Urban myths often emerge from misrepresented data. The often-quoted belief that divorce rates within churches are no different to wider society is an example that defies the evidence. The figure is at least twenty percent lower, according to Harvard researcher, Shaunti Feldhahn. The discrepancy is related to how one defines what it means to be Christian. This same problem is also at the heart of a widespread but erroneous belief that eight out of ten unmarried young adult Christians have been sexually active despite the Bible’s clear indication that sex is to be confined to marriage.
Relevant magazine’s claim that 80% of Christian singles under thirty are sexually active (a figure elsewhere claimed to be almost ninety percent) is based on their self-identification as Evangelical. A more accurate figure is obtained from Grey Matter research where “Evangelicals were identified by Protestant church attendance of at least once a month, believing that they will go to heaven when they die because they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour, and strongly agreeing that the Bible is the written word of God and is accurate in all that it teaches, that their personal commitment to Jesus Christ is still important to their lives today, that eternal salvation is possible only through Jesus Christ, and that they personally have a responsibility to tell others about their religious beliefs.”
On this definition, 56% of the more than one thousand evangelical Christian young adults from forty denominational backgrounds claim never to have been sexually active. This still leaves 44% whose supposed fidelity to the Bible’s restriction of sex to marriage is not actually practised, despite 77% proclaiming a belief in abstinence (a commitment stronger amongst regular readers of the Bible).
In an era of promiscuity and laxity, it is important for churches to maintain a more compelling and comprehensive account of Biblically-based sexual discipleship. The high covenantal view of sex is as an act of intimacy intended to be shared exclusively within a life-long marriage between a man and woman. It is a sacred and protected union intended for matrimonially-committed companionship and the raising of children. This therefore precludes sex in any other kind of relationship. One marriage for life and therefore one sexual partner is God’s ideal intention; no comparisons, no sexually transmitted diseases, no performance anxiety and no false ideal of a commitment based on fulfilment.
Naturally, forgiveness is warranted in cases of genuine repentance and compassion is needed for those whose marriages are voided through no fault of their own. However, fornication and adultery – terms often out of vogue today – are still offences by biblical standards, no matter how much we might continue loving those who practise them.
Remarkably, some naively suggest that social evolution warrants more progressive standards as if to say that the goalposts which once demarcated sexual boundaries should now move. Logically, a standard designed by the Creator of marriage that is in the best interests of His followers can surely not be trumped by contrary personal preferences, majority opinions or even the passage of time. Those who spin or spurn objective truth will often attract willing followers from within churches, people whose deconstructed views of the Bible will sadly legitimise too many practices that its pages will (if read) speak strongly and clearly against.
Of course, my desire as a minister is still to inspire and lead in appreciation of what Christ’s Cross has won, not to be a contrarian, a wowser or a legalist. If we sin, He is faithful and just to forgive and to cleanse us, anyway (1 John 1:9). On the other hand, Christians don’t wilfully continue in sin and presume upon the grace of God either (Romans 6:1). Judgment begins in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), even though we refrain from judgment against those outside the church who don’t respect His standards.
Perhaps it is a loving user-friendliness in churches that has sometimes been mistaken for permissiveness. Nevertheless, a clearer commitment to godly living will more naturally follow when Christians submit their lives to a holy God and conform their behaviours to biblically-shaped and Spirit-led consciences rather than to the external impositions of others.