Great Stuff — The Church, the world and sex – there can be no compromise

Another “Mark’s thoughts” over on Pastor Surburg’s blog:


PrSurburgIn what is one of the first New Testament books written, St. Paul says, “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess 4:1-7).

It immediately becomes obvious that Paul focuses upon sexual conduct as he talks about walking in a way that pleases God. What we find in this early letter is something that is repeated again and again in the letters of  the New Testament (Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 5:1-13; 6:9-20; 7:1-9; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:3-6; Col 3:5-6; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Heb 13:4; 1 Pet 4:1-6).  The New Testament writers admonish the early Christians against adultery, fornication and homosexuality.  Sexual purity stands out as a significant part of the Christian life.

This emphasis is the all the more obvious because of what has happened in our world since the “sexual revolution” arrived during the 1960’s.  We live in a world that this awash in provocative and sexually explicit images – in print, on television and on the internet.  Pornography has embraced each new technology, and now online use has exploded.  Much of the music in our culture focuses upon sex.  It is considered “normal” for couples who are dating to have sex.  Cohabitation has become common and ordinary.  Homosexuality receives ever growing acceptance as institutions such as the media and higher education promote it, and marriage is “redefined” to include same sex couples.

The Church faces incredible challenges a she seeks to be faithful to God’s Word. She faces the challenge of catechizing youth in a world where everything around them says that they should use sex in any way they want.  Cohabitation presents tremendous pastoral challenges, and in many places pastors for all intents and purposes ignore the problem, because to do otherwise risks the angering of the couple (and their parents) and the loss of congregation members to the congregation down the road whose pastor is willing to ignore it.

Can the Church really be expected to hold to the instruction provided in Scripture about sexual conduct in a world that overwhelmingly contradicts this teaching? Isn’t this asking too much?  When considering this issue, it is helpful to consider the setting in which the New Testament texts were written.

Kyle Harper has written a book entitled From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexuality in Late Antiquity.  In his glowing review of this important work, noted scholar Peter Brown has provided a helpful summary of Harper’s research.  In the Greco-Roman world sex outside of marriage was extremely common and acceptable, as long as it was sex with the right kind of person. Brown writes:

What mattered, in Roman law and in Roman sexual morality, had little to do with sex. It had everything to do with whose bodies could be enjoyed with impunity and whose could  not be touched without elaborate formulas of consent.

The joys of sex were there for all. Harper shows how the puritanism of the Romans in relation to their own spouses has been greatly exaggerated. But the primary school of sexual endeavor remained, to an unusual degree, the bodies of slaves—along with the bodies of the poor and of prostitutes, who were all too easily sucked into the gravitational field of dishonor associated with outright slavery. Then Harper sums up his feelings: “The laws deflected lust away from the freeborn body, and slaves provided a ready outlet.”

This is the setting the New Testament writers addressed. And their message was uncompromising, even though it directly contradicted the operation of the culture. Brown goes on to say:

It no longer mattered, to Christians, with whose bodies, from which social categories, and in what manner sex might happen. From Paul onward, for Christians, there was right sex—sex between spouses for the production of children; wrong sex—sex outside marriage; and abhorrent sex—sex between same-sex partners. Wrong sex of any kind was a sin. And a sin was a sin. It was not a social faux pas, deemed an outrage in one situation and accepted in another.

Seldom has so great a simplification been imposed on a complex society. The unexpected  victory of Christian norms in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries was so thorough that any alternative ordering of moral frontiers within a society became unthinkable. 

At the beginning of the twenty first century an alternative ordering of the moral frontiers within society has become not only thinkable, but it has in fact become dominant.  Once again, the Church preaches and teaches a message about sex that opposes the culture. But that fact does not change what the biblical texts say.  It does not change God’s will and ordering of creation.  If we are to be faithful to God’s Word, then we must once again be uncompromising.  We must accept the costs of doing so because “success” can only be measured on the basis of our fidelity to God’s Word.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — The Church, the world and sex – there can be no compromise — 12 Comments

  1. I’d appreciate any ammunition for debating my ELCA friend, who insists that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were only guilty of being “inhospitable”, that “loving your neighbor” means accepting their sexual preferences, and that Paul’s statements against sexual immorality don’t really include homosexuality. (He also insists that illegal immigrants are “sojourners” to be welcomed).

  2. “What mattered, in Roman law and in Roman sexual morality, had little to do with sex”

    Of course the Romans also practiced abortion, wholesale.

  3. The plain text of the story of Lot and the angels at Sodom and Gemorrah is very plain about what the men at the door wanted. People can be guilty of more than one sin.

    The plain text of Romans 1 is also very clear and no mental gymnastics can change it.

