I’m a little nauseated right now.
I just watched a few minutes of Ed and Lisa Young’s “Bed-in” – a toxic mix of sex-talk, pop psychology and lightweight theological justification. Maybe I’m just old, like my contemporary praise team says. But I cannot believe that this is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not stand against it.”
Let me state some things very clearly.
1) I think the no-no-no, bad-bad-bad, dirty-dirty-dirty message about sex that marked much of the church’s instruction about sex in my youth (back before fire and the wheel) is not healthy, biblical or helpful.
2) In fact, sex is a creation of God – part of the original work that God called “very good.” And I certainly agree with God’s declaration. For us to treat a gift of God as if it is shameful, dirty and disgusting is insulting to God’s creation. Hugh Hefner didn’t create sex – he perverted it.
3) Churches need to talk about sex in a forthright, honest and open manner.
In my youth, the pendulum was way over too far in one direction and sex was ignored or approached with a simple message – “don’t do it.” In my college and seminary years and in the early years of my ministry, the pendulum began to swing. Ed and Gaye Wheat wrote a book about sex (Intended for Pleasure) which is mild by our standards today but was a little shocking back them. Everyone’s favorite “Left Behind” fiction writer Tim Lahaye wrote a book with his wife about sex (The Act of Marriage). Both of them were helpful resources which answered questions and balanced honesty with tact. They avoid prurience while giving instruction to youngsters who waited until marriage about what to do after they said, “I do.”
Now, the pendulum has swung – and this old fogey thinks it has swung too far. I find Ed and Lisa Young’s “Bed-In” to be over-the-top, crass, approaching disgusting. I have not read Mark Driscoll, but I have read the eminent blogger Mike Leake’s review here yesterday. He described the book as “drinking from the toilet.” Thats a metaphor I won’t get out of my mind soon. I was shocked as I read other reviews from people who seldom agree about anything but asserted as one that Driscoll crossed a line that shouldn’t be crossed.
1) Sex is a topic people want to hear about, but we are called to proclaim God’s Word, not tickle people’s ears!
I have been studying the Old Testament prophets recently for a Bible Study I am teaching. Wednesday night I taught on the markers of a true prophet as distinguished from the false. The true prophet proclaimed the message that came from God regardless of how people would respond. The false prophet told people what they wanted to hear to gain personal profit (either money or favor).
Paul, in some of his final words, exhorted Timothy how to be faithful. He said,
…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2
Paul exhorted Timothy to preach the Word of God and to “reprove, rebuke and exhort.” Evidently, Paul didn’t get the memo that we were always supposed to be positive and encouraging.
He then warned about the false teachers who would come in the end days (sorry, my eschatology is showing).
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4
There will come a time when people will not want to hear the sound teachings of scripture which rebuke and reprove them, but will flock to those who withhold truth and tell them how to find their best life now! I am not going to call either Driscoll or Young heretics or false prophets. But I think that on this issue they may have wandered into a common error.
Imagine that on Sunday morning I announce my topic for Sunday night. I have two choices. I’m either going to continue my study on 1 Corinthians (we’re starting chapter 13 this week – come on down) or I could go with “Secrets to a Fantastic Sex Life.”
Which will draw a bigger crowd?
Sex sells. But using sex to sell church is a form of ecclesiological prostitution that no man of God should engage in. It may increase numbers but I do not believe it honors Christ, aids sanctification or builds godly churches. Once the church gives in to the “whatever sells” ethic, we have sacrificed the gospel, because the NT tells us clearly that the gospel offends.
2) Sex is a gift, but it is not life.
Sex is a gift of grace from God – a beautiful thing created by God to be enjoyed, explored, and enthusiastically practiced between a husband and wife. We do not accept the false teaching that sex is only for procreation.
But our culture worships at the altar of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Sex does not enhance life, it is life. I am afraid that some of the sex-talk going on actually brings this false idol into the church.
3) Pastors are ministers of the gospel, not sex-therapists.
Many have opined about the modern church-shift from gospel proclamation to therapy. Many churches no longer exist to bring people into a right relationship with God, but to help them be happy, successful and to achieve their goals, dreams and ambitions in life.
But that was never the goal of the church. We are meant to proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified. We are to call people to die with Christ so that they can live for God. Certainly, teaching about sex is a part of that. But pastors were never intended to be sex therapists. We are ministers of the gospel.
Wade Burleson asked a question that I thought made a lot of sense.
Do people know that even if their sex lives improve, they are still headed for a date with hell, unless they come to place their confidence and faith in Christ?
4) What goes on in my bedroom stays in my bedroom.
One big change in the Christian sex books of 25-30 years ago and the things that are happening today is the personal talk of the Youngs and Driscolls and othersl. We know a lot of details about Mark Driscoll’s sex life and I have a mental image now of Ed and Lisa snuggling in bed that I don’t really want!
I am preaching through Proverbs on Sunday morning and before too long I will be in Proverbs 5. That’s going to be a tough Sunday morning sermon. There are parts of that chapter are pretty explicit.
Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
and he ponders all his paths. Proverbs 5:15-21
Probably won’t be reading that one as a responsive reading!
I am struggling with exactly how to approach that – balancing forthrightness with tact. But I can tell you one thing I won’t be doing. I won’t be talking about anything that goes on in my bedroom with my wife. That is not for public consumption.
I do not think it is generally good for a preacher to discuss his and his wife’s sex life in public. If I talk publicly about sex, am I not in danger of putting sexual thoughts about my wife in other men’ minds? I may talk about sex publicly (and biblically) but I cannot see how it is ever warranted for me to talk about my sex life publicly.
5) Chapter 10 has its place, but it should be a private place.
I think Christian ministers should address any issue a member asks. Is it okay for a Christian to ………..? But do subjects like this need to be addressed from the pulpit? I think not. Perhaps in an adults-only group some kind of biblical taxonomy of sexual issues could be discussed. But graphic answers to specific questions do not seem to pass biblical muster.
A husband and wife can come into my office and ask any question they wish, and I will give my honest attempt at a forthright and biblical answer. But I will not be giving public answers about various exotic sexual practices and positions from the pulpit.
6) This is why verse-by-verse exposition is important.
If you stick to preaching verse-by-verse through books, you give the whole counsel of God without running amuck on issues such as this. I’m going to be addressing sexual issues in a few months because I am preaching through Proverbs and Proverbs addresses the topic.
Exposition also helps to establish perspective. In the 66 books of the Bible, there are a few passages about sex and a few about marriage. But if you listen to some pulpits across America, you might think that sexual topics and how to have a happy marriage are among the most common in scripture. They are not. If half of your preaching is about these topics, you are biblically unbalanced.
Stick to God’s priorities by preaching through God’s Word.
The End of the Matter
It is manifestly difficult to project how Jesus or Paul would minister in an electronic age. But I just can’t see them doing a 24 hour book-promotion from the roof of a church talking about sex!
And I don’t think we should be doing this either.