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Holy Clothes

"For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart." II Corinthians 5:12

Recently someone that I sincerely love and care about approached me concerning the color and style of my clothing. He proceeded to explain to me how the way I dress is not Christian, and he very clearly told me that the color black, which appears so frequently in my wardrobe, is inherently evil. I wasn't really surprised, because I had heard that same message many times from him, as well as from other believers, and so I attempted once again to show from the scriptures how colors were not a matter of righteousness but of personal preference. As in times past, he began misquoting bible passages, ignoring my points, and even outright denying clear scriptural teachings. Unfortunately for many, this is not an isolated experience. Since the birth of the Christian Church, Satan has unrelentingly attempted to divide believers, who comprise the very Body of Christ. One way in particular that he has been especially successful has been in the arena of judging based on outward appearance. Appearance-based judgments have been a problem for God's people as far back as there have been a people called by His Name. In this message, I wish to show the unconvinced reader from scripture, that color and clothing are not matters of righteousness, but rather that the real clothing we need to be worried about is the spiritual armor of God (Eph 6:10-20).

My ultimate goal through these articles is to encourage brothers and sisters in Christ to establish unity amongst one another--unity that looks past clothing style and hair color and one that looks to the heart and the soul. However, in order to do so, you--the reader--must do one thing. You must open your ears to God's teaching, you must open your eyes to the truth, and you must open your heart to His voice. As long as one places man-made traditions and stereotypes above pure scriptural teaching, one will never be able to understand messages such as these. I only ask that before continuing, you pray a sincere prayer to God, asking Him to help you open your mind, honestly consider what the Bible has to say, and help you set aside your preconceived biases toward this subject. Ask Him to help show you the truth of the matter, because no matter how hard I try, I myself can never convince anyone--only the Spirit can. And the Spirit only will if you give Him a chance. So if you've spoken to God about this and feel that you are ready to give the topic a fair trial, then I encourage you to continue.

First of all, what are the general problems that most people have with "gothic" or black clothing styles?
One of the most prevalent Bibles passages that is used to define the frustration people have with the "Gothic" clothing style is I Corinthians chapter eight. In it, Paul urges those that eat meat sacrificed to idols to be careful, and to abstain from that meat if necessary, so as not to embolden other Christians to entering idol temples to eat that kind of meat. Paul writes, "Food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? . . . Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble." (I Cor 8:8-10,13)
Some Christians also apply this teaching to the issue of clothing style/color and say that if the color black offends them, other believers should not wear that color, so as not to make them stumble.

Others outright feel that the color black is inherently "evil," as did the one whom I spoke with, mentioned earlier. They see black as the color of sin, spiritual darkness, death, and wickedness.

Yet others quote I Thessalonians 5:22 in support of their concern, which reads (in the King James Version): "Abstain from all appearance of evil." They feel that those who dress "gothic" or who clothe themselves black are making for themselves an "evil" appearance, which is thus not fitting for a child of God.

Some of the points that were brought up in the discussion I had--mentioned in the beginning of the article--were that first of all, we are to be like Christ, and that in Revelation 1, there is no darkness in Christ's appearance--"He is dressed all in white." The second concern that was brought up was that the color black is "not cheerful". It is a "sad and depressing color." And so, by this line of reasoning, it is again not fitting for a child of God.

I bet now you're expecting me to rant and rave and hurl insults at those who believe these things, but actually I'm going to say that it's OK to have these concerns. These fears are legitimate. It's good to be worried about the spiritual state of your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is acceptable to have worries concerning the gothic dress, because:
A). Black/Gothic dress is often associated with such things as Satanism, paganism, rebellion, etc.
B). Many rebellious and troubled teens often choose the Gothic/Black dress as a form of isolating themselves from authority and family.
C). Our culture considers black a "depressing" color.
D). According to the Bible, the color white represents righteous deeds.

All of these fears are warranted, but there are many times that we fear things that need not be feared. This, I believe, is one of those fears. While it's OK to be concerned over the way some kids dress and look, these fears are not founded or supported by scripture. In fact, to the contrary, the Bible lends support to goths and those whose favorite color happens to be black. I will show you why in just a moment.

