Sex, Marriage and Miss California: Modesty, Part 2

meatcutsWell, I had thought I’d finished this series, when this strange coincidence happened. You see, Tim Archer posted an article about how to dress for church called “How should we then dress?” On the same day, Mike Adams posted a column on the same question, called “Sunday’s Breast.” Adams writes,

But last Sunday at church I was slightly embarrassed in front of my guests. The source of my embarrassment was all of the women who came to the service dressed like they had been out at a bar. A lot of these women know that they can meet higher quality men at church than at a bar. But some don’t have enough sense to change clothes after making the transition from a bar to a church sanctuary.

One of the worst offenders was seated one row in front of us. She wasn’t like all of the other women who were content merely to show their breasts. She had to wear a dress that was thin enough to let the whole congregation know she wears thong underwear. It was even more disturbing than the 13-year olds who wear torn Daisy Dukes instead of wearing a bra.

When women come to church dressed like this they seldom stop to think that a recovering sex addict might be in the congregation. And they seldom stop to think that there are married men in the congregation who are struggling with lust issues. The church should be a place where men can come to seek help as they battle these temptations. It’s a shame that some of the temptations are following them into the church and pulling up a chair right beside them.

You’ll be surprised to learn that I disagree with Adams. To explain why, I need to tell a story.

Several years ago, our teen minister was planning a Bible camp for the teens. The mothers of the teenage girls asked the minister to meet with them to help with the planning. When he arrived, one said, “We need to decide what our girls should wear when swmming.”

The minister said, “Whatever they wear at the club or at the neighborhood pool.”

“Oh, no,” a mother said. “We’re going to have to go buy some one-piece swimsuits. They have some really cute …”

The minister interrupted. “Are your daughters Christians?”

“Yes,” the mothers responded, somewhat abashed.

“Then they’re Christians at the club and in your backyard and at the neighborhood pool. Since they dress like Christians there, they can wear what they wear there at Bible camp. It’s all the same!”

The mothers looked at him as though he had a third eye — as something strange and foreign and even a bit frightful. “Well, we really need to decide this, and we think French cuts …”

The youth minister stood and said, “I’ll not be part of any conversation based on the idea that girls in my youth program can dress one way when away from church and another way when among Christians. It’s wrong. They are followers of Jesus wherever they go, and they have to dress as Christians wherever they go.” And he left.

The mothers continued their discussions and came to terms on what the girls should wear at Bible camp. They then went shopping with their daughters.

Adams wrote, “The church should be a place where men can come to seek help as they battle these temptations.” The church exists wherever Christians may be. Christians dress modestly and with consideration for the temptations they may provoke — everywhere, all the time. We don’t go to church. We are the church. The church goes with us wherever we go. There is only one standard.

One last point. Have you ever been in class or heard a sermon that argued that 1 Tim 2 is about how to act in church?

(1 Tim 2:8-12)  I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.

9 I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

The argument is made to suggest that women only have to be submissive to men in church. After all, men only pray in church and women only dress modestly in church. Okay, that’s not really how the argument goes. Rather, it’s just argued that verses 8-10 are plainly about the assembly, but that argument implicitly assumes that we only pray and dress modestly (and get angry and dispute) at church and not in other contexts. And it’s dead wrong.

Therefore, the proper exegesis of verses 11 – 12 is that women must submit to men (or more correctly, wives to husbands) everywhere, all the time. And this is how it was uniformly interpreted until well into the 20th Century.

The solution to the riddle of women having authority over men is not found in limiting the command to church — unless we want to limit modesty and prayer to church. The solution is found in recognizing that the way the submission of wives to husbands found in Genesis 2 plays out in practice varies from culture to culture, time to time. After all, we readily see that what is modest and the posture for prayer also varies from culture to culture, time to time. (More detail on this argument may be found at Buried Talents).

The point is this. When we buy into the idea that there are different notions of modesty for church and for high school, for church camp and the neighborhood pool, we are teaching our daughters that they live by one rule at church and another in the world — and that they need only act as Christians at church. And it allows us to impose some false standards on our wives and daughters at church that we’d never consider imposing elsewhere. It’s wrong and very unhealthy in many ways.

And it allows us to impose some false standards on our wives and daughters at church that we’d never consider imposing elsewhere.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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14 Responses to Sex, Marriage and Miss California: Modesty, Part 2

  1. Royce says:

    A pont well made Jay. Situational ethics is unethical.


  2. David Himes says:

    This matters dramatically demonstrates how we have skewed the concept of the ekklesia.

  3. Sam says:

    Jay, I don’t know that you DO disagree with Mike. I think you’ve taken what he wrote and properly expanded it to its complete application. You’re absolutely correct — Christians should dress like Christians, at ALL times in ALL situations dressing in a way that is appropriate to the setting and circumstance, and honoring God in doing so.

    However, you might be overlooking a crucial point on all this — that we have to teach our kids just what that means. The teen minister in your example missed, I think, a very “teachable moment” when he simply walked away from the discussion. Perhaps he might better have used that discussion to help those mothers see that the problem was in what they were accepting in their daughters’ attire at all other times.

    Yes, there should be no difference in their swimwear whether they’re at a church function or at the local pool. But the answer is not to allow whatever shows up at the church function, but to address what shows up at the local pool. Walking away from that conversation didn’t help anything. The teen minister DID voice the principle correctly, but he didn’t address the problem in a way that the mothers would have to deal with it properly.

    And I think that’s the general direction that Mike would take, if he followed his argument to the end (as he often does — I’m a fan of his writing.) Not that it’s inappropriate at church, but that it’s inappropriate in most situations. I’m certain that we’re all pushing modesty and Godliness at all times.

