Less sex in Lockdown? It’s time for couples to talk

Open any issue of this newspaper over the last 12 months, and there’s bound to be an article on the subject somewhere. It’s the hot topic of the moment and seems to have been so for… well, for ever.

But we want to suggest while there might be lots of public airtime, it seems couples themselves are more neglectful. If the statistics are to be believed, many Christian couples undervalue or simply ignore the important part that intimacy should play in our living holy, righteous and healthy lives for Christ.

We do need to talk about sex.

Of course, it’s rightly a very private subject and even reading this article may be pushing the boundaries for you. But we should not be those who get our wisdom from the world when it comes to this topic. We have God’s word. So, why not take another look at your Bible? You may be surprised.

First of all, the Bible establishes the importance of sexual intimacy right from the start. It also sets sex in its wider context. Sex is extraordinarily and spiritually profound, pointing towards a greater (and longer lasting) truth – the intimate union of Christ and His church. Couples who fail to see what sexual union is picturing will always end up devaluing the intimacy that God grants them.

Second, the Bible warns us against unholy sex. This takes all forms – just reading Genesis is an eye opener! But it is impossible to read the pages of Scripture and not see the damage and pain caused by sexual sin. The antidote to this sober warning for couples is not abstinence. Instead, it is recovery; recovery of the beauty and delight of intimacy in its right setting.

Biblical framework

Third, the Bible provides a framework for couples to enjoy sexual intimacy together. This surprises many Christians. Those who search often turn to Song of Songs (a book whose interpretation is much disputed) for inspiration and end up disappointed. But that wonderful book is a love poem, not a ‘how to’ guide.

And for the most part, the Bible does not give us that kind of chapter and verse (if you’ll excuse the pun) – a kind of Joy of Sex for believers. Instead, it gives us something much better. For in the Bible, we find godly and timeless principles that couples should grasp and apply to their own context in order to be able to enjoy and delight in one another.

Realistic and optimistic

It is this richly rewarding approach that we have set out in our new book, Closer. We wanted to write something both realistic and optimistic for couples, but above all, we wanted to write something Biblical. That meant avoiding the ‘how to’ kind of book – something we were more than happy to do – and instead showing couples the foundations that Scripture clearly establishes.

A recent survey in the British Medical Journal found that over half of the couples interviewed (not just Christians) were less sexually active as a result of lockdown. Rather than providing opportunity for couples to be together, the opposite was actually true. Your experience may perhaps mirror this.

We wanted to write to help couples buck the trend and be Closer: closer to each other, and closer to the ideal that God has set out for them. That means closer, ultimately, to him.

It’s time Christian couples started talking about sex.

Adrian and Celia Reynolds are the authors of Closer: A realistic book about intimacy for Christian Marriages, published by The Good Book Company. ISBN 978 1 784 985 738, £8.99

‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness!’

An introduction to the life of David and Margaret Bendor-Samuel by their newphew, Paul Bendor-Samuel. David and Margaret are well-known figures in the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC). Paul was formerly Interserve’s International Director; now he is the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre For Mission Studies. The introduction is followed by a review from Tom Hawksley of David’s newly-published memoirs.

Paul writes: In the 1970s my parents were serving in West Africa and so, like many missionary children, my siblings and I attended boarding school in England for our secondary education. My parents came back in the summer, but for the Christmas and Easter holidays we went to stay with friends and relatives – and this included my Uncle David and Aunt Margaret who opened their home to us. Reflecting on those times all those years ago, the word that comes to mind concerning my uncle is graciousness. Uncle David was always welcoming and for me, a young teenager, he was very personable, easy to talk to. A great storyteller, he was also fun to be with. 

After my childhood our paths separated. I am grateful though that in recent years the meetings of the Wycliffe Global Alliance International Board have taken me to Dallas where Uncle David and Aunt Margaret live. Again I have been welcomed into their home. And again  – after nearly 50 years – graciousness is still the word for my uncle. He is gentle, appreciative, curious, an attentive listener, wearing his keen intellect easily. His deep love for global Bible Translation work easily seen.

My uncle has had to navigate many changes in Wycliffe. He has never worried about a personal agenda, but always trusted in God’s sovereign grace. Interestingly, my uncle’s response to change and challenge strongly reminds me of my grandfather, Theodore Bendor-Samuel, who for many years was the chairman of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC). My grandfather was assured in his Reformed theology, his focus wholly on the final authority of the Scriptures and the absolute sovereignty of God. As a university Christian Union leader, I always enjoyed discussing theological issues with my grandfather, including the growing charismatic movement. My grandfather listened carefully, keen not to judge, but seeking to sense what God was doing. This is exactly the same quality I saw in his son, Uncle David – a graciousness and acceptance of the other. 

I found my Uncle David’s memoirs an inspiration, illustrating powerfully a life of obedience. If asked to do something, his question was always: ‘Why would I not do this?’ This was submission to the will of God – mediated through God’s leaders. There was not a millimetre of hankering after recognition or status.

Paul Bendor-Samuel

I hope you have time to read my uncle’s memoirs; if not, you can read Tom Hawksley’s thorough review here:

Memoirs of a Bible Translator
By David Bendor-Samuel
Independent. 589 pages. £10.98
ISBN 979 8 666 039 939

The book is not thin. It is a portly 589 pages; however it is a smooth, easy read. Before you know you are at the end of one chapter and wondering if you have time to read the next.

The focus is wholly on the author’s life – his childhood as the son of a well-known FIEC pastor, a romantic drama with his childhood sweetheart, National Service, a promising start in banking – and then over 50 years of ministry with the Wycliffe Bible Translators in Brazil, the UK, and the USA.

His life has lessons. One is that important decisions – marriage, calling – were marked by careful thinking. not emotionalism. Another is the way setbacks were handled. David took them on the chin. David and Margaret (the childhood sweetheart, now his wife for over 60 years) faced the burning of property (both in the UK and Brazil), a motorway coming through the UK Wycliffe Centre, sudden orders from seniors to change their ministry and relocate, and equally-sudden removals from work he was doing well. The setbacks are ‘blows’, there is ‘dismay’, there is ‘spiritual struggle’, but soon there is a bounce back as David submitted to God’s providence.

Pushing forward

David’s determination to push things forward is another lesson. As Wycliffe’s Vice President for Academic Affairs he ensured the entire organisation benefitted from all that computer programming could bring to Bible translation. He set up the ‘Language Data Processing’ department. As anyone who has had any contact with Bible translation will know, the Wycliffe computer programmes are renowned in this field. There are many other examples of David seeking to make things better: using gospel recordings on the field; pioneering a development office for Wycliffe in the UK; urging on a project to see how many languages in need of Bible translation there were in the world. And much more. For example, during his National Service, David made things better for soldiers he was training. He proved it was possible to do without swearing at the men. And for missionaries needing some light-entertainment, this academic and mission leader held court, reading – in all the different voices – the story of Winnie the Pooh.

Things have certainly got better for the Guajajara people. When David and Margaret first arrived there were hardly any Guajajara Christians. Now, according to the Joshua Project, 60% of the tribe, that is about 14,000 people, are Christians. No wonder there is much celebration when the New Testament – initiated by David and Margaret – was dedicated.

For a fuller version of this review see: sternfieldthoughts.blogspot.com/2020/09/great-is-thy-faithfulness-memoirs-of.html

Tom Hawksley

Tom Hawksley, has been engaged in mission for nearly 40 years and has written three books about mission in the Middle East.

Whatever happened to the Local Church?

I entered ministry with a vision shared by many in my generation. It was a vision of the local church, and the local church being actually local.

I’m a Grace Baptist, but the basic concept of the Anglican parish system has much to commend it. The idea was of a good proportion, if not the majority, of the church members living in and committed to the area around the church building – within walking distance. Being part of the community, Christians can be a presence in the community and influence the community for good and for Christ.

A good idea at the time

It seemed like a good idea at the time. It still is.

NT churches were local churches. Ancient Rome itself covered roughly seven square miles. Even cities like Jerusalem or Athens were maybe one square mile, and towns

like Philippi, Colossae, etc. would have been smaller. Church would have been walkable. I have difficulty imagining that most first-century Christians drove to church in their chariots! But the idea of the local church has now been almost completely killed off. There are many reasons for this. The capital’s flagship churches of the mid-20th century UK did a great job in standing for the gospel and the primacy of Bible preaching – John Stott at All Souls, Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel, Dick Lucas at St Helens, etc. These were the churches other churches aspired to imitate. But none of them were really local churches.

As we moved later into the century, the emphasis on finding a church with sound gospel preaching understandably over-rode the concern to be local. So evangelicals all over the country got out their cars and drove miles to get to a Biblical ministry.

Then, around the millennium, came the concern for church planting, which in many ways was excellent. How we needed good churches in city centres throughout the country. But much of this morphed into a concern to attract students rather than the local population. We saw the emergence of ‘hipster’ evangelicalism and music-driven worship. Once again evangelicals got out their cars and travelled miles to be part of a ‘cool’ congregation. Little local churches with no polish were again ignored. And let’s be honest, for many evangelicals it is more important to live in a ‘nice’ area or near to a good school, than to live near the place where their church meets.

And perhaps the popularity of online services, necessitated by the pandemic lockdown, has put the final nail in the coffin of the local church.

But let me briefly give one more try to advocating local churches. It would be so helpful if members lived in walking distance of where the church meets. It would mean we are on hand to help with little jobs and building maintenance. It helps our witness too. It is a simple business to leaflet the houses. It is easy to invite neighbours to church because it is just down the road. And its green – we don’t use our cars. And in lockdown how much benefit there would have been to mental health if the pastor and others could have just walked the neighbourhood to personally visit, socially distanced on the doorstep.

Further, the ‘soft totalitarianism’ of the pending ‘woke’ avalanche we will face in coming years, gives even more force to my point. The pervasive influence of politically-correct ‘social justice’ in our society will mean that Bible Christians will be increasingly misrepresented and vilified for our ‘patriarchal, racist, homophobic, repressive’ faith. Our arguments are unlikely to be given any kind of fair hearing. But what might just make a difference is if unbelievers know their Christian neighbours and the loving quality of their local church which they can see for themselves (1 Peter 2.12). Christians and the church are meant to act as the salt in their community, and such influence works best of all through personal relationships.

So please, please give the local church another chance.

John Benton

John Benton is Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy, London Seminary www.pastorsacademy.org