Outward holiness

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Outward holiness, or external holiness, is a WesleyanArminian doctrine emphasizing modest dress and sober speech.[1] It is a testimony of a Christian believer's regeneration, done in obedience to God.[2] The doctrine is prevalent among denominations emerging during the revival movements, including the Methodists (especially those in the Holiness Movement), as well as Pentecostals. It is taken from 1 Peter 1:15: "He which hath called you is Holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation."


The founder of the Methodist Churches, John Wesley emphasized "inward and outward holiness", which "emphasized the essential link between heart holiness and holy living."[3] Outward holiness in the form of "right living and right actions" is to reflect the second work of grace, i.e. the inward experience of entire sanctification.[4]

Early Methodists wore plain dress, with Methodist clergy condemning "high headdresses, ruffles, laces, gold, and 'costly apparel' in general".[5] John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, recommended that Methodists read his thoughts On Dress, in which he detailed acceptable types and colors of fabrics, in addition to "shapes and sizes of hats, coats, sleeves, and hairstyles";[6] in that sermon, John Wesley expressed his desire for Methodists: "Let me see, before I die, a Methodist congregation, full as plain dressed as a Quaker congregation."[7] He also taught, with respect to Christian headcovering, that women, "especially in a religious assembly", should "keep on her veil".[8][9] Those who tried to attend Methodist services in costly apparel were denied admittance.[10] Wesley's teaching was based on his interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9–10 and 1 Peter 3:3–4, which he stated led him to conclude that "expensive clothes puff up their wearers, promote vanity, incite anger, inflame lust, retard the pursuit of holiness, and steal from God and the poor."[11] The 1858 Discipline of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection stated that "we would not only enjoin on all who fear God plain dress, but we would recommend to our preachers and people, according to Mr. Wesley's views expressed in his sermon on the inefficiency of Christianity, published but a few years before his death, and containing his matured judgment, distinguishing plainness—Plainness which will publicly comment them to the maintenance of their Christian profession wherever they may be."[12] The "men among the Methodists all wore the low-crowned hat with a broad brim, and a shad-bellied coat, much after the fashion of a Quaker coat, and their women wore generally a long scoop black silk bonnet, plain, without any gay trimmings, plain dress and no ear-rings, nor any kind of ornaments".[13] The 1859 novel Adam Bede portrayed the Methodist itinerant preacher, Dinah Morris, wearing plain dress, with the words "I saw she was a Methodist, or Quaker, or something of that sort, by her dress".[14] Peter Cartwright, a Methodist revivalist, emphasized the importance of outward holiness in the history of Methodism, stating:[15]

The Methodists in that early day dressed plain; attended their meetings faithfully, especially preaching, prayer and class meetings; they wore no jewelry, no ruffles; they would frequently walk three or four miles to class-meetings and home again, on Sundays; they would go thirty or forty miles to their quarterly meetings, and think it a glorious privilege to meet their presiding elder, and the rest of the preachers. They could, nearly every soul of them, sing our hymns and spiritual songs. They religiously kept the Sabbath day: many of them abstained from dram-drinking, not because the temperance reformation was ever heard of in that day, but because it was interdicted in the General Rules of our Discipline. The Methodists of that day stood up and faced their preacher when they sung; they kneeled down in the public congregation as well as elsewhere, when the preacher said, "Let us pray." There was no standing among the members in time of prayer, especially the abominable practice of sitting down during that exercise was unknown among early Methodists. Parents did not allow their children to go to balls or plays; they did not send them to dancing schools; they generally fasted once a week, and almost universally on Friday before each quarterly meeting. If the Methodists had dressed in the same "superfluity of naughtiness" then as they do now, there were very few even out of the Church that would have had any confidence in their religion. But O, how have things changed for the worse in this educational age of the world![12]

While few wear plain dress in mainline Methodism today, some Methodist Churches of the conservative holiness movement, such as the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection and Evangelical Wesleyan Church, continue to dress modestly and plainly,[16][17] also avoiding the wearing of jewelry (sometimes inclusive of wedding rings).[18] The 2015 Discipline of the Evangelical Wesleyan Church details these holiness standards in its General Rules:[19]

Members shall conform to the scriptural standards of attire, adorning themselves in a meek and quiet spirit, not with gold, pearls, or costly array. This applies specifically to the wearing of finger rings of any kind (including wedding rings), all forms of symbolic or ornamental jewelry, and any apparel which does not modestly or properly clothe the person. Women shall refrain from cutting their hair or curling it either by commercial processes or by home permanent methods, wearing apparel pertaining to men, or painting their faces or fingernails.[19]

