Nonconformity- (part 2) When Does Transformation Happen?

“Why do you dress like that?” “Why are your clothes so different than those around you?” “Why do you all dress alike?”

Most of us who were raised in a conservative Anabaptist/Mennonite homes have probably been asked at least one, or maybe all, of these questions at some point in our lives. People don’t always give the same answers, but here are some of the answers that I have heard given through the years:

-This is how my church asks me to dress
-We don’t want to be worldly, so we don’t dress like the world
-We believe in nonconformity to the world
-We want to have unity in our church
-We believe in dressing modestly

These are all short easy answers that most of us have been taught. Yet, in some ways they are such insufficient, unsatisfactory answers. I wonder if we would have better answers if we were pressed? What if we were then asked questions such as:
Would you still dress that way if your church did not have that rule?
Do you believe that anyone who does not dress like you is of the world—even those of other churches?
Does dressing differently keep you from being conformed to the world?
Since you all dress alike, do you now all have unity of the Spirit?
Do you consider all those that are dressed differently than you to be immodest?

Romans 12:2 and nonconformity

When a sermon is preached with Romans 12:2 as the main script in a typical Anabaptist church, we already have a general idea of what we will hear. Nonconformity is very important to our people and has been focused on for many generations for well over a hundred years. We’ve been taught how important it is to look differently than the world.

We tend to look at other denominations with a bit of condescension. We feel we are at a little higher level on the holiness ladder. After all, they seem to just ignore this verse.

What if other denominations aren’t ignoring this verse, but are looking at it from a different angle than we do?

butterfly transform4What is the most important part of this verse? Is it to avoid being conformed to the world or is it to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? We know both are important and both must happen in the life of a born-again Christian.

Maybe another question to ask would be, do either of these directives depend on the other? In other words, must you be “nonconformed to the world” before you can be “transformed by the renewal of your mind”? Or do we need to be “transformed” before we can be “nonconformed to the world”? Which should happen first?

Though we might not hear it emphasized, transformation must happen first; or nonconformity is worthless.

Have you ever tried to make a caterpillar act like a butterfly? No matter what you do, it will by nature crawl on its belly and eat leaves. You can attempt to put it on a flower, but it will not drink nectar. Its nature has not changed. When a caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly, who tells that butterfly to act like a butterfly rather than a caterpillar? Must they told constantly to stop crawling and to do what butterflies are supposed to do?

A caterpillar has within itself everything needed to become a butterfly. And yet, it will not do anything that a butterfly does until it transforms. During the cocoon stage, everything that is caterpillar literally dies and becomes a soupy ooze that is used as fuel for the rapid cell division that takes place to make a butterfly. After that its very nature changes.

There are some ways this analogy does not work, but it makes a point. It is not worth our time to try to force someone who has not been born again to act like a saved person. Their nature has not changed. We can not make them want to do what has not been instilled in them yet.

After salvation—or transformation—our minds are renewed, and we think differently.

Are we Anabaptists focusing too much on not conforming to the world? Instead of conforming to the world, we are to be transformed by the “renewing of our minds”. What if our focus would be on that first? Would we see the other happening more naturally?

In Ephesians 4:22-32, we see the concept of putting off and putting on. Put off lying, put on speaking truth; put off stealing, put on laboring and giving; put off corrupt communication, put on edifying communication.

Instead of trying not to lie, we need to just speak truth. Instead of reminding ourselves not to steal, we need to work to provide for our needs and others. Instead of trying our hardest not to let bitterness, wrath and anger spew out of us onto others, we need to be kind and tenderhearted to others.

Instead of trying not to conform to the world, we need to be transformed by having our minds renewed.

If there is no difference between us and the world, perhaps it’s because no transformation has taken place. We should be different. Our minds, our very motivations for every choice we make should be different than an unsaved person. What we feed our minds on should look different than it used to. There should be a hunger and thirst for righteousness that was not there before.

We should not have to make rules to try to keep our people from being “conformed to the world”. Should born again Christians look differently from the world? Possibly. But if the only reason they do is because the church rules are there, that is not transformation. It is more like strapping wings on a caterpillar and calling it a butterfly.

