Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by guest contributor John Frye at The Jesus Creed, the blog of Scot McKnight. It is entitled “Discernment“.
Evangelicals are all about breaking things down, making them plain, practical, and doable. But this is not always a good thing. Frye points us to the example of Paul in Thessalonica. In a letter to the church he established there he addresses the issue of sexual purity, an important issue which gets lots of play in evangelical circles. Here is what Paul has to say:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
–1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
Notice that there is a marked difference between this and how most evangelical leaders would treat the issue of sexual purity. Frye cites his experience at a recent pastors’ seminar where a well known Bible teacher asserted that the levitical sexual purity laws (found in Leviticus–duh–in places like Leviticus 15, for example) given to the nation of Israel were God’s continuing directive for the present-day church. All the other pastors sat there taking notes and eating this up like a Chick-Fil-A party tray.
If anyone knew the sexual purity laws of Moses it would have been Paul, self-described Pharisee of Pharisees. This would have been a prime opportunity to whip those out. But Paul did not. Instead he laid down a few basic boundaries which left people with a lot of freedom in between. He trusted the Holy Spirit to lead people into sexual purity, and he trusted people to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit and respond accordingly.
Looking at this with evangelical sensibilities, one would guess that this was a godless liberal emergent congregation on the brink of apostasy. But this congregation went on to spread the Gospel all over Asia Minor, without any help from Campus Crusade, Navigators, or Evangelism Explosion.