You cannot teach early Christian history (or Western Civilization, for that matter) without mentioning the name of Aurelius Augustinus (354-430 AD), aka Saint Augustine. He was arguably the most influential of all the early church fathers in terms of theology and Christian thought.
We owe a great deal to Augustine. He guided the Church away from the teachings of Pelagius, who argued that we are not individually affected by Adam’s original sin (this debate was known as the Pelagian controversy). For this reason, both Protestant and Catholics tend to “claim” Augustine as our own.
But Augustine was not helpful in regard to one aspect of Christian thought: human sexuality. His views were undoubtedly shaded by his own personal failures. I’ll explain a little further:
Augustine was the son of a devoted Christian mother and a non-Christian father. Despite his mother’s best efforts, Augustine never committed to Christ in his youth. His teenage years were spent pursuing empty sexual pleasure, which admittedly clouded his understanding of love: “The bubbling impulses of puberty befogged and obscured my heart so that it could not see the difference between love’s serenity and lust’s darkness” (quoted from Confessions). He eventually lived with a woman he was not married to and had a child with her.
Augustine’s youth was also spent studying rhetoric and philosophy. His interest in both led him to seek out well-known Christian preachers. This in turn caused him to start studying the Scriptures as he searched for truth.
But Augustine was greatly conflicted: he felt his heart being drawn to Christ, yet he struggled to let go of his sexual sins. His internal war can be summarized in one of his most famous quotes: “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” He was eventually baptized and committed to a life of celibacy.
Tragically, Augustine’s views on sexuality were just as unbalanced and extreme as his own decisions. He introduced some grievous errors into Christian thought:
*He connected Adam and Eve’s original sin with sexual intercourse (ridiculous in light of God’s commandment to “be fruitful” Genesis 1:28).
*He taught that sex within marriage was sinful except for purposes of procreation.
*He was generally negative about human sexuality. He refered to “the shame which attends all sexual intercourse” (quoted from The City of God).
Augustine seemingly overcompensated for his past sins, going from one unbiblical extreme to the other.
By now you may be wondering what my point is. Here goes: I believe the same thing happens today in Christian thought and teaching. I call it the “Augustine syndrome.” Here’s what I mean:
I’ve met my fair share of people who’ve made major relationship mistakes. This is all fine and good—we serve a merciful God who gives second chances! But in some cases, these are the same people who can be the most opinionated, legalistic, and in some cases, obnoxious when it comes to giving advice in matters of the heart. Their advice is often based more on their own past failures than the principles of Scripture.
I just want to challenge everyone to be humble—especially in regards to issues that are not clearly stated in the Scripture (kissing before the wedding day, group dating vs. one-on-one dating, internet dating sites, etc). If we are not careful, we will come across as being “anti-relationship” instead of “pro-purity.”
I’ve compiled a list of my Top Three Christian Books on Dating–books which I have found to be very practical and balanced.
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