Sex, Intimacy, and the Single Person

Editor’s note: Christians agree that sexuality is a gift from God. But should the church provide guidance on people’s sexual behavior? If so, what principles should it use? Until now, the position of churches has been primarily limited to the prohibition of sex before marriage. But how, then, are single people supposed to live out their sexuality? Here are two perspectives to begin the conversation.

Single and Sexual: As God Created Us

by Chelsey L. Harmon

In keeping with his great wisdom, God designed and created men and women as sexual beings. Somewhere along the way our understanding of sexuality became mostly about sex—that sacred union intended exclusively for married people. But what about people who are widowed or divorced, who are purposefully celibate or functionally single, or who are “single and ready to mingle”? What are they supposed to do with their sexuality?

Offering pastoral and practical advice for the diverse variety of single people in the church is no small task. Perhaps the best place to begin is by telling the truth about sex, sexuality, and identity.

First, it’s important to distinguish between sex and sexuality. They’re not the same thing. Sex is what we do, sexuality is what we are. Although as a single person you may not be having sex right now, sexuality is for always. It’s an essential part of your being. Even in the new heaven and new earth we will be sexual beings because we’ll still be male and female. Our physical bodies matter. Look no further than the incarnation, when God took on flesh—including a sexual nature. Our whole selves matter to God and therefore should also matter to us.

Second, your experience of sexuality isn’t something to be conquered or mastered. Anyone who tries to make you believe that is wrong. You aren’t going to be able to defeat or avoid physical attraction and the desire for intimacy. That God-made desire for intimacy can be expressed in any number of ways, from a meaningful conversation with a friend or the hug of a child to the sexual union of two people. Just because you aren’t experiencing some of these forms of intimacy doesn’t mean you don’t—or shouldn’t—have the desire to experience them. Nor is it right for you to believe that you must experience all forms of intimacy in order to be “complete.” Consider Jesus, a fully human man who never had sexual intercourse. Would you describe his existence as incomplete? Sex is not integral to our identity; intimacy is.

Third, we need to acknowledge how difficult we often find this sexual part of our life, how easy it is for us to sin and to find ourselves separated from others and from God. God certainly made us good as sexual beings, but as soon as sin entered the world, our sexuality became a source of isolation. “It feels good” is never enough justification for doing anything. Rather, in all things, including what we do in our minds and with our bodies sexually, we are meant to give glory and honor to God. Being married doesn’t safeguard us from sexual sin either; in fact, it simply adds to the number of opportunities we have to sin.

So what are we to do? I’d like to suggest three ways God invites us to explore how we’re made.

1. Be honest in safe places. When we open up to God in prayer and to one another in love and name the things that are shaping our life, the Holy Spirit finds more access points into the core of our being and we become more teachable. Think about it: if it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone in the Garden of Eden, when literally everything was supposed to be right with the world, then it really isn’t good for you to be alone now. God uses community to support, encourage, challenge, chastise, and shape us, so we must submit to the discipline and blessings of relationships.

The good news is that, in our culture, most of us get to choose whom we share our lives with. Singles are blessed to experience intimacy that goes beyond bloodlines, and our relationships point to the greater truth that all of God’s people are family, brothers and sisters in Christ. So surround yourself with people who are both similar and different from you, people who will both support and challenge you. You may be surprised by the roles your friends take on.

2. Be yourself. Get to know who you are. Be ethically and morally responsible, but don’t be afraid to explore how you are a sexual being. Remember, you were made by God’s good design.

Be physical: play sports, get a massage, take a long walk. Be beautiful and loving: when another human being desires you, be reminded of how much more God desires you. How does being desired make you feel? How does it feel to desire another? How do all of these things make your body feel and your heart and mind react? Wonder and learn in community, through the study of Scripture and other trustworthy sources, and, inevitably, through confession and repentance, seeking to be faithful in all things.

3. Be empathetic. Try to understand where people are coming from. Much of other people’s reactions, comments, and worries about your singleness and sexual expressions aren’t actually about you. In fact, much of what they say on the subject is an expression of their own fears. Some people may be afraid that your singleness threatens their marriage. Some will never understand that men and women can be “just friends.” And some others always will think that all men think about is sex.

Though we are accountable to one another, you shouldn’t feel the extra burden of carrying false perceptions. In all things, remember that you have an audience of one—the One who desires more than just your devotion and right living. God desires all that you are. So whether single or married, strive to live with integrity as God intended.

If you’re single, my hope is that this may serve as the starting point of a conversation and journey of learning for you. May you discover the beautiful person God lovingly created to flourish, even as a “party of one.

Chelsey Harmon is associate pastor at Christ Community Church in Nanaimo, British Columbia.


Where Do We Draw the Line?

by Harry Van Belle

The record of the church when it comes to sex has not been stellar. It has, in fact, been characterized by the denial of sex. For much of its history, the message of the church to young people has been one of abstinence. If you wanted to become a full-time servant of God, your best bet was to become a nun or an unmarried priest—a prejudice that lingers to this day in churches that admonish their young people to abstain from sex until marriage.

This admonition about lovemaking is ironic, as anyone who practices sexual intercourse knows. That’s because good sex can only happen in a relationship where the partners are able to let go, to passionately surrender to one another. By contrast, the North American obsession with performance in sexual relations—Viagra-induced or not—spells death to a relationship where you need to know yourself received, warts and all, by the other. The real goal of lovemaking is not the pursuit of technical expertise but the enjoyment of romantic intimacy, as the Song of Songs so poetically unfolds.

Nor is this prohibition about sex biblical. If I read Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs correctly, then God wants people to take pleasure in their youth—and that pleasure most certainly includes lovemaking. Could it be that God is less hung up about sex than we are, especially in North America?

Premarital Sex
Whether Christian single people should or should not practice premarital sex is a question that may have been relevant two or three generations ago, but the situation today has changed.

First, whereas in earlier times the practice of sexual intercourse among unmarried youths realistically could—and often did—result in pregnancy, today’s young people have a variety of contraceptives at their disposal to minimize that risk. What’s more, young couples generally practice “safe sex” to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Second, for all kinds of good reasons, people today tend to remain single a decade longer than their parents and grandparents did. During their 20s, many people are in a semi-dependent financial state and perhaps are still in school. They generally do not feel ready to marry and start a family before they reach their 30s.

Their situation is comparable to that of their grandparents in Europe several generations ago when, because of a severe housing shortage, young couples were often engaged to be married for longer than a decade. In the meantime they did have unprotected sexual intercourse, resulting in a large number of what used to be called “shotgun marriages.” Young couples today are more likely to solve this dilemma by deciding to move in together. Many North American churches frown upon such relationships.

The question is whether they should.

Recreational Sex
An increasingly common form of premarital sex in our culture is recreational sex, or sex that’s divorced from intimacy and commitment. One form of that is “hooking up,” the one-night stand in which two people meet one another (often in a bar), strike up a conversation, find they like each other, and go home to have sex. Nothing is considered other than the pleasure each gives to the other.

How should we judge these practices of casual and committed sex? What criteria can we use to evaluate these situations?

The prohibition of sex before marriage uses the criterion of behavior. We say single people should not engage in sex—period. But what exactly do we consider premarital sex? Where do we draw the line? Is it hugging or kissing, with or without the tongues touching? Is it touching each other’s genitals or mutual masturbation? Is it oral sex or penetration, with or without ejaculation? How far can people go and still abstain from sex? How does the church decide how far young people should go? Should the church decide this question? Is the church competentto decide?

Maturity and Commitment
Better criteria for evaluating people’s sexual behavior, I suggest, are maturity and commitment. Whether or not to engage in premarital sex should depend on the strength of the personal maturity of single people and on their level of commitment toward one another. These criteria, I believe, are much more appropriate ones for the church to consider in providing guidelines for sexual behavior. How mature should young people be? How intimate and committed should their relationship be before they can afford to have sex?

I’m not persuaded that recreational sex or “hooking up” is valid behavior for young people, let alone for Christian young people. Sex belongs within an intimate, committed relationship between two reasonably mature young people. But I do think, based on these same principles, that the church should change its stance on premarital cohabitation, recognizing that such relationships enable single adults to respond in a responsible way to the times they live in.

