The story is told of a bride-to-be living in Victorian England who was consulting with her mother. “What shall I do on my wedding night?” the young virgin asked with grave concern. The mother placed a compassionate hand on her daughter’s shoulder and answered tenderly, “Think of the Empire, my darling. Think of the Empire.”
Let’s fess up. The Church has done a miserable job with the whole subject of sex for the longest time. And I mean longest time.
Somewhere very early on, we’re talking second century A.D., some Christian of influence got it in his brain that human sexuality was such an earthly thing that the holier you became, the less concerned with sex you ought to be. A false teaching known as Gnosticism had blown in like an invasive plant and was taking root everywhere.
Though it morphed into various forms, the core doctrine of Gnosticism was that existence was divided into physical and spiritual spheres, and the ultimate purpose of life was to cast off one’s physical nature – the way a butterfly casts off a chrysalis – and join the spiritual, which is eternal, and better by far. Translation for you cavemen out there: body bad, spirit good.
Sadly, as the smog of Gnosticism spread, a few generations later came another awful idea: that because sex was such a worldly, shameful thing, those who aspired to serve the Church in leadership ought not marry (and then later the company line became must not marry.)
So throughout the centuries, the Church has had a very spotty track record when it comes to how it has taught about sexuality. And it continues to our day.
- The average solid, Bible-teaching, Jesus-loving Church struggles to know what to do with sex. Rare is the pastor who inserts into his sermon schedule dedicated, regular preaching on biblical sexual ethics.
- Even more rare is the congregation that offers any sort of discipleship ministry that specifically helps its people in the sexual arena. And if the Church does offer a program of any kind, usually it meets secretly in the church basement at 6:00am on Saturdays.
- Programs that teach purity are more likely to be found in the youth groups than with the adults.
If ever there were a time for the Church to shrug off its discomfort with purity training, it’s now. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say, it’s now or never!
One of the top priorities of Train Yourself Ministry is to encourage and train churches to bring the topic of sexual holiness front and center in their teaching and discipleship. My personal mission is to do everything I can to foster what I call “holy conversations” about sex in the church, home and community. The more talking, the better. Here are five reasons why it’s beyond critical that we do this:
Sexuality Is One Of The Most Obvious Parts Of Humanity
Growing up in the church, as I did, I never heard one sermon on sex. It never was talked about in our youth groups. Mom and Dad were close-lipped about it.
The shame of such a conspiracy of silence it that sex is one of the things that people think about most!
There used to be a rumor floating around that guys had a sexual thought every seven seconds, but then someone did the math, and if true, it comes out to nearly 8,000 times a day, and not even Hugh Hefner or Charlie Sheen in their prime could think about sex that much.
But we do think about it a lot. You can be working on algebra problems and all it takes is a pretty little thing or a hunk of man to walk by you on the sidewalk or a risqué billboard to appear, or a popup to pop up on your computer, and suddenly you feel the sizzle in your heart.
Yet every time growing up I would ask a question about sex in some church context, I was shot down. “Hey I was wondering, could I ask a question about – ”. “NO!” “Hey, I was wondering, what would Jesus do about – ”. “HE WOULDN’T!” “Hey, what should I think about –” “DON’T THINK ABOUT IT!”
We in the Church must do better, because the world hasn’t changed. And human nature hasn’t changed. Each generation that comes along is filled with the same questions about life as the one before it, and each generation asks its elders, “Talk to me about sex please. Could I have some direction here?”
Yet hardly any adult will give them an answer. No one will say, “I’d steer clear of that if I were you. This would be a better path.” No one will provide boundaries. Instead, parents say things to their children like, “Oh, you’ve discovered that there are 57 genders! That’s so insightful.” Insert pause to fetch a drink of water. “Oh, and you’re #58! That’s my boy, or girl, or whatever you are.”
Sexuality Is One Of The Greatest Gifts God Has Given Us
All this silence, and yet biblically speaking, our sexual nature is one of the most beautiful gifts that God has given us.
We don’t get 27 verses into the Bible before we meet sex. “So God created man in his own image…male and female he created them.” And because God created it, sex is good to its core. Not everything we’ve done with it, mind you. (Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)
But the idea and form and expression of sex. The body parts. The body feel. The body responses. All of this is an amazing expression of God’s love and goodness. This is God firing on all cylinders. How dare then followers of Christ think of sex as “that which shall not be named”?
Proverbs 30:18-19 says, “There are four things that are too wonderful for me, that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden.”
