No other denomination today is “better positioned” to reclaim the “spirituality of sexuality” than the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a theology professor said at the church’s sexuality summit in Cape Town last week.
In a series of morning devotionals, John Nixon, professor of Religion and Spirituality at Southern Adventist University, said dysfunctional attitudes toward sex among Christians are the result of “alien influences” that “undermine and distort” the teachings of Jesus.
“We’ve been lax in teaching Christian sexuality in our churches, schools and homes. This is the root of the sexual crisis we are now facing. Even the word ‘sex’ spoken from the pulpit makes us uncomfortable,” Nixon said.
“The spectrum of teaching about sex in the church is limited to extremes—love without sex (abstinence) and sex without love (promiscuity). The Bible rejects them both,” he told delegates at the church’s “In God’s Image: Scripture. Sexuality. Society” summit at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in South Africa.
A brief historical overview helped explain how broken attitudes toward sex gained a foothold in the church. Hellenistic thought, Nixon said, pitted the spiritual world against the material world; thus a “good” soul was trapped in an “evil” body with sinful desires. Christian writings and practices of the second and third centuries A.D. reveal an obsession with asceticism, or severe physical debasement as a measure of spirituality. Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.) argued that all sin was rooted in sexuality and advocated procreation only without recreation.
Asceticism glorified hardships and taught that because the body was evil, all physical enjoyment should be eschewed, including sex within marriage. This notion encouraged the practice of celibacy among Christians, Nixon said.
“The vestiges of this philosophy still exist in our church,” Nixon said. “For many of us, there is still something a little suspicious about sexual pleasure, even in marriage. Engage in it, we think, but don’t have too much fun.”
But God does not forbid or even “just tolerate” sex, Nixon said. “He celebrates it in the context of pure, genuine love between husband and wife.”
Indeed, the union of husband and wife within the “sacred institution of marriage” is a full expression of the plural image of God,” he said, citing Genesis 1:26 and 27. “We are relational creatures made to complement each other. Sex is not just an act; it is part of our beings,” Nixon said.
“We do not teach a divided human nature—a soul trapped in a body. We teach a holistic nature. Sex, which is physical, also impacts the spirit and mind,” Nixon said.
Still, challenges persist in teaching biblical sexuality in homes, schools and churches—especially in a world that views any act between consenting adults as permissible, he said. On Adventist college campuses, Nixon said he has observed that students are increasingly concerned about gender identity and often view sexual choices through the lens of social justice.
All too often, he said, the Adventist Church has chosen silence rather than engaging in the conversation. “Our children learn about sex from the world. They grow up in a world of alternative sexuality as the ‘new normal.’ Sex [for them] is about self-gratification, about the happiness I am entitled to,” Nixon said.
He told the story of Joseph recorded in Genesis to illustrate that chastity and celibacy are indeed attainable goals. Joseph, he said, demonstrated integrity and faithfulness even in the face of major temptations.
“Sexual sin lends itself to secrecy where no one sees, but private moments are the ones that reveal true character,” Nixon said.
Adventist parents, teachers and pastors have the responsibility to pass on a healthy view of sex within the parameters of heterosexual marriage, he said.
“May God help us to fulfill that responsibility.”