Thursday, June 28, 2007

Two ways of preaching about sex

Have you noticed that every church out there seems to be preaching about sex nowadays? Some do it quietly, while some do it by taking out billboards talking about myc** Churches with trendy names like "Next Level Church," "Lifepoint," etc., are all talking about sex, like it's something they have just discovered. Somehow I get this feeling that God knew about sex before, and - shockingly to some people - Christians have always known about it and practiced it too. (I wonder if some of these people ever wondered where those big families of fundamentalists came from?)

Every church out there claims to base their sex sermons on Song of Solomon, which is a good thing in itself. Song of Solomon is in the Bible, and it's about sex. However, based on what I hear (and it is not surprising given the M.O. of many of these churches), the sermons often seem to be less about Song of Solomon and more about personal experiences relating to sex. I submit there is a vast difference in subject matter, and in how it affects people.

Let me submit two examples of how churches might approach the subject. First is from seeker-oriented Lifepoint church (as usual, I don't mean this pejoratively, but descriptively: I think this is how they'd describe themselves). The second is from the church my family attends, Cornerstone Chapel. Both of these links will take you to the page on each church's respective web sites where the MP3's of the sermons are available: I invite you to listen and judge for yourself. I should note that both churches claim to be preaching on the text of Song of Solomon: Lifepoint because they decided to do a series on sex, and Cornerstone because my pastor preaches straight through from Genesis to Revelation and that's the point we're up to.

What I heard from Lifepoint was discussion of exactly two Bible verses - neither of them out of Song of Solomon, by the way, although other sermons in the series may have used a verse or two from that book - taking a total of approximately 2.5 minutes. I say "approximately" because I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt: I include any discussion even remotely related to the Biblical texts in this category. In addition to this 2.5 minutes of Biblical exposition was over 34 minutes of personal stories and “Men are from Mars/Women from Venus” type self-help advice, mixed in with some unfortunate sexual innuendos and jokes, and apparently a “sex picture” on the big screen. Like most churches of this type I've seen, the pastor brings his wife up on stage for part of the presentation: frankly, the conversation with his wife on stage struck me as voyeuristic at points. The expression TMI comes to mind. I heard a few generic references to God.

Compare with my own pastor’s approach: two sermons of solid exposition on Song of Solomon. Did he talk about sex? Yes. Was it casual and informal, even occasionally humorous? Yes. But it was two 40 minute sessions of solid exposition on the Biblical texts. What's more, my pastor actually followed the outline of the book in his sermons: the first sermon was on chapters 1-3 (courtship) and the second one chapters 4-8 (marriage). Since marriage customs of the ancient near east are not familiar to many people, he also spent some time describing these. But, it was two sermons with no sexual innuendos, steeped with God’s purposes, God’s approach, and God’s point of view on sex.

Now, a lot of what Lifepoint preached is good advice, no doubt. No doubt, some people will hear via billboards or newspaper announcements (which are not necessarily bad in themselves), that the church is holding a service on sex, be curious, and came in the door - at least as long as the sex series lasts. But, if I were an unbeliever come into such a service, I would get the idea that this is a sex self-help group and not a church. I might walk out making a resolution to improve myself, but I would have no reason to Biblically repent of my sins, because I have never been confronted with the truth of them and the full Gospel.

If you think the difference merely one of style, I respectfully disagree. One sermon is personal stories and self-help advice; the other is solid teaching from the Word of God. And it is my fervent belief that only the Word of God can truly convert anybody - no self-help sermon ever will.

Note: I posted an earlier form of this note as a comment on Joe Carr's ru-mi-na-tions blog. I strongly disagree with Joe on certain things, but I really appreciate his heart for the lost. I wanted to expand on my thoughts here. I hope this is not violating some rule in blogdom. If it is, I can only plead that I am new at this blogging thing and ask forgiveness of whoever I've insulted.

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