Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Dress Standards Matter: Case Study Bob Jones University

Steve Pettit, president of Bob Jones University, just announced changes in the dress standards especially for females, two in particular:  (1) permission to wear pants or slacks to class and (2) "shorts" for athletics that rise to two inches above the knee.  It didn't seem odd, but representative of BJU and the churches that send their students there.  This really is who they are and where we are today.  Most seem to celebrate this news.

A board member reported firsthand that BJU polled "Christian schools" with students there and over 50 percent took themselves something akin to the new standard.  Pettit implied that BJU would allow for students to take a higher standard of dress than required. Those young people would suffer, I would guess, ridicule on campus even worse than a state university.

I don't want to startle you, but the more Christians look like the world, the easier it is to get along with it.  The less they do, the harder it is.  Lowering standards makes it easier for kids especially to get along with the world.  Christians should be different.  The world doesn't dress the same as a Christian.  Its views, motives, goals, and philosophy are different.  Christians should turn the world upside down, not vice versa.  We shouldn't want it to be easier to be like the world or even get along with it.  We aren't friends with it.


Some of what I've read from supporters of the new regime is that they are very happy because now young people can learn discernment by relaxing the standard. It doesn't work as an argument.  Discernment is judgment based on a standard.  If you can judge, then you have a basis for judgment.  If you can't judge, then it doesn't matter.  Part of the implementation of this change comes with implication that you can't judge by any objective standard.  Why two inches?  Why not three or four? Why no pants for class before?  Was there a biblical reason behind that?  What changed in thinking about those passages?  This is how discernment is developed, not be lowering the standard.

If standards harm young people's ability to make decisions for themselves, then you might drop all standards.  Any standard could be hindering discernment.  It is reductio ad absurdum.  Nudists walk across campus.  How could clothes be required?  It hinders discernment.  Someone is saying you can't judge things in the matters where the changes are occurring.

If something is right, then you stick with it.  You defend it.  You lose students to keep the standard, because it was right.  If it isn't right, then you explain how it was wrong.  That's how discernment is learned.  Some are using discernment and it is the leadership at Bob Jones University.  They discern that they will lose students if they keep the stricter standard.  They've studied that.  They don't believe the old standard themselves, so they won't keep enforcing it. Maybe they haven't believed it for awhile, but they did at one time believe that women should wear only dresses or skirts, and not pants nor anything above the knee.

There's a new standard for men on campus too that went unmentioned.  They are permitted now to look at women's thighs, at least two inches of them, except when a volleyball girl dives or stretches out for a ball and several more inches are exposed as the hem hikes up even further.  How much female thigh can a man be expected to see without lust?


When you look at history, it's easy to see that in dress Christians have moved with relativity to the world.  As the world changed, Christians stayed a few steps back, so that now Christian dress is more lax than the world not that long ago.  There are a few related good questions to ask.  Was the old standard a non-biblical standard?  Is the basis for the new standard the actual biblical one that overturns the old unbiblical one?  Or is this just a reaction to keep up enrollment?

The Bible is the standard, so something should be able to be proven from scripture.  It would seem that should happen either direction.  What is the objective standard?  When I watched Pettit in his presentation, he related change to the business world and asks what comes across in a professional manner.  This reads something modern and innovative into appropriateness.  The biblical concept of appropriateness relates to God and conforms to biblical living.

I believe it is true that the so-called cultural fundamentalists, which for the longest time was all fundamentalists, had not done well at instructing the biblical basis for the way they dressed.  Part of this was a widespread lack of expositional preaching.  Fundamentalists assumed rather than proved.  When dress became a major problem, it was tough to put this back in the bottle.  I don't remember my leadership in fundamentalism providing a basis for how we dressed, except for rule books.  Now fundamentalists treat dress standards like they did originate from a rule book, independent of scripture, which is false.

Two inches above the knee isn't explained from the Bible.  Whatever the reasons for skirts and dresses, there should be biblical reasons to go the other way, other than "scripture says nothing."  Scripture teaches coverage of the human body with detail about the female.  It also instructs about designed gender distinction, both Old and New Testament.  God wants His design approved by His people. It differentiates Christians from unbelievers.  Clashing with the historical teaching is also unbiblical.  Church tradition that proceeds from scripture shouldn't be overturned.  This is sola scriptura versus nuda scriptura.  Jesus was sanctified by the truth, and He expects that of saved people.