So why not? Why isn't it wrong to dress "Goth"? What's wrong with the accusations listed above?
First of all, I would like to address the problems with the popular interpretation of I Cor 8 (the "do not cause your brother to stumble" passage). Primarily, I would like to note that this passage was written by Paul concerning a specific issue, that of eating and drinking.
Secondarily, the religious and cultural atmosphere of the day must also be taken into account. Paul and the Christians of that time were living in an era of division--division between Jew and Gentile (much like the division between whites and blacks that America recently dealt with). Jews of that time were generally far more religious and devout and adherent to the Mosaic Law than are Jewish people today. They were very prone to try to follow the Law in its entirety (while also very prone to substitute the works of following the Law in place of saving faith in God's grace). Since the Jewish Law at the time was very adamant about abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols, Jews were very afraid to even touch meat that may have been defiled through idolatry. However, Gentiles (non-Jews) who were not under that Law felt no problem in their conscience with eating meat that had been cooked in honor of idols, because they knew that there was no god but God--and so the sacrifices to idols were meaningless. However, many Jewish Christians of that time still yearned to adhere to the ceremonial Law, and were thus still very paranoid about not eating any meat that may have touched an idol. When Paul was writing to the Corinthians (who were Gentiles, not adhering to the ceremonial Law), he wished that they--in their liberty--would not offend their Jewish brothers and sisters by eating meat that had come from an idol temple. If a Jewish believer had seen a Gentile believer eating meat from an idol temple, that Jew may have been emboldened to sin in their heart and eat the meat (even though it was not a sin for those Gentiles who did not define their righteousness by how they observed the Law).
In essence, what Paul is saying in I Corinthians 8 is that if a believer follows the Mosaic Law (which Paul, in the first place, discourages [Gal 2:11 - 3:25]), then believers who aren't under the Law should not tempt the believers who are under the Law to sin by doing things that go against what the Law says. Paul is saying that conscience on some issues is relative, and that depending on the strength or weakness of one's faith, some things would be sinful for one person of weaker faith to do while not being sinful for another of stronger faith.
What Paul is not saying is that if one believer just plain doesn't like the color of another believer's clothing (which seems to be the new, modern definition of being "offended") that the other believer should just stop wearing that color. What it truly means to "offend" someone is to do wrong to them or to cause them to do wrong. You are not offending anyone by the biblical interpretation of the word, if you merely wear a color that someone else doesn't like.
Another issue raises itself. Perhaps we have been blindly looking at only one perspective of the matter. Many seem to declare that gothic clothing offends non-goths. But what about normal/popular clothing being an offense? Perhaps those who wear the popular clothing of the day are the ones who are doing wrong, because they encourage others to try to just "fit in" and go with the crowd. This is actually more of a reality than one might think. I faced this problem a great deal growing up in junior high and high school. Many chided me for not dressing like everyone else... those who did go with the flow of the crowd in this way seemed to become more focused on style and fashion than on being an individual. The more footholds we give to society and pop-culture, the further we can get dragged into the way the "world" does things. The question I have to ask is: What is wrong with dressing in a way that separates one from the world? What is so "evil" about a Christian standing out from the crowd?

The second objection to gothic dress is the "Black is evil" argument. Yes, by our culture's standards, black does represent everything evil and only that which is evil. But that standard is just that--the world's standard. Many other cultures think nothing of the color black. It is written in Genesis one, that in the beginning, God created both light and darkness and called them both "good." Scientifically speaking the thing that our brain registers as "black" is merely a combination of all the colors in the spectrum, while "white" is merely the absence of color. So truthfully, it could be said that black is more colorful than white!

Another passage that is oft used to decry "Gothic" and/or black clothing is the "Abstaining from Appearance of Evil" passage (I Thess 5:22). I will not go into great detail on this passage in this article, since I have already written a full article just on that one issue here. But let it be noted that the 1611 King James Version is the only version that uses the word "appearance" in its translation. Why is this? Because since the year 1611, the term "appearance" has taken on new meanings. In the English language, appearance now generally indicates clothing style, beauty, hair color, etc. However, in 1611, the word "appearance" was also widely used as a synonym for "shape," "form," "kind," etc. In fact, these are the terms that are used in the more modern translations of the Bible (NKJV, NIV, etc.). And that is just what the original Greek term which Paul used ("eidos") implies--shape, form, kind. In I Thessalonians chapter 5, Paul is writing about how to live and walk in the Spirit. In verses 12-22 he gives commands not to quench the work of the Spirit, but at the same time to test the works that are supposedly coming from the Spirit (i.e. prophecies) to make sure that they are good. He then tells us to hold on to what is good and to avoid all kinds of evil. Never did Paul mean to imply that there was a color that was "evil" and therefore should not be worn.

Also, the objections that were brought up concerning the Gothic style not being cheerful must be addressed. Firstly, it must be noted that while Christians should always have "joy," there is a difference between Spirit-induced joy and the emotional feeling of cheerfulness. Being joyful, I constantly try to look at things positively and see God's hand working in events for our good. That quality is a fruit of the Spirit (Eph 5:22). However, there is a place for the human emotion of cheer and there is a place for the human emotion of solemnity (Ecc 3:4). Cheerfulness is a quality that is favored by God (2 Cor 9:7), but it is not a requisite for righteousness. Many of the most God-loving saints of the Bible, including Christ Himself, were often without cheer (yet never without the joy of the Spirit). An excellent example of this fact is Job, who while being tested by God could say "My harp is tuned to mourning" (Job 30:31) and "Yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). In one breath Job exhibited both sadness/solemnity and joy. And when Jesus wept and agonized over the loss of Lazarus, over the faithlessness of His people, and over His execution, He was definitely not being cheerful, yet because He was completely filled with the Spirit, He had joy throughout all circumstances--seeing the hand of God working for the ultimate good in all those events. So you see, there is a difference between being happy and having true joy. God doesn't command us to put on a smiley face all the time, but He does command us to try to see things positively, because He is in control and will lead us through the valleys of our lives.

And the second issue that was brought up in the aforementioned discussion I had, was that of Christ's appearance in Revelation. The one who I had the discussion with claimed that "there was no darkness in Christ's appearance" and that Christ appeared dressed in white. So first of all, I went to the passage, and surprisingly enough, it doesn't say anything anywhere about Christ having on white clothes. It does say his hair was white, but nothing about his clothing. In fact, in Revelation 19, Christ wears a "red" robe (which represents the blood shed at His death and at the death of his enemies). Rather intriguing that Christ's clothing in Revelation represents death. In fact, to the contrary, in John 7:24, Jesus declares, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." We are not to judge one's spiritual status by something so trivial as what color they wear. We are to discern someone's spiritual status by examining the sincerity of their heart and their lifestyle.

In I Samuel 16:7, the Lord says to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature. . . For the Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." So now I ask you the same question that Paul asks in II Corinthians 10:7: "Do you look at things according to outward appearance?" Are you like the one whom James describes in James 2:3 who pays attention to how fine his guests' clothing is and gives preference to the man with the most appealing clothes while shunning the other brother? If so, then I hope you seriously consider what I have shown you from the scriptures and what I am yet to show you. I do not wish to judge you or condemn you if you do have qualms over something like clothing style or color... but I do wish to follow Paul's command in II Corinthians 5:12 to "have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart." I only ask that you keep this fact in mind as we proceed to the final portion of this article.

The Bible (God's Word) actually has quite a bit to say about appearances. And one thing that God makes clear in His Word is that appearances can be deceiving.
God informs us that evil will often come dressed in white. In II Corinthians 11:14, Paul warns us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light, and in Matthew 7:15-16, Jesus warns that false prophets come in sheep's clothing. Jesus then goes on to say that we can not judge them by how them seem, but only by the "fruits" they produce. In other words, they must be judged by their spiritual status, not by their physical status.
Another lesson that we often learn from just observing the events around us, is that evil often dresses nicely. The Mafia dresses in suits and ties, and many a criminal and killer dress normal and conservative, just like everyone else around them. In this day and age, people are easily fooled, because they rely so much on outward appearance in judging the character of a person.

It's clear that the so-called "normal" or "popular" style of dressing does not designate holiness... but can it be said that one can dress darkly or in the color black and still maintain a holy lifestyle? Let us go straight to the scriptures for these answers:
First of all, throughout the Bible, God appears in "thick darkness" or in "black clouds" (Ex 20:21, Deut 4:11, 5:22-23, II Sam 22:10-12, I Kng 8:12, II Chr 6:1, Psalm 18:9-11, 97:2, etc). In fact (ironically enough), in Psalm 18:11, it says that God "makes darkness His covering."
Secondly, throughout the Bible, wearing black was always a sign of repentance (I Kng 21:27, II Kng 19:1-2, I Chr 21:17, Job 16:15, Ps 69:11, Is 37:1-2, Mt 11:21, Lk 10:13, etc). Whenever people wanted to sincerely and wholeheartedly repent and ask for forgiveness, they would put on sackcloth (which is black) and sprinkle ashes (also black) on their bodies. For them, and for Christian Goths today, black represented (represents) the death to self and death to sin that must take place in order to receive life in the Kingdom to come (I Cor 15:31). So it seems that the opposite of the matter is true. For a believer in Christ, being clothed in black is not representative of being sinful, but rather of sorrow for past sins and a willingness to live for Christ (i.e. repentance). It is symbolic of the death to self and the offering of one's self to God, which must take place daily.

So, as one can clearly see from the very words of God, it's ok to be concerned about someone's spirituality, but it must be kept in mind that the color of one's clothing does not determine one's relationship with God. And now, my call, scripture's call, and God's call, is a call of unity. That we open our eyes to the truly important matters... the matters of eternal value; that we set aside the trivialities of clothing fashion and embrace our believing brothers and sisters; that we seek to understand and accept people from all walks of life; that we, together, as the Body of Christ, seek to present Christ to all the world who has not yet heard the message of salvation. This is all I ask, that we love one another.

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