A QUESTION OF NUDITY
Messianic Evangelicals Thoughts
About Dress and Undress
Q. One of our missionary teams in Stavanger was once asked to participate in a radio debate on nudism. The group didn't participate because it wasn't sure what NCAY's position was. Could you clarify?
A. Firstly, nudity is the natural state of man. Adam and Eve lived in a state of nudity in the Garden of Eden before the fall whereafter they were clothed with animal skins because they were ashamed of their nakedness.
Q. Is the word "ashamed" the key to whether or not nudity is acceptable?
A. You must be very careful here. We must see shame in two contexts which are entirely different. There are many people who are highly immoral who are not ashamed of nakedness and who indulge in all kinds of obscenities. Such people have no conscience because they willfully disobey the mitzvot (commandments). When such people have their consciences awakened by repentance from evil deeds, one of the first things they become is ashamed, and one of their first desires is to have their nakedness covered. And they become ashamed because they become conscious of sin.
At the other end of the spectrum are those people who are the opposite and can go around naked without shame. They live in pure conscience and in right relationship with Yahweh, just as Adam and Eve did. Unlike the sexually immoral who lust after the bodies of men and women and disrespect all the boundaries of morality set up by Elohim (God), the true children of Elohim (God) are able to be naked without a sense of shame and without lusting after any man or woman to whom they are not married.
This is a big subject and there are a lot of tabboos associated with it that vary from culture to culture. But there is a third dimension that must be considered which is as important as the other two. And this concerns our responsibility to those who are weaker in the emunah (faith) than us.
Now personally nudism is no problem for me though there was once a time that I would have blushed at even the very mention of the word. But I would never become a nudist for the simple reason that it might undermine the spirituality of someone weaker in the emunah (faith) than I am. Every believer has the moral responsibility to ensure that he is not the instrument, conscious or unconscious, of leading anyone into sin. Paul enumerates this principle in the New Testament in a debate about vegetarianism. He also brings it up again in the husband-wife relationship, teaching the wives to be sober. This word "sober" means, literally, "voluntarily self-limiting" for the sake of righteousness.
Q. So you would not recommend Messianic Evangelicals becoming nudists?
A. I wouldn't recommend anyone becoming a nudist in front of people they don't know, and by 'know' I mean knowing a person's soul. Since virtually everyone in the world remains hidden behind various veils I wonder just how well we 'know' anyone. Elohim (God) has told us in the revelations that we should never expose our nakedness to the eye of lust or of evil. To cause anyone to lust is a sin.
Q. But surely different people lust after different things? How much should we be covered?
A. This is a hard question! In Victorian days for a man to even see a woman's ankles was often enough to arouse his passions. Nowadays I doubt if many men are stimulated by ankles. Women don't often realise that men are aroused by sight and consequently lay open the brethren to much unnecessary temptation. We could have a long discussion about this and probably get nowhere. It is, for example, perfectly true that people raised in a nudist society suffer far less inhibitiveness than those raised in cultures that cover themselves up a lot. Cultures where men and women go around naked or semi-naked suffer less from sexual problems than we in the west do, but on the other hand one mustn't forget that they often have far stricter laws about fornication and adultery. They also have a stronger home or family life and they invariably marry young. All of these factors have to be taken into consideration.
To answer your question on how we should we be covered, I would say: imitate the malakim (angels). Now we can't dress the way malakim (angels) dress, at least not here in the West, for they wear loose fitting robes. In heaven people are covered with robes that reach down to their ankles or half-way down their lower leg. Their arms are usually covered to the elbow or to their wrists. Their chests are not bared. Their clothes are loose fitting so as not to exaggerate their physical outline. These are the keys we should use in dressing. Don't wear tight-fitting clothes because an outline is almost as provocative as nudity itself, especially to a man. Keep your legs covered, don't expose your breast. Don't dress to draw attention to yourselves for the children of wickedness, once their attention is caught, will begin to plan evil. This is good common Christian sense and is in harmony with the scriptures.
Q. What about non-Western cultures where semi-nudity is the norm?
A. Every culture must be judged on its own merits and I think it best not to make judgments here until we have confronted those cultures for ourselves. I would add that Abraham and his family had this problem for it was customary, for the most part, for the women in his day to go around topless. He was faced with a dilemma for on the one hand he wished his family to be concealed from the eye of lust, and on the other he did not want to draw unnecessary attention to himself by standing out differently. Paul tells us to dress as the heathens if that helps us minister to them, but for no other reason. Thus we must be sensitive to the needs and opportunities of the times and places in which we live.
