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A pretty country quilt lay across an old four-poster bed on the stage at Pathways Community Church. The bed had been there throughout the church’s “Sexual Revolution” series — in which “revolution” was defined as “a sudden change for the better.” A doggie bed sat on the floor at the foot of the four-poster — representative, in the words of Pastor Phil Herrington, of where we go when we get out of “God’s bed...the marriage bed,” and start “living our way instead of God’s way — when we depart from His design.”

But that part came later, after an extended series of hymns from the tight pop band — the wash of sound from the keyboard, piano, bass, electric and acoustic guitars fading suddenly to highlight two voices, backed only by wind chimes and maracas, then gradually building again, energizing the early-morning crowd. The old hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” received a breathy, almost romantic update: the chorus remained the same, but in the verses, lines such as “O’er us sin has no more dominion/ For more than conquerors we are!” were replaced by, “Isn’t He beautiful?/ Outshining sun and stars/ It’s indescribable/ How breathtaking You are.”

“As a society,” said Michael, introducing the pastor, “we’ve become kind of mixed up in this dichotomy of what good and right and pure sex is. There are just so many deluded messages about what God’s intent is, and sometimes we get led astray.... What Pastor Phil is going to talk about today is what happens if you’ve messed up God’s grand design for glorious sex...because God allows do-overs.”

More hymns, and then the lead singer turned to the projection screen and said, a little wryly, “Here is the will of God.” “For this is the will of God,” read the text, taken from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, “that you become holy; that you keep away from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor.... In this matter, no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him...for God did not call us to impurity, but holiness.”

Herrington then launched into a pedagogical barrage against sex outside of the “life-uniting covenant called marriage.” The overarching goal was to place sex within God’s plan for humanity: “God wants us to operate by His design.... If we do that, He says that that’s when we experience real life — we become totally alive. There’s a mystery, an energy, a depth that’s reserved for the covenant of marriage.” He noted that Adam and Eve were naked but not ashamed: “In the context of marriage, nakedness assumes intimacy, and intimacy means to be fully known, and we want that intimacy with others — in the context of marriage.” Sexual sin, on the other hand, “is damaging, and it’s powerful. Sin is sin to God, but the consequences here are deep because the sexual nerve is woven so deeply into the fabric of who we are. Sex is not just sex; it’s a soul-connected thing.”

He warned about premarital sex’s power to cloud judgment, to infiltrate the soul. “That whole world abuses the image of God in you and in the other person. You strip them of their humanity and yourself of your humanity when you get naked outside the context of where God intended you to get naked.... You’re trashing this gift He’s given you.”

Besides His design, Herrington stressed God’s forgiveness — and practical steps to deal with sex. Talk of dating habits, of a willingness to be sanctified — “set apart” — and of modesty: “you’re also responsible for the sanctification of other people. You’ve got to decide for yourself where faith and fashion collide.”

He quoted the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “You want to see God? You want to live a life of purity? You may have to make a radical decision. Stay away from people who are causing you to stumble.... You may have to resign from your job.... You may have to move out of your neighborhood or your apartment complex. You may need to throw your computer away or put a blocker on it. You may need to show up to Celebrate Recovery and say, ‘Hi, my name is So-and-So, and I have a problem with sex, and I need help.’”

The service closed with a song written by the band’s lead singer, which he felt was appropriate to the occasion: “I want to draw near to You/ Make You the reason for my life/ Surround me with your arms/ Capture me in Your love...”

What happens when we die?

“If we have accepted Christ into our lives and asked His forgiveness for our sin,” said Herrington, “then we go to heaven. Our souls go to heaven, and we receive our resurrected bodies at the Second Coming.”

Pathways Community Church
Denomination: Southern Baptist
Address: 9626 Carlton Hills Boulevard, Santee, 619-449-1269
Founded locally: 1993
Senior pastor: Phil Herrington
Congregation size: 800
Staff size: 12
Sunday school enrollment: 300
Annual budget: about $900,000
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: casual to semiformal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: 9 a.m., 10:45 a.m.
Website: pathwayscommunitychurch.org

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