Outward holiness

Outward Holiness, or External Holiness, is a Wesleyan-Arminian doctrine emphasizing modest dress and sober speech.[1] It is a testimony of a Christian believer's inward holiness.[1] The doctrine was prevalent during the revival movements for the early Lutheran Pietists and Methodists, and during the Holiness and Pentecostal movements. Some Christian denominations within the Wesleyan-Arminian theological tradition, such as some Methodist, Holiness, and Pentecostal denominations continue to observe outward holiness. It is taken from 1 Peter 1:15: "He which hath called you is Holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation."


  • 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); women often wear a Christian headcovering (1 Cor. 11:5).[2] This would also include 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.[3]
  • A distinction of the sexes in clothing, forbidding such style as trousers and pant suits for women unless 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:


The founder of the Methodist Churches, John Wesley emphasized "inward and outward holiness", which "emphasized the essential link between heart holiness and holy living."[7] 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.[8]

Early Methodists wore plain dress, with Methodist clergy condemning "high headdresses, ruffles, laces, gold, and 'costly apparel' in general".[9] 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";[10] 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."[11] He also taught, with respect to Christian headcovering, that women, "especially in a religious assembly", should "keep on her veil".[12] Those who tried to attend Methodist services in costly apparel were denied admittance.[13] 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."[14] 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."[15] 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".[16] Peter Cartwright, a Methodist revivalist, lamented the decline of outward holiness among some Methodists, stating:[5]

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![15]

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,[17][18] also avoiding the wearing of jewelry (sometimes inclusive of wedding rings).[3] 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]

Observing denominations

Outward Holiness is a part of Wesleyan-Arminian theology and practice. 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. 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 communicants of the Laestadian Lutheran Churches, as well as 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 the modest dress.[22]

See also

Further reading

  • Cope, Rosemary L. (2005). Glorifying God in Holy Living. Salem: Allegheny Publications. 
  • Palacios, Ignacio (1998). Biblical Apparel. Salem: Allegheny Publications. 
  • Gilbert, Dan (1951). The Devil's Dance of Death And Damnation. Glendale: The Church Press. 


  1. 1 2 Jim McKinley, David Huston (2018). "What is outward holiness?". Glorious Church Questions & Answers. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  2. Streitmatter, Jeff (2018). "About Us". Fort Myers Apostolic Christian Church. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 "Discipline of the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches" (PDF). 2014. pp. 33–34. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  4. Macowan, Peter (1843). Practical Considerations on the Christian Sabbath. John Mason. p. 27.
  5. 1 2 Cartwright, Peter (1857). Autobiography of Peter Cartwright: The Backwoods Preacher. Carlton & Porter. p. 74. Accessed 19 June 2017.
  6. 1 2 Cartledge, Mark J.; Swoboda, A.J. (7 July 2016). Scripting Pentecost: A Study of Pentecostals, Worship and Liturgy. Routledge. p. 19. ISBN 9781317058663.
  7. "Wesley: Inward & Outward Holiness". The United Methodist Church. 13 November 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  8. Headley, Anthony J. (4 October 2013). "Getting It Right: Christian Perfection and Wesley's Purposeful List". Seedbed. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  9. Lyerly, Cynthia Lynn (24 September 1998). Methodism and the Southern Mind, 1770-1810. Oxford University Press. p. 39. ISBN 9780195354249. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  10. Journals of Wesley, Nehemiah Curnock, ed.,London: Epworth Press 1938, p. 468.
  11. Wesley, John (1999). "The Wesley Center Online: Sermon 88 - On Dress". Wesley Center for Applied Theology. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  12. Wesley, John. Wesley's Notes on the Bible. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. p. 570. ISBN 9781610252577.
  13. Rupert Davies, A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, London : Epworth, 1965, p.197.
  14. Yrigoyen, Charles; Warrick, Susan E. (7 November 2013). Historical Dictionary of Methodism. Scarecrow Press. p. 124. ISBN 9780810878945.
  15. 1 2 The Discipline of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, of America. Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America. 1858. p. 85.
  16. "A Few Historical Quaker Plain Dress References". Quaker Jane. 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  17. 1 2 "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.
  18. Elwell, Walter A. (2001). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker Academic. p. 564. ISBN 978-0801020759. Accessed 19 June 2017.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 The Discipline of the Evangelical Wesleyan Church. Evangelical Wesleyan Church. 2015. pp. 41, 57–58.
  20. Modesty in Physical Appearance, Assemblies of God, Retrieved on April 17, 2008
  21. ""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.
  22. Reeves, Sarah Jane (2014). "Why Modesty Still Matters". Independentbaptist.com. Retrieved 11 July 2018.

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