Habemus Altare

When the New Testament rejected the imposition of the purity codes of the Torah on Gentile Christians, it was not in order that a new, distinctively Christian purity code might take their place. Except for hints of such developments in Jude and Revelation, the New Testament did not justify any sexual rule by appeal to physical purity. Indeed, it exhibited a strong concern that purity, as a distinction dividing human societies from one another, should give way before a massive awareness of the grace of God, extended impartially to all human beings. The creation of its own purity code has been one of the several ways in which the church has at times allowed itself to become a barrier to the gospel of God’s grace. A Christian sexual ethic that remains true to its New Testament roots will have to discard its insistence on physical purity.

The great difficulty of this demand is that it excises what has become, at least for many Americans, the very heart of Christian sexual morality. It therefore places the churches under a great test - essentially the same test as that which confronted the pious among the Jewish people during Jesus’ own ministry and the circumcision party within the earliest Christian church at the time of Paul’s Gentile mission. Will the churches hang on to their own self-defined purity and so hold themselves aloof from those excluded by it, or will they proclaim the grace of God which plays no favorites? Will they make their existing purity codes conditions of salvation, or will they acknowledge they have no right to limit what God gives?

L. William Countryman in Dirt, Greed and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implication for Today (Original Ed.), pg. 243
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