There’s been a lot written lately about the difference between purity and virginity, with those opposed to virginity pledges crying how purity is so much more than physical mechanics. I think the biblical intent was for them to be one in the same because the virginity that two people bring to marriage is symbolic of Christ’s purity and his marriage to the church. When you look at the big picture of what God expects, virginity before marriage actually underscores how we can never measure up to Christ’s purity. It’s a goal that we aim for, but never attain. It reminds us that, even at our best, we are very inaccurate representatives of what real purity looks like. But at the same time, it does publically identify us as people who are trying to live like Christ. More importantly, it symbolizes that we understand the relationship between human sexuality and Christianity itself and how the act of sex cannot be separated from the spiritual realm, whether that be pure good or pure evil. As his creation, physical virginity also confirms the binary, black or white, all or nothing nature of God. Of course, this stands in stark contrast to a world that tells us everything exists in shades of gray. Have you ever wondered why it was necessary for the mother of Christ to be a virgin? It’s actually very simple. He had to be both from man and from God, spiritual as well as physical. But how many times have you heard that discussed in church?
In traditional Christian culture, it was an unwritten expectation that the bride and groom were virgins at the time of their marriage and that they were both bringing empty temples that had not been occupied through fornication and that they were equally yoked, starting a life together on the same level. This necessitated already accepting Christ and understanding the metaphor of the church being the bride of Christ. It was also a common belief that marriage brought with it the concerns of the world, chiefly because of the responsibilities of raising a child. This makes perfect sense. To feed a baby, the new dad had to be of value to men in the world. There was also a common understanding, as explained clearly by Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, that not all people were meant for marriage, and that those who could live without sex and not burn would do better focusing on the concerns of the Lord. So it was understood that marriage and making babies was not the most important thing in the world and not mandatory for a Christian life. In contrast, many people today are still living in Old Testament times when we were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply,” quoting Old Testament scripture saying that “it is not good for man to be alone.” They still have Jesus dead on the cross. They still see marriage and reproduction as the center of the world.
This is where the cart got put before the horse in contemporary purity movements like True Love Waits because already being a Christian was not an expectation. These concerned parents who started such organizations assumed all who had not had sex were children “waiting” on marriage. Since many of them couldn’t provide a personal testimony of chastity to their children, they tried to fit their children’s virginity into the world’s landscape of support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous. Indeed, singleness is still seen as a disease, a forsaken place of eternal waiting, something to be cured. That’s one reason singles have fled churches in droves. They have no identify unless they are married, unless they are fruitfully multiplying – of no spiritual value to the church.
Churches still fail to understand the connection between the physical and the spiritual dimensions of sex. Just sign this pledge card and stand in this holding booth. This shortsightedness with regards to purity groups reinforces the worldview that defines virginity as a mere adolescent prerequisite to marriage. It provided the world with so many straw men they didn’t know what to do with them all. And focusing on one gender reinforced the belief that women should set the religious standards in society. But they had not counted on the world’s reaction to “purity culture” and could not defend biblical standards when challenged. Hence, today we live in a world where virginity is still defined in terms of adolescent teenage girls, purity balls, boundaries, pledge cards, and “committed” same sex relationships. The more girls a boy has sex with, the higher his status. The more boys a girl has sex with, the lower her status. And the double standard cycle continues, all because of a culture that worships sex, parents who never knew what purity was, and churches that think it’s their responsibility – not God’s – to define sexual standards.
Thankfully, there are a few churches and parents who are the exceptions. It should be our responsibility to bring the believing world out of Old Testament times and sacrificial offerings of pure lambs and into the world of New Testament times when the ultimate purity sacrifice has already been made.