h/t Jason Bach
By Bart Gingerich (@BJGingerich)
You may have noticed the recent volley of criticism against the evangelical sex culture. No, not the trends toward loose morals, but the Christian fascination with virginity and purity. The casualties of the “purity movement” are starting to speak out.
Former fundamentalist and current feminist Elizabeth Esther looked back on her adolescence and said, “[W]e implied that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity could be measured by whether or not a man has touched her.” Those who fail to meet the physical requirements are “damaged goods.”
Sarah Bessey continued the theme. She observes that she was “disqualified from true love” because of her previous sexual encounters. She and others “feel like the dirty little secret, the not-as-goods, the easily judged example.” For those so shamed, Bessey enthuses:
There is no shame in Christ’s love. Let him without sin cast the first stone. You are more than your virginity—or lack thereof—and more than your sexual past. Your marriage is not doomed because you said yes to the boys you loved as a young woman. Your husband won’t hold it against you, he’s not that weak and ego-driven, choose a man marked by grace.
Rachel Held Evans voiced her approval of both posts. The ever-bold Tony Jones wondered if Christians should “celebrate pre-marital sex,” concluding, “Today, sex is everywhere. It’s unavoidable. A new sexual ethic for Christians is desperately needed.” A more moderate Emily Maynard condemned ”virgin” and “non-virgin” as philosophical categories for human beings.
They all have a point. Too often in an over-sexualized culture, Christians engage in what Elizabeth Esther calls “reverse objectification.” Purity policing leads to a strange objectivism—a surrender to the sexual message of the age. Christians risk ceding the argument that a woman is a purely sexual object when it comes to her visible physical nature. So in response, her body must be hidden or else made ugly to keep the spirit clean and pure. In the end, much unjust suffering comes down upon girls and the rest of society because of various abuses.
Much like Islamic settings, Christian fundamentalist cultures can shame women and eschew human beauty. Some religious folks resort to a “steaming pile of legalistic shame-mongering.” When a religious community sees the human body along utilitarian lines while sacred texts forbid sexual misconduct, they resort to deontological ethics—unwavering adherence to rules. In certain circles, there is an underlying assumption that God punishes the sin of fornication by ruining the future marriage, when that may not in fact be the case. But sin is much more deceptive and subtle.
Individualism Gone Wild
At the same time, all is not well with these virginity critiques. The underlying complaint seems to demand that we accept different decisions without critique or even regret. But sin—especially sexual sin—affects the entire community. Likewise, fornication (as with any other sin) interrupts communion between God and man and thus must be reconciled through Christ.
The sin of fornication is not minimized by “mutual consent.” Contrary to popular belief, the Old Testament is not chauvinistically patriarchal, and the Scriptures are clear on sexual mores. The most honest skeptics intimate sexual standards based in an old book should be thrown out altogether. Couples “really committed” to each other, we hear, should be able to do as they please outside the bounds of traditional matrimony.
What a strange understanding of commitment! This new standard eliminates the risk of love. The traditional understanding of the marriage covenant requires trust, especially in the sexual realm. A couple is taking a plunge into the world of family life because they love each other. Couples who abstain until marriage tell one another, “I love you so much that I will surrender my body to you. I have denied the pleasures of a moment for a life tied to only yours in this dangerous world, from this point on.”
For generations, this model of marriage has proven remarkably resilient. In this context, love can be truly maddening—people do crazy things like have children together, stick together through debilitating diseases, and mutually endure declining health. On the other hand, what reason do the “really committed” have not to jump from one sex partner to the next? One could conclude that such “commitment” is merely strong emotion—a passion of the moment—that has little to do with true resolve.
Thankfully, healing is possible for couples who do not abstain. The gospel of Jesus Christ can overcome any sin! Still, pastors who counsel couples tell me the process of restoring trust is long and painful. Virginity does not make someone “better,” but young Christians deny themselves the fullness of romantic love by fornication. They will only make things worse by lying to themselves about it.
For the longing singles among us, we have heard it said that love is patient. So go out there, date, and maybe get married. Just do not make allowance for the lustful flesh.
Editors note: The following blog post originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition website. Special thanks to Joe Carter.
By Bart Gingerich (@BJGingerich)
Last week, orthodox Christians convened at the historical St. Philip’s Church to participate in theological discussions at the Mere Anglicanism Conference. Most of the attendees expressed support for the Diocese of South Carolina under Bishop Mark Lawrence, which has been forced out of the Episcopal Church through heavy-handed persecution against traditional Christians within the denomination. Ironically, revisionist Episcopalians met only eight blocks away to reorganize the rump diocese loyal to the national Episcopal Church, USA under Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori.
Mere Anglicanism started off on January 24th with a traditional evensong from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer with the Rev. Dr. Leander Harding of Trinity School of Ministry acting as officiant. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Paul Barnett lectured the next morning on five epiphanies that convinced him of the historicity of Christ. The former Anglican Bishop of North Sydney emphasized the powerful manuscript evidence, the archaeological-geographical credibility of the Biblical record, the multiple attestations to miracles, and the existence of external hostile sources. He likewise excoriated the textual skepticism and deconstructionism that dominates many seminaries today. “The health in the seminary influences the health of the ministers, and the health in the ministers influences the health in the churches,” he surmised.
The impressive scholarship continued with Dr. Allen P. Ross of Beeson Divinity School, who exposited Zechariah’s concept of holiness, its role in God’s people, and its accomplishment through Christ. The Old Testament and Hebrew professor observed, “God requires holiness from people who serve Him and promises deliverance from unrighteousness.” Quoting Anglican divine Lancelot Andrewes, Ross advised, “It is not our task to tell people what they want to hear; we must tell them what in some sad future time they would wish they had heard.”
The Rt. Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali taught the audience about the “unique and universal Christ.” In this informative lecture, the former Bishop of Rochester noted that Christ’s divinity is under cultural attack. He mounted a defense of the principle of substitution within Christian atonement theory, which frequently comes under assault in nearly all theological circles. Nazir-Ali reported that imams in Islamist societies now translate and distribute revisionist biblical scholarship undercutting biblical accounts of the supernatural in order to discredit Christianity. Bishop Nazir-Ali also critiqued the Insider Movement, a missiological theory proposing Christian converts “follow Jesus in the context of another faith.” The Pakistani native worried about a “loss and crisis of integrity.”
That evening, conference attendees celebrated Eucharist led by Bishop Mark Lawrence, with Bishop Barnett preaching on the conversion of St. Paul. The Australian church leader emphasized the importance of the apostle’s theological and evangelistic vision, especially in a 21st-century context.
The Rev. Dr. David Wenham, who teaches New Testament at Trinity College in Bristol, explored St. Paul’s witness to Christ. He defended the Pauline teaching regarding Jesus from critics who desire to push a wedge between the Gospels and the more “dogmatic” epistles. In Wenham’s view, such a project is truly vain from a scholarly point of view. Wenham and Barnett both affirmed the reliability of Pauline epistles; they criticized accusations that St. Paul “reinvented” early Christianity into a heavy orthodox dogmatism so hated by liberal seminarians. As Bishop C. Fitzsimmons Allison summarized in one of his conference comments, Christianity in America faces a crisis of trust and love. Instead of cultivating devotion through and affection for God’s Word, theologians now often look at biblical texts with suspicion and clinically sterile distance.
Finally, the Mere Anglicanism crowd enjoyed a riveting presentation by noted author Eric Metaxas, who recounted the social witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany. Metaxas hoped that Christians would continue to offer a bold religious witness in the public square, especially in the spheres of traditional marriage, abortion, and religious liberty.
Meanwhile up the street, disaffected Episcopal South Carolinians met at Grace Episcopal Church to cast their lot in with the fast-declining national denomination (TEC). A sign outside the parish was labeled the Diocesan Convention for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, replete with the diocesan shield blanked out with “image not available.” A South Carolina court ruled in favor of the departing diocese, forbidding TEC loyalists from using the seal and name of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. In her opening remarks to the Friday evening meet-and-greet, Presiding Bishop Schori was careful to avoid any legally problematic language, gingerly calling the convention an “occasion.” Obviously, the TEC weekend proceedings focused on policy rather than theology.
The next day, TEC loyalists celebrated a choral Rite II Eucharist with Schori serving as celebrant and preacher. She marched into the sanctuary to a particularly defiant rendition of Highland Cathedral. In her controversial sermon, she likened Bishop Lawrence and his colleagues to terrorists and mass murderers. The attendance at the official convention Communion was about 2/3 the size of the Mere Anglicanism crowd at its height. The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenburg was instated as bishop of the rump diocese. When Presiding Bishop Schori brought the meeting to order, she called quorum by what seems to be sheer force of will. While the Diocese of South Carolina under Lawrence had 71 parishes and missions; only 9 parishes, 10 missions, and 8 “continuing” parishes (disaffected shadow congregations) attended the convention.
While Schori’s tone has proven harsh, the future interaction between the original South Carolina diocese and the liberal rump remains uncertain. Some supporters of Lawrence’s diocese express the famous South Carolinian fighting spirit, referring the rump as the “Vichy diocese” and wearing “bonnie blue” crosses in solidarity. Nevertheless, many on-the-ground observers foresee an unfortunate but civil divorce between the diocese and TEC.
