CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christianity, Sexual Morality and the Public Square

Jan 7, 2018

There is a lot of confusion about issues of sexuality and ethics. Plenty of atheists and secularists seek to argue that things like chastity, abstinence, faithfulness in marriage, and so on, are just things Christians are into, and there is no other basis for supporting such things.

And clueless Christians – often of the left – also tend to run with these faulty ideas. They claim we are hung up on sexual issues and personal morality, and we should not be pushing our morality onto others anyway. And they insist that pagans don’t have the same moral codes as we do, so why even bother?

Much can be said in response to these warped notions. Let me do this briefly in two ways: one, to point out how some pagan leaders in the Bible saw such things, and two, to look at the concept of universal moral law. As to the former, since I am again reading in Genesis, let me offer three different but similar examples of this.

On various occasions God’s chosen leaders acted deceitfully, and lied about their wives. This could have resulted in adultery or fornication being committed, but in each case God intervened. Of real interest is the fact that the pagan rulers involved knew this to be wrong.

The first one is found in Genesis 12:10-20 where we read about Abram and his wife Sarai in Egypt. While there, out of fear, he told the Egyptians that she was his sister. But as we read in v. 18, “So Pharaoh summoned Abram. ‘What have you done to me?’ he said. ‘Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?’”

She may in fact have been Abram’s half-sister, or niece, but the point here is that even this pagan ruler knew that such sexual immorality was wrong. He had no Bible or Holy Spirit, but he knew what was right and wrong here.

A similar episode is found in Gen. 20. It again involves Abraham, but this time with Abimelek, the king of Gerar. Again, Abraham tells a porkie about his wife, and again he almost caused massive trouble. Consider what it says in verse 3: “But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, ‘You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman’.”

And then, verse 9: “Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, ‘What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done’.”

Once again we find a pagan ruler with a clear sense of sexual morality. Our third case of this happening is found in Gen 26:1-11. The poor old Philistine king Abimelek is again involved in more deception, this time by Isaac regarding his wife Rebekah. In verses 9-11 we find this:

So Abimelek summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.” Then Abimelek said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” So Abimelek gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

Again we find the Philistine leader well aware of what is right and wrong in terms of sexuality and marriage. Kenneth Mathews, commenting on the Gen. 20 episode, says this:

The king’s fury is understandable since such conduct was reprehensible even in his own eyes. Moreover, he is at a serious disadvantage in dealing with a man whom he knows God has sheltered. Adultery is named a “great sin”/“great crime” in ancient Near Eastern texts, reflecting the severity of the offense in the eyes of society.

Other Old Testament accounts could be mentioned here. God judges pagan nations, and he expects them to turn from their wicked ways and repent. Evil Nineveh is a classic case in point as we read in the book of Jonah. As Jonah 3:10 says, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”

Consider a quick example from the New Testament. John the Baptist is another person who actually stood up for marriage and morality against a ruler of his time, and was killed for doing so. He actually confronted King Herod over his sexual immorality and his desecration of the institution of marriage.

For doing this John had his head chopped off. Yet he stood strong affirming biblical morality in a wicked climate. We should do the same. Yet how many times was I told by ‘progressive’ Christians recently that homosexual marriage is just peachy, and we should not try to push heterosexual marriage in a secular society?

A few months ago I wrote this about John and marriage:

What we find in Luke 3:19-20 is especially shocking to so many of today’s trendy, don’t-rock-the-boat Christians: “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.”
And as we read more fully in the accounts found in Matthew and Mark, because of all this, John was beheaded. Umm, how might so many believers today respond to this? “But Christians are not supposed to waste time talking about sexual sin. That is not our calling. We are just supposed to love people into the Kingdom. We cannot turn people off by focusing on their private sex lives. We are not to judge anyone!”
Many of these men-pleasers would be gobsmacked that John actually did this. However, the forerunner to Jesus knew it was his responsibility before God to do this very thing. It was what he was called to do. It was a core part of the gospel message: preaching on sin and repentance. Too bad so few leaders today refuse to do this.
Indeed, the majority of even our evangelical pastors have likely not said one word about the current homosexual marriage debate. They are compromising cowards who have sold out the gospel to keep the masses happy.
billmuehlenberg.com/2017/10/21/ministry-tips-john-baptist/

Natural law

The idea that we are all made in God’s image, all live in God’s moral universe, and all have a moral conscience, means that everyone has a moral sense and knows what God expects of us at least to some extent. Yes, because of the fall our morality is skewed and our consciences are clouded.

But we all still have a basic sense of right and wrong. Paul of course makes this argument in Romans 1-2. Some refer to this as natural law, or traditional morality. But the idea is that everyone has a basic sense of right and wrong, even though sin has greatly damaged this understanding.

C. S. Lewis looked at this idea in more detail, especially in his 1947 book The Abolition of Man. In it he argued against the philosophy if nihilism and moral relativism. He argued that all cultures and religions have a basic understanding of right and wrong.

Just a few quick quotes:

“Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt.”

“What is common to them all . . . is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.”

“And because our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason (when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due but cannot feel it). No emotion is, in itself, a judgment; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”

The truth is, we live in a moral world and all people need to be held morally accountable. if pagan kings like Abimelech knew that things like adultery were wrong, we should not be shy in publicly standing up for biblical morality. Sure, we may need to use non-biblical jargon when speaking with our non-Christian friends, as Christian apologists like Lewis so often did.

But the idea that we must just shut up as we see the war on marriage and family and sexual morality taking place all around us is foolish in the extreme. We must not remain silent about such matters. The world desperately needs to hear biblical truth and learn about biblical morality.

It is our job to present it to them. If our fate ends up like that of John the Baptist, well so be it.

[1571 words]

6 Responses to Christianity, Sexual Morality and the Public Square

  • In that case, perhaps I might quote what I wrote on my own blog, speaking as a biologist with an amateur interest in anthropology:
    “There is a tendency is some circles, I have noticed, for what is termed “traditional sexual morality” to be regarded as some collection of irrational taboos, or at least something no longer applicable to modern circumstances. Sometimes it is called “Christian sexual morality”, but that is a misnomer. It would be better to call it “human sexual morality”, for it is the basic default system from which individual cultures tend to deviate. What Christianity introduced is a add-on: the idea that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Committed as it is to sexual equality, Christianity has always been negative towards polygamy, divorce, and the major exception to the default system practised by civilisations: the idea that it is acceptable to have a pool of degraded, low status women ie prostitutes, as an outlet for otherwise “respectable” men. However, the desirability of chastity before marriage and fidelity afterwards is the general rule of all human societies.
    Some cultures, believe it or not, have sexual moral standards stricter than ours used to be, and attempt to restrict nearly all communications between the sexes. Where their standards are slacker, it usually means carving out exceptions to the general rule – exceptions which, as the proverb explains, imply that the rule exists. The unusual exceptions – the ones which titillate anthropologists – tend to disappear when we leave the small tribal societies and examine the major civilisations, and the reason is obvious. These are the successful societies; they have been around a long time, and each occupy a large section of the world’s area and population. They have discovered, as we are now having to relearn, that if you don’t keep sexual relations within the bounds of marriage, things start to fall apart.”

  • Dear Bill,

    Thank you for the article. I agree with it absolutely. The ten commandments are an expression of the natural law. That is why God as Creator of the Universe and everything in it gave them to Moses.

    In His boundless Goodness and Wisdom he knew that some laws were needed for humans to be happy and to be able to control their base animal instincts. He WANTS His creatures to be happy above everything else. The commandments were a GIFT.

    You don’t even NEED to be a Christian to understand the commonsense behind the fact that breaking the laws of nature lead human beings into misery and chaos.

