, works are only holy if they come as an outflow of a relationship with Christ. If works come as an endeavor to please men, they are nothing but a meaningless burden.

Can you imagine how much it must frustrate Christ to see lists of extra-biblical rules being taught as the means of His holiness? Can you imagine how much it must grieve His heart to see converts base their spiritual maturity off of what they look like, completely short-cutting around a deep, and transforming walk with Him? Can you imagine His disappointment when His body splits and divides itself when one member doesn’t develop identical convictions to another?

This, my friend, is not holiness. This is compromise, deadly compromise.

 

Conclusion

I ought to clarify one more time that this article was not written against the proper use of the Holiness Movement’s teachings. This was intended to address the abuse of their teachings, but we must admit, it’s a very common abuse.

To answer the question in the introduction, there is a way to know we have personal holiness, and it’s very simple: faith in Christ alone. As we grow in deeper in our relationship with Him, His Spirit and His Word will guide us into truth and convict us of sin. But at the end of the day? We still aren’t banking on our righteousness when death comes knocking. Heaven will only be obtained by His holiness, and we are partakers of His holiness only by faith, never works.

To all my friends who have a genuine conviction towards a strict outward application, I want you to know that you have my utmost respect. Whether it’s a conviction to wear home-spun dresses, to wear veils, to wear skirts, to stay clean-shaven, to not wear wedding rings, to not pluck your eyebrows, to not curl your hair, to not watch movies, to not have internet-whatever it may be, go for it and never back down. If your conviction flows out of obedience to Christ’s work in your life, then for you, it would be compromise to give it up. So don’t, and God will greatly bless your faithfulness. That said, please be careful that you do not expect your personal application of scripture be practiced by others. Don’t force it on someone as a rule, for such rules are only hindrances if they are followed to please you and not Christ. Lastly, don’t look down upon or disfellowship a brother with different convictions from yourself. If he is living in blatant sin or contradicting a clear biblical rule, that’s one thing, but please, stay aware of the distinction between plain biblical rules and your personal application of principles.

In summary, any doctrine which includes rules as a means to holiness, most especially rules which are not taught in scripture, is a not a holiness doctrine at all. Paul would call it a perversion of the gospel. I would call it a deadly compromise. True holiness is a glorious picture of thriving, vibrant, glorious relationships with Christ. He walks with us and talks with us; He loves us and forgives us; He calls us higher and deeper. He opens His Word and He opens His heart. Daily, step by step, we’re transformed into His glorious image. Bit by bit, we become some of the most loving, most compassionate, most forgiving, most joyful, most kind, most caring, most truthful, most pure, most holy human beings this world has ever seen. Christ pours Himself into us, and then we pour ourselves out for the least and the lost, turning our world upside down. It’s a glorious vision, it’s a glimpse of true holiness. It’s a virtue and an attribute of God that we must crave with everything in us. That craving must never be subdued with anything less: not works, not rules, not standards, not pleasing men. True holiness, His holiness, holiness through faith in Christ alone; this must be the only thing which satisfies us.  Nothing more, nothing less. No compromise.

-Natalie Mayo

 

For Lance Mackenzie’s full rebuttal to this article and Natalie’s response check out:

Rebuttal and Response to “Danger! Beware of Compromising Holiness.”

Like what you see? Check out all our articles here.

References:

  1. https://www.paultripp.com/articles/posts/the-doctrine-of-holiness-article

Can Godly Women Wear Pants?

Bicycle pants

Finding someone who shares my love for the European Church isn’t common, so I was a very happy girl to realize I was speaking to a minister who not only loved Europe, but had done European missions work. There was one city in particular we both had gone too, and I excitedly told him of a Bible-based, missions school, smack-dab in the heart of it.  I shared how their pioneered church ran well over 400, and about their many outreach programs, which had special emphasis on trafficking victims.  He looked totally surprised, “Wow!  When I was there we only found one woman in the whole city who wore skirts, and she didn’t know of any others.”  I cringed as I realized my friend would dismiss everyone I’d just described as unbelievers, or at the very least, spiritually immature.   His assumption that Christian women will all choose to wear only skirts (and that men will require them to do so) caused him to see 97%+ of Christians as sinners, drastically reducing the size of the Body of Christ.

It’s only fair to consider both sides of an issue with such extreme consequences, and this is exactly the purpose of the following article.  Read the argument for pants as moral sin, read Nathan’s responses, think through both and come to your own conclusions.  Ask yourself-biblically, historically, logically-do godly women have a basis for believing they may choose their own garment-type?  Or is this really a Heaven/Hell decision?

Natalie

 

The Burden of Proof

As noted in the article on Jewelry, the restrictors of liberty bear the burden to prove their own case biblically, if they can’t, it falls. Just like we are innocent until proven guilty, we are at liberty unless proven constrained. It is not up to me to prove women can wear pants, it is up to them to prove they shouldn’t.

To provide a fair case against pants, I will quote a full article from the Holiness Handbook. I will quote it entirely in red with my responses in black. This is a fairly in-depth argument and it ends with the thinly veiled threat that if you disagree with the author of the Holiness Handbook, you have a significant likelihood of going to Hell. That represents a pretty high level of confidence on the part of the author that his view is unassailable, so we’ll see if his argument stands up to a biblical cross-examination.

As we evaluate his argument, keep in mind that two distinct things need to be proven. If either fails, then the case for women not being able to wear pants falls apart.

1) Is gender distinction biblically required in clothing?

2) If yes, do women’s pants fail to meet that standard described in Scripture?

Let’s hear his case:

 

Gender Distinctions in Old Covenant Clothing

Women and Men’s clothing

All through history, the clothing used by men and women have been unique so that there was a clear distinction between the genders. Thousands of years ago both men and women wore types of cloaks or types of robes, but even then there were differences that allowed a person to identify the gender.

There a long history of clothing being different for men and women. Some of this is preference based, with women typically preferring more ornamentation, some of this is based on the different body types of men and women, and some is based on the practical needs of men and women in their historic roles. I do agree with this statement, but I would caveat that for almost all of the history that the author references, the difference has not been in the type of garment, but rather slight differences in how the garment was trimmed or decorated. He acknowledges that men and women both wore robes, just with slight tweaks – they didn’t typically have a fundamentally different type of garment. Consequently, this historical claim is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Deuteronomy 22:5  The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a manneither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.

Among the Hebrews neither men or women was permitted by Mosaic Law to wear the same form of clothing as was used by the other. A few articles of feminine clothing carried somewhat the name and basic pattern, yet there was always sufficient difference in embossing, embroidery, and needlework so that in appearance the line of demarcation between man & women should be readily detected.

Since the author is quoting Old Testament ceremonial law, he still has a long way to go before he proves that such a commandment applies to New Testament believers. But we’ll save that question for now. Furthermore, there is a good argument from the original language that the verse actually is referring to a woman putting on the armor of a warrior as a part of pagan worship, but that argument isn’t necessary, so I won’t delve into it – I’ll link to another relevant article at the bottom.  Let’s just ask, would Old Testament law permit women to wear pants?

What does the Bible say about how Old Testament women had to dress? Nothing. That’s right, there are no Old Testament laws that specify what the differences between men’s and women’s clothing must exist. There are some allusions in the prophets that suggest women’s robe may have been a bit longer than men’s (which were typically mid-calf), but other than that suggestion, the Bible says nothing. Note that I’m not saying there were no differences, I’m just say that the God didn’t ordain any specific differences – he just said for women not to try to look like men, and the details were left to them to work out.

