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 (36)

Comments

I find one of the saddest things about this article's publication is the pairing of the two.  Ms. Harmon has written a very good piece, both in its advice to singles and in its challenge to the Church to understand better those whose vocation is to singleness, but all the attention is sucked away by Professor Van Belle's considerably less worthy piece.  I find that most unfortunate.

Even as we find fault with the BANNER for publishing the latter, we should welcome and encourage the publication of articles like the former.

An interesting article by Derek Rishmawy about a speech made on this subject by Tim Keller.   "patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture/2013/04/who-are-you-sleeping-with-my-conversation-with-timothy-keller"   He is basically saying that revival in the church cannot take place, until we find a way to deal with this issue. 

I shared the following letter with Bob de Moor, who encouraged me to post it here.

 
The July 2013 issue of the Banner has done a disservice to the denomination by printing the article entitled “Where Do We Draw the Line.”  Containing only vague allusions to Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, the article does not demonstrate a serious attempt to understand biblical guidelines. Rather, it defaults to a poorly reasoned sequence of personal opinion statements that, if taken seriously, will prove detrimental to Christian living.  Articles such as this undermine the credibility of Christian leadership in our denomination and complicate the already formidable responsibility of parents and church leaders to provide guidance within a culture that is largely opposed to God’s Word. According to the lead editorial in the same issue (p. 9) articles may be printed  “provided they are within the bounds of Scripture, don’t directly advocate against the doctrines taught in the creeds and confessions, and remain reasonable and respectful.”  In my opinion, Van Belle’s article fails on all three counts.  It is too bad that the editor did not know where to draw the line on this one.

William T. Koopmans

I would echo Eric Verhulst's comment that one of the harms done by publishing the Van Belle article is that Chelsea Harmon's article, one I would characterize as appropriate for CRCNA kitchen table discussion, has not played the (positive) role in that kitchen discussion that it might have.

Indeed, there are many good articles published by the Banner.  It baffles me that the Banner would so often choose to do that which causes so many CRCNA members to dump the entire magazine upon receipt.  The Banner's repeated choices in that regard persuade me these decisions are not about "playing it safe" (as the recent editorial claims) but about a relative few trying to be a top-down influence in the denomination for the purpose of re-forming (no pun intended) the CRCNA in a different likeness.

Ummmm.... I'm sorry in advance everyone, but I can't resist on this rant. This is not "kitchen-table" talk among CRC adherents anymore than a debate between a Creationist and an Atheist might be.

Co-habitation? Why would the Banner post this? Editor Bob, you screwed up. Why not quibble over views that are actually warranted based on Scripture?

I am dumbfounded. Are the statistics alone not enough to show the rediculousness of this position? Did mixing paganism with Yahweh work for the Israelites? I imagine people will defend this author and others like them and say they are not deserving of all backlash they get.... not sure about that one. I will only suggest that if I ever publically say something so contrary to the Word of God, I sincerely hope that people love me enough to riot outside my door in an effort to bring me back into the fold.

I love talking about sex but let's be clear about the Biblical views here. The stand in this article is atrocious. Years ago I was actually forced to debate the point that masturbation is wrong in a Christian University (against the professor)...just further evidence that so many people have enough God to feel saved, but not nearly enough to recognize sin.

I hope that my zeal has not caused my mouth to say anything that would embarrass my saviour. Never before have I seen a denominational magazine that so clearly presents views contrary to the denominational belief. The tyranny of the minority I suppose?

NOTE: I would love to talk about either sexuality or masturbation with anyone who disagrees with my views. 

I once read an article, which I believe was written by Bob De Moor. The article was advice to people aspiring to be pastors or something of that sort and one of his points was "Resist the urge to come up with something new."

At the time I was floored by that statement. What a powerful truth for academic young people like myself wanting to find some new angle on the gospel. Perhaps those who screen Banner articles should take the same advice. There's no such thing as a new gospel, but there will always be new heresies. Or, said differently: there is only one angle at which a pin will balance upright, but an infinite number of angles at which it falls.

This article by Harry smells strongly of the latter.... but I suppose I'm probably preaching to the choir.

God bless you Chelsey, I do not envy the misrepresentation you or your article may receive by wrongful association.

Well said!!!

I did not receive the paper version of the Banner, I can only hope that this article was nowhere near the kids section of the magazine....heaven forbid kids get these ideas from the culture AND the church.

Sorry "Well said!!!" in response to William Koopman's letter.

In response to Chelsey's article: 

I'm not sure I agree with point #2 "Be yourself....don't be afraid to explore how you are a sexual being." In a culture that bathes in sexual sin daily, I would caution that "being myself" is what got me to the point of crying out to God in desperation. It is not what's going to help me.

