Summary: Assessing and addressing the rot in evangelical churches requires a return to biblical holiness.
ROOTING OUT ROT
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
Observing our evangelical Zion, I observe that we are infected with a debilitating virus that was once confined to those living in the world. Our humour reflects what we watch on television. Consequently, we are growing increasingly coarse and sarcastic in responding to those about us. We defend ourselves in such a way that it appears that we no longer recognise the enemy. We seem to believe that anyone who does not agree with us deserves our scorn, or even our rage. James addresses the tendency of Christians to bring into the new life attitudes which should have been left in the world. We will do well to review his words and learn how to root out rot in our lives.
ASSESSING THE ROT — Holiness is a concept that is seemingly absent from contemporary religious life. The holiness that is accepted among the saints appears artificial—a pale, insipid imitation of the real thing. Our piety is outward; we substitute religious observance for true holiness. The great tragedy of contemporary evangelicals is that we have what has been described as peg-leg religion—we have to strap it on every morning. And though it gets us around, it is cold and lifeless. Whereas our fathers were once concerned to honour God in all things, we are concerned to grab all the gusto we can, because we only go around once.
Let me pointedly address some of the observations I make concerning the absence of holiness. There was a day when modesty in dress and demeanour was a mark of a young woman’s or a young man’s Christian walk. I know that our grandmothers were somewhat fanatical about their dress, but somehow young women today, to say nothing of many older women, are indistinguishable from the world in their dress.
We attended a songfest for a missionary organisation several years back. A number of churches were represented that evening, with musical groups from each of the several churches presenting music between the congregational singing. I noted the dress of several of the young women from a group that still speaks of holiness as a doctrinal standard for their churches. On their web site, the denomination makes the following statement: “We believe in holy living.” The denomination makes a strong statement on the necessity of a holy life as a prerequisite to enjoying the blessings of God. In order to maintain modesty, female dress is specifically addressed by the denomination.
As a group of young women from this particular congregation arose to present a special number that evening, I noted that each of the girls was dressed more like a common trollop than a representative of the Saviour. Bare midriffs, plunging necklines and skin-tight pants were certainly not the standard of previous generations.
Lest you imagine that I am picking on another denomination to the exclusion of our own Baptist people, let me hasten to state that almost all the young women present that evening, and a surprising number of the adult women, were dressed in skimpy attire more suitable for a bar than for a church. Baptists were overly represented in the crowd on that particular evening, just as I observe the dress of many young women attending services of churches I have pastored who would pronounced themselves to be Baptists.
Perhaps we have forgotten the apostolic admonition that declares, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” [1 TIMOTHY 2:8-10]. The Apostle specifically addresses women’s dress, as that is an apparent problem.
According to this passage, women are to dress respectably, modestly and with self-control. Women’s dress are addressed by the words, “respectable,” “modesty” and “self-control.” Other translations clarify this understanding of Paul’s words. The New Century Version states, “[W]omen should wear proper clothes that show respect and self-control.” According to the NET Bible, “[W]omen are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” Yet another recent translation affirms that, “[W]omen are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense.” Modest dress demonstrates respect—for God and for those of the opposite sex, and self-control.
Commenting on this passage, Dr. Tommy Lea writes, “To dress ‘modestly’ demands that the women dress tastefully and not provocatively. The term ‘dress’ (katastolē) describes the outward deportment of the women as expressed in the clothes they wear. To practice ‘decency and propriety’ demands that the women not flaunt their … beauty. The former word shows reserve in matters of sex, and the latter word indicates a mastery of the appetites, particularly in matters of sex. The two terms refer to inner virtues.”