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Tim Challies

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August 2005

August 31, 2005

Steve Muse, whom you may know from his web site at Eastern Regional Watch, woke up this morning to find his wife unconscious. She is currently in critical condition in hospital. Please pray for Steve and his wife Katherine during this time. Steve is a friend and one of the few “Internet” friends with whom I’ve spent significant amounts of time talking on the phone. He has often shared his wisdom with me. So please pray! If you like you can send him an email to tell him that you are holding him up before the throne. His email is smuse@erwm.com.

August 31, 2005

In yesterday’s article we built a framework in which to understand sex from a biblical perspective. We saw that sex is: a Gift From God; intended only for marriage; for giving and receiving pleasure; a means of building intimacy; intended for procreation. Today we will continue this discussion to encompass autoeroticism, the act of providing sexual pleasure to oneself.

Blindness, Baldness and Hairy Palms

I suspect my childhood is typical in that I heard many rumors about the physical effects of autoeroticism. I was told that people who did it went blind, lost their hair, grew hair on their palms or went crazy. But as James Dobson says, “If it did [cause such afflictions], the entire male population and about half of females would be blind, weak, simpleminded and sick. Between 95 and 98 percent of all boys engage in this practice — and the rest have been known to lie.” My parents certainly never told me such lies and neither did any of my teachers or youth leaders. Yet these rumors were passed from boy-to-boy on the playground, usually long before any of us had ever given serious consideration to sexuality. We did not know what the act was, but we did know the supposed repercussions.

While these rumors are clearly unfounded, they continue to be told simply because autoeroticism is a topic that breeds guilt and shame. It encourages worry that a person will be found out. Yet there is no physical reason to deny oneself this sexual pleasure. There can, however, be a mental and spiritual toll as many people struggle with feelings of guilt, remorse and shame because of their habits. This may be a convincing reason for some people to avoid participating, but for many it is not.

Purity of Mind

The most common reason given why people should not engage in autoeroticism is that it pollutes the mind. Sexual gratification is not merely a physical act, but one that engages the mind. In speaking with men who struggle with this sin, one will find that the act brings far less guilt than the accompanying fantasies. These fantasies run rampant during acts of autoeroticism. This type of fantasy can be dangerous in two ways.

First, as most adults have learned the hard way, reality is rarely as wonderful as fantasy. Many people create expectations for sex in their minds that the reality cannot meet. I dare say that rarely has a teenage boy created a fantasy in which his partner gently and lovingly rebuffs his advances because she is too tired. Neither has he concocted a fantasy in which she declines participation in a particular act because she finds it uncomfortable or distasteful. The fact is that fantasy can create unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of sex.

Second, fantasy will rarely involve legitimate sexual partners. A teenage girl has no legitimate reason to pursue sexual fantasy, for she has no God-given partner with whom she can consumate such desire. While it is perfectly legitimate for a husband to dream of a sexual encounter with his wife, autoeroticism may encourage him to fill his mind with thoughts of other women, or even to gaze at pornographic material to fuel his mind.

Fantasy is dangerous when left unchecked. Autoeroticism is wrong when it violates the Lord’s teaching about moral purity. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Fantasy can also be dangerous when it creates unrealistic expectation.

Some will protest that when they engage in autoeroticism it is merely a physical act and one they do to relieve stress or boredom. They will insist that they do not succumb to thinking inappropriate thoughts. In his book When Good Men Are Tempted, Bill Perkins writes, “It appears to me that masturbation is amoral. Under some circumstances it’s acceptable behavior. On other occasions it’s clearly wrong” (page 122). He goes on to provide three tests which will gauge whether a particular instance is right or wrong: the thought test (whether the act is accompanied by inappropriate fantasies), the self-control test (whether the act becomes obsessive) and the love test (whether autoeroticism leads to a person failing to fulfill the needs of his or her spouse). I found it interesting that in a book about sexual purity this topic was covered in only two pages and that the pages were at the very end of the book, almost as if this topic was an afterthought. Millions of men will tell you that it is far more than an afterthought.

James Dobson teaches a similar view of autoeroticism being amoral. When I was young my parents gave me his book Preparing for Adolescence and I remember this teaching well. He believes that every boy (and most girls) try it and that the guilt brought about by the act destroys many children. Thus he believes parents should rarely speak to their children about it, and if they do, to reassure their children that such practices are normal.

Like Perkins, Dobson does not engage in a biblical examination of this particular topic. Like Perkins he concludes that autoeroticism is amoral because there is no specific bible passage that allows or condemns the practice.

Yet, as we will see, the Bible is not silent.

God’s Purpose in Sexuality

Yesterday we learned that the ultimate purpose of sex is to provide ultimate intimacy between a husband and wife. There is no greater expression of vulnerable intimacy between human beings. A close examination of the Scripture’s teaching on sexuality will uncover no reason to believe that God ever intended sex to be a private pursuit. The heart and soul of sexuality is the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure. Sex is intended to be a means of mutual fulfillment where a husband thinks foremost of his wife, and the wife things foremost of her husband. As they fulfill each other’s needs, they have their own fulfilled. It is a beautiful picture of intimacy!

“Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). This deprivation can refer not only to time but to activity. A man should no more deprive his wife over a period of time than he should deprive her by private sexual activity.

And this, the mutual giving and receiving which lies at the heart of God’s purpose for sexuality, is exactly what autoeroticism cannot provide. It strips sexuality of its divine purpose of mutual fulfillment. It takes an act God intends to build relationship and makes it an act of selfish isolation.

I remind you again of the passage we looked at yesterday. “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). A man’s body does not belong to himself, but to his present or future wife, and ultimately to God. A wife’s body belongs to her husband (and to God). Neither spouse has the right to express sexuality apart from the other. When the Bible tells a man that he is to express his sexuality exclusively with his wife, why do so many interpret this to mean that he can express his sexuality with his wife or by himself?

Tithing to Oneself

Perhaps it would be helpful to interrupt for a moment to provide an analogy.

Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting in church on a Sunday morning. One of the deacons (the one who always seems to have bits of breakfast caught in his moustache) has just prayed to thank the Lord for His gracious gifts. The offering baskets are being passed up-and-down the rows of seats. You have just stuffed your check into the little offering envelope that is too small to fit the check without folding it, but far too large for a folded check, when you glance over at the gentleman sitting beside you. He has just completed writing a check and now proceeds to tear it from his checkbook, fold it and place it in an envelope. You are surprised to see that he proceeds to place the envelope in his pocket, close his eyes and whisper a short prayer. Intruiged, you lean toward him and ask why he has put the check in his pocket. Not at all annoyed he replies, “I tithe to myself.” “What,” you say, “Why would you do that?” “I need the money as much as anyone,” he replies.

It is a ridiculous scenario, is it not? But I believe the principle can be extended to our discussion of autoeroticism. If a man were to earn a living and tithe his ten percent to himself, we could consider him selfish, for he is missing the very purpose for which God tells us to give our gifts to the church. Similarly, if a man engages in autoeroticism he is perverting God’s design for sexuality, taking something that is supposed to bring blessing to another and making it selfish so it serves only himself.

Not A Selfish Pursuit

Do you see, then, how autoeroticism denies the very purpose for which God created sex? Sex was not meant to be a selfish pursuit. It was not intended to focus a person’s thoughts on himself and his own needs. Rather, sex was designed as a means of fulfilling the Lord’s command to esteem another higher than oneself. The pleasure of sex is not meant to be enjoyed in isolation, but to be enjoyed while providing that same pleasure to another. Autoeroticism cannot fulfill God’s design for sexuality, and thus has no place in the life of one who calls himself a Christian.

August 30, 2005

I am not aware of a large number of children that read this site, but despite that I’d like to begin this article with a quick warning. What I am writing about in this short series deals with a subject that is best-suited for adults. So if you are still young, I’d prefer you had your mom or dad read it first and decide if this is something they would like you to read. Fair enough?

And by now the rest of you are probably curious. Today I would like to write about a subject I didn’t ever anticipate I would research and post about on this site. It is a controversial subject and one that is often avoided within Christian circles. The most people hear about this subject from within the church is, “Christians don’t do that!” So in this article and the one that follows I would like to bring a biblical perspective to autoeroticism, or the act of providing sexual pleasure to oneself. I am deliberately avoiding the “m-word” associated with this activity simply because, based on the vast amount of junk mail I receive, it seems to be a favored word for spammers and people who wish to share their perversions with the world through email, trackbacks and so on.

The Bible is silent on explicit discussion of the subject of autoeroticism. There is no place in Scripture where we will find a clear statement allowing or condemning the practice. Thus we have to begin our study by attempting to come to a biblical understanding of sexuality - God’s purpose and design in human sexuality. Once we understand this we will have a foundation upon which we can build an understanding of autoeroticism.

God’s Design for Sex

We will begin by providing the groundwork for a theology of sex. This is a topic that could consume as much time and space as we chose to give it, so we will discuss it only briefly. Consider this nothing more than a framework. Much of the following was drawn from Sex, Romance and the Glory of God by C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney. Much of that book is available as a chapter in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor.

