Why I am Against Bikini Clad Girls and Bare Chested Boys Swimming in My Lake
And I have loved thee, Ocean!
And my joy of youthful sports was on thy breast
To be borne like thy bubbles, onward
From a boy I wantoned with thy breakers
They to me were a delight
And if the freshening sea made them a terror
Twas a pleasing fear
For I was as it were a child of thee
And trusted to thy billows far and near
And laid my hand upon thy mane —- as I do here
— Lord Byron
All my life I have loved water and most all water sports. Just this week, I bruised my rib surfing in the Atlantic Ocean. I absolutely love to be in the water. When walking by a stream, there is something so magnetic that I cannot help but look at it constantly. When I was twelve, my father and I built a Kayak and we paddled and swam in the Pacific Ocean, behind Glen Canyon Dam, the Colorado River, and the Salton Sea. Lake or creek, pond or tributary, ocean or sea, I love them all. You can imagine why water baptism means so much to me. The cleansing waves washing over are always deeply symbolic. The statement, “out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37), strikes me to the soul because of my love for water.
Problem: this love for water has caused me conflict because of the common attire that is worn. Water activities are engaged either in bikinis or with bare chests.
So why does this have to be a problem? Some would say, “Scott you have changed, why the change?” So, let’s answer the question. What has caused me to re-think bikini clad girls and bare chested boys swimming in my lake. There are at least five things that have caused the change.
- A Biblical Understanding of History
- A Biblical Understanding on Modesty
- A Biblical Understanding of Clothing
- A Biblical Understanding of Nakedness
- A Biblical Understanding of Temptation
1. A Biblical Understanding of History
Understanding the times is a Christian virtue. And, viewing the flow of history, through a biblical filter, is the way that history should be understood. So, a few years ago I read a book by Jeff Pollard, Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America, where he documents a historical perspective on modesty. Among other things, the book chronicles the reasons for the drift away from modesty in the last one hundred years.
Over the last hundred years, we have had, as Jeff Pollard has said, “The public undressing of America.”. What was illegal in clothing 100 years ago, and would cause your arrest, is now popular and accepted everywhere — even in churches.
1890’s: Swimwear was modified street clothing
1910: Arms were exposed
1920: You would be arrested if you appeared in a modest 21st century bathing suit
1920’s: Legs and backs were exposed
1930’s: Cleavage was exposed and men began to swim bare chested
1935: Two piece bathing suits appeared with a small break between upper and lower half
1940’s: New fabrics appeared which hugged the body
1960’s: Navels were exposed
Today: Anything goes... One piece suits with fabrics like skin that really leaves nothing to the imagination and bikinis of various categories prevail as normal.
Today, the fashions are so pervasively broadcast over every media outlet that everyone dresses the same when they swim. Movies and TV have so popularized nakedness, that if you challenge it, you are not thought of as being very accepting. In fact, if you do cover your body it seems odd.
Jeff Pollard says it this way, “Fashion designers have used swimwear to undress America.” Who can deny this? It is as obvious as a fly on your nose.
So it is time to shout it out with perfect clarity: “The empress has no clothes!”. For the last two generations we have been told that swimwear is about fashion. They say, “Fashion is neutral. Don’t criticize fashion, it is only fashion.” No! It is public nakedness.
My evaluation of the modern bathing suit is that it is nakedness thinly veiled. And, they are not appropriate for public display. My solution is to cover them up with shorts or some kind of top that keeps private the details.
I have come to the place where I am not willing to continue in the direction our culture has taken us. We have followed the styles further than we should have. We have slowly arrived at the place where we are “ok” with our daughters and wives wearing less than underwear in public.
As popular dress exposes nakedness it should be rejected, as it is rejected at the Brown’s lake. I am not willing to keep following fashion.
2. A Biblical Understanding on Modesty
The 1983 version of Webster’s dictionary describes modesty in this way:
Behaving according to a standard of what is proper or decorous; decent; pure; now, especially not displaying ones body.
Webster is helpful, but Scripture speaks with divine authority regarding modesty. In this case, the scriptural understanding is consistent with Webster’s.
I Timothy 2:9-10 makes it clear that God has something to say about how women dress. He is interested in both your appearance and your heart. He is not only interested in your heart. It is not truthful to say that God does not care how you dress, as long as your heart is right. These verses make it clear that appearance is important.
Most American Christians do not want anyone to talk about how to dress, but here in this passage of scripture, God is telling the people in the church of Ephesus how to dress.
When it comes to dress, Americans are under the nurture and admonition of popular magazines and Hollywood movies. The media has become the jury and judge for matters of dress, displacing the clear teaching of scripture.
In I Timothy 2:9-10, Paul uses three words that describe the kind of apparel that women should wear:
A. Orderly Clothing — “Kosmeo’ — Order
We get our word, cosmetics from this word. It means to, “To adorn, arrange, put in order.” It implies harmonious orderly arrangement, instead of rumpled, uncoordinated chaos.
B. Modest Clothing —‘Aidos” Shamefacedness
This describes the state of mind that governs dress: respectful timidity, not showy, honoring others, not attracting attention. It is a blend of modesty and humility.
George Knight explains the meaning of “shamefacedness” in this way:
Reverence, awe, respect for the feeling or opinion of others or for one’s own conscience and to shame, self-respect... sense of honour. That habitual self government with it’s constant reign on all it’s passions and desires, which would hinder the temptation from arising... — George Knight, Commentary on Ephesians, P134
William Hendrickson suggests that shamefacedness ‘indicates a sense of shame, a shrinking from trespassing the boundaries of propriety.” — William Hendrickson, New Testament Commentary, p106
I don’t think many people could argue very effectively against the idea that we have lost a sense of shame regarding dress. It is harder and harder to find clothing that allows modesty. Why, because it is not fashionable to dress modestly as evidenced by a review of the clothing seen in the public in our land. They are places of revealing, not modest clothing.
C. Moderate Clothing - “Sophrosunes”, or Understatement
This word calls for “soundness of mind, self control, passions and desires, a self control which holds the reins over Propriety” It is a word that implies moderation; humility; without shame; honorable to God; self control; hating sin.
This sets modesty in opposition to elaborate hairstyles and expensive clothing.
In summary there are at least two areas that Paul is addressing for the men and women in the church. As Paul exposes some specific types of apparel that are familiar to all of his hearers, he is forbidding this kind of apparel among believers. So I will, here in the 21st century, do the same for us. It is appropriate for me to take the principles that Paul has given and compare them to the popular experience.
Paul is forbidding the imitation of worldly fashion in two specific areas:
- Sensual/Sexually explicit
All women’s clothing whether on land or sea should not call out “fashion, sex, pride”, but it should call out “God, purity, humility.”
Paul wants to motivate the women in Ephesus to re-examine their dress because they lived among pagan Greeks who glorified the exposure of the human body. This is exactly what we should do today, even though this places us at odds with the culture, as it did with the Ephesian believers. But what is despised by the world is often acceptable to God.
3. A Biblical Understanding of Clothing
If you look at what scripture says about clothing, you find that clothing is meant for covering the body, not revealing it. Scripture tells us that sin is the reason for the need to clothe the body. Since the fall, we are no longer naked and unashamed.
Genesis 3:7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
Genesis 3:10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
Genesis 3:21 “Also for Adam and his wife the Lord made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” The word “tunics” is translated in other places “coats” or “garments” and they usually refer to clothing that completely covers the body.
Scripture adequately answers the question, “Why Clothing”? The answer, ‘To cover nakedness.”
But if you go to the shopping malls to look for clothing and walk the streets and the beaches to see what folks were wearing, you would think that the purpose of clothing was to reveal your body to excite and entice men, not cover it. The predominance of tight shirts, halter tops, string bikinis, tube tops, mini skirts, belly shirts, swimwear, and athletic clothing tell the story quite effectively.
The joys of swimming or opportunities for participation in certain types of athletics are not adequate reasons to ignore God’s purpose for clothing. But, there are hosts of people in our churches who think that if you are swimming or competing in track and field, it is ok to go half naked or wear revealing clothing.
We have done with clothing the same thing we have done with art. It is exempt from biblical evaluation. For example, most everyone reveres the artistic contributions of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, who are arguably the most talented painters and sculptors in the history of mankind. Who were these men? Their works were primarily influenced by pagan Greek philosophy which glorified and exposed the naked body. Under the influence of homosexuality, they produced some of the most adored homoerotic sculptures and paintings of the gay community. We call it art.
Somehow, in the evangelical community, art and fashion have become exempt from biblical evaluation. Call naked sculpture “art”, and modern swimwear “fashion”, if you will, but let’s just be honest and give it the other label it deserves: public nakedness. Unfortunately for swimwear shoppers, public nakedness is forbidden in the Bible.
