Contending for Truth - Sex and Marriage

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The title for our sermon tonight is CONTENDING FOR TRUTH – with special reference to SEX and MARRIAGE. Contending for Truth is part of what is needed to Change Britain or anywhere else, and the last part of our JPC vision statement, of Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain. But why should you contend for truth? The simplest answer is Jude verse 4 which says:

Dear friends … I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

So tonight, we are going to be thinking about “contending for [aspects of] the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints [those first believers – the Apostles of Christ].” My headings are simple, first, CONTENDING FOR TRUTH, then secondly, SEX AND MARRIAGE. And I shall be looking at Mark 10.6-9 and Hebrews 13.4 from our Gospel and Epistle readings.


How do you account for the current confusion over the truth regarding what is right and wrong? One factor is that people in the West today have radically different ideas of what is reasonable or rational. That is because in the West there are three main world-views with fundamental assumptions about life, and all contradict each other. These assumptions are often held unconsciously. But what seems reasonable to someone relates to fundamental assumptions already held.

Also you saw from that video clip of the Asch Experiment how easily you can irrationally believe what is not true, if everyone around you is believing it. I am convinced that the two commonly held world-views that are taught to our children and reinforced to adults by the media are simply wrong. But they are being believed as in the Asch experiment.

However, I need to say that the Asch experiment that we saw ( is what mostly happens. For in the original experiments soon after the Second World War, one in four did not compromise. So my prayer for everyone in this building tonight is that we will always be among those one in four.

Now, the first of these two wrong world-views is that of modernistic scientism. This is the view that human intelligence in time can discover all the facts and truths about the universe, including the facts and truths of morality. With this view, people see the history of ideas as a history of progress. So you go from mistaken superstitions, to more respectable religions but then, when “man comes of age” (the phrase of the 1960s), you go to atheism and science. I wrote about the limits of science in the recent October Coloured Supplement (now available on our website ( Time forbids saying more now.

The second view or set of assumptions comes today from an extreme over-contradiction of this modernistic scientism. This is post-modernism. It holds that there is no such body of facts and truths waiting to be discovered. Rather, you have to exercise your “will” and create new facts and new truths and, indeed, a new morality of your own. With regard to conventional sexual morals and traditional marriage, post-modernism says these simply are the result of the wills of men for domineering over women. It was the German philosopher Nietzsche who was the founding father of this view - that the “will to power” explains so much.

Well, scientism and post-modernism today provide assumptions for so many.

The third view is, of course, that of mainstream Christianity, which no longer in the UK is getting much educational or media support. This Christian worldview requires us to submit to God’s authority and truth, spoken by his Holy Spirit through the Bible and learnt about in the community of other Christians – the Church of Christ. And it is supremely learnt through Christ himself, God come in human form.

And this world view is believable because Jesus actually lived, died and rose again. That real resurrection and empty tomb validated his claims and resulted in his living and reigning, through his Holy Spirit, at this moment. But the problem is this.

Because of these competing views, in the West - certainly in the UK - there is no one view of what the good life is, and what moral behaviour should be. So corporately society is in moral break-down. And this break-down has enormous negative economic and social outcomes.
Certainly that is true regarding sex and marriage. According to Guy Brandon, of the Cambridge Jubilee Centre and his recent paper, “Free Sex – who pays?” the break-down could be in the order of “£100 billion annually” to the tax-payer and the wider economy ( (I shall mention some of the social costs later.)

So rational argument is now very difficult. How, then, do you contend as a Christian in such a world?

Well, today’s world is not totally different to the pluralistic world of the first century and the New Testament. As you study the Apostle Paul you see how he contended. When arguing with Jews, he assumed much common ground from their belief in the God of the Old Testament. But they needed to learn that for all their religion and often correct understanding, they were still sinners in need of forgiveness and new spiritual life and power. (Anyone like that here tonight?)

However, when Paul went to the Greeks, such as the intellectuals in Athens (you read about them in Acts 17.22-31), because he had time, he presented a total Christian world-view. And against that background he spoke of the evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus and the end of history and future judgement.

But when he had less time, as at Lystra, he spoke about the evidence provided by God’s goodness. In Acts 14.17 he says: “Yet he [God] has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." God is good, says Paul. And that is still a way you need to argue and contend publicly in the 21st century.

Take the argument in favour of stopping Sunday Trading. The religious argument is simple: “God tells you in the Bible to keep one day holy – or special”. And arguing with pagan people, who do not believe in the God of the Bible, you can still say that, because it may ring bells with them. However, you also need an argument that doesn’t assume Christian belief about the Bible.

So what you say is that God’s law is always for human flourishing. The fact is, we simply need the rhythm of one day off in seven as human beings. And society needs a rest – so we all need the same day (except for obvious exceptions). The proof is that the French Revolutionaries after 1792 introduced a new 10 day week. It was a disaster. People couldn’t last nine days without a break. So in 1805 Napoleon restored the seven day week. It was similar with the Russian Revolution. With the intention of destroying religious tradition, Sunday was turned into a working day. That, too, was a disaster. So before long Stalin restored Sunday as a day of rest.

The point is this. When you are contending in public - in the NHS, as a lawyer, as a teacher (in a hostile school environment), or whoever (and wherever) you are, - you need to make it clear that God’s moral laws (or State laws that should reflect them) are for everyone’s good. And that is no more true than in our subject tonight and our…

second, heading, SEX AND MARRIAGE

What does Jesus Christ teach about sex and marriage? Well, you had it in our Gospel reading. Jesus goes back to Genesis and the creation narrative and quotes Genesis 2.24. Look at Mark 10.6-9:

“But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (Mark 10.6-9)

First, Jesus teaches that marriage is heterosexual. Being male and female is a matter of creation, not culture – verse 6: “at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female’.” So the Bible’s definition of marriage is that it is heterosexual. It unites a man and his wife – not a man and a male lover.

Secondly, it is monogamous. The man and the woman here are both in the singular. Polygamy was tolerated for a while in Old Testament times. But monogamy was God’s intention for humankind.

Thirdly, it is a committed relationship. The word “united” has the idea of “sticking to” something. It is a strong word. That rules out all cohabitation, where there is not that commitment for life, witnessed and supported by the wider society.

For, fourthly, marriage is a public institution. Before the uniting in marriage, there must be a “leaving” of parents. And the leaving is a public occasion, as are the promises of commitment. The wider society must know a life-long marriage is happening.

And, fifthly, marriage is sexual and the only legitimate context for sexual intercourse – verse 8: “’the two will become one flesh’. So they are no longer two, but one.” Note - the becoming “one flesh” comes after there is “leaving” and “uniting”. And as you can see from elsewhere in the Bible that means all pre-marital and non-marital sex (fornication), extra-marital sex (adultery) and male and female homosexual sex are forbidden.

And, sixthly, marriage is to be life-long – verse 9: “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” But those words are not in Genesis. They are Jesus addition. So we must take them especially seriously.

And they imply, seventhly, that marriage is unchanging and cannot be redefined. Yes! The rituals and traditions can change. But as the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss says the family everywhere is “based on a union, more or less durable, but socially approved, of two individuals of opposite sexes who establish a household and bear and raise children.”

Almost universally, marriage leading to families is a permanent human feature. And it can’t be changed or redefined because God is joining together a man and a woman. He does not join a man and a man or a woman and a woman. Nor is it the clergyman and certainly not the State doing the joining, but God. The clergy and the State witness and declare what has happened. But ever to declare that God has joined a man and a man or a woman and a woman would be blasphemy.

And note: because God creates the marriage, it is not the couple’s relationship that creates the marriage. So a marriage is not the sort of thing that dies. It is unhelpful, therefore, to talk of “the death of a marriage”. Yes, relationships go up and down, but not the marriage as such. For God creates the marriage as an institutional fence around the couple’s relationship to protect it and strengthen it.

That is why, without that institutional fence, cohabitation is so fragile. For cohabitation has no support other than the couples’ own emotional competences – which being human regularly fail. We know that if cohabiting couples marry, such couples are 50 percent more likely to have divorced after 5 years of marriage, and 60 percent more likely after eight years of marriage than those who have not cohabited - with all the problems and traumas for children.
So to summarise: marriage according to God’s creative purpose as underlined by Jesus is a heterosexual, monogamous, committed, public, sexual, lifelong, and unchanging God given institution. And it is the only right place for human sexual intercourse.