A Gift From God

Andy Warhol said, “Sex is the biggest nothing of all time.” Andy Warhol was dead wrong. Sex is a gift of God and it is good because the God who gave us sex is good. We glorify God when we use this gift in the way God intends and when we use it to His glory. In Genesis 2 we read about the creation of a woman. After God gave Eve to Adam the Bible tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It is God who designed sex and who gave it to us. It is a good gift and one that must be used as the Creator intends.

For Marriage

When God gave sex to humans, He also provided a restriction. Sex is to be enjoyed only within marriage. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). God gave us this restriction not to be burdensome, but to increase the pleasure and intimacy found in God-glorifying sex.

For Our Pleasure

God created sex to be pleasurable. What more evidence do we need than the clitoris, a part of the body that has only one function - to receive and transmit sexual pleasure. And not only is sex pleasurable, but it is mutually pleasurable, allowing the husband and wife to give and receive pleasure at the same time. This leads to mutual sexual fulfillment. A servant’s mindset is crucial in the marriage bed so each partner primarily seeks after the interests of the other. “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).

For Intimacy

Humans are not entirely capable of comprehending the depth of intimacy brought about by sexual union. The word “know” is often used in Scripture to speak of the deep, intimate knowledge brought about by sex. God also speaks of the husband and wife being of “one flesh” through this act. Carolyn Mahaney writes, “Marital sex is the pinnacle of human bonding. It is the highest form of the communication of love - a language that expresses love without words. It calls forth the deepest, most powerful emotions. It creates intimacy within marriage like nothing else. In fact, as we give and receive the gift of lovemaking, this intimacy will grow stronger and more precious as they eyars go by. Each encounter will lead us to a deeper ‘knowing’ of the one we love” (Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, page 107).

For Procreation

Sex is a means of pleasure and intimacy, but also has the purpose of procreation. Through the joyful act of sex he also works through us in creating new life.

These five points provide a framework for a biblical understanding of sex.

Culture and Sex

Our culture often promotes a view of sex diametrically opposed to what Scripture teaches. This is a view that makes sex appear as little more than a biological function. Men have a sexual appetite they must fulfill and hence they hunt around much like a male dog seeks out a female who is in heat. Like a dog, a man can barely even help himself from fulfilling his craving. Television and movies now portray women in a similar light - as sexual creatures who are able to seperate love and marriage from the act of sex. Yet biblical sexuality is far different.

Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:16-18 brings wisdom that reads more like a commentary on this passage than a translation of it. “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, ‘The two become one.’ Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never ‘become one.’ There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for ‘becoming one’ with another.” And not only do we violate our own bodies, but the bodies of those with whom we have sex. Sex outside of marriage is a perversion of God’s intent.

Perhaps the clearest biblical teaching on sexuality is found in the Song of Solomon. This book portrays a man and woman who are desperately in love with each other. “These two desperately desire to be together, but not simply so they can experience sexual gratification. They want to be together because they are in love, and the sex they enjoy with one another is an expression of that love. Their mutual attraction is not primarily hormonal. It is primarily relational” (Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, page 85). The sex that is so beautifully depicted in Song of Solomon, (the great sex!), is founded primarily on relationship, not technique or the mere fulfillment of animal urges. The consumation of the sexual act is only one place on a long continuum filled with relationship, loving words, expressions of desire and finally physical intimacy. If we were to read Song of Solomon as a textbook on how to have sex we would misread Solomon’s intent. The book is a guide on how to build a loving, intimate relationship.

The ultimate purpose of sex, then, is to provide ultimate intimacy between a husband and wife. There is no greater expression of vulnerable intimacy between human beings, and this is a large part of what makes marriage so unique.

In our next article we will build upon this theology of sex and discuss autoeroticism.

August 30, 2005

Scott Hill, who blogs at Fide-O, wrote a short article called "15 Things I Learned at Saddleback." I can’t quite decide if the article is hilarious or tragic.

"For my own integrity sake I took the opinion that if I was to speak with any authority on Saddleback Community Church then I would need to actually attend the church itself, and not just take other’s word for it. Since moving to California five years ago I have attended Saddleback 12 or 13 times. I am by no means an expert on this church, but I did want to share with you a few things I learned in my trips to this church.

"I learned if you take your Bible into the service you will be greeted immediately by an associate pastor, asking how your trip to California has been.

"I learned unless you have a Bible with 25 different versions then there is no reason to bring your Bible.

"I learned how to live single and Godly, from a guy who learned it between his first and second marriage.

"I learned when Rick Warren tells 2500 pastors to get out their paper and he will give them their sermon outline for Easter Sunday 2498 of them start hunting for a pen."

Check out the rest of the short article here.

August 29, 2005

An old version, that is…

It’s quite a long and boring story, but if you have an old version of Adobe Photoshop hanging around your bookshelves I’d be quite interested in purchasing it from you. Contact me if you’re interested…

August 29, 2005
I am beginning to wonder if the recent upgrade to Movabletype 3.2 has caused trouble with my RSS output. For those of you who read this site via RSS, can you let me know if the feed is working properly for you?
August 29, 2005

This is the third article in a series that examines various doctrinal and societal challenges the Evangelical church must face early in the 21st Century. Previously we examined Relativism and the dangerous doctrine of Open Theism. Today we will examine pragmatism, which has become a dominant force in both the world and the church. I want to take a brief look at the history of pragmatism and then show how it has influenced the church.

A History

Pragmatism is a school of philosophy that arose in the late nineteenth century in the United States. It is rooted in the teachings of men like John Stuart Mill who had a great formative influence in philosophers such as John Dewey who applied pragmatism to education and William James who applied it to religion. These men taught that the way to determine truth was to examine practical results. Having been founded by philosophers, pragmatism was cemented into the Western mindset by the Industrial Revolution. Pragmatism in industry has changed the way we live. James Boice says “The goal is to find the fastest, least expensive way of producing products and getting things done. Pragmatism has improved living standards for millions who now enjoy the benefits of home ownership, adequate clothing, indoor plumbing…and abundant food.” (Whatever Happened To The Gospel of Grace p.50) This mass production has been achieved, of course, at the cost of quality and craftsmanship.

Wikipedia says the following of pragmatism (emphasis added):

Pragmatism is characterized by the insistence on consequences, utility and practicality as vital components of truth. Pragmatism objects to the view that human concepts and intellect represent reality, and therefore stands in opposition to both formalist and rationalist schools of philosophy…Pragmatism does not hold, however, that just anything that is useful or practical should be regarded as true, or anything that helps us to survive merely in the short-term; pragmatists argue that what should be taken as true is that which most contributes to the most human good over the longest course. In practice, this means that for pragmatists, theoretical claims should be tied to verification practices—i.e., that one should be able to make predictions and test them—and that ultimately the needs of humankind should guide the path of human inquiry.

Few of us would object to the many benefits pragamtism has brought us. When we visit the local big box store to purchase second-rate furniture and cheap electronic goods for only a fraction of what it would cost to hire an expert to build them for us, we are experiencing the benefits of industrial pragmatism. The philosophy of pragmatism is deeply-rooted in our Western mindset.

A Definition

Pragmatism is defined by Webster’s as “the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value.” In short, truth is determined by consequences. Whether something is right or wrong, good or bad is primarily dependent on results.

A Challenge

Since the time of the Reformation, Protestants have affirmed the doctrine of Sola Scriptura which teaches that the Bible alone is to be our standard of morality and truth. This standard is rooted in the early church and, of course, in the Bible. It has always been a fundamental teaching of Protestantism. Sola Scriptura was the foundational doctrine of the Reformation - the doctrine upon which every other doctrine was built.

Pragmatism and Sola Scriptura must stand in opposition as each claims to be the key to determining truth. As Christians we need to decide if we are going to depend upon Scripture as the absolute standard of truth or if we will determine truth by consequences. Though we would be hard pressed to find a Christian who says “I believe in pragmatism” the philosophy manifests itself in the Christian world in many different ways. Though people affirm Sola Scriptura with their mouths (or doctrinal statements) they often deny it with their actions.

A Case Study

In order to understand how pragmatism can affect a church, let’s look at a fictional case study which compares two churches.

Oakville Community Church

A church of 250 people has been offered the opportunity to have a popular female minister preach in their church in a few weeks. Though the church believes that having a woman preach is unscriptural, they see the benefit of allowing her to preach just this one Sunday (no matter your feelings on women preachers, for the sake of this fictional story you’ll have to at least pretend you do not approve of women in teaching ministry). They share the news with the congregation and the people are electrified. They hold meetings to determine how they can best leverage this amazing opportunity. Eventually they decide they will spend a good portion of their advertising budget for that year on advertising this event. Each person is given cards to hand out to their friends and posters to hang in the work places. Prayer teams form to pray about this event and teams are trained to help respond to those who may wish to make commitments to Christ through the event.

As the big day approaches the excitement mounts. The morning of the service the members of the church arrive early, anticipating a great day in the history of their church. They are thrilled to see many of their friends and co-workers arrive. They are even more thrilled to see many strangers. By the time the service gets underway the church is packed. Literally hundreds of guests fill the seats that morning.

