A blog I recommend others read, because it is a valued cobelligerant in contending for Biblical sanity generally and in the area of sexuality in particular, recently posted something about beards. It was a snippet from an early Father of the Church, Clement of Alexandria, who offered these words:
But for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, to arrange his hair at the looking-glass, to shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them, how womanly! And, in truth, unless you saw them naked, you would suppose them to be women. For although not allowed to wear gold, yet out of effeminate desire they enwreath their latches and fringes with leaves of gold; or, getting certain spherical figures of the same metal made, they fasten them to their ankles, and hang them from their necks. This is a device of enervated men, who are dragged to the women’s apartments, amphibious and lecherous beasts.
… For God wished women to be smooth, and rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane; but has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him, as an attribute of manhood, with shaggy breasts,—a sign this of strength and rule.
… This, then, the mark of the man, the beard, by which he is seen to be a man, is older than Eve, and is the token of the superior nature. In this God deemed it right that he should excel, and dispersed hair over man’s whole body. … It is therefore impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness.
Father Clement says a good many other things, which you can read for yourself at the CCEL site linked above. And, all that he says will keep the egalitarian chattering classes twittering for the rest of their lives.
But, I cite Clement here by way of showing how very, very far our culture has moved from its Christian foundations, and to suggest that something so simple as the grooming of body hair by both men and women in Christ’s church shows which way the spiritual winds are blowing.
What pastor or christian leader would ever consider a sermon urging the men of his flock to let their beards grow out? If they will not preach sermons to their female parishioners on the womanliness of long hair, the shamefulness of short hair on women (remember, that’s the Apostolic judgment in 1 Corinthians 11!), how shall they ever screw up enough courage to grow a beard, or to urge their brothers to grow them?
Of course, there many reasons modern Christian leaders would offer to avoid the subject entirely. They would include
1. Legalism!! If we preach on the length or grooming of hair, much less of beards, we’d be preaching a legal code. How contrary to the gospel of grace. Right?
2. Majoring on minors!! Or, less than minors!! What about men who can’t grow beards? What about female cancer patients?? And, who’s to say short hair on a woman is shameful anyway??
3. Hearts are far more important than the hair!! God looks on the heart, not on the hair-length. Right?
These and similar defenses against preaching on head-hair are irrelevant to this question — does the Bible, does the New Testament, does the Law of Christ, do any of these have anything to say to Christians about hair length and hair grooming? I’d expect most modern Christians to give a resounding “NO!” to that question.
But, when you point them to such teachings in both Old and New Testaments, a modern Christian leader cannot explain why they are there in the first place. To explain them, he (and, more often these days, she) would need a Biblical theology of sex to explain things like sex-differentiating elements in grooming and fashion, things which both the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ have very clear things to say.
Clement trained his pastoral guns on fashions of dress and grooming that are pretty much the same as what we find today. He warned his flock to avoid the way the world corrupted women and emasculated men. First Century North Africa and Twenty-First Century North America had far more in common than anyone understands. Clement was a faithful servant of his Lord to preach all the Christ had commanded. Modern shepherds rarely do that any more, at least where the the commandments of Christ deal with things like dress, fashion, and — yes–hair length and its grooming, on both men and women.
By way of disclosure, I admit to wearing some form of facial hair since college days (high schools in my day did not permit any facial hair on men). I have worn a beard for almost 40 years now. My children (the oldest is now 25) have never seen me without a beard, except for a photo taken during Marine Corps boot camp, and they did not recognize me at all when they first saw it.
If you’d like to see an entire website devoted to the subject of beards — their glory, their cultivation and maintenance, their lore, check out beards.org. As I pen this blog, it features the fellow at the right, seen in both his bearded and unbearded versions. Beards.org archives all the steps in between this version of Patrick and the bearded version below. In fact, you can see all the versions in between at beards.org, and find all you ever wanted to know about beards, and a lot of what you never dreamed there was to know.
During my 40 years with a beard, I’ve seen beards go in and out of fashion. And, I’ve seen kaleidascopic variation in beard styles, lengths, and grooming. But, in no Christian community I have ever inhabited have I seen even the slightest acknowledgement that the Holy Spirit had any opinion at all about this topic, or that He had shown His opinion in Holy Writ.
That is what is the most startling about Clement’s pastoral exhortations. Most moderns will be shocked at the details of his teaching (he dares to criticize what we nowadays call “waxing” to remove all hair from the face, chest, and other parts of the body).
Beyond the details, however, is the larger framework from which the details take their meaning. It’s this Biblical framework one can sense in Clement’s exhortations. And, once you begin to perceive that framework and to think about the world in terms of it, the world around you begins to look pretty much as Clement was describing it in his day.