Did the disciples look differently than those around them? There is nothing in Scripture to prove that they did. But I doubt that the world around them looked like the world does today. Paul warns believers in both 1Tim. 2 and 1 Peter 3 to dress modestly and to focus on adorning the inward man more than the outward. We should want to put on ornaments of a meek and quiet spirit more than outward ornaments. We should want to dress simply and modestly.

But we should want to do this because of a transformation that happened within and we want to do what God wants, not because my church has a list of dress rules I must follow to look differently than the world.

Just looking differently than the world, does not mean that I am not conformed to the world any more than strapping wings on the back of caterpillar means it is no longer a caterpillar. It’s not about looking differently from the world, it’s about not being conformed to—or patterned after—the world. And the way to keep from being conformed is by a transformation—a metamorphosis—in our minds.

If our hearts/minds have not gone through any transformation, looking differently will do us no good.

Jeremiah 17:9 speaks of the heart (mind, will, feelings) being “deceitful” and “desperately wicked”. It’s been said that this is why we need rules. We are fearful that our hearts will betray us if we don’t set extra guidelines. However, is this verse speaking of a heart that has been transformed, or is it speaking of an unregenerate heart?

Can God transform our hearts and give us clean hearts that aren’t “desperately wicked”? If He cannot transform our heart/minds, then what is the point of Rom. 12:2?

When David sinned with Bathsheba, we see him crying out to God in Psalm 51, confessing his sin, and asking God to blot out his iniquities. Then in verse 10, David says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

When God created the world and everything in it, He made something out of nothing and said it was good. When God creates a clean heart, He makes it good. When our heart is transformed, our desires and our thoughts patterns are no longer wicked and deceitful. That doesn’t mean we are perfect, but what we hunger after is changed.

If there is something in me wanting to conform–or pattern after—everything the world does, if my desires are not different than the world, perhaps I need to do like David and ask God to create in me a clean heart. Perhaps my mind/heart has not gone through the transformation of metamorphosis into renewal.


16 thoughts on “Nonconformity- (part 2) When Does Transformation Happen?

    • Hi Tabitha,
      My answer to that question would be the same answer that I would have to any question about why I do what do in my Christian walk. Why do I insist on honesty in my business? Why do I insist on speaking truth? Why do I not take what doesn’t belong to me?

      I need to have an answer that is backed up by Scripture. Personally, I like my wife and daughters to dress modestly without trying to draw attention to themselves because that is a Biblical directive. Anything beyond that is only cultural.


      • Rules cannot bring transformation of the heart. Yes, we need this teaching in our churches. Your answer to Tabitha when she asked you, “Why do you dress like that?” was answered by talking about your wife and daughters. I don’t want to be confrontational, but as a woman raised in a Mennonite church it has always seemed dishonest to pretend nonconformity in dress pertains mostly to women. In fact, if what is good for the goose is not also good for the gander then it’s not good for the goose either. “Modesty standards in the world have changed more for women than for men,” does not work for me. We all know there are groups such as the Orthodox Jews who have rules for both sexes which results in them both looking different than the world. Simon, you seem willing to engage these hard questions of our culture. Would you please take a stab at what is really going on with prescribed homemade dresses for women in the same church that the men cannot be distinguished from the world in dress?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Brenda,
        You have some good questions in there. I’m not sure that I really have all the right answers, but I’ll give it a shot.

        If the type of clothes we wear are only for nonconformity, then yes, many of our Anabaptist churches certainly have a double standard. Men may have some rules, but they can easily fit in.

        If it’s only about modesty, then I find myself questioning the church prescribed homemade dresses. There are many clothing styles that are modest outside of our circles.

        In researching some our more recent history (late 1920’s), I ran across a quote by a man named Oscar Burkholder, a man with much influence during a time when many clothing rules were being established. The following quote was printed in both the Gospel Herald and the Christian Review. He wrote, “It would seem that the woman is still bent on dragging man down; she was the one who first tempted man, and she is still at the same old game.”

        The prevailing mindset towards women during that time was that women needed to be kept under control by men. Do our Anabaptist churches today still have mindsets like this? I think some probably do.

        I have no problem with women wearing homemade clothing, but for a church to mandate specific styles in the name of “nonconformity”, I would question the scriptural validity of it.

        That aside, my answer regarding my wife and girls dressing differently could bare a better explanation. “Modesty standards in the world have changed more for women than for men” does hold truth. I can buy most men’s clothing with no problems. My wife buys clothing a bit more carefully and looks differently than many women around her. But it is according to her modesty convictions.