Now Jesus was teaching this inside Palestine, where there was already a tradition of Jewish sexual restraint. However, outside Palestine in the Roman world, as the early Apostles soon discovered, there was utter sexual decadence. A Roman Empress in AD 50 was a common prostitute. Of the first 15 Roman Emperors, 14 were practising homosexuals. And Jerome, an early church father, tells of a woman marrying her 23rd husband, she being his 21st wife.

Sadly, that is too often the situation today, with children suffering, society suffering and the sexual partners suffering. Certainly students suffer. A first year student was describing what it was like living in a university flat: "There are five of us, all girls. One regularly has casual sex with guys she picks up at clubs, one is a practising lesbian and one has a boyfriend who stays here virtually all the time. In the first term one of us had an abortion, two took the morning after pill. I just don't know how to cope with all this."

Well, to the Roman world then – and our world today - the writer to the Hebrews has something to say in chapter 13 verse 4. It is simple. It says:

“Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Hebrews 13v4)

Note four things that are being said or implied here.

First, marriage is to be “honoured”. That means you must fight against the current cohabiting and divorce-and-remarriage culture which is undermining marriage. And, as a current priority, you must fight against redefining marriage to include same-sex unions. For this will devalue and dilute the social support that comes from privileging heterosexual marriage alone. And fight against institutionalising open-ended cohabitation as the equivalent of marriage. When all relationships are privileged, none are. None will be specially supported. And you will have even more family collapse.

Heterosexual monogamous life-long marriage is to be honoured as an institution, that is good for children, good for society and good for the couple. Studies in the 1990s and more recently have proved that, and proved that new family arrangements (sadly) on average are simply less good for children, society and the child’s parents.

Secondly, marriage is for all. Marriage, says our writer, “should be honoured by all”. Some think there is Christian marriage and then there is State marriage. “So,” they say, “let the State do with marriage what it likes.” That is so wrong.

As we have seen and as we say in the marriage service: “marriage is a gift of God in creation”. Marriage is for human beings as such. All that is different in a church wedding is that you make your vows public not just before your friends and family, as in a Registry Office, but before God as well. And in the promises you are buying into Christ’s and the New Testament’s teaching on marriage, some of which is here in Mark and Hebrews. So marriage is be honoured and by all, Christians and non-Christians.

Thirdly, our verse implies sex and marriage are affected by the Fall. In Genesis 1-2 you read about God’s intentions for the man and the woman. In Genesis 1 they are to be “fruitful and multiply”. They are to have children. In Genesis 2 it says, it is not good to be alone. The man, Adam, then, is given as a loving companion the woman, Eve. And so we say in the Marriage Service, “husband and wife” are to be “united … in love as Christ is united with his Church.”

But then chapter 3 tells us about the Fall. There, the woman and then the man decide they know better than God. And the result is misery. And since then there have been cultures and times when men have taken advantage of women’s sexual drives to exploit and dominate them. In other cultures and times women have over-reacted and there is sexual and marital chaos. That is all part of this world as sinful. The writer to the Hebrews is, therefore, writing because marriage may not be honoured. And the marriage bed may not be kept pure. And why does he say this?

Because, and this is his fourth point, verse 4: “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Our writer doesn’t pull any punches. All the evidence is that if you don’t keep God’s rules for sex and marriage, there will be suffering now, in the future (in terms of the damage done to the next generation) and eternally.

People don’t like to hear it, as they don’t like to hear bad news from a doctor. But the hard facts are, to quote Hebrews 9v27: “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (That, of course, rules out re-incarnation and extinction at death.) However, Hebrews has been saying, that we all sin. The writer knows about reality. Nevertheless, he says, Christ came that first Christmas to provide “purification” from sin (Heb 1v3). That is the good news.

I know that in a church like this tonight there will be some who are not only mixed up but severely damaged sexually and maritally – through your own fault or someone else’s. And there are other people who are single, or married to a non-believing partner, and finding life very hard. This side of heaven the reality of the Fall will never completely be undone. But God can turn even the “wrath of man to praise” him (as Ps 76v10 can be translated). God can bring good out of bad. But how?