Far better advice that "be yourself" would be "be who Jesus is." I suspect that's what Chelsey means, I only bring this distinction up because there is a lie in this day and age that says "my feelings and thoughts are the most valid evidence of who I am." Unfortunately that is not the case. God's feelings and thoughts about me are far more valid than my own.

The lies of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, fear, loneliness, (and sexual confusion of all kinds) come in part from considering too much of my thoughts and feelings and not dwelling enough on God's.

This article reminds me of a story I read about two people in a garden, where a third, who had a distorted view of the creation said, "Did God Really Say...?", and the rest was downhill from there.

Van Belle writes: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.

You never have been to watch who are coming to the abortion clinics. If it was true what you cllaim to be true abortion clinics would have no clients. Th sad thing is we see girls coming to the abortion clinic with shirtd  showing they attend any one of the Christian school in our area including Calvin College South Christian high , Grand Rapids Christian High and Cornerstone. What you are advocating will increase the number of abortion sharply. Your theory does not hold true. It is a big fat lie. A falsehood!!  You are not promoting a Christian world and life view.

So this is what passes for biblically informed, theologically astute, kingdom advancing scholarship these days? Since my early days in ministry, I have been hearing about Billy Graham's description of the CRCNA: a sleeping giant. Note to Billy: the CRC isn't asleep, its comatose. All our talk about the Spirit moving is mere whistling in the dark.

 

Isn't it ironic that we must turn to a devout Roman Catholic named Christopher West, author of "At the Heart of the Gospel" and "Fill These Hearts" to get a biblically informed, theologically astute and kingdom advancing frame of reference on the issue of mariage, human sexuality and the appropriate boundaries for intimacy.  

We ought not kid ourselves, the issue of 'boundaries' is the pinch point. Violating boundaries produces guilt. We don't want to feel guilty so we believe that removing the boundaries is the way to go. If truth be told, all of this is a run up to full scale campaign to get in step with the rest of main-line, and similarly declining denominations regarding the issue of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. This is an excercise is laying more groundwork for that agenda. Nothing new here. The same lines of argumentation were used in the Netherlands 2-3 generations ago.

This is not why we're losing our youth. The youth of the CRCNA, like the youth in general are looking for authenticity with regard to the faith once for all handed down to the saints. For way too many of them, its to be found elsewhere at the moment. Tragic!  

Focus on the Family is coming out with "The Family Project" shortly. I suggest we let them frame this discussion. At least they can be relied upon for a biblically informed perspective.  

Lambert Sikkema raised some very good points.   In light of that comment, and as a result of some discussions I've had, I realized that perhaps we have let Chelsea off too easily (probably because of the nearness of Harry's comments, which seem to be more obviously wrong).   But thinking like Harry's comes from somewhere;  it doesn't just pop up randomly out of the blue.  So has Chelsea's comments been not adequately evaluated?   What if her ideas and concepts are precursors to what Harry is thinking. 

A couple of comments made earlier about what Chelsea has said include:   1. Andy Luchies highlighted Chelsea's comment about "being yourself...", and said that this idea, to be yourself without qualifiers, is what gets many people in trouble.   So, which self?  The old sinner or the new saint?  The prevalent idea being so predominantly proposed these days is the one of "self-esteem", how important and significant everyone is.   How what you feel is more important than objective standards, or than what others may feel about you.  Isn't this a precursor to the  idea that we can change scriptural definitions of marriage, or that our view on cohabitation is more important than what society or God's church might have to say about it?  (However, Chelsea did comment that "it feels good" is never justification for doing something.   Which is a good comment.) 

2.  Chelsea mentioned that in the new heaven and new earth we would still be sexual beings.  While this may be true, the impact of our sexuality will be a lot different than it is now, since there will be no  marriage anymore.  Presumably no more temptations associated with sexuality, which is hard for us to imagine.  But which will be enjoyable in our desire to serve and love our Lord and Saviour. 

3.  It may be an overstatement to say that our experience of sexuality isn't something to be conquered or mastered.   Experiences of sexuality vary dramatically from person to person.  In many cases, those experiences are sinful or associated with sin.   If someone is addicted to sex, as their experience of sexuality, or if someone associates sexuality with conquest, or dominance, or seduction, or pornography, or skin-deep outward appearance, maybe some of those experiences should be mastered.  While sexuality and sexual experiences can be a great gift of God, they can also be perverted and sinful.  Our joy in Christ's saving redemption should and will  make us treat this gift, as a gift, and not as a license for immorality (Jude 1).  Just like mastering our appetite for food, so we should master our attitude and experience of our sexuality.  Sexuality as a gift becomes something we can enjoy when we use it (experience it) well, but it can become a treacherous despot when it masters us. 

And another thing: How long before we see curriculum in our Christian Schools purporting to assist our covenant children in coming to discern their real gender identity? The province of Ontario's Department of Education seems to think there are possibly six genders. At least they did in 2010. California is contemplating the possibility of three or more genders and has stipulated that children must be allowed to decide for themselves each of the options suit them....we're talking about elementary school age children here.  Perhaps Faith Alive publications could help all of us but especially our youth explore their true gender and sexual identity. 

 

 

Over the years the CRC (as well as other churches) has changed due to cultural influences.  Some of these have been minor, such as dress codes, men no longer standing throughout the congregational prayer; others major, such as a more tolerant acceptance of divorced members.  Someone cynically said to me years ago, “We have no divorced members in the CRC.  We just excommunicate them.”

Not that many years ago, elders would visit church-going couples who, although they had not been living together, found themselves pregnant and wanted to be married in the church.  A stern admonition would be administered by the leaders of the church who themselves, perhaps only by luck, had not ended up in the same situation.

Not many years before that, I have been told, couples, who were with child before marriage,  were forced to shame themselves publicly, in front of the whole congregation by confessing this “sin”.  Never mind that the rest of the congregation had undoubtedly transgressed in other ways, the salaciousness of “sexual sin” was singled out, as were the couples who found themselves in this situation.

In all the above-mentioned examples, the church was convinced it was following the will of God.

Whether we like it or not, young people are choosing to live together in a relationship         in many churches, although there are those members who avow that “this doesn’t happen in our church”.  Van Belle’s article may have been rather explicit and may not have a valid solution to the situation but he does not claim to have the final answer on this. 

However, the judgmental and pietistic pronouncements in many of the responses amaze me.  As a woman in her sixties, born and raised in the CRC, I find that as I grow older, I don’t have all the answers anymore.  I do know that our young people need to be welcomed in compassion, understanding and guided in a non-judgmental way.  Suggesting that they marry at age 20 and continue to receive financial help from their parents seems a simplistic and unrealistic solution to me.  Many people do not find their spouse until later in life, nor are all parents financially able to support adult children.

Doug van de Griend’s suggestion that Van Belle’s article would be on par with an article about incest makes me physically ill!  Sexual deviancy can never be compared to two people living together, whether you and/or the church approves of the latter or not. 

I have only one text to quote:  “Judge not lest you be judged …”- Matthew 7:1

 

"Whether we like it or not, young people are choosing to live together in a relationship"

Okay....I'm not sure what this has to do with the CRC changing views that are based in scripture...people have been sinning since the garden, SO WHAT? 

"Suggesting that they marry at age 20 and continue to receive financial help from their parents seems a simplistic and unrealistic solution to me."

How is this simplistic or unrealistic? I moved out of my parents house at age 19, got married at 22 (still a virgin on our wedding night, by the way) and haven't moved back in with my parents or asked for money in the last 9 years of marriage. I'm know I'm an old-timer at 31, but kids can't have gotten THAT much weaker in the last 5 years or so...

But perhaps what is more illogical about your plea not to be judged is that you're suggesting condoning a sinful behaviour is somehow "better" than being unrealistic in our expectations? It's like people today don't really trust that God has given us these boundaries for our own good!! If the kids these days want to burn themselves in the fire of premarital sex, that is their choice, but heaven forbid we condone it as well. It's the same reasoning a parent would have who says "I let my kids snort cocaine in my house because I'd rather have them do drugs in a safe environment." The action itself is harmful, thats why God says no.  It's like these people are saying "Oh, come on you old coots, lighten up and let these kids have some fun!!" ...not something I found in scripture yet. 

 By the way, the mistakes of the past don't justify the mistakes of the future.  

I think I should probably stay away from these forums. My emotive side get's the best of me and these discussions are not probably very fruitful unless done in a "one-on-one" dialogue over a meal somewhere.

I've had several friends who were so tempted by the idea of premarital sex being okay that they went down that road and were hurt terribly when the relationships didn't go as planned. I see the clarity of scripture when it says "wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction." If we quibble over issues like this, is there anything that's non-negotiable? Is there any seasoning left in our salt?

Let's follow the logical conclusions of "kids are going to have sex and live together so we might as well just accept it and support it."

Some kids are going to drink underage. We should help them in breaking the law so they do it safely. We should provide alcohol and time to practice so they know how to handle their liquor. We should definitely have safe locations for them to indulge. Maybe it should be a new form of hospitality that we promote within our churches! Rotate homes for safe youth drinking nights! That way the ones who get drunk won't get caught and won't drive drunk.

Some kids are going to overeat to the point of being gluttonous. Churches should set up free snack pantries so these kids will always have access to plenty of junk food. We would not want them to be tempted to steal in order to support their overeating.

Some kids are going to experiment with or even regularly use drugs. As Christians we really should make sure they are safe when they break the law to do this. We need to provide safe dealers, safe drugs, safe needles/paraphernalia, and safe locations. Maybe our youth group rooms should be opened up on a regular basis each week so students will be able to safely indulge their flesh in the use of illicit drugs.Think of the outreach potential!

Some kids are going to develop a bad habit of lying. But we really need to do our best as believers to make sure they don't suffer the consequences of their falsehoods. So we need to set up classes and publish a curriculum that will help them learn how to lie carefully so they don't get caught or suffer any negative consequences. We can provide training in ethical lying and how to effectively shift blame in case someone catches them in a lie.

Some kids are going to look at pornography or even become addicted to it. Perhaps the church should lead the way in developing Christian pornography. We can make sure everyone is wearing a cross and there are hymns playing in the background. We can provide safe places for them to indulge in pornography and obtain it. We could even open up pornography lending libraries so people don't have to spend money on porn and they can have more money to give to missions!  Everyone wins!

 

 

 

I think it's time to stop funding the banner through ministry shares so there is some accountibility.  Subscription based would require articles that are helpful.  Abstract nonsense causes distractions from the focus of seeking God's Kingdom.  Let's focus on the many great ministries the church is involved in.  Man's "wisdom" is foolishness & always will be in light of who God is.

My husband and I were horrified to read Harry Van Belle's piece, "Where Do We Draw the Line?" in the July issue of the Banner.  

First of all, there is so little Biblical basis given for his views in favor of premarital sex (vague references aside).  While I was in seminary, I wrote a paper for my New Testament class which surveyed what the New Testament teaches about sexuality.  While it is true that the culture in which the Bible was written was different than ours, and that premarital sex is not addressed as specifically as we might wish, I don't believe that Dr. Van Belle is making any sincere effort to wrestle with the Bible here.  Many passages condemn sex outside of the confines of marriage, command holiness, and praise ONLY intercourse within the bounds of marriage.  

As to the question "how far is too far?" this is a separate discussion, but for any believer who cares first to please God, the question should be where to safely draw the line to avoid falling into sin, rather than going as far as possible without technically having intercourse (Robbie Castleman addresses this in her book, True Love in a World of False Hope).  

VanBelle seems to merely be promoting his own views, which are not only unbiblical but don't seem to be based in the real world, which brings me to my second point.  I have been a counselor at our local Pregnancy Resource Center since 2003, and most girls and young women who walk in the door believe that they are "mature" and "committed" to whomever they have most recently had sex with.  The result is STD's, emotional pain, unplanned pregnancies, abortion, single teen mothers, and poverty.  The children suffer the most.  Even among older singles, many so-called "committed" relationships do not end in marriage... 50% of engagements are broken, if Josh McDowell's statistics in his book, Why Wait?, are to be believed.  Sex before marriage simply results in multiple sexual partners when relationships fail and the persons involved move on to the next relationship.

Waiting for sex until marriage involves self-control and dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit.  This may seem unrealistic to many adults today (who instead advocate safe sex) but the reality is that self-control in the area of personal sexuality is a fruit of the Spirit which must be practiced throughout a person's life, married or not.  The same need for self-control exists for the married person who is attracted to someone else, for the married woman tempted to read sexually explicit romance novels, or for the married man tempted to view internet pornography.  When a single person fails to learn the lesson of submitting his or her sexuality to God, the problem will follow him or her into marriage and throught the rest of his or her life.  Sexual purity is terribly difficult but possible, and essential, with God's power.

On a personal level... my immediate reaction to this article was that I should call the office of The Banner and make sure that I no longer receive this magazine in our home.  My oldest daughter, almost 9, will be old enough soon to pick up things like this and read them... and possibly take them at face value since they are written by a trusted authority.  My husband disagreed, saying that as long as we are members of a CRC church we need to stay abreast of what is happening in the denomination.  Neither my husband nor I grew up in the CRC--we both came to Christ and grew in our faith primarily through evangelical parachurch youth ministries.  When we first visited our current church, we were skeptical that a CRC church could be the right fit for us, but we were pleased when the church broke some of our stereotypes--it is truly evangelical, Bible-believing, and growing and we love our pastor.  But this article brings those doubts back and resulted in a serious discussion about whether or not the CRC is a place that our family can possibly stay.

Song of Solomon 2:4: ...His banner over us(me) is love

Let's try not to cross that very clear line drawn by our Lord in our feedback/comments.

I want to apologize to Chelsey for inadvertently misspelling her name as Chelsea.  Sorry about that. 

Harry Van Belle's article is unbiblical.  We need to ask God to limit the damage caused by having this worldly material in the Banner.

