It’s been quite the month or so in the pulpit of Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church. We’ve been preaching through 1 Corinthians and it turns out that Paul has a lot to say on the topic of human sexuality. (Listen to some of this month’s sermons here.)
This Month We've Talked About Sex a Lot.
So we have squirmed and laughed uncomfortably and held our breath together. It’s been good, but it’s been . . . uneasy.
We’re aware that there is a caricature of the church as a finger-wagging place where everyone is hung-up on sex. “It’s all sex, sex, sex with them. They need to just move on.” We know this is a thing that people think and say and, implicitly, we hear that the more mature you are the more “over it” you will be.
And the church does not want to seem ridiculous or immature. We don’t want to confirm the stereotype and push people away. And the result, sadly, is that a child is more likely to hear about drag queens at the local library than an adult is to hear about married sex at church, regardless of how much the Bible has to say on the topic.
And the Bible has a lot to say on the topic. From the Old Testament law to Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount to Paul’s letters to the various churches, the Bible is remarkably frank and explicit about human sexuality (2 Corinthians 12:21, Ephesians 5:33, Galatians 5:19, Genesis 2:24, Hebrews 13:4, 1 Corinthians 6:18). It’s strange how much more prim and cautious churches are than is the Bible which those churches preach.
In many of our churches, we have effectively ceded discussion of the topic to an aggressively mistaken and hostile culture in an act of self-censorship. It amounts to a crisis of self-confidence. We might fear God enough to practice his teaching, but we fear the world too much to preach it.
Pastors shouldn’t seem strangely intent on working it into every sermon, but neither should they seem reluctant to mention it, as is often the case. Recovering a good balance starts with understanding why we might be reluctant to cover the topic and why we should do it anyway.
Why Do Christians Avoid the Topic of Sex in Church?
Two reasons why we wouldn’t want to discuss sex in church:
1. Hot button, divisive issues.
Some of the reluctance to inject delicate and politically charged issues like “marriage equality” and transgenderism into the worship service is not only understandable, but admirable. If our goal is to reach lost people for Jesus why would we put stumbling blocks in their way? Taking a “Jesus first, social issues second” approach makes more sense than a “social issues first, Jesus second” approach (starting with the social issues will often mean going no
further.) But the problem with this approach is that you can not separate Jesus the Lord from Jesus’ teaching on human relationships, including human sexuality. You can no more lead with Jesus and defer social issues to some
conversation in the distant future, than you can entice someone to consider broccoli with an appeal to its nutrition, while putting off to some later date a consideration of its taste and texture. (And, yes, I know that how you feel about
my comparing Jesus to broccoli will depend a lot on how you feel about broccoli.)
2. Sexual Fatigue.
Ironically, living in a sex-saturated culture does not necessarily stoke the flame of passion to a roaring flame. In fact, it can suffocate the libido in the same way that an all-you-can-eat buffet kills the appetite. Imagine living at the Golden Corral, waking up there, going to bed there, feeling bloated and queasy all the time, and imagine how you would groan if once a week you had a chance to go outside and enjoy a break from the sizzles, scents, and clinking of cutlery and on one of those occasions someone tried to talk to you about food. This, I think, is a real problem for us and one that Paul did not have to deal with in his cultural context. It doesn’t mean we should give people a break from talk of sex, but we might have to bring it up in a manner that is different from Paul’s.
Why Should Christians Talk About Sex in Church?
While those reasons to not talk about sex in church are well and good, I think it’s important that we discuss sex in church anyway. Here are four reasons why:
1. To not is to surrender.
My grandfather once took me out in the middle of Lake Champlain in an old rowboat that was both leaky and low enough in the water that even mild waves might lap a little over. We had two coolwhip bowls and I was almost constantly employed in the business of bailing. When I expressed my frustration with the bailing he told me that I could easily lose the war against the water but I could not win it, except by getting safely back to the shore. Neither the leaking water nor the pervasive culture will take a break just because we do, and if we fail to bail out each other's boats we are consigning each other to dreadful swampings. Not discussing sex in Church surrenders the discussion to the world, whose beliefs do not line up with God’s design for sexuality.
2. It is pertinent and of interest to everyone.
The topic of human sexuality applies to every person, regardless of age and situation, and most people have a lot of questions on the topic. If people are concerned and curious that’s an “in” the church can’t afford to ignore.
3. Scriptural fidelity
If all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching and edification (2 Timothy 3:16), then our preaching content should be roughly proportional to scriptural content. If God felt it was worth revealing we should, in humility, consider it no less worthy of proclaiming.
4. Romantic hope
If you listen closely you will hear that a lot of our cultural language about sex is tinged with a sad cynicism. Real romance has been a casualty of our sexually permissive and libertine culture. And the church can create space for real romantic hope for longing people by restoring a biblical approach to sexuality wherever we can. Where people follow God’s heart for human sexuality there is more sexual joy and romantic delight. As Christians, we should be aiming to understand and apply God’s word in all aspects of our lives (Colossians 3:16), including (but not limited to) sex and romantic relationships (2 Timothy 2:15).
Written by Joel Tate
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog