Some young Christians today envy what they consider ‘the golden days’ of the 19th century. They admire their ancestors’ public modesty. This is probably why Jane Austen’s novels and film adaptations are in vogue. Some viewers want to return to an era when men were men, women were women, and they showed one another public respect. However, the Regency era of Austen was immodest compared to the Victorian public dress code. People couldn’t show skin except on their faces, necks, hands, and lower arms. Only public hall dancers and prostitutes showed lots of skin, advertising their ‘wares’ for money.
“Far and Away” (1992), set in 1892-93, perfectly illustrates this dress code. On the voyage from Ireland to Boston, Massachusetts, a man stares at Shannon (Nicole Kidman) as he walks past. Then her friend Joseph (Tom Cruise) tells her, “Cover your ankles.” Once in Boston, Shannon finds work at a chicken factory while Joseph becomes a prize fighter. After being fired, Shannon becomes a public hall dancer where Joseph works. Horrified at seeing her half-dressed, he tries to put a coat around her shoulders and make her leave. Joseph considers Shannon a good woman.
Let’s fast forward 100 years. Partial nakedness is common in magazines, films, stores, and ads; on television and the internet, and at public events. It’s also common in some churches. Half-dressed congregations listen to half-dressed choirs. They also attend film premieres half-dressed. Too many of today’s Christians are yesterday’s prostitutes, yet they feel no shame.
We’ve come a long way, baby – down!
Regardless of body size and temperature, no Christian woman should appear in public with bare shoulders and cleavage, wearing above-the-knee dresses or mini-skirts. No Christian man should appear in public sleeveless or show chest hair. Gender-specific body parts should not be outlined in tight-fitting clothing either. Revealing parts of the body should be saved for one’s spouse, not paraded in public. The latter is physical and spiritual prostitution. Some Christians find these descriptions scandalous. But I’ve seen them in person and online.
One reason I like Sherwood Pictures and the Duggar family is that they have dress codes and abide by them. Immodesty doesn’t plague these people. It bothers them instead. I wish more ‘Christians’ would wake up to the same tender conscience. I wish they would feel humiliating shame and guilt over their public immodesty, driving them to repentance.
Physical and spiritual nakedness is sin (2 Corinthians 5:3, Revelation 3:18, 16:15). After Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, they realized they were naked and sought a covering (Genesis 3:7). They didn’t know they also needed a spiritual covering for sin (3:21; Hebrews 9:22). This pair’s shame is sorely needed in society today. Too many people seek to reveal rather than hide themselves physically. They’ve forgotten how to blush (Jeremiah 6:15, 8:12).
Christians are commanded to be modest (1 Timothy 2:9, 3:2). Kosmios, the Greek word for “modest” or “good behavior,” comes from kosmos. Translated “world” nearly 200 times in the New Testament, it also means “harmonious order.” Public modesty reflects an ordered spirit submitted to Christ. Sadly, in the last 50 years the church has let this disordered world define modesty and beauty. Deceived by “the spirit of the age” (zeitgeist), she has changed with this dark and sinful world instead of being salt and light. As a result, spiritual walls between Christians and sinners are crumbling as those between Christians and their God are being built.
No spiritual wall should exist between God and a believer. That between a believer and this world should be impassable. The reverse is true today. ‘Christian’ fornication with the world is common. Therefore, let us rebuild the walls in relation to modesty, submitting to Jesus as Lord. He alone must define beauty, both physical and spiritual. Only then will the church again become salt and light. If we are truly the bride of Christ, then let’s cover up!