Sex, the Church, and Miss California: Law vs. Story, Part 1

meatcutsThe next point made by David Fitch in his article is —

Quit disembodying sexuality in the way we do whenever we make the Bible into moral propositions that should be enforced instead of a narrative world to be shaped and directed towards so as to live into.

Now let’s be honest, Fitch has a way of saying things that’s kinda hard to follow. I think what he means is: sex should be about honoring Christ and his work rather than imposing laws on others. Let’s consider that point, because it’s an important one.

We begin with the enforcement of moral propositions. The traditional Christian approach to sexuality has been — for centuries — to state certain boundaries that we are not to cross. Sex is permitted between married people. Period. Therefore, all other sexual relationship are illicit and to be condemned.

And these are all true statements. But there are some other true statements.

(1 Cor 5:8-13)  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

Paul plainly condemns a number of sins, particularly sexual immorality (v 9). And he tells the church not to associate with the sexually immoral. But then, in an astounding turn around, he says in v. 12, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” Paul quite plainly says in v. 10 that his instructions to refuse association with the immoral does “not at all mean[] the people of this world who are immoral.” After all, to escape the immoral people of the world outside the church, we “would have to leave this world”!

Paul expects the church to associate with immoral, non-Christians. He prohibits judging them. Rather, we must leave the judgment of the immoral outside the church to God.

But we are supposed to enforce God’s will on those in the church. Now, we’d much rather go to the city council and legislature and impose God’s values on an unbelieving world than impose God’s values on believers! I mean, when was the last time your congregation threatened to disfellowship a member over his or her sex life?

The key here is to understand that Christianity is about how Christians live — in submission to Jesus as Lord — and not about using the power of the state to impose faux-Christianity on non-believers. It’s a hard lesson, because frankly most of our friends are in church and we don’t want to hurt their feelings, whereas there’s no cost to us in demanding that those outside the church conform to God’s will. They’re not our friends anyway.

But notice that Paul declares that the only way we can avoid associating with the immoral is to leave this world. But we try to escape the immoral by building communities that separate Christians from the world in the here and now. We have Christian stores and Christian family life centers with Christian gyms where we can work out with Christian friends so we can play in Christian athletic leagues while our children attend Christian schools to prepare for Christian colleges so they can become Christian youth ministers working for other Christians. Nice. But not what God had in mind.

(1 Pet 2:12)  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Notice that our good lives are to be lived “among the pagans.” Our good deeds are to be visible to the world. Good deeds done in a Christian family life center filled with Christians doing Christian things won’t accomplish God’s purposes.

The word translated “among” is en, meaning, according to Strong’s, having a fixed position. It’s not “while leaving the pagans” but “while fixedly situated among the pagans.” But while we are among the pagans, we are to be noticeably different. Just as Jesus associated with tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, and even a Samaritan woman living with a man not her husband, we associate with the immoral — but it’s so we can be salt and light: different and transformative.

Jesus managed to associate with the sinful while being perfectly holy — and yet not come across as “holier than thou” although he was. He pulled it off with love and compassion. And until the world sees the church as filled with people like Jesus, we won’t truly be his disciples.

The Story

The idea that we should “live into” the Bible’s narrative (or story) is a tough one, but we’ve already addressed a large part of it in the post on hyper-romantic notions of sexuality. Let me see if I can expand just a bit on that. You see, here’s the story —

* God created the perfect marriage by placing Adam and Eve together in the Garden. Part of what made the marriage perfect was God walking with his children in the cool of the evening. The marriage could not have been perfect without God being present in a real, meaningful way.

* Eve was “flesh of my flesh” and “bone of my bone” to Adam. Adam saw her as a part of himself. There was no “me” and “her.” I doubt that they would have had separate checking accounts, as they saw themselves as a unity.

* Eve was Adam’s suitable helper. “Helper” translates the Hebrew ‘ezer, meaning ally or complement. It is usually used in the Bible to refer to God as Israel’s helper. You see, Eve being Adam’s ‘ezer does not make Adam the boss or the superior. But it does mean that Eve has obligations to Adam. She is not autonomous. She must consider him as important as herself.

In modern America, individual autonomy is a presumed “right.” We all wish to be free to make our own choices and do what pleases us. This is not a remotely Christian viewpoint. Rather, those who choose to follow Jesus surrender autonomy and replace it with servanthood. But we are not only servants of Jesus, we are servants of our spouses. Marriage is about submission to the person with whom we share a bed.

One of the least autonomous passages in the Bible deals with marriage —

(1 Cor 7:3-5)  The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

We don’t even own our bodies. Rather, our bodies have been given to God — and God has blessed our sharing our bodies with our spouses.

Now, God is pleased that we can give pleasure to our spouses through our bodies. It’s holy and righteous. It’s even sacramental. And it’s therefore all about God. God walks among us — in the bedroom, in the kitchen, sharing as we struggle to make our marriage like Adam’s and Eve’s was meant to be.

* Of course, sin entered the Garden, and Eve and Adam sinned not only against God, but against each other. By failing to keep the other from sin, they both found themselves cast out of the Garden and cursed.

* The curse of Genesis 3 produced strife in marriage and separation of mankind from God. That is, sin separated man from God and man from each other, but especially from our spouses. To be united with our spouses means somehow or other overcoming the sin that got in the way.

* God began his work restoring his people to Eden through his covenant with Abraham, through whom he created Israel. He formed a community, centered around the temple at which God was worshiped with offerings for atonement and for thanks. And God dwelled among his people through the temple and his prophets.

* But it wasn’t enough. It’s not that Israel was a mistake so much as a step toward a solution, but not the solution. The solution came through Israel, through a descendant of David, the Messiah, Jesus. And Jesus made the final and sufficient sacrifice of atonement. Once for all.

* Through his sacrifice and the gift of his Spirit to those with faith, Jesus is working in each of us to change our hearts to become obedient — to be like Adam and Eve were supposed to be, in perfect, intimate relationship with each other and with God. God lives in us through his Spirit. He again walks among us, first through Jesus, and now through … us.

* The new life to which we’re called is not one of obedience to arbitrary rules that test our obedience. Rather, we are called to be vehicles through whom God pours out his love to others (Rom 5:5, 12). We are to be the body of Christ on earth, continuing his ministry.

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One Response

  1. Jay,

    This, along with your linked article on marriage as a sacrament, present a beautiful picture of what marriage is to the child of God. A single person can certainly be “married to Christ” (and should be), but in marriage we are to work out the salvation that God has worked within us.

    Thank you for a wonderful post.

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