Cohabitation Is Not God’s Plan

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.

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The Image Of God Is Not Male Plus Female

Many of you may remember the movie Jerry Maguire.  In it Jerry is a sports agent and his assistant Dorothy falls in love with him.  Jerry at first loves her but isn’t what one might call “in love” with her.**  But at the end, Jerry realizes that he and Dorothy belong together.  He goes to her and says, “You complete me.”  They live happily ever after.

Now from a theological standpoint, there’s all sorts of things wrong here.  As I’ve mentioned over and over here, what we often do in Christian culture is just take secular beliefs and dress them up into Christian ones.  For example we take the romantic idea of the one, dress it up and turn it into the “one God has for us.”  These examples go on and on.

But today I want to talk about the idea of two people completing each other.  We talk about this all the time. Many times we hear how a person couldn’t be who they are without their spouse.  We talk about how a person couldn’t do the ministry work they do without their spouse.  

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The Prosperity Spouse Gospel

I see a lot of people these days critiquing the so called prosperity gospel.  This prosperity gospel takes several forms and extremes.  Sometimes it’s used to suggest that if I do certain things then God will give me worldly prosperity.  For example if I tithe then God will give me a lot of wealth.  Or if I give my life to Jesus, then my life will go the way I want it to.  The idea is that doing what God wants will alleviate my suffering in this world sort of runs counter to the idea of picking up my cross.**

This is of course not true.  Now it is true that God rewards faithfulness.  It’s important as we critique the prosperity gospel peddlers that we not lose that truth.  Otherwise we’d have to toss out a lot of scripture.  But God doesn’t promise rewards in the way that we often like to see them.  That’s the key distinction.

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You Should Do More, You Just Can’t Be In Charge

One of the things that always bothers me is when we assume single people should do more ministry.  This sort of thought process happens all the time for several reasons.

It comes from the pulpit because pastors either misunderstand or misuse what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7.  Without going into too much depth here as I’ve written extensively about this, Paul is not saying if you are not yet married that you are therefore not distracted and able to be a better, more focused Christian.  He is instead saying if you are not distracted by a desire to get married, it could be that you have the gift/calling of celibacy and that would be a good thing.

But this is where this gets really ironic is that the same people telling you to “take advantage of your singleness” in ministry don’t want you to actually lead the ministry.  Perhaps what they really mean, is that while they can, they want to take advantage of your singleness.

You see it’s fine if you want to serve in the nursery or maybe the youth, on the worship team, set up and tear down, and in the rare church you might even be able to lead a small group.

But, if you want to be a pastor or elder, better think again.

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The Nuclear Family Or Kingdom Family

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.

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Celibacy Is Not A Season

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.

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Does The Bible Tell Me So?

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.