Many others say the move by BJU puts the focus back on what's important.  It's true that anything you do takes your focus off of something else.  Adding competitive sports could do that.  I played them and they take a lot of time out of your day that could be used for learning a foreign language.  BJU, I noticed in its dress standards, spends some time prohibiting tattoos and piercings other than the ear.  I say this tongue in cheek, but while I read that, I felt my consideration of the gospel waning, yet forcing myself to snap back to attention.

You can think about more than one thing at a time.  I can hold a right view of the gospel and still think about how I should dress.  They even go together.

This gospel focus reads like Pharisaism.  "I want you all to know that I can't take the time to discuss this like you can, because I am just too focused on the gospel, unlike you."  If you are focused on the gospel, you don't have time to tell people you can't focus on dress.  You just focus on the gospel and let your focus speak for itself.  Stop announcing it to the world.  It's just a scare tactic against those who want to talk about dress, to embarrass them, a kind of spiritual correctness.  I've noticed today that unless someone is talking about lowering a standard, he can't be serious about the gospel.  It's another means of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.  People who believe the gospel want to live the gospel, so they talk about how to live holy.  Dress is part of that.

Something else new that I see with the changed standard at BJU is the lost sway it once held over its graduates and all of fundamentalism.  It's lost that.  Now the school takes its cues from its constituents and feels the danger that comes with taking a stronger stand.  Rather than applying pressure, it is receiving it, and folding.  I remember when it applied it in severe fashion.  The sting of institutional censure points at the stricter churches now.  BJU is cracking those eggs to make its new omelet.  Part of it is the competition.

BJU loses more students to state universities where there are virtually no dress standards.  It can compete with schools with stricter standards by attracting students with looser ones.  It seems to be looking for its own niche that is in line with a majority of its supporting churches. It isn't leading anymore.  That's something that some would say is good.  The churches should provide the leadership.  They have the authority.  The changes at BJU are a symptom of changes in the churches.  If supporting churches want a stricter school, they'll need to provide that leadership.

My three daughters will stick out on a state campus by wearing skirts and dresses below the knee.  They're different.  Good for them.  Too bad for the others.  It's not our job to capitulate.  We take the historical, biblical view on dress.  We want others to do the same.  It's part of living for God, being a light, which only reinforces a testimony, a witness, and evangelism.  It's often a conversation starter in a world that is ignorant about what the Bible teaches about almost everything.  Jesus calls us to be with Him outside the camp.

We're saved from something unto something else.  True salvation yields sanctification.  The from something is the world, the flesh, and the devil, and the unto something is the teaching of scripture, in precept and principle.  We know how we're supposed to dress. It isn't relative.  The objectives of it actually never change.  It does matter, because old things are passed away and all things are become new.  All things.


Anonymous said...

“This is sola scriptura versus nuda scriptura.” Exactly. People wonder, “What doctrine is being violated here?” This one. The one that is supposed to be so primary—Sola Scriptura, the sufficiency of scripture. Does the Bible really give us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” or not.
In these discussions (like the one on SI), people who support the looser standards always want to say that this has nothing to do with doctrine. Tonight, Lord willing, I’ll be preaching on I Timothy 6:1-5. In that passage it says that we ought to be concerned about godly behavior “that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” Paul goes on to warn against those who “teach otherwise”. Those who teach otherwise are not consenting to “wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness.”

It sounds to me like there is “doctrine which is according to godliness”. It sounds to me from this passage that God is pretty concerned that our doctrine that we teach be that which has an end effect of godly behavior. But fundamentalism now wants to totally divorce doctrine from godliness as if they have nothing to do with one another. It’s what they seem to be most concerned about. It is what generates dozens of comments on SI where other, supposedly more “essential” topics are virtually ignored. They want to say that those who are concerned about such things are the “cultural fundamentalists”, thereby somehow legitimizing their lack of concern for such “silly” issues (lack of concern = 80+ comments, I guess).

