The History of the Church on Sexual Issues
The initial question was, “What should preachers preach about sex?” In answering that question I have posed four others. The third one deals with the history of the church on sexual issues. For many the word history is synonymous with boredom. So how can we both save ourselves some time and forgo a tedious recitation of church history, which I do not have time to write nor the lack of decency it would take to torture you with such? We will save ourselves some time by only referring to the high points and going straight for the applications. What is this history of the church when it comes to sexual issues? What has it taught and how have the people of God responded to these teachings?
1. When there is not clear teaching on sex from the church the sexual behaviors of God’s people will be shaped by popular culture. I could also add that when God’s people do not listen to clear teaching from Scripture regarding sex or any other topic for that matter, by default, they behave like unbelievers. Sexual passion and temptation is strong. The body desires for its cravings to be fulfilled. Without restraint the body dictates an ethic of instant gratification. In the Roman empire these cravings for sex shaped popular theology. If you want your garden to grow, sleep with one of the temple prostitutes. If you want to have a child with your wife, you first need to visit the temple and again, have sex with one of the god or goddesses’ designated representatives. Once people found Christ they knew their behaviors were in desperate need of an overhaul, but by default, until they had clear teaching and accountability to that teaching, the ethic was, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” The result was a perverted church, full of sexual scandal and immorality. To confront such behavior Paul provided clear teaching and called for accountability. The most notable example is 1 and 2 Corinthians. If you read 1 and 2 Corinthians you will notice that somewhere lost in the mail are some letters written by the Corinthian leaders to Paul. Obviously those letters contained, amongst other things, questions about sexual behavior. As an apostle of the church Paul answered these questions with honest and forthright instruction. For example, read 1 Corinthians 5 or 7.
People are sexual beings. If we are not given clear teaching and accountability from the church on issues of sex, we will be the apprentice of popular culture. Madonna, Lady Gaga, MTV, and almost any primetime television show will teach people about sex. If the church is silent its people will drink the Kool-Aid of pop culture. The church, like the culture, will become loose and filled with immorality. Honestly, I believe we have been Corinthian for quite some time.
2. When there is not biblical teaching on sex from the church the sanctity of marriage will be threatened. Through the years the church has had some not so stellar moments when it comes to marriage. Many of those not so stellar moments come from the medieval period in which the Word of God was held captive by the papacy. During that time a popular teaching was that it was more virtuous to refrain from sex and marriage than it was to partake. For those who just couldn’t give themselves to celibacy, they should marry. Yet even in marriage they should only have sex for reproduction. Sex for pleasures sake, even for married couples, was seen as fleshly and sinful. For an interesting read on the topic consult Part 5 of John Piper and Justin Taylor’s, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, entitled “History and Sex.” A free online edition of this book is available.
Because sex has been a shy taboo from the pulpit many couples in the modern church know they can have sex after marriage, but have no idea what to do with it. Unfortunately the only sex talk from the pulpit is that sex outside of marriage is bad. If that is our only message then sex within marriage is in danger of also being bad. Couples have questions. What is normal, expected, and pleasurable? If we return to the dark ages and deem that talking about sex from the pulpit is “dirty”, questions go unanswered and perversion is soon to follow. In a strange twist of fate, for many Christian couples, because there is not a biblical decree from the church that sex within marriage is good, sex within marriage can become rare and seen as little more than a reproductive blessing. When sex in marriage is not encouraged the door may be opened for pornography and affair (I Corinthians 7:5). Christian couples are growing apart and as a result their marriages do not serve as life giving parables of Christ and the church (Eph. 5). The message of the church needs to realign with the message of the Bible. Marriage does not just give people permission to have sex; marriage gives couples liberty to enjoy having sex. The church needs to recover the full biblical message that sex outside of marriage is forbidden, but sex, as God designed it within the marriage bond is great and should be enjoyed.