Jenny has created this post of the same name, in which she speaks of her struggle with different interpretations of what is considered immoral by various people, vs. what is regarded as "culture".
What makes this whole discussion quite awkward is that certain forms of sexual activity that would have been considered taboo a generation or so ago, are seen as normal today. "Living together" has become such an accepted part of modern society that one is almost made to feel a bit square for being married!
One of the things that concerns me is that a while ago at the Phase One college, a discussion came up concerning legitimate expressions of sexuality within a heteroseual context (same-sex relationships is a whole different subject on its own), and I was quite alarmed that some members of the group (who, bear in mind, are training to become Methodist ministers) consider extramarital sexual activity to be okay. When pressed on the issue, the persons concerned raised questions as to what constitutes a marriage?
When it comes to Christian marriage as practiced generally in South African society, there are two distinct and separate components, notwithstanding the fact that they are typically combined and intermingled in a single ceremony: the promises that the couple makes before God, and the legal formalities in terms of the Marriage Act. In terms of South African law, the religious ceremony without the legal requirements is not recognised as a valid marriage.
On the other hand, given that there is now legislation on the cards (if not already passed into law) that seeks to regulate "domestic partnerships" as though they were marriages, thereby creating a legal framework that deals with financial arrangements, duty to support, etc., the old argument of wishing to avoid the legal ties no longer holds water. In fact, one would probably need to enter into a specific contract if the provisions of such legislation are to be specifically excluded.
This means that if you are in a relationship with another person, and this relationship involves sexual activity, and you are sharing a common household, and such relationship is deemed to be "permanent" (various courts have held that a relationship that has lasted six months could be regarded as permanent unless the couple concerned acts to the contrary), then effectively you are legally married - the only difference is that you don't have a piece of paper stating this explicitly.
Christian proponents of living together in a sexual relationship without going through such a ceremony have varying views. Some consider themselves to be "married in the eyes of God" without having to go through a specific legal process, while others argue that there is no obvious Biblical prohibition on sex outside of marriage (apart from adultery), and therefore sexual activity by unmarried persons is not considered to be wrong.
I would however disagree with the view that the Bible is silent on this issue. Granted, I'm aware of the danger of using "proof texts" to make a particular point, and the statement in Hebrews 13:4, "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled" would require further exegesis. For instance, the phrase "the bed undefiled" could be understood that sexual expression is legitimate within marriage, not to be ashamed of, but it could also be read that sexual expression in this case is legitimate BECAUSE it is within a marriage.
However, if sex wasn't considered to be such an important part of marriage, reserved for marriage, the writer of this passage could have simply wrote that "marriage is honourable in all". Full stop. Why add the "bed undefiled" bit?
So what makes sex so special? I cannot speak for others, but for my wife and I, who have many different kinds of (non-sexual) relationships with a whole host of people, sex is something that is just for the two of us - an act of sharing our bodies in a deeply intimate way that no-one else on God's great earth can share with us. It is ours alone.
But it's far more than just a physical act - there's a deep emotional and spiritual bond as well. On an emotional level, there is a bond that we share as a married couple that we do nt share with anyone else. Sex is an outward expression of that bond. And on a spiritual level, I'm not ashamed to say that some of the most amazing sex has taken place right after the two of us have joined together in prayer. Somehow there's a sense that if Jesus were to 'phone me in the middle of making love with my wife, and ask me what we are doing, I would be able to tell Him with an absolutely clear conscience.
Some would of course argue that society and the Church has conditioned me to make these statements, but I honestly don't believe this to be the case. On the other hand, I've yet to hear a convincing argument as to why it is beneficial to join one's body to another in sexual intercourse without being prepared to join oneself to another in an emotional, spiritual, nurtering, and yes, even legal sense as well? Why would you give away something so precious and sacred to someone who doesn't respect you or care for you enough to commit to you totally?
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