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Sex before marriage?

A report commissioned by the diocese of Southwark (Church of England) has argued that ‘cohabitation should be viewed as a “new path from the single state to the married one”’ (see TimesOnline article). ‘It is clear that all the media now present cohabitation uncritically as the practical equivalent of marriage, and in this context it is difficult for the Church, perhaps especially at the local level, to present Christian teaching about marriage in a positive and attractive light.’

We are certainly getting to the point where we must begin to regard marriage as an eccentric minority option. I have argued elsewhere on this site that we need to encourage the development of a ‘court of the Gentiles’ spirituality that is God-centred, committed to compassion and justice, but more expansive, more inclusive, more diverse, more exploratory than the spirituality that marks out baptized followers of Jesus. Would it make sense to retain marriage as characteristic of the community of disciples, who anticipate the new creation, but accept that a ‘Gentile’ spirituality will have to accommodate alternative patterns of sexual behaviour? This obviously has implications for homosexuality too. OK, I know it’s problematic, but it avoids dumping the church’s commitment to marriage as a biblical norm while at the same time allowing us to adopt a much more positive, affirmative, supportive stance towards people who are just living normally. Tell me what you think.

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Comments

Ok I'll bite, though I don't

Ok I’ll bite, though I don’t know exactly how much I could add. I do think it is important that we allow people to experience God and have a place to do so without immediately being expected to conform to patterns of discipleship that they are only just hearing for the first time. So I think there could be room for creating a space where you do not have to be sexually pure right off the bat (though there would be a stated expectation of a follower or Jesus which is what they are exploring). So, I think you could hold those things in tension (though it is very sticky and would be something to navigate in practice. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on how you would see this play out.).

Where I think we would also have to do more thought would be from a cultural/societal perspective. Do Christians pull out of the debate on the value of marriage and how marriage is defined? I know christians are losing this battle in many places but do Christians remove themselves from the realm of politics in this regard? Does/will that have a negative or positive impact on society itself? If the answer is no, they should continue to engage, how do you lend credibility to a court of gentiles concept when the “gentiles” see you arguing against their lifestyle in the political arena? And, if christians do withdraw from the political debate, does that cause more of a withdrawl and recoiling into a Christian subculture that is isolated from society? I don’t think I have the answers to these questions but I do think it complicates the matter and these are the questions that would have to be considered with any attempt at the court of gentiles concept you present. What do you think?

Re: Ok I'll bite, though I don't

The whole Christian political withdrawal issue is one that I have been battling with myself recently.

On one hand Jesus calls us to be a light to the world which I interpret to mean bringing Jesus in sign, speech and deed in all aspects of society and in all areas of debate but I think that politics is slightly different. I don’t think politics is a personal matter, it’s rather the intellectual interaction for the health of the whole community (not just Christians).

My point being that when we discuss matters that affect people outside the community of believers then we need to be able to defend our stance by pure reason and logic. This is an idea that came out of the scholastic movement that I think can be very beneficial to the discussion of Christian ethics, values and morality.

Quoting scripture and Christian ideas isn’t going to convince the community this is simply because we live in multi-cultural society. We need to communicate in a way they understand and using principles that they can relate too.

This is my first post so please forgive me,

Cheers,

Lukas

I think we should only affirm

I think we should only affirm what the Bible teaches. Hebrews says to keep the maraige bed holy. This is God’s standard, and it must be held. This does not mean we through people out of the Church if they are living together, but it means we must teach them everything the New Testament commands in their lives. To affirm cohabitation would not help people get any closer to God, but instead push them away from him. Obeying God is to have fellowship with God. If people are insisting on living together, they would rather not know God more intimately.

Besided, creating a “gentile” sect, is not only condecending, but unbiblical on the grounds of affirming sexuality contrary to the commands of Scripture.

Sincerely, Ochuk

Thanks for the comments, Ochu

Thanks for the comments, Ochuk. You may be right, but I’ll try and clarify my point briefly. First, biblical standards of marriage certainly apply for those who have made themselves part of the covenant people - in fact, I would be inclined to be much stricter about that than we have usually been. Secondly, the same standards ideally apply to all who wish to approach the God of Israel. However, thirdly, it seems to me more important that such ‘Gentiles’ have enough time and space to discover God without coming under immediate judgment on account of their lifestyle. Finally, there is certainly a danger of being condescending towards seekers. What may counteract that, however, would be the insistence that Christians, as a nation of priests within the world, are not a spiritual elite but servants, helpers - we are here in part to help others find out what it means to centre their lives around God.

Todd raises a crucial question in his post which I guess points to the real ambiguity of this court of the Gentiles idea. Maybe I’m trying to push the idea too far, but one thought in response is that the dilemma illustrates the extent to which the church is known publically for its opposition to certain lifestyles rather than for its knowledge of God. The court of the Gentiles thing would work better if we were seen as ‘godly’ rather than ‘moralistic’. Then, I think, the moral position would actually seem more attractive.

In anycase, we’re never going to escape from the tension between commending God and affirming a holy lifestyle - it is the perennial tension between judgment and grace. The question is simply how you manage it in practice, in community.

Andrew and Ochuk,

I can see where this has become a complex issue because of where the church is positioned currently on moral issues in the state and politics in general. Andrew your point that the church should be known for being holy as opposed to just another group with a moral agenda (from a secular standpoint) does really take us back to the issue of how we live in the world. In regards to being condescending I don’t think we have to be condescending and can even state what God teaches about marriage and sexuality. I think the important piece is how we respond to those who are not living according to God’s standard on this because they don’t know him and have not yet commited their lives to be followers of Jesus. Your comment about servant helpers is key here. Our problem in this regard is not what we teach but how we apply it. The church needs to be a place where seekers can explore and get to know the God we love and serve. If all we do is point out the faults in the seekers lifestyle and exclude them from any kind of fellowship based on standards they don’t understand and haven’t committed to, then you have falsly respresented God to the seeker as one who needs perfection before he will grant fellowship (I don’t mean that as an exuse to continue in the lifestyle as I agree with Ochuk that is is God’s standard and shouldn’t be watered down). We need to do more work on the grace side when it comes to these things with those who don’t even know much about God let alone his requirements for a holy lifestyle.

It maybe that membership plays a role here. What if we created a space whether through small groups, the Sunday service (as some seeker churches use), or some other venue (as you have suggested elsewhere) where seekers could explore who God is in a non threatening, you don’t have to be perfect before God will listen, kind of set up where questions are expected and ok. Members, those who have committed their lives to Christ and chosen to join the local body, would be held to the lifestyle they proclaim to follow. Now the content of what seekers would hear would not be watered down or dumbed down in any way. It is just that the expectations would fit the seeker (a person who has not committed to God and is checking out what a relationship with him looks like and discovering who God is). We do see this in seeker type churches like Willow Creek in Illinois and here at Saddleback. Discipleship is not watered down but an expectation of those who commit to follow Jesus. In fact Rick Warren’s circles of commitment might fit here (Unchurched (community), Regular Attenders (Crowd), Members (Congregation), Maturing members (Committed), Ministers (core). This is not perfect but it does create a sense of space for a court of gentiles in the community and crowd spheres where the expectation is that they are checking out what God is all about. I think the church too often focuses on the inner circles and tells those outside to get right before they can come in. So the people in side have a tendency to have their sense of moral superiority reinforced.

Thanks for your clarification

Thanks for your clarification guys, that makes a lot more sense to me.

One other thought that occurr

One other thought that occurred to me with regard to the Court of the Gentiles idea is that it would be a mistake to treat this as a static form of spirituality. It is better to think of it as being in principle a transitional space, in which unbelievers approach God and believers move out of the confines of church. But it’s a transitional space with enormous significance in its own right.

