Like it or not, our appearance makes a social statement, it advertises many of our views about life and even how we would like to interact with those around us and which social group we belong to (or would like to belong to). Many of us may not even be aware of it, for it is natural for us to imitate those we associate with, including the way they dress.
For example, there are specific styles of dress that serve the purpose of telling the public that we may be conservative (conservative, non-revealing clothing), or that we are among those rebelling against society and traditional moral values (tattoos, piercings, etc.) or that we may be an up-and-coming executive (expensive designer clothing) or a "soccer mom" (moderately short, simple, but stylish hairstyle; mainstream clothes) or a biker (leather pants and jacket, chains, etc.) or a lesbian (very short, manly hairdo, masculine clothing) and so on. And of course, we can make some personal statements with our appearance, for example, we can advertise that we may be a sexually immoral person (for example, a "loose" woman) by wearing sexually-provocative clothing.
Liberals are quick to insist that you can't judge a person by their appearance. Yes, it is true that there may be a few who, for whatever reason, do not fit the mold society would place them in, based on their appearance. And we certainly agree that it would be foolish to judge someone by a narrow criteria like skin color or facial features that they were born with, etc. And we acknowledge that there is a large majority of people who dress in a rather generic, mainstream way; therefore it is hard to draw many conclusions from them based on their appearance other than the fact that they support the mainstream values of the present society.
However, few Christians know that there are specific instructions in the Bible on how Christians should dress. Why are most Christians ignorant of this? Because these verses are conveniently ignored, or rationalized away by most denominations. The Apostolic Christian Church, however, has not thrown out these Scriptures or ignored them. This accounts for their conservative appearance, such as their lack of jewelry and the way they wear their hair. It is generally not something so obvious that it is immediately recognizable, however if you see a large group of Apostolic Christians together one may notice that they all seem to have the same ideas about how one should wear their hair and dress themselves. Why is this? It is because they are all following the Biblical directives regarding the outer appearance of a Christian. What are these directives? We'll start with these three selections from the letters of Peter and Paul:
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness. (1 Timothy 2:9-10) (NASB)
Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. (1 Peter 3:3-4)
Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. (1 Peter 5:5)
From 1st Timothy, we learn that we should wear "proper clothing, modestly and discreetly" or clothe ourselves "in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety" according to the King James version, or "dress modestly, with decency and propriety" according to the NIV or adorn ourselves "with modesty and sound-mindedness" in the New Testament Transline. The Greek word "aidos" which is translated as "modestly" or "shamefacedness" or "with decency" is related to the idea of downcast eyes, according to Strong's concordance, meaning bashful, reverent and respectful of others. Also, both Peter and Paul warned against wearing expensive clothing.
So what does this mean for us? It means that when someone looks at us, they should not conclude that our attire screams, "Hey, I want you to look at me!" nor should our appearance shout the fact that we spent hours in front of the mirror enhancing our appearance, nor should our appearance make it clear that we are a proud person, nor should our appearance flaunt our wealth, nor should our appearance be an invitation for sexual immorality. Instead, our appearance should reflect a quiet, meek and humble spirit as demanded by these verses. It goes without saying that this runs counter to the prevailing ideas in our present culture where it is expected that we will try to catch the attention of others by wearing the latest fashion and if possible, expensive designer clothes and flashy jewelry. And in today's society, even small children are encouraged to wear provocative and revealing clothing (especially for girls and women).
Both Peter and Paul emphasize the point that we should not be spending time a lot of and money on the outward decoration of our bodies, but instead, we should be concentrating on the godly works (1 Timothy) and Christian demeanor (i.e., "meek and quiet spirit," 1 Peter) that are a natural witness of one who has devoted his life to Christ. Peter goes on to say in chapter five that we should be "clothed with humility," now here the word "clothed" is used figuratively, but it supports the directive of chapter three where we are told we should have the "ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." How do we dress with a "meek an quiet spirit"? According to Peter and Paul, by dressing in modest and respectable clothing and by eschewing expensive clothes, jewelry and elaborate hairstyles.
Are These Scriptures For Today?
Many state that these verses do not apply to us today and that we should ignore them. They only applied to the specific church that these letters were addressed to. Well, if we look at 1 Peter 1:1, we see that this was a general epistle, because it was meant to be read by many churches, probably every single church that Peter was involved with at the time, namely Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. We know that Timothy (the original intended recipient of 1 Timothy) was Paul's right-hand man and working with the church at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), though it appears that he traveled with Paul and was probably involved with the other churches that Paul ministered to. Because of the broad audience of these letters, it is logical to assume that these instructions applied to every single Christian church of the day. We need to be careful before chucking the advice given to all of the Christian churches of the day. And that both Peter and Paul thought it was necessary to stress the same point obviously means that this was something of importance and was not just the opinion of one man.
Others claim that these letters only apply to the New Testament era because of the unique problems brought on by their ancient culture. Oh really? It is clear to see that what bothered Peter and Paul was not something unique to their time and place, but things that are common to all men and women of all times: namely pride, the love of money, the desire brag about ourselves, the use of immodesty to attract attention to ourselves and so on. To say that these instructions only apply to New Testament times is absurd; does that mean that modern Christians should be encouraged to be immodest and indecent? Does that mean that modern Christians should wear expensive, cutting-edge fashions in order to attract attention to ourselves and flaunt our wealth? Does that mean that modern Christians should be encouraged to be loud, obnoxious and proud in the way they present themselves to those around them? Does that mean that modern Christians should be vain, self-centered and self-absorbed? Of course not!
A few say (mostly men) that these Scriptures may have some application to modern women, but none to men because these verses were directed to women. However, it is doubtful that Peter and Paul meant that only women had to be humble, meek and quiet because they advocate these qualities in both men and women in other verses. However, it was the women of that time who were most prone to go to excess when it came to hairstyle, apparel and jewelry, so that is why this was directed to women and this is still true today.
But most Christians don't give a second thought to these Scriptures. If they read them at all; they assume that they do not apply to them and move on. One may question how these verses could be so casually dismissed. It is because they so desperately want to dismiss them, they want to live as the rest of the world around them. And if a supposedly learned spiritual person, such as a pastor, makes the claim from the pulpit that "these verses do not apply to us today" the parishioners quickly latch onto that statement so that they can put their conscience to rest. It is what Paul warned about, the preacher preaches to "itching ears," in other words, he tells the parishioners what they want to hear (2 Timothy, 4:3). The truth is, most churches treat these verses as something akin to a garbage can in the house that has begun to stink--they want to place as much distance between them and these verses as possible!
However, unlike most churches, the Apostolic Christian Church does not believe that it can throw out these verses just because they might force us to leave the comfort zone of our current culture. The women these Scriptures were originally intended for also had to make some choices to resist flow and currents of their own culture, if they had not been blindly following their own culture, Peter and Paul would not have to warn them about following it. Resisting the trends in one's own culture is not something new.
How Do We Apply These Scriptures?
If you decide that it may be unwise to throw out these verses from the Bible, you are left with the dilemma of how to apply them in your own life. The letters of Peter and Paul do not give a lot of detailed descriptions about what they considered as proper dress and appearance, or even improper dress and appearance; they probably did not know that people from another time and culture might be reading their letters and trying to apply them to their own time and culture or they would have given us more details! However, the underlying principles of their concerns are crystal clear (pride, immodesty, etc.). So how can we come to a better understanding of what Peter and Paul had intended for a Christian's appearance? We can start by looking at the dress of the people during the time of Peter and Paul. That will give us some benchmarks, that is, what was considered modest or immodest then, for instance, exactly what was involved in the "braiding of the hair" that both Peter and Paul warned about and so on.
The next thing we can look at is how the first Christians applied these Scriptures. After all, the first churches were started and led by the Apostles, those disciples who walked with Jesus Christ during His ministry and they were led by Paul, who met Him on the road to Damascus. Who could better know what Jesus would have intended, other than Jesus Himself?
So that is how we are going to approach this subject. We will look at all aspects of adornment, namely clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, hairstyle and headcoverings.
The clothing of the Romans was quite simple. The consisted of a tunica (male) or stola (female) which is basically a long robe, often mistakenly identified as a toga in our day. Women's stolas were of finer, less coarse material than that of the man's tunica. Common laborers and soldiers would often wear a shorter tunica, such as the tunica shown on man on the right (the tunica is not this man's outer garment--see below). However, men of means would always wear the longer tunica (such as the man on the left), though they would pull up the long tunic up under their belts when they needed their feet unencumbered by their clothes, this is the source of the reference to "girding" found in numerous places in the New Testament.
On top of the tunica, some men wore a pallium, which was basically a cape worn over the tunica. The toga was similar to the pallium, although it was made of wool and could only be worn by freeborn citizens of the Roman empire. The senatorial toga (only worn by senators) was trimmed in purple, such as that on the young man shown in the picture (upper-left). Most women wore the equivalent of the man's pallium called the palla. The palla was longer than the typical pallium (it was made of around eight yards of cloth!) and was commonly draped over the head to provide the traditional headcovering (see picture on right).
While these clothing styles look very simple, women could dress them up with color, special weaves, expensive fabrics (such as silk), incorporating gold threads into the garment (if they were extremely wealthy), adding fringes, and so on. However, unlike the men, women would never wear a shorter tunica, to do so would be considered immodest and an invitation to immoral sexual behavior. Regulations regarding women's modesty were surprisingly strict, women even remained partly clothed while having sexual relations with their husbands!
The Jews in the time of Jesus had adopted the clothing styles of their rulers, though their pre-Roman clothing was probably not much different. The only exceptions to Roman styles might be the special garments worn by the priests and temple workers. Some common people may have followed the specific instructions in the Old Testament regarding fringes and the like, but these were minor alterations to the Roman costume. It is also believed that the Pharisees may have adopted some of the temple garments for their everyday use, drawing the ire of Jesus (Luke 20:46).
While we don't believe it is necessary to bring back Roman clothing in order to abide by the Scriptures, we do believe it is helpful to be familiar with them to understand what exactly modesty and extravagance meant to Peter and Paul.
The First Christians And Clothing
The early church did not feel that they could ignore the Scriptures on appearance. Instead, they took them very seriously. In fact, some of their requirements were so rigid that they would surpass those of our modern Amish folk! For example, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Cyprian all banned the dyeing of clothing; dyed clothing was considered too flashy! Clement of Alexandria did not permit clothing that was "thin and of curious texture in weaving" and "gold embroidery and Indian silks." He also declared that men should not wear shoes! Even Augustine condemned cosmetics and jewelry; he called earrings the "badge of the devil"!
However, the warnings of the early church fathers make sense when you consider that ordinary clothing of the day was undyed; dyed clothing was relatively uncommon and always more costly, as well as fancy weaves and Indian silks. Therefore, wearing any of the three would be a conscious display of wealth and certainly an attention-getter. Also, walking barefoot was the order of the day for men.
