I wore clothes to church yesterday.
This is not a particularly unusual statement. Unless you happen to attend the White Tail Chapel, a small congregation in a nudist community. Many members (and the pastor) embrace the “clothing-optional” philosophy and claim that it helps them be more open and unashamed with God and with others. (Read more about it here.)
I heard about this interesting case on the Phil Vischer podcast.
At one point, Phil asks “Could you point them to a passage of Scripture that says, ‘You shouldn’t be doing that’?” And I thought, in all my cocky 20-something-ness, “How hard could that be?”
Harder than I thought, that’s what.
Thankfully, I was helped out by Andy Crouch, one of those writers who I really just wish I was friends with. I’m reading Playing God right now (which, no, is not a book about nudity—it’s about power, and this section just happened to relate).
In it, Crouch points out that the early church would resonate with the language verses like 2 Corinthians 5:2-4 because converts were often baptized naked, then clothed in a white robe to symbolize their new life in Christ. (However great the symbolism, this is not something I think is going to catch on in evangelical Christianity.)
Then Crouch says that Paul “suggests that the resurrection will not return us to the Garden’s nakedness but usher us onward to the fuller life of the City’s martyrs, clothed according to Revelation in robes of white and vested with the symbols of reign and power.”
Hmm. Interesting. Deciding to investigate further, I turned to my handy New Dictionary of Biblical Theology! (Maybe if you run really, really fast, my nerdiness won’t rub off on you.)
What I found was that Crouch is right. Although the original set of clothing is linked to shame and a loss of innocence, clothing is almost universally positive after that point. Here are a few quick sound bites so you know I’m not making this up:
“See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” (Zech. 3:4) “Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor.” (Isa. 52:1) “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col. 3:12) “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal. 3:27)
And, finally, the church, portrayed as the bride of Christ makes an appearance in Rev. 19:8: “Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”
Why do I wear clothes to church? Because maybe not everything that happened after the Fall needs to be reversed.
We’re not going back to Eden, guys. Heaven will not be a lush garden with strategically placed bushes (or at least, it won’t be just that). Actually, heaven won’t be…heaven. It will be the new heavens and new earth. Which is different than some ethereal place “out there” somewhere.
To the nudist pastor, I would say: “Clothing is not about shame. That’s not how the Bible portrays it. It’s about God’s gracious response to our shame, and his transforming and redemptive power over it.”
I can hear some of you thinking, “Okay, that’s interesting. But why does it matter?”
Here are a few implications of a biblical theology of nudity. (File that one under “Sentences I Never Thought I’d Use in a Blog Post.”)
WARNING: If you don’t like controversy, stop reading! Go away! It’s not too late to turn back!
For those of you still here, what you think about clothing and nudity affects:
How you dress.
If I view clothing as (a necessary) evil, I’ll either emphasize the shame of my body and the need to cover it up, or I’ll claim I shouldn’t care at all what I wear (or don’t wear) because clothing was a result of the Fall and stop making me feel ashamed for the good body that God created me with!
If I view clothing as good (which I do), I have theological back-up to say that clothing imparts dignity and allows self-respect—without either being ashamed of my body or flaunting it. If clothing is good, I can give biblical reasons for not wearing either a burqa or a bikini. I can treat modesty as a good gift from God instead of a legalistic checklist or an outdated restriction.
How you talk about heaven.
Often, we make it seem like some distant reality with fluffy clouds and castles and gently streaming light. And possibly unicorns, since they got kind of a raw deal on earth. But we don’t associate it with anything in our current reality. Once you start thinking of clothing as something that isn’t limited to this life, what about art? Literature? Technology? Do they have a place in the new heavens and new earth too?
I especially care about this because I knew little kids who didn’t want to be saved because they thought heaven sounded boring. Face it, no five-year-old wants to sit on a cloud playing a harp for eternity.
How you think about gender roles.
Much of the debate about man’s leadership has to do with whether or not it existed before the Fall. Complementarians say it did, that it was around from the very beginning. Egalitarians say it didn’t, and since it was a result of the Fall, we should be fighting against it.
I say…even if an authority structure was created after the Fall doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. Because clothing and hamburgers and cities weren’t around before the Fall either, and those are not bad things, and at least two of the three seem to be present in the new heavens and new earth. (And now I’m running away from that particular topic as fast as I can. It’s just something to think about—nothing I’m sure of. This is a complicated subject, guys.)
So, there you go. What you think about nude church services can have a lot of practical implications on your life. Because, guys, what you believe theologically matters. That could be the tagline for this blog.
Thoughts? What would you say to the pastor of the nudist church if you had a chance to speak to him? (And if you want to talk about the controversial subjects I name-dropped, that’s fine too. I deserve it.)