In the meantime, many young people have long decided to ignore the church and make their own choices for sexual behavior. I believe it’s fair to suggest that most young people are responsible enough to distinguish between “hooking up” and sex as an expression of committed intimacy.

With respect to guidelines for sexual behavior, as with other contemporary issues, I fear that the church is playing catch-up in defense of a status quo that no longer exists instead of leading the next generation with biblically grounded insights. You may well differ with me on what those principles should be. This isn’t the final word on how the church might provide guidance in the area of sexuality. But it’s a beginning.

About the Authors

Chelsey Harmon is associate pastor at Christ Community Church in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

Harry Van Belle is emeritus professor of psychology at The Kings University College and a member of Inglewood CRC, Edmonton, Alberta.

See comments (50)


"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers." ( Psalm 1:1)

" How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?" (Proverbs 1:22)

'For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a sheild to those whose walk is blameless, for he gaurds the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair-every good path...wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways. who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil." (Proverbs 2:6-15)

'Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. For they cannot sleep till they do evil; they are robbed of slumber till they make someone fall." (Proverbs 4:13-19)

"Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or left; keep your foot from evil." (Proverbs 4:26,27)

"The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin holds him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly." (Proverbs 5:22,23)

Wow -- "the church should change its stance on premarital cohabitation, recognizing that such relationships enable single adults to respond in a responsible way to the times they live in."

After pointing out that it is difficult to know 'where the line is', Harry Van Belle shows how much that line fuzzyness problem actually means to his perspective by advocating that the church bless "premarital cohobitation."  No fuzzyness there, so why all the line talk?

If Mr. Van Belle truly means it when he says, "better criteria for evaluating people’s sexual behavior, I suggest, are maturity and commitment," one can't help but ask why he doesn't regard "maturity and commitment" as precisely what a decision to be willing to marry demonstrates.  If a couple lives together as husband and wife without the commitment of marriage, then exactly what would it be about that couple's cohabitation decision that demonstrated "maturity and commitment?"

Certainly, sexual sin is just one of many, many sins, and it may be argued that the church of decades past might have wrongly elevated the 'sinfulness' of this sin over others, but for the church to respond by blessing the sin makes no sense at all, regardless of how many contraceptives they might have at their disposal.

I'm not trying to make a slippery slope argument here, but rather suggesting that Mr. Van Belle is in fact arguing the church should bless the very bottom of the slope.

I have to wonder whether Is this article simply meant (by the Banner) to be provocative?  It wouldn't be the first time.  If so, I would suggest that an article arguing the church should bless a sexual relationship between an 18 year daughter and her 38 year father, provided of course both father and daughter were committed to each other, would be equally provocative and appropriate for a church that believed the Scriptures were in fact God's Word to humankind.  Really, what would the difference be between that article and this?  After all, maybe "... God is less hung up about sex [and father/daughter incest?] than we are, especially in North America."


You are the most patient man who writes can you be so kind and understanding to a post that goes against what it means to be God fearing and holy?  For the Banner to allow this I would think everyone who reads this who get up and run as far away from this nonsense and find a church who cared about others...and what God says. Between homosexuality and now me it looks like the CR church has NO discernment at all...










Lighthouse: The CRCNA is a pretty big place, with lots of people and lots of local churches.  Truth be told, I think the perspective expressed by Mr. Van Belle represents perhaps 5% of of the membership of the CRCNA, maybe less.  I don't personally know any CRC member who, assuming he/she read this article (many won't -- they've given up on the Banner), would think this perspective is anything less than outrageous.

I'm not  prepared to just give up what has been a faithful denomination for many decades to a relative few for whom "belonging to the CRCNA" seems to have been more a cultural thing they can't give up than an expression of their foundational religious perspective.

That's the problem with instituional churches that are old enough to become "cultural" (and when the church has a large degree of ethnic commonality, the problem seems to be much worse): when some of them depart from fundamental faith committments of their parents, those departers can't leave the church because it is so much a part of their life in other ways (their family and friends are CRC, most of the people they do business with are CRC, etc).  And so they try to persuade the church itself to leave in the same way they did.

For what its worth -- and I'm afraid this won't make you feel any better -- I don't think Mr. Van Belle's article is best described as an article "the Banner allowed" but rather one that the Banner sought out.  Frankly, I don't think the Banner is generally representative of the CRCNA membership anymore.  I doubt those in control of the Banner intend it to be.  Again, I think the great majority of CRCNA members would neither have sought out Mr. Van Belle's article nor printed it.


We see the Banner doing so much harm to the CR Church...we just talked to folks from the Chicago area...they are so disgusted with articles allowed to be published..Articles like Mr. Van Belle are seen as statements by the Banner/church...Who is in charge here anyway??  I make a motion that YOU Doug are in charge of all published...that you or someone who you hire check every article written...and if it does not agree with the Bibles teaching that it either is NOT published or stated VERY CLEARLY that this is not correct...not is an article to show "the other side" and lets have some discussion...on what GOD'S word says about this....

YOU seem to be the one who has Holy Spirit common sense!  Thanks for all your replys..You are a breath of fresh air for sure!



I don't know where to begin...

First of all, the Song of Solomon does indeed articulate a robust and sensual view of human sexuality -- but a careful reader will notice that the sexual intimacy is reserved for after the covenant ceremony described in chapter four.  

Second, "good sex" is not simply about release or surrender, or physical enjoyment, but an expression of the covenant that is marriage.  To take away the covenant is to diminish the intent of sexuality.  Sex is meant to mirror the nature of God's relationship with the church -- a covenental relationship.

Third, Harry says that the church has been far too negative about sex -- and he's right about that.  His response is not that the church should articulate a more positive (and complete) view of sexuality grounded in scripture, but rather that the chruch should just butt out, because the church is not "competent to decide."  Really?  

Fourth, Van Belle says that the criteria to decide on having sex is "maturity and committemnt" What does he mean by committed?  How mature is mature enough? What defines committment? Short-term? Long-term?  Month-to month? This logic is just as fuzzy as the line that he discards so quickly when he writes, "What is sex? Hugging? Kissing..."  

I could go on.  What is dissappointing here is not so much that the author embraces a viewpoint that is much more colored by the world's values, but that the Banner sees fit to include this.  As a pastor, I've just gotten past the uproar over the previous month's article on the historicity of Adam and Eve.  Now this to deal with.

Notice how neither of these "teachers" are using scripture to teach.  Test everything against scriptures brothers and sisters and false teaching will be easily exposed.  I'm actually thankful for the Banner these days. There are so many great examples of false teaching to show my kids to help them be more discerning believers.  The amazing thing to me is that my 9 year old seems to have more discernment than either of these "teachers" or the editorial staff of The Banner.  I also feel sorry for the people in Harmon's congregation and Van Belle's practice.  

"With respect to guidelines for sexual behavior, as with other contemporary issues, I fear that the church is playing catch-up in defense of a status quo that no longer exists instead of leading the next generation with biblically grounded insights."  

The problem with this article, and the Banner in general, is that the Bible is not even referenced once. Don't lecture me on "biblically grounded insights" when you cannot defend your position with scripture. The Banner editorial staff should be ashamed of what they are publishing.  The only good that comes from the Banner in our house is that it has become a great teaching tool for helping our family grow in discernment.  The Banner makes the CRC look like fools to our Christian brothers and sisters who are truly "biblically grounded."

Doug, you rock.  Our church is in the Chicago area and we have taken the Banner and thrown it in the trash because that's where it belongs.  

Last month's Banner suggested that Reformed theology is outdated. This month's Banner suggests that Christian sexual morality is outdated. I think that those responsible for publishing recent Banner articles should be removed from leadership, or The Banner should be shut down. If such things are considered unclear in Scripture and open for further discussion, then this denomination has lost its saltiness. (My concern here is fidelity to God's Word, so I won't go into detail about the clear findings of sociology that cohabitation tends to produce many bad outcomes as compared to marriage.)

The Banner has gone too far this time:  "Whether Christian single people should or should not practice premarital sex is a question that may have been relevant two or three generations ago, but the situation today has changed." "Sex belongs within an intimate, committed relationship between two reasonably mature young people. But I do think, based on these same principles, that the church should change its stance on premarital cohabitation, recognizing that such relationships enable single adults to respond in a responsible way to the times they live in." I am disappointed that the author wrote these words, and hope he can get better pastoral guidance from those over him, but I am REALLY upset that the Banner has put its seal of approval on his personal opinion by publishing it. You owe the CRC a public apology for publishing this.

