3 Conservative Christian Heresies
Excellent and thought-provoking!
If we claim to be Christians, and have any understanding of our faith at all, it should go without saying that Jesus Christ is the central figure. He is, in fact, the chief cornerstone. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. In Him we live and move and have our being. Those are all Biblical words and statements, not mine.
The apostle Paul continually pointed to Jesus, and emphasized that the entire thrust of his preaching was Christ and Christ crucified. But, then again, he also warned that the Cross is a stumbling block for many.
It is certainly true that we are to love our neighbors (meaning everyone) no matter what they do or don’t believe. I get that. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not merely an obscure suggestion, but something Jesus said was one of the two greatest commandments, second only to loving God. I can even understand the longing to declare us all — Muslims and Christians — to be brothers and to claim we worship the same god, so we can hopefully pursue peace and understanding…perhaps while joining hands around the campfire and singing Kumbaya. “See, we’re not that different after all!” I wish it were that easy.
But love is not genuine love if it comes at the expense of truth. Love is not love if it leaves others lost without Christ just so we can feel warm, inclusive, and tolerant. Love is not love if we pretend to love God with every fiber of our being while feeling awkwardly reluctant to address the totality of His being and acknowledge fully all three of His Persons.
Jesus is either Lord or not. We are either Christians — those who have chosen to bear His name — or we’re not. If we feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about Jesus’ claims of “No one comes to the Father except through Me,” perhaps we would be more comfortable thinking of ourselves as Abrahamic monotheists.
True disciples follow their Lord and Saviour — their King — no matter the cost. In some parts of the world today, that can mean torture, rapes, and beheadings. In America, that may mean someone insisting that we’re ignorant, backwards, and too fanatical about Jesus. It may even mean losing friends who will find our view of Jesus to be outdated, offensive, narrow-minded, intolerant or unacceptable.
Jesus warned us that the way is narrow. Wishing it were broad and easy negates the words of the very One we claim to base our beliefs upon. We either follow…or not.
Could it be that it’s even less about me, and less about my efforts to become pure than I ever imagined?
In the past, I spent so much time hung up about doing, that in my worst moments of extreme distress and failure, I admitted to a few confidantes, “I don’t know how to do Christianity!” Years ago, I announced to my parents, “I’m just not cut out for Christianity.” It took decades for me to grasp my father’s reply, “But that’s the whole point.”
One of my favorite passages is this:
“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” [1 John 3:2-3 NASB]
Silly me — I always interpreted that last verse as saying, “So if you have this hope, you need to purify yourself.” I rejoiced that, on that glorious day, seeing Jesus just as He is would purify me and transform me into His likeness. What a wonderful hope! But I missed the true connection with the next verse. Just as seeing Jesus will transform me, so will fixing my hope in Him. Bottom line: the more I focus on Jesus, the more like Him I become. That’s what that passage really means.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
There are a lot of wrong messages coming out of “purity culture”, and I’ve written quite a bit about my concerns. One of the things that troubles me greatly is that the message of the gospel is too often being perverted by a false teaching of what purity is. The entire concept that we are born pure and can lose our purity should seem like jarringly false doctrine to evangelical Christians who believe in original sin and the power of redemption. It should, but all too often it doesn’t.
Another troubling aspect of “purity culture” is that it’s all about what one shouldn’t do, and doesn’t give a hope-filled message of what one should do. Furthermore, it’s a message that becomes meaningless the instant one marries…or at least the instant the marriage is consummated. The message is also skewed heavily towards young women, especially when the emphasis is on an intact hymen and the vehicle is father-daughter “purity balls”. Purity is seen as less important for young men.
This is not a Christian ethic, no matter what one tries to claim.
There’s an old-fashioned word I don’t hear very much, at least not in Protestant circles, but it’s an important one to use in discussions of sexual purity. That word is chastity. Sometimes chastity is thought to be synonymous with celibacy; however, the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church teaches otherwise:
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.
