I got an email a couple a weeks ago about the revised dress code for anyone appearing on stage during service at my church. I play bass in the worship band fairly regularly, so this is something that affects me directly. Now before I go any farther, let me say that I love my church, and I respect the leadership there. The reasons for having a dress code are legitimate-there have been some issues with inappropriate and distracting clothing in the past-but it’s words like “modest” and “inappropriate” that got me thinking about who sets that standard. What do “modest” and “inappropriate” really mean?
In large part due to the rampant self-righteous moralizing happening so frequently in our country, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relativism and absolute truth. And I’ve come to a conclusion that I’m not sure that even I am comfortable with. Despite most of Christianity’s overriding abhorrence of the term, I think almost everything in this world is relative.
I’ll pause for you to catch your breath and collect yourself.
Please take notice that said almost everything. I do believe in and hold to certain absolute truths, which I’ll get to in a minute. But the truth remains that most decisions we make and most actions we take are relative to our particular situation: our overall societal culture, our family, even our personality. And I think our dress is a great example of this. For someone living in Miami Beach, for example, walking around in swim wear all day would be perfectly acceptable, and I would imagine, would not be considered immodest. (If you live in Miami Beach and this isn’t true, I welcome your correction.) But if that same person in that same outfit–say a young woman in a bikini–were to walk around the streets of Tehran, she would be immediately arrested and perhaps executed.
Even Paul talked about this type of relativism. Check out 1 Corinthians 8 and 9:19-23 if you don’t believe me. Of course Paul was also addressing the responsibilities that come with spiritual maturity, but that’s a topic for another day.
What I’m trying to get at is this: too often we (as in we Christians) get caught up in legalism and moralism and end up missing the point of what it is we are trying to do. We alienate young people and others by adhering to things like dress codes that are mostly a generational misunderstanding. We devalue seekers of God by expecting non Christians to adhere to Christian morality. It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it. Why is safely practiced premarital sex wrong to someone who doesn’t believe in or know about the biblical mandate against it? The answer is that it isn’t, and if we don’t or can’t understand that, we will continue to struggle in our evangelistic efforts. It is not our job to judge a non-believer’s actions–it’s our job to show them God’s love and grace.
This line of thinking, however, can be and has been taken too far. I believe that there are such things as absolute truths that I as a follower of Christ must cling to regardless of circumstance. Here’s what I came up with:
- God created all that exists, and is sovereign over it.
- The Bible is infallibly true. Our interpretations of it certainly are not, but the word of God itself is.
- Jesus Christ was/is fully God and fully man, died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, and rose again from death, thereby defeating it and cancelling our punishment.
- Jesus will come back in judgement, and will create a new heaven and a new earth.
That’s my thoughts on the subject, however coherently they managed to come across. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject as well.