By Jonathan David Faulkner
I want to start this article out by making a few assertions about myself so as to not mar the actual response. I am reformed thinker, a virgin and a man of deep conscious and principles. Even in my relationship our conversations on the subject of sex are limited to that which is appropriate to where we are in our relationship, with maturity and God Centered. They are also limited to conversations that put sex into the context of marriage where both my girlfriend (also a virgin) and I believe it belongs. Having never had sex, having never gone beyond kissing a woman, I am unable to make assertions about the nature of the act itself. Thus, this response to Liberal Pastor Bromliegh McClenghan’s book “Good Christian Sex” is purely derived from my own theological thoughts on the issue and tempered by my Theological upbringing and Convictions. This is my first foray into the area of sexual ethics and so I pray you bear with me.
All that being said, I am responding to McClenghan’s central idea, that being that: “Christian singles can have sex as long as it is mutually pleasurable for them.” In a way McClenghan’s argument is a push back against those often legalistic rules of the Fundamentalist that heap shame and guilt on those who make mistakes and have sex before marriage. She is, trying to explain a desire to have free and open sex with multiple partners without the shame and guilt that she associates with black and white rules about sex. To the Liberal, this is great, freedom from that which causes us shame and guilt. So, Christians can have sex, so long as both involved in the act feel mutual pleasure and joy in the experience.
After all, sex is meant to be enjoyable, so why not have as much as you want when you want and not feel any guilt about it. Who needs hard and fast guidelines when you have things like love and mutuality with a side of reciprocity? The Liberated Christians have asserted this for years within their marriages, affirming activities like orgies and encouraging open relationships with other couples, so why not do this with our kids. One reviewer, who enjoyed the book, even went so far as to say that the book helped her understand how to “Talk to her kids about how to anticipate good sex.’
McClenghan’s argument makes sense in light of the current cultural ideologies. After all, culture has dictated to us that we are free to do what we want and be governors of our own bodies. We are, in their terms “gods, free to do as we please or be what we please.” Popular also is Sexual Relativism, the idea that sex, as a biological condition, is not tied to any hard or fast absolute. So a male, with male parts, can choose to be a six-year-old-girl. If you go to a doctor’s office today you have to fill out a form that asks you what pronoun you want to be called. This is the culture we live in in, this is what Liberals want us to blindly and unquestioningly accept and McClenghan is no different. She wants her readers to let go of those hard and fast guidelines with the intention of “Freeing themselves.” Ironically culture’s view of sex does become a form of worship in that we gratify ourselves, gratify our desires, make ourselves the god.
Before I throw the baby out with the bath water I want to say that McClenghan does give good advice to those already married about how to view sex. I agree that the Protestant and even Catholic views of sex and sexual ethics are completely out of line with what Scripture teaches about it. I also agree that the church should be taking the lead in talking to young people about sex and even (dare I say it) how to have safe sex within the context of teaching them the benefit of waiting until the wedding night. At least then, if they do go out and sleep with a boyfriend or girlfriend they are educated about how to protect themselves and we will be in a position to help them through the emotional and physical consequences (especially if the protect fails) of having sex before marriage. There should not be a culture of fear surrounding something God intended for good. But to encourage or justify what is undeniably a sing (especially having multiple partners) like McClenghan does in her book is unconscionable and heretical.
In the words of Drew Kohler; “You want Judgement, cause that’s how you get judgement.”
So what is the problem? This sounds great right?
The answer is no; this does not sound great. The issue is, as a pastor, I have not once come across a believer who had sex before they were married and then came to regret it later. I have not met one person in the church who had sex before they were married who did not walk away from it shaking their heads and wonder what on Earth they had done. If you are a true believer and if you are in line with the Holy Spirit I would argue that it is impossible for sex to be mutually pleasurable outside of the context of marriage.
I say again, it is not possible, for the true and genuine believer, to have sex outside of marriage that is mutually pleasurable. It is impossible for the believer who has not seared their conscious to have sex outside of marriage that is mutually pleasurable. You will walk away with regrets and if you do not right then when you are seeking to get married and you have to reconcile with the other person over that part of your past. That is not easy, and I am thankful that I do not have to do that in my current relationship on either end.
Scripture, of course, paints us a very different picture then McClenghan. All the way back to Adam and Eve where God says: “For this reason a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and they shall become one” (Gen 2:24), a verse Jesus upholds in Matthew 19:5. Some translations use the word “Beholden” regardless the image is the same, they become one, part of becoming one, and only a part, is becoming one physically and we do that partially through sex. Webster’s defines the word Cleave as: “To Adhere firmly and closely or loyalty or unwavering.” In marriage you do just that, becoming intimate through physical means, drawing the couple closer and firming or consummating the marriage. McClenghan wants sex without commitment, to justify her multiple partners (keep in mind she’s a pastor), or at least without a true and lasting commitment that comes from the marriage sacrament.
