Handling Style, Culture, and Open Criticism
Dear Readers, The following is a mail I received from a young believer by the name Joe Peters, asking me to help him clarify issues related to the external appearance of a believer. My reply to him is given below for the benefit of the Youth, parents, and leaders of assemblies.
Will you please clarify to what extent outward appearance of a young believer with regard to beard, mustache, hairstyle, dress, etc. can be biblically understood. What does the Bible say about these? Is this not purely a cultural matter? Recently one of our elders openly criticized me for wearing a beard. I am deeply hurt by his open criticism and am wondering if I should go back to the assembly or not. Please help me to sort this out spiritually.
Hello Dear Joe,
Thanks for your mail and for feeling free to write to me on these sensitive issues. Please know that you are not the only one who has such questions about appearance. In fact, not only young men like you but young ladies also have such concerns. Let us see how Christian believers should handle this issue. Such questions often come to confront us and we are expected to find convincing answers for us and others whom we meet. We cannot escape such questions but must face it gracefully.
Your point is right that external appearance with regard to hairstyle and grooming are basically cultural. I am sure you will agree with me that we cannot think about going back to the styles and patterns of the Old Testament or New Testament times because things have changed so much. It is not easy to prescribe a pattern that can be universally acceptable at all times. Not only that, such cultural elements keep changing over time. Knowingly or otherwise, we all fall a prey to culture sometimes in some measure. That's why I feel that it may not be expedient for the seniors in the church to regulate a particular style for all men or women all the time.
Many people take extreme views in this matter. While some argue for freedom to adopt all cultural norms and variations according to their personal choices and preferences to be up-to-date, some others vehemently oppose it totally.
So, it is a great challenge to reach a consensus as to how we would take a stand on this matter without violating the Biblical principles? My conviction is that we may bear in mind the following points and make our decisions on these matters in the presence of God in prayer and meditation.
1. What is the purpose of wearing a mustache, beard (full or half, or shaped beard), or some particular styles, like that of a political leader/cine artist/sports hero or a fashion model?
a. Is this any kind of imitation? If so, will the Bible support such imitation of worldly people?
b. Is it self-promotion and good looks? If so, will it help us to show ourselves as disciples of Jesus in promoting Christ instead of ourselves?
c. Is it related to self-esteem? If so, is it right for a believer to develop and improve his self-esteem patterned after the contemporary world and its style or be humble and broken in his appearance as well as his attitude as a Christian disciple?
2. Is it decoration of some sort which will make me look better and will attract people to me? If so, will the Bible support it? Should I attract others to myself or to Jesus through my spiritual behavior and attitude?
3. Will cultural adaptation and style in any way cover up the expressions of joy, peace, satisfaction, grace, and love that God wants me to exhibit on my face and through my facial and body language? Will my facial style and hairstyle create a channel for people to see Christ in my heart? Or would I be showing pride, arrogance, self-promotion, haughtiness, superiority complex and overbearing through such styles? One will have to examine oneself in these areas with the help of the Bible.
4. Will the adoption of modern changing cultural affinities, fashions and styles of the contemporary world in any way make people despise me as I serve the Lord? (1 Timothy 4:12). This depends on whether I am moderate and careful in adopting certain cultural changes or keeping an extreme stand in following modern trends?
5. Will these adaptations to culture or imitation make me a good example for others to follow Christ? (1 Timothy 4:12). Am I an example to other believers in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith, and life? Will my external appearance fall into any one or more of these areas of practical life?
Please know that certain styles, including hair styles, are for identity with certain horrible sins like homosexuality. A child of God may keep carefully away from such identity traps, to keep his testimony.
I suggest that these matters may be meditated upon and decided after examining our hearts before the Lord and seeking His mind for the sake of our life and ministry.
Joe, you mentioned about open criticism by someone in this matter. My conviction is that parents and seniors may patiently discuss these with youngsters as appropriately. They may lovingly communicate their convictions, desires, and expectations about the Youth and other believers for biblical consideration and prayer. The ministering brethren should not be judgmental or contemptuous, but considerate and patient with the Youth. It may not be a good idea to handle these issues critically from a pulpit or through open public criticism. But biblical principles about these may be taught in the assembly, without pointing out to any individual in particular covertly or overtly. Personal admonition, with love, is a more effective approach. Elders may try to counsel the youth and others in these matters and reach out to them with concern. We must guard ourselves against falling into unhealthy arguments to win our case but should endeavor to win hearts with love and patience.
Dear Joe, the above questions, and principles that I tried to explain may be applicable also to our younger sisters and others in the challenges they face in cultural affiliation in dressing, make-up, and fashion. Here also, it is spiritually more expedient if the elder sisters may patiently teach and lovingly counsel younger sisters in matters of dress, makeup, etc.
This means that the elders and elder sisters ought to build up a good relationship with the youngsters and all others to be able to communicate without difficulties. They should also be examples in what they try to communicate. An elder with a mustache may not be the best person to instruct a youngster about a beard. An elder sister with a gold-color spectacle frame, a golden strap of a watch or golden broche may not be in a strong position to tell others about changes in their lifestyles. They may examine themselves in all these areas before speaking to the youngsters to make their spiritual communication effective and result-oriented.
Please know that it is important that our spirituality, humility, devotion to the Lord, discipleship, brokenness, and commitment may be seen in our whole personality, appearance, and expressions to the extent possible and as led by the Lord. Let no one despise us for our walk, appearance (looks) and behavior. Let us endeavor to portray the image of Christ in all that we do and are.
Lastly, I would like to request you not to get upset with the elder who openly criticized you, but take it as a spiritual and loving admonition of a father figure. Please don't keep any bitterness, but be happy with the Lord. Please do not keep away from the assembly because it will not resolve any issues or problems at stake. But keep yourself in active fellowship with God's people. It will strengthen your spiritual life and not weaken it in any way. You may prayerfully sacrifice your style of any sort for the sake of your brothers and for the happiness of those who love you in the Lord. (Please meditate on 1 Corinthians chapter 8 to learn about this principle)
Hope this discussion will help you to handle your concerns about culture, style, and open criticism spiritually and with expediency.