This “same type of garment” approach meshes with the clothes designed by God himself for the fallen Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:21 tells us that God made the same type of garment for Adam and Eve. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” Whether there were subtle differences in the garments, the Bible doesn’t say, but we do know that the “coat” type of garment worked for both Adam and Eve.

So what about the article of clothing below? As the author says, this carries the name and basic pattern as men’s pants, but it is “sufficiently different in embroidery such that a demarcation can be readily detected.” If Old Testament men wore jeans, then Old Testament women would have certainly been allowed to wear these pants. So would the author allow women to wear pants in this style? He should. But he won’t. Let’s see how he justifies the claim that the New Testament gender distinctions are actually more strict than the Old Testament ones.

Womens Pants

Are Pants Eternally Masculine?

What makes you think that pants are a man’s garment?

1) “Breeches” were an article of clothing designed by God for the priests who were all men. The word does not occur very often in scripture, but in every case it’s men’s apparel (Exodus 28:42, Leviticus 6:10, 16:4). According to the Hebrew lexicon, “breeches” means “trousers that extend to the knee, below the knee, or to the ankles.” This would include pants or culottes.

 It seems a little disingenuous for the author to give you a “Hebrew Lexicon” definition of breeches which makes them sound like pants when the Bible describes them in a way that is far less favorable to the author’s case. Let’s look at the definition that the Bible gives of “breeches” in Exodus 28:42.  “And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach: And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation…”  The Hebrew word “miknac” is a derivation of a word for hiding (as in, to hide the private parts) because these were not “trousers,” they were underwear. The Bible makes it clear that they were worn under robes, by priests, for the purpose of hiding “nakedness.” They went from the waist to the thighs (they did not necessarily cover the thigh completely), which makes them equivalent in length and usage to modern boxer shorts. The particular need that priests had for them may have been related to the steep steps that they would sometimes climb in the performance of their duties.

Additionally, the Bible puts no restrictions on who else could wear such attire. In fact, other than a few pieces like the ephod, all of the priestly garments were of the same basic style worn by all men and women at the time. There is no reason to believe that the wearing of miknac was banned to men or women any more than it was banned to wear the robes, sashes, coats, and belts all described in Exodus 28 as the garments of priests. Yes, they probably couldn’t have worn the exact colors and styles as the priests, but the basic garments were all the same. There are other garments which only men are recorded wearing in Scripture, such as the “girdle” or belt – and it is mentioned far more times than breeches (38). If the author’s logic is true, he should be quick to decry women’s wearing of belts of any kind – the biblical case is much stronger. Proving that mosaic priests wore boxers is a pretty far stretch from proving that pants are a universally and irrevocably masculine garment.

2) Until Hollywood came along, everyone in our modern western culture (including lost people) knew that pants were men’s apparel and dresses were women’s apparel, and they dressed accordingly. Our culture’s acceptance of cross-dressing has resulted largely from the influence of television, the placement of women in the workforce, and the pressures of twentieth century feminism.

 The author’s basic point is “everybody knows (or did know) that pants are an exclusively and irrevocably masculine garment, therefore it is true.” Do we apply that logic to any of our other beliefs? No. Because it is the bandwagon fallacy. Even if that was the case, it is no longer the case. I suspect that less than 1% of the western world would agree to the statement “pants are an exclusively male garment.” How long dead does the older generation have to be before we can acknowledge that the culture has changed the norm? Is 99.5% inadequate to call it a cultural shift?

John Wesley, the modern source of Holiness ideas of sanctification, had this to say: “As to matters of dress, I would recommend one never to be first in the fashion nor the last out of it.”

The author’s second claim is that the influences which changed the norm were bad and thus the change in culture should be resisted. I will address this claim momentarily, because he brings it up later.

 3) The universal symbol for designating a men’s bathroom is a stick figure wearing a pair of pants. The universal symbol for designating a woman’s bathroom is a stick figure wearing a dress. Even our sinful society recognizes that there is a difference in a man’s and woman’s clothing. 

First off, let me take issue with the author’s use of the word “universal.” The fact is that the modern bathroom symbols did not originate until the 1960’s, and they came from an Anglo-American background. Prior to their widespread acceptance, countries around the world all had their own takes on differentiating gender on bathroom signs, many of which were not based on clothing differences. American inventions from the 60’s do not constitute an ancient tradition – that’s just revisionist history.

Regardless, this argument is essentially a restatement of the bandwagon fallacy. The author is once again saying “everyone agrees with me that pants can’t be worn by women.” This is not an argument at all, but rather an emotional appeal. Ask yourself this, would a bathroom sign designed for ancient God-fearing Jews (if such a thing had existed) show a difference between the silhouette of a man and a woman? No. They would both be wearing a robe with an identical silhouette. Choosing the right bathroom would be very confusing. If the standard God set under Mosaic law wouldn’t have met this rather silly “bathroom sign test,” then what evidence does the author present that the “bathroom sign test” is a brand-new law introduced in the New Testament? None.

But then, if we’re resorting to silly arguments, are you so sure it was a dress? Maybe it was a cape this whole time.

IWNAD graphic HiRes

4) Pants are a symbol of authority, as evidenced by the saying ” I’m the one who wears the pants in the family.” Sadly, most women might as well wear the pants, since they rule their homes anyway!

This saying is the third consecutive appeal to the bandwagon fallacy which the author makes. Let me explain how. Pants are simply not a broadly used symbol of general authority. If you look at a country’s national seal, you may see an eagle, bear, lion, axe, mace, stars, a gavel, or many other things. You will never see a pair of pants displayed as a symbol of authority.

That said, I don’t dispute that there was a time when women did not wear pants. This saying originated in that culture and existed to describe a woman the functioning in a man’s role. The association was never between pants and authority generally, but between pants and men in particular. Does that mean that just because some people in the 19th century observed an association between pants and men, that such an association was firmly grounded in the Word of God and unchangeable? No. That association did exist, but does no longer. It could have been phrased in many other ways even at that time such as “I’m the ones who wears the work boots in the family” or “she’s the one who wears the apron.” Such a phrasing would not have then precluded women 100 years later from wearing work boots nor men from wearing an apron. This saying essentially proves that people agreed with the author 100 years ago, even if they don’t today. I suppose we should call that the dead bandwagon fallacy  – “I’m right because all of the dead people agree with me.”

However, slang phrases like this one are a very ineffective appeal when searching for universal truth, because they are some of the shortest-lived pieces of culture. There are dozens of idioms your parents used which you do not, and many more that we use with no thought to the origin of phrase. We “dial” a phone number even though phones no longer have rotary dials and we “hang up” even though phones no longer have hooks on which to hang them. Phrases like “high on the hog” referred to a time when wealth meant you could afford to eat cuts of meat from the better parts of a pig. We have completely forgotten where this phrase comes from, but we still use it comfortably.

 

The Origin of Women’s Pants

Cross dressing is one of the devil’s clever moves to advance the “women’s liberation movement” and to obscure the Biblical distinction between man and woman. “Unisex clothing” began to show up in the factories during WWII when women first started wearing slacks. At the same time: short hair, cigarettes, swearing became acceptable feminine behavior. Down that same path has come to Abortion, Divorce, Single Parent homes, extreme feminism.

Now the author restates his previous argument that the cultural forces which led women to wear pants were universally bad and, thus, the change in culture should be resisted. This is more interesting argument than his previous ones, so let’s break it down.

Let’s first start with how men began to wear pants and then look at the earliest use among women. During the time the Bible was written and for thousands of years before, men and women both wore robes, which were essentially dresses. The skirt that we would recognize originated in pagan Egypt as a uni-sex garment. Women wore pants as early as the first millennium before Christ in ancient China and they continued to be worn in the East by various Eastern cultures across the centuries. This fact is not irrelevant to the adoption of women’s pants in the West, because many of the earliest designs appealed to Eastern styles.

 

Egyptian kilt

 

Amazon trousers BM VaseB673

 

Men adapted the use of pants slowly over the middle ages. Sometimes this progression looked more like what we would recognize as pants and other times they were undergarments or stockings. In general, this progression reflected the reality that pants are a very practical and appropriate garment. Although they originated with the upper class, sailors soon adapted and spread them as a practical garment for working in the rigging of a ship. Pants allow mobility, are well adapted to horseback riding, and keep you warm more effectively. They were worn almost universally by Western men by the 1700’s. This basic premise, that men adopted pants because they were practical, is accepted without much question. No preachers spend their sermon time researching the origin of men’s pants to find out if there were nefarious roots, or if we should go back to the clothing that the early Christians wore (which would certainly help us distinguish ourselves from the world).

Allow me to introduce an equally sound premise in regards to women’s adoption of pants. Women adopted pants because they were practical. Some of the earliest modern users of pants were the pit brow lasses of the British coal fields. Pants were infinitely more practical than long skirts for their backbreaking labor of separating coal from rocks. They were wearing pants in the 1850’s, along with other practical articles of clothing, such as a head covering to keep coal dust out of their hair.

Pit Brow Lasses

The advent of the bicycle also led to women realizing that voluminous Victorian dresses were ill-suited to their new mode of transportation. There were even reports of women dying due to instances where they couldn’t see their pedals and lost control of their bikes. Many women at the turn of the 20th century adopted clothing that encased each leg separately and was much safer for riding (aka pants).

Bicycle pants

Factory work also played a significant role in adoption of pants, but that trend actually started in the first World War, not the second. Below you see women in an ammunition factory from the First World War wearing early pants. Pants were much safer for working with heavy equipment full of spinning cogs and gears.

WW1

Much more could be said about why women adopted pants – and men for that matter. But there is ample evidence that most regular women started wearing pants for deeply practical reasons, not reasons rooted in rebellion or a rejection of what the Bible says about gender.

 

Aren’t Pants Rebellious?

But what about the observation that the rise of women wearing pants was associated with other sins?

Various evils can coexist without being the cause of each other. During the same “golden age” in which all women wore dresses without question, there was that little problem where millions of black Africans were being kidnapped and shipped across the Atlantic as slaves under conditions in which half of them routinely died, often drowning in their own vomit. I wouldn’t actually blame dresses for that evil; that would be irrational – but no more irrational than blaming women’s pants for the rise of popularity in cigarettes. The author’s reasoning is known as the “post hoc” logical fallacy. When the rooster crows and then the sun comes up, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the rooster’s crowing is the cause of the sun’s rising.

Furthermore, at the same time women started wearing pants (and manning the Western factories), the United States defeated the greatest fascist forces in history, started granting rights to second-class citizen minorities, and gave women legal rights and education that were unparalleled in human history. Women in the workforce caused medical and economic advances that helped lengthen our lives and increase the effectiveness of church ministry, wars diminished in frequency and intensity, billions were lifted out of poverty, the gospel reached millions of new people. The 1900’s were by no means an era of unrestrained darkness – good things happened, and bad things happened. To associate pants with the bad but not the good is not particularly honest.

The whole purpose of the adoption of pants by women was inextricably tied to their service in the formal labor force. Women have been working alongside their brothers and husbands in the fields, on the frontiers, and in the family business for all of recorded history. Their adoption of pants to work in the factories is just an extension of the way things have always been. Most Holiness preachers take no issue with women in the modern workforce, so why do they take issue with the clothes that got them there?

Furthermore, the practicality of pants has not diminished since their original introduction. Modest skirts and dresses restrain women from participation in many wholesome activities that men routinely participate in. I remember that my younger sister wanted to be an astronaut when she was young. While the dreams of a child may be far-fetched, it seemed even more far-fetched to tell her that being an astronaut was somehow a special sin for her because she couldn’t wear a skirt in space. Rock climbing, rappelling, parachuting, and many other sports require the wear of a safety harness that can only be worn in pants. Childhood activities like jumping on a trampoline, cart-wheeling, tree-climbing, or sitting cross-legged on the floor are nearly impossible without exposing underwear in a skirt or dress. Factory work, bicycle riding, horseback riding, skiing, and exercise of almost every kind are made much easier by the wear of pants. There is an epidemic of obesity is killing Americans, so limiting your wife’s options for exercise to activities performable in a jean skirt may be taking ten years off of her life.

But what about accusations against some of the particular women who wear the first in modern times to wear pants? What of it? Do you stop to research the moral character of the first person to wear a jacket or the inventor of the wrist watch before you put it on? Do you research the founder of every name brand before you buy an article of clothing in that line? If you do it for clothes, why not every product you buy? The fact is that there are sinners in the history of our world who invented things we eat, wear, or use in everyday life. Nothing in the Bible says that we must cleanse ourselves of any association with sinners, because, in the words of Paul, to do so we would have to go out of this world (if you are going to quote that we should abstain from the appearance of evil, you need to read more about that passage). The nature of fashion is such that people who come up with brand new fashions are often a bit abnormal. Take for instance the suit.

The inventor of the modern suit and popularizer of tooth-brushing, shaving, and regular bathing was a man named Beau Brummell. A self-obsessed playboy, he would spend hours in the morning attending to his appearance and then spend his afternoons and evenings gambling in high society. He eventually fled his country due to unpaid debts, ended up in debtor’s prison, and was released only to die from syphilis. How come nobody ever preaches against suits on this ground? I have made a separate biblical case that the origins of a practice do not preclude our participation, however, if you take issue with women’s pants based on the earliest originators, at least apply your own standard fairly and stop wearing suits (you should probably stop tooth-brushing too).

 

The New Testament Case Against Pants

Arguments against this doctrine

Some people argue that the principle of unique apparel between the man and woman as established in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 22:5) is not confirmed in the New Testament, thus is not applicable to us today under grace. But if we look at the reference book Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (printed over one hundred years before women wore pants) we see that it cross references Deuteronomy 22:5 to 1 Corinthians 11:3-14. That proves that men that studied the Bible hundreds of years before women wore pants, understood that 1 Corinthians 11 contains the same principle that is stated in Deuteronomy 22:5.

People may also argue that the principle of avoiding mixing certain materials in a garment as shown in Deuteronomy 22:11 should also apply today if verse 22:5 applies. The key to determining if an Old Testament law applies to us today under grace is whether the principle  is repeated in the New Testament or not. In this case the principle of maintaining uniqueness in appearance between a man and woman is well established in the New Testament but that of avoiding mixing certain materials in a garment is not.

Now we get to the author’s New Testament justification. This is critical, because proving that there is a mosaic law forbidding something is a far cry from proving that it applies to believers freed from the law of Moses. I have written about this extensively here. However, I will address the argument in brief.

God has not changed, his character has not changed, and the things he cares about have not changed. However, God’s rules for his people absolutely change to accomplish God’s purposes. Animal sacrifice was once absolutely essential, now it is completely forbidden. The principle of needing to ask God’s forgiveness for our sins was the same throughout both covenants, but the expression of the principle changed. Simply proving that a principle exists in the New Testament does not prove that the expression of the principle now is the same as it was under Moses.

The New Testament expresses the principles of an unchanging God in rules which are sometimes new and sometimes a repetition of the Old Testament. However, the rules in the New Testament stand on their own. Sometimes they are inclusive of Old Testament rules and sometimes they are not. For instance, when Jesus says not to lust after a woman, this includes adultery, because it is not possible to commit adultery without lust. And to make things even clearer, adultery is also explicitly banned in the New Testament as well. However, there are other times where a principle is repeated, but the old covenant rule is no longer applicable. We should expect most of the principles to be repeated, because God hasn’t changed. But the expressions of the principles have changed – that’s the whole point. A few examples should be sufficient to illustrate this.

The Old Testament says that rebellious children should be stoned (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The New Testament makes it clear that the principle of children obeying their parents still applies under grace (Ephesians 6:1). Does that mean we apply the Old Covenant disciplinary approach of execution for disobedience? No. The principle hasn’t changed, the rule to apply it has.

The Old Testament forbade the Israelites from making any statues or graven images of any kind (Exodus 20:4). The New Testament makes it very clear that idolatry is still immoral (1 Corinthians 10:14). Does this mean that we apply the Old Covenant tactics of Gideon and destroy the Lincoln Memorial statue under cover of dark? No. The principle hasn’t changed, the rule to apply it has.

The Old Testament forbids the charging of interest to someone from your own nation (Leviticus 25:36). The New Testament repeats the principle of not taking advantage of people in need (Ephesians 4:28). Does this mean that we can’t do business with banks that charge interest? No. The principle hasn’t changed, the rule to apply it has.

The Old Testament forbids women wearing the same clothes as men (with loose guidelines). The New Testament repeats the principle that men and women should have some outward differentiation (as regards their hair). Does that mean we apply the Old Testament law in regards to their clothing? I’m afraid not. The principle hasn’t changed, the rule to apply it has.

So where do we find how we should express the principle now? The New Testament. What it says, we must do. What it does not say, is left to a matter of conscience (where do we draw the lines).  If we apply the author’s logic uniformly, we would resurrect much of the previously fulfilled Old Testament laws and we would have to start stoning our rebellious children, destroying all statues under cover of dark, and boycotting the financial industry.

But in reality, there are several New Testament verses that confirm that uniqueness must be maintained between sexes. These range from the differences in hair length to the feminine or masculine actions of each. In 1Cor 6:9 we find that effeminate men are not going to inherit the Kingdom of God. How is it that a woman can be accepted when wearing men’s clothing (pants) but if a man wears a dress that they are automatically (and correctly I may add) assumed to be homosexuals? Shouldn’t the question presented in 1Cor 11:14  “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” also make us ask “Does not even nature itself teach you” that for a woman to wear man’s clothing is a shame? As already confirmed by the example of a man wearing a dress, nature does teach us different.

The author now reiterates his New Testament references, so let’s see if they contain any rules in themselves which would make us believe that women can’t wear pants. First, we can address 1 Corinthians 6:9 and say that that verse in the original language is actually talking about homosexual practice, as Natalie explained in depth here: (Separation from the world). Even if it’s not, it addresses men, and tells them in general that they shouldn’t act like women, but leaves the rules entirely up to conscience, not to their pastor.

The only other New Testament reference he has is entirely about hair and probably head coverings too (though, that is another topic). How do we get from hair, to saying that men and women’s clothing has to be more differentiated than it was in the Old Testament? I don’t know. By trying to link this passage to Deuteronomy, the author admits that the rule he’s striving to implement isn’t in the passage at all. On this, I agree with him, and so he leaves me no Scripture to address.

Another argument he raises in addition to the Scripture is “doesn’t nature itself teach us that a woman wearing pants is bad?” In order to make an appeal to “common sense” or “nature,” there has to be some widespread agreement on the issue. In fact, I can make this argument more strongly than he can, because 99% of the Western culture would agree with me when I ask “isn’t it common sense that a woman in pants can be feminine?” “Everyone knows” isn’t a logical proof under the best circumstances, but when you say that, and in fact everyone disagrees with you, it is a very thin argument indeed.

 

Is There a Double Standard?

A more valid argument in this paragraph refers to the perceived “double standard” of men not being allowed to wear dresses, but women being allowed to wear pants. I think this is one of the most compelling arguments the author makes, so I applaud him for coming up with it. Here’s why I submit there is no double standard. The standard is, men and women should embrace their God-given gender and strive to live up to the universal standards as well as the gender specific standards that God set for them in Scripture. I could make a biblical case for that in the New Testament, but as I suspect we are agreed, I won’t spend the time doing that.

If “embracing your gender specific roles” is the standard, how do we evaluate a man who we see in a dress? Well, if he’s Moroccan, he’s probably wearing a jellaba and he’s embracing his gender role. If he’s Indian, he’s probably wearing a dhoti and embracing his gender role. If he’s Scottish, he’s probably wearing a kilt and embracing his gender role. If he’s American, he may be wearing any of the above garments and embracing his gender role, or he may be wearing some sort of apron or lab coat that is relevant to his occupation and embracing his gender role. But if he puts on a cute, floral dress, the author is right that he is almost surely rejecting his gender role. He could also reject his gender role by putting on a cute, floral pair of women’s pants. A woman meanwhile can embrace her femininity in a pair of pants or she can reject it. She can also reject her gender role while wearing a dress or while wearing a type of “dress” designed for men. The standard is clear and even. Are you embracing your gender role that God gave you in your heart? If so, your dress will reflect your heart, but exactly what that looks like cannot be simply prescribed by a third party. And, oh, by the way, tasteful jewelry is one way women can embrace their femininity, as the Bible clearly prescribes.

And let’s be real, if you run your errands today, you will see women in pants as bank tellers, fast food workers, home-schooling mothers, and insurance agents. You don’t really go home and say “you wouldn’t believe it, but I counted 42 lesbians today!” Because you acknowledge that woman can embrace their gender roles while wearing pants.

Furthermore, the author has opened himself up to a double standard charge as well. If God’s Word is so set against men and women wearing “the same” clothing, here are some things that would fall into that category. Almost all of these things were first worn by men: T-shirts (originally invented for men’s military use), boots, tennis shoes, baseball style hats, belts, socks, sweaters, stockings, and hoodies. How come he thinks a “woman’s pair of pants” is absurd, but a woman’s belt, boots, t-shirt, scarf, hoodie, stockings, or socks are completely ok?

No doubt the acceptation of tearing down the clothing differences between the sexes was initiated by Satan to open the door to the homosexual spirits by weakening the conscience of our modern society. The rebellious nature that allows a woman professing to be a Christian to wear pants can also cause them to be lured deeper toward a lesbian desire. Peter stated that “after this manner in the old time the holy women adorned themselves being in subjection unto their own husbands”. Does dressing in equal attire to the husband display that they are under subjection to the man or even to God? The question is how important is it to you to get to heaven? Is rebellion for such a small indulgence of wearing clothing that the Bible prohibits, worth going to Hell?

1 Peter 3:3  Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;  3:4  But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.  3:5  For after this manner in the old time the holy women alsowho trusted in Godadorned themselvesbeing in subjection unto their own husbands:

At this point, the author offers the unsubstantiated conjecture that homosexuality came from women’s pants. The only link he attempts to draw to prove this audacious claim is that wearing pants is “rebellion.” My answer to which is – rebellion is bad, don’t be in rebellion against legitimate authority. He does not successfully link pants to rebellion, either historically or in the modern age.

He references the matriarchs of the Jewish faith as evidence that holy women dress in a holy way. I agree with this wholeheartedly, and as I exposited at length, these women wore the same basic garments as their husbands, with only minor differences, and that under the Old Covenant. If they could do that in times past, then their example should be adequate to show that the most conservative women today can wear pants that are styled or embroidered differently from their husbands, and women who don’t think that Old Testament law applies to us should worry more about their hearts and actions than whether there is a rose embroidered on their pants.

 

Abominations and Modesty

I would like to address at least two other arguments against pants which the author didn’t bring up. The first is the issue of abominations being unchangeable. This is a fundamentally arbitrary standard which has no inherent biblical basis other than “the Lord doesn’t change” which doesn’t differentiate how “abominations” are different than any other of the hundreds of other Old Testament rules which our unchanging God definitely changed. I address this in much more depth here for those who are interested. Even if you think that this verse in Deuteronomy still applies, there are still a tremendous number of clothes which women and men could wear which would meet the Old Testament standard. Deciding that pants aren’t distinct enough, but t-shirts are, still makes no sense.

The second is that women’s pants are inherently immodest. A few issues with that. First off, if you a do a Google image search for the word “skirt” you will find that less than 1 in 10 skirts shown would be considered appropriate in a Holiness church. So skirts aren’t inherently modest, but if you shop hard enough, you can find modest ones. Pants are no different. What defines modesty precisely is another discussion, but is certainly related to my discussion on where we draw the lines. But ask yourself this, do men have to be modest too? I think yes. Can men be modest in pants? Yes. Therefore women can be modest in pants, even if they have to look a little harder to find them.

 

Conclusion

I do not see that the author of the Holiness Handbook has fulfilled his burden of proof in restricting our Christian sisters to the wearing of the garments that he has authorized (which do overlap with men’s clothing such as t-shirts and boots, but don’t include pants). In regards to the two things he had to prove, I do not think that there is sufficient New Testament evidence to show that gender distinction is biblically required in clothing. Even if you think he has proven this point adequately, he certainly did not show that women’s pants fail to meet that standard described in Scripture. At least some women’s pants meet the Old Covenant standard for clothing and they must certainly then meet the New Covenant standard.

The author closes with the bold proclamation that those of us who disagree with his assessment of this completely non-essential issue risk going to Hell. To which I respond with Titus 3:9 “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.” This whole topic is fundamentally a striving about Old Testament law, or perhaps about a completely unstated hidden rule in the New Testament. That makes the whole topic unprofitable at best, and simply a matter of pride, vanity and control of others at worst.

 

Executive Summary

Allow me to summarize all of the relevant arguments for women’s liberty to wear pants:

1) The passage in Deuteronomy may actually be referring to women wearing armor.

2) The OT law would have permitted women to wear pants if that was the custom of men at the time – men and women wore slightly different garments, not fundamentally different ones.

3) The New Testament references that men and women are different and that they must embrace their respective roles, but says nothing about a particular distinction being required in their clothing.

4) There is no effective link that can resurrect the verse in Deuteronomy without also resurrecting dozens of other Old Testament laws which address principles repeated in the New Testament (such as stoning your children).

5) The origin of pants for men was a matter of practicality, not rebellion. The origin of pants for women was fundamentally a matter of practicality, not rebellion.

6) Rebellion from some individuals that wore women’s pants does not taint pants any more than it taints any other clothing we wear (such as the “pagan” skirt and the prodigal suit inventor).

7) If pants are inappropriate for women for reasons related to their original, biblical, or current use by men, this would rule out socks, stockings, hose, t-shirts, boots, hoodies, belts, skirts, button down shirts, many styles of hats, and much more.

8) If some pants are modest enough for men, then there are some modest enough for women.

9) Restricting women from wearing pants precludes them from participation in many wholesome activities and from many forms of exercise which would help live longer, healthier lives.

Nathan Mayo

 

Want to see someone take me on? Check out this full length rebuttal submitted by a reader.

Want more arguments in favor of women’s liberty to wear pants? Check out my answer to his rebuttal.

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References:

Note that this article makes a lot of references to the history of fashion. I prefer to cite firsthand accounts, and I have done so in part by providing pictures from the times referenced. I didn’t think it was worth the time to write a truly authoritative study on the history of various articles of clothing, but I have seen enough sources to be confident that the facts I cited are true. Feel free to cross check other sources.

In depth commentary on Deuteronomy 22:5: http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1010-99192013000100001

John Wesley quote on Christians and fashion: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Wesley

History of bathroom signs: https://infographicplaza.com/the-history-of-bathroom-signs/

An overview of the history of the skirt: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skirt

An overview of the history of pants: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trousers

Women’s cycling attire: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/04/how-cycling-clothing-opened-doors-for-women/558017/

Inventor of the suit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beau_Brummell

Where Do “We” Draw The Lines?

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In the summer of 2019, Natalie went on a 23 state road trip to connect with friends and spend time discussing Holiness thought with a broad selection of its preachers. In her words, “I asked question after question trying to understand the reasoning behind the plethora of rules I’d grown up under.  I asked questions about make-up, about jewelry, about women’s pants, about sleeve length, about nail polish, and the list could have gone on and on to include beards, competition sports, modern Christian music, alcohol, movies, bowling, and much, much more.  My bottom line was clear, “Why do we teach total abstinence from these things if the Bible does not?”  We went back and forth through Scripture trying to see both sides of the issues, but at the end of the day their answer was equally clear, ‘We have to draw lines for our congregations, and this is where we’ve chosen to draw them.'”

On its face, this seems to be a compelling question. “Where do we draw the lines?” The problem with this question is the hidden assumptions under the question, and the questions which are never asked at all. Allow me to address some of the deeper questions about who should be drawing lines and what principles should be applied in their creation.

Before we get into this discussion, I will define a few terms. A biblically explicit rule is something the Bible says outright: Don’t worship idols, love your neighbor as yourself. There is a fine line between “principles” and “rules.” A principle is essentially a broader rule with many applications, and a rule is an instruction with either one or a few specific applications. Both rules and principles are found throughout the Bible, and we must follow them all (subject to a proper theology of how to understand the Old Testament).

What I call a “line” or a “man-made rule” is any rule or principle that isn’t explicitly found in Scripture. Don’t paint your toenails, don’t let your kids play on a baseball team, don’t go bowling, don’t hang out with your girlfriend past 10 o’clock. Such rules can be helpful as we try to apply biblical principles; I draw many lines in my own life. These lines could represent a conviction about what behavior you believe is moral for you or merely a practice you think is helpful. The question is not about whether such lines have value, but about where and by whom they should be drawn.

Who should draw the lines?

Whenever it is said that “we” have to draw the lines somewhere, the implication is that there is some kind of consensus. Does a sort of Nicaean counsel meet to openly debate the merits of the three quarter length sleeve versus the fully long one? No, that’s not how these lines are drawn at all. The reality always involves one person drawing the lines for another. Often a preacher drawing lines for his congregation or perhaps older people drawing lines for younger people. There is no collective “we” in line drawing as practiced by the Holiness movement, there is only me drawing lines for you or you drawing lines for me.

The problem with that scenario is that not only does the language mask control as consensus, but the underlying concept is distinctly unbiblical. Scripture does not teach that new truth comes from the mouth of preachers, it teaches that it comes from the mouth of God, as revealed in his Word. While Paul does instruct the members of the early church to respect their elders and learn from their general wisdom, he never tells them to turn to their elders to interpret the Bible. Nowhere in the epistles does a writer instruct the church “and when the elders assemble, they shall inform you of the will of God in your lives, and set the standards by which you may please him.” The power to proclaim sins not listed in Scripture is simply not given to church leadership, no more than it is given to them to forgive sins.