The pressure to conform to the world's thinking is already so very great.  God gave us His word and He gives us His Holy Spirit, so that our minds can focus on the mind of God.  The thinking of a Christian must not be in conformance with the world.  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2 a)

It is sad that this article was allowed to be published in The Banner. The decision to print this was unwise and illegitimate.

May God be with the leadership of our denomination, as they take the prudent steps that are now needed – to mitigate and curb the damaging fallout. This must include a comprehensive communication to the members of the CRC.

Dan Flikweert, 

Kitchener, Ontario

As a 26 yr. old man, and a Seminary student. I cannot help but put my 2 cents in on this topic. After reading the comments and both of the articles, I have to say that there are some good things that were brought up, and some negative things that need to be addressed.

First, I want to thank both of the writers for putting their opinions on paper. It is hard to put your ideas out there and watch them be ripped apart by your peers. I hope that this is a growing experience for all involved and I hope that this does not discourage you from writing.

Second, I would like to thank all those who have commented and questioned. Your input has given much food for thought and has shown me that there are those in the CRC that are willing to stand up when they see some things as detrimental or wrong.

Now, Ms. Harmon has written an article in hopes of promoting discussion. I believe she has done so, but has left many questions and doors open for people to discuss. She did not write this to be controversial, but to bring genuine discussion of a topic that has sorely needed it in my generation. Being honest, having integrity, and having empathy for those around us are standard Christian practices that we need to embody everyday. Ms. Harmon calls us back to such things with good purpose. By being empathetic, not apathetic, we are to live the Christian life fitting the one who has enlisted us.

Yet, I cannot overcome the thought that specific concerns that were brought up could have been flushed out a little more. For example, the mindset of some people, common conceptions people have about married and single people. I understand where many of the problems lie. Our depravity infects us to the core and we are constantly bombarded by the world and the devil. I have had similar situations. Being the oldest single male from my group of high school and college friends, I receive questions all the time. One recent misconception is that because I am unmarried and studying for the ministry, that I am secretly gay. I am shocked that such things would be suggested, but can see the social and cultural norms where these questions arise from. (By the way. I am not gay, I have had a girlfriend in the past and I hope the Lord will lead me to find a woman to experience the journey of life with.) But these situations are more common than many think. This area is another where older women need to be teaching the younger women to be Christian helpmeets to either God or a husband, and that the older men need to be training up the young men to be loving husbands and caretakers of the church. (Eph 5 gentlemen!)

Also, Professor Van Belle's article is, I agree, out of place. You do not need to "Proof-text" everything, but some biblical guidance is necessary. I see the societal and cultural impact in his article, but I see nothing in the way of biblical corrective. I see social norms, a redefining of cultural practice, and a cultural conditioning of the life of a believer. Technically, Prof. Van Belle has done nothing wrong. By "culturally conditioning" the situation of the bible and comparing it to the contemporary time, he has done nothing but what is in line with report 44.

However, this is a dangerous road we must tread. If the Bible, the Word of God, is to be our guide in this world, we must understand that it is inerrant. If our foundation crumbles, so does the house that is built upon it. By accepting what is going on in society as commonplace and having no moral qualms about the church needing to be involved in these young people's lives, Prof. Van Belle is trying to reconcile the two. Yet, he does so by equivocating and changing words that would otherwise be seen as offensive to the broader culture. Having a "committed relationship" does not justify things. How do you define such things? Marriage is clearly defined in Scripture as one man and one woman. There are certain blessings, and certain responsibilities granted to that relationship by divine decree. By circumventing this standing before God, we are granting responsibilities without the blessings of God. Doing anything without the blessing of God is foolhardy at best, and damnable at worst. (most of the time those go hand in hand) This cultural norm is another way mankind seeks to circumvent the law of God. We shake our fist at him and declare we will do it our way, while never seeing the pain we cause to him by denying who we were created to be and are loved to become.

Finally, I would ask all involved to look to scripture as a primary resource, not a secondary checklist. We are to flee from sin and run to the arms of our Savior and Father. Too many times I have seen those of my generation toe the line or stand on the cliff, only to fall in the next day. To this day, my non-Christian friends are trying to get me to hook up with a woman, or to compromise my beliefs by doing something contrary to what God's word says. We as Christians are to engage the world, not run from it. We are to run against what the world tells us to do and thrive while doing it. We are commanded by the one who made us. Shouldn't the creator know the instruction manual better than the creature?

Reading these articles gave me hope that the CRC is ready to tackle issues that are relevant and will be important to my kids when they grow up (20 years from now). Then I read the comments below and wanted to run for the exit. 15 years ago I left the CRC. I had just co-lead worship for a church service and was approched by a number of members and told that the worship music we had played had no place in the church and that I should leave if I wanted to play "that kind of music".  

4 years ago I returned.  I did this because I wanted my children raised in a reformed church. In my time attending churches and working at a Christian school which were more "evangelical" in nature (for lack of a better term), I found many of these Chrisitans use the bible to support their personal viewpoints, not form their personal viewpoints from the bible. Our faith, beliefs, and viewpoints are not static.  If they were, we would not need to read and study the bible at all. God did not write the bible in 'black and white'.  If He had, we would only have one denomination. It is crutial that we study, discuss, debate, and struggle with all issues that affect us - it is the only way we are going to grow as a church and as Christians. 

But in all this there is one thing to remember as well, and that is the main teaching of Jesus was "Love". I find most of the comments below not written in love, but in hate.

As far as the articles; As a man who was single till I was 38, I did not find anything wrong with Chelsey Harmon's article, it just would have not been helpful for me when I was single and struggling with lonliness and sexual desire. Harry Van Belle's article was 'bang on' and should have all of us going back to our bibles to find out what the scriptures say about marriage, intimacy, and sex. For the past 10 years I have been studying the bible and praying for wisdom to help me re-form my viewpoints on sex and homosexuality. This process is still ongoing, but I can say that once I left my preconceived bias at the door, my viewpoints began to change.

Even though it's been a couple of months since this article came out, I wanted to respond.  As a community health nurse, in a serious relationship, in my early 30s, I immediately was interested in this article. However, I was very shocked and disappointed to read the authors stance on sex before marriage. 

Perhaps, most difficult for me, is that, my boyfriend and I have a hard enough time staying abstinent until we get married, which we plan to do.  My boyfriend and I do love each other and are very committed.  There are many reasons, including biological ones, and love for each other, which make the decision very hard.  But our respect for the marriage covenant, and for sex so far have proven stronger.  It is not helpful to have the Banner's article now in my head, as a voice saying waiting is not needed..  and that it's not a big deal.  I need instead the Bible to be that voice in my head, to help me make right decisions.  This article has been detrimental to me as it clearly goes against scripture and God's view on sex and marriage.  I've been in committed relationships before, and thank God all the time, that I didn't engage in sex.  It would not have been helpful then or now, the same as I see now in engaging in sex with my loving boyfriend before we get married.  While I appreciate the Banner addressing sexuality, I hope that next time, instead of lowering the standards to "society," it encourages and values the difficult, and I hope God-honouring decisions I am trying to make.

The other issue is that is false information to suggest that young people now practice safe sex.  Rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections of the three most common STI's have been increasing since 1997, with chlamydia, the most common, increasing 71% since 2000 in Canada.  Sphyllis, which was had become very rare, now making a comeback, increasing 782% since 2000.  Clearly, there are many young adults not practicing safe sex.  As a community health nurse, I am so disappointing that the authours are perpetuating false information.  This is also a very good reason to support abstinence until marriage. 

As a 25-year-old single person who works in youth ministry, I can say with certainty that I have no desire to cohabitate before marriage.

Sex is meant to be a gift between married couples in the context of commitment. The entire point of Christian "cohabitation" would be to live together and have sex without that covenant commitment before God. In other words, it damages the sacred act which is meant to bind two people together exclusively and for the purpose of deep physical bonding.

Biologically speaking, I've read that sex is an act that awakens powerful emotional ties to another person. (I've also heard the heartache of girls I've mentored, who struggle with sexual choices they have made in the past.) If a man is not committed to me for life, and may break up with me, I do not want to give my heart so completely to him. That seems foolish and disrespectful to God's intention for sex. I would rather go my entire life without experiencing sex than try it outside of God's clearly stated, Biblical design. I am not "deprived" of anything if I choose to live according to God's principles of morality.

(Not to mention that research shows that cohabitation contributes to higher divorce rates.)

One of the many reasons that I love my God is because His wisdom is so far above the wisdom of the world. His plans for me are not evolving at the whim of (rapidly degrading) modern culture.

For those who believe Scripture should be the only advisory source on sexuality and marriage conduct, I would shutter to think you adopt it all as you personal moral code.  And if you don't adopt it all, what is the reason and what makes certain scriptural advice on the topic better than others?  Is it not all God's divinely inspired word?  Should we live in a society where a man can "pay his way out of rape" as described in Deuteronomy 22:28-29: "If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver.  He must marry the girl, for he has violated her.  He can never divorce her as long as he lives."  Have all of you who have had brothers pass away taken on his widowed wife as your own?  Did all our parents or grandparents adhere to the command given in Deuteronomy 24:5: If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him.  For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happines to the wife he has married."