In its Special Rules and Advices, the Evangelical Wesleyan Church further teaches that:[19]

We require our women to appear in public with dresses of modest length, sleeves of modest length, modest necklines and modest hose; the wearing of split skirts, slacks, jeans, artificial flowers or feathers is forbidden. Moreover, we require our men to conform to the scriptural standards of decent and modest attire; we require that when they appear in public they wear shirts with sleeves of modest length. We require that all our people appear in public with sleeves below the elbows. Women's hemlines are to be modestly below the knees. Our people are forbidden to appear in public with transparent or immodest apparel, including shorts or bathing suits. Parents are required to dress their children modestly in conformity with our general principles of Christian attire. We further prohibit our people from participating in the practices of body-piercing, tattooing or body art.[19]

The same denomination, in its 2018 Handbook for the Evangelical Wesleyan Bible Institute (EWBI), teaches the following "Principles of Christian Living" for its seminary students:[20]

Hence it is required that those who profess to be disciples of Christ should come out from the world and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing, abstaining from worldly indulgences, such as the use of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, or harmful drugs or agents, worldly amusements, including theatre-going and television-viewing, video-viewing, inappropriate computer usages, card playing, gambling, dancing, the skating rink, amusements fairs, mixed bathing, listening to "rock" and other types of worldly, un-Christian music; the adoring of worldly dress, such as jewelry, attire which does not modestly and/or properly clothe the person or which pertains to the opposite sex, or women cutting or curling their hair or men letting their hair grow too long; tattooing or body piercing; the profanation of the Lord's Day into a day of secular work, business and/or pleasure; and from all other sinful practices.[20]

The Methodist doctrine of outward holiness applies to Home Furnishing as well, with the Metropolitan Church Association teaching:[21]

Modesty and economy should be observed in the furnishing of the home. Costly furniture or needless home equipment should not be provided. The world is in great need of all the help the church can possibly give; and it becomes those who are walking in the footsteps of Jesus, to economize on all lines, that they may help the needy.[21]


Holiness Methodist doctrine teaches that biblical standards of dress and behaviour are followed "an act of obedience and they keep one from nullifying his testimony of grace", being required for all Christians after the first work of grace—regeneration.[2] The father of Methodism John Wesley's view of standards was grounded in the principle of stewardship—dressing plainly so that money could go to help the needy: "Everything about thee which cost more than Christian duty required thee to lay out is the blood of the poor!"[2] Methodist evangelist Phoebe Palmer wrote the following prayer of consecration for those seeking to be entirely sanctified, which "involves a submitting to any behavioral standards which might be enjoined upon the believer by God":[2]

With comminglings of intense yet solemn joy, and holy fear, I do at this eventful hour resolve, in the strength of the Lord Jehovah, on minute circumspection in the sustainment and adornment of my body, to indulge in only such things as may be enjoyed in the name of the Lord, and bear the inscription, “HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD”.[2]

Daniel Stafford, a Nazarene evangelist, preached that those not adhering to biblical standards of dress and behaviour are not even candidates for the second work of grace: "It would be an insult to the blessed Holy Ghost to ask Him to house a body that is decked out with the things of the world".[2] The 2012 Book of Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church teaches the following standards that are typical of traditional Methodist practice:[22]

¶77. Conditions of Membership—There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these Societies: "A desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins." But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits. ¶78. It is therefore expected of all who desire to continue therein, that they shall continue to evidence their desire of salvation, first: by doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as: The taking of the Name of God in vain, profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein, or by buying or selling. Drunkenness, buying or selling or using spirituous liquors, unless cases of extreme necessity; fighting, quarreling, brawling; brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using of many words in buying and selling; the buying or selling of goods that have not paid the duty; giving or taking things on usury (that is, unlawful interest); uncharitable or unprofitable conversation particularly speaking evil of ministers and magistrates; doing unto others what we would not they should do unto us; doing what we know that is not for the glory of God; the putting on the gold as a useless ornament; and taking such diversion as cannot be done in the name of the Lord Jesus—such as dancing, card-playing, lottery, policy, and other, games of chance; going to circuses and theaters; the singing of those songs and the reading of those books that do not tend to the knowledge and love of God; softness and needless of self-indulgence; laying up treasures on earth; buying goods without the probability of paying for them. ¶79. It is expected of all those who wish to continue in these Societies, that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation. Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men. To their bodies, of the ability which God gives; by giving food to the hungry; by clothing the naked; by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison; To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all whom they have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that "We are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it." By doing good especially to them that are of the household of faith, or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another; helping one another in business and so much the more because the world will love its own, and them only. By all possible diligence and frugality, that the Gospel be not blamed. By running with patience the race set before them, denying themselves and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ; to be as the filth and off scouring of the world; and looking, that men should say all manner of evil against them falsely, for the Lord's sake. It is expected of all who desire in these Societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation. Thirdly: By attending on all the ordinances of God; such as, the Public worship of God; the Ministry of the Word, either read or explained; the Lord's Supper, searching the Scriptures, fasting, and abstinence; family and private prayer. —The Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church[22]

