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New Horizons

Adultery and Apostasy

Francis A. Schaeffer

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband" (Ephesians 5:25-33).

In Ephesians 5:25-33, Christ makes a very remarkable and very strong statement concerning the church as his bride. Notice, however, how God very carefully intertwines this with the marriage relationship. The two ideas are so fused together that in an exegetical study it is almost impossible to divide them—even, as it were, with an instrument as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel. There is here a very strong intertwining of teaching about the two relationships: the man-woman relationship and the Christ-Christian relationship with the Christ-church relationship.

When you examine the New Testament, you find that the bride of Christ is thought of in two ways. In some places, the emphasis is upon the fact that each Christian is individually the bride of Christ, and in other places it is the church as a unity that is the bride of Christ. But there is no contradiction in this; there is merely unity in diversity. The church is collectively the bride of Christ, and it is made up of individual Christians, each one of whom is the bride of Christ.

Paul says (verse 32) that he is speaking of a great mystery. What a tremendous mystery!—the fact that Christ, the eternal second person of the Trinity, has become the divine Bridegroom!

The Biblical Norm

Notice that this passage in Ephesians does not stand alone. In many places in the New Testament, this same sort of illustration is used. In John 3:28-29, we find John the Baptizer introducing Christ as a groom: "Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He [Christ] that hath the bride is the bridegroom."

Romans 7:4 contains a very striking, almost overwhelming use of this teaching: "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ" (and then comes a double "in order that") "[in order] that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead ..." So we are dead to the law in order that we should be married to Christ. But that is not the end of it: "... [in order] that we should bring forth fruit unto God."

The picture here is overwhelming. As the bride puts herself in the bridegroom's arms on the wedding day and then daily, and as therefore children are born, so the individual Christian is to put himself or herself in the Bridegroom's arms, not only once for all in justification, but existentially, moment by moment. Then the Christian will bear Christ's fruit out into the fallen, revolted, external world. In this relationship, we are all female. This is the biblical picture, one that we would not dare use if God himself did not use it.

The Old Testament, like the New, emphasizes the bride and Bridegroom symbolism. In the Old Testament, God is the husband of his people: "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you" (Jer. 3:14). And, of course, there is no basic difference. The church continues. The church is new at Pentecost in one sense, yet in another sense it existed from the first man who was redeemed on the basis of Christ's coming work.

We have in 2 Corinthians 11:1-2, "Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." And in the great culmination of Revelation 19:6-9, we have the picture of the church when Christ has returned. And what is the great event? It is nothing less than the marriage supper of the Lamb: "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God."

This theme, which is seen throughout the Old and New Testaments, culminates in this last great Lord's Supper, where Christ himself will serve his people. And there need be no hurry and there need be no rush, with millions and millions being served from the hand of the risen Lord. And they, being risen physically from the dead, will partake with their resurrected bodies. We look forward to this as we repeat the words of 1 Corinthians 11:26 each time in the Communion service: "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come."

Thus we find that the husband-wife relationship is stressed throughout the Scriptures as a picture, an illustration, a type, of the wonder of the relationship of the individual believer and Christ and of the church and Christ.

An understanding of this parallel guides our thinking in two directions. First, it makes us appreciate the greatness, the wonder, and the beauty of marriage. And, second, it helps us to grasp something of the profound relationship between God and his people and between Christ and his church.

My personal opinion is that the marriage relationship is not just an illustration, but rather that in all things—including the marriage relationship—God's external creation speaks of himself. While the world is not God, the world is created by God and speaks about God.

The Bible and Sexual Adultery

In our generation, people are asking why promiscuous sexual relationships are wrong. I would say there are at least three reasons. First, because God says so. God is the Creator and Judge of the universe; his character is the law of the universe, and when he tells us a thing is wrong, it is wrong.

Second, however, we must never forget that God has made us in our relationships to really fulfill that which he made us to be, and therefore, too, a right sexual relationship is for our good as we are made. It is not to our real fulfillment to have promiscuous or homosexual relationships. This is not what God has made us for. Promiscuity tries to force something into a form which God never made it for, and in which it cannot be fulfilled.

The third is the reason we are dealing with most fully in this study: promiscuous relationships are wrong because they destroy the picture that God means the marriage relationship of husband and wife to be. Marriage is set forth to be the illustration of the relationship of God and his people, and of Christ and his church. It rests upon God's character, and God is eternally faithful to his people. The relationship of God with his people rests upon his character and promises, but sexual relationships outside of marriage break this picture.

God wants us to understand that this is a serious sin. Both the Old and New Testaments speak out strongly against all sexual involvement outside of marriage. The Bible never allows us to tone down the seriousness of adultery because it shatters the illustration of the relationship God intended to be between himself and his people, between Christ and the church (See Ex. 20:14; Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22; Jer. 23:10-11; Matt. 5:32; Gal. 5:19).

The Bride of Christ and Spiritual Adultery

But there is another level in our understanding of adultery. In 2 Corinthians 11:1-3, we learn two valuable lessons about how the physical betrayal of adultery in marriage is applicable to the Christian's relationship with Christ:

Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

Here Paul states that every person who has become a Christian has become the bride of Christ. In addition, however, he warns that the bride of Christ can be led away and corrupted by unfaithfulness. As there can be physical adultery, so too there can be spiritual adultery to Christ.

No one is perfect. None of us is totally faithful to our divine Bridegroom. We are all weak. Many times we are unfaithful in a positive or negative way in our thoughts or our actions. But the Scriptures make a clear distinction between the imperfection of all Christians and the spiritual adultery which results when those who claim to be God's people stop listening to what God has said and turn to other gods. As far as the Bible is concerned, the latter is apostasy. The sin of adultery is grave, and the sin of apostasy is even more grave. If the Bible speaks out against breaking the illustration, how much more should we expect it to condemn the violation of the reality of which marriage is the symbol.

There is a stigma in the use of the term adultery that even the world today wishes to avoid. Often the word is avoided, and called something else, such as a "no-fault" divorce, so that adultery never has to be named. The same is true with the term apostasy in the Christian realm. Men like to tone down these terms. They prefer to speak of these things in polite language. But God does not. Adultery is the term which God takes and applies like a knife to his people when they are unfaithful to him. In fact, we find he uses the term adultery, and parallel terms, over and over again in regard to his people turning away from him (see Ex. 34:12-15; Lev. 20:5-6; Judg. 2:17; Isa. 1:21; Jer. 3:1-9; Ezek. 16:30-32; Hos. 4:13; Rev. 17:1-5).

Spiritual Adultery Today

When those who claim to be God's people turn aside from the Word of God and from the Christ of history, this is far more heinous in the sight of God than the worst case of infidelity in marriage. I have taken care to emphasize that God does not minimize immorality in sexual relationships, but apostasy—spiritual adultery—is worse. Given this fact, we must be careful to look at it no less clearly than God does.

Consider the liberal theology of our day. It denies the personal God who is there. It denies the divine, historic Christ. It denies the Bible as God's verbalized Word. It denies God's way of salvation. The liberals elevate their own humanistic theories to a position above the Word of God, the revealed communication of God to men. They make gods which are no gods, but are merely the projection of their own minds.

As we describe their theories, we tend to dress them up in polite terms, in fine clothes, carefully weaving these clothes so as not to offend. We dress up our attitudes and statements in fine words. Of course, we must treat men as human beings while having discourse with them, and that very much includes the liberal theologians. We must treat them as made in the image of God, even if they are actively in rebellion against God, and we must let them know that we love them as individuals. But this does not mean that we should forget that apostasy must be named as apostasy. Apostasy must be called what it is—a spiritual adultery. The Bible's perspective should be our own, and this is the way God speaks of it and looks upon it, and so this is the way God's people are called to look upon it.

This spiritual adultery is worse, much worse, than physical adultery. But it is also much worse than the ancient Jews following their idols. Oh, how God spoke out against the Jews following their idols! What strong figures of speech he used in love in order to bring them to their senses. But modern liberal theology is worse than this, for it turns against greater light, against greater blessing. Modern liberal theology is worse than following the Molech of old.

Do you know the facts concerning Molech? Molech, whose idol was in the valley of Hinnon, was a heathen god whom the Jews were constantly warned against following. What kind of a god was Molech? He was the god of the sacrifice of newborn babies. This was the central act of his worship: the firstborn of every woman's body had to be sacrificed to Molech. According to one tradition, there was an opening at the back of the brazen idol, and after a fire was made within it, each parent had to come and with his own hands place his firstborn child in the white-hot, outstretched hands of Molech. According to this tradition, the parent was not allowed to show emotion, and drums were beaten so that the baby's cries could not be heard as the baby died in the hands of Molech.

And there, I would say, stand many in our day. Many of those who come to me, those with whom I work, are the children destroyed by a worse than Molech. Men—men who were supposedly the men of God—have stood by while their children were eaten up by modern theology. And then we are told that there is supposed to be no emotion shown.

Some of you who read this bear the marks of these things from the background from which you come. All of us are marked by this in some way, to some extent, because our Western, post-Christian world has been undercut by liberal theology. Every scar this present generation has, every tear cried, every baby which some of you who read this have willfully aborted, every drug trip you have taken, cannot be separated from the fact that the church has turned away and become unfaithful. This generation are the babies in the hands of Molech. And are we supposed to stand by and hear their cries and cover them up by beating loudly the drums of a profitless discussion? No, we are to weep and to act.

God's Word for Our Generation

What does God say to our generation? Exactly the same thing that he said to Israel 2,500 years ago, when he said through Ezekiel: "I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols" (6:9). I believe that this is how God looks at much of the modern church and on our Western culture. I believe that this is how he looks on much of our cinema, much of our drama, much within our art museums. And above everything else, this is the way he looks into the churches in which a gospel that is no gospel is being preached. God is saddened. Should we not be moved?

He is the same God. He is the living God. He is the unchanging God. He is the God who is there. And will he not do in the midst of this situation what he did in the midst of the Jewish situation in the time of Isaiah in the Northern Kingdom, and in the time of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel in the Southern Kingdom? Will he not judge our culture? Will he not call it adulterous? I tell you in the name of God that he will judge our culture unless there is a return to a Christian base for culture—and that begins with true repentance and renewal in the church.

Now what should be our response? Listen to Jeremiah speak in 13:27, "Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem!" Indeed, as redeemed people we should know the joy of Christ, but as we look around us in much of the church and in our culture, can we fail to cry tears? Must we not also have this message? Like Jerusalem, much of the church has turned apostate. We must say these words while we cry for the individual and while we never fail to treat him as a human being. However, we must not speak more lightly than Jeremiah. We must not be any less moved. Our response must not be merely a theoretical discussion of an intellectual nature. It must be the cry, "Woe, O liberal church! Woe, O apostate Christendom!"

It is not just a question of abstract theology that is involved, not just an academic difference. It is not that I should get my Ph.D. and go off and sit in some faculty and merely make polite academic conversation. It is the difference between loyalty to the living God and spiritual adultery—spiritual adultery against the Creator and the Judge of the universe; spiritual adultery, mind you, against the only adequate Bridegroom for man—the only adequate Bridegroom for all people in all the world; spiritual adultery against the only One who can fulfill the longing of the human heart. To turn away from the divine Bridegroom is to turn to unfulfillment. This is not only sin, but destruction.

We have seen how desperately wrong and sinful physical adultery is, but notice that Jesus gives a priority. In Matthew 21:31, Jesus says to the religious leaders of his day: "Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." It is not that Jesus minimized sexual sin, but here he tells the religious leaders of his day, who have turned away from God, that the harlots and those who collect taxes for the Romans will go into the kingdom of God before them. As these men walk through the streets and see such a woman walking down the way, they will not speak to her. They will not even look at her. They turn away from her. They show their disgust publicly. But Jesus is saying, "Look at her! Don't you understand? She will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will." Both are sinful. But God himself in the words of Christ puts down a priority. Sexual sin is sinful, but spiritual adultery is even worse.

God's Word for Us

But for ourselves, we who by God's grace belong to the people of God, we who are Christ's, we who are God's, we who have been redeemed on the basis of the blood of the Lamb—let us understand that we are now called to take one more most crucial step. We are to act as that which we are. Who are we? We are not just those going to heaven. We are even now the wife of God. We are at this moment the bride of Christ. And what does our divine Bridegroom want from us? He wants not only doctrinal faithfulness, but our love, day by day.

I must ask myself, "But what about you, Schaeffer?" And what about you, each one of you who knows the grace of God? What should be our attitude? Our attention must swing back now to ourselves. We have a crucial question to ask about ourselves.

We must ask, "Do I fight merely for doctrinal faithfulness?" This is like the wife who never sleeps with anybody else, but never shows love to her own husband. Is that a sufficient relationship in marriage? No, 10,000 times no! Yet if I am a Christian who speaks and acts for doctrinal faithfulness, but does not show love to my divine Bridegroom, I am in the same place as such a wife. What God wants from us is not only doctrinal faithfulness, but our love, day by day—not in theory, mind you, but in practice.

For those of us who are the children of God, there can only be one end to this study of adultery and apostasy. We must realize the seriousness of modern apostasy and urge each other not to have any part in it, but at the same time we must realize that we must love our Savior and Lord. We must be the loving, true bride of the divine Bridegroom in reality and in practice, day by day, in the midst of the unfaithfulness of our day. Our call is first to be the bride faithful, but that is not the total call. The call is not only to be the bride faithful, but to be the bride in love.

This article is taken (slightly edited) from The Church before the Watching World, by Francis A. Schaeffer (1971). Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187. The author quotes the KJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2004.

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