Throughout Church history wonderful theological clarity has come out of divisive theological controversy. Just a few names and times of conflict remind us of this: Athanasius and the early Church councils, Martin Luther and the Reformation, Martin Luther King and the struggle for civil rights. So, the current controversy over sexuality should excite rather than dismay us – it is from times of profound disagreement that our Sovereign God has often brought a return to biblical clarity in the Church’s theology and practice.
And the debate on sexuality is especially exciting because it touches on so many areas of theology and practice in which we have lost our traditional biblical clarity. If we have ever dreamt of a silver bullet that would solve many (if not all) of the Church’s ills we have, I believe, found it – in this whole topic.
It touches on so many areas of theology and practice.
The Church has, for example, become just as obsessed with sex in general as the world around us. We have let modern constructs of sexuality define believers more than their eternal union with Christ. We have stood by as sexual intercourse has become a human right and now struggle to deny it to those outside traditional marriage. Out of desperation to have something to offer a sex-mad society, we have so talked up sex within marriage that we have left a generation or two with totally unrealistic expectations of what it’s really like.
At the same time, sexual sin has been allowed to become the unforgiveable sin in many of our churches – leaving many to creep away in shame, or live lives of desperate isolation. So, discussion of what the Bible really says about our holy but gracious God and his take on sexuality would benefit us all and strengthen his Church; it will expose some of the false steps we have made in the past and will return us to the historical mainstream of biblical theology and practice.
It will expose some of the false steps we have made in the past.
We have, to take one other example, become just as averse to suffering as the world around us. It’s sometimes hard not to conclude that a good deal of the pressure to allow gay ‘marriage’ comes from the fact that homosexual Christians are one of the last groups in the western church being asked to deny anything significant to follow Jesus. The Church has slowly but surely diluted most of the hard teachings of Christ – from materialism to marriage, fasting to families – that it now seems obviously unjust to ask just a few to suffer for following him. Unless all see following Jesus as taking up our cross like him, then the gospel’s call for some to deny themselves a sex life will make no sense at all. A full debate on what the Bible teaches on sexuality would benefit us all and strengthen the Church; it would expose some of the ways in which we have gone with the pleasure-seeking flow of our times rather than seeking to live cross-shaped lives.
To draw these two examples together: what has happened to the very idea of chastity in the church today? A sex-obsessed and suffering-averse church seems to have buried it; it produces the nervous sniggers that talk of sex would have a generation or two ago. How can we possibly ever ask anyone not to have sex and suffer as a result?
But was the Lord Jesus Christ any less human for not having had sexual intercourse? Did Paul’s singleness not enable his mission to take the gospel to the entire Roman world? Can chastity not be as beautiful and life-affirming a choice as the sexual union of a man and woman in marriage? The Church used to give the same resounding ‘Yes!’ to this question that we find in God’s Word – it desperately needs to find its voice on this subject again.
It is an exciting opportunity to rediscover and rearticulate biblical orthodoxy.
So, rather than hoping this whole debate will go away soon (which it won’t), we need to see it as an exciting opportunity to rediscover and rearticulate biblical orthodoxy in a whole number of ways (which it is). Future generations could look back on us as gratefully as we look back on the eras of Athanasius, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King.