Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Should a Pastor Teach Frankly About Sex?

I am currently working on writing a three part paper on sexual discipline. The topics include sexual sin, sexual discipline for married couples, and sexual discipline for single men and women. As I am writing this I keep asking myself is this necessary? I think this is an important question. Our world is drowning in sexual imagery and language. I can go to any “normal” news page, such as Fox News or CNN and find articles about sexual issues that range from the funny to the profane. Shows on television are frankly sexual, often involving sodomy, fornication, etc. Nudity on television has gone up dramatically over the last ten years. Even if I avoid the internet and TV there are the magazines at Wal-Mart and college girls all over town with far too little clothing or clothing that draws attention to their bodies. (One advantage of living in the North is that winter brings a reprieve to this.)  Does a pastor need to add to this? Is it really his job to deal with these types of problems in a forthright, frank manner? Maybe he should just tell his congregation about Christ and let them apply Christ to their sexual lives?

            I believe a pastor must address these issues if he is to be faithful to Christ. He must do it correctly, but it must be done. Today, I want to give reasons why a pastor must address these issues. Later, I will talk about how I address these issues. There is probably more disagreement on the how than the why among Christians. Yet still we must lay a solid foundation of why a pastor can speak on these things before we get to the how he should speak on them. Throughout this paper I use the word “teach” a lot. Do not assume that I mean only public teaching. By teaching I mean a combination of public and private ministry of the Word. Here are the reasons why a pastor must teach on sexual holiness in a frank manner:

1.      The Bible addresses almost every conceivable sexual act. Incest, rape, bestiality, lust, prostitutes, adultery, fornication, sodomy, etc. are all mentioned in the Bible (See Leviticus 18). On the positive side you have the Song of Solomon, Proverbs 5:15-23, and I Corinthians 7:1-5. Of course, it is not done in a pornographic way, but these issues are addressed. If the teaching is handled correctly, which I will admit is not easy to do, there is no reason to be squeamish about discussing them.

2.      Sexual sins are a major part of the Biblical teaching on sin. Here is a list of some of those sins: Lamech’s numerous wives in Genesis 4, attempted sodomite rape in Genesis 19, incest in Genesis 19,  the sexual sin of Israel in Numbers 25, Samson and the prostitute in Judges 16, the rape of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19, David’s sin with Bathsheba in II Samuel 11-12, Jesus’ teaching on lust in Matthew 5:27-30, Paul’s discussion of sleeping with a prostitute in I Corinthians 6:12-20, and the mention of a “Jezebel” who seduces men to sexual immorality in Revelation 2:20. And I could mention dozens of other passages. Sexual sin and sexual righteousness are not a blip on the Bible’s radar. They are a central theme in the Scriptures. 

3.      Based on 1 and 2 above I would argue that it is impossible for a pastor to be faithful to the Scriptures if he does not address various sexual practices and how to approach them biblically.

4.      Also our cultural context demands a frank discussion of sexual issues. This is one shift from previous generations. A pastor in previous generations did not have congregants (men and women) who had watched hundreds of hours of pornography prior to marriage. He did not have congregants whose views of sex, marriage, and love had been shaped by romantic comedies. He probably did not have men who experimented with homosexuality. Of course, there has always been sexual sin or lust. But sexual sin has grown more prevalent over the last several decades, especially with the internet, where one can view pornography, find willing sexual partners, and read all about the sex lives of celebrities.  Add into this mix sexual education at the public school, the failure of even Christian parents to faithfully teach their children about sexual holiness, and the failure of churches to teach on these matters and the pastor will find that most men and women coming into marriage bring a dump truck full of sexual baggage that they do not know what to do with. A pastor cannot just ignore this baggage. His job is to make disciples.  Sexual holiness is a major part of that discipleship process.  

5.      But should a pastor discuss sexual practices not explicitly addressed in the Bible? Does a pastor just ignore these practices?  Can he just assume that people will get this right without any explicit teaching on the matter? The answer is no. Basic teaching on sexual matters and the Gospel will cure a lot of ills. But the pastor is there to shepherd the people. This means he needs to have an answer when someone asks about specific sexual practices or when he finds out people are practicing certain things.  The Bible touches every area of our lives. We do not have a verse for every area, but the principles laid out in God’s Word can be applied to all areas. So yes, if there are common sexual practices or sexual practices that he finds out members are engaged in, even if they are not addressed explicitly in the Scriptures, he should teach on them.

In summary, the Bible gives the pastor the authority and duty to address sexual sin and sexual holiness. This means issues directly addressed in the Bible should be taught on, but also common sexual issues not directly addressed should be taught on using Biblical principles. In our current cultural climate a pastor should expect that addressing the past or present sexual sins of his congregation will be a regular part of his counseling, teaching, and preaching load. He should be prepared to shepherd men, women, and couples through these problems.

There are a lot of potential dangers when one seeks to address these matters. For example, can I address these matters honestly without being crass or violating Ephesians 5:3-4? When and where should a pastor address sexual issues? How can they be addressed without causing a man struggling with lust to stumble? How can women be counseled on these matters? How does a pastor address sexual abuse? I will address some of these issues in another post. It is a thorny path one must walk down to disciple the congregation in sexual matters. But a man who is committed to Scripture and loves his flock has no choice. 

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Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8