Of course Scripture does not end there. Paul, in First Thessalonians’ says: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality, that each of you know how to control his body in Holiness and honor, not in passionate lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (v4-6). In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul makes the assertion that: “(but) because of the temptation to sexual immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (2-3). Meaning, if you have a strong desire for sex get married so that you do not have sex in sin. If you read verse 1 you find that Paul wishes all people could abstain from sex, but he understands not everyone can do such a thing. There are some, like myself, that greatly desire sex. There is nothing wrong with that, but if I act upon that outside of the context of God’s orderly plan (i.e within the bounds of the marriage sacrament) I am living in sin. If I do not keep myself under control I can do a lot of damage. By Paul’s words McClenghan should marry, given her story she obviously burns with passion.
I do not want to echo Augustine in The City of God and call sex of any kind “evil”. I do not want to echo the Medieval Christian and claim that marriage is a “lesser sacrament.” Nor do I want to promote some kind of Dualism that says “Body is bad, spirit is good.” This would also go against Scripture that holds Marriage up as an example of the relationship between Christ and the Church and holds no distinction between the Body and Soul. I also want to break from my own tradition which says that sex within marriage is for the sole purpose of procreation.
Instead I want to put forward that sex is in fact a form of Worship towards God. Within the confines of marriage, with its original intended context and purpose was for the worship and glorification of God. That being said, Sex should be pleasurable and be a part of the love between a husband and a wife, there should be reciprocity, all the things that McClenghan wants from sex should be present in the context of marriage. It should be pleasurable for the husband and for the wife, they are after all, two people, using their bodies to enjoy something that God originally intended for and called good. It is as much for her and it is for him and vice versa. Therefore; sex is an act of worship in that it looks back to the creation and praises God for creating the beauty of the covenant relationship of marriage and looks forward to the day the bridegroom comes and the church is taken to be with Christ.
It must be understood then that the act is only part of marriage and while we do not speak of the coming of Christ and the marriage of the church as a sexual event (that would be heresy) we do partake of something that was part of God’s orderly plan from Genesis where time began and looked forward to the Eschaton (Last days, especially after the fall). It is part of the covenant relationship between a man and a woman, it is part of cleaving to your husband and wife. It is intended for that purpose as a mutually pleasurable act of worship between a man and a woman who have made the vows of the marriage covenant.
Outside of that sex cannot be totally mutually pleasurable because the Holy Spirit will convict the sinner of that sin. Thus, what may have been pleasurable at the time will lose its joy and be clouded in the confusing feelings of conviction and the memory and later by the fact that you have to explain all of this to your future wife. Of course, McClenghan wants the act without consequence (she does advice that single Christians use contraceptives) but if the bible teaches us anything about Sexual Immorality it is that there are always consequences for everything that occurs outside of God’s orderly plan. There is no such thing as “Free sex” outside of marriage and you cannot “Free sex from black and white religious rules” without severe consequences to those involved and to future people involved in their lives. If you need a good example of this go read the story of David and Bethsheba and then read David’s mourning in Psalm 51.
Sex should be enjoyable, it should be fun, it should be pleasurable and it should be out of love and there should be a reciprocity for it. But that cannot happen outside of Christianity, in the moment it might seem fun and okay like McClenghan describes it, but the consequences are far reaching and can be devastating to your future romance with your wife. Seeing sex as a form of worship to God allows us to use our Bodies to glorify Him inside of one of the greatest ways that God interacts with us and sanctifies us through. By participating in sex within God’s orderly plan (the marriage sacrament) we praise Him for what He has done and how He has done things. Praising Him for that orderly plan that from the beginning God called good.
In regards to the desire to be free from shame and guilt, you will never have that outside of sex. True and genuine freedom in regards to sex can only be found in Christ and the Covenant of the Marriage bed where both people are truly for each other and have given themselves to each other. If you want complete freedom as a believer, freedom from the shame and guilt of every sin through forgiveness and pardon, that is found in Christ. If you want sex to be free of shame and guilt, have it in the context of the sacrament and you will find a depth of joy as you delight in your husband or wife for decades to come.
As for not wanting rules with sex I close with this example that was once used to describe reformed theology to me and now I will apply it to sexual ethics.
It is like sheep playing in a pasture, but the pasture is on the side of a cliff. You can either have a fence there to protect the sheep from going off the cliff. Or you can allow them to fall over the side and fall to their deaths. Sexual Ethics and Biblical Guidelines, as well as Sex within the context of the Marriage Sacrament give you that fence so you can play freely in the garden of your love without consequence that lead to both physical and spiritual death.
In short, if you want “Good Christian Sex” get married first.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry