So, should we just sidestep issues of modesty if they are liable to cause division among God’s children, focusing instead on only the Scriptures that unite us? Is division always from the devil?
There is an idea that is being perpetuated today that anything that causes division must be bad. I do not believe this reasoning is biblical. Scripture should ultimately unite believers in the cause for Christ so they can serve Him to the best of their ability while on earth. Without it, there would be no common ground between us. The gospel brings together people of different backgrounds, races, sexes, and social standings, equalizing all in the sight of God as brothers and sisters who are all one in Jesus. The Word of God reconciles man to God and man to his fellow man through forgiveness and compassion, when it is received with an open heart and joy. Much division in the church is often unnecessary, especially when it occurs over petty, trivial squabbles between members of a congregation. These kinds of arguments were spoken against in the Bible in passages such as Romans 16:17, 2 Timothy 2:23, and Titus 3:9. Example: “Oh that Sister Sandpaper over there always has to be the center of attention, and her remarks are so tactless! And she thinks she has to be in charge of church hospitality, of all things! I should be the one to host the ladies’ luncheon instead of her!” Such controversies should be avoided and forbearance should be the guiding rule. These kinds of division are clearly discouraged in Scripture.
Paul in Romans 14 also gave two specific examples that pertain to unnecessary division: dietary regulations and keeping certain days, both of which pertain to the ceremonial law. He encourages those who do not see eye to eye in these respects to walk with grace and consideration. Someone who is “weak in the faith,” that is, has not yet realized that he is not obligated to observe the ceremonial law because of his spiritual immaturity, should be received with love and not hostility. Because of this, flexibility should be exercised when someone is a babe in Christ during this critical stage of their growth. Hostility towards this matter of indifference to God may cause him to despise the children of the Lord as hypocrites and forsake fellowshipping with his brethren. It grieves our Lord when such unnecessary division occurs because it hinders the ministry of the body to the world of the lost. For that reason, all efforts should be made to maintain harmony between believers when the truth of God’s authoritative Word is not in question among the spiritually mature. Our goal should not be division, but if one of the indirect results of declaring the truth is division, then so be it.
Jesus said in John 14:15
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
That includes the small ones. But the commandments of our Lord are not restricted to just the red letters. The commandments of God are also the commandments of Jesus, for the two are one. God’s commandments are found throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Matthew 5:19 says
“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
In light of this verse, we dare not override something in Scripture with our own judgments when God has given us a binding commandment. According to the Words of Jesus, the one who does this is going to be demoted in heaven to the lowest level. God, and only God, is the one who can pronounce that one of His commandments no longer applies to us today.
The Pharisees gained a reputation for themselves of emphasizing the trivial. They often did so in ways that were not expected of Scripture because they wanted to make themselves look better than other people. Jesus often rebuked them for this. But when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for missing the big picture, He did not tell them to forget about the little things of Scripture – rather, He commended adherence to small things as well.
“But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Luke 11:42)
Both the big and the small are important to God, and it is not for man to decide what is important or unimportant in his own eye.
If matters of woman’s dress were left untouched by Scripture, there would be no good reason to bring them up if it only brought division. If it wasn’t, it would be easier to unify believers over this matter today. So we have to decide: is the modesty a scriptural issue? Yes, it is, because 1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Corinthians 11 and other such passages are scripture. For better or for worse, one of the results of declaring the unadulterated Word of God (which includes the head covering and matters of women’s dress) is division. The spiritual truths of God do not always bring unity; in many cases, they divide – even among His own people – partly because it is easier for many to hear and readily embrace teachings that appeal to their emotions than teachings that are so contrary to their strongly held sentiments and the practices of the world around them. Some, upon hearing the truth, will accept it with humility even if, in their finite, human understanding, they know they will never fully grasp all of its implications. Some have been blinded by the opinions of people they hold in high regard, grasping at straws to explain it away. Others choose to resist the Holy Spirit out of pride and ignore His teachings as far as they pertain to their lives, refusing to consider anything foreign or unappealing. Jesus knew this would happen, and he knew that not all division was bad, though it was unfortunate that the different conditions of people’s hearts would produce it. (Matthew 13) He said,
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”(Matthew 10:35)
Following Jesus comes at a cost – sometimes at the cost of one’s familial relationships. If it were not so, He would not have told us that we would have to take up our cross daily to follow Him. If it were not so, He would not have told us that we would have to lay down our lives and commit them to His service to be His disciples. If it were not so, He would not have told us not to be surprised when we are persecuted. Jesus blessed those who are willing to lay down their relationships with the most intimate members of their life for His sake in face of persecution. This is often the case with believers in an unbelieving family, but it sometimes is in the case of believers. It should not be the case – believers should be reputed for their unity – but it can be.
Because we don’t live in a perfect world even as Christians, not everyone will agree on a principle in God’s Word for one reason or another. That is why there are so many church denominations today. However, division is sometimes necessary when a principal in God’s Word is being contradicted. Take any hot-button issue of today, maybe the issue of abortion. Any conservative Church would have a serious problem with some pastor that lobbies for “Women’s Choice” (aka the horrendous murder of unborn infants by abortion) in its pulpit! Is it reasonable to insist that there should be no discussion or debate amongst its members about that subject? Should we tell everybody who disagrees to hush? What if gay marriage was being defended by ministers to your congregation? Should we close the subject up to avoid dissonance? No. The relevancy of God’s Word is in question. Deeply held values are being attacked. Doubts are being planted in the minds of the ignorant. Sometimes lives are even at stake. And it all hinges on one thing: the authority of the Bible. Jesus knew He would cause division. Jesus came anyway.