The service goes off without a hitch. The worship band plays songs that honor God and lead people to worship Him. The guest minister preaches an evangelistic sermon that shares the gospel message. By the end of the service many people are in tears and the prayer room at the back of the church is filled with people praying and making commitments to Christ. The congregation is overjoyed to see twenty five people come to the Lord.

In the aftermath of this service the twenty five people who made commitments to Christ all join the church and become active members. They grow in the Lord, becoming strong, committed Christians and even leading others to Christ. The church experiences a time of growth.

Second Baptist Church of Oakville

A church of 250 people has been offered the opportunity to have a popular female minister preach in their church in a few weeks. The leaders gather the congregation together to speak about the opportunity and after prayer and discussion they decide to affirm their belief that the Bible does not allow for female preachers. Though they acknowledge that his opportunity could help their church grow and lead people to the Lord they politely decline the invitation.

Several weeks later on the day the guest minister would have been there, the church has 250 people in attendance. There are two or three guests, conspicuous by their hand-written name tags. The pastor continues in his message series which is a 10-part exposition of Ephesians. He preaches a good sermon. At the end of the service no one goes to the prayer room and no one sheds a tear.

In the aftermath of this service the church continues its slow growth.

Which Is Right?

Now please, do not be distracted by the issue of women preachers, or you will be missing the point of the case study. Feel free to replace that example with any contentious issue. What we need to determine is which of these two churches was most faithful.

From our human perspective we would see no reason to doubt that the first church was faithful in using an open door provided by God. They took a step of faith and God blessed them richly. He also furthered His kingdom as twenty five people became believers that day. We have to acknowledge, though, that our human perspective means little if it does not agree with God’s perspective.

What would God say? God, above anything else, desires obedience. More than sacrifice, more than excellence, more than results, God wants obedience. By studying Scripture we can learn that in eternity when all is made clear, God will tell the second church that they were the ones that did His will. Results simply cannot excuse disobedience. God may choose to use our disobedience to further his purposes, but this does not give us license to ignore the clear teaching of the Word.

Evidently the first church was the pragmatic one. They foresaw wonderful results but ignored the Bible. The second church was the obedient one, also foreseeing the potential for wonderful results, but choosing to heed the Bible. The point is clear: either the Bible or the results need to be our standard. And as believers we must hold to the primacy of Scripture. The results, no matter how wild, cannot make up for disobedience.

Where You Might Find It

Pragmatism has reared its ugly head throughout the Christian world. It is found in statements about evangelistic techniques such as “if it only reaches one person it is worth it.” It is found especially in the Church Growth Movement. In Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church, a textbook for church growth, he writes “Never criticize any method that God is blessing.” He also says “We must be willing to adjust our worship practices when unbelievers are present. God tells us to be sensitive to the hang-ups of unbelievers in our services.” These ideas are not Biblical; they are rooted in the perceived consequences. We saw pragmatism at work before and after the release of The Passion of the Christ when far more emphasis was placed on the potential results of the movie than whether it was doctrinally-sound. Pragmatism is found wherever Christians run to join programs and hurry to change their worship services because of what they expect to see happen because of the changes they make. In short, it is found anywhere the emphasis is removed from what Scripture says and where the emphasis is placed on the expected results. Sadly, this means that it is found throughout the Evangelical world.

Concerns

We are far too human. We are limited in our perception and understanding. We are prone to believe that good results are necessarily indicative of faithfulness to Scripture. But this is simply not true. God sometimes chooses to use us despite our disobedience.

Similarly, God does not always provide the results we would like to see. There are missionaries that have spent many years laboring in the mission field and have seen very few hearts and lives changed. Does this necessarily mean that their technique is flawed? Does it necessarily mean that they are not doing God’s will? By no means! God sometimes chooses to provide results and other times He does not. Even Jesus experienced varied results when He ministered. In some towns the people listened and trusted in Him while other towns rejected Him. This does not mean that Jesus’’ technique was flawed or that He was being disobedient.

The obvious danger of pragmatism in the church is that we lose our focus on the absolute standard God has given us in His Word. When we lose that focus the church is on the slippery slope to becoming like the world. When we discard God’s standards we must depend on our own deeply flawed standards. We begin to trust in ourselves and lose our trust in God.

More than anything else God desires and expects obedience of His children. Pragmatism has no answer to the question of how we determine obedience, for obedience can only be determined through Scripture. Therefore pragmatism cannot be reconciled with Scripture and must be set aside in favor of faithfulness to God’s Word.

Resources

Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur

Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace