By: Christopher West
The Associated Press recently ran a story about a controversy brewing among a community of “bible-believing” folk in rural Alabama. Many in the town of Good Hope were disturbed by a billboard advertizing a series of sermons at the local Daystar Church. The billboard, next to a picture of a bride and groom, read: “Great sex: God’s way.” “It’s really stirred up the people here,” said a town clerk.
The prickly topic of sex always seems to “stir us up,” doesn’t it? Perhaps my sensitivities are just different because of the work I do, but nothing strikes me as untoward in what Daystar Church is trying to do. It strikes me, rather, as an attempt to engage the culture in a conversation about God’s plan for sex and marriage. And this is something we must do. The AP article reported that Jerry Lawson, the pastor at the center of the controversy, said one of the purposes of his campaign “was to get Christian parents talking to their kids about sex before they learn too much immorality from TV or playground buddies.” Sounds good to me. Not only good — essential. Because if we aren’t feeding our children from the banquet of God’s glorious plan for man and woman, they will, without a doubt, be eating from the culture’s pornographic smorgasbord.
What Does Sex Have To Do With the Gospel?
“‘I think some people are kind of missing the point,’ said Lawson. The church needs to be out front on the topic of sex when even kids’ TV shows depict illicit relationships and homosexuality, he said. ‘It comes down to God saying the most healthy place for sex and the only right place for sex is within a marriage — one man, one woman, and one marriage,’ Lawson said.” And this has “really stirred up the people”? Why? Local evangelist Roland Belew gives a simple answer. He said the whole idea of talking about sex in church goes against the teaching of the New Testament apostles. “Paul said preach the Gospel. …Talking about sex ain’t gonna get nobody to heaven,” said Belew.
Oh boy. Where to begin? Obviously discretion is required from the pulpit. But the idea that “preaching the Gospel” has nothing to do with sex and that “preaching about sex” has nothing to do with the Gospel betrays layers and layers of seriously misguided thinking. When we divorce God’s love from sexual love, as Pope Benedict says, “the essence of Christianity” becomes “decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life” (God is Love 7). The “gospel” then becomes cold, aloof, inhuman. In other words, we’re no longer preaching the real Gospel.
Sex, the Gospel, & St. Paul
According to John Paul II, coming to understand God’s plan for sex — and by that I mean coming to understand God’s plan for creating us as male and female and calling the two to become “one flesh” — is essential if we are to understand who God is and what his eternal plan is for us. In other words, it’s essential if we are to understand what the Gospel is actually all about — what it promises, how it challenges us, and what it leads us to believe in and hope for both in this life and the next. For God stamped an image of his own mystery and plan right in our bodies as male and female. “For this reason…the two become one flesh.” For what reason? The very Apostle to which Mr. Belew appeals tells us the reason for sex: it’s all a great mystery that reveals to us the “good news” of the Gospel: God has wed himself to us forever through the union of Christ and the church (see Eph 5:31-32).
In his Letter to Families, John Paul described this passage in Ephesians as “the compendium or summa, in some sense, of the teaching about God and man which was brought to fulfillment by Christ” (19). In other words, if you are looking for a passage that summarizes the entire message of the Bible, this passage about God’s plan for sex fits the bill quite nicely. I can agree with Mr. Belew that talking about sex the way the culture does “ain’t gonna get nobody to heaven.” But talking about it the way St. Paul does will launch us there like a rocket. If that’s what Pastor Lawson is trying to do, I’m all for it.