The Beauty of Holiness 

  • "We wholeheartedly disapprove of our people indulging in any activities which are not conducive to good Christianity and Godly living, such as theaters, dances, mixed bathing, women cutting their hair, make-up, any apparel that immodestly exposes the body, all worldly sports and amusements, and unwholesome radio programs and music. Furthermore, because of the display of all these evils on television, we disapprove of any of our people having television sets in their homes. We admonish all of our people to refrain from any of these practices in the interest of spiritual progress and the soon coming of the Lord for His church."
  • (UPCI Articles of Faith).

The Lord commands holiness:

"Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them: I am the LORD who sanctifies you." (Leviticus 20:7-8).

A 'saint' is a 'holy one,' a member of a holy convocation, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5). All Christians agree in aiming for this goal, and holiness is to be expected from those who truly love and follow the Lord: "Commentator Donald Grey Barnhouse said, 'Holiness starts where justification finishes, and if holiness does not start, we have the right to suspect that justification never started either.'" (Let God Change Your Life, Greg Laurie, p. 239). But what does 'holiness' mean? Is it a dress code? In pursuit of holiness, some 'Oneness' Pentecostals enact a detailed set of Taliban-style regulations governing sleeve length, facial hair, articles of clothing and the like. Is this approach Biblical? Can these 'standards' be found in the Bible, or are they man-made?

Does Neatness Count?

Does Neatness Count? Hedge for the Law
Long Hair Filthy Clothes
Pertaineth unto a Man Aaron's Beard
Will a man rob God? Naked Fishing
Does She or Doesn't She? Hellivision
Straining at Gnats Peter the Hermit
Modesty Christian Liberty
Priesthood of All Believers Open Theism
Return to answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

Does Neatness Count?

Some earnest believers fall short of the 'holiness standards' - and always have: "Then he said to them, 'What kind of man was it who came up to meet you and told you these words?' So they answered him, 'A hairy man wearing a leather belt around his waist.' And he said, 'It is Elijah the Tishbite.'" (2 Kings 1:7-8).

"Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey." (Mark 1:6);
"But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts." (Luke 7:25).
"They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented -- of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth." (Hebrews 11:37-38).

Hedge for the Law

  • "Moses received Torah from Sinai and delivered it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets delivered it to the men of the great synagogue. These said three things: be deliberate in judging, and raise up many disciples, and make a hedge for the Torah."
  • (Pirqe Abot 1.1, Mishnah, quoted p.161, Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity).

The Pharisees prided themselves on erecting a 'hedge' for the Law: i.e., surrounding the Law's general precepts with a thicket of regulations specifying exactly what conduct was permitted and what prohibited. The Lord had every opportunity to praise them for their scrupulosity. However He passed this opportunity by:

“And He said, 'Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.'" (Luke 11:46).
"'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Matthew 15:8-9; Isaiah 29:13).

Given the Lord's failure to endorse this approach, why revive it?

Long Hair

"But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered." (1 Corinthians 11:5-7)

Read the 'Oneness' Pentecostal way, this passage comes out, 'if a woman has not unshorn hair, let her also be shorn.' Wait a minute: if she has not unshorn hair, then what's to be shorn? They interpret both head coverings in the passage as the woman's own hair, an incoherent and untenable reading which nevertheless leads them to their rule against women cutting their hair. ('Shorn', in their lexicon, includes even trimming.):

"We wholeheartedly disapprove of our people indulging in any activities which are not conducive to good Christianity and godly living, such as theaters, dances, mixed bathing, women cutting their hair, make-up, any apparel that immodestly exposes the body, all worldly sports and amusements, and unwholesome radio programs and music." (UPCI Articles of Faith).

Paul is taking it for granted that a modestly apparelled woman is wearing a scarf or similar head covering, a traditional element of Christian propriety which is widely ignored today, mostly through ignorance and inadvertence rather than any inconvenience attached to its observance.

How long is long hair? It's difficult to say. Hebrew tradition, which has little historic value, records of David's fighting men,

"David had four hundred young men, handsome in appearance and with their hair cut close upon their foreheads, but with long flowing curls behind, who used to ride in chariots of gold at the head of the army. These were men of power (men of the fist, in the original), the mighty men of the house of David, who went about to strike terror into the world." (Kiddushin, fol. 76, col. 2, Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala, Kindle location 3438).

