We will be trying to answer this question as best as we can. In the past, the Worldwide Church of God attempted to strike a proper balance as to what is appropriate and inappropriate clothing, but in the process, some might have gone overboard at certain times by leaning too much to the “right” or to the “left.” Occasionally, the Church was even accused of promoting a yard-stick religion, while at other times, it was perceived to allow for appearances which were clearly not in line with biblical standards.
The following write-up is a conglomeration of discussion and communication, between the ministry and their wives, of the Church of the Eternal God and their corporate affiliates, the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship in Canada, and the Global Church of God in the UK. We believe that it will be sufficient for the wise, but if particular additional questions should arise on an individual basis, please address those to the ministry and their wives (or widows of late ministerial husbands). We also need to keep in mind that we must NEVER condemn or judge self-righteously our spiritual brother and sister for what is being worn (compare James 4:11-12; 2:1-4, 13). If a matter needs to be addressed on an individual basis, the ministry will do so. We are all learning to become more and more perfect in the eyes of God, and to increase in stature with people, and this process requires time and patience.
We have generally addressed, in a previous Q&A, proper attire during Church services. In this Q&A, we will add a few more explanatory specific comments.
As a general principle regarding proper clothing, we need to reflect God’s standards at all times, when appearing in public. As Church members today, we have to ensure that we are not conformed to this world in any way (Romans 12:2). We are to concentrate on things which are “noble” (Philippians 4:8). God’s people are to abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11). We read that we are to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:14). Christ warned men not to look at a woman with evil thoughts or “to lust for her” (Matthew 5:27-28). Even though degrees of this tendency might vary, it should be common knowledge that especially men are more “attracted” and receptive to the outward “appearance” of women, from a sexual standpoint, than women might be to men in that regard. Christian women must be aware of this “male” tendency at all times, and should not dress in such a way as to be causing or contributing to “evil desires” arising in the minds of men. God warns us that we sin against our brother when we create a stumbling block for him (Romans 14:13; Matthew 18:6).
In addition, especially ladies should be aware of the fact that human nature (which we ALL still have) may want to parade the physical beauty of their bodies to others. But this would be contrary to God’s definition of true love (compare 1 Corinthians 13:4). [This tendency can also be found in men, of course, which would be equally wrong.] As one minister’s wife stated:
“As a teenager, my parents helped me understand why my peers chose clothing and makeup that would attract attention. Many girls felt powerful and enjoyed it when they drew male attention. At the root of the matter was vanity and self-centeredness. Whom was I trying to impress? It was difficult to be a non-conformist when you just wanted to fit in. The power of peer pressure is a strong influence, and a paradigm shift was required to make the decision to ensure undue attention wasn’t directed to myself. I needed to be concerned with what God thought rather than my peers and replace that false sense of self-esteem. More important than the habit of appearing modest that my parents instilled in me was the fundamental lesson of keeping God at the core rather than vanity and self-centeredness. I really grew emotionally and developed some positive character traits and a dress sense that I continued into adulthood.”
The over-riding questions that we should ask ourselves are why are we dressing the way that we are, and is it modest and becoming of the example that we should be setting for those around us? Whether we are at a pool party or at Church services, there are standards that we should be living up to. We need to ask ourselves brutally honest questions, such as, is what we are wearing too revealing or too diverting? While human nature enjoys the attention that inappropriate dress can bring, this should not be our focus. We are to be looking inwardly and developing the mind of God.
All of this means that ladies must avoid dressing in a manner that encourages immoral and wrong thoughts in men and sets a poor example for other women. This applies to proper clothing in public at all times, and not just at Church services or social Church functions. We read that everything should be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). It is important to realize that God is always watching us, including, how we dress outside the privacy of our homes.
On the other hand, we also need to strike a balance between being “cutting edge” in fashion and so far behind that we draw undue attention to ourselves. Once our dress and appearance becomes distracting in either sense, it has gone astray from God’s purpose of pleasing Him and of becoming “a Jew to the Jew and a Gentile to the Gentile,” in order to win some (1 Corinthians 9:19-20; 10:32-33). However, this is not to say that we should wear inappropriate clothes just because “everybody else” in the world may do so. We are to come out of the world and be different (compare 2 Corinthians 6:17-18).
The moral decline of society has brought about immodest fashions. We hasten to add that this is true for clothes worn by both women AND men.
For instance, Christian men should not wear clothes which might give the impression that they might be homosexuals. For example, in certain parts of Europe, it is perceived as being perfectly alright for men to wear flimsy bathing suits, which would be looked at as offensive in large parts of the USA, except for certain communities. So, appearance, especially of men, is important for the additional reason of not wanting to give wrong impressions to others–lest people draw wrong conclusions.
The bigger problem, however, is without doubt the clothes not to be worn by Christian women, and since we were asked by several ladies to give specific guidelines, we are setting forth the following, for your prayerful consideration:
It may be difficult to find tops that don’t reveal cleavage, but great care should be exercised in that area. If a blouse is too low, it can be layered with a tank top underneath. Women should stay away from clothing that is skin-tight (top or bottom), and if the dress or skirt is above the knee cap when she is standing upright, then it is too short. Skirts should come just below the knee cap; otherwise, when a lady sits down, the skirt rides up mid-thigh and too much skin is showing. Dresses that have low necklines are to be avoided at all times and care should also be exercised in regard to dresses that could be revealing when bending forward. This is especially true when a lady has to bend over to care for a child or pick up something off the floor.
Bathing suits worn at the beach or at a pool should preferably be one-piece (barring extraordinary circumstances), as most two-piece bathing suits are just too revealing. However, a one-piece bathing suit can also be quite revealing (or even more so); so again, great care and honest evaluations should be exercised in this matter. In addition, the overall physique should be taken into consideration as well. There comes a point, especially in obese or old(er) people, when it is unpleasant [or perhaps even somewhat embarrassing] to look at their far-too-revealing clothing.
As we said, these are guidelines which should be taken into consideration by Christian men and women at all times. The overall goal for us as God’s spiritually begotten children is to please Him and not to give offense to anyone, and to overcome our carnal human nature (which is oftentimes motivated by the “pride of life,” 1 John 2:16); the society around us and its evil influences on us; and Satan the devil who wants to conquer us with fiery darts of (self-)deception and temptation. We are told that God resists the proud, but that He gives grace to the humble; and that we are to submit to God and to resist the devil (James 4:6-7). Then Satan will have to flee from us, while God will enlighten us more and more with His understanding (2 Timothy 2:7) as to how to live “circumspectly” and conduct ourselves properly in this present evil society (Ephesians 5:15-16).