Thursday, June 12, 2008

How Then Shall We Dress?

One year after the Brethren Bicentennial, the 1909 Annual Meeting received three queries on dress which were referred to a committee for a study. After an interim report in 1910, the Committee brought its full report to the 1911 Annual Meeting in St. Joseph, Missouri June 6-8.

The stenographic, or verbatim, report of business proceedings contains 45 pages of discussion.

Those favoring prescribed dress argued that the church had a right to interpret Scripture and make rules for its members. Advocates of prescribed dress insisted that the unity and strength in the church and humility and spirituality in members which was promoted by the order of dress would be lost by discarding it.

Opponents of prescribed dress replied that plain and modest dress was scriptural but that no specific form should be required, since both Christ and the apostles wore the dress common to the first century. By adopting rules, the church was legalistic. Opponents of prescribed dress insisted that each generation must deal with the dress issue in the context of its own time.

The report adopted by Annual Meeting in 1911 superseded all previous action on the issue. It presented both scriptural and historical grounds favoring a form of plain dress that differed from worldly apparel. Ministering brethren and their wives were to dress in the prescribed order as exemplary members. The church was to teach members and discipline offenders. Prescribed dress was ideal, but should not be made a test of membership. Members who dressed simply were to be retained within the fellowship and nurtured in spiritual matters until they saw the joy of conforming to the gospel and adopted the order. Members who dressed fashionably were to be disciplined to keep the church pure. Later attempts to alter the decision of 1911 had only slight effect.

Among the specific items included in the report of the dress committee were the following:
  • That the brethren wear plain clothing. That the coat with the standing collar be worn, especially by the ministers and deacons.
  • That the brethren wear their hair and beard in a plain and sanitary matter. That the mustache alone is forbidden.
  • That the sisters attire themselves in plainly-made garments, free from ornaments and unnecessary appendages. That plain bonnets and hoods be the headdress, and the hair be worn in a becoming Christian manner.
  • That the veil be worn in time of prayer and prophesying. The plain cap is regarded as meeting the requirements of scriptural teaching on the subject.
  • That gold for ornament, and jewelry of all kinds, shall not be worn.
  • That no brother be installed into office as minister or deacon who will not pledge himself to observe and teach the order of dress.
Sources: Brethren Encyclopedia and Minutes of the 1911 Annual Meeting