What is the Banner trying to prove?  Edwin Walhout's article on "Tomorrow's Theology" in the recent issue of the Banner is nothing but the old liberal doctrine popular in the 1920's in which "modernists" denied the faith once for all delivered to the saints under the guise of toleration.  It is an accommodation to the teaching of the false church that will tolerate anything but the true church of Jesus Christ that He bought with His own blood.  Now the Banner takes the next step by publishing the articles about "Sex, Intimacy and the Single Person".  Especially the article by Harry Van Belle is clear evidence once again of the old truth that doctrine leads to practice:  if you no longer have any good news to proclaim, your moral standards will no longer reflect the perfect and holy will of God.  The editor wants to begin the conversation, but it is clear the conversation cannot be based on the revealed will of God and of our confessional standards.  The members of the Christian Reformed church are forced to pay for this stuff to be sent to all the other members.  Scripture warns about serious consequences for those who cause little ones to stumble (Matthew 5:19 and 18:6).  Now, unless we disavow the false teaching here, we are all made responsible for injuring Christ's little ones.  If there were no Adam and Eve and if the person and work of Christ is to be revised in our theology, and if there is no certainty about the final glorious visible return of Christ, the next logical step is to reject what Scripture teaches about sex and godly living.  All this in the year Synod wants us to rejoice in our Heidelberg Catechism.  Will we be a genuinely confessional church or not?

I know we are all chomping at the bit to discuss the "radical" notions espoused in article two.  But can we first stop and acknowledge that all is not lost in the CRCNA?  Can we praise the wisdom of one of our own?  THANK YOU Rev. Chelsey Harmon for speaking wise words. Moderate words. Words that recognize the difficulty of Christian discipleship in the arena of sexuality.  

We now return to our regularly scheduled ranting & posturing

Dan...I for one am a member of Pastor Chelsey Harmon's Congregation and I would love for you to sit in on one of her sermons.  We have never met such a young, wise and inspiring person as she and especially for such a young woman.  We are so blessed at Christ Community Church to have her as an associate Pastor.  Does the Bible not also say that we should love one another rather then cast judgement.

Thank you, Rev. Chelsey, for an article that is sensitive, wise, and timely!

The first piece by Rev. Chelsey Harmon is simply unmissable. These parts, especially: “Your experience of sexuality isn’t something to be conquered or mastered. Anyone who tries to make you believe that is wrong” and “In all things, remember that you have an audience of one—the One who desires more than just your devotion and right living.” More like this, please, The Banner.

Responding to Meg Jenista: I find interesting (and perhaps instructive) your (1) characterizing Harry Van Belle's proposal as merely "radical" and (2) your wanting to talk about what Chelsey Harmon wrote instead.

First, yes, Chelsey wrote a pretty good article and with some qualifications, I found it unobjectionable.  The one sentence that made me furrow my brow was: "Second, your experience of sexuality isn’t something to be conquered or mastered."  Now, that is something that could be perhaps be profitably argued about.  I would myself argue that scripture unequivocally tells us that we need to master our "desires" and sexual desires is one category of those (and I would add that most people, especially Christians, work to master their desires, especially sexual ones, every day).

So Chelsey's article could provide fodder for communal chewing.

But Harry Van Belle's article?  That's not fodder for meaningful communal discussion, in this community at least.  His is nothing less than a suggestion, regarded as a legitimate argument by the magazine that represents the CRCNA, that it's just fine for unmarried men and women to live as husband and wife and the church should bless that, and people who think otherwise are in denial about sex and want the church to be oppressive.  Really?  Who is kidding who here?  As I've suggested before, if we should have a kitchen table discussion about what Van Belle proposes, why not a kitchen discussion about whether the 38 year-old father and his 18 year-old daughter should have the church bless their sexual relationship?  Certainly, incest has happened in the CRC (as Bob DeMoor suggests might be the logic that justifies the kitchen table discussion of what Van Belle proposes).  Why not start talking about how "Reformed thinking" might result in the CRC blessing father/daughter sex (assuming there is commitment of course).  Yes, this would be absurd, as was the Banner's decision to publish Van Belle's article.

And speaking of Bob DeMoor, he suggests that "the authors genuinely seek to apply their Reformed understanding to difficult issues."  I can see that about Chelsey's article but let me ask you: do you really see Van Belle's articles as seeking to apply his "Reformed understanding" to this issue?  OK, he makes an almost throw away reference to a couple of books of the Bible but seriously, do you find anything, anything, in what he says that resembles applying a "Reformed understanding" to the issue?  (I'm seriously asking the question).

And that is the sad part here, the real story: that the Banner -- its editor even -- apparently does regard Van Belle as having applied a "Reformed understanding" in his article to this issue.  Seeing the Banner do that makes many CRCers (the ones that actually read the Banner) want to just throw in the towel on the denomination (not their local church perhaps, but on the denominational structures).  I empathize a lot with that.  Can't you?  (I'm seriously asking the question).  And what about local churches who have to deal with the sheer embarrasment of explaining to new members, or even new visitors making a "home church decisions, that the local church they have or are thinking about joining doesn't think anything like the denomination's one and only magazine would suggest.  Can you understand that problem? (Again, I'm seriously asking the question).

Finally, my wife and I have been married for 38 years, and many CRC couples have been married as long, or longer.  I can guarantee you and anyone else that if the CRC adopts Harry Van Belle's approach, the only CRC couples who will be married that long will be the ones who adamantly, even fiercely, reject their church's teaching on this issue (assuming they are still CRC, which admittedly is unlikely).  They will be the ones who believe that commitment and maturity is actually demonstrated by the decision to marry, and that outside that context, they are required to, and can, master their sexual desires.  But if Van Belle is right, they would only be the ones who are hung up on sex more than God is, refusing to "lead[] the next generation with biblically grounded insights."  Again seriously asking the question, doesn't it almost anger you to read what Van Belle's article says on this -- in the Banner no less?

PS. I don't mean to pick on your Meg, but in your post you were trying to play mediator and there is a time to ask the mediator whether he/she should really try to "split the baby," which is what mediators tend to (wrongly in my view) always want to do.  Also you are a CRC pastor, not?  I really want to know what you honestly think.  I don't think Van Belle's perspective (nor that which would advocate for the 38 year old father and 18 year old daughter) should be the CRCNA's denominational kitchen table.  Do you?

As a young adult born and raised in (and still a member of) of CRCNA, and as someone who works with young adults on a secular university campus, I would like to thank The Banner for publishing these articles. While I know that many here find the views expressed to be objectionable, I daily see the importance of being willing to have a conversation about sexuality with Christian young adults. It is unsurprising that so many of our young adults (not ALL, mind you) are choosing to leave the CRCNA if, when they share their struggles with or questions about sexual expression outside marriage, they face responses like the ones here. The Banner clearly indicated, with two different editor's notes, that these articles are meant to spur discussion on a very sensitive issue. Whatever we believe is right/wrong about either article, I implore us to consider the tone of our conversation. One never knows who is listening.

I appreciate your backing away from completely disregarding my work, which your first comment in this thread led me to believe since you imply in it that I'm a false teacher by calling me a "teacher." Thank you for expressing that most of what I wrote you don't object to. I'd like to respond to two things.
First, I wrote this piece in much of the same style that Paul wrote to the churches- using Scripture without quoting chapter and verse, drawing on biblical teachings and traditions, but expounding and pushing to make it relevant to the context. This may not seem satisfactory, but I don't agree with the basic practice of proof-texting my way through an argument and have chosen to honour Scripture in another way. In fact, rather than thinking about writing a position paper or a challenge to the church, I imagined myself talking with someone about this topic.

Second, I'm not sure we are understanding sexuality the same way. If you were to "conquer" your sexuality, you would need to become a-sexual, completely disconnected from your physical body, hormones, etc. Controlling, submitting or giving in to the sexual desires that result from being sexual beings is within the realm of our responsiblity and the work of the Spirit in our sanctification. You can't "turn off" being sexual just as you can't make it so that you never have a hunger pang again. Or to use another parallel- having a brain and actually thinking are two different things. One is a noun, the other a verb.

Blessings to you.

Chelsey: After having some discussion in the kitchen, so to speak, I don't think you and I would see things much differently.  I furrowed my brow at a couple of your sentences but you used words that were begging for explicit definition, whether for me or other readers, and your above post provides that.

Frankly, I thought your article was very pastoral and yet in keeping with what I have understood the CRCNA has rather clearly decided about our sexuality, and yet contained material that actually could produce a good "kitchen discussion."

Assuming you can't already tell, I did not think the same of the article printed below yours.  :-)

Sara: Not "know[ing] who is listening" is a point I also made, although my concern is admitedly quite different than yours.  I live on the west coast in an area I've often described as Philistia (you know, GR=Jerusalem, Sioux Center=Behleham, etc).  When some people in my area look for churches, they often look for a place that is not Philistia, a place where they can be assured their kids won't be told stuff like, say, 'when you grow older, it is OK to shack up and have sex before you get married so long as you are serious about your partner.'

I'm not sure the Banner is any better a place to have discussions of these kinds of "sensitive issue[s]" for the people you are concerned about than the top of a flagpole is to display one's intimate apparel.  Maybe kids on secular university would think that's cool (and both I and some of my children have been on secular campuses -- I'm not as naive or sheltered as you might think), but it falls pretty flat for people in Salem, Oregon who are looking for a good church for raising their children.

I suppose what I implore us to do is not to run these kinds of articles up the flagpole called the Banner, as if we regard them as bringing a Reformed perspective to bear on the issue of how we regard marriage and human sexuality.  And I guess I'm more concerned that appropriate objections, rationally and civilly made, be very clearly expressed when the Banner does run these kinds of articles up the flagpole. 

I would be interested to know the average age of the commenters who think this is inappropriate to talk about. I know that for a long time good Christians didn't talk about sex publicly. But I don't think that repression and refusal to engage a basic human function was all that helpful--we now have one of the most sex-crazed societies with all kinds of distortion, deviant behavior, and detachment from reality. The number of Pornhub hits alone in CRC-dominated parts of Iowa, Michigan, and other places (with Zeeland, MI one of the highest in the nation) should be a reminder that sweeping sex under the rug does not necessarily result in better discipleship and healthier families. 

Marie: Who is "sweeping sex under the rug"?  I thought Chelsey Harmon's article was unobjectionable and even profitable for the kind of "kitchen discussion" that the Editor alludes to.  I'm 58 and can tell you that for a very, very long time Christians, including CRC Christians, have been talking about sex publicly -- at least from my experience of 58 years.  The objections expressed here are not about "repression and refusal to engage a basic human function" but about the Banner permitting or even perhaps soliciting a perspective on a meaningful life issue that is anything but an illustration of applying a Reformed biblical perspective.


I am pleased that we are talking about this issue.  But I am dismayed about the tone the discussion has taken so far.  It occurs to me that I have contributed to this negativity by the way I wrote my article.  For this I need forgiveness.  But can we stop with the bad mouthing now?

I need to clarify a few things:

One, I am not a fringe member of the CRC.  I was born and raised in this church community.  For more than forty years I have served it as a psychologist, therapist and academic with love and dedication.  Others can testify to this fact.

Two, I am not advocating cohabitation (kissing cousin of common law marriage) as an alternative to marriage.  I am on the side of marriage. I have done numerous pre-marital counseling workshops with young people.   I have written a book on dating, courtship and marriage, called Two Shall Become One.  (Out of print now. Can be accessed free of charge from my website.  Google: All Of Life Redeemed -> Van Belle-> article 1030).

Three, I am concerned about the plight of twenty-something young people among us, the so-called emerging adults.  My heart goes out to them.  Those whom I know personally are very much mature and ready to commit themselves.  But they live in a world much more complex than when I was their age.  This requires that they have to spend a decade longer (in school for instance) before they are realistically able to take on the adult tasks of marrying and starting a family.  (Last year I wrote a book on this topic, called Intergeneration Lost and Found.  Available from Amazon.) For me, as a married man, who can have regular sexual intercourse, to deprive these young people of that privilege, seems hypocritical unless I am willing, I solidarity with them, to also abstain from sex.

Four, I am advocating cohabitation for twenty-something young people as a way station on the road to marriage and family.  This could be sanctioned by the church via a ceremony similar to that when we allow children to partake of Lord Supper.

Five, I am told that my views are supported by only 5% of the church members.  I wonder whether this is so because many young people have left the church because of its stance on this and other issues.

So, let the discussion continue.

For example, If I have read Chelsey’s article correctly, she seems to equate human sexuality with the fact that we have a body.  That’s new to me.  It intrigues me, but I don’t know what it means.

Also, based on long time observation it is my belief that North Americans are more uptight about sex than Europeans, specifically the Dutch.  We need to deal with this  because it speaks along in our discussions about sex.

That will have to do for now.



Harry: I have no problem with you believing as you do, but I do take serious issue with the Banner printing your article and then editorially describing it as a presentation from a Biblically Reformed perspective.

I also have no cause to doubt your heart may be in the right place.  That's not something I can judge.  But criticizing the content of your article, publically printed in the Banner no less, is certainly not out of line.

You advocate that the CRCNA change its position about sex and marriage and bless sexual relationships outside of marriage for "emerging adults."  Your explanatory post confirms this, saying: "I am advocating cohabitation for twenty-something young people as a way station on the road to marriage and family."  Beyond that, you now say that "This could be sanctioned by the church via a ceremony similar to that when we allow children to partake of Lord Supper."

Respectfully, this is as far from a biblical Reformed perspective, as understood by the CRCNA from its very beginning, as the advocacy of church-blessed pedophilia.  Again, you have the right to believe this but whether the Banner should print it is another question.

As an aside, it is intriguing that you say today's "emerging adults" live in a more complex world, such that "this requires that they have to spend a decade longer (in school for instance) before they are realistically able to take on the adult tasks of marrying and starting a family."

Setting aside what Scripture says for a moment (and honestly, I don't think Scripture is driving your argument in the least), I don't understand your seeming suggestion that more formal education is required for people to be able to marry.  Start a family perhaps -- but marry?  My wife and I were married at age 20, both finished college and got post-college degrees after that (JD and Masters) and we had our first child when we were 28.  Yes, we had sex quite a bit between age 20 and 28, but because of the existence of the contraceptive options you pointed out yourself, we didn't start that family until later.  (Sex is about more than procreation, at least within a marriage, although it is also about procreation).  How does that (biblical, Reformed) model still not work? Why would we have needed your "way station" to marriage?  What is a "way station" to marriage anyway?

My first and second sons also married at age 20/21.  One is now a surgeon in his fifth year of residency (and age 30), the other a music teacher and getting his masters degree (age 27).  And you want to say to them and others like them that they need not commit to marriage to but only have their sexual activity blessed by the church who declares them as needing this "way station" because they are only "emerging adults."  Frankly, your argument completely escapes me.

And if you want to make a "church sanctioned provision" for these "emerging adults" to have sex -- because they have sexual needs -- why do you ignore the plight of the "pre-emerging adults," those anywhere from ages 13-14 to whenever your think is the starting line is for "emerging adults."  Those hormones are certainly just as raging.  What accomodation would you provide for them so that they too can avoid the need to deny their sexual urges?

Lest you (or others) think so, I'm not attempting to be flippant or sarcastic about your arguments.  Precisely the same "sexual needs" exist for ages, say, 14 to 20 as for ages 20 to 30.

And to counter your arguments in another way, let me suggest this: if there is a need for change in the CRC (culture, not doctrine), it is as to the idea some parents have (especially in the CRC culture I have found) that when their child marries (at whatever age), he/she is then financially "on his/her own" such that the parents are now absolved by God for any responsibility for their child's financial well-being.  You are right that modernity has increased the need for education which takes more years and dollars, but who made the rule that parents should cut off their children from any parental financial support if they marry, but not if they don't marry.  If there is an adjustment we need to make within our "CRC culture," its that.  That adjustment would directly address your concern without abandoning the biblically based, Reformed perspective the CRCNA has had for over a century about the relationship between marriage and sex.

