Sex is a source of shame for many people…including Christians. Perhaps, especially Christians. This shouldn't be the case. God is the Creator and Architect of sex, and has given us much guidance on how to experience sexual abundance while avoiding sexual immorality. Historically, however, the Church has focused on the importance of abstinence from certain behaviors to the neglect of Scripture's guidance on how to have "better sex"–sex that is rooted firmly in the Gospel's implications for our bodies. Accordingly, we generally know what not to do. However, we know not what to do.
Yesterday, in a sermon on biblical sexuality, I offered a brief survey of the church's teaching on sex throughout the centuries—from Augustine and Jerome (who said, "Anyone who is too passionate a lover with his own wife is himself an adulterer."), to the church's sometimes silly forbiddances of sex on all sorts of days. The extent of these forbiddances went to the point that John Boswell estimates that at one point in church history only 44 days of the year were approved days for having sex. Luther (thank God) helped bring things back around.
Post-Luther, however, the church began to say less about the subject of sex from the pulpit and in writing, other than to say, "Don't do it until you're married, and homosexuality is wrong." This approach however, surrendered the pulpit to culture on sex except on those two topics…and even then…the church lacked theological foundation and creativity in their presentation of it. The reasons the Church gave for their positions were too often rooted in apologetics rather than theology (i.e, "if you have sex before marriage you could get pregnant or get AIDS") and thus the condom rebutted our objections.
Eventually, the subject became somewhat taboo. Maybe we were "grossed out" or battle-weary on the subject. Thus, there was a brief Dark Age on the subject until recently. During that brief Dark Age the Church still did its best to keep young people from getting overly involved with one another sexually before marriage and generally stood firmly on the subject of homosexuality.
We never really revisited the subject like we should have. Simultaneously a new series of challenges ranging from a spike in adultery and pornography to homosexuality's increasing acceptance by culture rose to meet us.
Lauren Winner and others have picked the subject up in more detail recently, and we should all be thankful. Here's just a few reasons why:
- In the process of spiritual formation, "Thou shalt not," only goes so far. At some point, the "Thou shalt," must be known.
- Not only young people need biblical instruction on the theology, meaning, and yes, even practice of sex. All people need it. Many people struggle in marriage because both sex and desire itself are portrayed to them in their youth as taboo. Thus, when they get married, some Christians really struggle to have vibrant sex lives in marriage.
- God created sex and it's good and pleasing in His sight when it flowers within the context of marriage.
- The church faces a huge challenge from culture on nearly all aspects of sexuality. We need to study, pray, and speak clearly on the subject as perhaps never before.
For Christians, much of sexuality is shrouded in shame or rooted in fear of pleasure. This is so sad. When man and woman were created, they were naked and unashamed. At the fall, one of the first impulses is to cover up. I don't think it's overstating it to say that when spouses experience shame in sexuality, it may be more a reflection of the Fall than it is of "righteousness."
We still have a problem. Sexuality is still viewed by the Church as somewhat "over the line," to discuss from the pulpit. Perhaps because we feel it fails the propriety test. Perhaps it's because so many Christians struggle mightily with sexual sin and private disbelief in the Church's traditional teachings on sexuality. Thus, it's easier to shift sexuality to accountability groups (if we have any) and leave plenty of room for Christians to disagree on even quite important matters of doctrine than to do the difficult work of plowing such difficult ground.
Call me old-fashioned or foolish, but I just believe sexuality is much more important than other things we can leave space for disagreement on. I also believe sexual immorality and genophobia (the fear of sex) are among the most signficant problems in people's lives. They also have enormously signficant implications on people's lives and society as a whole.
One man. One woman. In marriage. Abundantly. That is the biblical witness and preachers need to preach it with the vigor and theological underpinnings provided by Scripture. Sex is one of God's great gifts. As Christians, we should seek to cultivate a vibrant, biblical sexuality as a part of following Jesus.
The issues of our time are in no way simple. The church will have to grapple with how to respond to things from the "casualness" of sex to homosexual/bisexual/transgender issues. But, make no mistake…we need to respond. And we need to do it yesterday.
In love. In truth. With clarity. For God's glory.