This is the first of three posts related to the issue of pastoral care in the area of sexuality. It was first published in “Partnership Perspectives” in Spring 2016. The whole issue is available for download here: https://www.partnershipuk.org/perspectives.htm
In one of his songs, David Bowie wrote, “Turn to face the strange”. These words probably sum up part of what many Christians feel they are having to do in the contemporary climate of discussions about sexuality. Indeed, we face some very real challenges as Christians; challenges which are sobering but which must force us back to God’s word, to consider our beliefs in the light of Scripture. In this article, we will briefly look at some of the principles behind any response which we as Christians ought to have, principles which might help us to walk the difficult pastoral line between faithfulness to the Bible and loving sensitivity to the individuals involved.
The Story of Victory
There are two basic reactions and responses that we can have in the face of the changes that have taken place in society. The first is to follow a narrative of despair and defeat where we come to view the changes that have taken place in the areas of sexual mores and habits as heralding the defeat of the Christian church and faith in this county. This is a response I sense amongst many people, and one which is much in evidence in some of the more public statements from sections of the church. In many ways, this is an understandable response in the face of difficult times. However, underlying it is a dangerous thought that somehow or other God did not realise that this was going to happen. Our attitude implies that the contemporary western – and specifically UK – situation is one which has, inexplicably, caught our God by surprise and that things have not only got out of hand but that all we can really expect is for them to get increasingly worse. I would argue that this is not a truly biblical response to our circumstances.
Rather than following this narrative of defeat, a better response would be instead to embrace and proclaim the narrative of victory and hope. We have a solid anchor in God’s word and we have the greatest message the world has ever known. It is a message of hope, of victory, of love, of grace, of forgiveness. Our response to ‘the strange’, as Bowie put it, has to be one of recapturing the reality of the resurrection, that in this miracle there is hope and victory.
At the end of his discussion on the historical truth and meaning of the resurrection, Paul exclaims joyfully, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor.15:57). Paul enters into his discussion of the resurrection in the context of various issues in the Church in Corinth, not least of these are serious misunderstandings of sexuality and it role in the life of the believer. His pastoral concern for the Corinthian Christians leads him to present the glory and wonder of the resurrection. It is in this truth, with all that it means for the future and for the present ,that we find the basis for how we live our lives today. Paul uses the truth of the future resurrection body and its relationship to the present, earthly body to encourage holiness in the people of God. He also reminds us that the future, resurrection body will be of a different kind, it is “the same self, but the same self will assume a different form” (Anthony Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, page 280). The perishable body which is tainted with sin will be exchanged for an imperishable body where the effect of sin will have been removed.
The sexual mores and practices of first century Corinth were not remarkably different from those of our contemporary world, but they had not caught God by surprise. 21st century sexual mores and practices have not caught God by surprise either, the answer is still to be found in the living out of the truth of the glory of the resurrection.
When Paul stepped off the boat in Neapolis (Acts 16:11) and so came for the first time to Europe he did not decry the sexual ethics of the towns he visited. He brought the good news of Jesus. He did not despair at the state of the society and its sexual ethics. He brought the good news of Jesus. In his letters, Paul does decry those ethics and states categorically, “I warn you that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21b), but these are letters to Christians about what it means to live out the reality of the resurrection life now, they are not commands given to those outside of Christ as to how they should behave. We need to follow Paul’s example. We need to be the bearers of good news, news of victory over sin and death, news of forgiveness, of grace, of love and of mercy, news of peace with God.
This is our first principle, to proclaim the story of victory over sin and death through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.