Are we so jaded that we have forgotten the breathless beauty of falling in love? In a junior high biology class I once learned that a ‘kiss’ is nothing but “the anatomical juxtaposition of two orbicularis muscles in a state of contraction.” But then one day in the seventh grade I kissed Beverly Christiansen and experienced the power that launched a thousand ships. Orbicularis muscles, my eye.
Years ago, Amy Grant began to insert simple love songs into her albums and Christians went berserk, accusing her of compromise and worse. Shame on those Christians. Why should the William Shakespeares and Paul McCartneys compose the best love sonnets and songs, when the many-splendored-thing of love was completely God’s idea to begin with?
Sexuality Is One Of The Most Powerful Forces Within Us
True or false: The more power something possesses, the more boundaries there ought to be around it.
Hopefully, you didn’t need to scratch your head too long on that one. Any loving parent gets it. Electricity that sends you warmth and light can also send you to the hospital. Get your hands away from there! Swimming pools are a blast, but they can kill you, so we’re taking swim lessons. And get those floaties on! My father spent more time teaching me how to drive a car than he did teaching me how to ride a bike. And so help me, if you come home with a speeding ticket!
Why the dedicated instruction? Why the many rules? Why the warnings? Because those powerful things that can make our lives so fun and fulfilling can also turn right around and ruin our lives or take our lives if we use that power wrongly.
You know where I’m going with this. Sex – and all that goes with it – is one of the most powerful forces on earth. I can scarcely think of anything more fundamentally primal to our humanity than this.
These desires and the act it leads to have the power to create life. Something has to be powerful to take life – a bullet, a virus, a storm. But to create life – my goodness, what power must be wielded by such a thing! And sex wields that power.
These desires and the actions it leads to also have the power to bond life. Sex exists throughout the animal kingdom, but with humans this connection goes far beyond simple biology. It catches up in its wake the deepest emotions felt by humans, and if the Bible is telling us the truth, it transcends physicality entirely and takes us into the realm of the spirit, where our deepest identity is forged. It’s not just bodies linking, but heart, mind and soul as well.
Two Hollywood actors can play out a fistfight in a movie scene, and go have a couple beers afterwards. However two actors playing out a nude love scene are tampering with forces that they cannot possibly comprehend or control, no matter how much they protest that it’s just art.
If a loving parent will speak the most about those things with the greatest power in life to heal or to harm, then we in the Church must not be loving our people all that much to remain silent or vague about sex.
Which brings us round to this…
Our Silence Condemns People To A Life Of Sexual Sin & Struggle
The proof of sex’s power is found in the way sex – used wrongly – can also ruin life. The wreckage it causes when its power is disrespected or disregarded can scarcely be catalogued. The unwanted pregnancy. Disease. Divorce. Jealousy. Confusion. Addiction. Depression. Emptiness. Poverty. Prison. Scandal. Job-loss. Rage. Rape. Murder. Sex trafficking. Prostitution. Pedophilia.
Does a day ever go by where someone doesn’t make the headlines because of a sexual crime or scandal? There’s a Sexual Hall of Shame out there. It’s larger than the Louvre, vaster than the Smithsonian, and year after year, they’re continually adding wings to it to induct the latest members.
Let’s take the hot-button topic of transgenderism as an example of how our silence condemns people to sin and struggle.
The myth of our age is that trangenderism is fine, normal, ordinary. We’re told that sexuality is a spectrum. You can identify as one of nearly sixty genders today.
But the truth is that the binary of male-female is indisputably one of the most obvious biological realities that exists. Transgenderism is a disorder (true gender dysphoria, that is, which afflicts an infinitesimally small percentage of the population. Most “transgenderism” we see today is nothing more than sexual experimentation in the name of a perverted sense of “freedom” or “justice”.)
We don’t have to apologize for saying it’s a disorder. It’s actually the most loving thing we can say. It’s because it’s a disorder that major treatments and surgeries are sought to correct it. There’s a disconnect between mind and body. Which is why it comes with highly elevated depression and suicide rates among transgender youth. For this reason, those who suffer from it deserve a great deal of compassion, patience and love.
However, what they don’t deserve is the whole reordering of society on their behalf. The folly of it all! Completely chucking overboard “Male” and “Female” bathrooms. Completely overhauling “Male” and “Female” sports. And if you don’t speak to a transgendered person using their preferred pronoun, we’ll fire you, or fine you or throw you into prison, or take your child away from you. This is madness. Nothing but “Brave New World” propaganda.