PS.  I hope Marie Vogel is persuaded that old people like myself aren't afraid to talk publically about sex. :-)


Doug, Thank you. That is much better.  I can respond to that.  But let me think some more about this before I respond when I have more time.  Also, maybe you can help me, because I don't know.  Is there a document that spells out the CRCNA position on sex and marriage?  Also, to save time, please read the two books I wrote mentioned in my response before you decide what my position is.  Thanks, brother!

In answer to your question, Harry, yes.  Check out LD 41 of the Catechism:

Lord’s Day 41
Q & A 108
Q. What does the seventh commandment teach us?

A. That God condemns all unchastity,and that therefore we should thoroughly detest it and live decent and chaste lives, within or outside of the holy state of marriage.

Q & A 109
Q. Does God, in this commandment, forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery?

A. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul, and God wants both to be kept clean and holy.
That is why God forbids all unchaste actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires, and whatever may incite someone to them.

Which might just be one of the reasons Doug says your perspective may be many things, but Reformed and Biblical it is not.  That young people have chosen to ignore the commands of God is not a valid reason for the Church to pretend those commands do not exist.  That many are offended when confronted by the scriptural challenge to live as God would have us live also does not in the least validate the church's jettisoning those clear statements of God's will.  The Church does not exist to get young people into its pews.  It exists to bear witness to Jesus - foolishness to Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews though that may be.  Would you have us cease calling people to surrender the greedy pursuit of wealth because some people find that offensive?  Are you saying we should not confront people about the biblical command to speak the truth, to not bear false witness, because liars find that command offensive?  Let's just sin more that grace may abound, eh?

It is hard to live as God would have us live.  That is true.  But we don't change the standard because it's hard.  We support one another in all humility as graciously and as lovingly as we can in seeking to honor God - however imperfectly - as God would be honored.

ok, Mr. deMoor, if you think this is worthy of coverage from both angles, then there are so many more topics that we could bring to the table as well... let's see... how about praying for Israel, and the replacement theology, or how about whether God still speaks today or not, the gift of prophecy and what that looks like or doesn't look like today, and definitley related to this would be an article on cessationism as there are still those out there that stand on that belief even though it's not the official position of our denomination...  ok, and how about the Song of Songs as an allegory of Jesus and His Bride or strictly about the husband/wife relationship... and how about whether we tithe today or not as NT believers... these are just a few of some pretty important concepts that I find crc believers are all over the board in their positions.    We will not come to unity on homosexuality or creation, until we understand how to listen, test and discern the Spirit's voice today, and that includes primarily through scripture.  So we might want to start there instead...

Marie, can you post a link to your statistics on this please... the level of porn in the Church is so disturbing to me... and the reaction I get from Christians is significant unbelief, when I share the statistics of 50% of spiritual leaders/pastors are currently struggling with porn, and the anecdotal evidence is closer to 80%.

I sometimes think the Church does not have a credible voice on anything re.homosexuality because of the sexual immorality/lack of holiness that is rampant with the use of pornography.  This immorality is what is getting swept under the rug, if you will.

and I'm 45 years old...


Harry: Send me your books and I'll read them.  I probably won't buy them off Amazon though.  Understand my thinking here: if it takes the reading of two of your books to really figure out what you are really saying, and that what your article in the Banner expresses can't really be understood without reading your books, then the article shouldn't be in the Banner for that reason as well.  Still, I'm happy to read your books if I have them.  Send to: Doug Vande Griend, 317 Court Street NE, Salem OR 97317 (my office address).

To Everyone Else:  I ask because I'm curious but also think it would be informative to this exchange:  Is there any CRC member who has been following this thread that agrees with Harry that the CRCNA should sanction the sexual relationships, sans marriage, of "emerging adults" as Harry is proposing in this article?  Does anyone know of any CRC member who believes that?  I'm the one that threw out the 5% (or less) suggestion, but I know of no CRCNA member who would come anywhere close to that position.  It's possible that I'm only familiar with those segments of the denomination that are particularly "hung up about sex."  I don't think so, but I'm open to the possibility that I significantly misperceive the membership of the CRCNA (and that there is more disconnect between what we formally profess and actually believe than I had thought).

Thank you for your clarifying comment, Harry. It helps me to see where you are coming from. As a pastor, sometimes I am overwhelmed by the privilege I have been given to preside over sacraments. I am genuinely sorry that others cannot enjoy that privilege as well. But to be faithful to the particular calling I have does not mean I need to stop because others cannot, nor does it mean everyone should. Is there something right about living within that role/responsibility well that benefits the common good? The trouble I have with your article is that you seem to postulate sexual intercourse as necessary to a good, healthy, flourishing life. As a celibate 30-something, I actually find that argument MORE offensive than the fact that married people have sex with their spouses. This is why I advocate for Chelsey's robust defense of sexuality -- or embodiment -- in which all people are called upon to delight and to work out their discipleship. And, this notion, that one must be "ready" for marriage in a financial, education, etc. way seems to be a relatively new invention. Yes, there are responsibilities attendant to marriage AND privileges. The option of co-habitation seems to want to allow privilege without responsibility, which does not seem to me to be the best way of creating disciples.

Meg - Amen and amen.

Marriage and celibacy are different vocations within the church that should both be honored.  Both have responsibilities and privileges that should be accepted and enjoyed.

A quick response to Doug Vande Griend’s post of June 28, 2013 - 10:30 am. You ask if anyone agrees with Harry Van Belle that the CRCNA should sanction the sexual relationships, sans marriage, of "emerging adults.”  I’m personally surprised that there is even one, but sadly I’m guessing that your estimate of 5% may not be far off, although I hope it’s a high estimate.

The banner is not allowed in my home. When the banner arrives in my mail box it goes through the shredder for fear that someone might pull it out of the recycling bin and read it. I agree with David Feddes that those in charge of content at the banner should be removed or the banner should cease publication.  Editor DeMoor states in his editorial that as editor he is accountable to  an editorial council of Board of Trustees and Faith Alive board members, the Faith Alive board (now dissolved; temporarily the Board of Trustees), and synod itself. DeMoor also said The Banner is mandated by synod to do four things: inform, inspire, educate, and challenge its readers, and that the latter mandate can raise eyebrows. Challenge in respect to the banner should mean challenge us to new heights of faith, not to debate the warrant of heresy as in the case of Edwin Walhout’s awful article advocating the religion of evolution or this damaging article on the merits of premarital sex. As a father of young children I can’t begin to tell you how incensed I was after reading this article. As I stated in a post on the Walhout article, I have to be cognisant of the “wolves” that run around seeking my children, but it can be even more taxing to stay alert for the wolves in sheep’s clothing such as DeMoor & Van Belle. Even the title of DeMoor’s editorial, “Why we dare not play it safe” is just a ploy to solicit sympathy from readers for allowing trash like this in the banner.  Adding an editor’s preamble to the article by Chelsey Harmon and Harry Van Belle just reinforces the fact that what’s coming is probably out of line, but hey, let’s go for it anyway. I found the explanation insulting and should be an embarrassment. 


By the way, why was Sarah Poulin’s article pulled? Was her criticism just too strong? Was it not speaking the truth in love? What responses were you expecting? I think you may be deleting several posts if this is your policy since I doubt she will be the last to speak so candidly. Let’s not underestimate the damage that has been/will be done with this article. It saddens and angers me greatly to think of young people who struggle with purity but now feel somewhat justified by this article only to find that it was all a lie. They will spend the rest of their lives wishing they had adhered to God’s guide for living and not the god of our culture.  If major changes in policy and practice at the banner, including loss of jobs (read editor) do not take place, the banner will have lost any remaining credibility it may still have.  There is a place for a denominational magazine in the CRC, but the current one does far more harm than good.

Other than one comment, I generally agree with Chelsea from B.C.  Jesus mentioned there would be no giving and taking of marriage in heaven, so that does indicate there might be some changes to our sexual roles and purpose in heaven.  However, that is a minor point. 

On the other hand, with Harry VB, where does one start?  First, the claim that the church has denied sex, is such a wierd statement.  Obviously, it has never done so.  Abstinence is not denying sex;  it affirms the power of sex, and the need to control it, rather than to be controlled by it.  Harry's statement is akin to saying that sex denies humans their humanity - wierd.   Further, the church has always recognized sex, from Paul's command to those who "burn" or can't control themselves, to marry, to the church's common and high role in marrying couples who wish to live together, engage in sexual activity, and care for the common result of sex, which is children.  Personally, and I am trying to be charitable, I think it is stupid to say that the church has denied or does deny sex. 

