Being the Church When Empires Fall

by S. Michael Craven on July 27, 2011

This guest column from S. Michael Craven was originally published by the Christian Post on July 6, 2011. We have reprinted it with permission.

Previously, I wrote about how the moral descent of the American “empire” closely parallels that of ancient Rome. In the Roman Empire, as sexual activity increased beyond the confines of legal marriage, sexual profligacy worsened, sexual perversion was normalized, and the social benefits essential to a thriving society that marriage fosters, disappeared. Family dissolution increased-fracturing the cornerstone of society-as a result, crime exploded, productivity and creativity diminished, cynicism and apathy ensued; the Empire began to crumble.

I also pointed out that Roman officials, recognizing the societal danger of such licentiousness, enacted laws in an effort to arrest the sexual extravagance and ensuing social decline. Unfortunately, these laws had little effect as the moral consensus, which was accepting of these behaviors, was well established within the culture at large.

Unlike the Romans, however, we once had a number of laws in place that were designed to protect marriage by penalizing “crimes against marriage” through adultery and fornication laws. Such public policy measures were generally supported by the moral consensus that sex was exclusive to marriage. Over the last four to five decades, these laws have been either ignored or abolished as the moral consensus shifted.

In the sixties, No-Fault divorce was established, ushering in an era of easy divorce, which would eventually produce the highest family dissolution rates in the world. These changes represent both a cause and effect of our increasingly secularized and selfish culture. In the wake of these monumental moral and philosophical changes, marriage has become a “loose and voluntary compact” as it did in ancient Rome. This is particularly true among those under age 35, of which more than two-thirds now cohabitate prior to marriage; the number of unmarried families has increased steadily since the 1970s and children born to unwed parents have reached historic highs.

So, here in the face of redefining marriage to now include couples of the same sex, it seems unlikely that we will be able to arrest the ongoing erosion of marriage, when over the course of the last fifty years we have been systematically dismantling the very protections that have brought us to this point. The current moral consensus simply does not appear to support a return to more modest public policies regarding marriage and the natural family and the church is largely compromised (which I will get to). Despite the present futility, I do believe we should always strive-while we still can-to pass legislative measures that promote the well being of individuals and society.

Returning to our historical analysis, it was at the pinnacle of Roman debauchery that the Christian church appeared. As one historian observed, “There was nothing in which they [the Romans] did not indulge or which they thought a disgrace.” The apostle Paul, writing to the fledgling church in Rome, commented on the condition as well when he wrote, “…they became fools … because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator [sexual idolatry] … God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those contrary to nature; and men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men … God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness and evil…” (Romans 1:22–29). Roman culture had, by this time, descended into a sexually obsessed state in which every form of perversion became permissible.

It was into this sexually immoral environment that Christians would bring forth a radically different sexual ethic. Believing that sex between unmarried men and women was a violation of the commandment against adultery, the early Christians took seriously the words found in the epistle to the Hebrews that said, “The marriage bed should be honored by all, and … kept pure” (Hebrews 13:4). So strong was the influence of this Christian “creative minority” that by the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine “revolutionized the state’s view of marriage in order to bring it more into line with Christian ideas” (Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, p. 85). This was the establishment of what we now refer to as “traditional marriage,” the cornerstone of Western civilization for more than 1600 years-and we owe it all to the early Christians who refused to conform to the world. Famed historian Edward Gibbon noted in his classic History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, “The dignity of marriage was restored by the Christians” (Decline and Fall, p. 813).

A pressing concern for us today is that unlike our first and second-century brothers and sisters, we all-too-often appear similar to the surrounding culture. This is especially true among the forthcoming generation. As Christianity Today reported more than seven years ago, “Specific studies of sexual trends among Christian teens have been limited, but all indications are that, on average, there is little difference between their sexual behavior and that of non-Christian youths…” (Jennifer Parker, “The Sex Lives of Christians,” Mar/Apr 2003). Mark Regenerus, a sociologist and Christian, published a study in 2004 entitled, Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teens. Regenerus’ study revealed that evangelical teens may actually be having premarital sex at younger ages and more frequently than their non-evangelical counterparts.

Ironically, one of the most talked about subjects in today’s culture is sex and yet it is probably one of the least talked about in our churches. Is it any wonder that the next generation has adopted the values of the culture rather than those of the church when it comes to sex? Knowing this, what hope does the church have of restoring the dignity of marriage?

As Christians, we must reclaim and re-humanize the topic of sex by giving our young people a comprehensive theology of sex that is grounded in the gift of intimacy and relationship, rather than a self-satisfying animalistic act. We must move beyond our prudishness that simply teaches teens what not to do and celebrate the gift of sex as God intended it to be. The biblical view of sex as the ultimate integrating act of two persons united physically, psychologically, and spiritually in marriage is far superior to the world’s cheap and superficial alternative. However, until we start teaching the superiority of sex as defined by God and demonstrating our commitment to marriage as the only appropriate context, our young people and the world will likely continue to “exchange the truth of God for [the] lie.”

