I have spent a lot of time here railing against what I have called the Church’s Nuclear Family Idol. What I’m realizing is that there are a lot of people in certain corners of the church that are railing against that idol but in a different way. Therefore I feel the need to clarify two things – 1. What I’m speaking against and what I’m not and 2. What is the rightful place of the nuclear family in the church.
Have you ever gone into the Christian Fiction section in a bookstore. It’s sort of unbelievable. First of all, I still have not figured out what exactly counts as Christian fiction. Why do we have our own section – why can’t it just be in the fiction section but written by Christians? Is there a Jewish fiction section?? The truth is that we have our own section because we want it, and we are the only people that would possibly read it.
But the most disturbing thing about the Christian fiction section is the focus on what can best be described as Christian romance novels. It’s incredible. I would wager that close to 70% of the books in this section fit that category. Probably more. More amazing is that of those romance novels, probably 80% are either western or amish. Talk about a limited audience.
We’re in obvious need of better literature but that isn’t why I bring this all up. I bring it up because rather than lead in what love, marriage, and singleness looks like (let alone what good literature looks like) we in western Christian culture have adopted what the world says and then arranged our theology and practices to accommodate it. The impact of this runs much deeper than we realize and impacts not only Christians but everyone else.
We have made romance the thing. We don’t say that directly of course. We’re more “holy” than that. Instead we couch it in what I call Reformed Romance. This is where we sort of combine secular romance and shaky Calvinism.
One of the things we are taught in Christian culture or at least the evangelical/protestant version of it, is that in every area of life we should ask what does the bible say about it? In other words if I have a question in a certain context, I can look to the bible to find the answer to that question. This is because not only is the bible inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, it is also sufficient.
This is supposed to work on all moral issues obviously, but the idea here is that it also works for everything else. The bible is the “road map” that we are to follow. It is God’s instruction to us. In it is everything we need. Some will go so far to say that not only is a way to hear God’s voice, but it is the only way.
Now this works pretty well on a lot of moral issues. It can even work when you think about how we as people are supposed to treat each other. However, we can sort of start to run into some problems in certain contexts of life.
Over the last three posts we’ve been talking about Servant Leading, what serving has to do with attraction, and the fact that in marriage the man is the head which has many responsibilities including loving (serving and leading would be a part of doing that well). You may want to read those before you dive in here.
Today I want to talk about as a single man, knowing the previous thoughts, how should that affect how you go about things in terms of dating and looking for a wife. There are at least two parts here: How we prepare ourselves and who we seek to marry.
A few people in the church starting to wake up to the fact that the cultural context has changed. Not only that but some are even beginning to see that they are part of the problem because of the ways they’ve handled that. I myself have admitted many times here that I’ve taught many things wrong through the years – and I was teaching it as a single person.
Now the majority of the church has yet to even roll over, let alone wake up. But it is encouraging to see some movement. Over a couple of blog posts I want to sort of encourage (read challenge, push, bother, implore) them to not just offer band aids or think that a few simple thoughts are going to solve this. If you are a pastor/elder/leader type person, you need to know that it’s going to be slower and more all encompassing than you think.
My fear for this discussion is that churches who are starting to see the problem of having family as an idol or not doing well with singles will only look to give simple answers that won’t actually unmask the deeper assumptions and mistakes that we have made and/or are making with this topic. Changing what we say won’t be enough. We have to go back and rethink the whole thing to have a chance.
As an example of this I want to respond to parts of an article written by Scott Sauls for Relevant. Let me be clear – I’m not coming at Scott. I don’t know him personally but know folks who do and I’ve heard only great things about him. I also want to give him a lot of credit for writing about this. He is obviously way ahead of the curve which is apparent in much of what he writes.
I’m simply using his post as a launching pad to challenge some of the things that I believe the leaders in his, and similar circles, seem to assume.
This last week I was able to check out a couple of sermons on singleness. Let me say this before I challenge some stuff. I actually do feel like the church is starting to get a clue. One of the sermons a listened to talked about the fact that 66% of unchurched folks are single. The pastor basically said that we need to get a grip on this if we are going to go after them. We need to treat them as equals in Christ. Amen! I’m glad that people are trying to talk about it more.