However, most of their concerns are directly applicable to the clothing of our era; take a look at the following quotes from the early church fathers:
Neither are we to provide for ourselves costly clothing. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
Luxurious clothing that can not conceal the shape of the body is no more a covering. For such clothing, falling close to the body, takes its for more easily. Clinging to the body as though it were flesh, it receives its shape from the outlines of the women's figure. (Clement of Alexandria)
Buying, as they do, a single dress at the price of 10,000 talents, they prove themselves to be of less use and less value that the cloth. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
Let a woman wear a plain and becoming dress, but softer than what is suitable for a man. Yet it should not be immodest or entirely steeped in luxury. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
In His Law, it is declared that the man is cursed who wears female garments. So what must be His judgment be of the pantomime, who is even trained to act the part of a woman? (Tertullian, c. 197)
First, then blessed sisters, take heed that you do not admit to your use flashy and sluttish garb and clothing. (Tertullian, c. 198)
But self-control and modesty do not consist only of purity of the flesh, but also of seemliness and in modesty of dress and adornment. (Cyprian, c. 250)
This is a good time to introduce another verse of Scripture regarding clothing. Many of the church fathers quoted the verse below from Dueteronomy when talking about the issue of cross-dressing. During this time, women were not seeking to wear men's clothing (as is common today), but a few men, such as the pantomimes mentioned by Tertullian, were known to don women's clothing on occasion. This was probably because of the influence of the old Greek tradition of men playing women's roles in theater (though the Romans eventually abandoned this tradition) and the high rate of homosexuality of that time (the "submissive" type of homosexual of the time was always effeminate and often dressed like a woman, hence the reference to them as "effeminate" in some Bible translations). Evidently, the old Greek tradition had lived on for male pantomimes.
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. (Dueteronomy 22:5)
This verse is also the reason why most of the denominations that took Scriptures on appearance seriously have resisted the idea of women wearing pants, because pants were historically only worn by men. And it goes without saying that all of these denominations are opposed to men wearing women's clothes, though this is only popular with homosexuals and transvestites today.
Changes In Clothing Standards
Since Roman times, there have been a lot of changes in the style of men's and women's clothing. However, until the early 1900's, the vast majority of women wore extremely modest clothing (for example, dresses covered all but the feet). One notable exception may be the nobility, particularly the French nobility, who were fond of low-cut dresses during the 16th century. The French nobles also commissioned lascivious paintings of nude women, which gives you an idea of their lack of moral integrity during this time. But they were an exception. The great change in the 1900's was due to the growing influence of the first feminists (suffragettes) and the other increasing moral laxity of the day. And it is not a coincidence that the next time period when clothing styles went beyond all against conventional standards of decency (remember miniskirts, etc.?) was during the late 1960's and early 1970's, the period of the feminist/lesbian "women's liberation movement" and the "sexual revolution." It is a shame that people's memories are so short that they do not remember where (and from whom) their revealing clothing styles originated.
Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony.
Stuck a feather in his hat
And called it Macaroni.
There were never any significant trends in men's fashions that could be considered sexually revealing, however, there was certainly many trends toward highly expensive clothing and trendy clothing, especially among the rich and nobility. It took some noblemen hours to dress--and this was with the help of a valet! This trend was came to its greatest excess in the early 1700's. At that time, there was an popular, yet exclusive Italian club called "Macaroni" which catered to rich men who kept up with the latest fashions; many spitefully called these men "dandies."38 The name "Macaroni" came to be synonymous with frilly men and women who were slaves to fashion and overly concerned with their appearance. The famous song Yankee Doodle was actually a putdown of the Americans penned by the British: a "doodle" was a country bumpkin; any real man would be riding a horse, not a pony; and in the song, the country bumpkin sticks a bird feather in his humble cap and believes that this addition makes his hat stylish! The Americans took the song and made it their own; apparently their way of thumbing their nose at the British!
However, by the late 1700's, this trend for men's clothing had passed. It followed other trends toward simpler clothing and a more natural appearance. There was not a significant change in men's clothing until the 1970's when a less formal look became popular. Of course this trend has been taken to extremes by some people, for instance, many people now where blue jeans to church; the same clothes they might use to work in the garden. In the Old Testament, all who entered the temple had to go to great lengths to prepare themselves to be fit enough to enter the temple; it would seem that the least we can do today is dress up in nicer clothes to show our respect for God when we enter our houses of worship.
Thankfully, men's clothing styles have not gone the way of women's styles, i.e., sexually revealing clothing. There are a few exceptions to mindful of, however. For example, skimpy European swimwear for men leaves little to the imagination and most certainly ought to be avoided. Perhaps a greater for danger (and temptation) for Christian men is not revealing clothing, but current obsessions with "fitness"--which is little more than obsession with one's physical appearance, and expensive clothing.
All That Sparkles
Gold was the most popular form of jewelry in Roman times (silver was not popular),10 so when Peter mentions "gold" (1 Peter 3:3), he was most likely referring to all forms of jewelry, not just gold. Pearls (mentioned by Paul, 1 Timothy 2:9) were extremely expensive and could only be afforded by the very wealthy. So why was wearing of jewelry discouraged? It should already be obvious from our discussion about clothing; jewelry flashes, sparkles and glitters and is highly coveted--in other words, its sole purpose is to draw attention to itself and consequently, to the one wearing it. This is in direct contrast to the modest, discreet, meek and quiet spirit that Christians should have, according to Peter and Paul. And there are additional problems with jewelry, it is an ostentatious show of wealth and evidence of the love of money, as well as a source of pride. The very things that the Bible speaks against over and over.
Some modern revisionists have tried to claim that the warning about gold and pearls only applies to jewelry put onto the head, but there isn't anything to be found in the Scriptures which would support that claim; the jewelry was just another means of adornment in addition to clothing and hairstyle; both Paul and Peter mention all three. In the time when these letters were written, the most common forms of jewelry were rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings and hairpins, (very much like today, with the exception of hairpins). The illustration on the right shows some of examples of jewelry made during the heyday of the Roman empire. However, the ring was by far the most popular form of jewelry, not unlike today.10 The very wealthy would sometimes wear a gold laurel wreath on their heads or a hairnet made from gold thread, but this form of ornament was much less common than the others.
The earliest church fathers were very much against all forms of jewelry. Obviously, they did not interpret these Scriptures as only applying to decorative headpieces. Let's not forget that they lived in the culture Peter and Paul were writing about and could read the Scriptures in its original language (Greek)!
Clement of Alexandria did allow an accommodation towards jewelry around 200 A.D. when he allowed Christian women married to pagan husbands to wear a moderate amount of jewelry if their husbands insisted on it. This exception does not necessarily apply to today because women in the Roman empire were considered property of their husbands and they even had a legal right to beat them if they did not obey their commands! And if they decided to divorce their wife, the woman may have ended up destitute on the street or even forced to work as a prostitute. Also, this is a good place to point out that the Christians stood in stark contrast to the rest of their society in this respect, because their women were regarded as the equals of men. And we need to remember that Peter and Paul did not outline any exceptions at all to this directive in their letters.
Here's a sampling of what the leadership of the early church taught when it comes to jewelry:
These women, who do not comprehend the symbolism of the Scripture, gape all they can for jewels. And they use the astounding argument, "Why can't I use what God has made?" (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
Let not their ears be pierced, contrary to nature; in order to attach earrings to them. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
The wearing of gold and the use of softer clothing is to be entirely prohibited. Irrational impulses must be curbed. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
Concerning modesty of dress and embellishments, indeed, the commandment of Peter is likewise plain, restraining . . . the glory of the garments, the pride of gold and the showy elaboration of the hair. (Tertullian, c. 198)
[Was it] God who introduced the fashion of piercing the ears? Did he set so high a value upon the tormenting of his own work and the tortures of innocent infancy? For they learn to suffer with their earliest breath, in order that form those scars of the body . . .should hang I know not what (Tertullian on piercing the ears of infants, c. 198)
Why are the necks oppressed and hidden by outlandish stones? The prices of these, without any workmanship, exceed the entire estate of many people. (Novatian, c. 235)
Moreover, earrings hang down with very heavy weight. You bury your neck with necklaces. With gems and gold, you bind hands with an evil omen, hands that are worthy of God! Why should I speak of your dresses or the pomp of the devil? You are rejecting the law [of God] when you wish to please the world. (Cyprian, c. 240)
The characteristics of jewelry, garments and the allurements of beauty are not fitting for anyone except prostitutes and immodest women. (Cyprian, c. 250)
Did He send souls so that, forgetting their important and dignity as divine creatures, they would acquire gems, precious stones and pearls, all at the expense of their purity? Did he send them to intertwine their necks with such things, pierce the tips of their ears and bind their foreheads with bands? (Arnobius, c. 305)
What About Rings?
In order to understand the relevance of rings during New Testament times, one needs to understand their cultural significance of that period. Unlike in modern times, rings were not merely decoration or symbols of one's wealth; rings were a visible symbol of one's power and social status. For instance, by the decree of Emperor Tiberius, gold rings were reserved for only public officials (senators, consuls, chief officers and ambassadors), large property owners and pagan priests.23 In contrast, slaves were required to wear plain iron rings to show that they were the property of another person.
Also, gold rings were generally signet rings. These rings had a design or symbols engraved on them so that they could be used to impress a seal on a letter or property (using wax or clay) to indicate who owned the property or signed the letter. This ancient tradition is still alive in modern times when some people place a decorative wax seal on letters, or when utility companies secure their meters with a lead seal or even with the "seal" of a notary public. The signet ring was a useful tool in times when a large percentage of the population was illiterate, the signet ring was used where we might use a handwritten signature in modern times.
The rings referred to in the Bible all appear to be signet rings, for example in the Old Testament we references to Judah's signet ring (Genesis 38:18) or the time when Joseph was appointed a high position by Pharaoh (Genesis 41:42) by receiving Pharaoh's ring, or when King Darius sealed a decree rescuing Daniel from the lion's den (Daniel 6:17) using a signet ring or when King Ahasuerus used his signet ring to seal a decree regarding Haman (Esther 3:10-12) or when God used the signet ring as a symbol of kingship (Jeremiah 22:24), etc.
Because of what we know about Roman and Jewish culture, all of the examples in the New Testament of a ring are clearly signet rings. For instance, the prodigal son received a ring when he returned to his father (Luke 15:22); his father was not just trying to make his son look handsome, but by giving him the signet ring, he was showing that he had returned to his son all of the power due to him as his legitimate heir. Also, James scolds the early church because they showed preference to those who might visit their churches wearing a ring; they were not just discriminating because the person was wealthy, but because he also was a powerful man with a high social status. Incidentally, just because Jesus mentioned the use of a ring in his story of the prodigal son, it is not an endorsement of gold rings (just as his use of thieves, robbers and murderers in his other stories and parables are clearly not to be taken as an endorsement of theft, robbery or murder).
