A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this. [Deut 22:5]
One day a colleague asked me a thought-provoking question; how should a Christian dress? I must admit this threw me off balance, as I had never given it a serious thought before. Well, how should a Christian dress? Is there a right or wrong way to do so? Does the way we dress hinder fellowship, and if so, what else does? You will agree with me that this is a most controversial topic especially in the developing world. Is the above scripture literal or could it be having a wider meaning than just clothing? Remember different people groups dress differently and what passes for male clothing in one group is regarded as feminine in others. Take the Scottish kilt for example; it is a skirt, and a mini one at that. But to the Scotsman it is their male clothing!
In order to answer these questions or attempt to do so, we must ask what constitutes men and women clothing? Take a minute here and look at your community over a period of time, say 2-3 centuries back. Has there been change in the way people dress? I would be surprised if there has not been any change! The present trend of dressing has closed the gap in masculine and feminine dress codes to the extent that it is no longer easy to draw a difference. Indeed it is no longer an issue in many places, especially urban areas. So why the scriptures that speak as they do above?
Let’s step back to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1,2,3). Adam and Eve apparently walked in the nude initially. God’s presence was their sole clothing, there was no shame and only realized their nakedness when they ate of the forbidden fruit and fell, (…and believe me, this fruit was not sex as many wont to believe, God had already made them man and woman! Meaning they were already maried). In the fallen condition, they attempted to make coverings for themselves out of twigs and later we see God making a more permanent covering by killing an animal to make skin covering for the two beings. So it would seem true to state that God want’s us to walk around covered by some sort of dressing.
Back to the 21st century and we see a great confusion in dressing or the lack of it. Some over dress and others are still clothed in their birthday suits, walking nude as Adam and Eve did in the beginning. There are those who walk about naked not because they are lacking in clothing, but because it is their way of life. Others do so for misplaced notions of fashion or spirituality. We have heard of nudist movements in the developed world and at the same time seen documentaries of whole tribes in the Amazon and elsewhere who walk stark naked. Of course war and poverty render some destitute and force nakedness on them.
Male and female clothing mean different things to different people. Some believe that trousers should be for men only while skirts and dresses for women. Ornaments too are defined into gender types and so are things like shoes etc. In our scripture this month it seems God was clearly against the creation of confusion in society. A man or a woman ought to be clearly identifiable from the outset as such. Even in communities where people dress almost in similar methods, certain aspects of dressing would give clear indicators as to what gender we are seeing.
I am sure you must have heard a great deal of debate on male/female dress codes in Christian circles. Indeed I have heard it preached in a pulpit that Paul commanded women to have their heads covered in headscarves or shawls! My hometown is a wash with a number of sects that emphasize some form of uniform as a religious way of dressing. With women having coverings over their heads being mandatory. Unless one has a uniform, you automatically look out of place in such a gathering.
Paul stated that he became all things to all men so that by any means he may win some to Christ. What a statement to make! One day a friend told me that it was not right for a woman to wear trousers. I asked him what would he do if he were a woman missionary to some remote place in India, where custom would demand that women wear trousers underneath their saffron? Paul would not have hesitated to put on a trouser and preach the word to those custom bound souls! The word of truth would set them free!
Some communities do not like wearing of wedding bands on the fingers and would not listen to anyone who does. Would you deny them the Word of God because a priest put that wedding ring on your finger and only death would do you part? Get that ring off and preach and get it back on thereafter! You will not be compromising; you are being all things to all people that peradventure you might win some for Christ. Of course there is a limit to this, I do not expect anyone to go drinking with drunkards so that you may save them! You will be converted into a drunk instead!
I met a missionary a year or so ago who had been a hippie complete with tattoos and all. There is no depth of filth that he had not gone to while in one of the inner cities of America. Drugs, crime, perversity, you name it, he had seen it all. One day God reached down and lifted him off the slimy pit dusted him clean by the blood of Christ and placed him on firm ground (Psalms 40:2). After some time of basking in the glory of God’s presence God called him to ministry to reach those he left behind in the hippie world! God often does this! (Read Ezekiel chapters 2 & 3). Do you think this man went back armed with the Kings James Bible, a set of hymnbooks and dressed like a Tele-evangelist spiting Holy Ghost fire? No, he reached back in time, grew some real hippie hair, put on hippie clothes and in every sense of the word he became a hippie once more (minus the sins) so that at the end of it he may win some real hippies to Christ!
