Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 3, 2003
Holy & Free, Part 3: Dancing & Dress
As we begin this morning, I want to remind you that if you were not here July 20th, then get the tape, CD or the text of that sermon. It was the first part of this series we are doing on living in both holiness and the freedom we have in Christ. That sermon lays the foundation on which I am simply expanding and applying to particular areas.
I also want to remind you that both freedom in Christ and holiness are not only compatible but are necessary. To pursue holiness without freedom results in legalism. To pursue freedom without holiness results in licentiousness. Either of these is dishonoring to God. Our purpose is to honor Him by understanding the commands and principles He has given us in His word and apply then to our lives.
Please also be aware that as I do that this morning on the particular issues of dancing and dress, you might find yourself feeling uncomfortable. If so, do not cast aside what I am saying as just my opinion and continuing on your way. Take the time to think through the issues involved and then yield yourself to the Holy Spirit’s conviction so that you might continue your progress in changing into the image of Christ. That is our goal. The Christian’s purpose in life is to please our Savior, not the pastor, not other people, and not yourself. So keep that question in mind from the beginning. Is what I am doing pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ?
A Negative Paper
Not long after Diane and I first came here, I was looking through some of the church files and came across a paper entitled “Why A Christian Should Not Dance” written by someone who had previously taught the youth. I will not reveal his name because it really does not matter who wrote it, for there are many that think the same way this man did. These are people who have a cultural morality that wants to stand strongly against sin. That is commendable. However, because their moral standards are based on personal conviction instead of actual Biblical principle, they teach strict and rigid rules instead of godly principles that are to be applied in a context. That is legalism. Then, because they want their rules to sound like they have the authority of God, they twist the Scriptures to back up their claim. This paper is a sad example of this.
In fairness to the man who wrote the paper, I think that his greatest concern was the sensuality and vices associated with “modern” dance of the last 50 years, since he says that “the old square dance was bad” and that “the modern dance is a thousand times worse.” However, his presentation was designed to convince young people that all dance was evil for he states that “there is no such thing as a nice, clean dance.” The saddest thing about the paper is that even the few good points he made were surrounded by so much terrible Bible exegesis and failed logic that those who were taught the lesson rejected it. How do I know they rejected it? Because, with one exception, I have seen everyone who was in the age group that was taught this lesson dancing at weddings.
So, in discussing this topic I will not make rash statements such as “the dance is always in bad company” or “drinking and dance always go together” or that it is “the mother of all lusts.” Most of us have participated in or been to a dance at someplace where there was good company without any drinking, and most of us understand that lust is born in our evil hearts (James 1:14,15; Mark 7:21) long before any dance floor is reached.
I will also not twist the scriptures in an effort to prove something the Bible does not say. For example, Mark 6:14-29 recounts the story of the death of John the Baptist. While it is true that Herodias’ daughter danced before Herod resulting in him granting her anything she wished, it was Herodias that compelled her to ask for John the Baptist’s head. It was her sinful desire to destroy the man that pointed the finger at her adultery that resulted in the murder, not the dance.
Questions to Consider
If you want to know if dancing is right or wrong before the Lord, then you need to ask the questions proposed in the first sermon of this series and apply it to the context of the dancing you are thinking about being involved in. Will it be spiritually profitable for me? Will it help to build others up in Christ? Will it hinder me or someone else in our Christian walks? Will it bring me into bondage? Will it cause me to lose control of my thoughts or will? Am I using it as a covering for my own evil desires? Am I violating my conscience? Does it reflect Christ likeness? Am I considering other believers as more important than myself? Does it bring glory to God?
Context & Purpose – Joyful & Holy Celebrations
Dancing occurs in a context and for different purposes. It is often a response of joy. Most parents have seen their young children spontaneously dance around when they are happy. Exodus 15:20f tells about Miriam leading the women of Israel with timbrels, dancing and singing after they had escaped Egypt and Pharaoh’s army lay dead at the bottom of the Red Sea. In 1 Samuel 18:6 we find the women of Israel coming out with tambourines, dancing and singing over victory of King Saul and David over the Philistines. In 2 Samuel 6:14-16 we find King David “dancing before the Lord with all his might” as the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem. David tells us in Psalm 30:11 that God’s grace turned his mourning into dancing and loosed him from sackcloth to be girded with gladness.
Some years ago, Steve Green put the words of this Psalm to music. I know a man who was so afraid of sounding like he would approve of dancing that he changed the words before he sang the song in a church service as special music. Think about that for a moment. This man actually changed the words of Scripture in order to make it match his personal standard. How arrogant to think that you can speak for God better that God does Himself. How tragic to shun something as evil that God even approves of as part of worshiping Him.
Psalm 149:3,4 calls God’s people to “praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre. For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.” Psalm 150:4 tells us that included in the many ways were are to praise the Lord are “with timbrel and dancing.”
Dancing was a normal part of Jewish life that was acceptable to God. Part of the future prophecies given to Israel is that the Lord would rebuild her and she would again take up her tambourines and “go forth to the dances of the merrymakers” ( Jer. 31:4). Part of the play of children included dancing (Matt. 11:17). Jesus included dancing in Luke 15:25 as part of positive response of rejoicing at the return of the prodigal son.
In light of these Scriptures, it is obviously wrong to conclude that all dancing is wrong. These are all dances meeting the approval of God. However, it would also be wrong to conclude from these passages that all dancing is good. The dancing in these passages are a response of joy for what God had done. The exception is that of the children playing, but even there they are only imitating what the adults would do. It should also be pointed out that many of these passages specifically say that the women were dancing together, and none of them specifically say that men and women were dancing together. None of these could be construed as sensual or romantic in any way.
Perhaps some of you have been to cultural celebrations in which the men and women dance in separate groups from each other, or if they do dance as one group, there is nothing sensual or romantic about it. Such cultural dances as these would be reflective of the nature of these positive dances presented in Scripture.
Context & Purpose – Evil Celebrations
But the Bible also presents some negative dances. *In Exodus 32 we find the Israelites involved in grievous sin for they had created the idol of the golden calf and, as verse 6 tells us, they had brought to it their “offerings, sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” That “play” included dancing (vs. 19) in which they were out of control (vs. 25). God judged them for their idolatry and celebration of it with about 3,000 men of the people being put to death (vs. 28). *I had mentioned earlier the dance of the daughter of Herodius (Mark 6:14-29) and how it pleased Herod. From our understanding of the evil character of Herod, you can be sure that if it pleased him, it was not pleasing to God. * In 1 Samuel 30 we find that the Amalekites were so busy eating, drinking and dancing because of the great spoil they had taken from David’s city of Ziklag, that David and a small band were able to slaughter them when they caught up to them.
Dancing, like so many other activities, has to be examined in light of its purpose and context to determine if it is right or wrong before the Lord. Cultural dancing such as I described earlier would not be in violation of any Biblical principles if done in a good context. It is a response of joy in celebrating some wonderful event, such as a wedding or a feast day. The problem is that often dancing is not in a good context and/or it done in a sensual way that is not God honoring.
Dancing in a place where people are getting drunk is not a good context. They are already out of control, and even if you remain in control, they will be seeking to get you to join them in things that are not right. The wise fear the Lord and turn away from evil (Prov. 3:7). They also seek to walk with those who are wise because those who are the companions of fools will suffer harm (Prov. 13:20), and those who get intoxicated are not wise (Prov. 20:1).