Now, the level of division occurs on a scale. Some issues in the Bible are worthy of splitting a church, while merely cause disagreement among believers. This section is not going to go into which issues are worthy of splitting a church and which ones aren’t for the simple fact that I am not qualified to answer such a question. What, then, is the answer division over such a passage as the head covering? Is it to split a church? I don’t think so, but is it to just breeze past the teachings of God that cause conflict so as to avoid any kind of disagreement? Should our cry be, “Unity at all costs,” even if the cost is the most precious earthly possession we have – God’s Word? Do we forfeit all of the divisive doctrines of God’s Word (such as salvation only through Jesus Christ alone, the reality of hell, Satan and his demons, the wrath of God against all forms of sin) in favor of supposed unity? To do so would marginalize the Bible in the Church and stifle the message of the holy, pure, perfect Word of God through silence. That would not be truly loving our Lord.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.” (John 14:23, 24)
We do not want to set out to cause division, but we do not want to forfeit the Word of God. You must be willing to love Jesus and His words more than the appearance of outward harmony among believers. Not only would bypassing Scriptural issues show the fading love for our Savior and His precious instructions and sayings by which we live, withholding willfully the revelation knowledge of the Scriptures from the body would be the height of irresponsibility as a teacher or learner of the Bible. We are called to do and to teach the principles set forth in the Bible with boldness, despite the results of division. And division should not occur when God’s people heed His commands without contentions and strives. Grappling with a matter is one thing, but rejecting openly and turning the pages of the Bible into Swiss cheese it is another.
Really, when truth is preached, division should not occur. Truth should unite the body. The division occurs when one of two things are happening: either the teaching is not true and the congregation is divided for the sake of God’s Word, or the teaching is true and the congregation is offended and splits. In the first case, the fault does not lie with the congregation for the division. It lies with the teacher who is erroneous. In the second case, the fault lies with the congregation for not harkening to the Word of the Lord and the division should not occur! If either the offended congregation or the heretical teacher cannot present a sound, scriptural case for their actions, there is no just reason for them to split and division is forbidden. That is what we have to determine in order to ascertain if division is bad or not.
Our love for Jesus is should be evident in our heartfelt obedience to His word. Someone who claims to love the Lord but does not see His fruit in their lives should question themselves to see if their faith is genuine. (2 Corinthians 13:5) Are not the words of the Bible the very words of our Lord? Does Jesus agree or disagree with the rest of Scripture? Then if the head covering actually is something that should apply to us today, it would be a commandment of our Lord. The Bible is God’s precious, infallible Word and Jesus is God, the Word who dwelt among us. (John 1:1, John 1:14, John 5:18, John 8:28, John 10:30, Col 2:9, Phil 2:5, Psalm 45:6, Psalm 110:1) God wouldn’t waste His time telling us things if they didn’t matter! It would be a serious thing for any Bible teacher to stand up and deliberately mislead anyone over even the smallest of Scriptural commandments because it is all important.
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3)
What better way for us to express our love for our Lord than to guard every aspect of His precious Word zealously, the most valuable tangible treasure we have while we are on this earth? In fact, we are instructed to contend for it.
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” (Hebrews 2:1) “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:9)
How can we “exhort and convince the gainsayers” unless we pipe up when the Word is challenged? How can we contend for the faith if we are too squeamish to bring contrary matters to light?
By the Word of the Lord we are strengthened in our times of weakness, comforted in times of mourning, instructed in times of edification and found in times of wandering. It teaches us how to interact with others, God, and understand ourselves clearly. It leads us on the narrow path, brings conviction into the heart of the sinner through the Holy Spirit. Without it, we would have no way to discern truth from error and test the spirits. It is not for us to decide what is or is important in God’s sight if He mentions it specifically in His Word. Here is another thought: if we go out and contend with sword over the issues where there is no battle, then we have failed in our mission. We need to be on the alert as Christians and assess the situation. What issues are being attacked by the enemy today? Where is the fight at? Do we need to take back any territory we have lost to him? If we refuse to do this, then little by little, yard by yard, mile by mile we will lose everything but a shadow of what it means to be a Christian. It will take time, but if we refuse to take a stand when a truth of God is under assault, eventually we will look around and wonder why we have been conquered. We have got to wake up and be aware of what is happening.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…” (1 Peter 5:8)
However, I would argue that modesty is not a small matter. What makes something a “small matter” in Scripture, if there really is such a thing? Is it the amount of words dedicated to it compared to the amount of words in the rest of the Bible? If one determines if modesty is a small matter by the time devoted to other nonrelated Biblical issues such as the Trinity, salvation, baptism and other popular themes to the time spent on the head covering, then one might conclude that the women’s dress is not talked about much and is therefore a “small issue.” The problem with this method is that it one should not determine the weight of an issue by comparing it with unrelated subjects, but with related material. When we weigh the head covering with Scriptures about clothing instead of with unrelated passages, we find that, interestingly enough, there is no other item of women’s apparel in Scripture to which more time is devoted! Our human minds would reason that the clothing that covers the rest of the body would take precedence as far as time devoted, but it doesn’t. The only passages that set the standard for women’s clothing besides 1 Corinthians 11 are in 1 Peter and 1 Timothy, concerning modesty and not wearing gold, pearls and costly array. The passage on the head-covering is in fact the largest passage in the Bible devoted to clothing, other than the high priestly garments! That should tell us something about it being a “small issue.”
Continue on to Where is the Woman’s Place?…