Should Christians Dye Their Hair?

I realize many people have never even paused to consider the possibility that God might care about any aspect of our outward appearance. Others understand that God does mandate a specific criteria of external holiness disciplines. Most sincere Christians have some awareness that God requires us to be modest, maintain gender distinctions, and avoid vanity in our attire. Among apostolics, there are certainly some disagreements regarding how those standards should be applied orthopraxically, but they are generally acknowledged as orthodoxically sound beliefs.

Many generations ago, hair dying was frowned upon and often outright forbidden across denominational lines. There was an almost ecumenical Christian stance against the practice of changing hair color. As with many other standards, over time, most denominations and religious affiliations softened or outright reversed their stance on the issue of hair dye.

I grew up in a holiness setting that strictly opposed the use of hair dye. I never had the slightest interest in dying my hair and didn’t think much about the issue at all (even though I grew up in the nineties when guys were obsessed with bleaching their hair). I vaguely remember being mildly surprised as a teenager when I realized no Bible verse says, “Thou shalt not dye thy hair.” But even with my limited teenage intellect, I knew I didn’t need a “Thou-shalt-not” verse for everything. More often than not, Scripture gives us a principle or a fundamental truth that should be practically applied to every area of our lives. Biblical principles should shape a Christian’s worldview and lifestyle.

More often than not, Scripture gives us a principle or a fundamental truth that should be practically applied to every area of our lives. Biblical principles should shape a Christian’s worldview and lifestyle.

Historically, apostolics have contended that our doctrine (orthodoxy) comes before and informs our behavior (orthopraxy). There’s an old saying, “You get what you preach.” Oddly, my denomination has stood against hair dye for many years, yet I can’t remember ever hearing a single sermon about it. I can’t even remember a passing reference to it in a sermon. So, it’s no wonder that hair dying is becoming more common and more controversial in holiness circles. In fact, this subject has become one of the most common questions I receive as a pastor and a blogger.

Regardless of your spiritual background or current view, please read with a prayerful and open mind to the Scriptures and principles presented below.

Scriptures Favorable View of Age and Gray Hair

“Thou shalt rise up before the hoary (gray) head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:32).”

The entire book of Leviticus is a call for God’s people to be a holy (separated) people because we serve a holy God (Leviticus 19:2). The word “holy” is used 152 times in Leviticus. While some of Leviticus is strictly ceremonial, much of it is just as relevant to daily Christian life as the Ten Commandments. Many of the instructions found in Leviticus give practical guidance for properly obeying the Ten Commandments. For example, Leviticus 19:32 incapsulates a pragmatic way to obey commands number five and ten; “Honor thy father and thy mother… that thy days may be prolonged… (Deuteronomy 5:16)” and “Thou shalt not covet… (Exodus 20:17)”. By respecting elders, we automatically honor our aged parents. Interestingly, the fifth commandment is the only commandment with a blessing immediately attached. By respecting our parents (and elders), we access the blessing of prolonged life. If we honor age, we will not be tempted to covet our neighbor’s youthfulness.

If we honor age, we will not be tempted to covet our neighbor’s youthfulness.

Leviticus 19:32 connects the fear (reverence) of the Lord with respect for elders. To despise eldership is to disrespect the “Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9)”. The mandate to stand when elders approach as a gesture of respect is still acknowledged in some modern cultures. Tragically, we primarily see this level of intentional outward respect being abandoned in American culture. Why? Because, like the ancient Greeks, American culture practically worships youth and beauty. Remember, the ancient Greeks popularized the mythical “Fountain of Youth.” Alexander the Great searched in vain for that mysterious wellspring of eternal youthfulness. Most people spend an astronomical amount of time and money trying to conceal any outward indications of aging: Hair dye, make-up, Botox, liposuction, topical serums, and on and on. All promise to conceal a person’s physical “flaws” and convolute their age. The billions of dollars happily paid for those products testify to the extreme vanity of our society. When a person intentionally conceals their age, they practice deception, reveal inward vanity, disrespect elders, and deprive younger generations of the ability to give that person the honor they deserve.

When a person intentionally conceals their age, they practice deception, reveal inward vanity, disrespect elders, and deprive younger generations of the ability to give that person the honor they deserve.

In one of Aesop’s fables, a man with black hair mixed with gray had two lovers, one old and one young. The old one wanted him to look old, so she pulled out his black hair, while the young one wanted him to look youthful and pull out his gray hair. As a result, he was left entirely bald. Many humorous observations and morals have been attributed to this fable, but it certainly illustrates the societal pressure to resist aging. But age is relentless, and it just can’t be denied in the end.

Biblically speaking, gray hair is an honored outward symbol of wisdom and maturity. Certain realms of wisdom can only be acquired by experience and by enduring trials that strip away youth’s immaturity and naivety. Artificially changing that gray hair (the sign of old age and experience) is a denial of the primary process by which wisdom is obtained.

Artificially changing gray hair (the sign of old age and experience) is a denial of the primary process by which wisdom is obtained.

