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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Developing a church statement on human sexuality

There are two reasons churches need to have clear teaching on human sexuality (sexual attraction, sexual identity, gender distinctions, etc). The first is because this is an issue which Scripture speaks about. It is under attack in today’s culture, and thus churches should be quick to clearly explain what the Bible actually says on the issue.
HsThe second reason is because our culture is particularly litigious. With that in mind, churches have a stewardship over their finances and property to make sure that they are protected against such lawsuits, and currently the best legal protection we have is churches have the freedom to structure themselves around their own teachings. However, this legal protection is moot when churches don’t have any articulated or published views on the topic.
The point of this post is to encourage churches to develop some statement and teaching on this issue, precisely because it is the issue currently under attack. The hymn writer Elizabeth Charles was correct when she wrote:
If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.
Any statement a church makes about human sexuality must be seen through two lenses: cultural and biblical. Every church is in the world, and our current world is confused about the concept of human sexuality. Even things which are biologically obvious (such as physical differences between men and women, the concept of gender, etc.) are doubted in our current environment.
Our church exists in an era where human sexuality is disconnected from both God’s design in Adam and Eve, as well as from the commitment of marriage. Sexual deviance (allowing sexual desires to leave the God-given confines of marriage) is seen in the “mainstreaming” of pornography, adultery, homosexuality, and divorce. This is all a product of a society that tolerates and celebrates these forms of sexual immorality. The result is a culture in crisis. According to a recent study by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute:
Forty-five percent of U. S. children on the cusp of adulthood have grown up in an intact married family. The mother and father of the remaining 55 percent of 17-year-olds have at some time rejected each other as husband and wife.
Our culture prizes the tolerance of deviance, while eschewing any notion that God is the one who designed both sex and gender. In other words, our world is opposed to biological reality and scientific facts because they are actually opposed to the God who made both. Thus a biblical understanding of sexuality is critical because we recognize this to be a spiritual issue.
Below is a sample statement that I have been working on. Feel free to use it, and also feel free to suggest changes or edits to it in the comments below:
God’s Design of Gender
All people are made in the image and likeness of God, and this is a fact from conception onward (Genesis 1:26-27Psalms 51:5139:13Isaiah 49:1).  Neither one’s conduct nor character diminishes his/her value to the Creator, a fact demonstrated by the atoning death of Jesus Christ for all people (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
But God did not simply make people in his image; rather he made them in his image as “male and female” (Genesis 1:26).  Scripture is never ambivalent regarding people’s gender identity, and gender itself is rooted in biological realities that existed all the way back in Genesis 1—before the fall.
For this reason the Bible can speak to men and women differently. Different instructions can be given to men than to women (1 Timothy 2-3, Titus 1-2, 1 Corinthians 16:13, etc.). Yet the Bible can also affirm that both genders are equally in the image of God (Genesis 1:27,Galatians 3:28Ephesians 5:22-31).
The Scripture makes clear that gender exists at birth and that both genders have equal worth/value/significance to God, yet they are also different from each other.
God’s Design of Marriage
Immediately after creating gender, God created marriage which was inextricably linked to gender. This includes the sexual union of a husband and wife.(Genesis 1:27-292:22-25). Thus throughout the Bible, marriage is recognized as the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life.
Gender differences are not ancillary to marriage, but are rather the whole point of the relationship. It was not good for man to be alone, God said, so he needed someone like him but not like him. Men and women are different physically, biologically, emotionally, and in a range of other ways (See this study here for examples of this). It is precisely in these differences that marriage is designed to be complementary.
Immanuel Bible Church uses the term “complementary” to describe the way God designed marriage to function. In a complementary marriage, gender differences combine to form a family that is more a reflection of God’s design than a relationship where these differences are not present. This complementary nature of marriage is one of the reasons God made Eve different from Adam in the very beginning.
God’s Design for Sex
The most obvious example of the complementary nature of marriage is sexual intimacy. Sex within marriage exists for the purposes of both “one-flesh” bonding and procreation, neither of which is possible in a same-sex relationship (Gen 2:24). Sexual expression is not additional to marriage (as if it were an extra, added onto the design of marriage), but rather it is a fundamental expression of the complementary commitment made between a husband and wife, reinforced by this being the only way to bring a child into the world.
For this reason, the Scripture makes clear that any sexual act outside of marriage is sinful. Thus, heterosexual sexual acts outside of marriage are sin, as well as all homosexual sexual acts—among other reasons, because they too exist outside of a biblical concept of marriage.
God’s Design for Children
We believe that every child should have the opportunity to be raised by a mom and a dad. We are quick to recognize that sin has marred our society, and many parents have been abandoned by a spouse and raise their children in single-parent homes. Others have had a spouse die. We don’t want to diminish their work, but rather we recognize the added difficulty of their task because of their situation.
Nevertheless, we maintain that children do best when raised by a mother and a father. This is attested to by countless studies (American Psychological AssociationJournal for Social Science ResearchCitizenLink Public PolicyBrookings Institute, human history, etc. Grudem also has a helpful list of studies that show this on pages 223-224 in Politics).
God’s design for those with same-sex attractions
Further, we recognize that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The sin nature is internal, comprehensive, and at the very center of our identity. We also recognize that different people have different dispositions to sin, and that some people see in themselves a sexual attraction to those of their same gender. Those attractions can be deep and sincere, and yet still be sinful.
For that reason, the only hope for those enslaved to any kind of sin (but particularly sexual sin) is the forgiveness that is found in the gospel. In the act of salvation, God frees us from the slavery to sin and gives us the power to love Jesus and serve him. Some Christians will still struggle with sexual sin, but all Christians recognize those struggles as part of the sanctification process, and strive to lead godly lives.
The Bible holds out a high calling for those who are Christians and yet who have no desire to participate in a biblical marriage. They are to be sold out for the glory of Jesus, taking risks to advance the gospel and leading lives focused on the gospel. They should maximize the freedom they have because they are undivided by the interests of family (Matthew 19:121 Corinthians 7:8-932-35; I preached  a sermon on this topic here).
Affirmations and denials
  • We affirm that God designed marriage, gender, and sex.
  • We affirm that gender is a binary biological reality present at birth (This is God’s original design, but we recognize that in rare cases people are born with ambiguous biological characteristics).
  • We affirm that sin mars God’s original design, and that people consequently are born with sin in their hearts and their identities.
  • We affirm that all sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful and displeasing to the Lord.
  • We affirm that marriage is a life-long commitment between two people of opposite genders.
  • We deny that any same sex relationship is properly called marriage.
  • We deny that the Bible’s prohibitions against sexual activity outside of marriage were culturally specific.
  • We deny that it can be pleasing to the Lord for one to change his/her physical gender because of a perceived psychological identification with another gender.