This has been a very interest

This has been a very interesting discussion. Andrew, I understand what you are trying to communicate with the Court of the Gentiles and how that relates with morals. I have just finished reading Lewis Smedes book Mere Morality. He breaks down a couple of the 10 Commandments and puts them in a new covenant and modern context. In a nutshell, he says that the commands of the Old Testament are viewed and used completely wrong by Christians. With Jesus ushering in the new covenant, we now only have one commandment, the Law of Love. We are to love God and love our neighbors. The commandments of the OT are now a guide that helps us know how we can love instead of what we aren’t allowed to do.

As I examine the story of God through human history and beyond, what is the one thing that God is about? Love. In the OT God became jealous and angry because His people didn’t love Him or love each other. As we entered the New Testament, Jesus, through His ministry and death loved us and taught us how to love. I don’t think it was never about the rules. And I fear that until Christians learn that the essence of humanity is love, we will continue to set up rules for ourselves and others.

Can we teach others about love by condemning everything they do?

I think Andrew raises a good point when he says that the Court of Gentiles is a transitional space. I realize there is another thread that discusses what is means to be “saved.” But it has a significant amount of relevance to this issue. I think salvation is process. It requires space and time to move from a secular reality to that of a spiritual reality. In that space I think we need to love and nurture instead of conform and condemn.

Jumping in a bit late, but I

Jumping in a bit late, but I think Andrew is on track, and in the tradition of the church. In other words this is what happened anyway, especially in the UK. My post comes in the context of an article (I’ve put it on line rather than paste it all here). Anyone want to reply to me, please read the article first :-)

Go to http://resources.emergent-uk.org/ click papers and articles link. The article is “history of marriage”.

Jason Clark

Jason, thanks for the link. N

Jason, thanks for the link. Now I know all about marriage!

The sentence in the conclusions that I found particularly interesting was this one: ‘We find an echo of the early and mediaeval language of the superiority of the celibate life over married life in the contemporary language of the superiority of heterosexual marriage over other relationships.’

The writer seems to be saying that chaste heterosexual marriage today corresponds in certain respects to celibacy in earlier periods. Have I understood him/her correctly - or is something more negative being said about heterosexual marriage? Anyway, on my reading the point would be that conventional marriage has become, at least as far as Christians are concerned, something of a deliberate choice for religious (vocational?) reasons. It is increasingly an abnormal thing to do - and therefore it is potentially both a commitment that allows participants to pursue a calling (as celibacy allowed monks and nuns to pursue a calling) and if you like a prophetic sign to the world - sacramental in the sense that it may mediate grace to outsiders. This makes marriage a much bigger spiritual responsibility and challenge than it used to be.

We might almost understand this in the light of Paul’s argument about marriage and singleness at a time of present or impending distress (1 Cor.7:26). Perhaps this is also a time (a period of real crisis for the church in the West) when we need to avoid relational disorder. Perhaps there is a need at the heart of the emerging church for deliberate relational simplicity, discipline, and faithfulness - not least because we are prepared to countenance greater sexual and relational diversity, complexity, disorder, on the margins.

"There's No Such Thing as Pre

There’s No Such Thing as Premarital Sex”
http://www.regenerator.com/8.2/harrell.html
an article that seems germain to what we having been looking at here.

Equating Sex and Marriage

I tried viewing this article because I was considering posting something like it. However, it sent me to a Christianity Today website which required a subscription.

I’m going to suppose that the article took the position that I was going to offer, that sex IS marriage. In other words, the act of intercourse is the — dare I say — ‘sacramental’ sign and seal of a marital contract. You cannot have premarital sex because the act itself establishes a marriage between the participants. Such an idea is implied when Paul exhorts Christians not to ‘unite’ themselves with a prostitute.

It appears we have yet to dare to ask WHY sex should be permitted only within the context of marriage. What is the rationale behind such a restriction? My answer would be that the sexual act is tremendously significant, miraculous even, in that it effectively joins two people into “one flesh.” (What that phrase means, exactly, is another fruitful topic altogether.) Premarital sex, as we now call it, would fall under the general biblical category of fornication or promiscuity. The sin is the secularization a very sacred act, perhaps akin to such practices as the baptizing of automobiles (which I have witnessed in certain South American contexts). It robs the sacrament of all gravity and meaning. It is entering into a contract of divine authorship in a casual or cavalier manner.

If we should indeed equate sex with marriage, how are we to deal with those who have had multiple sexual partners? And this brings up another issue which probably ought to be addressed in the present discussion: polygamy, and why is the church (Mormons notwithstanding) so against it? Aside from the example of Adam and Eve, the only thing to be said on behalf of monogamy is that it qualifies one for offices in the church (according to Paul), presumably because you have fewer household commitments.

So perhaps the question is not whether we should enforce a non-cohabitation rule on “the gentile court,” but how we should deal with the heavy consequences of their indiscretions once they decide to graduate themselves to the inner sanctum. Shotgun wedding, anyone?

And when I say “their indiscretions,” perhaps it would be more honest to say “our indiscretions.” This doctrine that I am proposing, in light of my personal sexual history, has implications which are neither clear nor comfortable for me, and I suppose that is one reason why this doctrine has never received its due attention.

What is marriage

erlenmeyer’s message raises the question which no-one else seems to have asked: what is marriage? An assumption seems to run through the discussion that marriage is to do with legal or religious ceremonies. But where does the bible make any such assumption? Isn’t the nearest we get to a definition in Genesis 2:24 - which adds to the sexual union mentioned above two other requirements - leaving father and mother and cleaving (of a man to his wife). In this sense it is perfectly possible for cohabitees to have fulfilled the biblical conditions for marriage.

On the other hand, what of situations where there is cohabitation (sexual union) and no fulfilment of the other conditions? I assume the consequences would be the same for believer and unbeliever alike: the likelihood (inevitability?) of distress and ‘divorce’ (in the relational rather than legal sense) - unless the other conditions were met at a later stage.

The ‘court of the gentiles’ idea sounds to me like an unnecessary perpetuation of the sacred/secular divide. God’s principles work for everybody - whether they are believers or not.

On the other hand, our attitude towards those who do not believe would be somewhat different from those who do. To put it concisely, there used to be an insistence on people cleaning up their moral behaviour before they could be countenanced in the believing community: behave - believe - belong. A healthy reversal of this is now being proposed: belong - believe - behave.

As regards the gay orientation: the current debate is precisely that the believing community may have fundamentally got it wrong. We tell people they can belong by proposing the formula: God hates the sin but loves the sinner. But if the orientation is unchangeable - then what is that telling people about who they are and how they have been created? So the argument is whether it wouldn’t be more consistent to accept that the orientation itself is neutral (just like the heterosexual orientation). What makes it morally significant is how it is expressed (eg promiscuously, or meeting the main conditions of biblical marriage expressed in Genesis 2:24).

One of the wisest of marriage counsellors was the German Walter Trobisch, who based his worldwide ministry on a profound understanding of Genesis 2:24.

Re: "There's No Such Thing as Pre

i dont see any problem with sex before marriage and im sure the majority of the worlds population doesnt either. For those that dont’ have sex till marriage how do you feel if your husband of wife already has had sex? It’s a shame to not marry someone for that reason. Most countries female escorts and sex is part of life just like going out with your friends for a drink or to the movies sometimes you just go out to have a good time.

And have people read the arti

And have people read the article in this month’s Next-Wave?

http://www.next-wave.org/may03/marriage.htm

Sorry if I’m reviving something that had died! … possibly it’s not ‘theology’ either … but I think it has something to offer to this discussion.

Pete Griffith (new to this site!)

wow pete--great article!

wow pete—great article!

andrew, i love your thoughts here. my mind is spinning with the different implications of this idea. How does this effect our understanding of relevant evangelism.

I am very interested in this

I am very interested in this area. Is it possible to have a Christian Morality of Sex outside of Marriage, and what should it look like? I wrote an article on it, but it didn’t go down too well on the ooze.

Edward, why don't you provide

Edward, why don’t you provide a link to the article, or better still, summarize your argument in a new topic? Or both!

Sex before marriage?

Andrew wrote:

Edward, why don’t you provide a link to the article, or better still, summarize your argument in a new topic? Or both!

Thank you for the invitation. First of all a disclaimer. I make no pretense of being evangelical whatsoever.

It was for a website called: Future Shape of Church, and a direct link is PomoseXuality.

My basic argument is that there is dialogue (even disagreement) in scripture between peoples sexual practice as demonstrated in narrative and that demonstrated in law. As Christians we are often more concerned with fitting 21st century relationships into legal structures rather than looking for moral principles that can comment on a range of sexual relationships.

In some ways it could be seen as a ‘court of the gentiles’ type approach, but I am reasonably certain that the Christian/Non-Christian divide is a false dichotomy; I reject conversion soteriology and regenerationalism. I see being a Christian as far more process orientated.

I know many people who are Christians who do not live within traditional Christian standards of sexual morality. They may change in the future, they may not. I am very careful not to judge them, or to discourage them from exploring their spirutality within the christian narrative, or limit their discipleship, as followers of Jesus.

Re: Sex before marriage?

i think that the only why peoples views will change is when the fashion industry and the music industry and everyones views change and stop promoting sex as the most inportant activity in life.  I know how hard it is for the church, in this field especially, but i still dont think that moving God away just to accomadate society is the right thing to do. does anyone agree?

Re: Sex before marriage?

I agree with Andrew's first premise except in the implication that co-habitants will of necessity marry upon entering the 'church community.'

We have to remember that many co-hanitants equate their co-habitant status with marriage and that marriage is often viewed only as an outward celebration of the committment which has been there for months or years. (Kinda like baptism in puritanical churches is regarded simply as a sign of a committment already made.

Maybe the reclaiming of marriage for those who do enter the 'church community' from a co-habiting background is to be found in somehow relating old Catholic arguments of marriage not only as a celebration but also as a means of grace.

Now to relate my story, I'm a Christian, Bible Colege graduate and university theology graduate, (mentioned only to illustrate the level of my Christian commitment) and I live with my girlfriend. Why? I had a business, it went under, I couldn't afford my rent and out of necessity moved in with my girlfriend rather than face the embarassment of telling my landlord that I had no money to pay for the next months rent. Traditionally I would have been put under pressure to marry (before I'm ready) or move out (before I'm ready, to move out after moving in would cuase great disruption to the relationship not ot mention the fact that my girlfriend has a 2 year old child from a previous relationship. What would be the effects of my apparent disappearing upon the child?)

 As for sex before marriage…marriage traditionally led to children therefore to avoid the scattering of children absent of active fathers there had to be a prohibition on sex before marriage out of care for the children. But sex no longer necessarily leads to children, therefore, sex before marriage is in it's very nature the same sex before marriage which was prohibited in earlier times.

Our only real consideration can be an emotional one. Th emotional effects of promiscuity. However, without condoning promiscuity, if the two persons involved have a depth of emotion and a level of commitment and mutual understanding, where in the todays thinking is there any room to claim that there is a problem in sex before marriage. It's an open unconcealed and can be an almost certain un-coincidental activity.

Biblical prohibitions against sex before marriage were, in my perpsective, for reasons which can be virtually eliminated (pregnancy, emotional) with contraception and the social acceptance of non-mariatal yet mutually understandable/ committed relationships.

 And don't argue that when people have sex and split up then the emotional loss is greater, that's nonesense, the pain is there either way, and very often couples split becuase of divergent views on sex beofre marriage, in those cases the supposed necessity to abstain on one person causes the split and induces the emotional pain which may otherwise have been avoidable.

Re: Sex before marriage?

Despite all the dramatic statistics regarding high divorce rates I remain optimistic about marriage. It will not become a eccentricity for minorities, we are not build to live alone and cohabitation doesn’t provide enough safety for our human nature. In one way or another marriage will keep it’s status as fundamental cell of society. I am currently attending marriage counseling and so far it helped me open my eyes, we have a different perspective on being husband and wife.

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