In a separate deal I saw, they were teaching kids about dating and at least mentioned celibacy. So that’s something.
But here’s where we keep setting ourselves up for problems. We need a better theology of celibacy because if we keep getting it wrong, we end up hurting everyone.
Here’s a quick bible quiz. Tell me where it asks someone to become a Christian. How about this one – where does Jesus say that I should accept Him into my life/heart? Find for me the “sinner’s prayer.” Where does it say to go to church? When did Peter become a Christian?
Should I go on? You get the point.
As protestants we love to say that the Bible is ultimate authority. Whether protestant or not, we all agree that it is authoritative. The problem is that it is not authoritative in the way that we often want it to be to make our point.
What we want are simple clear rules, answers and one liners. No where is this more clear than in the realm of singleness, dating, and marriage.
I remember when I was in my twenties the big push in much of evangelical dating (just typing that phrase is sort of disturbing) was the idea of courting. Now I don’t really have a problem with courting per se. But what these folks tried to do is to say that their version of courting was the biblical way to find a spouse. What I failed to realize at the time is that they had absolutely no biblical backing for this. As I’ve written before there is not a biblical dating model.
But we want so bad for it to be simple. We want a tweet sized answer to sexual ethics. #whatcanIgetawaywith #justifymyactions
What’s funny about this is that many on the evangelical right keep arguing bible verses that aren’t clear and others that don’t even exist while many of our more liberal churches are arguing contextual loopholes against those very same “verses”.
For example, one night I was having dinner with some friends and the topic of homosexuality came up. One gentlemen said, “Jesus said that it was an abomination.” Uh which verse was that again? In a different conversation a friend said, “Jesus never addresses homosexual marriage.” Sort of, except that He does address marriage.
The problem is that when we try to make verses mean something they don’t or insert our Christianese into the bible we set ourselves up to be discredited or worse set someone else up to fall when they later realize it.
But the problem with the other way of looking at the bible – using the context of a particular verse that we don’t like to say it doesn’t mean that or “the bible doesn’t really say. . . ” – is that we end up all over the map
Here’s what I mean. Sticking with the “hot” homosexual issue, I’ve heard some pastors and leaders say that the bible really doesn’t say explicitly (as in an exact sentence) that a monogamous homosexual relationship is wrong. They say that whole point is the one on one relationship for a lifetime. They point to the couple of verses that deal with the homosexual act and say that it wasn’t talking about one of these types of relationships.
The problem with that – and it’s a big one – is that the same could be said of a lot of other things. So I ask the people who believe this are you then ok with:
- The bible doesn’t say explicitly say that two unmarried people can’t have sex
- It doesn’t say that two unmarried people can’t live together, have sex together or even have children together – so why even worry about marriage
- The bible says nothing about viewing pornography, masturbation or reading shady literature.
- It says nothing about oral sex.
- It doesn’t say anything about appropriate dating behavior.
So basically by this argument, until I’m married, short of sex with an animal, I’m good to go. You can say that’s a slippery slope argument, except for the fact that we are already there in our culture.
(Whats ironic of course is that neither side seems to follow the very explicit instructions on divorce and remarriage. Did anyone picket state capitols as almost every state instituted no fault divorce? Do they stand outside divorce courts? Do they avoid making wedding cakes for two divorced people getting remarried?)
The key to all of this is obvious of course. No straight reading of the bible by anyone without an agenda could lead you to believe any of the above was acceptable. And there in lies the key – the bible as a whole is authoritative and it shows us what is right and wrong. It’s not rocket science most of the time.
The bible does indeed speak to sex and marriage. From front to back actually. It always speaks of them together as a good thing or apart as a bad thing. There is zero exception to this. Sex has a purpose higher than orgasm. It’s apparent that it is from God for marriage and all other uses are out of bounds.
What does this have to do with singleness and the church? Everything.
We are confronted with a culture that has been and is still in a sexual revolution. Our answer to that can not be picking one liners from scripture and trying to make them say things they don’t. When we do that, we end up arguing over stuff that we don’t have to. It also can’t be ignoring the whole of scripture so that we can do what we want. When we do that we take away any authority whatsoever.
The bible does lay out the answers – it’s just not tweet-able.