4. A Biblical Understanding of Nakedness
What does the Bible say about nakedness? We know that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We know that we are made in “the image of God.” The human body is obviously a marvel. God Himself invented sex and the joys of marital nakedness. We know that the Song of Solomon glorifies the shape of a man and a woman. But, do we find encouragement for the public unclothed display of the human body? Do we find examples of a favorable view of public nakedness? Do we find a record of godly artists depicted in scripture who display the naked human form in a favorable light? No!
When you look up the instances of the word “naked” or “nakedness” you find a certain approach and attitude that should shape our view. Here are a few passages that give the right approach.
Genesis 9:22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren..
Genesis 9:23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.
Exodus 28:42 And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:
Leviticus 18:6 None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 18:7 The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
Exodus 32:25 And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)
Revelation 16:15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
It is clear that uncovering nakedness is sinful behavior. It is shameful to reveal the naked body. But in our culture, it is a virtue to reveal it. The world says, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” The Bible says that nakedness should be covered and that you should be ashamed of yourself if you “flaunt it.” This causes us problems because we live in a christian culture that accepts nakedness when it is seen at the beach, when it is displayed in a sports event, when it is seen in the art gallery, when it is watched in the media and when it is displayed in the church. At least we are being consistent.
Where did we get the idea that naked sculptures and pictures are acceptable and desirable? The Bible does not endorse art with nakedness. Pagan cultures do. Unfortunately, our Greek and Roman roots inform in this area far more than the Bible. We should not forget that some of our most revered artifacts of Greek sculpture were produced by homosexual, pagan artists.
So what about bare chestedness among men? It is eminently more comfortable to swim without a shirt on. However, I believe that the principle of nakedness applies here. At the Brown pond, I recommend wearing a T-shirt or a surfing shirt sometimes called a “rash guard.”, which is made of polyester and is much more comfortable in water.
. A Biblical Understanding of Temptation
There should be a sense of shame for distracting someone from purity. There should be a sense of shame for having a distracting appearance.
A woman who hates sin would have shame to tempt in any way. This is why Jesus is so clear about causing other people to stumble.
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.
This is why we should counsel our Christian wives and daughters to rid their wardrobes of tight clothing and modern bathing suits that expose the body rather than understate it’s form.
Joshua Harris writes:
Girls, you have an equally important role. Remember the wayward woman we discussed earlier? Your job is to keep your brothers from being led astray by her charms. Please be aware of how easily your actions and glances can stir up lust in a guy’s mind.
You may not realize this, but we guys most commonly struggle with our eyes. I think many girls are innocently unaware of the difficulty a guy has in remaining pure when looking at a girl who is dressed immodestly. Now I don’t want to dictate your wardrobe, but honestly speaking, I would be blessed if girls considered more than fashion when shopping for clothes. Yes, guys are responsible for maintaining self control, but you can help by refusing to wear clothing designed to attract attention to your body.
I know the world tells you that if you have a nice body, you should show it off. And we men have only helped feed this mentality. But I think you can play a part in reversing this trend. I know many girls who would look great in shorter skirts or tighter blouses, and they know it. But they choose to dress modestly. They take the responsibility of guarding their brother’s eyes. To these women and others like them, I’m grateful.”
“and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) It’s time to start seeing other people’s purity as our responsibility. — I Kissed Dating Goodbye, p 99
Without question, the modern swimsuit has created a new spectator sport called girl watching. Men understand this better than anyone. It is incredibly distracting to have an immodestly dressed female nearby.
So yes, I have changed my mind about swimwear. It happened a few years ago, particularly after I read Jeff Pollards book and began examining the scriptures. Above are the reasons I feel that at least in my area of supervision, that there are different standards of modesty than you see on the beach and the swim parties. Biblical teaching on modesty, clothing, nakedness, and temptation are enough for me to be more careful that I have been in the past.
So, here are some guidelines that I believe are consistent with the biblical teaching on modesty and clothing and nakedness. So, if you are swimming here in my domain, here are some suggestions. Women, should wear a shirt and shorts over their bathing suits. There should be an effort to cover the details. For men, I ask for shirts or some kind of upper body covering. And, obviously, no speedos!
As Jeff Pollard has rightly said, anyone who takes on this subject will either be accused of being a libertine or a legalist. I realize this and pray that all of us, in the midst of this “wicked and perverse generation”, will seek to be affected by the Word of God more than anything else.