S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture and a guest columnist for the Christian Post. Michael is the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress). Michael’s ministry is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael W. Henry July 30, 2011 at 3:31 am

I understand and agree with the OP conclusions. However, in a slippery slope culture that for 50 years has been pickled, stewed and inundated with sex, will anyone be able to show restraint even discussing the subject? Will not “overcoming prudishness” simply be seen as any attempt at modestly discussing sex being the opposite?

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Rick Sheehan August 2, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I just finished reading “Homosexuality and The Politics of Truth ” By Jefferey Satinover (,after reading a quotation in Peter Jones excellent book on “The God of Sex” )one reviewer wrote about Satinovers book, it was the “best book ever written on homosexuality ” I don’t know about that but it was a very informative book dealing with so much more than homosexuality .As far as Sex belongs first and foremost in cosmology rather than morality ,I would love to hear Peter expound upon that.(not meaning to hi-jack this thread) .I am reminded of a quote from Voegelin ” Philosophy springs from a love of being :it is mans loving endeavor to perceive the order of being (kosmos)and attune himself to it.(via the Word of God).Gnosis desires dominion over being ;in order to seize control of being the gnostic constructs his system.The building of systems is a gnostic form of reasoning.not a philosophical one.” Eric Voegelin

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Rick Sheehan August 2, 2011 at 6:50 pm
Peter Jones August 3, 2011 at 2:07 pm

I just replied to Gilles Veuillet, and I think this works for your question too:

Sexuality is part of the creational order, is part of the very dignity of humanity made in the image of God, and thus in its own way gives expression to the logical design that determined the way God created all things–that is, by making distinctions . So before raising questions of morals, of dos and don’ts, there is the question of how the world is coherently and consistently put together according to the principle of Twoism or intentional difference. This consideration does not depend upon how I personally make moral choices or accuse others of making wrong moral choices, but is part of the given of existence over which I have no choice. I merely recognize the way things are logically constituted according to creational principles

I appreciate your quote from Vogelin: “mans loving endeavor to perceive the order of being (kosmos)” Remeber that cosmos, an ordered system, its the opposite of chaos. Cosmology presupposes “design” and “design” dissallows randomness and presuppoes personhood.

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Dan R Smedra August 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm

…”we must reclaim and re-humanize the topic of sex by giving our young people a comprehensive theology of sex that is grounded in the gift of intimacy and relationship, rather than a self-satisfying animalistic act.”

Unfortunately, “reclaim” is an inaccurate description when examining what has been taught by the Church on the subject of sexuality (negative) down through history. Generally, sexuality was erroneously attributed to the Fall or ‘sin in the flesh’, rather than part of God’s original creation design.

Fortunately, one “comprehensive theology of sex” (844 pages) has been produced and was published June 2007: Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, Richard M. Davidson – http://goo.gl/KVyoS. This book is the culmination of the author’s twenty-five years of in-depth research into the various manifestations of human sexuality and marriage, as revealed throughout the panoply of Old Testament Scripture. Both academic and conservative, Professor Davidson provides insight from the original languages (Hebrew, Greek, etc.), from the biblical Canon, other ancient Near-Eastern documents, as well as presents alternative theological viewpoints (liberal, feminist, postmodern, etc.). An indispensable resource for counselors and pastor/teachers or anyone needing a ‘grad-level’, seriously in-depth theological, ontological, linguistic, and philosophical exploration of sexuality. Very few stones left unturned.

Prof. Davidson is Chair of the Old Testament Department at Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan and J. N. Andrews Professor of Old Testament Interpretation.

Not being Seventh-day Adventist, I appreciate the fact that Prof. Davidson bibliography is vast (143 pages) and his denominational distinctives are near impossible to find in the text.

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Dan R Smedra August 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm

…attributed to the Fall or ‘sin in the flesh’, rather than part of God’s original creation design.

Fortunately, one “comprehensive theology of sex” (844 pages) has been produced and was published June 2007: Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, Richard M. Davidson – http://goo.gl/KVyoS. This book is the culmination of the author’s twenty-five years of in-depth research into the various manifestations of human sexuality and marriage, as revealed throughout the panoply of Old Testament Scripture. Both academic and conservative, Professor Davidson provides insight from the original languages (Hebrew, Greek, etc.), from the biblical Canon, other ancient Near-Eastern documents, as well as presents alternative theological viewpoints (liberal, feminist, postmodern, etc.). An indispensable resource for counselors and pastor/teachers or anyone needing a ‘grad-level’, seriously in-depth theological, ontological, linguistic, and philosophical exploration of sexuality. Very few stones left unturned.