Q. Do you think dress is important in our witness to the world?
A. Absolutely. Yahweh has called us to be a peculiar - a different - people and that is how we should behave so that we can witness. A Christian/Messianic who dresses according to the standards of the world is a bad witness of Messiah. A woman who flaunts her body testifies that she is not fully converted to the moral law of the Kingdom, and therefore to Messiah. The qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones) should dress in a dignified if simple way so as not to draw attention to the physical. Anyone who is not conscious of the need to 'dress as the malakim (angels)' is, in my opinion, not fit to be a part of the company of the malakim (angels) and are setting a bad example of Messiah and giving the Messianic Community (Church) a bad reputation.
Q. What about beach-ware? How should the saints dress on the beach?
A. Well, to begin with, they shoulnd't imitate the gentiles. In Denmark where my family has holidayed, toplessness or total nudity is quite common. Though that doesn't bother me particularly I can appreciate how it would bother others. Obviously we don't want to draw attention to ourselves by dressing as they did at the turn of the century, for example! My recommendation is that women wear one piece suits, not bikinis, and men wear swimming shorts. We should be covered as much as possible without appearing ridiculous. At the same time we should not pass judgment on friends who are not a part of the Covenant for the scriptures teach that we are judge Elohim's (God's) House and not the outside world unless a davar (word) is given by the nevi'im (prophets).
Q. So if you were at the beach with non-member friends and some of them were nude, that wouldn't particularly bother you?
A. If it were my own property, I would insist that they clothed themselves decently. If it were an NCAY gathering I would insist on the same. If it were a public place, then that would be up to them, though I would probably wonder if I had chosen my companions wisely.
Q. So it's really just a matter of common sense and what brings the most glory to Yahweh?
A. Absolutely. Look, you're always going to find yourselves in situations for which there are no written rules. If we try to codify everything we'll become like the Jews and quench out the spirit of revelation. Sometimes you must break lower laws to obey higher ones because of the nature of mortal existence. For example, I would never set foot in a pornography shop. But what if the Ruach (Spirit) told me to go into one to minister to a particular person because that very moment was exactly right for me to do so? Then what should I do?
Q. Go in, of course.
A. Yes, I would. Yah'shua (Jesus) associated with prostitutes and all kinds of 'untouchables' so that He might save them. We, as His agents, are spiritual physicians and must go wherever we are called and wherever there is a need. That means we must be above temptation ourselves, of course. If I am invited to teach the Besorah (Gospel) by an aboriginal whose family is totally naked, will I refuse until they get dressed? Of course not! I will preach Messiah, and when they have accepted Him, they will ask what the moral Torah (Law) is and comply. The inward heart must first be convinced, then outer things will naturally follow.
Here the Christian missionaries made a big mistake in Tahiti where the woman used to go around topless without any social problems. It was the white missionaries who had the social problems in many instances. In forcing them to clothe 'decently' they neglected to minister to the heart. It is true that many of these societies practiced free 'love' (so called) and here lay one of the roots of their problems. Covering people's nudity by itself makes for no real morality, but often makes it worse. The Victorians were probably as promiscuous as the West is today even though they dressed and conducted themselves very 'properly'. They were often total hypocrites. At least in our world the reality is obvious to everyone and you know what you are dealing with. The inner should indeed equal the outer. But don't misinterpret me - I'm not saying we should not have externally imposed laws - our teachings are very clear on this matter for we need them to protect the vulnerable and those more easily open to temptation. Rather I wish to make certain observations on how problems should, and should not, be dealt with.
Fundamentalist Moslem women, as you know, dress to the point of vitual invisibility and many people think them very chaste and holy. But a friend, who lived in Saudi Arabia, told me of the clothes they wore underneath their robes, clothes that would be considered outrageous and pornographic by ordinary conservative Westerners! I mention this to illustrate the futility of imposing external standards without inner conversion.
Q. Could you say something about nudity and marriage? Should children see their parents naked?
A. Husbands and wives should find nudity a totally natural state of being and I see no reason why this should be a problem for the children. However, parents and children live in the world and I would not recommend indiscriminate nakedness in it even amongst children. I see no problem with little children seeing their parents naked nor do I believe little children should be made self-conscious about nakedness. Again, common sense is required. Children will quite happily grow up with nudity and not be bothered in the least by it because it is a natural state of innocence. But, as I said, we live in the world, and children must be taught about sin and the need for believers to be circumspect. For myself, I have never allowed my children to see me totally naked - once they have reached the age of about 4-5 I take more care. In a heavenly society things might be very different but so long as I am in this world of sin and immorality I intend to be careful and cover up, and would counsel the qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones) to be the same.
This interview was given in 1991
This page was created on 5 July 1998
Last updated on 5 July 1998
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