Sexuality and Our Public Lives: Spiritually Whole or Spiritual Whores?
God’s redeemed covenant people have a long and sad history of failing to communicate in word and deed God’s saving truth despite being the merciful recipients of it. Among other things, it reveals that the sins that we so easily identify and criticize in others are actually in our lives; they simply take another form (Romans 2).
It all makes for a very sin messy story.
In Gen. 12:10-20 we read of Abram playing fast and loose with the truth regarding his relationship to Sarai in order to protect him and her (mostly himself) from the Egyptians. In Gen 16 we read of Sarai suggesting to Abram that the way God’s blessing will be fulfilled is through him having a child through Hagar—a practice borrowed from their surrounding culture. In Gen. 20 Abraham and Sarah are back to their deceitful ways in order to protect themselves. The list could go on. Fast forward to Deut. 12:28-31. Moses exhorts God’s covenant people to obey all God’s word and to be careful not to ask about how the people that God is going to remove from the land worship or serve their gods in order that Israel might copy them. God’s covenant people were not to acquire ideas of how to serve Yahweh by looking to the idolatry (sin) of the people that surrounded them. It calls into question a lot of applications of “common grace.”
Deut. 12:28-31 is, in some respects, the Old Covenant equivalent of Romans 12:2 and 1John 2:15-17 (“Do not love the world or the things in the world . . .”). The apostle Peter (1Peter 4:17) summarized this principle that beats at the heart of God’s relationship to his church: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God, and if first with us, what will be the end of those who disobey the gospel of God?”
If we are to go on to maturity, we need a mature understanding of sin. Shallow analysis of sin produces shallow repentance.
When we consider what Adam and Eve did in the Garden along with the rest of God’s written revelation, we see that human sin is all about taking what God created and harnessing it for one’s own God-defying purposes. Abram and Sarai did the same thing. Every sin, not just a homosexual act or the denial of gender, is rejecting what God has revealed as true, taking what he has created and using it for one’s own agenda. As Wendell Berry analyzes it so well, we either exploit God’s creation for our self-centered ends or we nurture life. There is a long and well documented history to this. We have no excuse for not knowing it.
The Tower of Babel event (Gen. 11) explicitly clarifies for us that human sin is the attempt to harness and exploit God’s creation for one’s own desires or agenda. Here is the character of “Babylon”—the human attempt to measure and manipulate reality to which we have access in order to manufacture and manage the results we can and want. It displays our idolatry. Sounds like a lot of what takes place in the name of Christian ministry. Adopt the right technique or method and you too can have the growing (read “numbers”) church that you really ought to have. After all, we are in the New Covenant era of blessing. No, I am not referring to Joel Osteen. Learn about what passes for the most popular church planting philosophies and evangelism methods over the past forty years in even allegedly Reformed circles. The ministry gurus are the ones who get the results desired. The prized worship is what gives people their desired feeling. Manipulate the preaching, lighting, the music, and all aspects of the physical environment at your disposal and manufacture a feeling and the desired actions. Who knew that the sin of taking the body of another in order to manufacture the feeling of one’s desire reveals itself in those who would have no desire to commit that physical sexual act?
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the world has been intoxicated with its ability to measure and manipulate reality in order to manufacture and manage its desired results. Can anyone say industrial revolution? How about technological revolution? Those who do it best are those we reward the most. Who can produce the mass results we want? Who can harness technology to manipulate the masses for their agenda? But you do not have to be interested in mass results, and with technology at your fingertips who wants that headache? Retreat into your own private fiefdom, or at least a smaller more manageable one. Shop until you find precisely that niche group that is interested in the same exact manipulation of reality that you like, or use to manufacture your desired results, and who manage them in the same measurable way you do, and there is “church.” The consumer is king. Give the people what they want or the people will leave you wanting. It is all about choice. Who knew that two choices that look so radically different on the surface actually turn out to be the exact same choice?
Turns out that the football junkies, the moms who cannot stop talking and texting on their phones to get things done at church and school the way they want, the pastors who manipulate the staff and congregation to get their ministry methods enacted, the college and seminary presidents who do the same, the “Christian” school boards that are dictating what can and cannot be taught based on what will attract the most people (oh, yes, it is always what promotes unity among those claiming to be Christian) and the LGBT crowd are all doing the same thing.
The Christian faith and life is first and foremost about who God is and what he does. It is not that who we are and what we do is unimportant; it is that who we are and what we do must be viewed in the light of who God is and what God does. It is why biblical Christianity is all about receiving from God what God alone has chosen to give, is giving and will give. It is why biblical ministry is centered on the means God chose to give his redeemed covenant people. These means give us what God alone can give. But God gives it on his schedule. God controls it, we don’t. If you think you are going to measure what God has given, manipulate it in order to manufacture the measurable results you want so that you can manage it in God’s church, then you are a spiritual whore. Those who do it best become the spiritual pimps. This is precisely what the Old Covenant prophets preached against.
Now, perhaps, we can understand a bit better the connection that both history and Scripture present between sexual sin and idolatry; between the exaltation of homosexual acts and transgenderism of our day, and the most popular forms of ministry methods in American evangelicalism. Abram and Sarai did not need to use Hagar to produce what God alone could and would give. But having made the wrong choice to follow the world, Abram and Sarai were presented no other alternative than to repent and believe the gospel; believe in who God is and what he does. It’s the only way out of the mess.
David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. ed. and intro. by Norman Wirzba (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 2002).