Sex, marriage, singleness, gender: the works

Over the years I’ve collected a lot of information on this blog about the whole arena of sexual ethics and the constant battle Christians face to maintain the ethics that have formed them since its inception.

So why keep focusing on this area?

David Lamb offers 5 reasons to talk about sexual ethics

  1. The culture is obsessed
  2. The Bible talks about it
  3. We discover a gracious God
  4. Jesus is magnified
  5. It’s a natural cross-generational discussion

Lamb argues, “When we don’t talk about sex and the culture yells about it, whose voice are our children going to hear—and listen to?”

The idea that sex is broken is not a new concept and every day there are stories of abuse, rape, coercion and damage. That in many ways pornography is damaging to children (and adults) is not new but it is worth remembering. We live in an age where distortions about sex is more prevalent and widespread than ever before.

The orthodox face a constant barrage to change their beliefs on sexual ethics despite the evidence that the church grows when it is a healthy counter-culture and not an assimilated group within a culture. Sam Allberry gives a master class in how to graciously speak up for orthodoxy.

As a result of this societal pressure writers have been explaining why, and here are two different takes, one from Preston Sprinkle and the other Peter Ould, the traditional sexual ethic is not harmful to gay people. It’s a defence that the church has never had to make in the previous 1950 years and it won’t go away any time soon.

This has also forced the church to give renewed attention to two key vocations: Celibacy & marriage. Steve Holmes writes,

The deep reflection of the Church on the Scriptures has led to the conviction that there are two, and only two, ways of life that are so ordered: marriage and celibacy.

Singleness has needed and is getting a much better defence. Tim Challies explains the gift of singleness with a focus on circumstances.

Some experience only the gift of singleness. Some experience a long gift of singleness followed by a short gift of marriage. Some experience a long gift of marriage followed by a short gift of singleness.

Similarly Nick Roen writes that voluntary or not, celibacy is a gift. And Steve Holmes, again, says,

Celibacy, if it is to be something good, and not merely the presence of an absence, is similarly a set of practices in and through which we learn to desire differently. Lacking the opportunity to endlessly submit to a spouse, the celibate Christian will intentionally seek ways to open her life out in love – and the church, if it is to be faithful to the gospel of the resurrection – must offer her such ways.

John Stevens asks questions around what we mean by celibate but exclusive relationships and it’s implications for ministry.

These are all questions that have a peculiar urgency in our age because long-held assumptions about the validity of the Christian sexual ethic are no longer there. Just as we need to offer a better vision for celibacy & singleness we need to uphold more rigorous challenges of marriage.

I think Steve Holmes is right too that we shouldn’t give the impression that straight married people don’t have work to do to sort out their desires.

Marriage – if it is to be something good, and not merely a concession to our stony hearts, is absolutely not a space for the unlimited indulgence of sexual desires. Rather, it is a set of practices in and through which we learn to desire differently. We’ve heard already Paul insisting on a mutual bodily surrender between spouses in 1 Corinthians; these internal acts of mutual submission, of re-ordering our sinful and selfish desires, are reinforced by the necessary openness to procreation that exists in the marriage relationship. Children, in the light of the resurrection of Christ, are not a way of responding to death, but an opportunity for our crabbed and incurved selves to be opened out in love.

In Sweden being sambo (co-habiting) is normal and is so for far too many Christians. Here Tim Challies, outlines five reasons to cast a more compelling vision of marriage:

  1. Marriage Is Unambiguous
  2. Marriage Is a Union of Families; Cohabitation Is Free-Floating
  3. Marriage Provides Protection for the Vulnerable at the Start
  4. Marriage Offers Some Hope of Justice to Those Wronged When It Ends
  5. Marriage Strengthens Private Intentions with Public Promises

And of course where we talk about marriage we need clarity and consistency about divorce.

All of this though is built upon further assumptions about gender, about who we are as men and women. Again, here the traditional assumptions about gender are under significant pressure and it’s worth being aware of those. The fact that there is an even an article titled Are gender feminists and transgender activists undermining science? is a sign of the changing nature of society.

So we need writers and thinkers who at least writers who think, like Alistair Roberts on the nature of things.

The focus in the biblical teaching on sex is less upon gender roles and rules than it is upon the fact that men and women are created differently, for different purposes, with different strengths, and with different natural orientations.

He also rightly notes that,

Reacquainting ourselves with the ubiquitous natural reality of sexual difference is difficult in a gender neutralizing society in which we have been trained not to notice or to resist it. It is also difficult in churches where sexual difference has been so extensively ideologized and cut off from its roots in nature.

We need also to think eschatalogically, as Ian Paul does when he asks the question, will there be male and female in the new creation? We need clear articulation of what we think it means to be male and female.

I could have linked to dozens if not hundreds more articles but the point is, I hope clear, that we can’t move on past this because in so many places the ethic by which Christians have lived since Jesus is continually challenged from both inside and outside the church.

Photo by tadekk

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