In the last couple of posts I’ve been trying to make the point that if we want to do evangelization in the current western culture we have to have the unmarried in mind. Two thirds of those that don’t attend church are unmarried. I’ve asked the question, is your church unmarried friendly. The obvious answer for most of us is no. So what would it look like if it were? Today I want to take a stab at the beginning of the answer to that.
There are at least two parts to this. First there is a belief side. This is the broader, overall view that we need to have in mind. It includes theology but also practical belief. The second part is the practices part. What does it look like fleshed out. What are some best practices that make the unmarried feel welcome? Assuming correct theology and practical belief, how do we put it into practice?
Today we’ll look at the first part. In my next blog we’ll take a stab a the practical implications.
We have to start by realizing that we need to have a robust theology or singleness, marriage and family. We don’t get to skip the singleness part. We have to do at least a few things to have a chance.
We have to first of all stop lumping all unmarried people together. We have to stop doing this theologically and practically. But it starts theologically. I’d start by throwing out the term single. I mean erase it from our church vocabulary. Biblically speaking there are the not yet married, the divorced, the widowed, those who are celibate because they were made that way, those that are celibate because of the fall of man and those that have chosen or should choose Celibacy for the Kingdom (also known as the gift of celibacy).
As long as we continue to lump any of these together we are wrong and setting ourselves up for failure. We sound insensitive, confusing and frankly we do a disservice to every group mentioned. Each of those groups has different biblical and practical instructions.
I can’t stress this enough. We must stop assigning the “gift” of singleness to everyone not currently married. If I could get the church to stop doing one thing this might be it. It’s killing us. It’s confusing to those not called to celibacy and demeaning to those that are. It’s lazy theology and terrible practice.
Secondly we need to have an awareness and belief that the path to holiness can come in all sorts of marital statuses. Marriage is a picture of the Kingdom and God can use it to make us more holy. But so is celibacy. God can use any context I’m in to make me more holy. And that is always the goal.
Not only that but we need a firm grasp on the fact that the Kingdom advances by evangelization not procreation. We don’t need to be anti-procreation. That’s a terrible idea. But we need to understand that the Kingdom is open to anyone willing to come. Even more, anyone can be a part of joining in that advancement process.
From a practical belief standpoint we need to determine if we actually believe our own theology. I actually think that there are many churches that could agree to what I’ve written above, but it’s only some distant theology. It’s not practical belief.
We do not need to succumb to the cultural view of sexuality, sexual morality or divorce. This is not about lowering the standards or trying to fit in. In fact we need to do the opposite so that we stand out.
It’s not offering a “Christian” version of the soulmate. We need to immediately get rid of the current reformed romance trend. We also don’t need to be afraid of talking about marriage and family. But we need to talk about it in a way that actually benefits the unmarried as well. We don’t need to make marriage into something that it isn’t – be it too hard that no one will want it, or the only path to holiness.
We need an honest discussion about church leadership. What do we really believe about Celibacy for the Kingdom and how would we set those people up? Do we believe that unmarried people can be leaders? Are we ok with the “risks” of that? Which unmarried groups are we willing, based on correct biblical theology, to let lead what?
Before a local church starts working on the practical we need to have a robust understanding of where we stand on all of this. We need to ask hard questions about what we actually believe, not just what we know to be true intellectually (although for most churches actually thinking about any of this would be a solid step in the right direction).
The bottom line is we need to have a robust theology of celibacy, marriage, family and healthy sexuality and how that impacts every person who could walk through our door.