Filthy Clothes

"For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, 'You sit here in a good place,' and say to the poor man, 'You stand there,' or, 'Sit here at my footstool,' have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:2-4).

Pertaineth unto a Man

"A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the LORD your God." (Deuteronomy 22:5).

While seeming to have been legislating against transvestism, or cross-dressing, Moses is assumed by 'Oneness' Pentecostals to have been legislating against women wearing slacks.  It is unclear that this precisely what Moses meant, given that he himself likely favored a robe, as did others:

"Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest." (Revelation 1:12-13 NRSV).

The Bible does not provide any tailoring template to distinguish men's clothing from women's. But most people don't find it so very hard. Perhaps a tailoring template is not what is at issue.

Once while idly watching Hellivision, I was startled to witness a parade of female impersonators sashshay across the stage. These men were impersonating country music songstresses, and for some unknown reason the news program I was watching found their performance newsworthy. The gentleman who was pretending to be Reba McEntire wore a cow-girl get-up, with pants, like Ms. McEntire wore onstage. Was he wearing what pertains to a woman, or what pertains to a man? How strange that this man, whose intent was to dress like a particular woman, Reba McEntire, and indeed to be mistaken for her, should be pronounced clear of any violation of Deuteronomy 22:5 by this eccentric interpretation.

People like to tell the story, whether urban legend or factual I cannot say, of the woman who joined a local 'Oneness' Pentecostal church. Hearing she was no longer allowed to wear slacks, she boxed up all of her hot-pink ski-pants, her culottes with a big daisy on them, and the like, and shipped them over to her new pastor, with a note expressing her hope that he could find a use for all of her 'man's' clothing. Of course this man would not be caught dead wearing clothing that was patently designed for a woman and marketed to a woman's taste. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If a man will not wear women's slacks, then the woman who wears them is not wearing what pertains to a man.

Aaron's Beard

"It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments." (Psalm 133:2).

Some 'Oneness' Pentecostal ministers require the males of their flock to be clean-shaven.  No Biblical support can be mustered for this.  Jesus Christ Himself wore a beard, according to Isaiah:

"I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting." (Isaiah 50:6).

This passage, widely understood to be a Messianic prophecy, made the cut into Handel's Messiah. The only way His tormentors could pluck the hairs from the cheeks of a clean-shaven man would be with tweezers.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish males wear beards, believing that Moses so commanded:

"You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard." (Leviticus 19:27);
"They shall not make any bald place on their heads, nor shall they shave the edges of their beards nor make any cuttings in their flesh." (Leviticus 21:5).

These laws may relate to styles to which the pagans of the region assigned a significance, though no explanation is offered. There's no visible path from here to the sometime 'Oneness' Pentecostal demand that men be clean-shaven. For the most part, Christians have not picked up on these Old Testament strictures, believing them part of the ceremonial law not applicable to the church. There are exceptions, though, like the Apostolic Constitutions, a much-interpolated work of the early Christian centuries:

“Nor may men destroy the hair of their beards, and unnaturally change the form of a man. For the law says: 'Ye shall not mar your beards.' For God the Creator has made this decent for women, but has determined that it is unsuitable for men.'” (Apostolic Constitutions, Book One, Section Two, p. 777 ECF_0_07).

These early Christians went in the opposite direction from the 'Oneness' Pentecostal holiness code, requiring men to leave their beard alone, not shave it off. In David's day, men evidently regarded being clean-shaven as shameful: "Therefore Hanun took David’s servants, shaved off half of their beards, cut off their garments in the middle, at their buttocks, and sent them away. When they told David, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed.  And the king said, 'Wait at Jericho until your beards have grown, and then return.'" (1 Samuel 10:4-5). The obvious remedy — shaving off the other half so at least they'd be symmetrical — must surely have occurred to them, but was evidently unacceptable.


Will a man rob God?

Voluntary tithing is popular in evangelical churches. Tithing goes back to the patriarchs:

  • “And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!' And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything.”
  • (Genesis 14:18-20, NRSV).