Listen to Hebrews 4.15, and with this I conclude:

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are [so Christ is unshockable], -- yet [he] was without sin.” (Hebrews 4v15)

That is the good news. But what precisely do we do? Answer - verse 16:

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4v16)

So trust God’s word and act on it. Hebrews chapter 11 has just told us that Rahab, a prostitute did, so did the dissolute Samson (at the end of his life), as examples for us. No one is too bad to be forgiven or too good to need to be forgiven, through Christ who bore all our sexual and marital sins on the Cross and now gives us strength, by his Holy Spirit, to live differently


The following article, written by David Holloway, appeared in theChurch of England Newspaper on Sunday July 22, 2012, and was given out at Jesmond Parish Church with the sermon notes for the above sermon in the light of a debate in the General Synod the following Tuesday, 20 November 2012. It was headed:


Jesus undermined all prejudice against women. He treated women in a natural and unselfconscious way, whether teaching the open hearted Mary of Bethany or dealing with, of all people, a Samaritan woman. Paul then followed Jesus’ example with female fellow workers such as Phoebe, a deacon, at Cenchreae, and Euodia, Syntyche and Lydia, a business woman, at Phillippi.

At this time in the Jewish morning prayer a pious Jew could thank God that he was made “a Jew and not a Gentile, a free man and not a slave, a man and not a woman”. It was quite seismic, therefore, when Paul wrote to Galatians tempted back to Jewish ways: “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female … in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3.28).

However, while there was this recognition of female equality, all the apostles Jesus commissioned were men; and all the presbyters/priests (literally “elders”) or bishops (literally “overseers”) appointed by the apostles were male. And Judas’ replacement was Matthias and not Mary, although first to witness the Resurrection. Also Paul was against female authoritative teachers.

Early on there was some resistance to an exclusive male presbyterate by heretical Gnostics. But such attempts to ordain women failed in the mainstream of the churches.

At the heart of this issue is an anthropological question: “what is the fundamental nature of men and women?”

Jesus, in his ethical reasoning, insisted on going back to creation and Genesis where the only difference in human kind before the Fall is that between male and female. So to be human is to share humanity with the opposite sex, with gender essentially due to creation, not culture.

One Greek myth spoke of an original hominid subsequently split into two sexes. Jumping the centuries, Marx and Engels also argued that sexual difference, apart from minor biological plumbing differences, was due to historical evolution and inessential.

Genesis says, “No!” Fundamental difference is a matter of creation, not history. Genesis 1 teaches fundamental sexual equality. Genesis 2 teaches difference in male functional priority but no superiority. Genesis 3 teaches that problems only come after the Fall. Then the man takes advantage of the woman’s sexual drives to exploit and dominate her.

So sexual chaos and male domination is part of this world as sinful. Feminist reaction rightly wants to counter exploitation and prejudice. Such prejudice you find in Greek philosophers (Plato and Aristotle) and other religions (not only Judaism). But the solution is to get back from the fallenness and male domination of Genesis 3 to Genesis 1 and 2 – to equality and difference - not only to the equality of Genesis 1.

But do we not have to adapt to a changing culture? After all the nomadic Israelites adapted to agricultural Canaan, to the mercantile economy of the monarchy and to Persian, Hellenic and Roman imperial life. Then in New Testament times the gospel was transplanted from a Jewish to a Gentile environment. So why not adapt to the 21st century and make women bishops? The problem is twofold.

First, neither in Old nor in New Testament times were some fundamental insights ever traded away. Women were never institutionalized in senior leadership. Charismatic figures, gifted by the Holy Spirit, like the judge, Deborah, and prophetesses like Huldah and Philip’s four daughters acted and were honoured. But they were not institutional figures like priests or presbyters.

Israel could have followed Ancient Near Eastern religion with its institutional priestesses. But it did not. And New Testament Christians had every inducement to institutionalize women by ordination as presbyter/bishops. In his Sixth Satire Juvenal tells of a virtual women’s liberation movement among Roman women. But the presbyterate remained male.

Interestingly, when writing to Colossians in a feminized region dominated by earth mother goddess religions and priestesses, like those of Artemis and Cybele, Paul omits a reference to “male and female” equality (Col 3.11). This looks like caution, unlike when writing to Jewish Galatians needing that truth.

Secondly, and vitally, there is the biblical belief that the relationship between men and women mirrors the relationship within the divine and eternal Trinity (1 Cor 11). Here in the inner life of the Godhead is social (not servile) subordination but with full equality (as the early Church was adamant to assert in the Arian crisis).

Any priority, however, in male leadership has to be one of care and service. As Jesus said: “the one who rules [is to be] like the one who serves” (Lk 22.26).

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