Ruffled by Ruffles?
The English language has many words with more than one meaning which may be used as puns. The word “ruffle” is one of those puns. In one unabridged dictionary #3 definition of the word ruffle is “to disturb, vex or irritate”, while #11 is “cloth, lace, etc drawn up by gathering along one edge and used as a trimming on a dress, blouse, etc”. Putting these two different definitions into one statement, one could say, “I am disturbed by the ornamental arrangement I see on sleeve endings and sometimes around collars,” or he could say, “I am ruffled by ruffles.”
But the logical question that would then be raised is, “Why would a person be disturbed by such ornamentation?” This essay is being written with the hopes we would be disturbed by that which is a non issue and undisturbing in many people’s minds. But why should we be disturbed?
Choosing arrangements for the sake of outward adornment is a violation of New Testament Scriptures. In 1Peter 3:3, Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;” The Apostle Peter confirms what is written by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2, that godly women in the New Testament are to refrain from decorating or putting ornamentation on in order to make themselves appear attractive.
To many this does not seem to apply to something as simple as putting elastic in the sleeve, and then allowing some material to extend beyond so the sleeve ending “looks nice.” Would God really care about something so small as that?
The reasoning many people use when they read this verse is that Christian women are to not merely adorn the outside, but also adorn the inside. In fact the word “merely” is inserted in italics in many of the new versions that have been published since 1900. By inserting one word (that scholars agree is not found in the Greek texts), people change the meaning of the verse. So what is the result? Apostate preachers may warn their people not to overdo their jewelry and makeup, but for all practical purposes, their “Christian” women look no different than their heathen counterpart.
The bottom line of “Whose adorning let it not be outward adorning...” is that nothing ought to be done to clothing just for show or ornamentation. For years this has been preached across our pulpits, and may we choose to rise to the challenge of obedience.
In choosing adornment, tradition may again be taking precedence over Scripture. In many ways Mennonite tradition harmonizes with Biblical teaching. We thank God for such a heritage. Churches which have a tradition of disobedience in many areas have very few who choose to stand up and be counted for Biblical obedience. We may look across denominational lines and feel smug that we are among the ones who obey the Bible all the way.
But do we? We don’t wear neckties or wedding bands because these are violations of Bible teaching. We don’t wear necklaces and ear rings because these are outward adornment. We don’t wear lip stick or rouge because this would make us look like Jezebel. And so we again feel justified.
But some of us wear ruffles, large print materials, scalloped collars, gold watches and very puffy sleeves etc. Some put smocking on little girls dresses, contrasting colors on their dresses, beautiful colored beads (even pearl-like) in their hair and so forth. A few sisters carefully pluck eyebrows so they arch just perfectly. Why? Because Mennonite tradition seems to allow for these kinds of things. Some of our teenaged sisters would wear sash belts, tucks in the capes and long-waist dresses if they could get away with it. Why? Because there is more respect for what Mennonite tradition allows than for the will of our Holy God.
It appears that when holding Scripture over tradition means letting some distasteful traditions go, it is easy to agree with Scripture. But when it means giving up ornamental extras, then suddenly “But we never did it this way” now becomes good reason to keep on being disobedient to God’s will.
How then are we any different than “Christians” in other denominations? Their tradition is to ignore feet washing, the Christian woman’s veiling, modest clothing. Can they now be justified because “They never did it this way?” Or will we have the vision to make a clear break with any tradition that dares to contradict God’s Word?
Ornamentation stirs up a competition in women that doesn’t know where to stop. As a youth I remember a minister almost crying in the pulpit. “People today ask, ‘Where will it ever stop?’ I want to ask, ‘Why does it ever start?’”
One sister gets a new collar pattern. The next sees this new style, and suddenly feels, “I want to be beautiful too.” So she gets that pattern and another one besides. Soon every dress has to be made differently. Why? What is wrong when biblical simplicity is not beautiful any more?
The Scripture stresses that believing women in contrast to outward ornamentation are to concentrate on beauty that comes from a meek and quiet spirit, and from good works. There is never any excess in this kind of beauty, the family and church reap tremendous benefit and it lasts for eternity. Children are welcomed into the home, and treated kindly. Husbands are given respect and honor. Love flows from heart to heart, and a valuable harvest is about to be reaped for time and eternity. And in return, they reap the love and respect of their families.
But what happens down the road when sisters focus on the “pretties” on their own dress or on the children? Much time, energy and attention goes toward that which serves to no spiritual benefit. Relationships suffer. Sister competes with sister, building walls and critical attitudes toward each other. The church needs to wink time after time, and the drift becomes increasingly persuasive.
When we dress for show, pride is given a deep root, and if not repented of, becomes a snare that will damn the soul. It is difficult to see the seriousness of pride, because on earth, pride and humility live side by side many times with very little clash. But from the Scriptures we learn that pride was Satan’s downfall. He said, “I will be like the most High.” (Isaiah 14:14). This has brought all the heartache that is in the world today. Jesus on the other hand made himself of no reputation. This is what led to us having the blessed hope of a better country to come.
Today a toddler fingers the colored barrettes that match the pink in the flowers of her dress and looks up at her mother. “See,... pretteee” she lisps. She instinctively knows they offset her dress and highlight the flush of her cheeks. She doesn’t know about the science of color coordinating, but she understands that she wants to look her finest. When is the mother going to dig out this root if it is the same root she has in her own heart? When is she going to help the little girl be humble if in her mind she is determined her daughter is going to appear nicer than her sister Jane’s little girl?
Do we see pride as sin? Are we ready to root it out?
Our testimony to the seeker is confused by outward display, and he may be offended and turn away. There are people who are disillusioned with nominal Christianity. As they visit church after church and note the inconsistencies they become increasingly dissatisfied that anyone anywhere sincerely lives the principles taught in God’s Word. And then they discover Mennonites. They are attracted by the simplicity, the modesty, and the Biblical doctrines. But wait a minute, here is an inconsistency again. The Bible teaches “No ornamentation”. The church teaches “No ornamentation”. But here and there ornaments stick out like sore thumbs. “Are these people really sincere, or are they here just because they have been raised Mennonite or are living out a Mennonite culture?” they justly wonder.
“How could anyone be offended on such a ridiculously little matter?” we wonder. But for many it is not only one small matter, it’s the fact that it carries the same tone as what was heard over and over in earlier settings. We know it is in the Bible, but we never took that issue seriously. Do you really think God really cares about such a minor issue?
And so a sincere soul wonders again if anyone is sincere. In disillusionment he may turn back to his earlier affiliation, where the same attitudes of disregard for God’s Word exist, but the price is a little easier to pay. God will need to judge all such, but will their be blood on our hands?
Ruffled by ruffles? Disturbed by little trifles? Make an issue over things that not everyone agrees on any way? Yes! We must have a heart of love for each other, but a love that does not allow a subtle drift into worldliness and apostasy. While this may be a weakness more tempting to women, may we as fathers, brothers and husbands encourage our godly sisters as they make this biblical statement with their appearance. Let us rise to the challenge of being consistent in all of our lives, and give God the glory He deserves. If He doesn’t want us to adorn ourselves with outward adornment, then that settles it for us. We will live how He pleases so when the world passes away and the lust thereof we may be among those that did the will of God and will abide forever.
– H. Stephen Ebersole