Furthermore, masking God-given gray hair includes a rejection of the responsibility that is required by age and wisdom. Some people never grow in wisdom; therefore, they want their appearance to match their maturity level. Since they refuse to stop acting young, they want their appearance to match how they behave. This is dishonesty to self. When they look in the mirror at their dyed hair, it makes them feel better. Why? Because they hide the truth from themselves. However, it has the reverse effect. Dyed hair typically makes its wearer look synthetic and even older than the age they are trying to deny.

“The hoary head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31).”

Gray hair, in the eyes of God, is a crown of glory. To be righteous and silver-haired is a God-given privilege. Just living long enough to acquire a single strand of gray hair is a blessing that should never be taken for granted. The person who dyes their hair has chosen to please the eyes of men rather than the eyes of God. They disrespected their own dignity and tossed aside God’s blessing. Again, this reveals a heart of vanity and pride that has spurned honor and humility. Why are these scriptures even in the Bible? If nothing else, it teaches us that God likes righteous people with gray hair. Of course, it means more than just that; however, even if that was all it revealed, that should be enough to give us pause before changing our natural hair color. Even more simplistically, changing hair color is like telling God he didn’t do a good job.

What else is a crown of glory in Scripture?

That’s an important question considering we know that gray hair is a crown of glory. Jesus Christ himself is a crown of glory for His people (Isaiah 28:5). Jesus Christ is a crown of glory to God (Isaiah 62:3). Remember, there was nothing about Jesus that was beautiful in the eyes of men (Isaiah 53:2). Yet, what was ugly in the eyes of men was beautiful to God. It’s critically important to remember that God’s definition and standards of beauty are often counterintuitive to us because we live in a corrupted carnal world. God-fearing people must always be wary of allowing the culture to dictate and define beauty for them. Here’s another verse that gives us insight into what God considers beautiful:

It’s critically important to remember that God’s definition and standards of beauty are often counterintuitive to us because we live in a corrupted carnal world.

God-fearing people must always be wary of allowing the culture to dictate and define beauty for them.

“The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the grey head (Proverbs 20:29).”

Once again, Scripture emphasizes God’s standard of beauty: Age and wisdom are desirable things that should clothe us with dignity. To reject that symbol is to reject God’s design for our lives.

“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away (1 Peter 5:4).”

We receive a natural crown of glory (gray hair) through the process of old age and righteousness (Proverbs 16:31). We will receive a spiritual crown of glory when Jesus comes for His people. Righteous people with gray hair are a prophetic symbol of righteous people with their eternal crown. People who dye their hair break this spiritual and prophetic symbolism in their attempt to deny reality.

Righteous people with gray hair are a prophetic symbol of righteous people with their eternal crown. People who dye their hair break this spiritual and prophetic symbolism in their attempt to deny reality.

Modern Promotion of Hair Dye

The New Yorker has a fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell entitled, True Colors: Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America. It’s a lengthy read but worth your time if you care to understand the original psychological mindset behind hair dye. It’s no secret that the now multi-billion-dollar hair dye industry first blossomed by promoting the reimagining (or reinventing) of self. The psychology of hair dye for women emerged like a rebellious monster from postwar feminism. Hair dye has become synonymous with vanity, sinful lifestyle changes, sensuality, sexuality, and dissatisfaction with God’s original artistry.

The psychology of hair dye for women emerged like a rebellious monster from postwar feminism. Hair dye has become synonymous with vanity, sinful lifestyle changes, sensuality, sexuality, and dissatisfaction with God’s original artistry.

Statistics indicate that a whopping 75% of American women dye their hair, while only about 11% of American men use hair dye. Those remarkable statistics give deep insights into the hyper-sexualized and fantasy induced psyche of the average American woman. On average, women feel intensely dissatisfied with their natural appearance. That’s a genuine tragedy with dangerous implications. The unstoppable rise of social media has only added to this ongoing problem. It would be tough to deny that the drastic increase of female depression and suicide is directly linked to the unrealistic expectations of so-called beauty our culture places on women (and young girls too).

It would be tough to deny that the drastic increase of female depression and suicide is directly linked to the unrealistic expectations of so-called beauty our culture places on women (and young girls too).

Hair dye is just one aspect of the overall pressure that women feel to cover their “flaws” or “enhance” their beauty. Of course, this is mostly because men and the media have objectified women ad nauseam. Also, many women place these unreal expectations on other women as well. Society puts overwhelming pressure on women to synthesize their appearance in the name of fashion and beauty. These standards of beauty are incompatible with God’s standards of holiness.

Society puts overwhelming pressure on women to synthesize their appearance in the name of fashion and beauty. These standards of beauty are incompatible with God’s standards of holiness.

The Beauty of Holiness

“O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness… (Psalm 96:9)”.

Holiness is beautiful! God created every individual with unique beauty. To reject holiness and God’s artistry is an insult to God. Furthermore, men who do not view godly women as beautiful are carnal and corrupted by the world’s cheap enticements. Women who despise holiness are held captive by crushing societal peer pressure or their inward vanity. It’s essential to understand the duality of motives for synthesizing appearance; some women synthesize to fit in (peer pressure), while some synthesize to stand out (vanity). Both explanations are highly problematic for differing reasons.