Everything belongs to God: "The earth is the LORD’S and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it..." (Psalm 24:1). He is the Owner, we are the tenants. Those who give to the Lord's work are only giving back what He has given them. Hearing that "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7), believers look for a benchmark. What level of giving does God consider 'cheerful' and what 'miserly'? Hearing that Abraham, God's friend, used the benchmark of a tenth, many find this to be a convenient, and for most people a readily attainable, standard.

This type of tithing is a voluntary covenant between God and the believer. The teaching that goes beyond that:— the teaching that the law of tithing is obligatory upon New Testament believers, even those for whom it represents a real hardship,— is found today, not only in heterodox groups like the Mormons and 'Oneness' Pentecostals, but also in huge mainstream churches like the Southern Baptist Convention. Is it Biblical?:

Naked Fishing

Modesty in dress is a valid Biblical objective. All Christians agree, or should agree, in commending modest attire and condemning what is immodest:

"Blood-bought saints of God, never dress or carry yourself in such a way so as to be an object of sexual appeal to other men or women. Never allow yourself to be a stumbling block to the save or to the unsaved." (Michael L. Brown, Go and Sin No More: A Call to Holiness, Kindle location 1347).

But to get down to cases, what does that mean, in terms of inches and seams? Does the Bible itself provide a 'dress code,' and if it does not, with what degree of dogmatism and assurance can the church write one, and who gets to decide what is included? For instance, can it be proven from scripture that the apostles understood this to mean not wearing short sleeves? Not readily. Peter was so far from awareness of this 'holiness' standard that he went fishing in his birthday suit, according to the KJV:

"Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes." (John 21:7-8).

The KJV is refreshing in its candor, but some translations handle it differently. The Revised Standard Version has "stripped for work." How many layers men wore while doing hard physical labor is open to dispute. Certainly in any language 'naked' need not mean buck naked, but unclothed, relatively. Short-sleeved, maybe?

Peter's concern for practicality here is refreshing. Some 'Oneness' Pentecostals, in pursuit of modesty, insist that a woman flying an Air Force jet must wear a skirt. Yet if she parachutes from her stricken jet wearing a skirt, she is not dressed modestly. For that matter a woman whose job involves climbing utility poles, or a playing the cello or riding a horse, cannot be dressed modestly while wearing a skirt.

This is by no means to deny that modesty in clothing is a Biblical value. Nakedness is not encouraged, either in scripture or in Jewish tradition. The Jews came into conflict with Greek culture as pushed by the successors to Alexander the Great, in part because the Greeks insisted on exercising in the nude, which was not acceptable: "On this account, it is prescribed on the heavenly tablets as touching all those who know the judgment of the law, that they should cover their shame, and should not uncover themselves as the Gentiles uncover themselves." (The Book of Jubilees, Chapter 3, 31-32, R. H. Charles). The Talmud, a very late compilation, shares the same value: "Said R. Pornach in the name of R. Johanan: Who handled the Holy Scrolls, while naked, will be buried naked." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VIII, Tract Megilla, Chapter IV, Kindle location 35096). But exactly what that means, and under what circumstances work clothes are suitable, are subject to discussion and should not be the topic of arbitrary legislation. Room must be allowed for conscientious objection.


Does She or Doesn't She?

Many of the early church authors were vehement in their detestation of face-painting:

"Tell me, have you no fear, seeing you are such, that at the day of resurrection your Maker will not recognize you, but will set you aside and shut you out, when you come for His promised rewards, and will with the sternness of censor and judge severely say, 'This is not My work; This is not Our Image?' Your complexion you have polluted with false coloring, your hair you have altered by unnatural dyes, your countenance is captured by a lie, your natural appearance lost, your look is not your own. You will never be able to see God, whose eyes are no longer God's workmanship, but the devil's craft." (The Treatises of Caecilius Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, and Martyr, Charles Thornton, Treatise IV, On the Dress of Virgins, Kindle location 3918).

While Roman Catholics consider some of these writers to be authoritative some of the time, Protestants generally do not. Specific Biblical injunctions against the practice are missing. The wicked pagan queen Jezebel painted her face before her miserable end:

"And when Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window." (2 Kings 9:30).

