Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Don't Delay - Move on!!

I read a fascinating Twitter comment from Al Mohler this morning before leaving for work - it linked to a book review of a book called; "Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers" by sociologist Mark Regnerus. His point is simple, shocking and sincere;

"Evangelicals tend to marry slightly earlier than other Americans, but not by much. Many of them plan to marry in their mid-20s.Yet waiting for sex until then feels far too long to most of them. And I am suggesting that when people wait until their mid-to-late 20s to marry, it is unreasonable to expect them to refrain from sex. It's battling our Creator's reproductive design".

Now let me be clear, I haven't read his book - only Mohler's review. But I must admit as a single person (and one that is sometimes slightly anti-cliche Christian marriage) I found the review and the concept he presented intriguing and stirring. I don't quite see it as far as Mohler states;

"As men and women, we are made for marriage ... Marriage is the central crucible for accepting and fulfilling the adult responsibilities of work, parenthood, and the full acceptance of mature responsibilities".

As excellent a scholar and theologian as Mohler may be - I would argue he has forgotten that Paul makes explicit room for celibacy. Maybe Mohler is reflecting the modern Church he represents, who have also forgotten that Paul made explicit room for celibacy. Rather most single people get treated as odd, different and not quite making up even numbers at dinner parties or social events. Anyhow - back to the book review.

Mohler concludes;

"Mark Regnerus certainly drives the point home when he argues that "when people wait until their mid-to-late 20s to marry, it is unreasonable to expect them to refrain from sex." Nevertheless, Christians are called to a moral standard that, by any secular standard, is profoundly unreasonable. I would prefer to argue that the delay of marriage is unwise, not only because of the demonstrated risk of sexual immorality, but because of the loss of so much God gives to us in marriage".

Probably the cruelest thing that any church leader can do is to deny a couple the chance or opportunity to get married or to delay their wedding. You may argue you have never heard of this happening in the 21st century Christian church. Well I have. And not only that, it is also mentioned in the New Testament;

1 Timothy 4:2-3; "(Such teachings come) by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron - they forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth".

In the Expositor's Bible Commentary Ralph Earle comments on this often-forgotten and rarely taught on verse;

"The apostle uses strong language in describing the teachers of the false doctrines he is about to mention. He declares they are "hypocritical liars" (the teachers who forbid marriage); this implies that they know better but they have deliberately forsaken the faith and teach falsehood ... Paul now mentions two of their false teachings; forbidding marriage and ordering people to "abstain from certain foods" ... what these false teachers forgot is that marriage is an institution that God established as the normal thing in society ... the apostle struck out forcefully against it as a negation of our freedom in Christ".

Marriage is one of the most beautiful and complete expressions of the grace of God that He can give. What can get closer to the image of His love, desire and passion for His Bride than that of marriage? In marriage, God has given mankind the opportunity to get a taste - just a taste of what we will enjoy at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Why am I so utterly passionate about the Song of Solomon being understood in it's true Biblical context? Because nothing excites me more than considering the tangible expression of love and glory that will be ours on that Day when our glorious Bridegroom returns. The glory will be such - we are told - that human marriage will not be in heaven. That's not something to mourn because the wonder of marriage that Christian couples enjoy now is nothing compared to what will be. That is why I so vigorously contend against the false emphasis that men like C J Mahaney and Mark Driscoll put on the Song of Solomon. Such teaching is distracting and putting too much emphasis on human marriage and too little on ultimate marriage - Christ and His church.

I wonder if that happened because too much emphasis was put on human marriage. Christian marriage is a serious undertaking because it is for life, it is done in the sight of God and man - but let us not forget that the apostle Paul himself said;

"But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion".

He's not down-grading the sanctity of marriage. But he is also not unnecessarily over-exalting the sanctity of marriage to a near-gnostic level so that marriage is forbidden unnecessarily and thereby sinfully exalting lust. Any leaders who do forbid marriage surely stand before God in accountability for causing those under their care to fall. All that aside - I stand convinced by Mohler's review of this book. Maybe the church has over emphasied too far in one direction and it is time to have the balance of truth adjusted somewhat. Young people!? Get married!!


Jon Sidnell said...

I don't know if I still qualify as "young people" at 27, but I'm about 40 days off doing exactly that ;)

I've found it interesting reading the spate of articles that have come out about this recently. Part of me agrees with the basic idea, but the pragmatic part of me can't help thinking that if we're going to encourage people to marry younger, we've got to start training people for marriage much younger. Put the average 21-year-old into a marriage these days, and I fear it would be a complete disaster! There's too much 'stinking thinking' that would make it harder than it needs to be.

I've also found it interesting that the catalyst for all this is realising that preaching the law of abstinence has completely failed. 5 years ago, I would have said that this is because teenagers and young adults just lack self-discipline to stick with good morals. These days, I realise that it's failing because people are being taught a command ("Don't have sex before marriage"), and that command and all the promise rings that go with it is the very thing that pours oil on the fire of teenage lusts and gives sin a strength it didn't have before.

How much people need to hear grace and the truth about the law!!

Dan Bowen said...

Wow Jon - counting down eh!? Good stuff! My take is - anyone in their 20s still qualifies as "young". I don't quite know how I qualify myself anymore .... ;)

But I couldn't agree more with your comment about training. Yes! How on earth do we think that a young couple are going to get trained for a lifetime of marriage in a standard six week or ten week or whatever week "Marriage Course" with the local elder, pastor or whatever. And of course the obligatory red-cheeked one session on "the honeymoon night". Yuck! :)

The Jewish model I am guessing placed the responsibility solely at the parent's door. I think I am right in saying that they got married far younger than we do, so I am guessing that the parents took the responsibility very seriously for preparing the couple for marriage, sex and whatever else is involved in a lifetime together.

