My last two posts I’ve been responding to a post from Relevant that Scott Sauls wrote dealing with the Church and its focus on the nuclear family and lack of focus on singles. I want to respond to one last part today.
I want to restate that I’m not trying to pick on Scott or attack him in any way. I appreciate that he is at least identifying that there is a problem in our evangelical culture when it comes to this issue. I also believe that he represents where a lot of people in our circle are at. That is, they see there is a problem, but they don’t realize how deep it is and that a lot of the assumptions they are making are actually deeply flawed.
In the last post we looked at the idea that God will either bring you someone or He won’t and if you aren’t married then He just hasn’t done so yet. I actually think the main reason that Scott brought this up is not so much to offer a terrible platitude to singles but to try to say that unmarried folks can have just as rich of walk with Jesus as married folks. Let me say a huge Amen to that.
I think more and more church leaders are waking up to that idea. However, the way in which they view that unmarried life is lacking and it is a huge reason we have all the confusion that we have. So let me respond to that here.
Rather than feed the false view that the single life is the unfulfilled life, the Church must renew its vision for singleness as a high and honored calling—one that was shared by the Apostle Paul and Jesus, no less—that positions uncoupled men and women to serve God’s Kingdom with unhindered focus, creativity and zeal.
We need to quit using the word singleness as catch all. Here’s what I mean. When we talk about singleness as a calling, at least biblically, we are talking about the call to celibacy. We have to get this. This is exactly what I’m talking about when I say that we can’t afford to take short cuts on this issue. We have to define what all of these things are. There are people who end up celibate in one three ways (from birth, by choice, or by the sin of man). Then there are those who are called to be married, the divorced and the widowed. All completely different.
Being unmarried is not the same as being called to celibacy. Paul and Jesus were not called to date indefinitely. They were not widowed or divorced. They were not forced into singleness because they couldn’t get a date or interact with the opposite sex. Was Jesus hoping to get married and God was just good to Him by not giving Him a spouse? We have to actually think this through.
More importantly, we cannot afford to continue to equate all unmarried people with what Paul writes in 1st Corinthians. Uncoupled? Really?! All uncoupled people have unhindered focus, creativity and zeal? This makes my head want to explode.
If that is the case then all “uncoupled” people would be closer to and more mature in Christ than married people. Why would we want anyone to get married? Do they offer a logic course in seminary?
A person who is called to celibacy does have a distinct and high calling. It is way more than just not being married. Instead it is a calling, gifting and/or choice to live with a singular focus on doing God’s work from an unmarried context. It is not a calling away from something but towards something. It’s not seasonal. It is a picture of the future and a special place in the Kingdom now. We should indeed see this as a high and honored calling. We don’t. At all. In fact we have no plan for these people. But it starts with recognizing it as different and unique and not just an outcome for all people who don’t happen to be married right now.
When we don’t separate it out we end up with a completely confusing and unfair message to both the people who have this high calling and to those who don’t but aren’t currently married.
We are failing to honor and support those who are called to it and therefore end up not allowing them to offer all that they can to our Church family. They are getting ripped off and so is our family as a whole because their gifts go unused or at least under utilized.
At the same time it’s unfair to those without this gift. We end up essentially saying to the single who feels called to get married, “No worries. This is so great you can focus more on the Lord. If you get married that means less Jesus for you.” Is this our message to them? Is our message to the married folks that they can’t be as focused on Jesus?
It also puts undue pressure on the people who are single but not called to this high honor. To try to call them to something that they are not called to and not trying to choose. To say that they should or could look for a spouse but also be undistracted by it is frankly sort of asinine. A straight reading of 1 Corinthians seems to me to say, “If you are not distracted – stay single and follow that calling. If you are distracted – go get married.”
The bottom line here is that Paul’s teaching is not referring to singleness as we know it in our culture and we need to quit teaching that it does. We also do need to offer the honor that Scott is suggesting to those that are called to it. If we did that one thing the whole game would change.