Counter-Revolutionary Sexuality

The biblical context of marriage, affirmed and reinforced by Jesus Christ, is the original divine ordinance, and the foundation on which any functional civilization is to be built.

Creation Ordinance: Counter-Revolutionary Sexual Ethics

I wrote previously that ours is an age in the full grip of godless revolution against our own nature, demonstrated perhaps most clearly in the realm of sexuality. It is in the midst of this denial of creation that we must affirm the law-Word of God for all creation. In the gospels Jesus himself points to the original creation ordinance (Matt. 19:4-6). Our first parents were created male and female. Eve was created uniquely from material taken from the very side of Adam. Thus each was made for the other, with the specific purpose of joining together one man and one woman in the most intimate of relationships.

There is an important sense in which our very bodies, in the mystery and intimacy of self-giving communion in marriage, tell us something about the relational nature of God. A man’s body does not make sense alone, neither does the body of a woman – they were evidently made for each other. Jesus therefore reminds us that men and women were designed for one another creationally. And in marriage, in a unique and lasting bond, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”

It is very clear that Christ sees Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 as an original divine ordinance, not simply as a ‘description’ of the typical way things happen to go on earth in the historical process. He also categorically asserts that such a divine norm must not be tampered with (Matt. 19:6). It is God who makes the union possible; who issued the command to be fruitful; who said it was not good for man to be alone; and who, as father of the bride, brought Eve to Adam in marriage. Marriage is God’s ordinance for human beings.

As such there is only one context for sexual pleasure and intimacy in the Bible, and that is in the sacred, secure, covenantal union of the marriage relationship. As such sexual immorality, be it fornication, adultery, homosexuality, incest, bestiality, or any other distortion of the marriage bond, are forbidden in Scripture. This is not to spoil a person’s fun, but to protect, preserve, bless, fulfil and nurture the human community that is founded in the family.

The Sexual Structure of Marriage

It is instructive to closely reflect on the creational structure of marriage to get a clearer grasp of the nature of scriptural sexuality and its special character. What sort of community is the marriage relationship? One reformed scholar has accurately defined it this way. Marriage is “A community of moral love between husband and wife for the duration of their life on the foundation of a relatively lasting organic sexual bond.”[1]

In this way, marriage is a unique form of human relationship. By contrast, the broader family community, for example, allows for certain changes in membership through birth, death or remarriage, but the marriage community does not allow for such change; it exists wholly or not at all. A widow or abandoned spouse who remarries does not continue the first marriage, but forms a new one.

Marriage is a specific covenantal and sexual bond between one man and one woman. It is different from all other friendships and other forms of community. It is not like the community of the state or sports club, or any other social association. Today’s attempt to separate sex from marriage and reduce the sexual bond to a casual and meaningless act, with any  number of persons, in different social contexts of friendship, working relationships or casual acquaintances, indeed to reduce it to a kind of recreation, is wholly destructive of the human personality and so of human well-being.

The Marriage Function

The internal leading function – the nature or essence – of marriage, then, is important. Marriage can be made to serve all kinds of outward purposes that do not get us to the root meaning of marriage. Marriages might be contracted for political, financial or wider familial or societal ends, and so be made to serve some other purpose (for a variety of reasons) which do not correspond to God’s primary intention for marriage. These external purposes tell us nothing of its internal structural principle as given at creation.

Some thinkers have identified this leading functional principle for marriage in procreation – that is, in the preservation of the human race. But if that were the case, childless marriages and marriage beyond childbearing years could have no leading function, and the sexual bond would be made redundant. Moreover, the sexual bond itself is reduced to a merely instrumental means to a different end. Although it is common and usual to have children as part of the blessing and joy of married life, marriages are not qualified as marriage by the bringing forth of children. Marriages before, after and without children are still a moral community of love with a sexual bond.

Likewise, marriage cannot be reduced to an essentially legal institution. It has a juridical aspect of course, with external legal relations and civil laws which are interlaced with it. It is interwoven with these structures, but again, marriage is not qualified by the legal recognition and support it enjoys. If marriage were qualified legally then the state could redefine the nature of marriage at the stroke of a pen. It may in fact try to do this, as is being done in the West today, but whatever the statute books may say, God alone defines marriage by creation ordinance.

In an important sense, marriage is certainly not a ‘private matter,’ because marriage and family are the pillar and foundation of any society – which highlights the travesty of the radical distortion of it with today’s homosexual ‘marriage’ laws. The nineteenth-century Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story considered that marriage “is the parent, and not the child of society; the source of civility and a sort of seminary of the republic.” [2] We contribute to the disruption of the foundations of social order when we fail to take the civil and social aspects of marriage seriously – that is to say, marriage is not just a matter of ‘me and my desires’!

