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The Voice of the Church On Dress

Today’s professing Christians are walking but a step behind the world, concerned about being too “different” or standing out too much. Plainly they are still walking “according to the course [direction] of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air,” albeit a few steps behind. Unless this worldly course or path is abandoned, their direction changed, and the strait and narrow way gained, they will undoubtedly share the fate of all those travelling the broad way.

Quotes beginning shortly after the death of the apostle John, show us that from the days of the early church, truth and holiness were on a collision course with the world. Contrary to our mental picture of modest, long flowing gowns, a study of the ancient “modest” world reveals a picture of worldly attire, immodesty and extravagance.

Early Christians who chose to walk with Christ, chose to “stand out” against the popular, mainstream ideas of their day, presenting no less striking a picture than those who will walk the narrow way today. Thankfully, then as now, true prophets are willing to wield the sword of truth in all its practicalities, dress no exception.

Clement (200 AD): “…For such clothing, falling close to the body, takes its form more easily adhering as it were to the flesh, receives its shape, and marks out the woman’s figure, so the whole make of the body is visible to spectators!”

Cyprian (195-258 AD): “Let there be in the woman not the outward adorning of array or gold or apparel, but the adorning of the heart. If you dress your hair sumptuously, and walk so as to draw attention in public and attract the eyes of youth upon you…so that although yourself perish not, yet you cause others to perish, and offer yourself as it were a work of poison to the spectators; you cannot be excused on the pretense that you are chaste and modest in mind. Your shameful dress and immodest ornament accuses you; nor can you be counted now among Christ’s women or girls, since you live in such a manner as to make yourselves objects of desire. If you have painted your face and dyed your hair, you have followed the serpent. As you are adorned in the fashion of your enemy, with him you also shall burn by and by!”

Cyril (315-386 AD): “Let thine apparel be plain, not for adornment but for necessary covering, not to minister to thy vanity but to keep thee warm in winter and to hide the unseemliness of the body, lest under pretense of hiding the unseemliness, thou fall into another kind of unseemliness by extravagant dress.”

Basil (330-379 AD): “As to color, avoid brightness; in material, the soft and delicate; to aim at bright colors in dress is like women’s beautifying when they color cheeks and hair with hues other than their own.”

Chrysostom (347-379 AD): “I beseech you, let us leave ornaments to parades, to theatres, to signs in the shops. But let not the image of God be decked out with these things. Now if for bare necessities, one is not to take anxious thought, what pardon can we deserve who take thought for things expensive and merely ornamental?”

Jerome (342-420 AD): “To be finely dressed and to have the reputation of being so, is to my mind quite as disgraceful as to play the harlot or to plot against a neighbor’s wedlock. (Cosmetics) serve only to inflame young men’s passions; to stimulate lust, and to indicate an unchaste mind. Such adorning is not of the Lord; a mark of this kind belongs to the antichrist.”

John Wesley (1703-1791): “The wearing of gay or costly apparel naturally tends to breed and increase vanity. By vanity here I mean, the love and desire of being admired and praised. Every one of you that is fond of dress has a witness of this in your own bosom. Whether you will confess it before men or no, you are convinced of this before God. You know in your heart, it is with a view to be admired that you thus adorn yourselves, and that you would not be at the pains were none to see you but God and His holy angels…
Let your dress be cheap as well as plain; otherwise you do but trifle with God, me, and your own souls.”

Adam Clarke (1762-1832): “If Paul saw the manner in which Christian women now dress and appear in the ordinances of religion, what would he think? What would he say? How could he ever distinguish the Christian from the infidel?

And if they who are in Christ are new creatures, and the persons who ordinarily appear in religious assemblies are really new creatures (as they profess to be) in Christ, he might reasonably inquire, ‘If these are new creatures, what must have been their appearance when they were old creatures?’”

Christine Thilmony

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