The Church’s silence about sex helped in part create the cultural vacuum that allowed such destructive ideas to take root and grow (ideas ironically referred to as “progressive”.)
So we must reverse the silence, and now – before laws are passed that will make it illegal to even speak. Personally, when I try to help someone avoid behavior that increases the odds of them being hurt, I call that compassion, not hate, but that’s just me.
Our Approaches Up Till Now Have Been Deficient
I look at the sexual madness unleashed in our culture today and the first thought that comes to mind as a pastor is that the percentages of those who are struggling sexually right in our pews is off the charts.
A second thought then comes to mind. Because this is so, we as leaders in the Church need to bring a lot of grace and compassion to the table when we minister to one another in this arena.
So many are struggling with this at so many different levels, that if we in the church do not create a broad, safe environment with which to share our struggles, confess them, talk about them – those “holy conversations” we mentioned earlier – then the game is over. It needs to be OK for a person to raise their hands and say, “Me too.” And not worry about being called a dirty old man, or a trailer tramp, or being shamefully shuffled off to that secretive support group that meets in the basement.
Which leads me to a third thought. Because so many people are struggling with this at various levels, we need to come up with new approaches with how we treat this problem. Because up till now, we’ve largely done one of two things in the church. We’ve treated sexual sins like porn largely as either a spiritual problem or a clinical problem.
It’s A Spiritual Problem
In many a church, when a hurting person comes forward, if we see it primarily as a spiritual problem, our diagnosis is that the person is not as close to Jesus as they ought to be. So the remedy is to repent, and then double-down on all the spiritual disciplines. “Let’s pray more, read more, worship more. If a man has two dogs, which one of them is stronger? The one he feeds the most. So you need to get more spiritual food in you.” And that’s how many churches treat sexual struggle and sin.
Or Maybe It’s A Clinical Problem
Then if that doesn’t work, many a church in the last ten years or so has said, “Well obviously, this is not only a spiritual problem for you. It’s also become a clinical problem. So let’s get you into a group designed to treat this sort of thing.” And so we have seen the emergence of all kinds of groups and programs – many which are wonderful additions to discipleship.
Just one problem. Using porn as an example, there are more than 75% (I think way more) of everyone under 30 struggling in some fashion with porn. Are we going to stick them all in a support group? As soon as a kid hits puberty, forget Boy Scouts and Youth Group, let’s sign them up for Celebrate Recovery. Is that the best we can do?
The Missing Piece?
What’s often missing in many a discipleship approach is a middle road which is at the heart of Train Yourself Ministry, where we look at a person’s struggles not solely as a spiritual problem that may have clinical elements to it, but also largely as a discipline problem. It’s a discipline problem that you correct by offering targeted training that addresses weakness not only in their spirits, but in their body, mind, emotions and will as well. Much like a physical therapist does in treating a crippling pain by shoring up all the smaller muscular systems around it.
The more you dig around in Scripture, the more you discover that various forms of the word “training” are used throughout the Bible to describe spiritual growth. Such as when Paul said to Timothy, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7).
Our call to the Church today is that we rediscover the concept of training – that we put discipline back in our discipleship.
Until Christ returns or an apocalypse pushes us back a notch, computers are here to stay. The challenge facing followers of Christ here and now is: how do we walk in freedom, purity and joy in this 21st-century, high-tech Corinth? Is it even possible? Some say no, and increasingly we are hearing calls to retreat from culture, and “run to the desert” the way many did in the second and third centuries. But this is defeat at so many levels, and as far from freedom as we can get. We can take the person out of Rome, but you still haven’t taken Rome out of them.
The only other solution is for the Church to dedicate itself to offering intentional purity training to old and young.
We believe you can take a young teen who’s grown up immersed in digital technology, and train them to fight for holiness. You can take a businessman or woman who’s on the road two weeks out of the month and train them to do nothing but sleep in their hotel rooms. You can take a person and train them to sit at a computer without the gnats of lust buzzing them, and know that the only hub they’ll visit is Biblehub.com and not the other one.
We live in the days of Jonah, where people don’t know their right hand from their left, morally speaking. Train Yourself Ministry exists in part to teach openly and often about God’s view of sex, why he designed it the way he did, and the beautiful, life-giving boundaries he’s placed around it. We hope you will join us in committing to a practice of faith where regular purity training is an ordinary part of our growing closer to Christ.