But the Bible does talk about drawing lines. Romans 14:1-10 is fairly self explanatory about who gets to draw them:

“1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. 2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks…

10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

This passage makes it clear that different people have different convictions about things not specified in Scripture, and they can openly practice them side-by-side, without one conforming to the other. This passage also explicitly forbids us from telling other people to conform to our convictions.

The Bible does discuss not causing other people to stumble, both in Romans 14 and in 1 Corinthians. However, that commandment is limited in scope to real harm to real people. It is often used to prevent hypothetical harm to hypothetical people as a backdoor way of making people conform to our convictions and thus violating Romans 14. I can advise you that you might want to be careful about listening to Christian rap around unbelievers so that you don’t make them think you are listening to morally offensive music. However, if I tell you that you can’t listen to Christian rap in your headphones, clearly I am not concerned about you making people stumble; I’m just putting my convictions on you (and if you think you have another way to universally ban listening to Christian rap, you’re most likely leaning on the failed principle of guilt by association).

Rights forgone due to stumbling blocks are always limited in Scripture by context and subject to personal conscience. One example is when Paul chose not to ask the Corinthians to pay him for his ministry. Even while he did that, he made it clear that he had a right to ask for money, but he didn’t want to make them stumble (1 Corinthians 9). “Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.” If Paul had a right to request they pay him, and did request that in other places, it stands to reason that he would not have been sinning to do so in Corinth. That is his whole point “I could have asked, but I didn’t.” Their weakness shaped his action, but didn’t constrain his morally acceptable options. Paul had more than one moral choice, but chose the most loving of the two. He did that as a matter of personal conscience, not because someone told him to.

Ergo, I argue that the Bible gives no one the authority to add rules to Scripture. We are free to follow rules that are not in Scripture, but we do so as a matter of personal conviction, not corporate conviction. Even when we do so, we should have a reason, either to secure our own faith, or to protect others.

Why do Holiness leaders only draw lines on certain topics?

The other question which our line-drawing brethren must answer is this: if it is they who draw the lines which apply God’s ancient truth to the modern era, why have they forsaken to stake out the boundaries of godly living in such broad swaths of culture? For all the talk of the necessity of these lines, almost all Holiness lines fall into two narrow categories. They cover outward appearance (e.g. jewelry, tattoos, and shorts) and unacceptable entertainment (e.g. sports, television, dancing). But there are massive categories of Christian life, no less emphasized in Scripture, where Holiness people do not have any broadly accepted lines, and may have no personal lines at all.

Several examples come readily to mind on this topic. For instance, the Bible says a lot about money: “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Matthew 1:24).” With such strong warnings about money and wealth, and considering that the average American is 90 times richer than the average person Paul was writing to, it would seem like we need a lot of boundaries in regards to money. Why shouldn’t the preacher tell us that with so many people still living on $2 a day, and unable to afford access to basic medicine, education, and the gospel, it’s our duty to give away every penny over $20,000 of income? Why not draw a line and say that no one ever needs a sports car – it’s showy and a waste of money? Why not preach against having more rooms in your house than five? Why not at least preach against having a $5,000 gun collection or taking $2,000 vacations? Why don’t preachers set a single guideline about money? The same logic can be used as is used for appearance – “We have to be different from the world, we have to avoid the appearance of pride and arrogance, we have to care more about the gospel than pleasure.”

For another example, take family life. The Bible has a lot of guidance for how husbands should interact with wives and parents with children, but it also leaves a lot of questions unanswered. And in modern society, there are more questions for people to answer than ever before. Why don’t preachers feel comfortable telling us whether women should work outside the home, and how much?  Why don’t they tell us that men have to help out around the house, and what percentage of the work they must do? Why don’t they tell us whether we can have our kids in daycare or public school? Should we send our girls off to college (a practice which was a direct goal and result of the feminist movement)?  These are all difficult questions that people face which can have significant impact on their lives and even the souls of their children. Why do Holiness preachers feel like these topics are, largely, none of their business?

Many more categories of rules may be helpful. How often and for how long must we pray, fast, meditate, read, and study Scripture? How many times in a month must we undertake a personal evangelism project? How often must we confess our sin, to whom, and what level of sin is worth confessing? What about lines in matters of health? How many pounds over a healthy weight are we allowed to be before we are considered to be abusing our body? If we say that smoking a cigarette is sin because it will kill you, how can we not say that eating fried chicken is wrong when you’re already 60 pounds overweight?

Despite protestations that, “we have to draw the lines somewhere for our people,” there are massive and critically important areas of our lives in which even holiness preachers expect us to work out our own personal application of biblical principles. There is nothing about appearance and entertainment which is more important than matters of money, family life, health, evangelism, and spiritual discipline. If Holiness preachers think their congregations are capable of surviving without preacher-drawn lines in these numerous areas, why do they think they are so incapable of surviving without them in the areas of entertainment and appearance? I would actually agree that a lot of Holiness people in particular do mess up in the areas in which there are fewer commonly accepted lines. This is in large part because they never learned how to draw lines for themselves, they expected the preacher to do that.

Why did Holiness leaders choose these particular lines?

I would agree that there are occasions when a bright line is necessary to define reasonable standards. To take an example outside of religion, consider gun control. The most ardent supporter of gun control would still agree that people have the right to kitchen knives, baseball bats, and fists. The most committed libertarian would probably agree that millionaires shouldn’t have private nuclear weapons. So somewhere on a spectrum between nuclear weapons and baseball bats, we as a society have to determine where the line is about what weapons are appropriate for private use. Cruise missiles? Belt-fed machine guns? Handguns? We have to draw a line somewhere. Note that in this case, because it is a matter of law, the line has to be drawn by central authority. But even in this case there is not just one line, but several slightly different lines for different people. Licensed collectors have a different line from regular citizens, who have a different line from convicted felons.

In matters of religion, drawing the lines centrally isn’t required – or even biblical as per the case I make above. However, some lines are still required. Like on the gun control spectrum, we could all agree that is wrong for a Christian to walk around naked and unnecessary for a Christian to walk around in a full black burka. Somewhere between those extremes, a line, or at least a series of different lines for different people must be drawn. In a minute, I will address what I see as the biblical way for an individual to do that.

I contrast the idea of multiple lines, drawn by individuals for themselves against the Holiness idea that these lines must be drawn centrally, by a few spiritual elites for everyone else. They often claim that the lines they find are universally true – that while they are not addressed directly by Scripture, these lines are the only way to properly apply scripture. They act as if the only reason their rules aren’t in Scripture is because of a time gap, and if the Bible had an additional book added today, it would read like the Holiness-Handbook. If this is true, we would expect their lines to have particularly profound logical reasoning and not be movable a few inches to the left or right without dire consequences. Let’s hold some of their lines up to the light – not to see whether they are worth anything, but rather to see whether they are inherently better than any other imaginable lines.

In the matter of women’s pants and unisex clothing, let’s put aside the whole theology of whether a verse in Deuteronomy is applicable to today and pretend like it was found in Romans instead. If pants are wrong for women, why not t-shirts? Why not socks, baseball caps, leather jackets, or hoodies? These are all articles of clothing that bear at least as much resemblance to men’s clothing as women’s pants do to men’s pants. Many of those articles are actually sold as “unisex” – something that can’t generally be said of pants.