The purpose of the dance is also very important. Again we find that the problem with much dancing in our society is that its purpose is sensuality. Dancing in a manner to attract the attention of the opposite sex is not godly exercise. Dancing in a manner as to arouse the sexual interest of someone else is causing them to stumble. Perhaps a good rule of thumb here would be to ask yourself if you would dance with your father, mother, brother or sister in that manner? Would Jesus be smiling or frowning over your dance. Don’t forget that He is with you if you are a Christian. Perhaps you may even be innocent in your motives and are just out to have a good time, but you must also be aware of the effect of your actions on others. In a real sense, you are your brother’s keeper. But that brings us to our next topic – Dress.
People dress with either fashion, comfort, utility or a mixture of these in mind. Utility clothing would be those garments designed to make it easier or safer to do whatever it is you are doing. For example, winter gear can be cumbersome, but its purpose is to protect you from the cold. A fisherman’s vest allows him to keep gear in a convenient place while his bulky waders keep him dry. Running shorts are great for a jogger, but useless to a construction worker who benefits from durable pants with pockets and loops. Support hose may not look or feel great, but they are great blessing for those with problems with the veins in their feet and legs.
Comfort is a key issue for most of us when we are around the house by ourselves or just the immediate family. There is no one to impress, so it doesn’t matter how you look. You might wear old, nearly worn out and stained clothes that you would not wear in public because you do not want others to think you are a slob. If comfort and utility were the only criteria in what we wear, the fashion industry would die. But fashion is important to all of us.
Fashion comes into play because we want to project an image to other people or to ourself about who we are and what we are like. If you see a guy in stained jeans and an old T-shirt at Home Depot, you know it’s a guy working on some home repair project. People at business or professional meetings wear appropriate business attire because they want the others to recognize them as a professional too. I wear a suit on Sunday morning for several reasons. First, this is a formal presentation of God’s Word and I want to represent my Lord in a proper manner. Second, I want others to think of me as someone who seriously cares about what I am doing and is worth listening too. Third, it is the least offensive outfit I can wear. If I was standing here wearing shorts, sandals and a L.A. Dodgers T-shirt, some of you would be offended. Some at the impropriety, some at the shorts or sandals and some that it was not a Yankess T-shirt. If I take Diane out to dinner, I put on something she thinks I look good wearing because I want to please her.
The point is that there is a reason we dress however we do. The question of whether what we wear is appropriate before God or not will not be answered by measuring hem lines and the amount of skin showing, it will be based on our purpose and whether the style fits within Biblical parameters of modesty. Lets look at modesty first, and then give further examination to motives.
Most modesty issues will be taken care of by having the proper motives for how you dress, but even with proper motives, there are some Biblical guidelines to help. This issue comes down to revealing more of yourself than is proper. What is the basis for this issues and how much is too much?
There are those who advocate nudity as a good thing even saying that since it is the way we are born, then it is natural and the way that God intended it. Many in the art world, including professing Christians, claim that the naked human body is part of God’s wonderful creation and therefore an appropriate art form. Under these paradigms revealing all or part of your body is acceptable and just a matter of taste. Frankly, I would agree with them except that all of mankind has a sin problem that has perverted what God intended and made nakedness shameful.
In Genesis 2 we find the recounting of the story of the creation of Adam and Eve. At the end of that chapter we find the statement “and the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” That is the way God had intended it and there was no perversion of God’s design in their minds. But things radically changed in Genesis 3. The serpent deceived Eve leading to both her and Adam breaking God’s commandment not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Gen. 3:7 we find that the immediate result of this sinful disobedience was that “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and the sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.” In verse 8 we find that when they heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden, they hid themselves from God. The reason, verse 10 reveals, is that they were afraid of God because they were naked. Why would they be afraid of God seeing them without clothes? After all, God created them that way and they had not been ashamed up until this point in time. This was not embarrassment. You can be embarrassed because you get a run in your stocking or a stain on your clothes. Shame speaks of guilt. They were afraid of God because they had lost their innocence and their nakedness brought an awareness of their guilt before God in breaking His commandments. The same is still true today. Throughout the rest of the Bible, shame is attached to nakedness. Even those who advocate nudity do not walk around naked in public, and it is not just because of nudity laws. The inherent shamefulness is demonstrated by the actor or actress who is going to exposes herself to millions of people on film but does not stand around the set naked. They keep covered until they do their scene. You might find an exception to this here or there, but such people have seared their conscience.
Without going into all the many Scriptural references to nakedness in the Bible, such as Genesis 9:22-23; Lamentations 1:8; Leviticus 18:6- 19, etc., “nakedness” refers to the improper exposure of the male or female private areas, and you know what I am talking about. Such exposure is absolutely immodest. The only proper exposure would be between husband and wife (Song of Solomon, Hebrews 13:4), clinical medical exams, and for those caring for someone incapable of caring for themselves, such as parents dressing and cleaning up their young children or a nurse caring for an invalid. Why is that true?
In the medical clinical situation and for those caring for invalids or young children, there is not a sexual connotation for most people. However there must be safeguards put in place to prevent those who are that depraved from harming others and punishing them if they do. With very young children, there are no sexual thoughts, but as they get older those thoughts will start creeping in. That is why we want to keep them from improper exposure and protect their innocence as long as possible. What is innocent nakedness in a mixture of 2 and 3 year olds, is not wise among 6 & 7 year olds and is shameful among teenagers.
In the case of marriage, passages such as Song of Solomon and Proverbs 5:15-19 portrays God’s approval of marital love. It is also important to understand what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:3,4 ” Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband [does]; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife [does.]” When I got married, my body became the property of Diane and her body became my property. In a real sense, we belong to each other. (So much for the argument that abortion is about a woman’s right over her body. She does not have that right). If you are exposing more of yourself than is proper, you are violating the rights of your spouse. If you are single and doing this, then you are compromising the responsibility of your father to protect you and you are taking away something that belongs only to your future spouse. Now lets expand this into the area of motive.
Why do you dress like you do? Ladies, whose attention and approval are you trying to gain? What does your manner of dress communicate about your character. Even if you are ignorant of what you are communicating, you are projecting an image. If you are dressing in a manner so that you are sexually appealing to a man, then don’t be surprised at the kind of man that becomes interested in you.
Proverbs 7 warns godly men about those who are “dressed as a harlot.” The godly man follows the example of Job who had made a covenant with his eyes not to gaze at the virgin (Job 31:1). What should the godly man be looking for? The woman that follows the principles given by both Peter and Paul. 1 Peter 3:3,4 admonishes women, “And let not your adornment be [merely] external– braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but [let it be] the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” Paul tells women in 1 Timothy 2:9,10, “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.”
This does not mean that godly women cannot dress in a way that shows the grace and beauty of womanhood, but it does mean that you do not dress to flaunt your beauty. What does your manner of dress reveal about the condition of your heart? A godly woman’s wardrobe will draw attention to her godly character which is most clearly revealed in her face. Her desire is to have the beauty of Jesus Christ shine through her. The ungodly will dress to draw attention herself and the sexual nature of her body. Tragically, much of the current fashion styles are of this nature and many Christians will wear them because they want to identify with those who are popular in society and be thought of as fashionable, or even worse, they like the attention they receive from men. The fashion industry is interested in your money, not your purity. My own conclusion is that much of the fashion and entertainment industries work together and that many of the designers and promoters in those industries also have an evil agenda to continue to morally corrupt American society. Which concerns you more: appearing godly or fashionable?
There is one more very important aspect to all of this, and that is the effect of your manner of dress on men. If you are either a distraction or worse, a cause of them to stumble over you in their thoughts, then you may be culpable in their sin. In case you were not aware of it yet, part of God’s design of men is that they are naturally visually attracted to women. It can take a lot of self-control on a man’s part not to let that part of him lead him into unrighteousness. It takes maturity to come to the place that Job did in making a covenant with his eyes not to look. If you dress in a way that brings attention to your godly character and directs the eyes to focus on your face, then it makes it easy for us men to keep our eyes where they belong. If you dress in a way to call attention to other parts of your body, then you must realize that you are putting a stumbling block in front of most men. At the very least it shows selfishness and an unloving spirit. It certainly breaks the command in Philippians 2:3,4 to be of a humble mind and regard others as more important than yourself and look out for their interests. Do men look at your face or something else?
Some years ago we had a woman that dressed in a manner that I would hesitate to call immodest, but it was provocative enough that a couple of men were distracted by it. I talked with the men about how they could keep from being distracted and one of our deaconesses talked with her to let her know she needed to be a little more careful. The tragedy was that instead of being concerned about her negative effect on them, she became self-centered and upset that men at church might look at her inappropriately and she left as if that would solve her problem. What about all the other men who are not Christians that are trying to keep their minds pure but will leer at any woman who dresses to be sexually attractive? Ladies, be careful how you dress because you do have an impact on other people.
We have a modesty check for you that will point out specific areas to look for before you leave the house. We are not instituting some sort of dress code. We will not be requiring a certain style or measuring hem lines, but we do want to help you pursue holiness in this area as well as all others. We want you to think before you act and consider carefully why you wear the clothes that you do. Are you reflecting godliness or the values of our fallen society?
Let me add that these same principles apply to you men as well. Why do you wear what you do? What image are you trying to portray and why? Is your manner of dress respectable and honoring to God, or is it reflective of our unrighteous and self-centered society?
One last area I need to cover under this topic is the issue of how to dress when you come to church. Again, we do not have any dress code, other than modesty, for there is no Biblical dress code. Men do not have to wear ties and women do not have to wear skirts. I want you here and will welcome you whether you come in a Tuxedo, a sweat suit or anything in between. However, let me challenge you to think through this area too with the same basic criteria. The earlier quotes from the apostles Paul and Peter make it clear that coming together to worship God is not a time to show off your wealth with jewelry and fancy clothes. However, neither it is a time to become so casual that the major concern becomes being comfortable. Simply consider what you are coming here to do – to corporately worship the creator of the Universe who is your sovereign Lord. Does your manner of dress match that purpose. If you are convinced in your own mind that it does, then great, for the principle of Romans 14 applies and you stand before God for judgement, not any of us. If you are not convinced, then give some thoughtful consideration of what will match that purpose and seek to worship our God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, which includes, yes, even your manner of dress.
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Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children : Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times “dancing,” “dress” or”clothing” are mentioned in the sermon 2) Discuss with your parents what is appropriate and inappropriate dancing and how modesty should reflect in how we dress.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What are some of the reasons that different people dance? Is it okay for a Christian to dance? If not, why not, if so, under what circumstances? Why do so many Christians in American society object to dancing? What are the characteristics of different types of dancing presented in the Bible? What principles can you draw from these examples to help you discern what is appropriate and inappropriate dancing? What types of dancing would you prohibit your teenage children from doing? What determines “fashion” in our society? What factors determine what you will wear and where and when you would wear it? Is modesty just a question of taste or style? Define modesty in your own words. Find scriptural support for your definition. What is immodesty? Generally describe what you would consider modest and immodest. Why do people dress immodestly? Why should Christians strive to be modest in their dress? How does your dress reflect your heart and your relationship with the Lord? What do current fashions tell us about our society? How would you react if someone told you that you were dressed immodestly? How would you tell someone they were dressed immodestly? How much of your flesh can you reveal before it become shameful? Who does your body belong to? Why does God provide us food? How does God want you view your food? Is it sinful to be fat? Support your answer with Scripture. What is gluttony? What are symptoms of gluttony? Can a skinny person be a glutton? What should your mind dwell on?
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Sermon Notes – August 3, 2003
Holy & Free Part 3 – Dancing & Dress
Dressing for Church
For comments, please e-mail gbcwfny@Juno.com