Many of the following standards are those practiced by those who adhere to the doctrine of outward holiness, though certain connexions have relaxed them, especially those in the mainline tradition:

  • Modest and plain dress (1 Tim. 2:9), which is defined as loose covering from the neck to below the knee in all normal body postures (Exod. 20:26; 28:42-43) with women's styles including cape dresses and prairie dresses for example; women often wear a Christian headcovering (1 Cor. 11:5).[9][23] This would include the wearing of swimming dresses by women rather than revealing bathing suits, as well as the strict prohibition of mixed bathing.
  • Moderate or no use of jewelry or ornaments of gold, silver, and jewels for personal adornment (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:1-6); some denominations will only allow the use of a wedding band or ring while others proscribe it too.[18]
  • A distinction of the sexes in clothing, forbidding such style as trousers and pant suits for women even if required by work or public service. (Deut. 22:5).
  • Christian men are to wear their hair short and Christian women must never cut or remove their hair, wearing it long in order to have a definitive distinction of male and female sexes. (1 Cor. 11:14-15).

Outward Holiness can also include the following which reveal an inward character:

Observing denominations[edit]

Outward Holiness is a part of Wesleyan-Arminian (Methodist) theology and practice, being inherited in many Holiness Pentecostal traditions. It is usually practiced with a family or similar environmental or community beliefs. Denominations that observe Outward Holiness are:

Many Anabaptist communities, such as the Amish, Bruderhof and Hutterites, are considered plain people for their simple lifestyle and dress, which includes Christian headcoverings for women. Likewise, Conservative Friends (Quakers) practice a testimony of simplicity. As these Churches have a different origin than those of the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, they do not call this outward holiness although their beliefs often produce the same externals as those of the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, e.g. plain dress. Other people with a similar lifestyle include certain Traditionalist Catholics,[31] such as the communicants of the Palmarian Catholic Church,[32] as well as the communicants of the Laestadian Lutheran Churches, and some Reformed denominations, such as the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Netherlands Reformed Congregations. Congregants in Independent Baptist churches are also known for their modest dress.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jim McKinley, David Huston (2018). "What is outward holiness?". Glorious Church Questions & Answers. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Thornton, Jr., Wallace (2008). Behavioral Standards, Embourgeoisement, and the Formation of the Conservative Holiness Movement. Wesleyan Theological Society. pp. 187–193.
  3. ^ "Wesley: Inward & Outward Holiness". The Unifted Methodist Church. 13 November 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  4. ^ Headley, Anthony J. (4 October 2013). "Getting It Right: Christian Perfection and Wesley's Purposeful List". Seedbed. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  5. ^ Lyerly, Cynthia Lynn (24 September 1998). Methodism and the Southern Mind, 1770-1810. Oxford University Press. p. 39. ISBN 9780195354249. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  6. ^ Journals of Wesley, Nehemiah Curnock, ed., London: Epworth Press 1938, p. 468.
  7. ^ Wesley, John (1999). "The Wesley Center Online: Sermon 88 - On Dress". Wesley Center for Applied Theology. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  8. ^ Wesley, John (1987). Wesley's Notes on the Bible. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. p. 570. ISBN 9781610252577. Therefore if a woman is not covered — If she will throw off the badge of subjection, let her appear with her hair cut like a man's. But if it be shameful far a woman to appear thus in public, especially in a religious assembly, let her, for the same reason, keep on her veil.
  9. ^ a b Dunlap, David (1 November 1994). "Headcovering-A Historical Perspective". Uplook Ministries. Retrieved 24 June 2019. Although women were allowed to preach in the Methodist ministry, the veil covering a woman’s head was required as a sign of her headship to Christ. Concerning the theological significance of the veil, Wesley wrote, “For a man indeed ought not to veil his head because he is the image and glory of God in the dominion he bears over the creation, representing the supreme dominion of God, which is his glory. But the woman is a matter of glory to the man, who has a becoming dominion over her. Therefore she ought not to appear except with her head veiled as a tacit acknowledgement of it.”
  10. ^ Rupert Davies, A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, London : Epworth, 1965, p.197.
  11. ^ Yrigoyen, Charles; Warrick, Susan E. (7 November 2013). Historical Dictionary of Methodism. Scarecrow Press. p. 124. ISBN 9780810878945.
  12. ^ a b The Discipline of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, of America. Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America. 1858. p. 85.
  13. ^ Sherrard, Robert Andrew (1890). Sherrard, Thomas Johnson (ed.). The Sherrard Family of Steubenville. Jas B. Rodgers Printing Company. p. 71.
  14. ^ "A Few Historical Quaker Plain Dress References". Quaker Jane. 2007. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  15. ^ a b Cartwright, Peter (1857). Autobiography of Peter Cartwright: The Backwoods Preacher. Carlton & Porter. p. 74. Accessed 19 June 2017.
  16. ^ a b "I. The Church". Discipline of the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection. Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection. Should we insist on plain and modest dress? Certainly. We should not on any account spend what the Lord has put into our hands as stewards, to be used for His glory, in expensive wearing apparel, when thousands are suffering for food and raiment, and millions are perishing for the Word of life. Let the dress of every member of every Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Church be plain and modest. Let the strictest carefulness and economy be used in these respects.
  17. ^ Elwell, Walter A. (2001). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker Academic. p. 564. ISBN 978-0801020759. Accessed 19 June 2017.
  18. ^ a b c "Discipline of the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches" (PDF). 2014. pp. 33–34. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  19. ^ a b c d e The Discipline of the Evangelical Wesleyan Church. Evangelical Wesleyan Church. 2015. pp. 41, 57–58.
  20. ^ a b Evangelical Wesleyan Bible Institute Handbook. Cooperstown: LWD Publishing. 2018.
  21. ^ a b The Discipline of the Metropolitan Church Association. Metropolitan Church Association. 15 November 1930. p. 21.
  22. ^ a b The Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4969-5704-7.
  23. ^ Streitmatter, Jeff (2018). "About Us". Fort Myers Apostolic Christian Church. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  24. ^ Macowan, Peter (1843). Practical Considerations on the Christian Sabbath. John Mason. p. 27.
  25. ^ a b Cartledge, Mark J.; Swoboda, A.J. (7 July 2016). Scripting Pentecost: A Study of Pentecostals, Worship and Liturgy. Routledge. p. 19. ISBN 9781317058663.
  26. ^ Modesty in Physical Appearance, Assemblies of God Archived 2008-05-13 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved on April 17, 2008
  27. ^ Manual of the Bible Missionary Church, Inc. Bible Missionary Church. 2015. pp. 21–26.
  28. ^ "Outward Appearance" (PDF). The Gospel Truth. Church of God. pp. 4–12. Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  29. ^ Guidebook of the Emmanuel Association of Churches. Logansport: Emmanuel Association. 2002. p. 8.
  30. ^ ""Lord, Make Me": Truth, Righteousness, and Beauty in the Christian Life". God's Missionary Church. 26 January 2018. Retrieved 11 July 2018. Our personal appearance ought to reflect holiness, not only in plainness and modesty, but in simplicity, neatness and beauty.
  31. ^ "Marylike Standards For Modesty in Dress".
  32. ^ "Rules governing the followers of the Palmarian Church".
  33. ^ Reeves, Sarah Jane (2014). "Why Modesty Still Matters". Independentbaptist.com. Retrieved 11 July 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Carradne, Beverly (1997). The Lottery. Salem: Schmul Publishing Co. ISBN 0880193638.
  • Cope, Rosemary L. (2005). Glorifying God in Holy Living. Salem: Allegheny Publications.
  • Ewing, C. Clair.; Ewing, Charles Wesley (1993). Divorce-Remarriage: Re-examined Scripturally. Indianapolis: Evangelist of Truth.
  • Gilbert, Dan (1951). The Devil's Dance of Death And Damnation. Glendale: The Church Press.
  • Jessop, Harry E. (2008). Foundations of Doctrine in Scripture and Experience. Nicholasville: Schmul Publishing Co. ISBN 978-0880193467.
  • Palacios, Ignacio (1998). Biblical Apparel. Salem: Allegheny Publications.
  • Yocum, Dale (1988). Hijacker in the House. Salem: Schmul Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 0880190698.

External links[edit]