…either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.
This flies in the face of what is taught to too many girls within “purity culture”, where purity is equated with virginity marked by an intact hymen. This emphasis is so out of proportion to reality that I’ve known girls who agonized over whether using a tampon would cause them to “lose their virginity” and thus sacrifice their “purity”. I’ve read of a growing number of young brides who grieve the loss of their virginity on their honeymoons when they “give up their purity” to their husbands. What now? they wonder. The most valuable thing about them is gone forever. The precious gift has been given, sometimes to a husband who acts more entitled than appreciative, and now what do they have left?
Chastity, on the other hand, is a lifestyle. It is not something we are born with and must guard lest we lose it to the wrong person. It is, instead, a virtue we must cultivate with the help of the Holy Spirit, and it is just as important, if not more so, after the wedding night as before. Chastity is the healthy, God-honoring expression of our sexuality in a way appropriate to where we are in life, whether single or married. It is one way in which we present our bodies to Christ as a living sacrifice. It is one of the outworkings of sanctification.
By the grace of God, one can begin living a chaste life at any point. Even the most sordid past sins can be forgiven, and the Holy Spirit can empower the weakest of the weak to walk in repentance, in purity, and in holiness.
That’s the power of the gospel.
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
Why am I so opposed to equating virginity with purity? It’s not just because I grew up in the era of “technical virgins” who did “everything but”. It’s not because, as some legalists might accuse, I “hate purity”. In fact, it’s because I value purity so much that I don’t want to denigrate it, reduce it to something that it isn’t, or render it meaningless. (Read the rest of my previous post here.)
I’ve written about what purity isn’t, without saying enough about what it is. If we are discussing a Biblical perspective of purity, obviously we need to look at what the Bible has to say on the topic.
In the New Testament, there is little emphasis on ritual purity. Rather, the focus is on moral purity or purification: chastity ( 2 Cor 11:2 ; Titus 2:5 ); innocence in one’s attitude toward members of the church ( 2 Cor 7:11 ); and moral purity or uprightness ( Php 4:8 ; 1 Tim 5:22 ; 1 Peter 3:2 … ). Purity is associated with understanding, patience and kindness ( 2 Cor 6:6 ); speech, life, love, and faith ( 1 Tim 4:12 ); and reverence ( 1 Peter 3:2 ).
Purity is far more than virginity, and it’s not just about sex. I’ve noticed that those I know who walk out a lifestyle of radical purity are not trumpeting it forth loudly on the internet, nor do they draw undue attention to themselves in general, nor do they boast of their purity. It just becomes apparent as you get to know them, and it also becomes apparent that their purity is accompanied by other virtues…especially, it seems, humility.
I have always loved the promise of 1 John 3:2-3 — that seeing our Savior as He really is will transform us radically. We shall be like Him! In the meantime, if that is our hope and our longing, we should be purifying ourselves, following the example of Christ.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” said Jesus in Matthew 11:29. We never find Christ boasting about the sins He didn’t commit. Instead, we find Him serving, being about His Father’s business, loving the unlovely, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, seeking and saving the lost, binding up the brokenhearted, setting the captives free, and sacrificing His very life for us. All along the way, He keeps reminding us that, when He lived among us in bodily form, He was showing us the Father.
We can’t become like Jesus all by ourselves. First, we need Christ to cleanse us from our sins, but then we need the power of the Holy Spirit to undertake the process of sanctification — that old-fashioned theological term that can be defined simply as being used for the purpose God intends. That means an ongoing, radical transformation…or at least it should, if we truly want to follow Jesus. More obedience, less rebellion and wandering. More love, less selfishness. More compassion, less indifference. More of His will, less of mine. More of Him, less of me. Gradually, we should become more and more holy — consecrated and set apart for service to God, more and more conforming to His will.
That’s purity. Anything less, and we’re just kidding ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve still got a long, long way to go.