In the matter of entertainment, if movies are wrong, why aren’t YouTube videos? If you think they’re both wrong, then what about plays (a movie is essentially a recorded play)? If plays are wrong, then what about novels? A novel is essentially the script for a play. There is no dramatic line of logic that really separates a book from a movie. It is the content of the movie or book that matters.

If bowling is wrong because you are around drinking, then what about Applebee’s? If Applebee’s, then what about flying on an airline which serves alcohol? If painting your toenails is wrong because it draws attention to you, then what about having colored sandals? If TV is wrong because it wastes time when you should be about the Father’s business, then what about hunting and fishing, which makes some Holiness wives seasonal widows?

My point is not that any single line is going to be vastly superior to any other line, my point is that the lines which Holiness people have chosen as a universal standard, and for which they refuse to fellowship with other churches, are not really that special. Theology aside, the lines themselves are rather arbitrary and there is nothing about their exact position that is universal or logically unassailable. While I don’t think they must be abolished, these fences could be moved to the left or right with no harm to anyone.

How do we draw the lines?

It is fair to put the same question back to me. Where do we draw the lines? Although it is important to point out that  when I use the word “we”, I don’t think I should be drawing lines for you – you draw them for you, I draw them for me. We draw lines for ourselves and our young children until they are old enough to draw them for themselves. I would submit that there are two biblical principles that individuals should use when drawing lines about personal conduct – conscience and effect. Note that these principles should only be applied once it is clear that the Bible has nothing explicit to say on the matter.

The first principle, restricting yourself to what your conscience allows, is found in Romans 14 and in the passages about eating meat offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8). It’s important to remember that Paul doesn’t say that the stricter standards are held by the more holy people, he explicitly says that the weaker brother needs to hold the more strenuous standard (1 Corinthians 8:7). “Stricter” is not inherently morally “higher.” If it was, then we could all maximally please God by wearing burkas and eating only bread and water. Standards are not synonymous with righteousness. Two people with different standards can please God equally, and someone with a stricter standard could be pleasing God less, if his heart was not right. Given that we are all weak in certain areas, acknowledging your weakness is wisdom. If you listened to country music that put you on a bad path before you were a Christian, and you are concerned that listening to Christian music in the same genre may cause you to turn back to you old habits, then don’t listen to Southern Gospel. That doesn’t mean you get to tell other people they can’t listen to Southern Gospel.

The second principle is effect, by which I mean that the effect of your lawful action should not cause you or someone else to sin. You may have Christian liberty to read a classic novel, but if such a novel always makes you bitterly discontent with your life, then you should put it down. You may have liberty to travel, but if traveling always makes you have uncontrollable blowouts at your kids, you should probably try a “staycation.” The Bible doesn’t define exactly where the lines of your clothing must end, but if you find that your appearance is causing a number of people to stare at you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you should consider taking those articles out of your wardrobe. What if a Christian’s conscience doesn’t convict them of a matter in which they are almost definitely harming others? If harm can be shown to a particular person, then it’s biblically fair for other Christians to address the issue as per the steps laid out for addressing someone else’s fault. I don’t have a right to cause other people to stumble, but that stumbling has to be real or at least probable, not a far-fetched imagining designed to control me.

I also don’t believe that these personal lines are fixed and immovable; they can change as you mature and change. A purchase like an RV that may have been wasteful in my youth might be a wise use of resources when I have a couple of kids. A book that may be inappropriate before you are married may be valuable once you are. That’s precisely why God didn’t try to legislate all of these things.

So how do we teach young believers to make wise choices and draw healthy lines in these complex arenas, without just handing them to them? The short answer is, discipleship. That is a complex topic and the subject of another article.

In conclusion, lines are valuable in our Christian life, but the Bible makes it clear that we draw them for ourselves, subject to our love for others. Nowhere in Scripture does God give New Testament church leaders the right to declare new universal standards. And even if he did, the ones they came up with fail to address large chunks of our lives and are rather arbitrary. It looks like there was never any intentional deliberation behind the lines they chose. It’s almost as if they’re just doing what their grandparents did, just because that’s the way “things have always been done.”

-Nathan Mayo

 
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Replacing Rules with Discipleship

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Replacing Rules with Discipleship

A common objection to the dismantling of any system of non-biblically explicit rules is “if we don’t have the rules, how will we keep ourselves and our fellow Christians out of traps?” Given that this is the purpose the system of rules serve, it is fair to say that any objection to those rules should provide an alternative, biblical method for keeping people on the straight and narrow. I believe that Jesus modeled such a method, which is notably absent from many, though not all, American churches. The alternative to teaching a system of rules, is discipleship, and good discipleship does not blend well with a system of man-made rules.

Before we get into that discussion, let me define a few terms. A biblically explicit rule is something the Bible says outright: Don’t worship idols, love your neighbor as yourself. There is a fine line between “principles” and “rules.” A principle is essentially a broader rule with many applications, and a rule is an instruction with either one or a few specific applications. Both rules and principles are found throughout the Bible, and we must follow them all (subject to a proper theology of how to understand the Old Testament).

What I call a “man-made rule” is any rule or principle that isn’t explicitly found in Scripture. Don’t paint your toenails, don’t dress like a hippie, don’t watch Disney movies, don’t hang out with your girlfriend past 10 o’clock. Such rules can be helpful as we try to apply biblical principles; I apply many rules in my own life. However, they become problematic when we start to hand out our personal rules of thumb and convictions to everyone to apply to their lives.

When I say “young believers” I am referring to a status of Christianity defined not by age or time in church, by a certain amount of immaturity, which is nothing to be ashamed of in a new Christian. This concept comes from 1 Peter 2, where Peter speaks of giving biblical “milk” to new believers. Ideally, after a couple of years, new believers will be better grounded in their faith and more able to handle deeper truths from Scripture. Unfortunately, there are many people who have warmed church benches for decades who have little to no idea of how to read and interpret Scripture and are functionally “new believers.”

The intent of a rules based instructional method is to keep these believers out of trouble. To keep them from making errors from which they can’t fully recover. This intent is admirable, and the fear of releasing people into error is both understandable and old. It was the same fear that drove the Judaizers to insist that believers also followed the Old Testament law. It was the belief that drove the medieval Catholics to ban the printing of the Bible into common languages – they feared that the common man wouldn’t be able to understand it, so he needed the church to interpret it for him.

Why focus on discipleship?

There are inherent theological problems with drawing those rules for other people which merit their own discussion, but besides that set of problems, the practice of making rules is actually not very effective at developing mature Christians. The logic of the system of man-made rules is simple. It takes a long time to pore over 66 books of ancient Scripture and understand the explicit biblical commands, as well as derive personal convictions and “guardrails” to help keep you from sin. In order to prevent people from error, various churches offer “pre-interpreted Scripture” and “pre-packaged personal convictions” in the form of a system of rules, not open to discussion, debate, or Scriptural critique. We just skip the Scripture, and the messy interpretation, and offer you only the application: “don’t wear short sleeves.” In taking that shortcut, young believers either don’t learn how to form their own convictions, or they learn actively bad methods for interpreting Scripture, such as reading by analogy.

If those believers ever question their faith due to routine temptation or trials of life, or perhaps because someone in church did something wrong to them, they have almost no personal conviction about their church’s rules. They very often abandon all of the rules at once, and because they were never taught the difference between a man-made rule and a biblically explicit rule, they often toss out all of God’s rules along with man’s. Blurring the lines between man-made rules with biblically explicit ones is a recipe for disaster. When cracks start to appear in the man-made rules, they’re so entangled with God’s actual rules that Christians can’t tell them apart. Furthermore, they have been taught no good principles for how to derive application from Scripture, so once the interpretation they have been offered falls apart, everything collapses quickly.

