The Beauty Myth

Broken Face

Last week I posted from Dr. Schaumburg’s book Undefiled one indicator of the sexual problems here in America. Here is another problem he has encountered regularly in his thirty plus years of counseling. He calls it “the beauty myth.”

For men and women, “beauty” has become nearly synonymous with “sexy.” The beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection, holds women in bondage to hopelessness, self-consciousness, and self-hatred. It intertwines sexuality and beauty to create the idea that a woman must be “beautiful” to be sexual and desirable in a relationship. Women say they “feel sexier” when they lose weight, but female sexual pleasure doesn’t multiply with weight loss.  Compared with sexual sin, the obsession with beauty  may seem like a minor issue. In reality, the impossible-to-achieve desire to secure an external “flawless beauty” destroys a woman’s sexuality and spirituality.

The “pornography of beauty” reshapes female sexuality. You see this in everyday magazine ads and in women’s magazines. Users of Photoshop have taken the picture of a three hundred pound woman in lingerie and turned her into a sex goddess. There is little that is real about such an image, but men and women will worship it. The image altering software easily creates the perfect hair, skin, and figure. The message is clear: “Look like that if you want to fee like that.” 

Why does a woman go under the knife for numerous facelifts in a desperate attempt to look younger? Why are girls much more self-conscious about their appearance today? Why did my mother, in her early nineties, still dye her hair? The beauty myth has obscured what is truly beautiful in a woman…Today we are easily duped into thinking that external beauty is all there is to woman.

More and more women believe they must have that face and look to have their needs met. Like sexual pornography, the pornography of beauty is based on a myth and both types of porn make a woman an object. If a man’s image and understanding of sexuality is distorted by pornography, I suggest there is a parallel effect on a woman’s image and her understanding of sexuality in the beauty myth.

Unfortunately, the beauty myth is winning the battle against sexual purity. In reality the ads don’t sell sex; instead they sell discontent, shame, and guilt. A woman will say, “I hate my body, my hips, my thighs, and my stomach.” This is at the core a deep sexual shame, which is destructive both relationally and spiritually. And this focus on external beauty is in direct contradiction to what Scripture teaches-that authentic beauty come from inside a person:

Do not let your adorning be external-the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hope in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (I Peter 3:3-6)

Premarital Sex in Calvin’s Geneva

lydiaandherwickham
I am continuing to work through Kingdon and Witte’s book on marriage in Geneva. 
 

Chapter 12 addresses how Geneva approached the period of time between engagement and marriage, including how premarital sex was handled, as well as desertion during the engagement. This post will only address premarital sex.

This time included heightened sexual tension therefore the “Genevan authorities regulated this perilous interval in some detail.” One of the difficulties Geneva ran into was that they treated this period like a marriage except you could not have sex. For example, if an engaged woman slept with someone who was not her spouse to be, it was adultery, not fornication. To get out of an engagement was like getting a divorce. Yet despite all these trappings of marriage, a couple was still supposed to refrain from sex until the wedding day.  Continue reading

Beza on Husbands as Heads, Not Tyrants

Here is a short quote from Theodore Beza (1519-1605) in a sermon he preached to his congregation in Geneva. Beza was John Calvin’s successor.

It is true you are the heads of your wives by the command of God above…But remember that God did not draw the woman from Adam’s heel, but from Adam’ side. This shows you that she is truly below and inferior to you, but also that she is beside you, which should make it clear that she is not your slave. Thus, have nothing do with all these arguments full of insults, these blows, these beatings, and other violent acts! I do not call such behavior “mastery” but “tyranny”  and unbearable inhumanity in the Church.

 

Worship or Evangelism?

Pew

One of the key shifts in worship over the last 75 years has been the move to make worship services primarily about evangelism. For most of church history worship was an offering to God by Christians and a place where the faithful were taught by God through the Word, prayer, and fellowship. It was about Christians and getting those Christians to grow. Evangelism was something different. Evangelism was telling the lost the good news that Christ came, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven to save us from our sins. Evangelism aimed at the non-believer. Worship aimed at God and the believer. With the advent of tent meetings, the seeker sensitive movement, church as therapy, and other aspects of the church growth movement worship services became more and more evangelistic.  Continue reading

Signs of Sexual Rot: Diminished Masculinity & Femininity

Gender Roles 1

If you are looking for a book that will help you counsel someone with sexual problems or work through your own sexual problems then I would recommend Dr. Harry Schaumburg’s Undefiled.   Dr. Schaumburg at the time of this book (2009) had counseled almost 1,500 couples and has been counseling over thirty years with eighteen years devoted exclusively to sexual issues.  In one of the early chapters of the book he discusses how prevalent sexual sin is in the church.  He says that some research puts the number of church members watching porn at 50%. One mission organization told him that 80% of their applicants voluntarily indicated a problem with porn. One seminary professor said we no longer ask, are you using porn. But rather how bad is it? Dr. Schaumburg closes with this statement, “This rot in the church must be addressed or the devastation will be incalculable.” He then gives nine indicators of the problem. I will quote the first here and give the other eight in an subsequent post. Why quote the first one in full? It gets at one of the roots of our sexual malaise: rejection of created ordered and a failure to rejoice that men are men and women are women. Here are the two paragraphs under that indicator.  Continue reading

The Economics of Marriage in Calvin’s Geneva

 
Peasant House
I am continuing to work through Kingdon and Witte’s book on marriage in Geneva. 

Chapter 11 of the book is devoted to the economics of marriage in Geneva. It is tempting to think this is an area of similarity to 21st century America. However the opening paragraph of the chapter shows that, while there are some similarities, there are also substantial differences.

In sixteenth-century Geneva, as much as today, marriage is not only a union of persons. It was also a merger of properties-land, money, jewelry, clothing, household commodities, social titles, property rents, business interests, and sundry other “real” and “personal” property. When the parties were members of aristocracy or of the ruling class, a marriage could be the occasion for a massive exchange of power, property, and prerogatives that distilled into lengthy written contracts. But even paupers who intended marriage generally made at least token exchanges of property and oral agreements about future transactions.

Today the rich and wealthy probably do something similar to what is described here. However, the lower and middle classes rarely have anything like a written contract concerning financial obligations, etc. before marriage. The reasons are many, but one would be that most of us have little wealth that we bring into marriage. Continue reading

Emergency Baptisms in Geneva

Baptism 1

Here is a section from Scott Manetsch’s excellent book Calvin’s Company of Pastors about why emergency baptisms were banned in Geneva. An emergency baptism was when a newborn who was about to die was baptized.

During the first decades after Geneva’s Reformation, the Consistory [pastors who oversaw Geneva’s spiritual care] investigated a handful of baptismal cases in outlying villages where godparents or midwives performed emergency baptisms out of concern for the salvation of a sickly newborn infant. While Lutheran churches in Germany permitted this traditional practice, Geneva’s ministers viewed emergency baptisms as pernicious because the sacraments should only be performed by ministers in the assembly of the faithful in conjunction with the preaching of the Word, and they were predicated on the false Catholic teaching that baptism was necessary for salvation. It was with these theological concerns in mind that the Consistory sharply rebuked a woman named Claude Mestral in 1548 for allowing a midwife to baptize her sick infant out of the mistaken belief that “if the children of believers do not have the external sign [of baptism] they will perish.” Though emergency baptisms became extremely rare in reformed Geneva after 1550, nevertheless, the parental instinct to assure the spiritual well-being of sickly children through baptism was very difficult to root out entirely. This is seen in the fact that, in the rural parish of Russin in 1599, parents continued to bring sick newborns to their pastor in the middle of the night to request baptism. The Venerable Company instructed the pastor of Russin and other countryside ministers to remind their congregations that “the doctrine which claims baptism is necessary for salvation is false” and that all baptisms should be celebrated in the presence of the Christian assembly and in conjunction with Christian preaching.

There are several interesting ideas in this paragraph.

First, it is clear that in Geneva, baptism was not considered necessary to salvation. Therefore, I think it follows, given the general teaching on the covenant, that baptism was administered because the child was in covenant, not in order to bring the child into the covenant.

Second, the pastors in Geneva kept a close eye on liturgical practices that would undermine Biblical truth. Allowing mid-wives to baptize sick newborns taught a particular view of baptism: that without it a child was not saved. They saw this as dangerous and therefore eliminated the practice. We should carefully watch our liturgical practices, both in worship and outside, to make sure our actions are not undermining the truth.

Let me give two examples. First, what does it say if we allow unordained fathers to baptize their children? Second, what does it say if we allow women to teach men in small groups, Sunday school, church conferences, etc. but refuse them the pulpit? Too many Christians assume that liturgical practices have little impact. That is deadly and allows false teaching to creep in unnoticed.

Third, again showing pastoral wisdom, Geneva’s ministers looked at why a person was doing a particular action. Wanting to have a child baptized was a good thing. But the why mattered. If you wanted your child baptized because you thought baptism was necessary for salvation there was a problem that needed to be addressed. Doing the right thing does not always mean the right thing is being done for the right reason.

Finally, baptism was a church event, not a family event. It was to take place in worship where God’s people were gathered and where God’s Word was preached.  There are numerous reasons for this including the necessity of the Word. But one key reason is that raising children takes the effort and prayers of the whole church body. The child is becoming part of God’s people. When we baptize babies we have vows for the parents, but we also have vows for the congregation. This is one of our liturgical practices that we believe reinforces a Biblical truth: the whole congregation in various ways and at various levels is responsible for leading a child to Christ and teaching them the ways of Christ. Here are the congregational vows we include in our baptismal service.

Covenant Vows for the Congregation
Minister: Do you promise as a covenant community to assist [Parent’s Name] by word, prayer, and Christian fellowship to raise [Child’s Name] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
People: By God’s grace we do!

Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive [Child’s Name] with love into Christ’s Church, pray for him, help instruct him in the faith, encourage, and sustain him in the fellowship of believers to the end that he may faithfully walk with Christ all his days and come at last to his eternal kingdom?
People: By God’s grace we do!

In Geneva, baptism was important but did not save, was communal, not individual, and was to attached to the Word, not separated from it.