One day a few years ago I was meeting with a pastor, who was perhaps in his late twenties, to discuss a singleness talk that I was going to be doing at his church. We talked about many of the things that we discuss here on this site. As the discussion turned to celibacy it took a bit of a different turn.
He shared that part of his story was that even though he was married he thought there was a good chance that he was originally gifted/called to ministry from the context of celibacy. Now he was not complaining in any way about his wife. In fact he has a good wife and a good marriage. That wasn’t his point in sharing. He had two points really.
The first was that when he was growing up, he never understood that celibacy was an option or something to be called to. But later on as he learned about it he began to ask God if he might be called to it. Just knowing him a little I wasn’t surprised by that.
He said that he flat out asked God in several ways and that looking back, God answered in every way that he was indeed called to that.
But this guy had already had sex. (Not while he was a pastor, but previously in his teenage and college years). As he met with some elder men they agreed with his original calling to celibacy but warned him that it would be much harder because of all the sexual experience he had already had. In the end they advised that he go ahead and marry and he agreed and did so.**
There is a lot of important questions that this raises. It raises some questions that frankly I don’t have perfect answers to. However I think it is worth some discussion and thought.
Before we dive in all the way, let’s first say this. We need to raise our kids in the church knowing that celibate ministry is an option. We just have to start talking about this. Not only do we need to talk about it with the 30 year old guy but really with the 13 year old guy. We need this to be a normal dialogue in the church. Parents need to talk about it. Youth leaders need to talk about it. Pastors need to talk about it.
We need to share that there are indeed two paths to pursue. Doing this well would completely change the game. I’m going to come back to this soon and talk about why that is and give some thoughts on how to set that up from a practical stand point.
But today I want to raise a different question. That is: Can you be disqualified from celibacy?
Let’s remember that celibacy is not just living a pure life until you get married. That’s called chastity. Really we are all called to live a chaste life. Celibacy means that I have the calling and/or gifting to live a life and serve God from an unmarried context. Ideally it’s a vow just like a wedding vow, but to God and not another person. I’ve talked about the different ways we get there here.
But the question is, what if you’ve already had sex. Or even; what if you’ve already done a bunch of sexual things or been wrapped up in porn or other activities. Are you then disqualified from pursuing a life of celibacy for the Kingdom? Do you have to get married instead?****
This could happen all sorts of different ways. You could become a Christian after you have already lived a life in which you had sex. You could be a Christian thinking you were going to get married and slip up and have sex. There are many examples.
Here is my take. That’s all it is. My take.
I don’t think that your past necessarily disqualifies you from a present or future calling. I do think it can affect it.
I’ve written before that regardless of your past you are not disqualified from marriage. In fact I went further and fully believe that it doesn’t even disqualify you from who you marry. In other words, just because you’ve had sex doesn’t mean you have to marry someone who has also had sex and so on. If we repent of our sin and fight to live out of God’s forgiveness then His grace is bigger than all of that.
I believe the same holds true for the call to celibacy. Your past does not disqualify you from that call.
Now that doesn’t mean that it won’t be tough. It doesn’t mean that we don’t face some unique challenges as we grow out of our past and into our calling. Paul is also clear; if you are can’t go without – get married. But if you are called and/or gifted in that way, you can lead that life – with Jesus.
I’ll say more about this in a future post about celibacy but one thing to keep in mind is that marriage and celibacy do have some things in common. They are both a calling and a choice. And regardless of calling the choice isn’t made just once. This is vital. A married person has to choose to honor his vows. Over and over again. The same holds true for a celibate man. We are all faced with temptation. We are all faced with our past. While both are a one time vow, both require deciding over and over honoring that vow.
I’d love to hear what you think? I’d especially love to hear from those readers who are called to celibacy. I know there are some.
** I’m not suggesting that my pastor friend or his elders were wrong. Marriage at that point may well have been the right answer for him. But I don’t think it should be assumed for everyone in that spot.
**** One caveat needs to be said here. If you are married, even if you were called to celibacy at some point, you are now called to honor your marriage vows. God will still use you. No one who is married should get divorced claiming a new found calling to celibacy.