It is hard to pick apart someone's articulated advice scripturally on the matter of sexuality and marriage.  Is polygamy tolerable?  Many topics or actions defendable in one part of scripture appear objectionable elsewhere.  I certainly use scripture as part of what makes up my moral code, but for it to be the entirety is narrow and circular in reason.  If taken as a whole, the Bible reflects that there are 2 sides to the story on many topics.  I disagree with polygamy despite the wisest man who ever lived - according to scripture - having practiced it better than most would ever try.  If we are to use scripture to admonish someone's beliefs or suggestions in an article, where do we begin and where do we draw the line?  Obviously, like all Christians, I have my favourite passages and verses.  But as an apologist, how do we possibly advise those outside the church or faith scripturally - on this matter -  when there are several scriptural passages that are so bothersome and/or endorse barbaric and revolting behaviour?

Really? You're going to use that kind of logic in a denomination that may be more theologically educated than any other? It's always been about the direction you're travelling in, not how close you can get to the cliff without falling off.

Cohabitation, like masturbation, pornography and any other number of sexual deviations is labelled as sin because it is not conducive to walking in purity, NOT because it's expressly condemned in the Bible in some verse. 

Proof-texting one verse at a time from the Old Testament will only get you confused in regard to what's right and what's wrong, when in doubt read the New Testament to get your sexual theology. Last I checked our fearless leader JC (Jesus Christ not John Calvin) and my good buddy Paul cover all the major points. You seem to read the Bible like it's merely a prescriptive manual for life instead of a descriptive cultural story of God's faithfulness for all humankind. Even Jesus said some OT laws weren't God's wishes (e.g. certificate of divorce).

 

Sorry Andy that my “kind of logic” is so inferior in our “theologically superior denomination” – I didn’t get the memo we are now the Holy Roman Catholic denomination, here and forevermore not to be questioned. Peculiar that there are 16 other Old Testament verses quoted within the comments thread, but mine are the first you contend. Must be, like so many parishioners in our infallibly “educated denomination”, when an Old Testament verse appeals to your understanding of Biblical truth, it becomes part of Christ’s New Testament fulfillment of the law. But when other OT passages are contentious, suddenly “Jesus said some OT laws weren't God's wishes”. When you and “your good buddy Paul” are done playing marbles and you think I’m finished polishing my golden John Calvin statue, maybe then you can reread my comment. After doing so, you’ll realize I’m not interested in how to frame a discussion amongst persons within our omnipotent denomination or our faith, but those outside. Because at the end of the day I do, like you, desire to share with others Scripture as “a descriptive cultural story of God's faithfulness for all humankind” – all humankind including those who don’t read the Banner or visit a CRC every Sunday. Those who are intimidated by Scripture as marginalizing and exclusive but have yet to be shown the gracious and inclusive message that is, was and continues to be our Saviour - who didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

My apologies, I never said that CRC theology shouldn't be questioned I was trying to establish the fact that some of your comments go against foundational Biblical teaching in terms of how to read the Bible. It has nothing to do with what denomination you're a part of. I try to stay off these threads but yours ended up in my inbox and unfortunately for me I had time to read and respond so I apologize if it appears I was targeting you specifically over other comments I may not have read.

I was trying to point out (probably not very clearly) that if you read the Bible consistently within a Christian framework of understanding. Individual verses are put in context and don't pose the issues you bring up about some laws being antiquated, others carrying over. 

If you're interested in talking with others outside of our denomination, why are you posting on the denominational magazine's website? I assumed you had questions about these old laws that you wanted answers to and I was surprised that those old laws were a valid arguing point for obscurity in the Bible's message on sexuality. 

I have met many people outside the church who don't like those old laws, but most people in the CRC (like yourself) should have teaching on how that is reconciled. I was trying to address you as a CRC member, I would have responded quite differently to an unbeliever.

 

I submitted this letter to "Letter to the Editor" today.

I have never written a letter to a magazine before but I guess there is a first time for everything.

On the Christian Reformed Church facebook page yesterday, the Board of Trustees of the Christian Reformed Church publicly expressed their disappointment in Banner editor, Bob DeMoor.  I am writing to you to express my disappointment in the Board of Trustees and to a greater degree our global church community.

Mr. DeMoor accepted and published two controversial articles in The Banner this summer.  Only one of them I have read by former King's Professor, Dr. Harry Van Belle titled, “Sex Intimacy and the Single Person – Where Do We Draw the Line?”.  Wow, who would have thought I would see this type of article in The Banner.  This is great.

Well, I wrote Mr. DeMoor a letter and I hope that for every disgruntled letter he received that he got one like mine to match it, acknowledging his courage to publish such an article in our church community.

It's time to get our head out of the sand and acknowledge that our reluctance to address or even discuss certain issues in the church is about fear.  Why so much fear?  Romans 8:31 - "What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (NIV)

We can have these discussions and like Dr. Van Belle says, lead "the next generation with biblically grounded insights".

