Hall of Silence

A quiet place to reflect on God, His Word, and His Church

Month: June, 2012

Matthew 5 and Pornography

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

Matthew 5:27-30

[Note:  this post is a thought experiment.  The arguments made in this post should not be considered advocacy.]

Christ’s condemnation of lust in this context is predicated on its pathology, in that it leads to adultery.  He does not say that it was sinful to lust after a woman, save insofar as it was covetous to do so.  Furthermore, his prescriptive remedy is conditional (“if your right eye causes you to sin…”), which implies that it is not the looking that is sinful, though it can result in sin.  Thus, his disciples should guard against lust because of where it can lead.

Not only that, he specifically targets adultery as the reason to avoid lust, and not the more general term “fornication.”  Since adultery implies that at least one of the participants is married, there is the potential for covetousness in the act of lust.  If the one doing the lusting is married, then one’s lust is definitely covetous since the object of one’s lust cannot rightfully belong to the one doing the lusting. Conversely, if the one doing the lusting is lusting after one who is married, then this also conveys an element of covetousness since the object of one’s lust does cannot rightfully belong to the one doing the lusting.

That aside, the broader issue regarding pornography is the matter at hand.  Since lust is not condemned as inherently sinful (only as leading to sin), the question then becomes:  would lust be sinful if it could not lead to sin?  For example, if one were to lust after the images of a dead porn star, would this be wrong since there is no way that the one doing the lusting could ever commit adultery with the object of one’s lust?  Additionally, if there is no practical way to act on lust (i.e. one would never have access to the object of one’s lust), can lust be considered sinful since there is no way to act on it?

Some might object to lust on the general grounds that it leads to an increased tendency to commit adultery in general.  This objection is not particularly relevant, though, since Christ makes it clear that lust after a specific woman leads to committing adultery with that specific woman in one’s heart.  While general lust might be condemned under the auspices of leading to a general tendency to commit adultery, specific lust should not be condemned for leading to a general tendency to commit adultery because that pathology does not necessarily follow.

When all is considered, citing Matthew 5 to condemn pornography is not an air-tight argument since Christ’s condemnation of lusting after a woman is predicated on its specific pathology.  It is thus tricky to base a general condemnation on a specific claim.  However, there are plenty of good arguments against pornography, particularly those that are based on a theological perspective derived from nature or a theological perspective based on ideal relationships.  Thus, it might be better to base an argument against pornography on a more theologically sound argument instead of trying to find things in God’s word that aren’t actually there.

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Second Service

A while back, the preacher of the congregation I attend was asked about the scripturality of eliminating evening services.  It seems that the person asking the question had heard of several nearby churches cancelling evening services because attendance was generally and relatively low, and thus wanted to know if this was a good, bad, or morally neutral.  The preacher, to his credit, noted that such a decision is not inherently sinful or unscriptural.  However, he still decried the various churches’ decision to cancel evening services on the grounds that worship services are always a chance to learn and be encouraged, and that we should thus take advantage of every last one of them.  I wondered if there were any others who thought this way, and if they wouldn’t mind answering a few objections.

[Note:  second services and evening services are used interchangeably throughout.]

How Did Second Services Come About?

This is, I believe, a very key question to ask since the answer is kind of interesting.  Prior to 1940, the standard practice of the church of Christ, and even among various denominations, was to meet once on Sunday morning.  There was no second or evening service, nor was there a mid-week Bible study.  People simply gathered together in worship one morning a week, and that was it.

When WWII happened, though, there was a tremendous push by the federal government to prepare for war, which meant that factories producing weapons, armor, ammunition, ships, tanks, and other martial products needed to be at full production.  This led to factories being in production mode twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even Sundays.  This provided a conflict for some Christians, who felt compelled to join in the rush to produce weapons for nationalist reasons, even if that meant missing worship.  To accommodate those whose loyalty to their earthly nation was greater than their loyalty to Christ’s spiritual kingdom, many churches offered evening services to those whose work schedule precluded from assembling with their brothers and sisters in the morning.  Thus, the practice of evening services was the result of excusing the sin of trying to serve both God and Mammon (and, even worse, prioritizing the latter over the former).  As such, those who defend the practice of second service should do so with the understanding that this practice was very much born in sin.

If A Second Service is so Valuable…

The original argument that the preacher made was that additional services are spiritually valuable.  I assume this is a tautology since I cannot readily think of any way of measuring this assertion, let alone testing or falsifying it.  However, this assertion does beg the question:  if a second service is so beneficial, why not have a third or fourth service?  Why not require that all Christians worship from 12:00:00 AM Sunday morning to 11:59:59 PM Sunday night?  Would not this arrangement be the most spiritually beneficial one?

Of course, these questions exist merely to point out an absurdity.  Namely, that the vast majority of people recognize the concept of diminishing returns.  Yes, worship is good and beneficial, but there comes a point where each additional minute spent worshiping starts to lose value, and may even turn negative, which is why no church has a twenty-four hour worship service on Sunday.  Having established that worship has diminishing returns, the next reasonable question to ask is:  how do we know that we don’t experience significantly diminishing returns during second service?  There is no way to quantitatively and empirically answer this question. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it.

Incidentally, I am familiar with a couple of congregations who cancelled their evening services.  Both congregations were happier, and said their morning worship felt more meaningful.  I do not have further data, but this anecdotal evidence suggests that the second service may not be as beneficial.

Are Human Beings Finite?

This is also another key question to ask, as its answer indicates that humans, being finite creatures, have a limited capacity for learning and encouragement.  Paul himself noted that much study (presumably of the Bible) was wearisome to the flesh.  Furthermore, it is tautological that there are limits to human emotion.  As such, it follows necessarily that there are limits to just how much a Christian can learn during worship, and how encouraged he can become.

Of course, this truism is borne out to some extent in the aforementioned thought experiment about diminishing returns.  There is nothing that so readily demonstrates man’s finite capacity as diminishing returns.  In keeping with this observation, then, that man is finite, the following question must be asked:  if man is finite in his capacity for learning and encouragement, why not try to maximize one’s feeling of encouragement and one’s learning in one service instead of two or more?

To put it another way, if worship is so encouraging, and such a good opportunity for learning, why can’t congregations reach their members’ capacity for encouragement and learning in a single service?  Does this inability to satiate men’s finite capacities suggest some sort of failure?  To state it yet another way, why is it that we don’t try to satiate men’s capacity for encouragement and learning in a single service?  And are we failing one another if we don’t?

Summary and Implications

As is clearly seen, the second service was sinful in its conception and initial practice.  It has been deified by some, but even its staunchest supporters will not agree to adding a third, fourth, or twenty-four service because they themselves recognize the diminishing value of additional meetings, even though they seem not to recognize man’s finite capacity for the benefits of worship.  Thus, the defenders of second service are put in the untenable position of hypocritically defending a practice born in evil.  Worse still, if they argue the spiritual primacy of having a second service, they are in effect condemning those Christians before them who never had an evening service.  Therefore, it should be clear that evening service is unnecessary at best and corrupting at worst.  Thus people should not only refrain from complaining or worrying about its demise, but should be actively encouraging it.