When we push singleness to the background, or treat it simply as a holding tank for the not-yet-married, sex itself will become ever more important to a flourishing community life. Our talk about sex will inevitably become a sensational sales pitch for its ecstatic awesomeness. Meanwhile, single people won't be shown a more excellent way than white-knuckling their abstinence until they make the marriage bed. They are never empowered to show a more excellent way of faithful Christianity without the marital delights. Just as single people need the image of Christ's fidelity and love that the married give, so married people need single people to remind us that the "form of this world is passing away." It's a hard lesson, and easy to say glibly, but it's one that none of us can do without.
The language has baggage, but cannot be helped: speaking about sex in the community of the church means remembering that modesty is more than a manner of clothing, but a way of life that transforms our speech. Duane Litfin has rightfully suggested that we should take into account the needs of others in our clothing, and helpfully moved the point away from measuring hemlines. So also in speech. As Paul writes to the Ephesians, it is shameful to even speak of what happens in secret outside the church. The point, as Carl Trueman has suggested, must reach our way of teaching about sexuality on some level.
For Christians, modesty isn't grounded in fear or shame: it is a positive good, aimed at increasing the beauty of the person and appropriately recognizing the dignity of what's covered. Some goods are so good that they require clothing. Or as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:21-26, it is on the parts that require the greater modesty that Christians bestow the higher honors. He's referring, of course, to respective members of the church, but the metaphor has to get its roots from somewhere.
Evangelicalism's current fascination with sexuality, then, may be important for a season. But as a movement, we should consider carefully what our stunts and our salacious sermon series say about us. It is easy when attempting to escape the past to unwittingly perpetuate its deepest problems, just as it is easy when searching for a cure to replicate the disease. We have the responsibility to proclaim the "more excellent way" that we see in the gospel. The path is as deadly sobering as the Cross and as enlivening as Easter. And in order to walk worthily upon it, we need the friendship and discipleship found within the body of Christ.
Matthew Lee Anderson is author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith. He blogs at MereOrthodoxy.com.
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Earlier articles by Matthew Lee Anderson include:
God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Body | It includes sex, diet, and sports—but so much more.(August 12, 2011)
The Center of the Good News | Why we can't understand the gospel—or ourselves—without the Trinity. A review of 'The Deep Things of God.' (Feb. 1, 2011)
Why Natural Law Arguments Make Evangelicals Uncomfortable | A recent paper highlights the differences between evangelical and Catholic defense of traditional marriage. (Mar. 23, 2011)
What's New Is Old: 'America's New Evangelicals' | Today's politically liberal evangelicals may not be as different as some imagine. (Oct. 14, 2011)