It is certainly significant that this is mentioned. But what is the significance? The message may be that pride goes before a fall: Jezebel met her end as a queen, not as a penitent. To offer this passage as a blanket condemnation of face-painting requires adopting a rule, 'everything Jezebel did, do not do,' which people may or may not find compelling.

The justifications offered by 'Oneness' Pentecostal preachers for banning the practice are often more imaginative than historical. Though you'll hear from these preachers that only prostitutes wore make-up in ancient times, this cannot be confirmed by inspection of ancient portraiture, which shows lofty Queens like the pagan Nefertiti dolled up with eye-liner:

Queen Nefertiti

...or for that matter, the Jewish heroine Queen Esther:

"Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother...The girl pleased him and won his favor, and he quickly provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food..." (Esther 2:5-9).

To be sure the Book of Esther is a book about survival, not life in a perfect world.

Nofret, daughter-in-law of King Snefru

Unfortunately some ancient Tammy Fayes just could not leave well enough alone, like the Fourth Dynasty Nofret...

The funerary portraits of Fayum provide a window onto a cross-section of the women of late antiquity, most of whom appear to be wearing modest make-up:

Funerary Portraits of Fayum
Funerary Portraits of Fayum

Not only can it not be confirmed that only prostitutes wore make-up in antiquity, but in some times and places, the prostitutes themselves favored a distinctly less flamboyant look, namely the veil: "So she took off her widow’s garments, covered herself with a veil and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place which was on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, because she had covered her face." (Genesis 38:14-15).  One can only speculate as to why a prostitute should be veiled; perhaps as a prudential measure to avoid being picked out of a police line-up?

The 'Tammy Faye' look was not popular in the Roman world, where even the prostitutes saw the virtues of the natural look. The Roman comedian Plautus has an aging courtesan tell her youthful successor so:

Philematium.  Powder, please.
Scapha.  But why on earth do you need powder?
Philematium.  For my cheeks, of course.
Scapha.  That would be like white-on-white; no need to gild the lily, dear.
...Philematium.  All right, pass the rouge to me.
Scapha.  I won't.  You know, you're not too bright. Do you want to overpaint an absolutely perfect picture? Blooming girls like you should never use false colouring.  Never rouge, or cream from Melos, never any paint at all." (Plautus, The Haunted House, 256-264)

Below is a portrait of a fourth century Christian lady with her children done in gold leaf on glass (p. 28, Chapter 2, The Class Basis of Early Christianity, The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark). Comparing mom's eyes with those of the kids, she appears to be wearing make-up. A Christian prostitute? The 'Oneness' Pentecostal claim that 'only prostitutes wore make-up' does not fit the facts:


Of course what women happened to do at any time in history establishes no ethical norm. But neither should doctrine be based on demonstrably false 'historical' claims: like that, in antiquity, only prostitutes wore make-up. Where the Bible is silent, should man make haste to legislate?

It is true that many voices in the early church endorsed the 'no-makeup' viewpoint which is part of the 'holiness' standards:

"And when thou art in the streets, cover thy head; for by such a covering thou wilt avoid being viewed of idle persons. Do not paint thy face, which is God’s workmanship; for there is no part of thee which wants ornament, inasmuch as all things which God has made are very good. But the lascivious additional adorning of what is already good is an affront to the bounty of the Creator. Look downward when thou walkest abroad, veiling thyself as becomes women." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 1, Section 3, Chapter VIII, pp. 782-783, ECF_0_07).

What is not clear is why 'Oneness' Pentecostals should view these voices as decisive. Certainly there is no Biblical argument to be made in favor of face-painting, as if it were a good or godly thing, but the lack of any direct scriptural prescription leaves it in the realm of liberty of conscience.



"Furthermore, because of the display of all these evils on television, we disapprove of any of our people having television sets in their homes." (UPCI Articles of Faith).

One can find everything on TV nowadays, from hard-core pornography to the Weather Channel. One can find everything on the internet nowadays, from hard-core pornography to...'Oneness' Pentecostal ministries. In both cases, the choice of which 'programs' to tune into remains in the viewer's hands. Yet one is allowed, the other prohibited.

