“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?
What 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.