Time and time again, we see this happen: standards change dramatically, and the claim is that “our doctrine remains unchanged”, and then everybody is shocked to find out later that the doctrine has indeed changed. I don’t believe it anyways, because God says that the two are intricately linked with implications concerning God’s name and doctrine being blasphemed, and the words of our Lord Jesus Christ not being consented to.

But, of course this is all non-essential anyways, right? There are no fundamentals of the faith discussed in I Timothy 6:1-3, right? But yet God says, “from such withdraw thyself” (v.5).

Mat Dvorachek

Lance Ketchum said...

You said, "the more Christians look like the world, the easier it is to get along with it." The contradistinction is that in this process these people then radicalize true Christianity in the eyes of society pushing its viability and veracity to the fringe of society.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Very good addition. I would say, exactly. Dress is a doctrinal issue. It's taught in scripture.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Also very very good. Christians themselves do the most to radicalize Christianity.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I thought about lengthening this post, but with one day left, I'm going to just write it in comment form. I've read some different comments elsewhere related to this subject online. I'm going to summarize them and answer the summary.

1) One man mentioned how that John MacArthur is dealing with gospel issues related to the social justice warriors, and here fundamentalists are dealing with lesser or non-essential issues with dress, showing how much more serious the evangelicals are.

I dealt with this actually in the article and you can think about both. Evangelicals long ago capitulated on dress. It's not an issue with them, of course. They send their girls to beaches with bikinis and that's not a fellowship issue for them. On the other hand, they are enmeshed in the social justice issue, so they do have to deal with it. That's why MacArthur has to write on this subject. I'm happy MacArthur is writing about it, but he's got to write about it, because his own people are affected by it.

The dress issue relates to the gospel, because it relates to (1) what the grace of God is, (2) how the gospel changes someone's life, (3) who God is: His holiness, righteousness, (4) the believer's affections for God, cursed is anyone who loves not the Lord Jesus Christ and the dress issue relates to love for Jesus Christ, and (5) true repentance, new creature, old things passed away. "The faith" is everything scripture teaches, and it is a cohesive whole, like the nature of God. To treat it a different way is a version of the deconstruction of Christianity.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Someone else wrote verbatim:

2) In what way do these new dress standards violate Biblical prescriptions regarding modesty and distinctions in dress? I'm puzzled by what you said here, especially since women's pants are cut differently from men's and several people here have commented that finding knee-length shorts for their daughters has become nearly impossible.

This one relates to fundamentalism not instructing on these issues. That should have been a concern for the next generation. This relates to a problem fundamentalism has had on teaching. There have been a whole lot of problems here.

First, modesty. Covering the thigh is prescribed as covering nakedness in Isaiah 47:1-3. This is how Christians have practiced through history. It's easy, and I repeat EASY for us to find knee length garments for women.

Second, designed gender distinction. The "cut" of pants is not a valid argument. Of course women have bigger hips. This is a distinction of the garment, not in the size. The distinction in our culture has been pants for men and skirts/dresses/culottes for women. The change to pants on women wasn't to keep the distinction, but to eliminate it. Everyone knows this, so "cut of pants on women" is illegitimate. Our culture and evangelical and fundamentalists haven't distinguished what "women's pants" are, because they haven't cared. Everyone knows this too. A regular event for me is to look at a family photo of an evangelical or now fundamentalist, whose women are wearing blue jeans. They don't look anything different than men's pants. If they aren't men's pants, then you can't tell.

Kent Brandenburg said...

One more comment,

My wife and I were discussing this and it relates to transgender today. The Democrat candidate for governor of Vermont is obviously a man, dressed like a woman. He's wearing a dress. This issue is coming home to roost and it came with the capitulation of fundamentalists on this issue. They have no voice in the transgender argument. They weren't there. Evangelicals will just say it isn't a gospel issue.

Joshua said...

Just to confirm the link here between this issue and the transgender issue - in Australia and in England all our school students wear uniforms. Over 40 schools in England have now removed the skirt option for their girls, forcing all students into a unisex uniform to avoid having to deal with the hassles of "transitioning" students. One school in England did this initially, until they were accused of sexism for only removing the female skirt option, so they switched to allowing both boys and girls to choose from skirts or pants.