Prof. Davidson is Chair of the Old Testament Department at Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan and J. N. Andrews Professor of Old Testament Interpretation.

Not being Seventh-day Adventist, I appreciate the fact that Prof. Davidson’s bibliography is vast (143 pages) and his denominational distinctives are near impossible to find in the text.

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Mark Breese August 2, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Sex, marriage, the church and our relationship with God are all related to each other. If you have a distorted view of your relationship with God your view of the others will be distorted too. If we see sexuality being misrepresented we ought to follow that trail all the way back to the source which is our view of God. I’m reading through “Flame of Yahweh” now and so far it’s interesting but he hasn’t addressed this directly yet.

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Dan R Smedra August 2, 2011 at 1:34 pm

@[1060057800:2048:Mark Breese] Peter Jones’ book ONE or TWO: Seeing a World of Difference does a better job with that line of thinking.

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Peter Jones August 2, 2011 at 1:35 pm

I found Prof. Craven’s follwoing statement real food for thought: “Ironically, one of the most talked about subjects in today’s culture is sex and yet it is probably one of the least talked about in our churches.” Alas, we have all too often treated sex as peripheral to our real business of preaching the Gospel, but it is amazing how the Bible expresses the Gospel in sexual imagery, precisely because our very nature and dignirty is boundup with our heterosexuality, as Genesis 1:27-8 so clealy says. I pointed that out in my book, The God of Sex. In other words, sex belongs first and foremost to cosmology rather than morality.

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Jeffery J. Ventrella August 2, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Both Peter and Michael are Blackstone faculty . . .

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Doug Hawkinson August 2, 2011 at 2:24 pm

With God as Sovereign over all and history demonstrating the Church has made a difference before, my money is on team Jesus.

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Peter Jones August 2, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I would understand “reclaim” as reclaiming what the Bible at the very beginning reveals about sexuality.

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Gilles Veuillet August 3, 2011 at 11:06 am

“sex belongs first and foremost to cosmology rather than morality.”…Please, Mr Jones, could you explicit your thought about this assertion ?

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Peter Jones August 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Sexuality is part of the creational order, is part of the very dignity of humanity made in the image of God, and thus in its own way gives expression to the logical design that determined the way God created all things–that is, by making distinctions . So before raising questions of morals, of dos and don’ts, there is the question of how the world is coherently and consistently put together according to the [principle of Twoism. This consideration does not depend upon how I personally make moral choices or accuse others of making wrong moral choices, but is part of the given of existence over which I have no choice. I merely recognize the way things are logically constituted according to creational principles.

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Gilles Veuillet August 4, 2011 at 4:51 am

All right, this is an interessant topic for me. What do you mean by the word “twoism” ? Is it the same signification that in french:” dualité” ?

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Peter Jones August 5, 2011 at 10:22 am

twoism is the opposite of Oneism. Oneism is a system committed to the Hindu concept of Advaita, “not two.” The bilbe says, “Not so.” Twoism is everywhere, espeically in the Creator/creature distinction which is an abomination to Oneists, the root cause of all evil. I am not sure about the meaning of “dualite.” At least you did not use the term “dualisme” This is why I use the terms “Un-isme” et “Deux-isme”

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Nancy Daley Mersereau August 4, 2011 at 7:46 am

We have been talking about this issue in the church for multiple decades. Things are only getting worse (PCUSA). Church has embraced the culture. First, we must repent. No more “conversation”.

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Peter Jones August 5, 2011 at 10:26 am

That is because you have been taling about the wrong things. If the liberals frame the issues, then they win. consaervatives have been framed. Thisis why I propose what I said above:
Peter Jones · Director at TruthXChange
Sexuality is part of the creational order, is part of the very dignity of humanity made in the image of God, and thus in its own way gives expression to the logical design that determined the way God created all things–that is, by making distinctions . So before raising questions of morals, of dos and don’ts, there is the question of how the world is coherently and consistently put together according to the [principle of Twoism. This consideration does not depend upon how I personally make moral choices or accuse others of making wrong moral choices, but is part of the given of existence over which I have no choice. I merely recognize the way things are logically constituted according to creational principles.

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Gilles Veuillet August 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Ok, thank you for your answer. I think thus that the correct translation in french for onism and twoism is: monisme and dualité (dualism have many significations depending of the matter concerned, either theology or metaphysics or philosophy)

Can I post a french translation of your quotations in an web-article ? For the moment, I’m writing about the great subject of love, sexuality according the concern of God’s will.

http://amour-amours.blogspot.com/

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Peter Jones August 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm

I obviously give you permission. When I was in France I did use “monisme” but not “dualite” but with the permission of the Academie francaise [!] I invented two new words, Un-isme et Deux-isme

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