I agree with Harry that for a church to limit preaching or pastoring to single persons is unbiblical, and I agree with him that sex is not about performance but about intimacy.  In a christian context, it is also about loving, connecting, vulnerability, committment, faithfulness, and producing children.

I disagree that the situation with regard to premarital sex has changed.  Sorry Harry, I would like to charitably and patiently say, that on this, you are out-to-lunch.   Premarital and extra-marital sex has been the inclination for people since the time of the children of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Jacob, King David, and many others.  The 1960s brought this on in a very large way, but it was also carried on by slave holders in many countries and centuries, and has been a failing of the human race in every age. 

The biggest problem with premarital sex, is that it is premarital, in the sense that it is outside of marriage (which is the committment), and thus is seen to be adulterous.   Marriage is nothing more than the committment itself, so to say that you are not married simply means that you are not committed (yet).  Sex outside of marriage is sex without committment, and thus leaves open the possibility of becoming married to someone else in the future.  This means that the person has been unfaithful to a future husband or wife.  To leave open this possibility is also to be unfaithful to the present partner.  Either way, it is a problem.  When people say they are committed but not married, they are confused about what marriage really is.  When they say they are committed and sexually active, but do not want to be married, the question must be asked, why not?  Are they ashamed of their committment?   Are they superstitious?   Are they worried about closing the door on their options?   Are they concerned about outward appearances of a fancy wedding which they cannot yet afford? 

In general, in most 99% of the cases, it is a way of acceptance that follows the world, rather than scripture, rather than God's will, rather than being a witness to the world, rather than about the joy and gratitude of committment to each other and to God's word.  So a truly committed relationship which involves sex and living together, is really no different than marriage, and thus in a way, it is meaningless to say it is premarital.   It is really a marriage without publicity, without public joy, without blessing, without promise, without initial legality.   Although even the state often recognizes the reality of such as marriage when they call it "common-law" marriage, and accord similar legal rights and responsibilities.  So the reality is inescapable.  The problem is really a denial of this reality by the participants, and thus a sort of denigration of the honorable institution and relationship of marriage.  These participants seem to think that this is a private thing, when obviously it is not.

  The apostle Paul did not say, "..if you can't control yourselves, that's okay... just do whatever pleases you..."  He said they should get married.  And I believe and the catechims agrees,  he did this in honor of the command not to commit adultery.  I agree with Doug VdG, and also was married at 20, and went on to get a couple of university degrees, while even having children at the same time.   If you believe God wants you to act as if you were married, then you ought to believe that God wants you to get married, and that God will also provide the means and opportunity for living the life that He wants for you. 

If you believe that God does not want you to get married, then why do you live as if you were married? 

Without pastoral advice as to how to live as children of the light, rather than following the world into darkness, this becomes a sad article.  OUr life as christians is never about catching up to the world;  it is always about witnessing to Christ's saving grace through our obedience to Christ, rather than following the idols and gods of this world. 

On a personal note, I feel mocked.  Before we were married, my husband and I spent many a tempting evening NOT having sex because that is what we believed Jesus desired.  And now the Banner introduces the idea that maybe all that was for naught?   We’ve been mocked by the world; that’s expected.  But to be mocked by my elders in Christ?

Secondly, on a “kitchen table” note, I’d like to address Mr. Van Belle’s argument that it’s “too complicated” for young people to marry at a young age.  I argue saving sex for marriage and being married young is less complex than going through so many heartbreaks, distractions, and temptations in a young person’s career. 

I mention the following not to condone or call the following actions as godly, but to illustrate a point: even for non-Christian sophisticates, Mr. Van Belle’s argument fails.  My boss is a sophisticate – last year she argued a case in front of the United States Supreme Court. We were sharing the hardships of getting through law school.  She said that her domestic partnership (legal equivalent of marriage) throughout law school is what got her through law school.  She said, “I don’t know how people go without it.”

So, please do not exchange the truth for a lie.  If being married young not too complex for the world, how can it be too complex for Christians who are called to be in, but not of the world?  Shouldn’t we be celebrating Christ-centered marriages and relationships instead of discouraging an already mocked-by-the-world subgroup of our denomination? 

All that being said, I think it’s good to discuss this -- it’s not an easy issue and it’s certainly a big issue in a lot of Christian walks; I hope we can all learn something – I certainly have from reading these posts.


My heart is broken over the fact that our denomination's official magazine would print on article that presents and promotes a teaching that clearly goes against God's Word.  In response to "Where Do We Draw the Line?" which says fornication is Biblical as long as it is between two committed, mature adults, God has spoken very clearly about those who are living unrepentently in such sin.

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.          (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NASB)

I fully believe that if we as true believers confess all such sins and turn away from them, that God's grace is sufficient to offer us full forgiveness.  As Christ's Church, one of the last things we want to do is encourage people to sin. But by saying fornication isn't sin, isn't that just what has been done here?

My initial reactions on this acticle and the recent one on homosexuality are shock and disappointment.  If this is indicative of the direction the leaders of the denomination are pushing us towards, it is once again clear that there is a serious disconnect between them and a vast majority of our parishioners.

It appears that most of the folks commenting here are either pastors or elders.  I am just a deacon, but as such, it strikes me that my duty would call me to seek for a better use of the funds that the people in my congregation have given to the work of the Lord.  As you may know, most of the money given to Ministry Shares is distributed to outstanding, Biblically correct causes.  Unfortunately, a portion of our Ministry Shares is used to fund the Banner.  Knowing this, I cannot in good conscience help but bring it to the attention of our council and congregation that a portion of their offering to the Lord is being used for such purposes.  

What is the solution?  Do we discontinue our support of Ministry Shares?  I would say no, do not throw the baby out with the bath water.  But I do propose that our council, along with others throughout the denomination, call for an end of financial support for the Banner.  To continue to provide financial support for a publication that publishes such articles is wrong and is something that we need to end.  I urge you all to go to your respective councils and initiate the process of having each classis demand that Synod take this into consideration.

Lee Haak, Lynden, WA 



Eric, I trust that you mean well by quoting the Heidelberg.  But you are not helping, brother, by preaching at me, as if I don’t know my catechism.  Your post assumes what in this blog is under discussion, namely whether or not cohabitation is a form of unchaste behaviour.  Furthermore, it frustrates me that by implication you accuse me of promoting such behaviour.  Please read my article again.

In it I state that I am against hooking up, that the goal of sexual intercourse is not for the guy to show he is a stud (viagara), but to deepen the intimacy of the love relationship, that sex should only occur between two mature people in love with one another, who are committed to one another.  How can that be taken to mean that I promote unchaste behaviour?

And Eric, the Church DOES exist to bring young people into the pew, to keep them there and to nurture them to become adult members of the Church.  If we don’t do that, then decades from now the CRC will be a church of old people only.  Now, how is that for a slippery slope argument?


Doug, I will send you a copy of one of my books when I am home again.  ( I am at my cabin for the summer).  The other book you can get by just googling. But you are right, it should be and is, I think, clear from my article what my views are.


One more thing: I think it is beneath you to suggest that my views can be compared to promoting the practice of pedophilia.  As a trauma counselor, I have spent a good part of my life as a therapist helping victims of childhood sexual abuse.


So, next you ask, why not allow pre-emerging teenagers to have sex too, as an implication of my position.  Good question, as a mentor of young people I get asked that question quite often by teenagers. My answer to them is:  “Well, judge for yourself, are you mature enough as a person to handle such a committed personally intimate relationship?”  And after some discussion they themselves usually decide that they are not.  I think that these two criteria, maturity and committedness (there may be others)  make it possible for us to gauge whether the sexual behaviour of someone before the wedding (or years after the wedding) is responsible sexual behaviour.  It is often hard in marriage to act maturely and to stay committed.


Next, you argue that young people who are still in school in their twenties should get married as your kids did, rather than cohabit.  You state that financial hardship should be no problem because the parents can help out.  However, an average student can easily accumulate a student loan debt of  $30000 or more.  And if (s)he marries another student with the same  debt level their combined debt level can be $60000 or more when they graduate.  You must be well off!