At the evangelical school I work for, the option of switching to "pants mandatory" and banning skirts has been seriously considered so they can avoid having to have an all out fight with the government and media over students within the school trying to switch sex. Essentially, they have no plan to fight this, but only plans to manage it and go along with it.

Effectively, the Independent Baptist stand of 60 years ago (sex distinction matters, this is going bad places etc) has been vindicated every which way from Sunday, but it doesn't matter. Everything they predicted and worse has come to pass, and the former capitulations has made principled conviction impossible for them now. To resist the complete erasure of sex distinction, they'd need to repent of what they have done with their wives and daughters, and that will never happen. The evangelicals will cheer and put their boys in frocks. The fundamentalists will grumble, and put their lads in skirts 5 years later. Both will bitterly resent anyone who maintains genuine sex distinction and will accuse them of being legalists.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Sad, but very true. And your prediction. From what I'm reading, I don't know how it could turn out otherwise.

Kent Brandenburg said...


One more thing, and thanks again, so well put -- on your point of the "slippery slope argument," that we know that it did slide down the slope after the warnings. Here it is. And I agree, they need to repent -- that's the only way to deal with it. Instead, a Steve Pettit talks about it like this is a more spiritual thing happening, because they get to exercise discernment. The real point, the leadership is failing, capitulating, and turning it over to the students to make whatever decision they want, and it is a deceitful thing, calling it discernment.

Anonymous said...

How distinguishable was the dress of the first century Christian, vs their non-Christian peers? I daresay that dress was not the distinguishing attribute of the early martyrs. But I could be wrong on this. Biblical historians could sway my mind on this.

I probably saw more women's thighs in Bible College from girls wearing culottes than I'd care to admit or remember. I am sure that girls saw more of guys in wrestling singlets than they'd care to as well.

I also think there are modest "pants" and "shorts" for women and immodest dresses or skirts in the same token. (Is a Scottish man breaking Biblical code for wearing a Kilt?) Silly metaphor I know but still... I think that one day we will get to heaven and be ashamed that we spent so much time splitting hairs over the length of the hem on one's garment.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I want to take your three paragraphs line by line.

First Paragraph. First question. If they obeyed scripture, then their dress was distinguishable. There was designed gender distinctions in the dress, a male item and a female item. A female would not wear a male item and a male would not wear a female. The United States started out as a biblical culture, greatly influenced by the Bible, and it is easy to see that the distinction was pants-men, dresses/skirts women.

Second sentence. The only truths worth keeping are not the ones someone is killing us for. Today, you will suffer persecution for dressing different, and you know that. I see this as the biggest reason for capitulation is fear, and it isn't fear of death, but fear of ridicule or mockery, fear of standing out and being seen as odd, which is mainly what worldliness is. Your fear of putting your name is one example of this -- what or who are you afraid of?

Third and fourth sentences. The biblical and historical positions are designed gender distinction, which most professing Christians are not obeying today.

Second paragraph. First and second sentences. Wearing a female garment is not an argument for wearing something immodest. Unbiblical practice is not an excuse for unbiblical practice. "Hey, since they're disobeying scripture, I'll go ahead and do it too."

Third paragraph. First sentence. The arguments about modesty and designed gender distinction are not the same. They might overlap in some ways but they are not the same. You can have immodest of any clothing, but a skirt is still a female garment in our culture.

Second sentence. Is a kilt a metaphor? The kilt is a bad example, because it is a male garment in Scotland, but easily distinguishable there. Men wore kilts. Do you really care about obeying scripture?

Third sentence. God killed Nadab and Abihu for offering the wrong recipe for the altar of incense. Jesus kept everything the Father told Him to do. Scripture uses the word "abomination" to refer to violators of what we're discussing here. Do you love God? 1 Cor 16 says cursed is anyone who loves not the Lord Jesus Christ, and if you love Him, you'll keep what He said. God says something about dress. People don't keep it because they loves themselves, not God.