What About Wedding Bands?
There are no instances of wedding bands in the Old or New Testament. However, this is to be expected because wedding bands were a Roman invention. Traditionally, wedding bands were not wedding bands at all, but betrothal rings. In Roman times, wives were little more than a husband's property. Generally the groom's family would cut a financial deal for the bride during the betrothal ceremony (i.e., provide a dowry to the bride's family). When the deal had been made, the bride-to-be would be given a plain iron betrothal ring to wear.24 It is no coincidence that this is exactly the kind of ring slaves were required to wear; both were considered property of their masters!
The exchange of rings at weddings (instead of betrothal ceremonies) did not occur until the fourth century.25 The so-called "double-ring ceremony" is a 20th century innovation; such a ceremony would have made no sense in earlier times when the ring was a symbol of being owned by someone else. By the 20th century the true historical significance of the marital ring had been lost.
So did the first Christian wives wear wedding rings? It appears that they did not; there is no evidence that Christians, male or female, wore any kind of rings in the first century. However, after 200 A.D., it appears that some Christian wives, at least in Rome, had begun to wear plain betrothal rings, usually consisting of bronze or iron (by this time, Romans were starting wear betrothal rings in various metals, not just iron). Such rings have been recovered from burial sites in the catacombs in Rome.24 It would appear that the later Christians felt that because the rings were not highly decorative or of gold, that the Scriptures regarding adornment and wearing of jewelry did not apply. Whether or not that this was a legitimate loophole could be argued, but history tells us that this relaxation of their standards paved the way for the wearing of all kinds of jewelry, including highly decorative gold jewelry (and not just marital rings).
The next decline in the Church's practice of Biblical standards regarding jewelry came around 200 A.D. when Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, two of the prominent bishops of the day, made allowances for gold betrothal rings, but no other type of ring. From the words of Clement, it appears that the gold betrothal ring may have also functioned as a signet ring, as he deemed it necessary for the woman of the house to do business. This makes sense as signet rings were traditionally made of gold. So in addition to the earlier justification for wearing of a betrothal ring (that it was just a sign of marital commitment, not a form of adornment), came a second one: that the wife now needed a gold signet/betrothal ring to manage the household affairs--yet Clement had the audacity to claim that this gold ring was not a form of adornment!26
Archeological evidence shows that even though two bishops made allowances for gold betrothal rings, they did not become popular in Christian circles until 100 or more years later. Some suggest that the accommodation that the bishops made for the wearing of gold rings came not because of a push to do so by church members, but the clergy themselves! Especially after Constantine, the Roman Catholic clergy had become extremely wealthy and loved to flaunt their wealth by wearing jewel-encrusted gold rings. Some believe that the Roman Catholic clergy were imitating the pagan priests, who were one of the few social classes permitted to wear gold rings in early Roman times.24 The Roman Catholic tradition of the episcopal ring has endured to this very day in the Roman Catholic Church. You may want to click on "History" at the top of the page to read about the early Roman Catholic Church and their enduring influence on Christianity. By the time of the Reformation, episcopal ring-wearing in the Roman Catholic Church had reached the point of absurdity; bishops commonly wore three or four rings on their right hand and had large jewels sown onto the back of their gloves (in addition to their expensive vestments, embroidered with real gold thread)! No wonder that during the Middle Ages, church admonitions for modesty in dress were most often given to the clergy, not the laity!24
However, the laity soon followed the example of the clergy, and by the fourth century, the wearing of all kinds of jewelry (of gold, other precious metals, and gems of all kinds) was common among those who could afford it.24 By then the Biblical admonition for modest adornment and against the wearing of jewelry has been largely ignored, if not forgotten in the Roman Catholic Church.
However, the Roman Catholic Church was not the only church that came to ignore the Scriptures regarding adornment. Originally, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Mennonites, and many Baptist, Holiness and Pentecostal denominations had all prohibited the wearing of jewelry, including wedding rings. If you know these denominations now, you know that with few exceptions, none of them take the Scriptures regarding adornment seriously; they freely wear all kinds of jewelry. So what happened? Like with the early church, these denominations made a slight modification towards their standards regarding adornment--they allowed the use of wedding rings. For example, the wedding ring (and all other jewelry) was banned by the Methodist church until 1872 when their rulebook was revised to allow for a wedding ring for the bride during the wedding ceremony.27 In 1873, the Presbyterians also changed their church rulebook to allow for wedding rings.28 In each case, it was not long before the wearing of all sorts of jewelry, by both men and women, became acceptable in these denominations; the wedding ring had become the "foot in the door" that led to the complete desertion of the Biblical standards regarding modest attire and jewelry.
Anabaptists have traditionally been much more resistant to the abandonment of Biblical standards. However, the willingness to surrender Biblical precepts in order to identify with the godless, contemporary culture around them is not unknown in many Anabaptist denominations, especially among the Mennonites. Until the years following World War II, most Mennonites were staunchly against any form of jewelry (including wedding rings). Exceptions were made for "utilitarian jewelry," such as wrist watches (as long as they were of plain construction, i.e., not made of gold, or jewel-encrusted). Since that time however, exceptions were made for wedding rings and not long after, the wearing of all kinds of jewelry soon became common.24
Of course, it was not only the Biblical standards regarding dress that were abandoned by most Mennonites, but most other distinctive Anabaptist practices as well. Today it would be hard to distinguish the typical Mennonite church from any other denomination; the tragic decline of this once solid, Biblically-based denomination into a nominal "Christian" denomination has been thorough (however, a few Mennonite denominations have retained their pacifist ideals, as these were popular with draft-dodgers in the Vietnam era; hippies accounted for a significant influx of new members during that time). Even so, the Mennonites held onto their Biblical standards longer than most denominations. We should note here that there are still a few conservative and Old Order Mennonite denominations that have not abandoned their Biblical principles, but they are a very small minority.
Mennonite historian Melvin Gingerich (in his book, Mennonite Attire Through Four Centuries) believes that the decline of standards regarding dress and adornment can be traced to the move of their churches into larger metropolitan areas. When Mennonites moved into these areas, they lost their sense of Christian brotherhood and community that was so prevalent in the rural communities where most Mennonites used to live and work. He believes the relative isolation in the big cities left the church members more vulnerable to the pressures of the secular contemporary culture around them.24
Sadly, there are anecdotal reports that a similar trend may be starting in the Apostolic Christian Church, particularly in a few of the churches in large metropolitan areas. There are reports that some church members in these areas, in direct defiance of church doctrine, are wearing wedding bands, except when they attend church. Clearly, such behavior should not be tolerated and be dealt with immediately. A continued unwillingness to uphold Biblical values and precepts can only ultimately lead to a complete erosion of the precious true Christian faith most Apostolic Christians hold dear. We need to take a lesson church history and from the other denominations around us; is that what we want to become?
An especially relevant example to Apostolic Christians would be some of the churches in our "sister denomination," the Apostolic Christian Church--Nazarene, (not part of the Apostolic Christian Church of America, see "History" above for details on this denomination). Some of them have also condoned wedding rings, to only later accept all forms of jewelry and rapid abandonment of nearly all of their distinctive Anabaptist/Apostolic Christian practices, Biblical practices that many in the past had given their lives in martyrdom to uphold.
And if one wants to see the ultimate logical end of this trend of appeasement and accommodation, all he has to do is look at what has happened to the Methodist church. They have made news by being leaders in the ordination of homosexuals, of embracing New Age practices, of denying the divinity of Christ, even of the worship of the pagan goddess Sophia in their churches and so on. Once one cracks open the door of the church to appease those who want to identify with the pagan, contemporary culture, the devil will soon have full reign of the church.
What's All The Fuss About Hair?
Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (1 Corinthians 11:14-15)
Perhaps the Biblical directives about hair have caused the most consternation among liberals. This is due largely in part to the use of long hair on men to make a political statement against the values of earlier generations by the hippies in the 1960's and the use of short hair on women to make a political statement against men and the restrictions on women, by the feminists and lesbians of the so-called women's liberation movement of the 1960's & 1970's.
Since that time, many seem to believe that it is their inalienable right to wear their hair in any way they choose and that this right should be defended at any cost. The freedom to do whatever you want with your hair has become a symbol of one's individualism, one's right to be selfish at the expense of a measure of accommodation that could benefit the greater society. And because of the overriding importance liberals place on following contemporary culture, it is not surprising to find that there is a mad rush in liberal circles to discount the directives in Scripture regarding hair because they run directly counter to the values of our current culture!
Instructions specifically for women in the New Testament are rare and when Peter and Paul took time to give instructions to women, they both mentioned women's dress, jewelry and hair, so evidently they thought this was very important. We have already discussed the fundamental principles that Peter and Paul had in mind when talking about a Christian's appearance and these apply to hair as well. We should be modest and should not be spending a lot of time and money to create elaborate hairstyles in order to draw attention to ourselves.
However, there is yet another Scriptural directive regarding a Christian's hair from Paul's letter to the Corinthians (see above). Women's hair should be long and men's should be short. This was the norm in Roman times, so this should not have been a difficult thing to accomplish. And it had been the norm in most cultures of the world from the beginning of time. No wonder Paul said, "Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?" It was the norm in the West, even the world, until the self-indulgent people of sexual revolution and feminist movement of the 1960's & 1970's turned these values, which had been unchanged since Adam and Eve, upside down.
It helps to know what Peter and Paul were seeing in their day when talking about hairstyles; for example, when Paul said a man's hair should be short, was exactly does that mean? Yet when we look at men's hair of the day, it immediately becomes clear. When Peter and Paul warned against braids, what kind of braids were they talking about? And what was considered a plain hairstyle for women then? Thanks to paintings, sculptures, pottery, mosaics and coinage from the era, one can get a pretty good picture of Roman hairstyles in New Testament times. Let's look in detail at both men's and women's hairstyles of that era.
Men: Practically all men had short hair and were clean-shaven (such as in the statue of the young man shown on the left or the Emperor Tiberius on the right, the Roman emperor who ruled when Jesus walked the earth). The clean-shaven, short, cropped hair was a style that began way back in 297 B.C.1 This style was set by the Roman emperors and did not change until the bearded Hadrian took the throne in 117 A.D.1 Some Romans of his time said that Hadrian grew a beard out of a sense of vanity (to hide his bad skin).34 Roman historians relate an incident where a man named Marcus Livius was not allowed to take his seat on the Roman senate until he shaved off his beard, so it is clear that the Romans took their clean-shaven look very seriously!2
There were exceptions to this rule, for instance, slaves were expected to grow beards so that they were immediately recognizable as slaves. Conversely, when beards came into fashion many decades later, slaves were required to be clean-shaven! Also, philosophers, often grew a beard to make a counter-culture statement (not unlike the hippies of the 1960's).35 The other exception was men in mourning who sometimes let their hair grow long to express their grief (if a man's hair was long, it was a statement to those around him that something was seriously awry in his life)!