Holiness is beautiful! God created every individual with unique beauty. To reject holiness and God’s artistry is an insult to God.

To be sure, men struggle in these areas as well. However, in the context of hair dye (and other body modifications), men feel less pressure and don’t battle these temptations nearly as often as women do. God desires men and women to be free from the shackles of envy, pride, vanity, objectification, insecurity, shame, and worldly expectations.

“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… (Psalm 139:14)”.

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ (1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV)”.

Practical Objections to Hair Dye

Hair dying is a chemical process. Almost all hair dye requires bleaching before color is added. Typically, ammonia is used, which causes terrible (sometimes irreparable) damage to hair follicles. Ironically, many people who avoid chemicals in every other area of life infuse their hair with harsh chemicals regularly. Now, because of vanity or peer pressure, many people have violated another area of holiness, the significance of hair as a spiritual covering (1 Corinthians 11:3-16). Damaging the hair, which is tremendously spiritually crucial to God, demonstrates a callousness towards God’s natural order. We would never risk damaging something so spiritually precious unless: One, we don’t have a real revelation of the spiritual significance of hair. Two, we are blinded by vanity (or worldly pressure) and don’t care about things that matter to God.

Furthermore, studies indicate that hair dye is directly linked to cancer, especially among women, which makes sense because women use hair dye far more exclusively than men. Most effective hair dyes contain carcinogens, which are known to be cancer-causing. Increasingly, health experts are trying to steer women clear of hair dye. Notably, many doctors encourage pregnant women to discontinue the use of hair dye during pregnancy. The dangers of long-term hair dye use are known but mostly ignored by a culture obsessed with outward vanity.

The Biblical View of Vanity

The word vanity pops up a lot when talking about any form of outward holiness. Vanity is one of those catch-all words that people throw around without fully understanding what it means. Biblically, it has a spectrum of meanings that can be used differently in a variety of situations. In essence, the Bible gives lots of instructions on how to think about ourselves inwardly. That inward transformation will always be outwardly visible (clothing, body language, conversation, actions, ethics, morals, integrity, social interaction).

“Favor [is] deceitful, and beauty [is] vain: [but] a woman [that] feareth the LORD, she shall be praised (Proverbs 31:30)”.

Proverbs 31 gives the biblical template of a godly virtuous woman. In this God-ordained description of ideal femininity, the focus is not on outward vanities. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the condition of her heart and her relationship with God.

Here vanity means empty pleasure; vain pursuit; idle show; unsubstantial activity. Vanity is ostentatious, arrogant, and relishes outward showiness. Vanity is the inflation of the mind; empty pride, inspired by conceit and manifested by the flaunting of personal decorations. Vanity is haughty, gaudy, and relishes in drawing attention to self.

“For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error (2 Peter 2:18).”

In the middle of Peter’s lengthy rebuke and description of false prophets, he mentions their “great swelling words of vanity.” False prophets use vain words to appeal to people’s baser instincts of carnal vanity. Vain words appeal to our lustful and vain sinful nature. This kind of preaching and thinking leads people back into the captivity of sin.

“And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them, that they should not do like them (2 Kings 17:15).”

The Bible chronicles the frequent backsliding and restoration of the Israelites. The Israelites followed empty, vain things, and they became empty and vain. Empty vanity lays the groundwork for deeper and deeper sins. As they imitated the heathens around them, they became more and more debauched in their thinking and actions. All of this started because they ignored the warnings of their elders and ancestors. Vain thought always leads to sin and sorrow.

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory… (Philippians 2:3)”.

That word “vainglory” would probably be best translated in a modern context as “empty (or vain) conceit.” Hair dye falls into the category of empty conceit.

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:24-26).”

Galatians chapter five lists the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which includes meekness, another important word for inward and outward holiness. Spirit-filled believers are mandated to crucify the affections and lusts of the flesh. We are to walk in the Spirit rather than the desires of the flesh. Spirit-led Christians do not desire “vainglory.” Meaning they aren’t conceited, and because they aren’t conceited, they aren’t envious of one another. By avoiding vanity, Christians keep themselves from envy, and they don’t provoke others to envy them either.

Genuine Christians aren’t conceited, and because they aren’t conceited, they aren’t envious of one another. By avoiding vanity, Christians keep themselves from envy, and they don’t provoke others to envy them either.

Biblical Instruction Concerning Outward Adornment

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves modestly and appropriately and discreetly in proper clothing, not with [elaborately] braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but instead adorned by good deeds [helping others], as is proper for women who profess to worship God (1 Timothy 2:9-10, Amplified),”

Here, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he gives instructions for a godly woman’s outward appearance. There’s a lot to unpack in just those two verses, but for this study, there are two relevant focuses: Discreet adornment and the forbidding of hair decorations (a woman’s glory). These principles should be considered when determining whether hair dye is an appropriate option in God’s eyes.

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV).”

Peter’s first epistle echoes Paul’s apostolic commands regarding a godly woman’s adorning. If nothing else, these passages remind us that apostolic women of faith should allow their beauty to radiate from within. Synthetic, vain, ostentatious outward attempts to change God-given beauty originates from a godless dissatisfaction with the original Creator’s design. True beauty comes from a godly spirit. Every effort to cover the master strokes of our great Creator results in a shallowness that ultimately creates an inward emptiness.