But financial insecurity is not the most important reason students I talk with cite for waiting with marriage and family until their thirties.  They cite many other insecurities that go deeper.  To explain that I have to talk about a fundamental difference between how the younger generation and the older generation  (that’s many of us) view the world of today.


I find it remarkable that so many of the discussants in this blog (the older generation) are so sure that they are right and have God, the bible and the Reformed view on their side.  It also totally astounds me that they have so many answers, and so few doubts, to the point where they seem to have no problem calling a brother in Christ  (that would be me) who may not agree with their viewpoint, so many nasty names.

I have to tell you that it does not feel good to be at the receiving end of so many unfounded accusations.  It does not testify to the fruits of the Spirit I my Book.


But the reason I mention these things is that the young people I talk with do not act like that.  They are not at all sure that the way they look at life is the only right one. They are much more willing to listen to others who may differ from them.  They have few answers but ask many penetrating questions.  They ask, for example:


Why is it that 50% of all marriages in North America fail?  Or, closer to home, why couldn’t my parents be mature enough and committed enough to keep their marriage together?


Why is it that we in North America are so obsessed with buying and owning stuff, and pronounce our wealth a blessing from God, while in another continent people are starving?


Why is it that we keep on polluting our environment while recent natural disasters clearly tell us that we need to mend our ways?


Why do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?


Why is it that religion is such a divisive force in the world while it should be helping people to unite and form community?


Why does the world do nothing to stop a dictator from murdering his own people?


Why are there so many politicians in Washington and Ottawa and so few statesmen and women.  Why is there gridlock and why is politics today so polarized


Why does the church not speak out more clearly about these issues?


These are some of the questions the young people I talk with are asking.  And they are not just talk.  They put their life where their mouth is.  They go on mission trips, they volunteer, they befriend the homeless.  They take care of their bodies.  They recycle and exercise.  They downsize their possessions, etc., etc.  These twenty-something emerging adults are not irresponsible young people.  But they are cautious about the world that is handed to them and are taking their time finding their place in it.


Finally, beyond all that, this discussion about Sex, Intimacy and the Young Person has now turned into a debate about whether cohabitation and marriage are mutually exclusive.  And the debate has mostly focused on me:  Is Harry van Belle Reformed? No! Is he scriptural? No! Does he lead young people astray? Yes!  But who am I other than one discussant voicing his opinion?  I could be wrong, you know.  I have been known to be wrong a few times in my life.  And I am sure that there are people who are wiser than I am, who have better insight into this issue than I have.  They should now speak up.  As for me, I think it is time for me to shut up and watch the discussion from the sidelines.  Besides, this blogging thing is time consuming!  And I have other things to do.


May God bless all of you as you continue the discussion.

Bob De Moor.....  The question is when and if you will ever will "draw the line"?

Harry, I am a bit amused by some of your comments, such as intimating that because you are a therapist, one should automatically assume you would not promote the wrong things.  It reminds me of how many marriage counselors are themselves divorced, and how many young social workers do not have children, yet wish to advise those who do. 

You also made a comment that seemed to distinguish older people from younger people in this discussion, as if they live in different realities.  For someone who is "emeritus" you should know better.  Every older person has been young once, and usually they remember it quite vividly.  Besides, the sixties was the era many of them grew up in, and that period was more revolutionary than today, in many ways, including sexual behaviour, although we are experiencing the second and third generation results of that decade even today. 

Erics quoting the Heidelberg may not help you, but it likely helps many others, so it is good.

You mention the high number of marriages that fail.  You must know that the number is higher for those who first "cohabit" before official marriage.   Wouldn't that suggest to you that cohabitation is simply not as committed, not totally committed?   If it was committment, then there should be no difference in the number of marriage failures between those who first cohabit and those who don't. 

What I find interesting, Harry, is the lack of logic in some of your comments.  For example, financial security... why would a student debt magically be less serious for those who cohabit compared to those who get married?  What's the difference?  It seems totally irrelevant to me. 

The questions young people ask are good legitimate questions, but many of the questions you raise are simply not relevant to cohabiting or premarital sexual activity.  What does buying stuff have to do with it, or feeding the hungry in the third world, or dictators, or poor vs rich, or polarized politics?  This is a diversion from the issue under discussion.  Do diversions indicate a lack of comfort and confidence with the issue at hand? 

Your question as to whether cohabitation and marriage are mutually exclusive can be answered this way.  No, they are not mutually exclusive;  you can repent and get married after cohabitation.  Furthermore, if you do so, you will reduce the problems inherent in cohabitation, which is mainly related to a definate lack of committment.  And if you do so, you will reduce the practical problems associated with unfaithfulness and adultery.  But, you cannot on the one hand say that cohabitation is marriage, and on the other hand say that it is not marriage.  Being half married is like being half pregnant, or being almost pregnant; it doesn't work.  Cohabitation is much like getting married with the idea of divorce already as your insurance policy in your mind and in your back pocket;  that is simply a lack of committment. 

There are many  young people who are today striving for purity in order to honor their Lord and Saviour.   There are many who are leaving promiscuous lifestyles to live as virgins, in order to rededicate their lives or commit their lives for the first time to Christ.  I know of a man who had been living with his woman for years, and then became a Christian.  One of the first things he did was to separate from his woman for a time, so that he could properly marry her and start over with a real unconditional committment under Christ.   And this is not an uncommon practice for new Christians.  They know what the bible is asking of them.  What God wants.   

It is good of you to admit that you might be wrong on this issue.  I say this gently as one can on paper.   The issue is not to beat you down, sorry if it seems that way.  The issue is how do we serve our Lord in our daily lives, making our committments to one another, living as children of light rather than darkness, living honestly, not deceitfully, living whole-heartedly, not half-heartedly. 

It is difficult to take seriously the other questions about poverty, pollution, dictators, divorce, politics, environment,from a christian perspective,  when young people first fail to take responsibility for committing their own lives and obeying God who owns all these other issues as well.  They are not solving the divorce problem, for example, by not getting married but acting like they are, since all the problems of divorce (insecurity, breakups, unfaithfulness) will still be part of their lives as well. 

Many young people understand this very well.   It is the responsibility of those who are older to set a good example, and to teach them the ways of the Lord, not to teach them the ways of the world. 

I told my husband that every time I open The Banner I feel like I've entered some parallel universe I don't recognize. This issue was the same experience.

Sex is a good gift from God, but it is not necessary for living a full Christian life of devotion to Christ. The idea that men and woman cannot control themselves is an insult to the untold number of believers who have gone before us and have devoted themselves to following Christ without a marriage and without sex or have remained chaste well into their twenties, thirties and beyond.

My husband was 33 and I was 29 when we married. We were both virgins. We've now been married sixteen years and we have never, ever regretted waiting. It is possible. It is good. It's called making a decision and sticking with it.

Instead of expecting young people to exhibit self-control (one of the fruits of the Spirit), Christian leaders are looking for ways to excuse them. Instead of focsuing on how much they can devote themselves to their own spiritual growth and serving others, we give them articles about whether oral sex is okay.  This is seriously messed up.

Rather than excusing behavior the Bible clearly tells us is wrong, we should be asking them how much sexually charged TV they are watching. How often they are watching sexually charged movies. Listening to sexually charged music. Reading sexually charged materials. Excuse me for being so simple, but how many people struggle with these issues but are unwilling to remove from their lives the very things that feed the problem? It's not rocket science to figure out that if men and women are watching people have sex on TV and in movies and on their computer that they are going to struggle with sex. Turn the stuff off.

We have couples that date for years, finally get engaged, and then think they need a year and a half or two years to plan a wedding. Again, they are setting themselves up for all sorts of struggles that aren't necessary. We should be teaching our children that if you aren't prepared to be married, you aren't prepared to be in a serious relatioship.

It boggles my mind that people think this is a complicated issue. It's only complicated because people are unwilling to accept the clear meaning of Scripture.


Intense discussion. "Shouldn't the times we live in dictate what the Bible says today?"

"I fear that the church is playing catch-up in defense of a status quo that no longer exists instead of leading the next generation with biblically grounded insights. You may well differ with me on what those principles should be." One key area that Harry leads us to discuss - although one "may well differ with me on what those principles should be," he writes, is the authority and interpretation of the Bible. In other words, where do we 'shop' or look for for principles in this area of life?