Details of hairstyles in Jerusalem are sketchy because most Jews did not believe it was proper to create images of men and women as they could be become idolatrous, but it is believed that many (though probably not all) Jews followed the Roman fashion. Incidentally, the popular image of Jesus with long hair and beard only came into being through artistic representations around the time of the Renaissance; the earliest images of Christ, such as those found in the catacombs, always show Him with short hair and clean shaven. Also, as Paul had seen Christ on the road to Damascus and had spent time with Jesus's disciples, it is highly doubtful that he would advocate hairstyles that were completely different from those of his Lord.
Women: There are several differences between women's modern and ancient hairstyles. The first is that respectable women always had their bound up in some fashion, it never hung loose. The only exceptions were young girls and prostitutes. The free-flowing hair of the prostitutes served as an advertisement and attention-getter.6
The most common hairstyle in early New Testament times consisted of the hair drawn back and knotted or tied together at the nape of the neck (see statue on left) or put into a bun at the back of the head; they were very simple.3 The picture shown on the upper-right (Agrippina the Elder) is from around 20 A.D. is an example of this type of hairstyle, although slightly more elaborate, as well as the one on the lower-left. The woman on the lower-right is Agrippina the Younger from 50 A.D. It appears that her hair is braided in the back and possibly some type of weave on the top as well, this probably the type of braiding that Peter and Paul warned about. The two rings around the crown of her head may be a headdress of some type. As the two on the right were extremely wealthy women, their hairstyles were more elaborate than those of most women, but even so they look rather simple to our modern eyes. However, these wealthy women with power were the trendsetters and the less wealthy women of the New Testament church were probably tempted to try out the new hairstyles.
The portraits on the upper-right appeared on coins of the day and these representations don't do justice to these hairstyles, but the painting on the left does; it appeared on a sarcophagus from the first century, the time period when Peter and Paul wrote their letters. This portrait was found in Egypt and testifies to how pervasive the Roman hairstyles were in the empire. This woman was probably an upper-middle class woman because she could afford a well-painted casket like this.
See a view of the typical hairdo from the front on the bust shown in the picture, lower left. Sometimes the hair was parted in the middle. But as you can see from these pictures, the early hairstyles were similar and quite simple.
As a rule, women never cut their hair, so naturally their hair was very long. One of the reasons for this was that the pagans believed that women's hair had some form of spiritual power and should not be cut. There was a related belief about men as well; often pubescent boys would grow a beard as soon as they were able and after it had grown out to a point where it was recognizable as a beard, they would cut it off and offer the hair as a sacrifice to the gods. After that, they were clean shaven, as already discussed.
Naturally, the Jews did not share these pagan beliefs about hair, yet Jewish women did not cut their hair either. Of course, Christians did not share these beliefs about hair, yet from these Scriptures we know that they believed a man's hair should be short and a woman's long.
The only women who cut their hair were women in mourning (it was not required that one cut their hair while in mourning, but some did to show their great distress) and slave girls (who often were allowed to grow their hair long for a period, only to have it cut off to be used as a wig or extension by the woman of the house). There is some evidence that pagan temple prostitutes may have cut their hair short such as those in the cult of Isis. Presumably they offered their shorn hair to Isis as a sacrifice. However, these were the exception, the typical prostitute wore long hair, though unbound and without a headcovering.
Around 69-96 A.D., elaborate forehead curls became popular for women.4 Around 70 A.D., braids became very popular. For instance, in the picture on the right, this woman has appears to have used braids to create a bun on the back of her head; this image dates to around 170 A.D.
In the second century, headpieces that looked like tiaras became popular (an example of this practice can be seen on the hairstyle shown on the left, also notice her row of curls on the front). Some of the headpieces were woven from the woman's own hair, others were woven from the hair taken from slaves. By the third century, Roman women's hairstyles had gotten completely out of hand. Long braids were coiled on the top of the head like rope on a spool. Wigs were utilized to build hair up to enormous heights.5 Around this period, it became popular for women's statues to have detachable hairpieces; the women did not want to be seen without the very latest hairstyle, even if it was just a statue!36 Most of them seem quite ludicrous to our modern sensibilities. Rich women had slaves called ornatrices who did nothing but tend to their matron's huge overgrown hairdo!12
The early church father Tertullian complained about this new development, "What enormities of wigs and counterfeit hair, sometimes upon the crown of the head like a hat, sometimes behind the neck!" Tertullian probably had the hairstyle shown on the upper-left in mind when talking about the hairstyle that looks like a hat--what you see is not a hat, but it is made up entirely of hair! The picture on the right is another example of the excesses the third century hairstyles went to.
Unfortunately, many Christian books have some very sloppy scholarship when discussing the issue of Roman women's hairstyles. We have seen Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries that use illustrations of women's hairstyles from the second and third centuries (like the two just above) purporting to be examples of the excesses that Peter and Paul warned about. But these styles did not exist in those times. We have shown examples from these centuries here so you know when you have been given erroneous information.
Early Christians On Hair
Did the first Christians think Peter and Paul's instructions on hair were important? Absolutely! In fact they took the principles from these Scriptures and extended them to other methods of vanity such as hair dyes and bleaches, curlers and so on. Here's a sampling of what the early church leaders had to say about hair:
It is enough for women to protect their hair locks and bind up their hair simply along the neck with a plain hairpin, nourishing chaste locks with simple care for true beauty. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
Neither is the hair to be dyed, nor gray hair to have its color changed... Old age, which conciliates trust, is not to be concealed. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195).
Additions to other people's hair [i.e., wigs and extensions] are to be rejected. It is a most sacreligious thing for spurious hair to shade the head, covering the skull with dead hair. For on whom does the minister lay his hand? Whom does he bless? (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
Let the head of men be clipped, unless they have curly hair. But let the chin have hair... Cutting is to be used, not for the sake of elegance, but on account of the necessity of the case . . . so that it may not grow so long as to come down and interfere with the eyes. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
What purpose, again, does all the labor spent in arranging the hair render to salvation? First, it must be bound, then loosed, then cultivated, then thinned out? Some are anxious to force their hair into curls. (Tertullian, c. 198)
I see some women change the color of their hair with saffron. They are ashamed even of their own nation, ashamed that their birth did not assign them to Germany or Gaul. (Tertullian, c. 198)
You dye your hair so that it will always be black... But these things are not necessary for modest women. (Commodianus, c. 240)
A woman should not be adorned in a worldly fashion, "Let your women be such as adorn themselves with shamefacedness and modesty, not with twisted hair, nor with gold, nor with pearls or precious garments." (Cyprian, c. 250)
A tuft of hair is not to be worn on the head. In Leviticus: "You will not make a tuft from the hair of your head." (Cyprian, c. 250)
Though in the form of men, they . . . curl their hair with curling pins . . . make the skin of the body smooth and they walk with knees exposed. In every other type of wantonness, they lay aside the strength of their masculinity and grow effeminate in women's habits and luxury. (Arnobius, c. 305)
Do not adorn yourself in such a manner that you might entice another woman to you... Therefore, do not permit the hair of your head to grow too long. Rather, cut it short... Do not wear overly fine garments either... Nor should you put a gold ring on your finger. (Apostolic Constitutions, compiled c. 390 from earlier sources)
It is interesting to note that women in most of the world always wore their hair long since the beginning of time. This did not change until the 1920's. What happened then? The suffragettes (early feminists) and feminist intellectuals of the day had equated long hair with so-called "feminine bondage."37 Also, during WWI, some women had been forced to cut their hair so that they could work around dangerous machinery in the factories (i.e., "Rosie the Riveter").37 Short hair became fashionable at that time because of these influences, but the extremely short hair of the 1920's did not return again until the height of the feminist/lesbian "liberation" movement of the late 1960's/early 1970's. We'll discuss trends in men's hair a little later in this article.
Should Christians Wear Cosmetics?
"If you will return, O Israel," declares the LORD, "Then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, and will not waver, And you will swear, 'As the LORD lives,' in truth, in justice, and in righteousness; then the nations will bless themselves in Him, and in Him they will glory." For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, "Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. "Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My wrath go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds. And you, O desolate one, what will you do? Although you dress in scarlet, although you decorate yourself with ornaments of gold, although you enlarge your eyes with paint, in vain you make yourself beautiful; your lovers despise you; they seek your life." (Jeremiah 4:1-4, 30) (NASB)
Women have used cosmetics since ancient times. It is believed that the ancient Egyptians were largely responsible for our Western sensibilities about what forms of cosmetics are acceptable to be used.29 There is Biblical evidence that some of the ancient Israelites used cosmetics, (Jezebel, for instance, see 2 Kings 9:30). It is plausible that they adopted the use of cosmetics during their exile in Egypt. However, the prophets of God during that time did not approve (see Jeremiah 4:30, Ezekiel 23:38-40 etc.), so those that wore cosmetics should not be seen as an example to follow.
The ancient Romans were familiar with nearly all of the forms we know today (most of which they learned from the Egyptians), including painting the face, eyes, eyelashes, lips, nails and so on. Unfortunately, many women unknowingly shortened their lives by their vanity and efforts to attract a man; a common cosmetic of the day was powdered white lead, which they used liberally all over their faces! Amazingly, this toxic powder continued to be used as a cosmetic until just a few centuries ago!
Should Christians wear cosmetics? Those denominations throughout the centuries that heeded Peter and Paul's warnings about clothing, hair and jewelry almost always considered cosmetics as a form of outer adornment to be avoided by Christians. After all, the point of both Peter and Paul was that we should not be spending time and money to make ourselves appear more attractive on our outside, but through our Christian virtues and good works; clearly, using cosmetics is a form of adornment, an effort to artificially enhance our outside appearance.
Not surprisingly, the first Christians believed likewise and considered cosmetics as a form of artificial enhancement to one's appearance that should be not be used. But they did not stop there, they also warned against other artificial enhancements such plucking eyebrows.
Here's what they had to say about the subject:
Furthermore, what should be said about staining the eyes, plucking out hairs, painting with rouge and white lead, dyeing of hair and the wicked arts that are employed in such deceptions? (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
If anyone were to refer to these women as prostitutes, he would make no mistake. For they turn their faces into masks. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
Nor are women to smear their faces with the ensnaring devices of wily cunning. but let us show to them the decoration of sobriety. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
For those women sin against God when they rub their skin with ointments, stain their cheeks with rouge and make their eyes prominent with antimony. To them, I suppose, the artistic skills of God are displeasing! (Tertullian, c. 198)
For anxiety about beauty is not only the wisdom of an evil mind, but belongs to deformity... Why is the color of the hair changed? Why are the edges of the eyes darkened? Why is the face molded by art into a different form? (Novatian, c. 235)
You wish, O Christian woman, that the matrons should be as the ladies of the world. You surround yourself with gold or with the skimpy silken garment... You affect vanity with all the pomp of the devil. You are adorned at the mirror, with your curled hair turned back from the brow. Moreover, with evil purpose, you put on false cosmetics. You put antimony on your eyes, with painted beauty. (Commodianus, c. 240)
O good matrons, flee from the adornment of vanity. Such attire is fitting for women who haunt the brothels. Overcome the evil one, O modest women of Christ! (Commodianus, c. 240)
Both sexes alike should be admonished that the work of God and His fashioning and formation should in no matter be adulterated, either with the application of yellow [hair dye], or black dust, rouge or with any kind of cosmetic . . . God says, "Let us make man in our image and likeness." Does anyone dare alter and change what God has made? (Cyprian, c. 250)
Do not paint your face, which is God's handiwork. For there is no part of you that lacks beauty. For God has made all things well. But the wanton extra adorning of what is already good is an affront to the Creator's work. (Apostolic Constitutions, compiled c. 390 from earlier sources)
There is some evidence of weakening of the church's control over the use of cosmetics, especially after the huge influx of instant "converts" from pagan religions after the rulings by Emperors Constantine and Theodosius which made Christianity the state religion of all Roman territories (see our History page for more info). However, by the Middle Ages, it had become widely successful in making all of its subjects conform to the Apostolic standards eschewing vain, artificial enhancements to one's face (though it was not so successful when it came to jewelry, as discussed in else in this article).30 These attitudes were reflected in the secular writings of the day; for example, Chaucer personified a beautiful woman as one who uses no "paint" (i.e., cosmetics) and leaves her eyebrows "unplucked" ("The Romaunt of the Rose," spellings modernized)30. In another example, in a popular moral guide for women, they are warned to avoid "all such lewd follies and counterfeiting, popping [plucking eyebrows] and painting," ("The Book of Knight of La Tour Landry," translated from the French into English during the reign of Henry VI, spellings modernized).
The only ones who ignored the church's teachings were the French nobility; the widespread moral corruption of church officials in the area, and their power and haughty attitude were probably the reason for this laxity. Later, the Italians became infamous because of their excessive use of cosmetics, even to the point of painting their teeth (this is an interesting reflection of the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church clergy, because church government was centralized in Rome, an Italian city!)31 However, with these few exceptions, there was a general prohibition of cosmetics in the Western world until the 15th century. The change was brought about by the worldly influence of Renaissance and the use of cosmetics by the English Queen Elizabeth I, who used cosmetics in an effort to retain her looks in her old age.31 It is believed that the French and Italians corrupted Anglican prohibitions against cosmetics, as the Anglican church was much against the use of cosmetics.32
Cosmetics became more accepted in Europe in the 1600's, but fell out of favor by the 1700's because some of the excesses it produced. The groundswell against cosmetics can be seen in an act of the English Parliament in 1770:
All women, of whatever age, rank, profession or degree, whether virgins, maids or widows, that shall, from and after such Act, impose upon, seduce and betray into matrimony, of any of his Majesty's subjects, by scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes and bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the law in force against witchcraft and like misdemeanors and that the marriage upon conviction, shall stand null and void.33
Clearly, the use of cosmetics was seen as an act of deceit. The writings of Rousseau and the French revolution in 1789 (which dethroned the French nobility, hence their influence) were instrumental in greatly reducing the use of cosmetics in France, once a hotbed of cosmetics and other artificial enhancements.33 Gentlemen's Magazine published an epitaph for the previous age33:
Dress and paint then lay aside
Of borrowed beauty, leave the pride.
Studied art and vain disguise
Men admire not, but despise.
The trend against cosmetics continued until the late 1880's in the Western world. The increasing influence of the theater has been credited for gradually reintroducing cosmetics to the general populace in Europe and America (actors were scandalous in those days because they regularly wore cosmetics on stage).33 Also, in America, the influx of Roman Catholic immigrants was influential on the gradual acceptance of cosmetics (Roman Catholics were traditionally much less strict regarding the use of cosmetics than Protestants). In the 20th century, movies, print and radio advertising and later, television were influential in changing attitudes about the use of cosmetics (selling cosmetics was an extremely profitable enterprise). Lipstick first became popular in America and Europe during the 1920's,39 as well as plucked and "painted" eyebrows.40 Eyeshadow first became popular in the 1930's and nail polish in the 1940's.41
Most American conservative Protestant denominations were able to resist the pressure to accept cosmetics until the 20th century; apparently they could not resist advertising and corrupting trend of the secular culture around them. Only a handful of denominations have dared to follow the Biblical principles against artificial enhancements to one's appearance and the vanity and pride that goes with it. Most of these denominations were Anabaptist. The Apostolic Christian Church, of course, has never condoned the use of cosmetics.
Headcoverings, The Neglected Part Of The Christian Woman's Appearance
Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head... (1 Corinthians 11:4-5) (NASB)
While there are some denominations that still heed the warnings about a Christian's appearance found in 1 Timothy and 1 Peter, very few still heed the warnings about a woman's appearance in 1 Corinthians (see above). The verse above is quite clear, a woman praying or prophesying should have her head covered. Some have interpreted this as to mean that a woman should only have her head covered while in church, but if that is the only time and place a woman prays, she is in a sorry spiritual state indeed! However, the practice of wearing some type of headcovering in church, though now absent from most churches, was followed in the Church of England (Anglican church) until WWII (women usually wore a hat of some type) and in the Roman Catholic Church until the 1960's. To this day in some more traditional Roman Catholic churches (especially in Latin America) the women still wear a veil, usually a black mantilla. The veils traditionally used in Roman Catholic nun habits had their origins in this long-standing church practice. And it was common in many Protestant churches to wear a hat when attending church until hats went out of fashion in the 1960's.
Headcoverings In Judea And Rome
It is important to consider Paul's instructions regarding headcoverings in the context of the contemporary culture of ancient Rome and Jerusalem. Traditionally, married Jewish women always wore a headcovering when outside of the home, but unmarried women did not. In Roman culture, there does not appear to be any difference based on marital status, all women were to be covered. Women most commonly used their palla to cover their heads (see clothing above for details). The purpose of this in both cultures appeared to be based on the assumption that men would lust after uncovered women. In fact, being seen uncovered was grounds for a man to divorce his wife in Jewish culture because it was seen as inviting adultery!7 In both cultures, prostitutes commonly went uncovered in order to catch the attention of men.6
There was one significant difference between the Jews and the rest of the Roman empire on the wearing of headcoverings, however; Roman men were expected to cover their heads while in worship (along with the women), but Jewish men were not.8 Also. it important to note that Corinth (the location of the church Paul was addressing in the verse above) is in Greece, and that traditionally the Greeks (both male and female) uncovered their heads for worship.8
From the pictures above, it is readily apparent that not all Roman women regularly wore headcoverings. And in the family scene in the mosaic on the left, you can see that one woman is wearing her headcovering, while another is not. However, scholars tell us that the practice of wearing headcoverings was widespread and that the wealthy women that dominated the images on the coins, pictures and mosaics of the day were the exception to the rule. Apparently the wealthy women wanted to show off their new hairdo's and had enough power to flaunt their freedom without fear of reprisal from their angry husbands. Also, as mere pictures of the women were not direct invitations for male attention, it is possible that many of these women were normally veiled, but unveiled when they sat to have their likenesses put into paintings or onto the latest coin to be minted (not unlike the habit of many modern women who take off their glasses when getting their pictures taken).
Headcoverings of Roman times were made of opaque or sheer cloth (like in the mosaic above). They varied based on the fashion of the day. We know that veils that looked more like doilies became popular in the early third century. The prayer caps or beanies made of netting that are common among conservative Mennonites and the Amish appear to have their origins in the fashions of the 1500's or 1600's.
Though the Apostolic Christian Church was much influenced by the Anabaptist movement, it does not appear that they ever adopted their version of the headcovering. Instead, they adopted a three-cornered lace kerchief (a triangular scarf) which was more in keeping with what women wore in New Testament times than the Anabaptist version of the headcovering. Interestingly, the Russian Mennonites (and those who have emigrated from Russia) have a long tradition of wearing a three-cornered kerchief.14 In the 20th century, the kerchief was replaced by a long, flowing, lozenge-shaped lace veil in Apostolic Christian churches; how this change came about is not known. These long veils are only worn in church however, a much smaller version of this veil is used for everyday use.
Why Wear Headcoverings?
It is easy to surmise that the Corinthians were confused on the proper dress for worship because their Greek tradition was that women should remove their veils for worship, but the Roman tradition of their rulers was that they should remain covered! Which was the right way? Apparently the men in the Corinthian church had already concluded that they should be uncovered (as Paul does not address their dress for worship, at least not directly), but the women were not sure which way they should dress.
If you assume that Paul is just promoting the contemporary culture in his letter to the Corinthians, you may be disappointed. When defending headcoverings, Paul does not list the typical Jewish and Roman reasons for wearing headcoverings, but states that women need to wear them while praying and prophesying, while men should not wear any covering. This conflicts with the prevailing Roman custom which demanded that both men and women cover their heads while in worship. And the idea that a woman needs to have her head covered only while praying and prophesying was not part of the Jewish custom. Married Jewish women did have their head covered at temple or synagogue services, but it was because their heads were always covered while outside the home.
Also, he defends headcoverings by pointing out the divine order, that is, God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of man and man is the head of women (1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-9). In verse ten he goes on to say that the veil is a "symbol of authority" (NASB), most likely meaning a symbol of the divine order which needs to be worn while in the act of worship. Clearly, there was no such reasoning behind the Jewish custom of wearing headcoverings! He also says that "angels" are involved in some way (v. 10), exactly how angels fit into the picture has been debated, but one thing is clear, if it concerns angels from heaven, it is probably something we should take heed to!
Some have claimed that the teaching about headcoverings was taught because uncovered women were considered loose women or prostitutes in this age. However, that argument falls apart rather quickly when one looks at the facts. First of all, Corinth was a prosperous metropolis under Roman rule and we know that many rich Roman women went in public uncovered and were not necessarily considered loose or immoral because of this. Also, in Judea, it was customary for unmarried women (commonly referred to as "virgins," because they were virgins) to go in public without a veil to let prospective men know they were available; they only donned a veil after they were married. The reasons why prostitutes often went unveiled is because that is how the virgins attracted potential men and obviously the prostitutes needed to attract men to ply their trade. And of course, it is easier to attract men when your hair was not hidden, men can see the whole "package." So unveiling, by itself, was never automatically considered as a sign of immorality, but appears to be a sign of a married woman in Jewish culture. And one must note that Paul never once brings up the issue of sexual immorality or potential sexual temptation on the part of the men when discussing why women should wear headcoverings.
Furthermore, because Paul makes no distinctions made between married and unmarried women wearing headcoverings in church (as dictated by Jewish custom), then we must assume that the Christian practice of unmarried women wearing headcoverings in church was directly opposed to the Jewish practice of the day! It is interesting to note that this distinction, common among many non-Christians, caused some confusion in the early church. The church father Tertullian wrote extensively about it in 207 A.D. He stated that there should be no distinction made based on the marital status of the woman and that "in fact, at this very day the Corinthians do veil their virgins." He also stated that categorically that the church's practice of veiling had no basis in "Greek or barbarian custom."
Paul concludes his warning in verse sixteen by stating that all of the "churches of God" follow the practice of wearing headcoverings, so apparently this is the only New Testament church where the use of headcoverings came into question (which makes sense, considering the conflict between the Greek and Roman traditions in Corinth).
It is unreasonable to assume, as many suggest, that Paul is trying to force a Jewish cultural practice onto those outside of Judea because this practice he was advocating was different from those of the Jews and the rest of the Roman empire. And we know that Paul vigorously opposed the Jewish customs and oral law of the Pharisees and warned the churches to stay away from those who might try to impose these things on them. Clearly, Paul did not see women's headcoverings as a Jewish custom, but something essential to Christian worship.
Early Christians On Headcoverings
Did the first Christians take Paul's directives regarding headcoverings seriously? It is abundantly clear that they did. And unlike the of the Scriptures regarding dress, hairstyle and jewelry, most churches made some attempt to follow these Scriptures in the beginning and many held onto it as late as the 1960's! Here's what first church leaders said about headcoverings:
It has also been commanded that the head should be veiled... Nor is it appropriate for a woman to desire to make herself conspicuous by using a purple veil. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
For this is the wish of the Word, since it is becoming for her to pray veiled. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)
I am referring to the issue of whether virgins should be veiled or not. For those persons who give virgins immunity from a headcovering appear to rest their position on this: that the apostle [Paul] has not specified "virgins" to be veiled, but "women"... (Tertullian, c. 198)
Likewise, the Corinthians themselves understood him [Paul] in this manner. In fact, at this very day, the Corinthians veil their virgins. What the apostles taught, their disciples approve. (Tertullian, c. 207)
How severe a chastisement will they likewise deserve, who during the Psalms [i.e., hymn singing in church] and at any mention of God remain uncovered. Even when about to spend time in prayer itself, with the utmost readiness they place a fringe, tuft or any thread whatever on the crown of their heads and suppose themselves covered! (Tertullian, c. 207)
Others are to a certain extent covered over the head with linen doilies of small dimensions...which do not quite reach the ears... Let them know that the whole head constitutes the woman. (Tertullian, c. 207)
How The Scriptures About Appearance Came To Be Ignored
You may ask, "If you are right about what these Scriptures teach about appearance and the first Christians obeyed them as you describe, why did the church later abandon them?" Good question. You can get a better understanding of why this happened by looking into the history of the early church, especially when it evolved into what is known today as the Roman Catholic Church. We recommend that you click on "History" at the top of this page to get a good overview of the history of the Christian church as we can't do justice to the topic here. However, it is true that the Roman Catholic Church eventually abandoned all but one of these teachings, although "extra pious" Roman Catholics, such as those in their religious orders, i.e., monks and nuns, were often expected to follow them, but clergy and laity were not. The Protestant churches came much later and many of them started out obeying these teachings, but most also later abandoned them.
The Roman Catholic Decline
The situation in the Roman Catholic Church was somewhat unique, so we'll look at that first. What happened with jewelry provides a good window in which to see what happened to the teachings about a Christian's appearance. Archeologists have noticed that no overtly Christian jewelry could be found before 313 A.D., even when there were long periods without any persecution of Christians. However, after then, there was much jewelry to be found with "Christian images and motifs, . . . [and] new shapes, like pectoral crosses and new types for carrying holy relics."11 So what happened in 313 A.D.? That's when the new Roman emperor Constantine put into force his "edict of Milan" which granted favor to the Christian religion. After then, there was a large influx of people into the church; not necessarily because they had suddenly been converted, but because they wanted to make sure they were in good standing with those at the center of power. As discussed on our History page, this edict was the beginning of a steady decline of the church of Rome; many doctrines were corrupted by the influx of unconverted members and efforts to accommodate the whims of the church's new sponsor (the Emperor).
It is clear that the Biblically prescribed directives regarding outer appearance were largely swept aside at this time as an accommodation to the new majority of members who were there for the wrong reasons. The church was no longer a tightly-knit body of believers who had completely submitted themselves to Christ, but a meeting place where one completed rituals to please the Emperor. But this was not a new thing to the former pagans; there was no division between church and state in the empire. Civic and religious functions were completely intertwined and it was always seen as one's civic duty to participate in the popular religions of the day so that the gods would look favorably down on the Roman empire. By the time of the first Christians, emperors claimed to be gods themselves and demanded that every man and woman in their empire make sacrifices to them! The earliest Christians refused and many were martyred because of it.
The end result of the huge influx of insincere members meant that the church was forced, by their sheer numbers, to make accommodations to pagan ideas that it had steadfastly resisted for several centuries. By 500 A.D., the accommodations regarding appearance even reached the church clergy; instead of dressing in the same manner as the laity, the clergy started dressing themselves in expensive, lavish costumes, many embroidered with gold threads and bedecked with jewels. Also, jewel-encrusted gold rings became popular among the clergy as a sign of their power and wealth and the practice of the kissing of the ring of a priest by the laity or clergy of less high position became part of Roman Catholic Church law.
There are few pictures of early Christian women from the first few centuries of Christianity and the ones that do exist generally show women in plain, simple clothes, with simple hair, no makeup or jewelry and with their heads covered. However, by the fourth century, that changed.
Take a look at this early fourth-century portrait of a wealthy Christian woman and her two children on the right. We know she was a Christian (at least nominally) because this portrait was placed on a gilded, jewel-encrusted cross. Neither female is wearing a head covering, though it is possible that they normally wore one, but dispensed of it while sitting for this portrait out a sense of vanity. To be sure, both were veiled while in church as this was still enforced at this time, and for centuries to come in the Roman Catholic Church. Yet we can see remnants of an earlier age in the mother; she is in a simple toga, while her daughter is in much finer clothing. She has no jewelry, but her daughter wears both earrings and a necklace. Both females appear to have conservative hairstyles, although though the daughter appears to have her hair in a decorative hairnet. Considering what we know about the more conservative styles of the day, they probably have their hair in a bun or knot or tied up in the back. Yet, even the mother appears to have made some accommodation to the new liberal trends as it appears she is wearing eye-liner. From the boy we can see that little has changed when it came to men's appearance, yet it is not inconceivable that he may be wearing a ring.
As we can see from the portrait, by the time that wealthy woman's children grew up and had children of their own, there was probably very little visible evidence of the Biblically-based standards on appearance remaining in their generation (assuming they were not trendsetters, but typical of those their age). As we discussed above, trends regarding clothing and cosmetics varied over the centuries, but the Biblical doctrine against jewelry had met a significant setback at this time. The Roman Catholic Church ignored most Scriptures about appearance ever since, with a few exceptions for those in their religious orders.
The Protestant Decline
There was a return to Biblical standards regarding appearance with the start of the Protestant Reformation. Why? Because the Protestant Reformation was a "back-to-the-Bible" movement of sorts and the Scriptures regarding appearance are there for all to read. We know that John Calvin (leading figure of the Swiss Reformed movement) and John Knox (founder of the Presbyterians) were staunch advocates of headcoverings and modest apparel and the like. Groups that were greatly influenced by the Swiss Reformed movement, such as the English Separatists and Puritans and the Baptists also stressed plain dress, avoiding jewelry and cosmetics and even headcoverings (in the early years). Some of the Pietists of the late 1700's urged a returned to plain dress and headcoverings. John Wesley, the father of Methodism was adamant that members dress plainly and avoid jewelry.20 These teachings were part of the official Methodist bylaws called "Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Church" until 1852; those who refused to abide by the rules were subject to the Methodist form of excommunication.21,22 And in the 19th century, many new Holiness and Pentecostal movements stressed plain dress and eschewing of jewelry and cosmetics, and a few of them renewed the practice of wearing headcoverings.
However, the one group that practiced what the Bible taught about appearance and held onto it most successfully were the Anabaptists. The Anabaptist movement got its start in during the Protestant Reformation in the mid-1500's. This is the movement that most influenced Samuel Froehlich, the founder of the Apostolic Christian Church (click on "History" at the top of this page to read more about the history Samuel Froehlich and the history of this church). Sadly, recently many Anabaptist denominations, after holding onto these Biblical practices for nearly 500 years, abandoned them in the 20th century (if not earlier). However, the Apostolic Christian Church has held onto them because while society changes constantly, the Bible does not. But the Apostolic Christian Church is not totally alone, there are denominations like the Old Regular Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, some Pentecostal churches and many conservative Mennonite and Amish groups which still hold to these standards, or at least to some of them.
So why did all of the others abandon these practices? Well, it wasn't because the Bible changed. And it wasn't because these churches were all of a sudden convinced that they were wrong all along and had been interpreting the Scriptures incorrectly. No, what happened was great internal pressure to abandon these standards because the members of these churches wanted to look like their neighbors. Generally the younger members of the church were the ones pushing hardest for change because their peers were the ones wearing the most daring clothing, etc. How did most churches respond to this? Most decided to compromise their standards, they gave up something, as they were afraid that they might lose potential members, especially young people. The approach most churches took was small, gradual changes to their standards so as not to give the impression to the membership of a sudden and complete abandonment of the Scriptural standards, standards that they had preached from the pulpit year after year in the past. So to put it simply, it was peer pressure that changed the church, not the Bible.
Only after all of the standards had been compromised away did most of these churches look for rationalizations they could use to explain away the Scriptures regarding appearance. Of course, the writings of those from those denominations that had abandoned these standards centuries ago were found to be most useful in this enterprise.
Here is a case study which emphasizes our point about the erosion of Biblical standards regarding church dress codes. This study was done on the dress code at Lancaster Mennonite High School, a parochial high school for those of the Mennonite faith in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (one of the most popular destinations for Anabaptists who emigrated to America).13 Nearly all of those who attended the school were of the Mennonite faith, so what happened at the school was a reflection of what was happening in their home churches. While, as we will discuss later, the Apostolic Christian Church does not necessarily agree with all of their original standards regarding dress, especially when applied to those who may be unconverted and may have not made a commitment to Christ, it nevertheless shows what typically happened to standards regarding appearance in the denominations that once held them and later abandoned them. In order to keep this as brief as possible, we only looked at the standard for women's dress; needless to say there was a parallel drift away from Biblical standards for men's dress as well.
1943: Dress length should be half-way between the ankles and knees, or lower. Dresses should have full sleeves and capes. Girls should wear black stockings. No loud colors or large prints are allowed. Prayer caps with ties (the Mennonite form of headcovering) should be worn at all times.
1949: Dresses must extend 3" below the knee, or lower for freshmen and sophomores, one-third the way down from the knees or lower for juniors and seniors.
1954: Prayer cap ties are no longer required. According to eyewitnesses, when this change was announced at a school assembly, all of the girls immediately ripped the ties off of their caps.
1961: Teachers were allowed to remove their prayer cap strings.
1963: Requirement for black stockings removed from dress code.
1968: Dresses only need to cover one's knees.
1971: Girls allowed to remove prayer caps during sports activities.
1972: Girls allowed to wear their hair down if they keep it in a ponytail or pigtail. Headcoverings no longer required on the senior trip.
1978: Headcoverings only required during school hours while on campus. Girls may have their hair down, unbound. Of 99 senior girls, only 11 choose to have their hair up in their school pictures.
1980: Girls no longer are required to wear a headcovering. Of 84 senior girls, only 18 wear headcoverings and only 10 have their hair up in their senior pictures. Most headcoverings are of the chapel veil or doilie type instead of the traditional Mennonite prayer cap.
1984: Female teachers no longer required to wear headcoverings.
1986: Of 77 senior girls, only one wears a headcovering in her senior picture. Not one has their hair up. Only one female teacher wears a headcovering.
As one can see, after the standards were relaxed, very few chose to do more than the bare minimum the standards required. And in just a year or two, they were pressing for even more relaxation of the standards. It wasn't long before all of the standards were chipped completely away.
How Can These Scriptures Be Applied To Our Christian Walk?
Perhaps you agree that the Scriptures on appearance should be followed. The next question is, how should the church implement them? Well, the pastor of the typical church could read these verses and then tell the congregation, "Okay, now all of you need to obey these Scriptures!" But it could never be that easy because you can be sure that after that sermon, the pastor would be besieged by those who have no intention of obeying them and feel insulted that someone such as important as they are would be expected to surrender their personal liberty in order to follow Scriptures that are nearly 2,000 years old! The pastor would probably be fired before he could deliver another sermon!
However, the pastor may also be met by those who have the right kind of heart, those who want to please the Lord by following the Scriptures--but they will be asking a lot of questions. For instance, exactly how short should a man's hair be? How long should a woman's be? What modern clothing is considered modest? Should women wear cosmetics or not? Do these Scriptures apply to men? And so on. People do not like to be left in the dark, they want direction.
What would happen if the pastor was not fired, but refused to give any further direction? Well, you can be sure that those who had no intention of bending their will to conform to the Bible would not change one thing about the way they dress. A few of the faithful would dress in whatever way they thought was in keeping with the Scriptures, but because they were given no direction, each of them would be dressing in a different way.
For example, some men may assume the Scriptures do not apply to them, so they would keep their long hair. Some women may assume that since they don't wear braids, their dyed hair and elaborate coiffures maintained weekly by their local beauty shop are acceptable. Others women may decide that the Scriptures do indeed apply to them and get rid of their cutting-edge hairdo's and try a simpler one. Some in the church may feel compelled to give up their wedding bands, but others may not. Some may turn in their gold wedding bands for silver ones because only "gold" is mentioned in the Bible. Others will give up all of their jewelry. Many women would not be veiled, but some would; some may have chosen a Mennonite prayer cap, others a scarf, some a large shawl, others something of their own design.
As you can see, there would be a lot of confusion. These verses cry out for the pastor to expound on them and address exactly how they apply to adornment in our modern day. And that is not the only problem. After coming to church and seeing that they were the only ones trying to remain faithful to these Scriptures, and therefore standing out like a sore thumb, those with an obedient heart could very easily become discouraged and eventually go back to their old way of dressing.
If that doesn't work, what are the other alternatives? Well, the pastor could try to give some specific guidelines for outer appearance based on these Scriptures. If that doesn't get him fired, what would happen in the church? Well, those that have no intention of obeying would not change, but at least those with an obedient heart would be dressing more alike. They could look through the church and see a few others who are of the same state of mind and have a sense of solidarity with them. And they could support each other in their goal to be obedient to the Scriptures. Yet the majority of the church would most likely be non-compliant and those conforming to the Scriptures would still feel as if they are a minority in their own church and may get discouraged and fall back into their old ways.
So what could be done about that? If the pastor feels that these Scriptures should be obeyed, he could attempt to enforce them. Those who don't make some attempt to comply with them could have their membership rescinded and be barred from positions of leadership and participation in church government, as well as communion. Of course, this could never happen in most churches, because the pastor is at the mercy of the church board (which would have fired him long ago because the majority of the church would be against his new teachings) and few churches today have any form of church discipline (even though this is encouraged numerous times in the New Testament).
However, we don't have to look at this as if it were a hypothetical situation. Take other commands in Scriptures, such as those that prohibit sexual immorality and other vices. Martin Luther recognized that there may be many insincere people that were members of his Lutheran church. But he did not want to make any move to discipline them or remove them from his church, his theory was that some of the good of the sincere members would somehow rub off onto the insincere ones. However, history tells us that exactly the opposite happened; the bad ones were in the majority and they ended up corrupting the sincere ones! The situation got so bad that even those in leadership of the Lutheran church openly acknowledged that corruption had spread through the church, even to the clergy themselves. The Lutheran church became as bad or worse than the Roman Catholic Church that Luther had criticized so vehemently. Of course, this was not limited to Lutheranism; we could point to similar situations today in many churches across the land.
In the late 1700's there was a movement within the Lutheran church (and some others as well) to return it back to the Scriptures and to sincerely and fully submit to them; they stated that mere church membership saved nobody. This became known as the Pietist movement. The Pietists found that when they were fully submitted to Christ, they had what we would call today, a "born-again experience." This movement highly influenced Wesley (the father of Methodism) and other back-to-the-Bible movements of the time. Many of the hymns in the official Apostolic Christian hymnal (Zion's Harp) were penned by Pietists.
This situation is very much like driving out on our nation's highways. We all know that driving the speed limit is safer for us and the other drivers. And the speed limit is almost always plainly posted, but how many are going to obey it just because it is there? Unless there is police enforcement, very few would. We all have gone to areas where it is known that there is no enforcement of the speed limit; we immediately know because nobody is driving even close to the speed limit, most would be driving 20, 30 or more miles faster than the speed limit! Our natural inclination is to go the same speed as most of the traffic, so when we travel those highways, most likely we too would be driving 20 or 30 miles over the speed limit! However, on roads where the speed limit is regularly enforced, by the simple act of going the same speed as the majority of the cars, we would be driving at a reasonable speed. True, there would still be a few cars taking their chances and still going 20-30 miles over the limit, but they would be in the minority.
The same could be said for following the Scriptures. Even though we know better, it is unlikely that we would be following them if the vast majority of people in our church did not. But if we go to church and see that the majority of members are following them, then we will feel comfortable following the Scriptures as well.
How The Apostolic Christian Church Applies These Scriptures
The Apostolic Christian Church has a dress code for members of the church. This, of course, is in response to the Scriptures this article has talked about. Having a uniform dress code makes it easier for members to follow the Scriptures, for the reasons we just discussed. And the dress code helps promote unity among the members. We summarize the general expectations for Apostolic Christian members below.
Let's review some of the particulars of this dress code.
Women's Attire: You may wonder why women can't wear pants. This is because it is considered cross-dressing which is condemned by the Bible. Also, there is still a strong association with the militant lesbians and feminists of the women's liberation movement with the wearing of pants, something that a Christian woman should not be associated with. Many feel that pants are more sexually revealing than a modest dress. And the dress is still considered the traditional, conservative attire for women in the greater society, even today. This is the image that Apostolic Christians want to reflect by their dress.
Women's Hair: The bun has become the preferred hairstyle. How this came to be is not known, but knowing that the Apostolic Christian Church was founded in the 1830's, it is easy to make some educated guesses. Queen Victoria of England made the bun a popular hairstyle around 1829 and the bun, in varied forms, remained a very popular hairstyle for women until around 1910. The Queen added some decorative curls to her hairstyle as well. It seems reasonable that a modest hairstyle of the day would be the bun, without the curls, so that was adopted by most Apostolic Christian women.
In the early to mid-20th century, the "roll" was popular with some women in the Apostolic Christian Church; the hair was bound into a roll encircling the nape of the neck; this style probably emulated the more popular secular hair styles of the day, though it may have had earlier origins. The bun regained popularity in Apostolic Christian circles in the 1960's when high, stacked hair and head-topped buns became popular, (the buns of some Apostolic Christian women gravitated towards the top of the head instead of on the back which was more in keeping with the style of the day; remnants of this can be seen in some Apostolic women today). As one can see with these examples, modest dress does not necessarily mean that one is always out of step with the styles of the day (although there are most certainly times when a modest Christian would be when the styles of the day are immodest and extravagant).
It is amazing that Apostolic Christians have come very close to the hairstyles that we know Peter and Paul had in mind almost 2,000 years earlier! For example, without a doubt, the length of the typical Apostolic Christian woman's hair, the insistence on putting her hair up--even the preference for the bun is something Peter and Paul would have found in keeping with their commandments. You could not say that for most of the popular styles in the world or for even those found on the women in most evangelical churches today. While we don't believe it is necessary to exactly duplicate the ancient Roman hairstyles, knowing them helps us set proper boundaries regarding what might considered a modest and simple hairstyle (according to Scripture) and what might not.
Some may argue that unbound hair does not carry the stigma that it did in earlier times. That may be true, but even today, women that want to attract attention to themselves almost always have their hair loose and free-flowing. If you don't believe it, just look at the hairstyles of the sexy women that most advertisers use to lure readers. Apostolic Christians are satisfied with this hairstyle and are going to stick with it!
Cosmetics: Some people ask if Apostolic Christian men don't find their women ugly without makeup. No, quite the opposite! Those in the world have come accustomed to the artificial look of women covered in paint and bleached, dyed and otherwise enhanced. But most boys who have grown up in the Apostolic Christian Church wouldn't have their women any other way, they find the natural look of a woman much more attractive than one that some woman spent hours in the mirror to conjure up!
Jewelry: Some question why no exceptions were made for wedding bands. Wedding bands are clearly jewelry and the early church did not allow them either. Not wearing wedding bands has not been an issue for Apostolic Christians as they only marry fellow members within the church, they do not look for mates outside of the church. And Apostolic Christians do not place themselves in places or situations where men and women are commonly trolling for potential spouses or sexual partners, so the lack of a ring causes few, if any problems. Also, it is interesting to note that one of the first accommodations the later Christian church made to jewelry was for the wedding ring. This opened the floodgates; once this came accepted, there was no stopping the introduction of other articles of jewelry.
We should note that some Apostolic Christian churches have made an accommodation for simple, inexpensive brooches worn on the dress by women. How this came to be is not known. We suppose that it was reasoned that it was little different than a decorative button on a dress and could be allowed. However, the majority of women do not wear them. Likewise, some men have worn inexpensive tie pins or clasps, which some might consider a form of jewelry, although this is less common now as they are not fashionable. And unlike some conservative Mennonites or the Amish, a wristwatch is not considered as a piece of jewelry by the church as long as it is inexpensive and without flashy additions like gemstones, etc.
Men's Hair: Other than headcoverings (and the reason for wearing them is thoroughly discussed above), the other thing that causes the most curiosity among non-Apostolic Christians seems to be the fact that men are clean-shaven, they do not wear mustaches or beards. In the early history of the church, married men wore beards (a tradition still followed in some conservative Mennonite and Amish groups). This tradition came from Europe. But most did not wear mustaches. Why? Because there was a long tradition in most European nations that military men wore mustaches; as Apostolic Christians do not believe in killing one another in war, they did not want to be identified with the military. And many Apostolic Christians had been severely persecuted because of their refusal to carry a weapon in the military, so it is understandable that they would not want to emulate them by their appearance!
The strong association between the mustache and the military is hard for most people to understand, so let us explain. There was an association of a the mustache with the military in all of the major European powers, starting in the 18th century and even earlier. Incidentally, in the 18th century all men were generally clean-shaven, except the military.18 This long tradition of the military mustache continued right on into the 20th century and even the 21st century to some degree as it is common in the American military (and in the militaries of many European countries) for officers to sport mustaches.
Yet the association was even stronger in earlier centuries. For example, in 18th century France, young men who joined the military before they could grow facial hair would paint one on with lamp-black!17 In France the military preferred curled mustaches, while the Swiss guard wore a mustache along with long side whiskers. The German military also traditionally sported mustaches. In Britain during WWI their infantrymen wore thick, shaggy mustaches and the officers waxed of the point of their mustaches to show their rank.19
One might wonder what happened to the beard, if these used to be worn. In the late 19th and early 20th century beards went out of fashion in the U.S. Beards were seen the mark of men of questionable character or bumbling, ignorant immigrants. As the standard for the respectable, conservative man had changed to a clean-shaven man, the church decided that a clean-shaven look would be the best look for their men. This still holds true today, the clean-shaven, clean-cut look is still considered the most conservative look for a man and that is the image Apostolic Christians want to convey. Incidentally, from what we now know about the clean-cut look of men at of the time of Paul, this look is probably exactly what he had in mind when prescribing short hair on men!
In addition to the conservative look it conveys, it is a guard against the many potential problems that can accompany wearing moustaches and beards. Many men spend a lot of time in front of the mirror grooming their beards and mustaches and even purchase special grooming tools for them! There can be no doubt that many young men start growing mustaches and beards in an effort to appear older than they are, or to give themselves an air of authority. The Apostolic Christian Church feels that this is vanity, a possible source of pride and pretentious; they believe the honest, clean-cut look is best and most certainly meets the standards that Peter and Paul spelled out regarding a Christian's appearance.
Maintaining The Standards
The Apostolic Christian Church reiterates the standards on dress each year in the Memorandum, an official annual review of the church beliefs that is put together by the church elders. This is distributed to all of the Apostolic Christian churches. Some ask what would happen if a church member would not obey the church guidelines regarding appearance. This does happen in churches, for example, some women opt for hairstyles more frilly than the plain bun. And sadly, it is becoming rather common for many young women to wear pants (usually blue jeans) for casual dress. Generally, such people are not disciplined. However, a major violation of church policies may require discipline, if the member insists on repeating it after being warned several times not to (for example, for wearing a low-cut dress). However, we are not aware of such a thing actually happening (though there may be incidents that we are unaware of). However, perhaps there should be, as in the case of a few rebels wearing wedding rings, mentioned earlier.
We need to state here that the Apostolic Christian Church is sometimes confused with the German Apostolic Christian Church or the Christian Apostolic Church. These are churches that broke away from the Apostolic Christian Church many years ago (read our History page for more information). These groups wanted strict dress codes which required women to wear old-fashioned clothing in order to conform to their idea of an appropriate appearance. Many of their women wear clothing very similar to that worn by conservative Mennonites, such as wearing black stockings and drab clothing and the like. Their regulations seemed to have been carried to the extreme, for example, there have been times when their women have been greeted at the church door by an man with a ruler who then measured their dresses to make sure they were of the "correct length." Dress regulations even covered the type of underwear men and women could wear!
However, the Apostolic Christian Church has never subscribed to this type of philosophy. If it is possible to use current clothing fashions and still retain the sense of modesty and propriety as required by Scriptures, Apostolic Christians will use them. This does not mean they should be at the cutting edge of daring fashions, however. This philosophy originated with the founder of the denomination, Samuel Froehlich. He was critical of the dated costumes of the Anabaptists of his day, especially of the clergy because they were immediately noticeable because their dress was much more conservative than that of their laity. He thought the minister's plain dress had actually become a source of pride. Incidentally, this phenomenon is still common in most of the plain-dressing, conservative Anabaptist denominations today.
However, there were periods, for example, during the miniskirt craze or when long hair was fashionable for men when Apostolic Christians were obviously out of fashion from the mainstream of society because they did not follow these fashions. They were in direct conflict with what the Scriptures dictate about Christian appearance. Two-piece swimwear, though popular today, is considered too revealing. Headcoverings, of course, have been out of fashion for a long time, but Apostolic Christians feel that this Scripture is too important to ignore.
If You Are Not Dressing According To Scripture...
If you are not dressing modestly to reflect a meek and quiet spirit, but instead are doing everything that Paul and Peter warned about, you need to ask yourself why. Here are the most common reasons:
Now be honest with yourself. Are these the kind of motivations of someone totally devoted and in full submission to Christ? Which manner of dressing would be a testament to your faith: as the world dresses or as the Bible directs you to dress? We believe the answers are obvious.
Some like to make light of the fact that the Apostolic Christian Church has a dress code. If you are one of them, we would ask you these questions: First, are the Scriptures concerning the Christian's outer appearance even taught at your church? And if so, are they presented without distortion or are they rationalized away? For example, do the women in your church wear a headcovering. If not, why not? If your church does not rationalize away these "bothersome Scriptures," what steps has it taken to help you follow these Biblical standards? Has your church provided any guidelines to help you make concrete decisions on how to dress, based on the principles found in Scripture? Has your denomination provided an environment in your church where you would feel totally comfortable following all of these Scriptures regarding appearance, or would you stand out in your church like a fanatic or oddball? The Apostolic Christian Church has addressed all of these issues, has yours?
Because the Apostolic Christian Church believes that the Bible is not something we can ignore, if we want to be a faithful Christian, we have followed these Biblical precepts, even if doing so might make us uncomfortable because most other people are dressing in a different manner. There is nothing in the Bible that says that a Christian life is one where we don't have to make sacrifices; no, it is quite the opposite.
1 Fashions In Hair: The First Five Thousand Years, 1980, Richard Corson, page 71.
2 Ibid, page 72.
3 Ibid, page 82.
4 Ibid, page 74.
5 Ibid, page 75.
6 The History Of Hair: Fashion And Fantasy Down The Ages, 2000, Robin Bryer, page 29.
7 Dictionary Of New Testament Background, 2000, editors: Craig A. Evans & Stanley E. Porter, pages 442-447.
8 The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 1993, Craig S. Keener, pages 475-477.
9 Why Do They Dress That Way?, People's Place Booklet No. 7, 1986, Stephen Scott, pages 55-56.
10 The Story Of Jewelry, 1974, J. Anderson Black, page 84. "Rings . . . were, judging by the enormous number recovered, the most popular form of jewelry throughout the Imperial period."
11 Jewelry: 7,000 Years, 1986, Hugh Tait, page 205.
12 A Dictionary Of Greek And Roman Antiquities, 1875, John Murray, pages 328-330.
13 Why Do They Dress That Way?, People's Place Booklet No. 7, 1986, Stephen Scott, pages 46-51.
14 Ibid, page 101.
15 The History Of Hair: Fashion And Fantasy Down The Ages, 2000, Robin Bryer, pages 88-92.
16 Fashions In Hair: The First Five Thousand Years, 1980, Richard Corson, page 398.
17 Ibid, page 302.
18 Hair: Sex, Society, Symbolism, 1971, Wendy Cooper, page 43.
19 Christian Dress And Adornment, 1997, Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph.D, Professor of Church History and Theology, Andrews University.
20 Encyclopedia Of World Methodism, 1977, page 717.
21 Ibid, page 718.
22 The Doctrines And Disciplines Of The Methodist Church, 1835, page 88.
23 Natural History 23, Pliny.
24 Christian Dress And Adornment, 1997, Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph.D., chapter 5.
25 A Dictionary Of Christian Antiquities, Volume II, pages 1807-1808.
26 "Nor is this for ornament, but for sealing things which are worth keeping safe in the house, in the exercise of their [the wive's] charge of housekeeping." The Instructor III, ca. 200 A.D., Clement of Alexandria.
27 The Doctrines And Discipline Of The Methodist Episcopal Church, 1872, page 88.
28 Manual Of The Presbyterian Law And Usage, 1873, page 272.
29 The Artificial Face: A History Of Cosmetics, 1973, Fenja Gunn, page 33.
30 Ibid, page 67.
31 Ibid, page 74.
32 Ibid, page 75
33 Ibid, page 124
34 Ibid, page 47.
35 Ibid, page 40.
36 Ibid, page 43.
37 Ibid, page 146.
38 Ibid, pages 122-123.
39 Ibid, page 149
40 Ibid, page 150.
41 Ibid, page 155.
The History of the Apostolic Christian Church A good overview of the history of the Christian church starting from the resurrection of Christ. The Anabaptist movement is discussed, as well as the history of the Apostolic Christian Church.
Beliefs of the Apostolic Christian Church What does the Apostolic Christian Church believe and why? Are their distinctive practices based on man's ideas or do they have a Biblical basis? Most of these questions will be answered with this brief overview of the main tenets of faith for the Apostolic Christian Church.
How The Modern Translators Have Trampled On The Word Of God A study of how the modern Bible translators have attempted to change the Bible to their liking. Includes details on how translators of the two most popular, conservative, literal translations attempted to abolish the Christian doctrine on appearance in their Bibles.
Links to resources on a Christian's appearance. We have many links to resources from others that share our beliefs on a Christian's appearance on this page.
Links to historical views on a Christian's appearance. We have many links to resources about those throughout history that have shared our belief on a Christian's appearance on this page.