Consider the numbers. According to the National Association of Evangelical's Generation Forum, 4 out of 5 Christians (18-29 years old) have had sex. 64% of those young Christians had sex within the last year. 30% of unmarried Christians are involved in an unintended pregnancy. And about 1 out of 3 of those unmarried Christian pregnancies end in abortion.
Obviously something needs to be done. Something needs to change.
Jenell Paris, writing in Christianity Today, believes that a solution is to have churches educate singles about contraceptives because "abstinence absolutism" hasn't quite been cutting it (she was responding to this article). It's not that Paris believes it is kosher to have premarital sex, but since singles are still sleeping around and getting pregnant, she thinks churches should "take a both-and approach to abortion reduction: both uphold premarital chastity as the biblical ideal, and encourage and educate unmarried singles about the effective use of contraception. Encouraging, not pushing. Educating, not affirming." It's a compromise, she admits, but a "sacred one"—one that will eventually save lives.
Will this work? Will encouraging the use of contraceptives actually curb unintended pregnancies, abortions, and hopefully along the way, premarital sex? Possibly. Maybe. Probably not.
The problem with Paris' view is that she sees this issue as either/or. Either we teach abstinence only to our singles (hoping the whole way that the shame and guilt of defilement before the church will scare them into keeping their pants on) or we teach them that if they happen to have sex then at least use protection (better to fall into the littler sin of premarital sex than to commit a larger one via abortion). The problem with this understanding is that Paris reveals that she does not know what actually changes people.
I AM MY OWN DISEASE
Boundaries, fear of shame, guilt, and education cannot keep a person from having sex or from wanting sex. Those aren't solutions. They are bandaids trying to cure a tumor. The problem is not sex but sin. Sex is a symptom of the diseased human heart and society's conspiratorial rebellion against God.
Paris' "sacred compromise" lessens the weight of sexual sin. It is less about obeying a holy God and more about being chaste and more importantly, being un-pregnant. There is no discussion of the heart. There is no acknowledgment that it was sin that put Jesus on the cross.
When you lessen the weight of sin, you devalue the horror of what Christ endured on the cross. When you devalue the cross, you begin to lose reasons to live for Him, to seek His face, to love Him above all things, and to find Him more pleasurable and worthy than even sexual pleasure itself.
Let us never lessen the weight of sin. Sin is serious. My sin and yours. God hates sin. It put the Son of God on the cross.
Part of moving forward from the sexual sin epidemic is recognizing that the problem is not what I do but what is in my heart. Sin.
THE GOOD NEWS
The problem of premarital sex in the church is found in the heart. Only the Gospel can change a person's heart and we need a new one desperately.
In her article, Paris gives a passing nod to the Gospel—but only in part. She writes, "After all, 'just saying no' to premarital sex, important as it is, is not the heart of the gospel. The heart of the matter is saying yes to God. Maybe we often rely on shame and fear because it's hard to believe that people would say no to something as tantalizing as sexual pleasure if they didn't stand to lose something extremely valuable such as honor, the affection of family and church, or even eternal life.
I understand what Paris is trying to get at here, but "saying yes to God" is not the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel is, in Paul's words, Christ dying on behalf of our sins, according to the Scriptures, and being raised again so we may have life (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). When we place our faith—our trust—in this message, we become "new creations" (2 Corinthians 5:17). We gain a new heart, a new mind, new desires, new values, new goals, a new Master.
This is what people need to hear to change. If too many Christians are having premarital sex and having abortions it is because they are not getting enough of the Gospel. It is the same if they are committing adultery, gossiping, being divisive, stealing, or addicted to pornography. They need more Gospel. This may seem like an impractical solution, but it is in the Gospel that God has placed His divine power to save and change (Romans 1:16). We should not over look that.
The solution to keep people from committing "bigger sins" is not to make it safer or more normal to commit "smaller sins" (although the Paul would argue that sexual sin is not a small sin; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Nor is the solution accountability groups, computer software, kissing dating goodbye, mission statements, or purity rings. Those things can all help and are sometimes the first step, but the solution is the Gospel. And by God's grace, through Gospel-focused discipleship, Gospel-driven evangelism, and Gospel-saturated preaching, we will see less and less sexual promiscuity in the church.
Will there still be sin in the church, even one surrounded by the Gospel? Yes. Where there are humans there will always be sin. It follows us like stink on a hog. But hopefully, when people sin the church can be the first place they run to instead of the last, as Paris reports. The church is called to be a hospital for sinners, to bind up the broken and the hurting.
I know where Paris is coming from. I have seen the church self-righteously shun those it should be embracing with gracious tears. But I have also seen it done correctly. I have seen the lost get found. I have seen single mothers get accepted into the family. I have seen the unmarried repent of their sexual sin and save themselves for their future spouse. I have seen the dirty and the defiled be picked up and washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. I have seen it because it happened to me, along with so many others.
And it is all done through the powerful Gospel and the wonderful cross.
For further reading, see Trevin Wax's article "Both Chastity and Contraception: A Scandalous Capitulation"