Honoring Vows: Conversation With A Priest

Several months ago I had the opportunity to hang out with a group of men that included a Catholic priest.  I could tell right away that this guy was just on fire for Jesus and we had a wide ranging conversation.  This man was significantly older than me, had a great spirit about him and was in a role that really fit his sweet spot – ministering to college students.

But of course, as I write a blog about singleness, at one point I had to corner him at the end of the table and talk about celibacy and ask a lot of questions about how he viewed that.  How could I not right?

I’ve written a lot here about celibacy and how that calling and commitment is different from what we call singleness in our culture.  I’ve talked about different ways we can come into that calling.  I’ve also discussed how we have a major problem in protestantism as it relates to this because frankly we have no theology of celibacy.

But I must honestly say that while I can perhaps give some great theological pictures of it and biblical support for it, I sometimes feel that I’m not much help to the people who are actually called to it, other than being on their side and fighting for them where I can.

I’m hoping that parts of my conversation with this gentleman might be of help at some level as well as give more understanding to those of us who aren’t called or gifted with celibacy.

Let’s first back up for just a second and refresh our thoughts on what exactly I’m talking about here.  I’m not talking about the not yet married, the divorced or the widowed, although I think some of this applies to them at some level.  What I’m talking about here is people who are called and/or gifted with celibacy.  Those who have made a commitment or even vow to celibacy for the Kingdom.

As one priest put it – we all make a first vow – that is to Jesus.  But then we make a second vow – some of us to God and another person (marriage vow – serving God from that context) and some of us to God and no one else (celibacy vow – serving God from that context).

This man, long ago, made that second vow to celibacy.  Here’s what I learned.

This man had great freedom and he lives joyously in it.  I want that to be an encouragement.  In no way did this man feel he had “missed out” on marriage.  He uses this to serve God in ways that others can’t.  As an example of this he left our gathering at midnight because he had a meeting – with a college man he is mentoring – at 2 AM**.  He couldn’t wait to get there.

My point in sharing this is that a lot of times there is sense of feeling sorry for those called to celibacy.  Or at the least a feeling of, “I could never do that”.  But the truth is, if you are called to it, not only can you do it, but you’ll probably love a lot of it.  If you are called to celibacy there are great advantages and opportunities to live in that.  It’s not a second class place in the Kingdom.  Not in any way.

A second thing that I took away is that the vow, while real, is just that.  What I mean is that just as you make a vow to a spouse and then have to choose over and over again to honor that, the same is true to vow of celibacy.

We tend to have this belief that if we are called to celibacy and make the vow that there are not struggles or questions about that.  In other words there is no temptation to break that vow.  But he assured me that this if false.

I asked him about what that looked like.  His answer was refreshing.  He said, “It is a vow.  And yes I sometimes have to fight to honor that vow.  There are temptations.  I have sexual desire from time to time.” He joked, “Heck every time I have a hard on I have to remember my vow.”

That may seem crude but he didn’t mean it to be.  His point was that a vow is something that will be tested and that is no different just because his vow was different than mine to my wife.  Just like not every man who makes a vow to a woman honors it, not every person who makes a vow of celibacy honors that.  It’s not just a one time ceremonial moment.  It’s an over and over again living out of and choosing that vow.

If you are called to celibacy and have made that vow or are thinking about it, I think this would be both sobering and encouraging.  On the one hand, just like the marriage vow, you could break it.  There will be temptation.  On the other hand, just like the marriage vow, you can choose not to break it, even when everything in you wants to.

It’s also important for us as the church to realize that just as we try to help people live out and honor their vows of marriage, we can do the same for those who have made a vow to celibacy.  If we have a better understanding of what celibacy actually is, we can do that.  Supporting a person called to celibacy is completely different than supporting those not yet married, the divorced and widowed.

 

** I understand that this freedom comes from not only celibacy but also his particular job.  However it is still an example of living joyously within his calling – which is the point.

Singleness as Identity, Context or Vocation

In our culture we are constantly talking about how we identify.  Not only that, but we know that whatever our answer is to that question, we will be judged by it.  It has of course to do with who we are, what we do, or even what we believe.  We are republican, democrat, conservative, liberal, American, black, white, male, female, gay, straight, feminist and on and on.  In the Church identify ourselves and judge others as Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, Baptist, Calvinist, Lutheran and on and on.  Heck in my town we identify people by their zip code, whether we live north or south of a street and what high school that someone went to.  We can also identify ourselves and others by things that have happened to us, or that we’ve participated in or even what teams we root for.

Some of these are things that we are born into and others are things we choose or believe.  But if we are in Christ none of these things are supposed to be our core identity. Meaning that they are not to be the first thing that defines us.  This includes whether or not we are single or married.

Being single or married has become a core identity for us, maybe especially (though certainly not limited to) in the Church. This is a real problem because in the Church we are supposed to be one family.  We aren’t really supposed to divide ourselves up by category and then just hang out with the other folks in that category.  The Church should be the one place where your category doesn’t matter.  We are all of equal value under the cross.  We all are sinners. Jesus thought us each valuable enough to come and die for.  Sin and the cross are the ultimate equalizer.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t offer practical teaching, guidance and wisdom for people in these different contexts.  But we have to start with the fact that at the core we are created in God’s image, all have sin, and all are loved by Jesus.

Adding to this, singleness is not really even a biblical category.  You could be unmarried, divorced, widowed, celibate by gifting, by the sin of man, or by choice for the Kingdom. This is really important because it affects how we see ourselves and how we set people up within the church.

Being unmarried is a context that you may be in.  But that is not the same as your identity or for that matter even your vocation.