  4. Paul of Alexandria :I’d appreciate any ammunition for debating my ELCA friend, who insists that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were only guilty of being “inhospitable”, that “loving your neighbor” means accepting their sexual preferences, and that Paul’s statements against sexual immorality don’t really include homosexuality. (He also insists that illegal immigrants are “sojourners” to be welcomed).

    Even ignoring Genesis 19 for a moment, there are plenty of other prohibitions against homosexuality that are clearly proclaimed in Scripture, both Old and New Testament. Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans chapter 1 (and it’s talking about homosexuality in general, not “uncommitted homosexuals” as many theological liberals try to insinuate), I Corinthians 6:9-10, and I Timothy 1:10 are all pretty clear about homosexual practice.

    Furthermore, the idea of fornication (Sex between unmarried people) by default includes homosexuality, since there is no provision in Scripture or history for two people of the same sex to marry.

    What’s more, if homosexuality can be eliminated from Christian ethics, it logically follows that pretty much any other sexual sin can be eliminated. If you’re going to say homosexuality doesn’t apply, why not strike polygamy from that list? For that matter, why not strike incest? If all it boils down to is two people loving each other regardless of anything else (as homosexual advocates maintain), doesn’t it logically follow that this reasoning can trump any other morality as well? If the homosexual advocate says “no,” then he’s being illogical and inconsistent.

    BTW, it’s interesting to note that those professing Christians who refuse to call homosexuality a sin also tend to disregard other significant parts of the Bible as well. Kinda like a man picking and choosing which wedding vows he does and doesn’t want to keep after getting married, don’t you think?

  5. @Paul of Alexandria #1
    I have only heard this explanation in passing but it makes no sense to me. If the sin is one of hospitality, doesn’t that sin then fall on Lot and his family and not the people of the town? Why then is Lot spared and the town destroyed? And what sense does it make for Lot to offer his daughters up for rape when all the people want to do is meet his guests? Seems rather extreme. Of course I suppose none of it makes sense when you start to twist it from what God actually says.

  6. Thanks all. Yes, the mental gymnastics of the supporters of the homosexuality movement can be quite convoluted. What it boils down to seems to be defining “love” as accepting a person entirely as he/she is without also condemning any sinful behavior. They always mention Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery, forgetting that he also said “go and sin no more.”

  7. @Rev. McCall #6
    I would also think that God destroyed the two cities (as opposed to all of the other cities in the world where people behaved similarly) in order to remove a potential threat to Abraham and the line from which the Savior would come.

  8. @Paul of Alexandria #8

    True, but also He needed cities near enough to make a difference. God could have wiped out Rome, Beijing, New York City, but they were too far away for the Children of Israel to observe the effects of sin, its consequences, God’s wrath… Sodom and Gomorrah (and three other cities, BTW) were made examples of because of their sin. And what was their sin? Homosexuality.

  9. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were certainly guilty of being inhospitable, but that was the tip of the sin-berg. The men of Sodom, young and old, asking Lot to bring out his guests so they could have sex with them, was a little more than being inhospitable. It was so deviant, so wicked, that Lot could not turn over his guests, but offered instead his daughters. At least subjecting them to rape was, in Lot’s view, not as bad. The men of Sodom, lusted not for women but for men, and they then sought Lot instead, but Lot was saved by the Angels, his guests. The Lord clearly declared the sin of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah to be very grave, yet still would have saved the cities had there been even ten righteous people. The condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah illustrates the end result of a wickedly sinful people, and the example used by scripture to illustrate the depravity was sexual immorality, and in particular, homosexuality. The lessons taught by scripture are there for those who seek them. Your ELCA friends need to seek more.

  10. @Green #10
    Ok. Now how do we make the point that homosexuality itself is “deviant behavior”? The typical response is that 1) The sinful attitude of the inhabitants of Sodam and Gomorrah was in the response to visitors, not their homosexuality per se, and 2) Being Christians we’re freed from the OT Law, so sexuality isn’t a big deal, so long as we’re loving to all concerned. (NOT saying I agree, just how my ELCA friend will probably respond).

  11. Jesus said “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus expanded Biblical sin from our actions to include our thoughts and words, not just what we have done, but what we have left undone. Does a lesser standard apply to homosexuals? Where is that scripture? Ask your friends why Jesus cautioned against those who lead little ones to stumble? Was Paul divinely inspired by God when he wrote “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” yet was hateful when he wrote the first chapter of Romans? Was he inspired by God in the one instance and by the devil in the other? Why did Jesus caution against the danger of false prophets if we are free to exalt some Biblical teachings as God’s holy word, but conclude others are old, out of touch, hateful or inapplicable? How does one identify the false prophet if considering whether the teaching is true to scripture tells you nothing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.