Synthetic, vain, ostentatious outward attempts to change God-given beauty originates from a godless dissatisfaction with the original Creator’s design. True beauty comes from a godly spirit.

Every effort to cover the master strokes of our great Creator results in a shallowness that ultimately creates an inward emptiness.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, Christians should refrain from dying their hair because it violates several Scriptural principles. Hair dye rejects God’s chosen symbol of righteousness, wisdom, dignity, and honor. Hair dye is an insult to God’s artistry and a rejection of His design. Hair dye endangers the health of a woman’s spiritual covering. Hair dye may very well jeopardize an individual’s physical health. Hair dye is rooted in a history of rebellion and carnality. Hair dye is intrinsically vain. And, hair dye is not consistent with the godly outward adornment mandated in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4

“Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black (Matthew 5:36).”

Obviously, this verse is not dealing with the issue of dyeing the hair. However, it is a startling revelation of the absence of hair dye in Jewish culture. I find it unlikely that Jesus would ever have said this if it was common practice to dye the hair black. It seems consistent with Scripture that the apostles and prophets of old would firmly oppose the ostentatious use of hair dye. As modern apostolics, I believe we should lovingly oppose it as well.

Huge thanks to my dear friend, Pastor Joe Campetella, for contributing to this article. His research and spiritual insight was crucial during the process of writing and reflection.

Relevant Links

TRUE COLORS: Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America by Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker

Are Hair Dyes Safe? by Ronnie Cohen, The Washington Post

Study links hair dye and hair straighteners to higher breast cancer risk, especially among black women by Scottie Andrew, CNN

Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in large percentages of U.S. population of black and white women by Carolyn E. Eberle, Dale P. Sandler, Kyla W. Taylor, Alexandra J. White, International Journal of Cancer

Hair Dye: A History by Rebecca Guenard, The Atlantic

Concerns About Hair Dye, National Capital Poison Center

Do or Dye: Why women daren’t go grey (unless they’re very brave or very young) by Karen Kay, The Guardian

Top 10 Articles of 2019

At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.

How Freakish Faith & Desperate Dilemmas Lead to the Miraculous

Humility is one of those challenging things to teach, write, or speak about because anything said sounds exceedingly, shall we say, not humble? I’ve written rather sterilely about humility here, here, and here. However, looking back, the realization washes over me that I was writing theoretically from head knowledge rather than from practical experience. To be plain, I was pridefully writing about the importance of humility. Arrogance is an interesting component of the human experience. For example, there is a mythological, nearly universally held belief that arrogance is exclusive to the rich, the powerful, the famous, the intelligent, and the beautiful. This is not so, pride is not a respecter of persons, and it will happily trap the poor, the weak, the silly, the obscure, the ugly, and the witless.

Pride is not a respecter of persons, and it will happily trap the poor, the weak, the silly, the obscure, the ugly, and the witless.

Most alarmingly, pride initially creeps into a heart like undetected cancer, attacking the healthy cells and gradually gaining greater and greater control. Like cancer, many suffer from pride long before they realize it is even in their system. The longer pride has been allowed to fester without confrontation, the more intensive the treatment process becomes. Furthermore, the certainty of a complete recovery becomes less and less assured as pride silently attacks more vital areas of the soul. Early detection can mean the difference between spiritual destruction and deliverance.

Pride initially creeps into a heart like undetected cancer, attacking the healthy cells and gradually gaining greater and greater control. Like cancer, many suffer from pride long before they realize it is even in their system.

Without being too personal, this past year (really longer) has been the most painful season of my entire life. Agonizing pain, absolute rejection, abject betrayal, and total disappointment leave an individual with a profound sense of powerlessness. The desperation that ensues leaves no room for pride. It’s almost as if God surgically removed every cancerous tumor of pride from my soul without warning or anesthesia. At first, I treated God like I treated my heart doctor as a child prepped for a fourth open-heart surgery. “Why are you hurting me?” I’d shout indignantly towards the heavens. God responded just like that doctor, “I’m trying to save your life, but the process is painful.”

There are two spiritual results of humility that we typically overlook. One, genuine humility produces desperation that encourages complete dependence upon God. Two, desperation and absolute dependence upon God set the stage for a freakish (almost nonsensical) level of faith that activates the miraculous. Oddly, humility and desperation are much closer cousins than we typically realize. And, humility and desperation are the foundation of almost every major miracle described in the Bible.

Humility produces desperation that encourages complete dependence upon God. Desperation and absolute dependence upon God set the stage for a freakish (almost nonsensical) level of faith that activates the miraculous.

Oddly, humility and desperation are much closer cousins than we typically realize. And, humility and desperation are the foundation of almost every major miracle described in the Bible.

