The Paganization Of The Church (3)
In the last two articles I have given a rather extended review of a recently published book entitled, “True Sexual Morality, Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis.” I chose as my theme for this review, “The Paganization of the Church”, because one of the main arguments advanced by the author, Daniel R. Heimbach, is that not only our American culture in general but the American churches in particular, are becoming increasingly pagan in their outlook on morality, especially in the area of sexuality. I concluded the last installment with the observation that although pagans and Christians agree that there is a spiritual dimension to sexuality, there is a vast difference between the pagan and the Christian interpretation of this dimension. In this third installment we will examine what that difference consists of.
In Praise Of Sex
If people agree on anything today it is that sex is good. Hollywood films and television programs, as well as numerous books and magazines loudly proclaim its virtues. Commercials with blatant sexual content are used to sell products from automobiles to shampoo and the most popular shows are those that include at least one or two bedroom scenes. From all sides we are being told that sex is fun and that if you are not involved in some kind of sexual relationship or activity you are missing out on life’s greatest pastime.
Not to be outdone, many Christians today are joining the chorus that sings the praises of sex. But as Heimbach asks, “Are Christians saying anything different? Is the Christian message identical to what the unregenerate culture screams at every turn?” (True Sexual Morality, p.139) The answer should be, of course not! But the sad thing is that today many professing Christians are speaking or writing about sex in ways that come close to or even go beyond what our secular culture says about the subject. The world thinks sex is good because it brings physical pleasure. But increasingly we find religious people insisting that sex is not only good for the body but for the soul or spirit as well.
The Element Of Truth In Pagan Thought
Now there is nothing wrong with this statement per se. Sex is indeed good for the whole man, body and soul or spirit. Scripture affirms the goodness of sex because God pronounced everything that He had made “very good” and that certainly includes human sexuality (Gen. 1:31). For that reason it is even correct to say that sex is spiritual. By bestowing the gift of sex upon man God envisioned a joining of souls as well as bodies. Becoming “one flesh” means that through sexual intercourse a husband and wife are united at the deepest level of being, spiritually as well as physically (Heimbach, p. 161). That is why the apostle Paul, by divine inspiration, does not hesitate to compare this union of Christian spouses to the intimate relationship between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22-23). But while it is proper to say that there is a spiritual dimension to sex, it is wrong to suggest, as some “Christians” do, that sexual activity is the highest form of spirituality because it allegedly puts us in touch with God. This is blasphemy and completely contrary to Scripture. As Heimbach explains,
Even though sex is very good, we must never treat sex as if there were nothing better. We cannot put sex in the place of God. We must not worship sex as God, nor should we honor sex in the place of God nor can we ever use sex as a path to God (p.141).
The Spirituality Of Sex
In the last article I gave some examples of theologians who actually advocate and practice this kind of idolatry. These modern pagans view sexuality in terms of spirituality and regard it as a vital part of worship. Although we reject this warped notion with abhorrence, we should realize that there is an element of truth in the pagan view of sex. Scripture also recognizes the spiritual and worshipful nature of sex. We can even say that the intimate sexual relationship between a man and his wife is a type of the intimacy between Christ and the church He loves (Eph. 5:24-32).
Pagan religion is wrong, not because it affirms the spirituality of sex, but because it sexualizes spirituality. The pagan takes God’s gift of sex and uses it as he sees fit without regard for the boundaries God has set for the proper exercise of this gift. Those boundaries concern the subjects of sex: two human beings (monogamy) of the opposite sex (heterosexuality); the binding character of the relationship (sacred marriage bond); the duration of this relationship (life-long commitments) and the purpose of sex: companionship and propagation of the human race (Gen.2:21-24; 1:28).
Biblical sex, therefore, is divinely instituted and regulated sex. It is in fact holy sex. Since God is holy, nothing is good in a moral sense unless it is in harmony with His holiness. If Scripture is clear about anything it is that God insists on keeping sex holy. In Hebrews 13:4 the apostle writes, “Marriage is honourable in all [or, let marriage be held in honour among all], and the bed undefiled; but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” Paul warns the Ephesian believers that fornication and all uncleanness (any kind of sexual immorality) should not even be mentioned among saints (5:4). With the Thessalonians the apostle is even more specific. They must not use their vessels (or sexual organs) for immoral purposes. Holiness requires that they keep those and all body parts under control and use them only in ways that are consistent with the moral character of God, upon threat of severe punishment (I Thes.4:3-7).
Sexual Purity Essential To Spiritual Life
Not only is sexual purity essential to a healthy marriage but Scripture also teaches that such purity is essential to the believer’s relationship to Christ. What Paul says in Ephesians 5 about the relationship between husband and wife applies even more and in a much deeper and mysterious sense to the spiritual relationship between Christ and His Church. According to Heimbach, there is a connection between holy sex and holy intimacy with Christ and he interprets Paul as saying that sexual holiness both reflects and expresses that intimacy (p.150). For proof he points to 1 Corinthians 6:13-20, where the apostle first writes, “The body is not for fornication but for the Lord and the Lord for the body” (v. 13) and then asks these probing questions:
Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit (vv. 15- 17).
