Regarding the Tampa Tribune’s Thou Shalt Canoodle article expounded upon in this past blog, and the fact that it received national attention, I think this follow-up is expedient.
Most of the responses I received were in agreement with my characterization but there were a few gentle dissenters. I welcome all comments because we grow by challenging one another. I should add that no one countered with any Scriptural support in favor of this church’s methodology and the blog defenders simply wrote that we should love one another, therefore implying that doctrinal challenges were off limits. I think far too many confuse form with message. We would do well to recognize Solomon’s wisdom; there is a time and a place for everything. Being culturally relevant in style has nothing to do with the content. And by suggesting that this challenge is inappropriate in its current forum doesn’t necessarily insinuate that this topic in unsuitable in all venues.
I want to make a few additional, hopefully non-redundant points. I’ve attached a 4 minute segment from “The Way of the Master” Radio if you’d like to hear their reaction. The online posts reacting to this short segment were decidedly negative. One fellow wrote, “This is what makes all Christians look bad. We spend more time slamming each other than reaching out! If this dj checked out the church and “the challenge” he would see it’s about strengthening Christian marriages. It’s more about emotional needs than sex. After the embarrassing debate over evolution on national tv, should WOTM really be slamming other Christians for attempting to get a message heard even if they disagree with how they do it?! It takes all kinds 2 reach all people.”
This is precisely the problem. There must be a level of accountability measured by objective Scriptural standards, discerning what is and what is not appropriate. Another frustrated blogger wrote, “This seems to be unfortunate and condescending tirade against people doing the same thing you are “trying” to do but just in a different style. I find it ironic that a church is about to chat about sex and how to make it all God hoped it would be then gets slammed by other Christians.” Making sex “all God hoped it would be” may be the intent of the 30-Day Challenge creators but this is far from what is portrayed. There seems to be confusion as to the intent of this challenge. Is it evangelistic? Is it about self-actualization? Is it about enhancing marriage? Is it attempting to encourage abstinence? Is it trying to do all the above? There are so many mixed signals sent that it’s truly difficult to discern. The mastermind behind this endeavor as shown in the video guide seemed to say that it was all about improving marriage. So what’s the problem with isolating the content in a marriage seminar? Why tack on the abstinence idea, sandwich it together in one guide and use it as a church-wide ad campaign?
Some thought that I may have overacted solely by reading the Tribune article—the assumption was that I was not fully attuned to the true purpose and complete message of this relevant strategy. Well, I wish that were the case but I usually don’t make a habit of sharing things off the top of my head without conscientious research.
Just so you know, I spent roughly 6 hours in due diligence. I read the pdf manual/devotional “30-Day Sex Challeng guide”; I watched the “Guide Explained”; I read the “Questionnaire”; I read the blogs posted by the pastor & staff; and I listened to a number of sermons. So although some may not agree with my conclusions, I will tell you they were not derived from ignorance. I have no interest in rehashing what I have already written but I would like to clarify a few things.
I want to reiterate that I have in no way questioned the motives of those leading Relevant Church. I don’t doubt their intentions. What I do object to is their judgment in the creation of a community-wide campaign that can be so easily misunderstood. Being relevant does not dictate a message change to meet the ever-morphing demographics. Neither Jesus nor the Apostle Paul ever softened their moral expectations in an effort to be culturally relevant. And John the Baptizer was so culturally relevant (facetiousness assumed) that he said:
- “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is about to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Matthew 3:7-9
If we think today’s sexually promiscuous climate is over the edge just revisit the first century Corinthian Church through the Apostle Paul’s eyes. How did this inspired apostle communicate to the believers mired in sexual sin? Did he encourage them to take a 30-day hiatus so that they could uncover their inner fears and expectations? Did he exhort them to go on a personal journey of discovery? He said to get the heck out of every situation that might cause them to compromise their integrity. Flee! He didn’t cajole them. He didn’t attempt to understand there difficult circumstances. He simply said to get the heck out of dodge!
- Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18 (ESV)
- As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 (ESV)
I have no problem whatsoever with using creative methods to reach an untapped and unchurched audience. For the past 10 years I’ve been part of a ministry that has attempted to do just that. I have felt the whir of the fiery arrows launched by members of the more traditional churches in Brandon—as if the non-traditional style of Bay Life is automatically equated with a lack of spirituality.
I love contemporary worship services where dance, loud music, movies and props are used to bring the message to the people. I’m all for the forms that are crafted to meet people where they are. I’m not out of touch with the younger generations. I’m all for using “relevant” means as long as the message is entirely Scriptural. But in our quest to be “pertinent” and “germane”, I believe we must do everything in our power to challenge people with the full force of God’s Word. The Gospel is not a message of acquiescence but of confrontation. It’s harsh because the consequences of sin are everlasting. Yes, we need to share this message with sensitivity—surely compassion should drip from our lips—however, the message should never become luke warm or compromised. I believe this program has unwittingly done that.
The following is from today’s most recent blog at Relevant. It’s quite clear that this blogger, who I may incorrectly assume to be a staffer at Relevant, has a heart for sexual purity & marriage fidelity. But that’s not the issue at hand. No one is accusing this church of promoting sexual immorality. What I question is the forum for this message; the over-emphasis of this very volatile racy mode and the ensuing natural misdirection veering from the Gospel of Christ; and the appearance of lowing the standards.
Our challenge is that us single adults would take 30 days to consider God’s way and remove sex from the equation to focus on who we are, who we are becoming and what is truly defining our relationships. Tragically, for many single adults, sex is the only bond of a relationship leading to complications and emotional emptiness. My hope is that in 30 days, this idea of saving sex for the right context would become a lifestyle that leads to great, healthy relationships. [cwc: my hope is that “right context” is a code reference to “marriage”. Not sure why “marriage” could not have been explicitly stated.]
I was accused of not doing my homework therefore not fully understanding this new approach. Well, let’s take that accusation to the logical extreme. The leadership of Relevant should have been responsible enough to have thought through the community’s reactions. I received the following from a young person:
I agree with you wholeheartedly… this message series is a shame the way it is being presented. I think it was a definite media stunt because the media doesn’t scour church websites for stories; the pastor shouldn’t be shocked at the media response he got.
In my opinion this is spot on. This appears to be a calculated approach and for the pastor to act surprised at the response is rather perplexing. Is this the way the church should find the spotlight? I’d much prefer to make headlines feeding the hungry, caring for the infirmed or loving the unlovely. Where’s the message of the cross? My church has been unflatteringly labeled, “The Rock and Roll Church” and “Bay Lite”, but if Bay life ever becomes known for anything other than a church infatuated with the Gospel of Christ and obsessed with disciple-making, I will cease attending. Consider another email I received:
I heard about this on Way of the Master Radio. And there are Christians being tortured and killed for having underground house churches; missionaries from China that feel called to bring the gospel to Muslim countries (not enough persecution in China?).
Have we so lost our way that we are oblivious to what the message of Christ is all about? Is it about garnering attendees? Is it about sex? Is it about sensationalism? Doing anything we can to fill up the boat? Listen, I believe we need to do everything in our power to bring the message of Christ to all generations. But we don’t need to water down the Word to do it. We don’t need to accentuate our weaknesses to do it. The mere inference of this challenge is at best disheartening. When some participants tell the Tribune that they are expecting a “tough month” by abstaining for a whole stinking 30 days, I know we are in big trouble. Who’s being honest with these folks? Where’s the truth? Where are the stated consequences? Are not teachers held to a greater level of accountability…?
There are only two people groups in this world. People with and without Christ. This is another reason why the 30-day message is inappropriate in its current context. If Christians are engaging in pre-marital sex then they need to be told using Scriptural admonition to cease. Not for 30 days, and not for a determinate amount of time—but until they are married. They need to know the consequences. I didn’t say it was easy and I didn’t say no one would fail. The Bible has provisions for failure but failure should not be presumed from the start.
However, let me change gears for a moment, since there is the presumption that this particular church is reaching many non-believers. And that’s great! But the message to them must be quite different than to those attendees indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Those that don’t know Christ are in desperate need to hear the Gospel and need to know the ramifications of life with Christ.
The unbelieving crowd needs to know that ten days, thirty days or 100 days of sexual abstinence is of no eternal value to God. They don’t need to be led to believe that sexual abstinence is going to gain them favored status before God. We surely don’t want any non-believer to ever get the impression that the church is obsessed with sex and I also don’t want them to see the church through this much clouded kinky prism. Sexual abstinence will not gain anyone entrance into the Kingdom. No doubt it’s a safe practice and it will do no harm for any non-believer to abide by Scriptural teaching, but it cannot be seen as a substitute for spirituality—or a token offering to God as atonement. This is the danger especially for those outside this church’s scope and control. What message is the community hearing and is it consistent with the Good News?
The fact that the church is focusing on abstinence should not be something the community is forced to consider. This should be a personal matter and handled on a much smaller venue. Cricket called me last night and told me that secular radio station WQYK featured comments concerning this 30-day program and they weren’t flattering. This church should have been responsible enough to know how this message was going to reverberate throughout the bay area and beyond. In the article the pastor stated, “It’s amazing the kind of media attention we’re getting just for talking about sex.” How can we take this comment seriously?
Now to the other group. Those that are committed to Christ. Thirty days is a travesty. It’s a sham and there’s no Biblical precedence for it. Where in Scripture do we have even one example of anyone being told to incrementally deny sin? This is a worldly strategy. It’s born out of the self-help books and is in tune with the hottest prosperity teaching called “The Secret”. This is not reliance on the Holy Spirit but is a sort of behavior modification of the will.
Let me share with you the entire day #4 devotional for the single person (which includes a Scripture reference to Prov 13:20) Is this the kind of questions you presumed to find in this guide?
In what situations are you more likely to make poor sexual choices? For example: tequila shots.
Is this the kind of question Jesus asked the tax gatherers and sinners that He spent time with? Here’s to me the bottom line. The ends never ever justify the means. We must not succumb to the temptation of altering or softening the message. Sure it may increase the size of Relevant Church but will it foster Scriptural expectations in the lives of its believers? Will it spur them on to maturity knowing that only through Christ do they have a chance?
- But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Hebrews 10:32-34 (ESV)
The believers identified in Hebrews, joyfully accepted the plundering of their goods for the sake of the Gospel and yet we spend our pulpit time attempting to be culturally relevant? We need to become students of the Word. More time in His word & in prayer. That’s the issue. It’s not merely a lack of counseling. It’s not a shortfall of being sensitive to the needs of the younger generation by playing to the most base of all desires. We have lost our way. If we’d teach people how to study the Bible and challenge one another how to live godly lives always reaching out to those in need then the rest of this sexual stuff will take care of itself. If our focus becomes others-centered then there will be less time for sin. Lying down prostrate before a holy God is what we need. When we engage in sexual relations outside of marriage we do not merely “fall off the wagon” (as was characterized in day #4 of the manual) but we commit willful sin that God may choose to punish.
- Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Hebrews 13:4 (NKJV)
In my opinion this sexual 30-day exercise is nothing to trifle with. And that’s exactly what we appear to be doing when egregious sin and the accompanying significant consequences are boiled down to attempting to break bad habits. Did Jesus or any members of the inspired canon-writing team every approach sin in this matter? Is there any place on record where sin was quantified therefore giving one the false feeling of success by abstaining for short bursts? Does the Apostle Paul say, “Flee youthful lusts for 30 days?” Is there precedence anywhere in Scripture for this kind of ratcheting approach to sexual immorality, or any sin for that matter? How did Jesus handle the lame man after He healed him?
- Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” John 5:14 (ESV)
How did Jesus react to the woman who was caught in adultery? Yes, He was abundantly compassionate and we should be too, but what did He tell her? Did he tell her to try His 30-day abstinence plan, hoping that she would stay pure after the 30 days?
- And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:11b (ESV)
I’m not suggesting a message of condemnation toward those that are failing morally. People need to know that they are fully forgiven in Christ. We will never be acceptable based upon our own effort. But in my opinion, we must expect more from people. We need to raise the bar straight to Biblical standards. This is not like a coaching clinic where we pat people on the back for doing some task successfully 30 times in a row—where the hope is that muscle memory will eventually kick in. We are dealing with something so sacred and at the same time so potentially life-altering if ignored. I just don’t see how we can justify treating sexual sin in the same vein as giving up chocolate for lent. That may not be the intent of Relevant but that’s how it appears to the on-looking public.
- Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16 (ESV)
Instead of challenging people to be holy should Peter have attempted to stay germane to the first century culture? The Corinthians were having sex in the dadgum church! They were crazy out of control. Did the apostle Paul soften the message and give them bite-sized chunks that they could safely ingest?
No matter how pragmatic Relevant’s message is attempting to be I just can’t see it synchronizing with Scripture. Did the Apostle Paul tell the church at Corinth, “Flee from sexual immorality for as long as you can? Hey fellas try to work up to it.” I can just see the Apostle Paul say, “I know it’s going to be hard but do the best you can for a few weeks. Abstaining from sex will be habit-forming.” I know this is not Relevant’s position but that is the unintended consequence that with some discernment should have been recognized before engaging in this program.
Is there one Scriptural precedent for this kind of method? I’m not asking this rhetorically. If there is I’d like to know about it. I may have some clear convictions but one thing’s certain—if Scripture contradicts my views then I’m going with Scripture every time.
Our challenge should always be to view everything through the lens of God’s Word. Not what’s pragmatic or relevant but what’s Scriptural. And I think we must always be aware of the potential impact of our behavior & focus on the Gospel’s propagation. We must attempt to live above reproach. We must always be cognizant of what are we saying loud and clear without uttering a word. People see the church placing sex in a role of such prominence that it becomes a focal point issue. People may throw their hands in the air and say, the church is no different from any other civic organization. For goodness sakes when’s the last time the Elks Club members were extolled to have sex for 30 days straight? Are we not out of control? Is this not a message that should be confined to a marriage seminar or a single’s retreat? As good friend David said to me yesterday, “Is there no shame?”
Contrary to what some may think I’m saying, I do not think sexual promiscuity is something that should or for that matter can be avoided by the church. It was rampant in NT times and is a severe problem today. The forum we choose is the key. This is something for exclusive seminars. If it was done in that context there would be no issue and the Tampa Tribune would have never considered it worthy of a headline in the Metro.
We have a group called “Breakthrough” that meets each week at Bay Life. Addictions of all kinds are addressed. This is a very valuable program. It thrives in the appropriate venue. Occasionally Sunday morning we dedicate some time for an addictive sin-conquering testimony. However, we never have and I pray never will embark on a church-wide campaign launched from the pulpit dealing with addictions. These are problems that must be handled and dealt with in the proper context on a smaller scale.
I understand that participants in this program do not necessarily reflect the intents of Relevant Church. A recent site blogger (who I assume posted under the church’s scrutiny) wrote:
If you haven’t considered giving this challenge a try I would highly recommend it. All there is to lose is 30 days of some hibidty-dibity, but if you have the results that I have had then you might be surprised to see how truthful you can be with yourself about your relationships. What I mean by that is simple. Before, I took this step of leaving sex out, I had been in several long term relationships where sex had been more of a focus than honestly looking at our personal differences to see if our relationship could stand on it’s own two feet without one of us having to be on our back. Good Luck.
Do you see anything there that causes pause? Where’s the testimony to “doing it God’s way” regardless of the relational result? At least in this blogger’s case, this seems to be all about the outcome of a successful relationship without the “hibidty-dibity”. Where’s the awareness that he has been violating God’s standards? Where the repentant attitude? Where’s the peace made with God about abiding by Biblical benchmarks? At least in this blog, the focus of this man’s attitude seems to regard successful functionality, not that he is doing what’s right and pleasing in the eyes of Lord Jesus. Maybe he doesn’t know Christ. If he doesn’t, then why post his thoughts as a representative sample? Is the goal not spiritual maturity in Christ? What would have happened had his experience of “leaving sex out” been decidedly unsuccessful in his partner’s eyes? Would he have deemed this exercise a failure and reverted back to his old ways?
My hope for Relevant is that this preoccupation with sex does not backfire. I realize that the heart of this church is to drive people to Jesus Christ where He alone can satify. The pastor’s wife has said as much in her blog. I hope the focus changes decidedly toward God and away from self.
Even if there are positive stories that arise from this exercise (and undoubtedly there will be), we will never fully comprehend the long-range implications for those inside and out of this church. Do the participants realize that this is not about what works but what’s right? The effects will never be fully understood. Membership may be increased and some may come to know Christ as Savior.
In my opinion these will never be justifications because the ends don’t validate the methods. There are many ways to share Christ. God uses even the poorest of our decisions to bring people to Himself. Is it not possible that if they simply share with the attendees the Biblical prohibitions & consequences of sex outside of the marriage bed, that they may produce better results while remaining Scripturally relevant.
This post is publishing-worthy. When I have a chance to address this, I’m going to link to your excellent post. I appreciate you doing the homework on this.
And you are spot on.