Many of the disciplines in community worship are also disciplines of individual worship. Scripture reading, praise, prayer and stewardship all carry over. You could also say that other disciplines like meditation, fasting, simplicity, submission and pilgrimage can be done as a group. Bible Study in small groups might also be considered group worship of a sorts. Some new things here are worship items that can only be done in community – preaching and the sacraments come immediately to mind as all of these require more than one person to be done as all. I want to speak to nature of community worship and nudity and then look at what could be accomplished in the unique things that can only be done in community worship if nakedness was a part of it.
Nakedness in all these if the challenges could be overcome as mentioned in part 8 of this series, would be a matter of bringing in all the positive spiritual sides of nudity. The vulnerability, openness, intimacy, genuineness, wholeness and equality all would become part of the worship experience with others when nudity is present. The real problem remains as the challenges of maturity, focus and exhibitionism would remain. Cultural acceptance can be diminished if you find a group of like-minded nudists but the other three would still be present. All the disciplines we have discussed before can be done in groups and thus the effects of those disciplines would have an added dynamic.
I want to point out however that distraction, spiritual elitism and maturity have always existed in multiple forms in every worship service. My time in the Pentecostal church taught me that these things are ever-present even in church. I have seen people think they are more mature than others because they speak in tongues and they think they are more spiritually in tune with God. I have seen individuals who completely become distractions for everyone else because ‘they were moved by the spirit’ to scream and fall ‘under the power’. Simply put the issues that nudity would bring in are no different in many ways than what already exists only in a different form.
The real issue in worship is that we are all there to become more like Christ and that means facing these issues and developing the one thing that worship is supposed to bring about more than anything – Humility before God and each other. Humility is the key to any worship that is effective and in many ways nudity could be a tool that could bring that about in groups of people. Humility is the starting point of revival and it remains that nudity and nudism in proper spiritual context is about adding a reflective humility to the discipline process.
The unique things that are part of community worship and not a part of individual worship are mostly centered around Preaching of the Word and the Sacraments.
1) Preaching the Word – Preaching the Word of God by its nature is about exposing one’s self to the Word of God in an effort to change by responding to that preaching. Good preaching is about exhortation to change. Nudity would do two things specifically if they were a part of this and engaged with proper humility: 1) It would get rid of the elitism of the pulpit – Suits and ties with all the professionalism that goes with them are in my mind one of the great problems of the ministry. They are symbols to me of opulent wealth, a lack of humility and how church has become more corporate than spiritual. If the preacher had to preach naked, I would suspect what he has to say would be more important to him than how he looks. The focus would be removed from him and placed on the preaching itself. 2) The hearers are forced to give up the protective barrier of clothing before God Word as they hear it and symbolically and spiritually expose themselves to the seeds of Gods word. If humility is present with the nakedness of the person, the possibility of Gods word falling on hard soil becomes diminished. The other side benefit is you lose the judgmental stares of ‘if she really loved God she wouldn’t dress like that’ because every one would be genuinely be dressed equally. In this context, everyone would have to be naked both preacher and hearers for it to be effective.
2) Baptism – In the ancient past of Christianity, nudity was actually part of the baptism service. The person would come into the service, shed all their clothes, be baptized in the nude and then as they exited the water, they would be presented with a new white robe. The symbolism is about the shedding of their old life, being born again to a new life through the resurrection of Christ and then being re-clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Mostly this was done males with males and females with females which is what necessitated female deaconesses. There are also records however of coed baptism services. In either case, I think the combination of clothing and nudity makes a powerful and lasting statement to the person being baptized and the community of faith.
3) Foot Washing – The demonstration in a foot washing service is one of mutual submission and taking on the form of a servant. Nudity would definitely have a place here as the person washing the others feet being nude would be the lowest form of servant hood – the slave. Honestly, each person shedding their clothes and taking their turn as a naked slave washing the feet of others would leave a powerful impression. Everyone being naked would demonstrate the mutual slavery we have toward each other and that the one who would be greatest in the kingdom of God should be the servant of all. Either way the statement of servant hood and mutual submission would be present in a more powerful way.
4) Communion – Taking of the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine is a powerful symbolic image in and of itself. Adding nudity would actually have some merit. Being naked would actually reflect the state Jesus was actually in when he was crucified. Most Christian art cleans this up with a loincloth, but truth be told part of the humiliation of the cross is that Jesus was naked upon it. The Romans were using crucifixion as a way to make a political statement every time it was used. Part of that statement was the complete crushing and humiliation of the individual that crossed them. That included stripping the person completely naked. By being naked during communion would reflect the humility of Christ as he had his body broken and his blood shed for us and our redemption.
I think (I am not speaking from personal experience) nudity in such communal worship events would be experiences that would be enhanced reflective opportunities of spiritual growth. The problems in my mind in community nude worship are not insurmountable because it is the problems confronted that bring the spiritual growth, not running away from them.
Next: Naked Fellowship