the shape of leadership

Marriage, Sexuality and the Church

Upholding God’s design in a corrupt world

Phil Steiger on August 1, 2018

I have the privilege of serving as the chairman of the board for Sarah’s Home, a long-term home that provides ministry and support for girls rescued from human trafficking here in the U.S.

A few years ago, I accepted an invitation to speak about what we were doing in a roundtable discussion of several local social service organizations. That was a new circle of people to me, and I was surprised by the services represented that morning.

There were about 15 other people present from roughly a dozen organizations, including adoption agencies, financial services, food assistance, support for kids with special needs, education, and even the literacy program at the public library.

These were hard-working people who wanted to do as much good as they could. However, it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn into a lament for all the kids slipping through the cracks. For all they did, and with the funding they had at their disposal, they could not take care of every child.

Something dawned on me as I sat there. Except for a few extreme situations, every state and county program represented around that table could be replaced for free by a healthy family. The reason so many kids need this kind of help is that so many of them have experienced the breakdown of their families.

Our culture is in a heated debate over the nature of marriage and sexuality, which puts the church in a unique position to express God’s design. God designed men, women and children to flourish when we live according to His will for marriage and sexuality, but this is one of the most obvious stress points between the Church and the culture.

It is easy for the Church to feel the pressure to change its views, but we have every reason to defend God’s design with courage, compassion and clarity.

We Were Made for This

God literally built His design into the human race. The biblical model for family and sexuality can be summed up as heterosexual, monogamous, binary, and lifelong. Though not every life will reflect this arrangement, it remains the design.

Marriage, as a heterosexual union, represents the possibility of procreation. Monogamy represents God-like love and commitment. We need “binary” in the list because it is becoming more common for advocates of the sexual revolution to normalize relationships of more than two (as in the unfortunate term “throuple”).

It is easy for the Church to feel the pressure to change its views, but we have every reason to defend God’s design with courage, compassion and clarity.

Lifelong marriage is a covenant relationship designed for commitment and companionship “until death do us part.”

The Church’s Witness

The Early Church can act as our guide when we think about what it means to bear witness to God’s good design for family and sexuality. The Roman world was more debauched than many of us may realize.

Marriage was a utilitarian union untethered from sexual morality. Women and children had few, if any, real protections from the sexual behavior of others, and men of power had few guardrails on their sexual indulgences.

The Christian church arose in that world, striving to live out a version of marriage and family infused with moral meaning and guarded by a clear sexual ethic. Paul, for instance, told Titus that elders of the church should not be “open to the charge of debauchery,” but instead should be “self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:6,8, ESV).

Because the Church endured, we inherited its moral framework instead of that of the Romans. The Christian view, taught in the New Testament and lived out in the Early Church, was radically different. Because of its moral advantages, it raised the lives of those who followed the standard.

Ultimately, the Christian view outlived the Roman Empire and its debauchery. We should not underestimate the power of a church encouraging faithfulness in marriage and sexuality.

We can preach the good news of human sexuality. I know it is easy to preach a list of things not to do, but we also have access to everything positive about living according to God’s will.

A sermon series or class offered to the community can have a lasting impact if it is able to paint a beautiful picture of what is possible. And we should not be afraid to include our youth in these discussions.

We can preach and support faithfulness among our singles. Jesus and Paul are both clear: Sometimes God calls people to follow Him unmarried. How can we help provide a vision of fruitfulness in their lives that does not leave them feeling like second-class Christians?

A church can find ways to support ministries like Sarah’s Home that bring the gospel of Christ into the lives of those harmed by corrupted views of sexuality. That support can be more than financial when a church uses those ministries as a platform to talk about how different we are intended to be and how our differences bring healing.

Pastors can be thought leaders on this topic. Christian theology has a lot to say, and good research is being done that supports the Christian worldview. Issues like these deserve our time and attention so we can translate God’s truths to our congregations. As a result, our churches can have a growing confidence in God’s design.

We are in a similar situation to our Early Church brothers and sisters. I believe we cannot expect much support from our current culture, but that should not change our commitment to God’s good design for families, or our determination to preach the good news and live in a way that honors God.

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