  1. I love this post! Yes, when God transforms us, it changes everything.

    Jesus is not an accessory to the Christian life. He IS the Christian life. With Him, we will be transformed. Without Him, we won’t be transformed.

    In our Arminian theology, we have picked up on verses about the necessity for works to follow salvation, and have taught the importance of proper behavior. But I have also come to realize that in reality, a lot of this is just fruit. When the Holy Spirit works inside of us, we will look like it. Not in how we dress, necessarily, but in our lifestyles.

    That’s why Jesus said, “He who has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me.” Not because that person is earning Jesus’ love, but because true love for Jesus results in obedience.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. To use a more Reformed formulation, regeneration must precede sanctification. While you can control behavior for a period of time, eventually the lack of a regenerate heart will overcome external non-conformity. We see it a lot around here with the Amish, when families leave the Amish the young folks often go completely off the rails.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unfortunately I have observed too many attempts of “behavior modification” with no transformation that end up “off the rails” as you put it. An unregenerate heart can’t remain hidden forever -no matter how many attempts are made to look right outwardly.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Simon, for taking a shot at my question above. It is one of the few times somebody was actually willing to attempt an answer. In studying our history, I have found some things quite surprising. I have really appreciated your blog and only wish you would write more often. I wish you and your family God’s blessing! I know that talking about these things isn’t always an easy thing.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Appreciate the desire to converse on this topic of ‘nonconformity’ which ‘our people’ have held so dear for the last several generations. I love reading history, and it’s become clear that the current emphasis on ‘nonconformity’ by the plain people is quite different than that of those considered to be our forefathers. It has so much to do with the focus. Are we really focused on pursuing Jesus and the resulting conformation of heart (“being conformed to his image”), or are we in the defensive mode of trying to stay ‘separate from the world’? That difference of focus becomes painfully obvious as we consider our methods of operation.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I did not grow up Anababtist, but living in the Emmental Switzerland, i got teached about Anababtist history at an early age. I was fascinated. I became a Christian at the age of 13. Forward 15 years our Family, me my husband and 4 children, moved to Canada for two years where we had the opportunity to attend a Mennonite church ( consevative).
    We really enjoyed beeing there and regretted deeply to leave as we had to move back to Switzerland after my husbands brother died. This just very briefly.
    I have done a LOT of reading on Anababtist history and beliefs(whatever i can get my hands on 🙂 ) .I id lots of studying and comparing ( to the evangelic free church our family attends here).
    I kept missing the Mennonite church for many reasons yet there have always remained doubts about the very topics you writhe about. This posts on nonconformity speaks out of my heart. I think that the Anababtist movement today is a long way from the early movement in some areas.
    Also the questions Brenda asked i will keep in mind for my next talk with our Mennonite friends from Canada and England.
    It is so important that we do what we do out of our transformed life in Christ. And that it is solidely backed by the bible.
    I got babtised at the State church as a ba and re(ally)-babtised as an adult.
    Out of years of study i decided to wear (mostly) dresses and a headcovering. I d’ love to wear some jewellery but since the bible teaches not to wear pearls and so on i decided to go without.
    I am pretty selfish but out of my desire to following the Lord i CHOOSE to submit to my husband.
    There would be more to add and certainly there is PLENTY of room to do better. Some things are not easy and pleasant.
    Non of it would i ever do in my ‘caterpillar nature’ It is ONLY trough a changed heart! Changed by Christ
    I teached my children all of this but we chose not to force any of it on them as they grow older. We believe that it will only have a worth if they will do it out of their own changed hearts.
    We coach and support them. We pray for them . But we dont force them.
    This is our situation. Of course it is a huge blessing to have ones children grow up with ‘your’ teaching but it will not change the facts you mention.
    Attending a Mennonite church had a huge influence on me but i am NOT sure if i would feel confortable to adhere to all those ‘guide lines’ for some of them are in my view clearly not biblical commandments but CULTURAL.
    In the church i attended i would NOT be allowed a member if i would not agree to fully assimilate.
    I’m sure this would be the case in most Mennonite churches. My question in this: Does unity really mean uniformity? I feel not one bit less a child of God if i wear something different.
    Sorry this is too long.
    Blessings from a Reader in Switzerland

    Liked by 3 people

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