    Nice work you’re doing here. Thanks.

  4. Rich says:

    Yes, Christianity is a 24/7/365 lifestyle that includes our language and attitudes as well as clothing.

    Advice to young parents: I have seen some dress their small children with inappropriate clothing when their kids were young because it was “cute”. Now, their children are teens and still want to wear such attire. The parents don’t like it and sometimes fight about it, but they have opened the door.

  5. Jbo says:

    Oh for the days of “Boys swim from 1-2” Girls from 2:15 -3:15…and boys, no binoculars allowed anywhere in camp. 😀

  6. mark says:


    Common sense is not so common any more. Divorce, drugs, homosexuality, teen pregnancy living together is symptom of deeper problem. Provocative dress or offensive dress is like is much like tattoos piercings, weird hair. But this begs the question can the church make up for bad parenting? Can the church teach beyond the neglect of past generations? And can seeker sensitive churches balance between the ignorance of its people and the sexual desires of men and women.

    This is an example of what I mean if we can clearly tell people how God wants them to behave and how there sexual needs can be fulfilled in marriage don’t you think they would no problem following God. But Bible is completely at odds with the church of today in the ideas of dating, marrying and social norms. In fact we are so unsure of ourselves we have para church organizations like Christian schools, national seminars, church of Christ online dating service! And this only serves a small portion of the national membership. The rest of them and I feel for the girl you talk about must to catch anyone’s eye dress a little more flashy in order to draw attention. But I am not disagreeing with you in fact I applaud the challenge to better morality.

    However the answers to better morality ,healthier living and higher ethical standards is a daunting task. In age where most of our modernist views of the world is slipping into a new logic it is a fight over extremes. Here a challenge to you to prove something about how much our thinking has change. Does God want us to use birth control to improve our economic standards and to keep more children out of hell? Does God us to dress modestly to improve the peace in the church and to keep more members out of hell? Is your answer the same……

  7. Larry Short says:

    One point above caught my attention, the guests dress. I am sure that an enforced dress code to attend church would be the down fall of the largest mega church. Also, everyone one in the audience is not in classes or other activities. So, some teaching needs to come from the pulpit.
    As one who had two daughters may I make a suggestion? Please consultant with the women for the sermon. Try to include fashionable women, who get modesty done with a flair.
    My wife & I talked over issues like this, but the teaching came from her. It could have come from us, but just naturally she seemed to be the right choice. From the pullpit a man can give the teaching but it needs female input to be effective.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    I agree that women can teach this better than men. Perfect place for the older women to instruct the younger. Hard lesson for many women to accept from a man.

    It's hard to impose a dress code on visitors — anywhere. But if the members hold to a proper standard, the visitors will quickly pick up on how to dress.

    It's the Disneyland principle. At Disneyland, they put multiple sidewalk cleaners at the entrance. They quickly and vigorously pick up every piece of trash any visitor drops — very graciously.

    The visitors quickly realize that this is a place where cleanliness is valued. The visitors do so well cleaning up after themselves, management hardly need any sweepers inside the park!

  9. mark says:

    Sorry for the typos… must get some sleep or glasses.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    Modesty is about preventing sin. It’s not a political issue. In fact, the politically expedient decision is to be quiet, as people don’t like being told how to dress! (See some comments made as to earlier posts in this series. Oh, wow — people really don’t like being told how to dress!)

    Regarding birth control … I’m for having more babies. But I’m not against proper birth control. God doesn’t give a law for how many children to have, and so I announce no law. But God is clear that materialism and self-indulgence are wrong. And sometimes we decline to have children because we are too materialistic or too self-indulgent. Nonetheless, there are good reasons for some not to have children.

  11. guy says:


    What does this not-having-different-rules-for-church-vs-not-church suggest about churches who teach/pressure its people to wear fine/fancy clothing on Sunday morning (to dress "up")?


  12. Jay Guin says:


    Requiring people to dress for church is like requiring coats and ties for family Thanksgiving. I'm sure there was a time when people did that — but no more. It's a faulty idea built on cultural values long dead and very bad exegesis — and it's anti-missional.

    I remember the original "Oh, God!" movie with John Denver and George Burns (as God). "God" appeared in John Denver's bathroom while he was in the shower. John reached for a towel, and "God" said, "What? I made you naked. You don't think I know what you got?" (You've got to hear in Burn's old vaudeville-style delivery.)

    God sees us naked. We can't dress for God. We dress for each other and for visitors, and if we're family, we dress the way we dress when our brothers and sister in the flesh visit us.

    "Modest" means not only not improperly alluring, but not unduly expensive and not flashy. We're family, but we'll never feel like family until we act like family.

  13. guy says:

    It's refreshing to hear you say that. However, i fear the vast majority of congregations i've associated with more or less judged a lack of suit-and-tie to be immodest and/or irreverent. Further, there are CoC's that require a "dress up" code for serving on the Lord's table or leading prayer or whatever. I went along with that for several years. But one day it just clicked for me–what we're really doing is systematically excluding the poor and foreigners from both service and embrace. This is something Jesus couldn't possibly endorse. And yet it is done every Sunday in the name of holiness and virtue. While it's not our only problem, i think it's one that matters more than we tend to think.


  14. Royce says:

    Don’t you know that a man is more holy in a J C Penny’s suit than in slacks and and a nice shirt?

    God expects is to be the same people on Friday night and Monday morning as on Sunday at 10 doesn’t he?

    Dressing in “Sunday best” only polishes the human ego…which by the way is God’s enemy.


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