Straining at Gnats

One common behavior pattern associated with legalism is making much of little things, while letting really big things sail on through. An example of this familiar to observers of 'Oneness' Pentecostalism is the phenemenon of divorced and remarried pastors, often thought by fundamentalist churches to be ruled out by Paul:

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach. . ." (1 Timothy 3:2).

"Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well." (1 Timothy 3:12).
"If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly." (Titus 1:6).

According to some, these verses have nothing to do with divorce and remarriage, but only with assuring pastors are not active polygamists. According to these people, polygamy was very common in the Roman Empire, and in no way proscribed for the laity; it was preferred, however, that the clergy be pure from this very common practice. Or so they say. In reality, for a very long time before the New Testament, a male citizen in Athens could only register as a citizen son the offspring of a marriage with one free-born woman, his lawful wife. Children born under any other circumstance did not enjoy civil rights, unfortunately. Polygamy was not only not practiced in Greece and Rome, but the man who did practice it might find himself accused of bigamy. Divorce was allowed, and common, but concurrent plural marriage was neither.

Rome was justly proud of her laws. In some regions of her empire, Roman law held sway, in other parts, such as Israel prior to her destruction, she allowed the natives to retain their own law system. But in all cases there was pressure, subtle or intense, to conform to Roman mores. Consider, for example, the case of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery. His questioners sought to lay a trap for Him, because the Jews were allowed to enforce their own law, but not in capital cases: "The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death. . ." (John 18:31). Here is the trap: the Messiah must execute the law. The law lays down capital punishment for adultery. But capital jurisdiction belonged to the Roman overrulers, whose own law did not prescribe death for adultery. Adultery, though common, was a criminal offense in Rome during this period; the emperor Augustus' own immoral daughter Julia was banished to an island through the exercise of this law. But adultery was not a capital crime; the Romans would have thought stoning her inhumane, as would we. So going to the Romans, hat in hand, would not result in Moses' law being executed, but following Moses' law to the letter without consulting the civil authorities would be an extra-judicial lynching, for which there might be consequences. Jesus surprises them and evades the trap. In fact Jesus' own teaching allows neither polygamy nor capital punishment.

In an empire in which polygamy was not endorsed by the ruling authority, it cannot have been common. Maintaining polygamy requires diligent attention from the rulers. In the Munster Commune, polygamy was made mandatory, but quarreling was soon thereafter made a capital offense. Given polygamy's inevitable unpopularity with one half the human race, maintaining the system required the suppression of female quarreling. So the assumption that the Greek-speaking churches were filled with active polygamists, under no legal pressure from a civil law which only recognized monogamy, nor under any pressure to conform their behavior to Jesus' marriage teaching, who were however barred from leadership roles owing to Paul's innovative teaching, is fantasy.

Women called 'univirae' played an important role in the Roman marriage ceremony. These 'one-man women' were not women who were not at that moment practicing the (unknown) custom of polyandry, but women whose cumulative total of marriages was one. Paul is universalizing a familiar concept: while people in the Roman empire thought it a shame for women to be divorced and remarried, they did not think even open adultery and debauchery disgraced a man. Paul evens the score. Pagan Roman law and custom required good conduct from the woman, but was far more tolerant of bad behavior on the part of the man:

"If you should take your wife in adultery, you may with impunity put her to death without a trial; but if you should commit adultery or indecency, she must not presume to lay a finger on you, nor does the law allow it." (Marcus Cato, quoted in Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, Book X, Chapter XXIII).

While polygamy existed in the world, in the Near East outside the Roman empire, in various barbarous lands, and even in Israel, it is not likely that Paul's Gentile churches included practicing polygamists. Paul would rather pastors not be divorced and remarried. Some people would rather invent novelties to concern themselves with, rather than share the Bible's concerns.

Peter the Hermit

If you want to hear a scorching exhortation to war to make even Peter the Hermit blanch, certain UPCI ministers will deliver the goods. Yet incongruously enough, the UPCI holds an official position of advocating its members practice conscientious objection:


"We recognize the institution of human government as being of divine ordination, and, in so doing, affirm unswerving loyalty to our Government; however, we take a definite position regarding the bearing of arms or the taking of human life.