The implications of what the apostle is saying here are enormous. Our relationship with Christ and the quality of that relationship is determined to a large extent on how we use God’s gift of sexuality. As Heimbach puts it: “Holy intimacy with Christ depends on obeying God’s standards – including His standards for sex. Sexual holiness and intimacy with Christ not only should never be separated; they can never be separated. Chastity in relation to Christ is impossible without chastity in relation to sex” (p.150).
Sexual Sin Destroys Intimacy
Much is being written today about the dangers of adultery and other forms of immoral behaviour, such as addiction to pornography, because of the negative impact such conduct has on sexual relations between husbands and wives. Even secular psychiatrists recognize that such behaviour tends to destroy intimacy between spouses. But the Bible goes further. Scripture warns us that all sinful behaviour, but especially sexual immorality in all its forms, jeopardizes one’s relationship to the Lord. Heimbach writes:
Unholy sex not only defiles human relationships on earth but divine relationships in heaven. Immoral sex ruins intimacy with Christ because it raises a spiritual-moral barrier alienating people from God and it does it, not like punishment after the fact, but right away in the act itself. Alienation is not a price we pay for causing the problem. It is the problem (p. 150).
Getting back to II Corinthians 6:15-16, what Paul is actually saying there is staggering, so staggering in fact that we would rather nor think about it. I said in a sermon on this text a few years ago:
If we are believers we are joined to Christ. That is a wonderful truth, full of comfort and joy. But Paul uses it here to show that when we commit sexual sins we involve our Lord in this sin. All sex outside of marriage is sin, but when it is committed by Christians it is especially serious because it profanes their Lord with whom they are one. Not that Christ is personally tainted with our sin any more than the sunbeam that shines on a garbage dump is polluted by this contact. But our Saviour’s reputation is dirtied because of the relationship that exists between Him and His people. We grieve our Lord by all our sins, but especially by sexual sins. Why? Well, as Paul explains, every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body.” Sins like alcohol abuse, overeating, gambling and other vices are very serious, of course, but they do not have the same impact on the body of a believer as the sin of sexual immorality because his body belongs to Christ… For a Christian to fornicate with a prostitute – which was happening in Corinth -means giving his body to a harlot, for sexual intercourse results in the union of two bodies and their spirits . . . When Paul says that by committing sexual sins a man sins against his own body he does not just mean that he brings upon himself all kinds of problems. That is true, of course, and we see this happening all around us with AIDS and other STD’s and broken relationships affecting millions. But what the apostle is emphasizing here is that by committing sexual sin we jeopardize our spiritual life and if we don’t repent of this sin and forsake it God’s wrath will fall upon us.
We do not have to go to the extremes of the Corinthians in order to come under this indictment. We may never have committed the actual sin of fornication or adultery and yet be guilty of these sins. We can give in to lustful thoughts and do things with our bodies that also fall into the category of immorality. Paul says “flee fornication.” That does not only mean, do not go to prostitutes, but avoid all situations and places where you are likely to be tempted to commit sins of the flesh.
Pagan and Christian Morality Essentially Different
We see then that there is a very close connection between sexual holiness and spiritual holiness. “Unholy physical sex ruins holy intimacy with Christ at the spiritual level” (Heimbach, p.l51). Heimbach points out that what the Bible says about sex and its implications for spirituality may sound similar to what pagans (also modern, so-called Christian pagans) believe but it is in fact the complete opposite to what Christianity teaches. Pagans, he says, reduce holiness to sex. For them all sex is holy. But according to Scripture, no sex is holy unless it follows the rules set by the Creator of sex. Pagans may link sex with spiritual life but in God’s eyes there can be no spiritual life where His rules governing sexuality are ignored and disobeyed.
This is exactly what is going on today. We are witnessing in our generation the climax of a long struggle that started in the Garden of Eden with man’s fall into sin. The central issue in this struggle is: how do we answer the question put to Eve by the serpent: “Yea, hath God said?” Heimbach defines the issue this way:
When it comes to sexual morality, people must either choose restraining sex with God or indulging sex without him. God is either totally right about sex, or he is wrong about sex and about everything else as well… If sexual passions are reliable and require no form of discipline, then the whole structure of biblical morality is wrong, not just one part or the other. Releasing sexual passion from moral discipline requires restructuring morality completely. God’s approach will not do; some other approach must be found, and that new approach has to be one that either denies that God exists, or rejects him as evil, or ‘re-imagines’ God in terms of indulging sexual desires (p 317).
Printed by permission from the November Messenger, the official publication of the Free Reformed Churches www.frcna.org
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