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worldliness

November 10, 2008

WorldlinessAny book on worldliness faces a difficult challenge. The author who takes too firm a stand on issues may slip into legalism while the author who takes too lax a stand may slip into the worldliness he seeks to avoid. The discerning author will need to tread the line, being careful to say no more than Scripture does while still dealing effectively with issues of contemporary importance. Because such a book is long overdue I was pleased to see that Worldliness would be coming from C.J. Mahaney and those whom John Piper affectionately refers to as “his gang.”

January 18, 2008

I grew up in a Christian culture in which very little evangelism took place. How little? Well, the first adult I ever witnessed getting baptized was my wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) and that was when we were eighteen or nineteen. It was the first time our church had ever baptized an adult. And what’s more, it was the first time most of the people who attended that church had ever seen an adult get baptized. While it is not necessarily so, it seems that there is usually something amiss with the evangelistic focus of churches that never, ever see any outside converts through their ministry.

A few years after my wife’s baptism we moved away from the town we had grown up in so we could be closer to my place of business. In the past decade we have been members of two different churches that place much greater emphasis on reaching the lost. We have seen many, many people come to faith, including several who are now close friends. We have seen lives be altered dramatically and have seen more baptisms than we can count - baptisms in churches, rivers, pools, hot tubs and a really big, ugly aluminum tank. We have shared in the joy of seeing people profess their faith by being baptized. It truly is one of the greatest events on any church’s calendar!

Over the years I’ve had to reflect on what made the churches I attended as a child and teenager so ineffective at evangelism. I have to be careful here because I know several people from the churches of my youth who read this site and I want to be careful that I accurately characterize these churches. While there are several reasons I could provide, and they are of varying importance, there is one that I believe stands at the foundation of the rest: These churches often regarded the unbeliever as the enemy. Of course the church would never have articulated that belief, but it seemed to be deeply rooted.

This attitude manifested itself in many ways. One of the clearest ways was among the children of church members. They would rarely, if ever, be allowed or encouraged to play with the unsaved children in the neighborhood. I knew a man who was an “urban missionary” whose children were confined to their backyard and were never, ever allowed to play with the other children in the area. The churched children were not allowed to play with other children lest they become corrupted by their worldliness.

My observation was that this approach failed badly. First, the church was not faithful to its calling to take the gospel throughout the world (the world that begins just outside the front door). They preferred to exist in an enclave, safe from outside influences. Second, the children developed a fascination with the world simply because any access to the outside world had been denied to them and they had never seen the pain and heartbreak that are the inevitable result of forsaking God. The world looks awfully attractive until a person sees the results of giving himself over to it. Third, the parents were prone to ignoring worldliness in their own children. I know that I saw more drugs, more drinking, more disrespect and more awful behavior in the Christian schools I attended than I did in the public schools. This isolation simply did not work. We do not need the world to teach us worldliness. Rather, worldliness arises from within.

The attitude that was modeled by my parents was far different. My family took the opposite approach and we were always encouraged to make friends with the children in the neighborhoods we lived in. We saw many children and parents come to faith in this way. Many others may not have become believers, but they received a clear presentation of the gospel so that they are now without excuse. And regardless of whether or not these people came to faith, we gained many good and valuable friendships. Mom and dad did not do this because they regarded the folks in the neighborhood as a project, but out of a genuine love, concern and appreciation for these people. The person next door was not an enemy, but a person who was just as unsaved as my parents were not too many years before, and was thus someone in desperate need of a Savior. And they intended to give everyone the opportunity to meet the Savior through them.

Sometimes worlds clashed. There were a couple of times when my sisters brought friends to church, friends who were unsaved but were showing interest in the gospel, only to have them mocked or scorned. One little girl was scolded and had her ear “flicked” by the woman in the pew behind her because she was not able to sit still throughout the service. A friend my sister brought to church was openly mocked by the children in the church because he had dyed-blond hair and an earing. He never returned, and as far as I know, never expressed any openness to the gospel after that time.

I truly believe, after many years of reflection, that the real problem in these churches was in their attitude towards the unbeliever. The person next door was the enemy, a person to be feared for what he might do to the family, and the children in particular, and thus someone to be regarded with distrust and suspicion rather than with love.

Sometimes I think it is little wonder that many people in the Emergent camp rail against evangelism metaphors that make the unbeliever sound like an enemy. Perhaps these metaphors do cause us to regard unbelievers as a rebel army that we need to fear. It occurs to me that when we sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” we are not singing a battle cry that will lead us out to battle against the unbeliever next door. No, we are not waging war “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The real enemy is not next door. The real enemy is our own sinfulness and the worldliness that continues to try to manifest itself in our lives. The enemy is within, not without.

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.