Is Porn the Norm?

Several years ago, Faith Popcorn, America's foremost trend expert, hailed by the New York Times as the "trend oracle" and as the "Nostradamus of marketing" by Fortune magazine, declared, "Porn is norm." She was not endorsing pornography, but predicting that media technology would push the limits of what is acceptable and would facilitate a culture of instant gratification; thus porn would be the norm. True to her prediction, pornography has moved out of the back allies of the urban scene and onto the main streets of America.

While most Internet businesses were going bankrupt, the porn industry was raking in huge profits, making it perhaps the most profitable business on the Internet. In the past, one had to travel to sleazy backstreets to find porn; now, it's only a click away on the computer and on the remote control of the cable/satellite TV. Easy, private and nobody knows?except God. At home or in the hotel, porn is private, available and acceptable. Some estimate that as much as 70% of in-room hotel profits come from porn and that over 50% of hotel patrons participate. As people consume it in private, porn becomes the norm and goes public.

Whether it's the infamous Super Bowl incident or the recent Paris Hilton hamburger commercial, porn is seducing its way into the mainstream. The church needs to be on guard against this tsunami of trash. As it inundates our culture, it is also seeping into our churches. Shepherds must be vigilant and use the rod and staff to defeat this enemy and guard Christ's sheep.

A Reality in the Church

I can hear you protest, "That's the pagan world, not the church!" Are you sure? My personal experience and my pastoral experience have taught me otherwise. I've been ordained for over thirty years. I've served as pastor in two congregations, as a theological professor and as a biblical counselor. The threat is real, present and dangerous. It is much worse now than thirty years ago. While I do more counseling than most pastors, I have discovered that my experience is typical of dozens of other pastors, as I've talked with them, prayed with them and advised them on numerous cases.

Personally, on our home computer, spam (unsolicited mass e-mail) has included pornography pushing heterosexual sins, homosexuality, bestiality, and sadomasochism. Yes, ancient Rome would love this technological bonanza; Sodom would shout for joy as sin becomes so simple. Dear saints, we are slouching towards Gomorrah. As Professor Peter Jones has shown well, we have degenerated into a Roman Empire of pagan passions.

As a pastor of a local congregation and a seminary professor, I've counseled pastors and members of evangelical and Reformed churches enslaved to porn-single and married men, men and women struggling with homosexuality, fornicators, adulterers, victims and perpetrators of sexual molestation, cross-dressers, transsexuals, and other unmentionable perversions. Porn, with the rare exception, is always involved. I have never dealt with a sex offender who was not deeply enslaved to porn.

The Biblical Solution
To paraphrase a line from our history, "Heaven-we have a problem!" But we have a powerful, loving, sovereign Savior who rules and reigns in heaven! He has the answers to this dilemma and is more than willing to help us overcome the enemy of our souls and live pure, victorious lives in this evil and perverse generation (Phil 2:14-16). The solution is twofold. First, we must define these sins biblically. Second, we must biblically define God's solution to these sins.

Porn, and the lusts triggered or deepened by it, are sins. But they are sins in specific ways. Such understanding is necessary to defeat these enemies. First, they are self-centered perversions of God's design of human sexuality as part of the image of God and as a good gift to one's spouse, (Gen 1, 2; 1 Cor 7). Second, they run contrary to reality and involve vain imaginations of the worst sort (Prov 17:24). Thus sexuality is depersonalized and degraded into mental and physical self-stimulation. Third, they involve coveting, a violation of the tenth Commandment (Eph 5:3-5). There are clear connections between sexual sins, coveting and idolatry. Lust, at the core, is worship of the creature instead of the Creator and the neglect of the good of others. The two great commandments are sacrificed on the altar of self-love. Thus, when a man turns to porn, he says at least three things: one, the Father's love, the Son's sacrifice and the Spirit's fellowship are not enough; two, sexual love of spouse-present or future-is not enough; three, "I'm lord and king over me and can care for myself."

On the one hand, the world's view is that porn and lust are not serious problems, since, after all, "Everybody (almost) indulges." On the other hand, our culture has little hope of change for sex offenders who engage in criminal behavior. But we Christians know better. The gospel of God's free, sovereign grace through the life and death of Jesus the Messiah is the only effective answer to these sins.

What does the gospel say about these lusts? What would a pastoral approach to them look like? Is there any realistic hope for victory? Let's try to summarize a biblical plan of care. I believe there must be at least the following seven things in a biblical pastoral plan that will result, Lord willing, in the renewal of a soul scorched by sexual sin: regeneration, renewed repentance and faith, a renewed mind, renewed obedience, regular use of various means of growing in grace, regular reporting to responsible shepherds, and reading good literature on these subjects. I address the issue of lust in men, but the same is true for women. Consider each one in sequential order.

REGENERATION:
Jesus made it clear that the new birth is not optional, but absolutely essential. The unregenerate church member is incapable of producing the fruit of the Spirit as opposed to the deeds of the flesh (John 3:3-8; 15:4-5; Gal 5:16-26). If the disciple is a goat and not a sheep, chaff and not wheat, deep and lasting change is impossible. While a subjectively oriented inquisition is not helpful, a gentle probe can help. If Dr. C. John Miller had not probed my heart when I was in my first year of seminary, I might still be fighting a losing battle against my sins of the flesh, failing and on my way to a Christ-less eternity in hell! The pastor who is counseling should not try to be the Holy Spirit, of course; but he should ask questions and observe responses in ways that bring to light the true condition of the disciple's heart.

RENEWED REPENTANCE AND FAITH:
If there is evidence that the disciple is truly converted and he is a member in good standing of a Bible-believing church, then he must be renewed in his relationship with the Father through the Son by the power of the Spirit. Unless the brother can to some extent pray Psalm 51 with a straight face and heart, he is still trapped in sin and self-deception. Most believers caught in sin know they are wrong, just as David did. Yet it took the Spirit, using Nathan, for David to crack and repent (2 Sam 12:1-14). C. John Miller's Repentance and the 21st Century Man is very helpful. Repentance is simply the flip side of the coin of faith. The brother must look to Christ for forgiveness in a fresh way (1 John 1:9-2:3). He must realize he is a new creature in Christ-justified, adopted, united with the Vine and sanctified (1 Cor 6:9-11; Heb 11-12).

RENEWED MIND:
If the brother is to win, he must know his enemies-idolatry, covetousness, impurity. His mind must begin to perceive life in general and sexuality in particular in the light of God's word (Eph 4:17-24, 5:3-21; 1 Tim 5:1-2). He has to see and respond as God's adopted son, not as a pagan or an orphan.

RENEWED OBEDIENCE:
He must understand the nature of covenant faithfulness and his part in progressive sanctification. This process is called mortification and vivification by the Puritans or "put off and put on" by Jay Adams. Adams's works and those by Kris Lundgaard are helpful here.

REGULAR USE OF VARIOUS MEANS OF GROWING IN GRACE:
The disciple cannot win the battle while he is weak. Public worship including the preaching of the good news of God's grace in Christ, the Lord's Supper, prayer alone and with others, Bible reading, and fellowship with the saints is foundational to spiritual vitality.

REGULAR REPORTING TO RESPONSIBLE SHEPHERDS:
This may be the most underused tool in the battle against these sins (Jas 5:13-18). Shepherding starts with the pulpit but must never end there (Matt 18:15-20; Luke 17:1-10). Someone must monitor the brother as a coach or trainer would (Gal 6:1-2). Accountability is essential. A man who will not submit to a shepherd whom he sees will not submit to a Shepherd that he does not see (1 John 4:20).

READING ABOUT THESE ISSUES:
To ignore the wisdom of the elders of past generations and the developing classics of today is folly (Prov 1-9).

Conclusion
Jesus is exalted at the Father's side and rules over all His enemies, including sexual sins. He is crowned, thus the victory is ours. On this "pagan planet," in a crumbling culture saturated with sleazy sex, porn is norm. But for you, child of God, Christ is the norm and purity is possible. Don't exchange your eternal inheritance and reward for some temporary sexual stimulation (Heb 12:16-17). Don't be led like an ox to the satanic slaughterhouse (Prov 7:6-23). Keep your eyes fixed in faith upon Jesus and follow His footsteps to glory (Heb 12:1-2).

by Rev. George Scipione
First published in Evangelium, Vol.3, Issue 4 (Sep/Oct 2005), published by Westminster Seminary California.

© 2005 Westminster Seminary California All rights reserved. Website: www.wscal.edu. By George Scipione © 2005 Westminster Seminary California. Website: www.wscal.edu. E-mail: mail@wscal.edu. Phone: 760.480.8474 Used by permission of Rev. George Scipione.

This article is not intended to be comprehensive due to the limits of space. For further information, here are some suggested references on this topic:

Books
Harris, Josh, Not Even a Hint (Sisters: Multnomah, 2003).
Wilson, Doug, Fidelity (Moscow: Canon Press, 1999).
Hall, Laurie, An Affair of the Mind (Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family, 1996).

Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 13, No. 3 (available at Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, www.ccef.org ).

Audio
"The Pain of Porn" by Jim Newheiser, # ibc0111
"Purifying the Heart of Sexual Idolatry" by John Street, # ibc0314
(These can be ordered from www.soundword.com.)

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