There is one former Yakuza gangster who became a believer in Tokyo, Japan. If you were to meet him you might be tempted to dash for safety. I cannot blame you for he looks every bit a thug, nose ring, hear rings and missing some teeth, fingers and scarred all over. He looks fierce to say the least, but wait till he preaches Christ the Savior of the world; you might want to get saved again! His church reaches out to hard core criminals who might not be easy to reach through conventional means and methods of dress.
In order to reach some people groups, we must be willing to lower our selves to their level (without sinning of course!) Otherwise they may not be willing to hear us.
WHAT ELSE HINDERS FELLOWSHIP?
Apart from clothing; customs, food, holidays and denominationalism (religious mindsets) hinder fellowship greatly. Let us see some scriptures.
Read Acts 15:1-31. Circumcision custom.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Co 2:16 – 17).
Does this give me license to indulge in gluttony and drunkenness? No! Do whatever you do for Christ and not as an excuse to use scripture as an escape route to sin.
“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.(Col 2:21- 22)
The bible states that the letter kills. We tend to uphold the writings rather than the writer. Theatre extols the plays of Shakespeare more than Shakespeare. In Jesus’ days, the religious order were more concerned about rituals and holidays as written in the laws of Moses than about the Christ who had come to them. We are no different in the present.
I wonder how often we miss God because he does not come the way we expect or have been taught to believe?
What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Cor 1: 12)
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to fellowship especially in what I would term, as like-minded Christians are denominationalism or cultivation of cultic-figureheads. Despite the fact that all preach Jesus Christ crucified, there is a tendency by leaders to hold on to ‘their flock’ even when they no longer have the mandate to do so or a better ministry has come to town. John the Baptist said, I must decrease and He (Jesus) must increase. When his disciples finally left him to follow Christ, there was no court case or fight for the flock. He let go. This should be our attitude today.
…That John came eating strange insects and honey while dressed in camel’s hair. They talked about him. Jesus came dressed in modern clothes, eating and drinking the best and they still talked. Do you think you are any different? Talk, we will talk. The problem arises when you stop to listen to our ‘talk’. You will miss the vision and concentrate on refuting ‘us’.
It is instructive to note that Jesus during His three year ministry here on earth went about doing good and healing the sick, eating (without washing his hands), touching or being touched by the leprous and indeed working during the Sabbath etc. In short, he literally, broke every rule of the Torah in any single day and some of them call for stoning to death! Why would the supposedly savior of the World do this? I have only one answer. He came to save us from all things, including legality in the Church of the past, the present and the future.
I agree with one Ugandan preacher who one day answered the question of how a Christian should dress thus:- “If you are saved let it be seen or be reflected in the way you dress”. I would like to believe that what he meant was, do not dress in a manner that would encourage sin, in you or in others. The same should be true in the other aspects that would otherwise hinder fellowship. Apostle Paul said taste everything, but only keep that which is beneficial. All things that are good are not necessarily of benefit.
Let not the world around you judge you by what you eat and drink or condemn you by how you dress. What is good for one person is poisonous to another. Be decent in all things, otherwise we might start seeing people dressed in mosquito nets, barely enough to keep the bugs away.
Never believe in the philosophy of ‘if you go to Rome do as the Romans do.’ It is a lie. Try walking naked as an outsider in a community where it is customary for them to be naked. A European work mate once tried this during an outing to a field station and caused great offence to the people who almost ejected this person out of that country. To them walking half-naked is fine but not so for a foreigner!
Let us always be actively aware that whatever we say or do can easily be a hindrance to fellowship. Some could be well intentioned, however, let them that are strong in faith have the burden to teach those that do not see beyond the mosaic law and point them to the saving grace of Christ that delivers us from all things.
Suffice it to say that it falls upon the believer who has purposed to follow Christ to dress in a Christ honoring manner. Be balanced and decent as you dress, talk, eat and do things. After all it was in such season (Easter) when Christ’s garments were divided amongst those who crucified Him. The least one can do, is to be clothed in Him.