One of the problems in our culture when it comes to singleness is that the word single is too broad. It means far too many things. As I’ve stated before here, this is especially a problem in Christian culture because there are varying scriptural instructions for different groups of unmarried people. There are at least the following biblical examples of marital status: The married, the divorced, the widowed, those not yet married, those celibate by birth, those celibate because of the fall of man and those who are called and choose Celibacy for the Kingdom. Needless to say, all of these are different.
But in our culture we have added a group that amazingly I’ve never directly addressed here at the blog. That is those couples that live in cohabitation.
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.