    Non Christian civilisations have understood this fact only too well for thousands of years.

    The evidence of the misery is all around us. You would have to be BLIND not to see it and with so called same sex ‘marriage’ now legal and fornication and adultery out of control the chaos and misery will worsen. That is even without the murders, theft and indifference and blasphemy towards God being taken into consideration.

  • Do we not live in times where the rights to life and liberty suffer under the tyrannous exaltation of what people assume to be their pursuit of happiness?

    When will we stop seeking our own kingdoms and justifying injustice in the name of individual liberty? The quest for the kingdom of God and a hunger and thirst for His righteousness are the only exodus route from our present culture’s enslavement to its own appetites.

  • It seems to me that John had a calling to speak to the nation Israel – the nation which had the grace of having the Law of God which no other nation enjoyed (Psalm 147:20) – that its’ King the LORD is about to appear as the prophets had said and so all including Herod must be prepared to see the King and obey Him. This is the basis on which he speaks to King Herod – not simply that the king needs to live better. Post the Cross and Resurrection of the King, Paul sees that all called servants of God understand the blindness of the Adamic heart to Gods’ law and explains this in Romans 1: 18 to end – it is the working of Divine Wrath against unholiness in His creatures who are the image of God who is Holy Love . Hence the question of the moral morass in our world is met by the Word of the Cross – or it is not met. In the Cross! the very wrath which works in the blinded heart, the deeply disturbed conscience, of the sexual perverted is there revealed and removed. If through this preaching God actually opens the eyes of the blind, grants repentance and faith, that person is set free, washed, set apart and accounted righteous before God as revealed in His holy law (1Cor. 6:11). The Christian is not an antinomian, who with Paul decides to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In this context he can rebuke sin and not justly be accused of being a “moraliser”. There are few preachers today perhaps, who have so given themselves to the prayerful study of and submission to the Word of Christ and rely on the utterance the Spirit gives, who can speak the Fire of the Word of Christ that burns the dry stubble of the immoral lives of the multitudes. If there were, the church of Jesus Christ would look very different than what we do. And so would this nation. I thank God and pray for and support every person who is now active with every bit of truth and moral fibre they have in the current war on the morals and faith of this country but it will be the sheer mercy of God the Holy One if we are delivered from our national sin of idolatry which has brought the current flood of evil upon us. The only permanent healing is the Word of the Cross: 1 Cor. 1:18 as in ESV, NASB, AV. Lord have mercy today.

  • The Lord have mercy, Yes! I have suffered as a believer, who whole heartily believes that God is gracious. But James 4:4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the Spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ” God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. 9 Grieve mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
    I have seen many believers, who call themselves Ministers ” Men of God! ” Who have been caught up in such immoral corruption, pride has been their downfall, instead of standing guard, they have allowed people to have stroked their egocentric behaviours. This has enticed these men to embrace their sinful appetites, instead of escaping from error, and embracing the truth, they have become slaves of corruption. I have time and time pointed out to fellow believers, this is what our Lord Jesus Christ has delivered us from. Was not the Lord’s sacrifice not enough to set one free from sin? Yet, people keep turning away from God, by living in error. I am not tired of encouraging people to turn away from the snares of death, but, I will continue to encourage believers to fully please God, by living a crucified life. Yes, I have and will continue to find obstinate people, who refuse the wisdom and the truth of God’s word. But, the Book of Hebrews 12 drives me on. Our Lord Jesus, endured such hostilities from sinners, and the word tells us to consider him, lest we become discouraged ourselves. There is much said in the word, about how we ought to live and to please God. PARTICULARLY IN CONCERNS TO FULLING THE WILL OF GOD! But as one is fully aware of 2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. Even though I encounter resistance, I must keep going forward myself. Who else do we have? Who else can one turn to? Be encouraged my Brethren. God be with you.

  • John Wigg and Robert Worthington, very true words. Thank you.

Leave a Reply