Harry says that the principles ought to come from the Bible. If the church considers that the Scripture remains the final authority for the "biblically grounded insights" invited to give to the young adults, then the Scripture, what it says, is going to be the crux of the issue. Harry seems to challenge the historical or the current ('status quo,' in his words) interpretation of the Bible on this topic.

The grounds for this challenge is mainly the "times" young adults "live in." In other words, the question proposed is: Shouldn't the times we live in dictate what the Bible says today?

Do we have the cultural lenses on when we take a look at the Bible? Do we really interpret the Bible and its message through the lenses of our times? Because if we do, we'll definitely stop "playing catch-up in defense of a status quo that no longer exists."

I could be misreading Harry, but I wonder, is this the key question posed by Harry's article?       

Thank you for posting this.

Harry: Responding to yours to me ...

I'll read the book when I get it. Thanks for sending.

Respectfully, I'm going to suggest you need to resolve to thicken your skin Harry. For many CRC parents and grandparents, not to mention CRC young people, you are really tossing out hand grenades and expecting everyone to stay completely calm. That isn't going to happen, and frankly I'd be concerned if it did.

I don't at all think "discussants in this blog" are calling you "so many nasty names." I think they are, like me, mostly upset that the publication which is the only real spokes-publication for their church is printing an article they believe is thoroughly unbiblical (and unreformed), and certainly outside the CRCNA position, and putting that out for an on-line "kitchen table" discussion.

I don't mean this derogatorily (really), but I don't much care that Harry Van Belle says what you say in your article -- but I do care that the Banner sees fit to publish it.  That, I think, is outrageous.  Sure, that also means I don't at all agree with your perspective, but the core of my concern -- and I believe that of others -- is about what the Banner has done, not that Harry Van Belle thinks what you apparently do.

Let me suggest this as well.  I think your article would be far more appropriate for The (CRC) Network, or even one of the non-official e-groups like Voices (a Yahoo group).  Those forums are more the kitchen table that DeMoor suggests the Banner is than is the Banner.

As I've suggested before, I have no cause to doubt your intentions because I don't know you well enough, but I think your perspective on this subject matter is unbiblical (not merely unreformed).  Beyond that, I regard your logic -- biblical concerns asided -- as seriously flawed in a number of ways.  Still, I'm not intending to call you "nasty names."

To the merits of your responding post to me:

I truly don't believe the logic of your perspective is any more biblically defensible than an argument in favor of pedophilia.  There are serious people our there who seriously defend peophilia so long as adults don't "force themselves" on children, so long as it is done with love and respect.  Your perspective appeals to a couple of elements, namely, citing to how modern contraceptives change things and how the committment required to have sex is something other than that the committment required to marry.  If you can't see how appealling to these two principles is quickly seen by readers as an arguments in exchange for the authority of Scripture, then I question whether you really understand how most CRC'ers actually view Scripture.

As to the financial argument, I really don't understand your response and will stand by what I earlier suggested.  In most ways, living married is less expensive than living as two singles.  For example, only one rent is required (one of the biggest expense items the couple has).  Other than the concern I expressed that too many CRC parents cut finances to marriage children when they wouldn't if they were single, I would argue being married actually HELPS from a financial perspective, and that your argument fails entirely on this score.

I understand even less your "arguments" about reasons other than financial security.  Yes, there are young people who wonder about all kinds of things: their parents marriage failure (or success), North Americans buying too much stuff, pollution, war, corrupt governments, political gridlock, etc etc etc.  Sound likes the 1960's to me.  I'm not sure what exactly is so "new under the sun" here. And how would the church blessing having sex outside marriage help address these concerns?

As to young people wondering "why ... the church does not speak out more clearly about these issues," I would suggest that the church (as organism) speaks out much more on these issues than it used to, but that the church's voice is "scattered" (as Jim Skillin suggests in his book, The Scattered Voice).  When I was younger, the church (whether as orgnanism or as institute) said much less.  Should I therefor have delayed marriage even more?  I honestly don't see the connection between 'young people wondering about things' and their 'need to have sex without being married.'

Maybe your logic is better expressed in your book, which I shall read when I get it.  In the meantime, don't assume this is about you Harry.  It's about young CRC'ers who have themselves adhered to standards you are suggesting they shouldn't have had to; it's about parents who are concerned about what the denominational structures are teaching and/or suggesting to their kids; it's about CRC'ers who wonder why their denomionational structures are so at odds with their understanding of what it means to be CRC; it's about members who believe the Banner should be, well, a "banner" that tells others what the CRCNA is all about.

Finally, you suggested in an earlier post that you were a "fringe" CRCer.  Maybe not, but your position on this subject is fringe.  Way fringe.  It just is, and my suggesting that is so isn't calling you a nasty name.  You have every right to be fringe (whether you think it is fringe or not), but others have every right to protest and push back against what they perceive as your fringe position when it is printed in the Banner.

Harry Van Belle suggests that sex is not for "hooking up" but for a "committed relationship." There is a word for "committed relationship." That word is MARRIAGE. Anything less than marriage is not a full commitment. Defending cohabitation if it includes "commitment" is doublespeak. Cohabitation is by definition sharing a home and a bed without sharing a lifelong commitment. The Catechism calls this unchastity. Scripture calls it fornication.


My good friend, I am really disappointed in this statement you made:  “the church should change its stance on premarital cohabitation, recognizing that such relationships enable single adults to respond in a responsible way to the times they live in.” 


Please do your research, as I have as a professor who teaches Family Communication.  The social science research demonstrates that cohabitation is not a good option.  It is not a good predictor of marital stability.  Abuse is more prevalent in cohabiting relationships.  It weakens the institution of marriage.  Much more could be added here.  For an example of research done on cohabitation, check out the research of Barbara Defoe Whitehead, co-director of the national Marriage Project at Rutgers University. 

Beyond the research, I do not see how you can defend your position as biblical.  In fact, you have not even tried to present a biblical perspective.


I absolutely do not believe "the CRCNA should sanction the the sexual relationship, sans marriage, of "emerging adults". I believe that comment to be totally unbiblical. And also, since I stepped in to comment, just let me also say that I feel the Banner and it's articles are doing more harm than good. Remember, Satan will always use something 'good' (the Banner) and deceitfully turn it for his use.

This is why tomorrow's theology must be the theology found in scripture. 

Harry Van Belle asks : We say single people should not engage in sex—period. But what exactly do we consider premarital sex? Where do we draw the line?

Christ answers in Matt. 5: Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shall not commit adultery.  But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.  

Christ drew a line: it is a sin to look with lust at a person to whom you are not married - because that person's body does not belong to you.  It belongs to their spouse or future spouse.  Sex outside of marriage is a form of theft.   So many young people think of virginity in terms of something that is theirs to give away, it is not yours to do with as you wish, it belongs to your future spouse.  

Marriage was instituted to us by God in Gen. 2. Gen. 2 says a man will leave his father and mother and cleave unto his WIFE and the two will become one flesh. Anything less than marriage is adultery and a picture of idolatry.  Marriage is a committed relationship yes, and also an illustration of Christ and his church.  Christ is committed to his church, committed enough to die for it.  A man is to love his wife as his own body, just as Christ loved the church,  and a wife to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ.  Yet, we speak of sex as though it is divorced from this illustration.  Everyone seems to think of sex in terms of recreation instead of procreation - especially with the culture's acceptance of legalized abortions and homosexual marriage (which is a distortion of the marriage illustration)- but sex is meant chiefly for procreation.   (Gen. 1)  The congregation of believers grows through the union of a man and his wife, and Christ and his church.  

Lastly Mr. Van Belle asks: Should the church decide this question? Is the church competentto decide?

If the church isn't competent to decide, then let that be a dismal mark against her.  We are told that scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  And scripture is clear on this issue.  1 Cor. 5 rebukes a church for not giving an appropriate response to sexual immorality among its members.  Our churches need to step up and discipline, not change to fit the culture. Culture is faith externalized, or faith lived out.  Our culture is no longer a Christian culture.  Only .5% of American young people (ages 18-25) hold a Christian worldview.  Instead of saying it's time to go with the flow, our pastors, elders, and fathers need to be as an island; standing firm, grounded in scripture, keeping our families safe from the cesspool of licentious behaviour in the world around us.