By Bart Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
The following article originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition website.
Every human institution and society has its own list of sins and virtues that contradict the law of God. With the rise of the Millennial generation in evangelical churches, a vice is creeping up into the realms of acceptance, indifference, or at least resignation: fornication (i.e. extramarital sex or unchaste living).
A few decades ago, this was one of the main issues that evangelicals hammered in their social witness. The skeptical news cycle and entertainment industry mocked this often; they saw pleas for chastity as a laughable result of pietistic sexual repression and no small bit of hypocrisy. Theological leaders and other influential voices chided their fellow believers for obsessing over a select set of sexual taboos.
Now, however, the exhortations have eased off. Commentary from Tim Keller at the latest Q Conference in New York is quite telling. “We’re not doing well on the sex side,” he confessed. Talking about his church, Keller said, “We’re just like the rest of the city. If I preach like that [on sexual ethics], everybody gets real quiet.”
Similarly, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy discovered 80 percent of unmarried evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 29 had engaged in sex. Using a more stringent definition of “evangelical,” the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) recently reported that 44 percent of millennial evangelicals had sex outside marriage. Of course, just because Christians oppose sexual immorality does not mean they never struggle with it. Nevertheless, in this sort of moral environment, harping on moral sex lives is analogous to starting an abolitionist church in the antebellum South. Thanks to the public liturgy of Hollywood and our own human inclinations, fornication has been normalized and poses a massive obstacle to effective pastoral ministry.
Shut Up and Stay Out of Sex Lives
More disturbingly, many young evangelicals are trying to loosen the standards of the moral law to fit their desire to become sexually active before committing to marriage. Some are direct, telling the church to shut up and stay out of their sex lives. They say that Jesus wants his followers to pursue justice, provide for the poor, minister to the outcasts, and otherwise love their neighbors as themselves. They claim Christ did not send his disciples out to be the sex police, and the early church focused instead on counter-cultural community-making.
Of course this argument is contradicted by the historical evidence. For example, Polycarp (student of St. John the Apostle) instructed women to be “loving all [others] equally in all chastity.” Likewise, he urged young men to be “especially careful to preserve purity.” Speaking of Valens (a man estranged from church discipline by his indiscretions), Polycarp taught, “I exhort you . . . that ye be chaste and truthful. ‘Abstain from every form of evil.’” In the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, the author famously describes Christians: “They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.” The Apostolic Fathers and their standards for the ancient church are clear. We must not form the past and its teaching to suit our wants.
Costly Toll on the Soul
Other young evangelicals, however, are truly struggling with sexual morality—and often losing. I refer especially (but not solely) to pornography, in which one commits adultery in the heart. The toll this battle takes on the soul is costly. Perhaps this is why the popular folk band Mumford and Sons’s music resonates so strongly with Christians. The group’s lyrics often explore fall, redemption, grace, and love. For instance, band leader Marcus Mumford asks in “White Blank Page”:
Can you lie next to her
And give her your heart, your heart
As well as your body
And can you lie next to her
And confess your love, your love
As well as your folly
And can you kneel before the king
And say I’m clean, I’m clean.
For too many young men, wracked with regret over their defeats and struggles, the answer is an ashamed “no.”
Beware Acceptable Sins
Young evangelicals must choose their master. Right now, too many follow their appetites and desires. They are bending God’s own standards to satiate their libido. Perhaps fear and repentance would not be amiss here—numerous portions of sacred Scripture indicate that sexuality expresses God’s character as carried out in his image-bearers. The cost of trespassing providential limits is too high. Beware your acceptable sins—they are the ones that will kill you. When a society caves in to one particular sin and twists the gospel to defend it (e.g. the antebellum South with slavery) that vice will become a canker on the soul and will eventually bring it to ruin.
Christ Jesus lived a pure, spotless, and (notably) chaste life to buy his Bride on the cross. He proved his authority and victory in the resurrection. At Pentecost, he sent the Holy Ghost to empower and enliven his apostles to carry out a very special work. His disciples would be instruments to make a people for himself.
To this end, the single soul as well as the called-out community are sanctified. They war with the Devil, the world, and (especially relevant) the flesh. God grants his enabling grace to the saints that they might instantiate the renewed creation: husbands and wives bound in perfect unity or the celibate set apart for special kingdom service. This involves every part of human life, manifested in appropriate ways: the economy, almsgiving, kind acts, pursuit of political justice, and—yes—even sexuality.