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.
Interesting point, and topic. Kind of wished I was there to just listen.
With most of the marrieds I have met in my seven year Christian walk…..
All of them had sex before they were Christian. Now they are married and born again, too many tell me that I still have to “wait” to marriage. Okay. I get that. no problem.
They tell the younger guys and gals to wait (teens and twenties). I get that……but it seems to me anyway….right now………that a lot Christians who ARE getting married now (no matter what the age) are the ones who ‘rebelled’ from God, had sex (and plenty of it), children out of wedlock and now are all ‘holy’ about marriage.
It’s kind of a sticking point because the ones who never had sex, or who are indeed ‘saving themselves before Christ and marriage’ and the group that is being raised up are the ones sitting in the pews being fed sermons of “It’s God’s timing” and well frankly….that timing is causing a lot of pain, hurt and harm to both Christian men and women who are living in celibacy until marriage; and who want to be married.
I am not speaking for myself here now……as I downshift now towards fifty, I realize that my walk with Him is more important and that marriage is a “younger person thing”
Not that it ‘hurts’ sometimes…….but it no longer cripples me.
Just an observation is all. This post Justin touches on a lot of things actually
Good thoughts. And you raise a couple of things I haven’t talked about in a while. Which I appreciate because it gives me some good ideas for future posts.
I’m glad you mentioned this Jason. As a single person in church, virgin and waiting for marriage, it is difficult to remain encouraged. Many of our married Christian friends were sexually active up until their wedding night, and yet are telling us to remain celibate. Many of the single people in church appreciate the idea of ones virginity, but also expect sexual gratification with you/their date/their partner/etc before marriage. There is definitely a double standard to be noticed, but when you are already struggling with your own sexual desires and temptations, the messages heard at church may be far from helpful.
Sister……many fellow sisters “don’t” think this is an issue for their brothers who indeed are staying pure in thought and deed in these matters. I am glad you see this. And in “bro culture” (even the Christian one) it’s an uphill fight at times bc masculinity is defined on so many subtle levels (sports, sports…..sports……how many women are endeared to you…how many women were ‘scored’ before they met their wife / became Born Again / or returned to God after getting married).
Not to say all Christian men are like this. Def not true…but your Christian brothers who have “known who they hath believeth” and are striving to fight off an ambient porn-soaked world in and out of our Christian culture……know that you are not alone in this!
Thank you for your frank and honest reply to my comment!
Jason, appreciate your thoughts, I concur.
As a 55 year old virgin bachelor, I have felt cheated at times, yet the Scripture provides encourgagement.
Psalm 73:13 – 15 — Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, and washed my hands in innocence…. If I had said, I will speak thus, I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
Psalm 37:1-2, 8 – Do not fret because of evildoers, be not envious toward wrongdoers, for they will wither quickly like the grass…… Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing.
Its easy to feel sorry for oneself, if one is focused on oneself, but my identity is in Christ, and I want to be committed to doing His will, and involved in the gospel locally, and in my Church’s teaching ministry. When I do these things, and give my time to them, my thoughts are off of myself, and I am content with His will for my life.
Thank you for the uplifting! I am always ready to be encouraged…and because of the Internet, and places like this…I realize that I am not alone!
Justin – That’s a good question. As someone who is called to celibate life, I’ll give you my take on it. I think we’re asking the wrong question. Disqualified implies that someone became ineligible because of some offense or infringement. If we believe marriage and sex are one in the same, as they are in the Bible, then a person can’t disqualify himself from the gift of celibacy because he had sex. He simply chose marriage over celibacy without having a wedding. We have so separated marriage from sex that most people today can’t give a biblical definition of marriage or celibacy. I think one of the most important images in the Bible, and one that is often overlooked, is the flame of sexual desire when Paul said it was better to marry than to burn. One drop of water is sufficient to extinguish the flame on a candle. One night of sex is sufficient to quench the flame of desire. So, it’s just my opinion, but I think the gift of celibacy requires virginity. It requires evidence of self control, just like marriage requires evidence of faithfulness. That doesn’t mean that someone who has made sexual mistakes cannot be forgiven and turn their life around. If we want to see if Jesus thought our married/celibate identities were important, look what Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well. She claimed to be a single lady with no husbands, but only because she had not gone through the religious and legal expectations of that time. Who knows, she might have been the Sunday School Singles Outreach Director. But Jesus told her she was not single and had had five husbands and another man living with her. I can hear her telling Jesus, “but I’ve never been married and never had a marriage license.” And then Jesus tell her, “That doesn’t matter. They are still your husbands. When you are joined sexually with another person you become one with them and married to them.” My own commentary. Why are social labels important? Because if we don’t protect them and our biblical language, we end up with things like “same sex marriage.”
I think this could be right. On the other hand, what about if I come to know Jesus after I’ve had sex. And then I feel called to not be married – let’s just say I’m in the Catholic tradition – could I still become a Priest for example. I’m still not 100% convinced either way.
One thing I know for sure, we need to talk about the two vocations much more and much earlier.