The Paganization Of The Church (1)
Written by Cornelis Pronk
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Reformed Worldviews - Postmodernism

Serious problems exist in almost all of our churches. Most of these problems are of a moral nature; marital infidelity, pre-marital sex, internet-accessed pornography, sexual abuse, undisciplined TV and video viewing etc.

What is Happening in Our Churches?

What is happening to us? Why are so many of our baptized and confessing members and even middle-aged and older members involved in conduct altogether unbecoming to professing Christians? The answer is simply this: worldly thinking is influencing, if not controlling, the minds of many church members, especially the youth. Whether consciously or unconsciously, but many of our young people and older members as well, are adopting ideas and lifestyles that only one generation ago would have been unthinkable. It is almost trite to say it, but our society is thoroughly hedonistic, i.e. pleasure oriented. Let me be specific: we live in a sex-saturated environment and no one is completely immune to its poisonous influence.

A Very Important Book

The other day I picked up a book by Crossway Books, a reputable publishing house, but by an author unknown to me, Daniel R. Heimbach. The book is titled True Sexual Morality, Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis. The book came recommended by conservative evangelicals, such as R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Elisabeth Eliot Gren, Paige Patterson, and even Fred Barnes, regular contributor to Fox News World. In my opinion this is the best book on this subject to date and I heartily recommend it as a "must read" for all our pastors and others who are concerned about what is happening in our culture today. Although Heimbach writes primarily with reference to the situation in America, there are obvious implications for the whole of our Western civilization. I quote:

"Like tremors rising from deep underground, something seismic is affecting the foundations of our culture. Since we became a nation, nothing so divisive has threatened common life in America, and never have the stakes been so high. In just one generation we have witnessed a total revolution in the way people think of sex and this in turn is creating a demand for monumental revisions affecting every social institution at almost every level. Pornography in print, celluloid, and electronic forms is exploding, and what shocked our parents is considered standard for entertainment and advertising today. Same-sex relationships are considered normal and restricting sex to marriage is considered abnormal. Behavior once thought shameful is flaunted now with pride, and praised as daring and courageous... Everything related to sex, gender, and family, whether in law, politics, defense, education, entertainment, health, business, or religion, is being shaken to the core" (p. 32).

Notice what the author says at the end of that paragraph. Also religion is being shaken up by this new way of thinking about sex. "Opposing factions are tearing churches and whole denominations apart. Sexual standards long thought essential are being denounced as un-Christian, and top officials in the church are in some cases themselves claiming that the church will die if Christians do not learn to reject the Bible and take a new, more sensual approach on sex" (p.33).

Heimbach is not only speaking of mainline denominations such as the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church of the USA (counterpart to the Anglican Church in Canada), and the Southern Baptist Convention, but also of many conservative, evangelical and Reformed denominations.

Heimbach mentions several things, which suggest that the new ideas about sexuality are affecting, first of all, evangelical doctrine. For instance, he wonders why suddenly evangelicals feel it necessary to change their view on the Trinity. Is it because Christ's submission to His Father supports the biblical teaching that wives ought to submit to their husbands? Why does Christ's relationship to the church have to be redefined? Could it be because Paul uses Christ's headship as a model for husbands being head of their families? Again, what is the real motive behind the rush to revise the doctrine of creation? Is it the desire to make it fit a new vision of human sexuality and to get rid of male-only leadership in the church? Why all the research to prove that homosexuality is a condition caused by genetic factors? Is it to make it easier to accept them as full-fledged members of the church without having to call them to repentance?

Three Approaches to Sexual Morality

Heimbach thinks that none of these things are happening by coincidence. Instead, he sees a definite connection between the changing attitudes to human sexuality in society and the eagerness on the part of some evangelicals to reinterpret Scripture's teaching on sex. And the sole motive behind this eagerness is the desire to make sexual standards among Christians more acceptable to the surrounding culture.

What is taking place today in our society is nothing less than the paganization of our Western culture, including the main driving force behind that culture, namely the Christian church.

According to Heimbach, there have been two opposing approaches to sexual morality in Western civilization. The traditional approach, based on Scripture, holds that sex is not to be practiced as an end in itself, but rather as a means to an end, the end being to strengthen the marriage bond and to support the family. Sex is restricted to husbands and wives who, if they become parents, are responsible for raising children to become productive members of society.

With the rise of modernism an opposing view of sexual morality emerged. According to this view, sex serves no moral or spiritual purpose beyond the experience of sex itself. Everyone is free to use sex whenever or with whomever he or she chooses, with mutual consent.

Then came postmodernism. Dissatisfied with modernism's non-spiritual permissive approach to sex, postmodernism developed a kind of New Age view of sexuality that still affirms permissiveness and sensuality but adds a spiritual and mystical component to it. According to this view, sex is meaningful, not because it builds marriages and strengthens family relationships, but because it enhances spirituality. The main purpose of sex is to connect oneself with the spiritual power that operates the universe. It puts one in touch with cosmic energy. Engaging in sex is like accessing electric power, but in such a way that everyone controls his or her own switch.

Heimbach is convinced that this relatively recent postmodern view of sex poses the greatest threat to our Judeo-Christian civilization. In his own words: "the greatest single moral-spiritual threat to truth in our culture these days is a rising fascination with paganism that defines morality as anything spiritual and then reduces it to anything sexual" (p. 38).

The sexual revolution taking place today in America and other Western nations is not a haphazard phenomenon, but a carefully planned strategy called deconstruction (p. 40). It is being developed by social engineers who seek to redefine, redesign, and reconstruct every institution in our society, including the church.

How We are Affected

How does this help to explain the immoral conduct displayed by some in our Free Reformed churches you may well ask. Surely we do not engage in revisionist exegesis! Our people can never blame our pulpits for their sinful behaviour! Again, few of us think of sex in terms of spirituality. Pagans and post- modernists may get a spiritual high out of sexual experience, but we are more likely to be influenced by hedonistic modernists who are only looking for physical and sensual delights (I'm not so sure about that, as I hope to explain in the next article). But let me say this for now: wrong biblical preaching and teaching are not the only causes of sexual misconduct. Sinful behaviour usually starts at a much more primitive and elementary level. Sin is always first a matter of the heart. Heimbach says that sexual sin begins with dissatisfaction with God's laws governing sexual matters. Let me illustrate. You are a married man but your wife is not what you thought she was when you married her. She does not meet your expectations and you wish you could terminate the relationship. But of course, the Bible forbids divorce on such flimsy grounds. Instead, God commands you to love your wife and to cherish her. You find that hard to do. Impossible really. Why is God so strict on these matters? You are not happy and feel you have every right to be. So why not marry that other woman? She would satisfy my deepest needs. But the Bible won't allow it. The church will not give its permission. Well, then, I'll have to start an affair outside marriage. God will understand; I hope so any way.

Another scenario. You are single and interested in girls but so far no girl has shown any interest in you. What are you going to do? Be celibate for the rest of your life? I can't do that, you protest. Sure, the Bible says that the only outlet for sex is marriage. But is that realistic? I'm only human. Why can't I rent a porno movie once in a while? Or try phone sex or the chat room on internet? The Lord will understand. After all, He made me this way!

And how about this? You do have a girlfriend and you are madly in love with her. She is crazy about you too. The only problem is, the church and your parents insist that you wait till marriage. That's asking too much, you feel. I'm a healthy man with hormones coursing through my system. I'm not made of stone and neither is she. Sorry, but I'm going to have to bend God's laws a little here. Everybody's doing it and we are really in love, so . . . Heimbach's comments are right on:

"Shaping Christian morality to the culture destroys respect for the Bible, and as respect for biblical accuracy and authority collapses, biblical moral standards seem less and less relevant. Eventually the moral authority of the Bible is abandoned completely in favor of a culturally popular, indulgent approach. Sexual morality is redefined according to sexual desires, and the indulging of sexual desires is thought necessary to achieve higher levels of personal development. At this stage, biblical standards are ridiculed, sexual differences are maligned, and the boundaries God has set to keep sex pure and good are attacked as harmful or dangerous" (p. 114).

A Call to Action

It is in this kind of society that we live and bring up our children. The pressure on us is tremendous and will only get worse as the great apostasy continues. How important it is therefore to take a stand and instruct especially the coming generation in what the Bible teaches, not only about the way of salvation, but on the way of holy living, especially when it comes to the role sex plays in our lives. Here the church has an important task. But parents also, and they first of all, must see to it that their children receive a solid grounding in biblical truth as it relates to our subject. This means also that they must send them to good Christian schools or provide solid biblical home schooling. To expose our covenant children to the public school system today is inexcusable. Everything I have said about the new pagan sexual morality is promoted by our neo-pagan educators today and it is impossible for your children to escape its poisonous influence eight hours a day, five days each week. There also has to be much stricter supervision of what our children and young people watch on TV, videos, DVD's, and access on Internet, than has apparently been the case. The influence of our immoral culture is everywhere; also in the immodest clothing that is marketed, and even purchased and worn by our youth to church and school. Parents, especially mothers, must teach their daughters and warn their sons that clothing or the lack of it incites and encourages immoral thoughts and acts forbidden by God and is a disgrace for Christians (see 1 Tim. 2:9,10; 1 Peter 3:3-6). Not only our young people are in danger of contamination. Their parents are not immune either to the filth that daily seeps from the sewers of our modern entertainment media and the culture in which we live. The cases reported at our Synod in June did not involve children, nor young people alone, but mostly young adults and older members.

Let me close with one more quote from Heimbach's book.

"If ideas about Christian sexual morality do not come from scripture and scripture alone, they must come from something outside scripture treated as if it were superior to scripture. A person may only want Christian morality to seem nicer, or more compassionate, or more compatible with natural reason, and he or she may have no intention of changing anything essential to Christian faith. But anything outside the Bible used to make it supposedly better inevitably revises biblical morality in a pagan direction" (p.115).

Rev. Cornelis (Neil) Pronk is an emeritus pastor of the Free Reformed Churches and the editor of the FRC Messenger. This article was printed in the FRC Messenger and is republished here with permission.