This article was written in response to a piece in the Fig Leaf Forum newsletter. The author suggested that we should use the scriptural model of food offered to idols to guide us in our approach to social nudity.
The article by Dan of Pennsylvania on 'LIVING IN A PAGAN SOCIETY' contained a lot of interesting and thought-provoking ideas. I feel we need more articles of this kind, suggesting different ways in which Christian naturists can understand their position. No one approach will satisfy the theology, personality and circumstances of all Christian naturists, but here is an alternative that some may wish to consider.
The two basic areas we need to address are doctrine and practice: we need to have a sound theology ('orthodoxy') and to live as God intends ('orthopraxy').
Much can be said about the theology of naturism, but this much seems to be clear: the theology of naturism can be approached along the same lines as the theology of drinking, dancing and gambling. In each case, the activity as such is never condemned or prohibited in the Bible; there are examples of people engaging in each activity without criticism; and there are limits - times and places when it is not appropriate.
For each activity, there are people who will argue that because there are times and places when it is wrong, Christians should always abstain from it in order to avoid the possibility of sin, or of leading others astray. This cannot be supported from the Bible. Every physical activity is only sometimes right, and on this reasoning, we could never do anything.
The Bible tells us 'there is a time to laugh and a time to cry.' The fact that it is sometimes right to cry does not mean it is always right to cry, and never right to laugh. The Bible, as always, shows us a healthy balance. The fact that it is sometimes right to abstain from alcohol or nudity or dancing does not mean it is always right to abstain.
The issues and arguments surrounding naturism are essentially the same as those concerning drinking alcohol and dancing. In each case, the problem most Christians have is not that the activity is considered to be wrong, evil or sinful as such, but they believe that the cultural context makes it unhelpful or inappropriate for Christians to engage in it.
This is quite different from the question of meat offered to idols, where the issue is that of talking part in pagan religious worship. The Bible is quite clear that this is wrong: we are to worship God alone. The difficulty comes in identifying which activities actually count as taking part in pagan worship.
A parallel in our society would be in considering a Christian response to pornography: we all agree that it is wrong, but fail to agree on how to categorise individual pictures, magazines or films. Some Christians have pictures on their walls that other Christians would condemn as pornographic. But we all agree that pornography is wrong - it is always wrong, and in all circumstances.
So - some things are always wrong, such as pornography and worshiping anything other than the one true God. Other things are sometimes wrong, because they can sometimes be inappropriate, such as dancing and nudity.
To confuse these two categories is not only wrong - it is dangerous. When we tell people that something is wrong when it is only inappropriate, we mislead them and we lose our credibility. If we tell our young people that dancing and sex outside marriage are both wrong, when they discover that dancing as an act of worship can be right, they may also swallow the lie that sex outside marriage as an act of love can also be right. What we have taught them is that they cannot trust what we say.
As far as our theology goes, we must be absolutely clear that the Bible does not condemn nudity, so when the topic arises, we can and should consider when and where nudity is acceptable and helpful, and when it is not.
As far as our practice goes, we need to be led at all times by love. Just as some Christians are absolutely convinced that drinking or dancing are always wrong, and who get very upset when they hear fellow believers suggesting otherwise, so, too, some Christians believe that nudity is wrong, and will refuse to consider any other possibility.
In each case, a difficult judgment is required on the part of those of us who do not share the same absolute belief in the evil of whatever is being condemned.
All these responses are possible, and in different circumstances I believe that each can be right. Discerning which course to follow each time we are given a choice is one of the most difficult aspects of the Christian life. But isn't that always the challenge of living by grace, and following the leading of the Holy Spirit rather than a set of laws or abstract principles?
We are called to 'speak the truth in love.' In the last analysis, we do not know - we can never be certain - what the loving thing to do is. But we can study, and pray, and ask God to lead us, and trust Him to reveal His way for us and for those we disagree with.