Contrast this with Jesus’ method of instruction – discipleship. The Bible and many other writers have much to say about discipleship, and I’m not going to provide a particularly profound coverage of the topic. But these are the traits that a healthy Christ-follower must have, and discipleship is a broad term for the process that gets him or her there.

What does a well trained disciple have to know how to do? (this list is not exhaustive):
1) Have an independent relationship with God, characterized by prayer
2) Be able to rightly interpret and apply the Scripture to their own lives
3) Be aware of the sins that are prevalent in their own lives and how to combat them
4) Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit
5) Witness to unbelievers effectively
6) Mentor new believers to make them into better disciples

Why can’t we merge man-made rules with good discipleship?

Ok, so if that’s what discipleship is, why can’t that be done concurrently with teaching people some extra rules to help keep them from sin? Why is it a problem to teach people all of the above traits, while also teaching them that the Bible says jewelry is wrong, they should never watch a Pixar movie, and skirts must extend 11 inches past the knee. Can’t we blend discipleship with a system of pre-ordained “guardrails” against sin preached from the pulpit?

The problem with that strategy is two-fold.

First, time competition tends to de-prioritize good discipleship in favor of teaching rules. Imagine that we taught new converts that they had to live like the Amish – plain clothes and no technology. Such a teaching would necessarily consume a lot of pulpit, Sunday school, and one-on-one time. When people are new to Christ, they would spend much time asking “why can’t I have electricity?” in addition to “do I really have to love my enemies?” All time spent teaching, admonishing, and reminding people to live the Amish life would probably amount to half or more of all the Bible teaching. And of course, given that all of that teaching is not biblical, it would be time wasted and result in longer maturation times for new believers.

Second, and more importantly, the method employed to teach people a list of extra biblical rules directly undermines the discipleship process. It does this in many ways, too numerous to list here, but I will provide some highlights.

It undermines a personal relationship with God through prayer by layering a lot of things on God that he never said. The new believer now has to deal not only with the difficult things that God said – like that anger in your heart is comparable to murder – they also have to deal with difficult things that God never said, like why they can’t listen to their favorite genre of music with Christian messaging, they have to listen to it in the Southern Gospel style.

It undermines their ability to interpret Scripture because the method employed to teach rules not found in Scripture has to be an appeal to authority or bad Bible interpretation. If we teach that tattoos are sin because of a single verse in the Mosaic law, then we teach an awful method for reading the Old Testament at the same time – which can lead to many other incorrect beliefs. If we teach tattoos are sin because they are associated with evil, then we teach another distinctly unbiblical principle which will be sure to confuse our disciple in other areas of life. If we teach our disciples that tattoos are wrong because the preacher said so, then we are teaching them a third unbiblical rule which makes a better cult follower than Jesus follower.

It causes them to be less able to deal with sin in their own lives by making healthy guardrails for their own situations, because they are too busy applying the guardrails designed for someone else. There is a very appropriate role for personal convictions and safeguards in Christian life. But when new believers apply other people’s convictions in an effort to please God, they fail to learn how to form their own, customized to their own weaknesses and strengths.

It undermines their ability to witness to unbelievers effectively, because they spend more time explaining their new appearance standards than they do explaining how Jesus changed their heart. The conversation goes to the outward expressions which are not as biblically grounded and stays away from the heart of the Gospel.

You can see that teaching man-made rules is in direct conflict with teaching people how to be independent, mature disciples. No wonder that if they fall away from Holiness teaching, they often fall hard. They weren’t trained to do the basic things that Christians should know how to do.

How do we make disciples?

If discipleship isn’t fully compatible with man-made rules, how do we train disciples without the rules?

Many of the things that are done in Holiness circles are already beneficial to discipleship. Preaching, prayer, Sunday school, and fellowship are all fine things. However, there are a a few critical components which must be added.

1) Modeling Effective Study of Scripture

Teach the whole Bible. Preach large passages of Scripture, not just on two words in one verse. Preach through the whole Bible deliberately, book by book, in addition to topical sermons. Teach through the whole Bible in Sunday school and Bible studies. The Bible commands us to preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). It is not enough to just talk about pet topics.

Focus Bible teaching on the “how we learned this” not just the “what we learned.” Being a disciple of Christ is like learning math. In the study of history, it may suffice to learn the facts. In the study of math, facts are relevant but not sufficient. If I tell you that in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, very well, you know the fact. If I tell you that in the equation -0.25x + 1.3 = -0.55x – 0.2, x equals -5, I haven’t told you much. You still don’t know how to solve the problem, and the odds that you will run cross this exact problem again are slim to none. Training disciples does involve teaching absolute truth (1+1=2, your own righteousness is not sufficient to save you), but it also involves teaching problem solving principles, biblical interpretation principles, and many other general principles.

Don’t treat any one person’s opinion like it is absolute. Encourage civil disagreement about non-essentials of the faith (anything not explicit in Scripture). A preacher can do this by acknowledging that not everyone interprets a passage the way he does, and by explaining the alternate interpretation, even if he doesn’t quite agree with it (I’m not talking about a heretical alternate interpretation, but a reasonable one). A teacher can encourage discussion in a class or after a class. Unlike in math, many times the answers to life’s problems are not universally applicable, and a bit of healthy discussion can help us learn more than if all disagreement is silenced. A Bible study with a high degree of guided interaction (50%+ discussion) can be very helpful in teaching people how to read their Bible independently.

2) Modeling Spiritual Disciplines

Emphasize spiritual disciplines. Bible reading, Bible study, prayer, fasting, meditation, service, giving, worship, fellowship, and evangelism are all drills that God gave us to make us stronger, heartier Christians. There has to be an emphasis on these disciplines from the pulpit as well as in corporate church practice. New Christians should soon learn what these things are and be challenged to apply them to their lives. The church should provide plenty of opportunities for community service, meaningful conversations with believers, evangelistic outreach, and Bible study. The things learned in church can then be applied in private.

3) Encouraging Universal Accountability

Build systems for personal accountability – for everyone. This includes both mentor-mentoree relationships, as well as deliberate peer relationships for everyone. Such a relationship involves multiple meetings a month where spiritual topics are discussed not only in general, but also in specific regard to each other’s lives. Accountability isn’t just about keeping people from sin, it’s also about building good habits in the spiritual disciplines listed above. However, it also provides a great forum for confessing sin, and the church has to teach that confessing your sins in the right way is not only healthy, but required to please God (James 5:16). Discipleship involves one on one investment at all levels of spiritual growth. Sunday school is great, but it is no substitute for mentorship.

A focus on the Word, spiritual disciplines, and authentic relationships is a great way make good disciples and it is ultimately modeled on the very personal methods that Jesus used to disciple his own followers. Discipleship is messy, time consuming, and the only way to build effective Christians. This method stands in stark contrast to teaching rules, which rely on constant focus on narrow parts of the Bible, questionable (and yet non discussable) interpretations, and a focus on how holy we already are, rather than on how far we have to go together.

When churches employ these principles, believers are thoroughly equipped for every good work. They have an independent relationship with God and do not wish to displease him. They have practiced evangelism and service in church events, so they know how to initiate those projects in their own life. With coaching from their mentors and peers, they set up wise boundaries in their own lives. They may stumble occasionally (Proverbs 24:16), but with good coaching, they won’t live in silent shame, they will learn from their mistakes and be less likely to make them again. This is a far more mature and resilient believer than any system of rules will ever create.

-Nathan Mayo

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