"As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we believe in implicit obedience to His commandments and precepts which instruct us as follows: '.. that ye resist not evil. . .' (Matt. 5:39): 'Follow peace with all men...' (Heb. 12:14). (See also Matt. 26:52; Rom. 12:19; James 5:6; Revelation 13:10). These we believe and interpret to mean Christians shall not shed blood nor take human life.

"Therefore, we propose to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizens, but are constrained to declare against participating in combatant service in war, armed insurrection, property destruction, aiding or abetting in or the actual destruction of human life."
(UPCI Article of Faith)

The requirement of conscientious objection found in the UPCI Articles of Faith seems to be on its way to becoming a dead letter, with many members of this group feeling free to serve in military combat roles. Nevertheless one cannot imagine a more despicable display of cowardice than is witnessed from certain UPCI ministers, who fan the flames of war while secure in the knowledge their own will not pay the price. Traditional pacifists like the Quakers and Mennonites are also consistent advocates of peace and thus cannot be accused of cowardice or inconsistency.


Modesty is an affirmative command for the Christian:

"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

What is modest apparel and what is immodest? Do not ask the world around us. A pole dancer who makes videos, Britney Spears, convinced a generation of girls that they were not stylishly dressed if they did not look like they charged by the hour. Her successors have kept that flame burning bright. Our society assures us that we are dressed modestly enough if we cannot actually be arrested for indecent exposure. But this is not all that God expects of Christians.

Part of the problem with "pearls," as John Chrysostom realized, is that the woman wearing them, as she steps over huddled homeless people on her way to church, could relieve their distress very easily by the wealth she is flaunting:

"But do thou show me what gain could be derived from these pearls, rather what harm would not happen? For in order that you may wear one pearl drop, countless poor people are pinched with hunger. What excuse will you hit upon? What pardon?" (John Chrysostom, Instructions to Catechumens, Second Instruction, Chapter 4).

This indeed is an area where the church is falling short today. The solution, however, cannot lie down a road Jesus has purposefully blocked off, the road taken by the scribes and the Pharisees.

Christian Liberty

For matters of Christian conduct not clearly spelled out in scripture, Paul recommends Christian liberty:

"For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." (Romans 14:2-10).

It often seems as though advocates of the 'holiness' standards have no concept of any sphere of Christian liberty at all. If you tell them, 'I do not see where the Bible proscribes women's make-up,' they understand you to be saying, 'Women must, or ought to, wear make-up.' The Biblical ideal, "Let each be fully convinced in his own mind," leaves them scratching their heads.

Priesthood of All Believers

A disproportionate number of 'Oneness' Pentecostals are former Roman Catholics, who tend to be more skeptical than is warranted of familiar Reformation doctrines, like the priesthood of all believers. This idea: that the church is not divided into 'clergy' and 'laity,' but that all believers are priests, is biblical:

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Whoever is to make decisions pertaining to dress codes and the like, it cannot be one man, the pastor, who is given more authority in some church polities than he is allotted by the New Testament, nor can these decisions be made arbitrarily by a small, unaccountable group of men. Though starting out with the best of intentions, the UPCI give a shining example of how not to do it, arbitrarily imposing non-Biblical rules on a powerless flock.

Open Theism

People who talk to 'Oneness' Pentecostal pastors will often find them much exercised about 'Calvinism,' which, the listener will discover, is the idea that God foreknows His own from eternity past. If that is what 'Calvinism' is, then what is 'Arminianism?' Their own ideas are closer to Open Theism, which describes God as endlessly surprised at how things turn out.

What about alcohol use? On the one hand, the 'Oneness' Pentecostals should be commended because they have successfully persuaded their people not to drink alcohol. On the other hand, they cannot be commended because they have over-sold the Biblical basis for what is after all an optional rather than a mandatory observance. Here again is the familiar pattern, where good and commendable ways of behavior are upgraded into a rule-book. Since Jesus specifically condemned the Pharisees for doing that very thing, it cannot be assumed that He commends it here, even though a world in which alcohol use was rare and counter-cultural would be an improvement over the world we inhabit:

Return to answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

  • “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”
  • (Proverbs 20:1).

A Mocker Priests
Weaker Brother Domestic Violence
Rebellious Son Prohibition