It would be interesting to know what the Jewish divorce rates, etc are like compared to many evangelical Christian couples today ...

"I've also found it interesting that the catalyst for all this is realising that preaching the law of abstinence has completely failed".


I remember hearing Mark Dever speak on a session on singleness at John Piper's "Sex and the Supremacy of Christ" conference and he prefaced the whole session by saying; "Well quite simply - you single people can't have sex". End of. Maybe that's true. But is it helpful? Maybe not!

I think there needs to be a readjustment in thinking about marriage, sex all these issues that the Church has traditionally messed up - and now we are seeing the price being paid for. I was shocked at the statistic Mohler's article gave on how many evangelical Christian young people sleep together before they are married.

Shockingly the example of marriage being forbidden that I gave was because the said couple were sleeping together and confessed to the church leader. What an utterly STUPID response - to ban the very God-given thing that would make the said struggles not sinful!!

You are utterly right again - we need to hear the TRUTH about grace and the UGLY TRUTH about law!! And you can't get more legalistic than banning this wonderful example and wonderful picture of Christ and His Bride.

Just a PS: It's interesting that the topic of sex is such a "have-to" discussion on marriage courses, and yet similarly the evangelical church struggles expressing intimacy to God in worship - hence banning songs such as "Draw Me Close to You" etc etc. A pattern there?

jul said...

Very interesting stuff to be talking about. I wholeheartedly agree with the problem of the law of purity that is popular to teach young people (or any people for that matter). Mohler actually talks about the moral standard Christian are held to ( a bunch of dung as Paul would say). It's actually provoking sin and putting people in bondage.

As far as training for marriage, I don't know if there's any such thing. I've had an overdose of training for marriage and parenting and it all boiled down to law that nearly destroyed us. I think we just need to get people established in the gift of righteousness, and as parents train our children up in the love and grace of God. It's legalism that is the culprit in most homes that fall apart. Remove guilt, shame, condemnation, fear, and self-righteousness from marriages and I think we'll see much happier and more unified couples, with the children learning how to relate in grace as well. Most counselling and training in the church today falls under law, giving people rules and regulations for behaviour modification. Just my two cents on that!

As for marrying young, I was 18 and Aaron was 21, so I think we started fairly young, and I recommend it to those who want to be married. It was difficult the first couple of years especially, but we've also had hard times since. It's all part of the ride. I think most people who wait until they're older are often not much more mature or equipped than young people in some ways, just different challenges. So I guess I agree with encouraging young people who want to be married to start young and not feel the cultural pressure to be financially 'secure' or finish school before they can marry. We got married when Aaron still had 2 years of college left (his parents still payed for his school) and it actually saved money living off campus while I worked. Of course we didn't have much money! But you can't make a rule of when people should or shouldn't marry, it will be different for everyone and I usually like to say the right time to get married is when you find the right person to marry.

Dan Bowen said...

"Mohler actually talks about the moral standard Christian are held to ( a bunch of dung as Paul would say). It's actually provoking sin and putting people in bondage".

Exactly Julie! Once again an awesome comment. I remember years back when I was wrestling with all my might not to fall into sexual sin, listening to a tape by C J Mahaney called "Daniel in Babylon" or something from New Attitude Conference. I don't think I've ever heard a tape that so caused me to throw in the towel and admit defeat.

In it Mahaney went on and on about this "law of purity" - and urged Christian young people to "bring their virginity to the marriage bed above all costs".

I've sat in Christian wedding after Christian wedding knowing for a fact that the couple in question had already "fallen" as some would call it, yet listen to the pastor wax lyrical about the "purity that they brought to the wedding"!!

Well .... let's be consistent with the law. If the said Christian couple have even LOOKED at each other with lust in their hearts pre-walking up the aisle then they have ALREADY committed adultery in the eyes of the law.

Thank GOD that we do not and should not and must not live under this covenant of works anymore!! Oh that couple after couple would know this freedom!

I mentioned the wedding that was banned because the couple "fell". When they were finally "allowed" to get married, I have never been at a sadder event. The ceremony was carefully tailored to avoid mentions of virginity, purity because well .... and the wedding speeches were dominated by guilt, condemnation and sorrow. It broke my heart to listen to them.

The groom somehow managed to THANK the man to blame for all of this - the pastor, for what he did. I almost walked out then and there!!

Once again - we see how practical the issue of law and grace is - even in marriage. Oh that couple after couple could walk up the aisle with their heads held high, whether they had "fallen" sexually or "fallen" in their minds because they KNEW that the Cross had finished it ALL!

jul said...

Thank God we are as pure and blameless as his perfect Son by the blood he joyfully shed to make us sons as he is! Wouldn't it be wonderful if weddings were just another chance to proclaim the perfect and all-sufficiont purity of Jesus?

You know what? We made it to our wedding night both virgins, and I still felt guilty years and years later for 'impure' things we had done before marrying. Now I look back and shake my head in awe...what a waste of energy! Freedom from the law and justification (and sanctification!!!) by grace alone through faith alone is very sweet. And peaceful, joyful, restful! It's worth fighting everything the devil throws at us to keep hold of the truth of the best news in the world...