It was not in God's plan for me to be a parent but if I was I would want my teenager or young adult to be reading about and discussing openly in a church community these types of issues.  I would want them to make smart, safe and informed decisions influenced by the life and principles of a man like Jesus.   On earth he did not hang out in the fellowship hall of the CRC church.  He was hanging out with the prostitutes and the tax collectors, the very people to whom we feel superior in this day.

A big part of the problem with this kind of issue is that we all have so much feeling about it regardless of what side of the issue we are on AND we all claim to know the will of God.  I will say right here that the very reason we need God's direction in our lives is because we DO NOT KNOW.

Furthermore our church communities will be stronger and richer in numbers if issues such as these are no longer labelled as “controversial”.

 

 

Nikki, there is nothing easier than publishing a controversial article in a magazine of which you are the editor.  If the controversy is big enough, then courage is not required.  And controversial topics are necessary and good, but in a Christian magazine, controversial articles ought to end up with a scriptural foundation.  Or they ought to be immediately countered with the controversial claims of scripture. 

You say, we DO NOT KNOW.  But we do know, provided we follow the scripture.  That is how we get God's direction in our lives.  Don't you think that it is the role of a christian magazine to provide scripturally grounded insights?   Don't you think that scripture is where we should go to find out how to live? 

Real controversy... how about eliminating Calvin College from denominational ties.  How about not requiring Calvin Seminary for our candidates?  How about not examining candidates for ministry, and how about providing the same pension plan for all crc staff, whether secretary, music director, preacher, missionary, denominational personnel?   How about requiring elders to preach?  How about requiring mutual accountability for all preachers and elders in terms of conquering their viewing of pornography?   How about having an adult baptism instead of merely a profession of faith?  How about requiring a public personal testimony from everyone who wants to be a church member or be baptized.  How about making a minimum half hour perday of personal devotions a requirement for any office bearer?  

How about a minimum moral standard for anyone who wishes to be a member, or wants their child baptized?  How about a minimum attendance standard for anyone who wishes to be a member, or an office bearer?   How about a minimum requirement for reconciliation before participating in Lord's Supper?  I understand that some churches have a 70 page document on beliefs, standards, and behaviour, which must be agreed to before becoming a member.  If you want to be controversial, here's some places to start. 

As Christians, we should be different than worldly culture.  Otherwise we are just trying to serve two masters, no matter how well we disguise it.  Ironically, in our promotion of "every square inch belongs to God", we have often followed worldly standards, whether it is in creation care, or moral behaviour.   We charge interest like everyone else, and we care for the same creation standards that GreenPeace promotes.  We create the same institutions that the culture around us has, and then make a few minor adjustments, and put the name "Christian" in front of it.   Eventually we join up with the secular institutions, whether credit unions, schools, disaster relief, or environmental causes.  Usually we join them because of economics, an area we are more reluctant to claim for God. 

In this particular case of sexual impurity, we look at what the world is doing, throw up our hands in resignation, and then find ways to justify our adopting their standards.  When we do so, we have no message, no truth, and no influence, and no impact on society at all.   The gospel of Christ becomes lost, a dim flicker, hidden under a metal pail of accomodation and defeat. 

Do not defend serving God less, but defend serving God more!

If we are christ followers, then "We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us"!!! 

I am a traditional Christian and have had sex before marriage. I think it's healthy to have sex, but am overridden with guilt because I'm an sinning. This cleared up a lot of things for me. Times have changed and I think when reading the bible I need to remember than just because god intended the world to be that way, doesn't mean he has the same view now. He may have intended a man to be with a woman but how do I know he didn't see the first same sex couple and think " wow I didn't think of that, they can be happy together and that's okay". He can't tell us these things so we have to interpret it how we see fit and find out own path. Thank you for this, you probably just saved my faith.

Some of my close friends visited to my house. We were supposed to have fellowship. One of my friend came with his girlsfriend. I in spite of being an Indian - tried my best to understand their relationship. The fellowship turned into a dating scene and than petting. I as a pastor myself with my family and other friends felt very auckward. I did not wanted to be rude - so I wanted to know what the scholars and leaders have to say on this? I have no other thought but to go to find resource online with reformed roots. Lo and behold, I came across this article ... After reading it, I felt bad very bad- realized the moral decay of our faith...SAD

I agree Amit,

What I find more discouraging is the comments below. Some of the contributers seem to have let go of any hint of traditional Christian values and yet they clearly believe they are Christian because they're putting forward their views on this website and likely attend a CRC church.

In your situation, I think it's fair to say some form of "my house, my rules." Where you can privately (and politely) say your beliefs and explain they're free to do what they like, but not in your house. As a pastor you don't require them to follow your beliefs, but you probably should require them to respect your personal wishes when in your house.

The only exception to this in my opinion is if they are not Christian and then you can decide if you want to hold the world to your values when they step into your home or simply accept them as they are and let God change them.

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