Despite the importance of the external, legal and civil aspects of marriage, these realities cannot guarantee the internal unity or underwrite the meaning of the marriage bond itself. It is the internal structure or leading function of marriage that qualifies it, a structure which is highlighted by the Lord Jesus when he emphasizes the male and female coming together in a moral, covenantal bond. The man leaves his childhood bond to father and mother and is joined with one woman in ‘one flesh’ intimacy. In this way, a new marital relationship is formed and the family line continues. Unlike other familial bonds of love grounded in blood ties, like those with our children, the marriage love-relationship derives its particular character from the sexual relationship. Thus Jesus says, “and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

Sexual Heresy

A monogamous sexual intimacy in the marital bond of companionship is central to a biblical understanding of Christian sexual ethics. Some of the negative reaction to so-called ‘Christian’ teaching on sexuality in our era has ironically been due to a very anti-biblical strain of thought infecting the church for generations. Because of the impact of Neo-Platonism and other pagan conceptions of reality upon Christianity as it spread in its infancy, for many centuries the element of sexual pleasure and desire was often downgraded in marriage or viewed as an embarrassing aspect of original sin. In a good deal of Greek thought the body and its desires, as an aspect of ‘matter,’ were considered lower, base, or evil, to be despised even, in comparison to the ‘soul’ (the realm of form and idea), for which the body was a kind of prison from which to seek escape.

The subtle influence of this dualistic view of humanity persisted even in evangelicalism because of the deep impact of the rationalistic spirit of the enlightenment (a revival of Greek philosophy) with its unscriptural view of women and its utilitarianism. For example, the brilliant and powerful English Methodist preacher, George Whitefield (1714-1770) boasted as a badge of honor that in his marriage proposal there had been no question of love on his part: “God be praised, if I know my own heart a little I am free of that foolish passion which the world calls love.”[3] This is pure rationalism and stoicism, not an expression of the biblical view of marriage.

A loveless and passionless arrangement is not what God’s creational norm for marriage intended – that marriages would be contracted for some external purpose – even a pious one! It is no surprise that in this era conjugal love was almost never addressed by commentators and preachers, whilst miserable home environments persisted for some very noted leaders because of their failure of understanding in this regard. Sexual passion and desire are very susceptible to misuse among fallen man; but when properly directed in the marriage covenant are a rich blessing from God that forms and reinforces the bond within the relationship. Although Christians have not always lived up to God’s ideal regarding marriage and sex, we must not cease to hold up and live out God’s norm for human sexuality as faithfully as we can, by the grace of God, modelling for the world the blessing and redemptive love that marriage signifies.

Surrender no Solution

Despite Christians’ respectful engagement on these issues, seeking God’s glory and human flourishing, some people will inevitably accuse the Christian of intolerant bigotry for advancing the scriptural teaching on sexuality because modern man’s war on God and creation takes no prisoners. This false accusation is inescapable because without a common foundation for discourse there can be no possibility of real agreement. Indeed, the revolutionaries of our age, having dynamited the foundation, will countenance no dissent. Moreover, the idea that capitulating to a relativistic approach to sex in society might preserve social harmony is badly mistaken. As the philosopher Chantal Delsol has aptly pointed out:

That there are many points of view, however, does not in fact bring peace because relativism is by nature intolerant: it destroys the foundation on which any common discourse must be based.… In the society of late modernity, abuse is hurled no longer in the name of ideologies, but in the name of identities. Individuals rally around their lifestyle preferences, their cultural attachments, or their status as historical victims.[4]

Churchmen who believe that surrendering to the relativism inherent in modern individualism’s ‘gender identities’ and ‘sexual orientations’ will somehow preserve the church institution or in any way heal society are, frankly, self-deluded; such capitulation is in fact inflicting deep wounds on people who, as God’s creatures, are only broken when they violate God’s law. The sexual identity collectives that some professing Christians are joining – groups that demand the church bend to celebrate their lifestyles – are little more than echoes of individual narcissism expressed at the social level.

Modern relativistic ‘Christians’ defy God and his law if they ascribe equal value to the particularities of various sexual identity groups, and then with the rest of society accede to their endless demand for laws, regulations and liturgies that suit their lifestyle – everyone with their own norm. In such a world, each group wants its own good and evil, its own law and morality, so that a common discourse is rendered inherently impossible. Without a recovery of the common certainties about human sexuality made known in Jesus Christ and his word-revelation, we are condemned to a tyranny of the loudest and most powerful liberationist group.

Despite all the challenges Christian witness to sexual ethics brings in our time, the simple truth is that no matter how subversive the utopian sexual revolutionaries become, they cannot finally overturn God’s creational norm and order. Even in his rebellion it impinges on fallen man at every turn such that he cannot escape it. As Delsol has recognized:

We cannot reshape humanity according to our will. The horror that grips us as we look back upon the spectacle of the twentieth century shows us that a mysterious order has been subverted…; the category of what is possible imposes itself upon us, and our recognition of this fact is the prerequisite for any reconstruction.[5]

The Christian task is to rebuild a scriptural vision for human sexuality in a time of radical sexual brokenness and model the redemptive life of Christ in our marriages.

 

[1] L. Kalsbeek, Contours of a Christian Philosophy: An Introduction to Herman Dooyeweerd’s Thought (Toronto: Wedge Publishing Foundation, 1975), 211.

[2] Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Conflict of Laws, 3rd Edition (Boston: Little and Brown, 1846), 193.

[3] Kalsbeek, Contours of a Christian Philosophy, 214.

[4] Chantal Delsol, The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century: An Essay on Later Modernity, trans. Robin Dick (Delaware: ISI Books, 2006), 127.

[5] Delsol, The Unlearned Lessons, 29.