Recently, a respected friend enlightened my thinking regarding a perplexing faith enigma in the ministry of Elijah. The enigma is this: Why would Elijah have the faith to confront the prophets of Baal and call down fire from Heaven only to flee from Jezebel and sink into suicidal despair moments later? What changed? Why the drastic difference from one moment to the next? I believe there are two reasons, but I’ll only share one now, and I’ll save the second reason for another article. We tend to think of Elijah’s showdown on the mountain as an act of confident superhuman faith. But, I think the text and the context support the thesis that Elijah was acting out of an absolute dependence that gave him no choice but to completely put his faith in God. In other words, Elijah reached a place of such deep desperation that he realized God was going to do it or he was going to die praying for God to do it.

It is not paradoxical to say that faith and despair are tightly connected in the realm of the miraculous. God does not respect desperation without faith, but faith without desperation is rarely genuine faith. I know that it takes a minute to get your head around, but Scripture overwhelmingly supports this concept. Psychologically speaking, the connection between desperation and the miraculous makes a great deal of sense. We do things we would never otherwise do when we are dangling from the end of our rope, looking down at the jagged rocks below. When we have nothing left to lose and everything to gain, we become willing to do what God has been telling us to do all along. Tepid levels of faith resist the voice of God when it thinks it still has other valid “less crazy” options.

It is not paradoxical to say that faith and despair are tightly connected in the realm of the miraculous. God does not respect desperation without faith, but faith without desperation is rarely genuine faith.

Scripture emphasizes how the woman with the issue of blood spent everything she had and tried all the “reasonable” avenues before desperately touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. Peter had nothing to lose when he stepped out onto the water. If Jesus didn’t intervene, he was likely going to die anyway. So, he stepped out onto the sea with desperation induced faith. When Moses stretched out that rod towards the Red Sea, he had no other choice but to trust God or die. Every leper that Jesus healed was already an outcast and freak in society, so they had nothing to lose by running to Jesus. What did blind Bartimaeus have to lose by ignoring the critics and screaming for Jesus to stop and have mercy upon his situation? He had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Three and a half years of drought. No revival or repentance. Elijah was lonely, righteously indignant, and bone tired. Those were the perfect ingredients for a freakish act of faith, like publicly calling down fire from the sky. Sometimes it takes a certain level of indifference towards the miracle. An attitude of almost spiritual recklessness that says, “Lord, I’m trusting you with the impossible, and if I end up looking foolish… who cares!”

Three and a half years of drought. No revival or repentance. Elijah was lonely, righteously indignant, and bone tired. Those were the perfect ingredients for a freakish act of faith, like publicly calling down fire from the sky.

Sometimes it takes a certain level of indifference towards the miracle. An attitude of almost spiritual recklessness that says, “Lord, I’m trusting you with the impossible, and if I end up looking foolish… who cares!”

Think of the humility it took for the three Hebrew boys to say, “God can save us from the fiery furnace, but even if He doesn’t, we will not bow to the king’s idol.” Almost every major act of faith comes down to the willingness to do something utterly crazy, believing that God can do anything, but inwardly determining that even if God doesn’t, you will still do the right thing. It’s nearly impossible to have that mindset until every drop of pride has been drained from your soul.

Freakish faith and desperate dilemmas are almost inseparable. You’ll likely never tell a mountain to move out of the way in Jesus’ name unless you are desperate beyond words to get to the other side. You won’t pick up your bed and walk until you stop caring what people think about you. You won’t let Jesus rub mud and spit in your blind eyes until your pride is dead. Prideful prayers don’t move God. Prideful praise offends God. But humble, desperate, freakish faith calls down fire and closes the mouths of lions. And just when everyone thinks your freakish faith has finally gotten you killed, you will answer from the pit like Daniel:

“…O king, live forever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.”

Daniel 6:21-23

Freakish faith and desperate dilemmas are almost inseparable. You’ll likely never tell a mountain to move out of the way in Jesus’ name unless you are desperate beyond words to get to the other side.

You won’t pick up your bed and walk until you stop caring what people think about you. You won’t let Jesus rub mud and spit in your blind eyes until your pride is dead.

Prideful prayers don’t move God. Prideful praise offends God. But humble, desperate, freakish faith calls down fire and closes the mouths of lions.

My Response to the Critics – Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?

With over a million clicks, the article, Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church? quickly became the most viral article in the history of Apostolic Voice. It’s still getting thousands of interactions a day, and no one is more stunned than I am about it. Often, the articles I think will be the most interesting are overlooked, and the ones I throw together quickly gain insane levels of interest. I’ve received tons of feedback about the article (more personal responses than any other post). To be fair, much of it has been very kind and supportive. Quick thanks to those who visited the French Thread store.

On the other hand, I received a lot of criticism. Some were well thought out, well-intentioned, and interesting. Others were thoughtless and hateful. My little “…latte-sipping, skinny jean, cashmere wearing liberals…” jab probably deserved some good counter punches. I don’t mind criticism; it comes with the territory. You shouldn’t write, speak, sing, or preach publicly if you’re thin-skinned.

Surprise… Surprise…

Two things did surprise me, though; the extreme emotions that people feel concerning church attire (among other things, I’ve been called legalistic, hateful, egomaniac, haughty, jerk, old-fashioned, and my personal favorite… parasitical), and the knee-jerk reactions of the critics (many responded to the article simply by reading the title and not the content). How can you debate against a proposal that you haven’t considered? It confirms that our culture is highly opinionated yet tremendously understudied. Opinions steeped in feelings rather than reflective thinking provoke strong emotional outbursts.

I usually do not write follow up responses to my own articles, but the lively debates have exposed several key issues that I feel need to be addressed and a few clarifications that need to be made. This post will probably seem a little more disjointed than my usual writings, and for that, I apologize. It’s simply easier to respond to the critics in one public setting rather than give the same responses over and over again in private messages.

Our culture is highly opinionated yet tremendously understudied. Opinions steeped in feelings rather than reflective thinking provoke strong emotional outbursts.

Clarifications & Response to the Critics

Let me be very clear, I do not believe that wearing a suit and tie will save you. I have known many tremendous Christians who didn’t wear suits or ties to church. They did, however, dress respectfully in what they considered their best. For those who accused me of “adding” to the Gospel, the article in question was not a theological discourse. It was a thoughtful discussion about what is “best” and most appropriate for corporate worship. Mainly, what is “most” favorable for fostering a respectful and worshipful environment, which should be the goal of every church service. Essentially, I was speaking culturally about spiritual things. I know. I know. Cultural debates are dangerous… try preaching about Christianity’s ongoing love affair with sports, Hollywood, sex, and immodest fashion trends.

I acknowledge there is some room for debate regarding what respectful attire looks like in American culture. The article was directed towards Western Christians who already have a deep relationship with God. I also affirm that non-believers should “come as they are,” but my prayer is that God will transform them with His Spirit (internally and externally). The demoniac ran to Jesus from the tombs naked and tormented but left clothed and in his right mind (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20). My experience has been that ultra-casual church attire is accompanied by ultra-casual worship, and ultra-casual worship is a symptom of casual dedication.

My experience has been that ultra-casual church attire is accompanied by ultra-casual worship, and ultra-casual worship is a symptom of casual dedication.

When Jacob Went to the House of God

Interestingly, when Jacob and his family went back to Bethel (literally translated, the house of God), they did four things: they got rid of their idols, they cleaned up, they changed their clothes, and they buried their earrings (Genesis 35:1-4). Concerning Genesis 35:2, the Adams Clark Commentary says:

“Personal or outward purification, as emblematical of the sanctification of the soul, has been in use among all the true worshippers of God from the beginning of the world. In many cases, the law of Moses more solemnly enjoined rites and ceremonies which had been in use from the earliest ages.”

When Jacob and his family went back to Bethel (literally translated, the house of God), they did four things: they got rid of their idols, they cleaned up, they changed their clothes, and they buried their earrings

Concerns for the Poor

Several people have objected to dressing “up” for church out of concern for how the poor or homeless might feel in the service. That’s a noble sentiment when genuine, although it’s often used as a red herring argument. First, dressing our best doesn’t have to be expensive or trendy. Second, I’ve been to many “hip” churches that dressed very casually, but their shoes cost more than my whole outfit. You can make people uncomfortable in hundreds of little ways. Third, if you live your life by this standard, you should apply it to the car you drive and the house you live in because all those things could make a poor person feel uncomfortable.

I’ve seen many poor homeless people find salvation who desperately wanted to rise out of their situation, not stay stuck there. In fact, sometimes they feel like people are condescending when they try to be “like” them (think Gucci faux grunge in the soup kitchen). The key is to treat people from every walk of life with true love and compassion. People can tell if you really care whether you’re wearing a tie or a T-Shirt.

The key is to treat people from every walk of life with true love and compassion. People can tell if you really care whether you’re wearing a tie or a T-Shirt.

Every culture has a type of attire that is culturally deemed respectful or dressy. Conversely, every culture has attire designed to be rebellious and disrespectful (think jeans that intentionally sag down to the knees). You don’t have to be a genius to know those fashion designers intentionally design clothes to make a statement of some kind. T-Shirts are just walking advertisements. There’s even a style of dress commonly referred to as a “cocktail” dress.

It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the reality that there are types of clothing that are culturally speaking, inherently disrespectful, and vice versa. For example, most American citizens still put on a suit and tie to meet the United States president at the White House. Why? As a symbol of respect and honor for the position (even if they don’t like the man).

It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the reality that there are types of clothing that are culturally speaking, inherently disrespectful, and vice versa.

Nevertheless, there’s an astonishing theme that I’ve noticed trending from the most vehement objectors; many people do not believe that a church service is special or worthy of respect or any special consideration. Most of these objectors acknowledge that certain clothing is more respectful than others but maintain that it is irrelevant because a Sunday service is no more important than getting coffee (or a beer) with friends who happen to be Christians.

Their arguments stem from the assumption that the early Church was incredibly informal and that the whole Sabbath thing is so “Old Testament” and, therefore, completely immaterial. They consider any other view to be pharisaical and legalistic (by the way, that whole “legalism” thing gets taken out of context way too often, but that’s another subject for another day).

Is Sunday the Sabbath?

So, what about the early Church? What about the Lord’s Day? Is Sunday special or not? These are crucial questions with far-reaching ramifications. Early Christians considered resurrection Sunday to be a spiritual embodiment of the Sabbath (here’s a great article that delves deeper into that subject). John the Revelator called it the “Lord’s Day (Revelations 1:10).” Literally translated, the “Lord’s Day” means “the day belonging to the Lord.” Markedly, the Holy Ghost was first poured out on a Sunday (Acts 2:1-36). Early Christians viewed the Lord’s Day with the same pious reverence with which they had previously observed the Old Testament Sabbath. Consider how the writer of Hebrews speaks of the Church:

“Wherefore we having received a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28).”

Clearly, we are to view the things of God and his Church with veneration and admiration.

Furthermore, Jesus did not say, “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against you or me.” He said, “…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”

Consider another important Scripture that gives us a glimpse into the way the apostles viewed the Church:

“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15).”

The apostle Paul was emphasizing certain parameters that should be observed within the house of God. Early church services were not unplanned gatherings without leadership or organization. It wasn’t just a coffee break or an informal get-together. It was the sacred assembly of God’s holy people (here’s an easy to read article on the biblical distinctions between private and public worship). Private worship is important but not to the exclusion of public worship. They serve different purposes, and they are both imperative to the Christian life.

Early church services were not unplanned gatherings without leadership or organization. It wasn’t just a coffee break or an informal get-together. It was the sacred assembly of God’s holy people.

The most common objections came from people who don’t think God cares how we dress under any circumstances. Modesty to them is pure legalism. Any kind of outward holiness is loathsome. Their favorite verse in the Bible happens to be an Old Testament verse, which I find interesting because this same crowd typically preaches to me about how we are no longer bound by anything in the Old Testament. They usually misquote a fragment of the verse as saying, “God doesn’t look at the outward appearance; He “only” looks at the heart.”

Does God Only Look at the Heart?

This is an important question that every Christian can and should settle once and for all. Let’s look at the actual verse in question in the original context:

“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).”

This is the scene where God was about to anoint young David through the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel. All Samuel knew is that one of Jesse’s sons had been chosen by God (1 Samuel 16:1). When he saw the older, stronger brothers, he naturally assumed one of them was God’s chosen. Especially because king Saul was a tall man with a kingly countenance (1 Samuel 9:2). But God didn’t want Samuel to make the mistake of choosing the wrong son just because of his appearance. God knew that David was a man after his own heart despite his youthful appearance and inexperience (1 Samuel 16:11-12).

1 Samuel 16:7 is among the most mishandled Scriptures in the Bible. The text does not indicate that God doesn’t care at all about outward appearance. That would contradict dozens of Old Testament (Deuteronomy 22:5, 12, Exodus 28:42-43, Ezekiel 44:17, Proverbs 7:10, Hosea 2:13, Leviticus 19:28, Genesis 17:14) and New Testament passages (1 Timothy 2:9-10, 1 Peter 3:2-5, 1 Corinthians 11:1-15, Ephesians 4:19, Galatians 5:19, Romans 12:1-2).

1 Samuel 16:7 is among the most mishandled Scriptures in the Bible. The text does not indicate that God doesn’t care at all about outward appearance. That would contradict dozens of Old Testament and New Testament passages.

The spiritual principle at work in 1 Samuel 16:7 is that God is not fooled or swayed by outward appearances alone. God is not impressed by the superficial. God has the supernatural ability to see beyond our exterior into our innermost being. He sees our true intentions, our deepest desires, and our secret longings. While a man may see physical strength, God sees spiritual weakness. Where a man may only see outward sincerity, God sees inward corruption. This is refreshing and sobering at the same time.

The spiritual principle at work in 1 Samuel 16:7 is that God is not fooled or swayed by outward appearances alone. God is not impressed by the superficial.

The Inside Scoop on Holiness

I wholeheartedly believe in outward holiness, but without inward holiness, the outward is in vain. Genuine inward holiness will produce outward expressions of holiness as well. For example, a man may love his wife with all his heart, and because of that, it affects his outward actions towards her and for her. If he abused his wife, that would be an outward display of inward problems. If he cheated on his wife, that would be an outward display of inward problems. If he wears something she genuinely hates, that would be an outward display of inward disregard. If he blatantly and publicly disrespects her, that would be an outward manifestation of an inward problem. Avoiding those things is not legalism. It’s love.

I wholeheartedly believe in outward holiness, but without inward holiness, the outward is in vain. Genuine inward holiness will produce outward expressions of holiness as well.

Modesty Always Matters

This whole discussion has brought the issue of modesty to play several times. The hermeneutical law of first mention makes the issue of modest clothing incredibly important. Remember, after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they lost their innocence and realized they were naked. In response, they inadequately covered themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). God saw that they were still immodest, so he personally made a coat of skins and clothed them sufficiently (Genesis 3:21). Modesty is a common theme that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments.

One furious individual wrote to me and said, “I wanted to speak at my church, and they told me I had to wear a collared shirt… talk about controlling.” Now I realize the Bible doesn’t condone collared shirts as sacred. And I realize collars aren’t necessarily evidence of sanctification, but doesn’t a church have the right to maintain a dress code of some kind? Most jobs have a dress code. Shouldn’t the church have some influence?

My daughter just had her first piano recital, and she was given a precise list of what-not-to-wear. We had no problem with that because we respect the institution’s stated goals of artistry and excellence. I’m not even going to bother with theological examples of authority and respect. Doesn’t common cultural decency inform us that we should have some deference to spiritual and secular authority? Apparently, it no longer does, and that’s sad.

Jesus’ Seamless Garment

You’d be surprised how many people believe Jesus dressed like a bum! Yep. I’m getting tons of emails claiming that Jesus was the son of a carpenter and probably dressed like a poor country boy. The implication being that since Jesus was poor and likely dressed poorly, we should too. One individual even claimed that carpentry should be a prerequisite for the ministry.

While I think a good argument could be made that carpentry wasn’t necessarily poverty level, it is obvious in Scripture that Jesus came from humble beginnings. However, it has no bearing on the discussion at hand. Nowhere am I indicating that poverty-stricken people should be financially irresponsible and buy fancy clothing before they attend church. Dressing “our” best may vary from person to person and from paradigm to paradigm.

To keep things interesting, let me throw out a little tidbit of information that many people overlook. As you probably know, the Bible doesn’t really say much about Jesus’ appearance or wardrobe. We can extrapolate some things based on His time’s cultural norms, but that’s about it. However, the Bible does make one mention of the Lord’s “seamless” garment (John 19:23). This is the garment that the soldiers gambled for amongst themselves. Why? Because a seamless garment was valuable. In fact, the consensus seems to be that this was the kind of garment usually owned by wealthy royalty. I don’t think this means we should all go out and buy royal garments. I’m just saying Jesus apparently wasn’t running around in rags, as many suggest.

The Vanity Objection

The final objection I’d like to address generally goes something like this, “Christians who wear suits and ties to church seem haughty, arrogant, and condescending.” Sometimes they follow up with a statement like, “It seems to me like a suit and tie fosters a spirit of vanity and showiness that would be unpleasing to God.” I know that this is often just a misperception, but I still think this is the one objection that has some real merit.

So, this is where I preach to my like-minded friends for a moment. All our dressing up out of respect for the house of God is valueless if we don’t love and respect others (1 Corinthians 13:1). If we’re condescending, unkind, derisive, or prideful, we have missed the point. My friends, I’m am imploring us all to speak the truth in love and demonstrate that holiness is inward as well as outward. If we respect God, we will respect others (Matthew 7:12, Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 2:17, John 13:34-35). Don’t let inward filth defile the beauty of outward consecration. Vanity is always wrong, no matter what we’re wearing or not wearing.

All our dressing up out of respect for the house of God is valueless if we don’t love and respect others (1 Corinthians 13:1). If we’re condescending, unkind, derisive, or prideful, we have missed the point.

Don’t let inward filth defile the beauty of outward consecration. Vanity is always wrong, no matter what we’re wearing or not wearing.

9 Signs of a Prideful Heart

God resists the proud (James 4:6), which is bad news for a church if it is full of pride. Spiritually dry and deadlocked churches are usually filled with pride. They’re spiritually stuck because God is literally resisting their efforts. What they’re doing might seem good on the surface but their motivations are displeasing to God.

Scripture is very clear about proper motivations; God doesn’t just care what we do, He cares how and why we do it. For example, God doesn’t just want us to give, He wants us to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). Jesus warned against displaying our righteousness just to be seen and admired by others, there’s no reward for that kind of conceited righteousness (Matthew 6:1). Paul even warned that preaching the Gospel must be done for the right reasons (1 Thessalonians 2:4). In a staggering display of immaturity, the disciples asked Jesus to decide who was the greatest in the kingdom; Jesus took it as an opportunity to teach them that without childlike humility they would never see the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-35).

In a generation obsessed with talent competitions and spotlights, it’s no surprise that the thirst for attention has crept into the Church. It’s evidenced in pulpits and in pews. It’s on full display if you know the signs. There are certain “tells” or “giveaways” so to speak. There really is no way to overemphasize the importance of guarding our churches against being infected with prideful leaders. Even more importantly, we should carefully monitor our own motivations and quickly adjust when and where needed. Below are nine sure signs of a prideful heart. I use this list to check my own motives and the motives of those seeking position or platform in my local church. Many of these principles are universal and can be translated into any paradigm or organization.  

  1. They want to SING but they don’t want to SERVE.

  2. They want to PREACH but they don’t want to PRAISE.

  3. They want to LEAD but they don’t like LEADERSHIP.

  4. They want to TAKE but they don’t want to GIVE.

  5. They want RESPECT but they don’t show RESPECT.

  6. They want the SPOTLIGHT but they resent SACRIFICE.

  7. They like PUBLIC EMOTIONS but they dislike PRIVATE DEVOTIONS.

  8. They are SELFISH rather than SELFLESS.

  9. They produce FOLLOWERS rather than DISCIPLES of Jesus.

Now read this list again, but this time replace “they” with “I” and be brutally honest with yourself.

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