This matters for those called to Celibacy because Celibacy for the Kingdom is not simply a context they find themselves in.  It is a calling and a vocation within the Church, at least historically.

Vocation is an interesting word in our culture.  It’s not really what your job is necessarily.  It could be.  But really your job could be simply your means to your vocation.  In fact, as a lay Christian, this is always true.  Let me explain.

Our first vocation as a believer is to follow Jesus and represent the Kingdom wherever we go.  This was our original created vocation going back to Genesis.  We were created to know God and advance His cause.

But we also have a secondary vocation.  That is either to be in the married vocation or the celibate vocation.  As I heard a wise priest once say, “The first vow we all have to make is to Jesus – to be committed to Him. Then we can make a second vow – either to God to be in celibate ministry or to God and to another person.”

Now here is where we screw it up in Protestantism.  We equate the vocation of celibacy with the context of being unmarried.  This is unfair to both the person who has the vocation of singleness and the person who doesn’t.  We need to honor the person who is called to that vocation by recognizing the Kingdom picture it represents, honoring their pursuit of that, and giving them the support they need as well as utilizing their gift and choice.

At the same time we need to not saddle the people who are not called to that with the responsibilities, lifestyle or teachings that those called with that vocation have.  Instead we need to support them in their context, help them navigate it, and ultimately help them pursue marriage.

In short.  Being unmarried is not an identity group and shouldn’t be treated as one.  It is a context that people are in.  For some it is a vocation they are called to.  Recognizing all of that sets us up to serve, teach, empower and support each group.  Not recognizing that hurts everyone.

We should instead identify people first by who they are in Christ, created to by God to know him and advance the Kingdom.  Secondly we should help them pursue their secondary vocation from whatever context they are currently in.

Condemned To Celibacy?

Recently I attended a conference on healthy sexuality.  It was very well done and the spirit of the event was super encouraging to say the least.  Within the many different topics and conversations was of course the discussion of how a person who is attracted to the same sex should live out their life.

Now this wasn’t a conference where people were demanding that anyone live a certain way and it was all non-confrontational, but the general answer was that from a biblical perspective that person should not be engaged in a same sex sexual relationship. In other words they should live a celibate life.

In response to this, one person said, “So basically we are condemning them to a life of loneliness and isolation.” I’m quite sure that this person was far from the only one in the room thinking that way.

I’m not going to dive too far into the topic of homosexuality today (I have a couple of posts that I can share if I ever decide I want to go viral).  But instead, I want to respond to this person’s understanding in a very different way.

I can’t speak for him, but I can deduct that the reason this gentlemen said what he said about celibacy is at least two fold.

First, in evangelical culture, we have completely left out the call to celibacy, the gift of celibacy and those who for one reason or another end up unmarried and yet desiring holiness.  Literally we have spent about 500 years of protestantism screwing this up.  It’s a real problem.

Because we have no place for or theology of celibacy, we then only dust it off for special cases.  Because we have no place for a heterosexual to pursue the call or gift of celibacy, we look like idiots suggesting that the homosexual should be “condemned to that”.

This comes from the Church’s nuclear family idol.  Marriage and family are seen as THE path to holiness and wholeness.  You can’t go around preaching that message for decades and then dust off the other path for a few people.  But that is exactly what the evangelical leadership of our generation has attempted to do.  Obviously that’s not working out very well.  This comes partially from an adaptation of a secular belief into our evangelical culture.

That is the secular belief that sexual fulfillment is a right.  Not only do I have the right to sexual fulfillment, but in the secular culture, I have the right to fulfill that sexual desire in just about any way I want (assuming everyone is an adult and “consents”).

Now evangelical culture has not adopted that belief.  Instead they have adapted it to their own framework.  The evangelical culture says that each person, at least each man, can not possibly contain their sexual desire.  It must be fulfilled.  The message is that it is controlling you, bigger than you, bigger than your moral agency, bigger than your spiritual maturity.  Therefore the only answer available to holiness is marriage.  Marriage makes you an adult.  Marriage makes you mature.  Marriage makes you holy.

Now let me be clear in case you are new to the blog.  I’m extremely pro marriage.  I think that most people should pursue marriage.  But, we cannot assume that in our theological, and practical teaching.  In fact, by assuming that we hurt not only those not called to it, or unable to achieve it, but we hurt even those who do get married.

If the way to holiness is marriage then what we are saying is that the person called to celibacy, the person with the gift of celibacy, the person born without desire to get married, the person who can’t get married, or the person who doesn’t desire the opposite sex, cannot be holy on their own.  By doing this we are literally agreeing with secular culture that sexual desire must be fulfilled in order for a person to be whole and holy.

This is basically what Justice Kennedy said in the supreme court decision on Gay Marriage.  He writes of those wishing to marry, “Their hope is to not be condemned to live in loneliness, . . . ”  Sound familiar?

If celibacy is something that someone is “condemned to” then we are all in a lot of trouble.

Was Jesus “condemned” to celibacy?  Paul?  The early Church Fathers?  The Pope? Do we really want to see celibacy as a punishment?

This is what we have helped set up.  This is why we can’t afford to answer the culture by adapting it into a Christian Version. Its why our answer to an increased delay in marriage, and people fulfilling sexual desires in ways other than marriage can’t be simply – marriage will set it all right.

Instead we have to rescue the celibacy of the New Testament.  We have to rescue the idea of family from a focus on the nuclear family to a focus on the family of God.  We have to have a more complete theology (or picture if you will) of how celibacy and marriage are both pictures of the Kingdom and both paths to holiness and wholeness.  If we don’t, then we all lose.  It will get worse.

The Church, including and starting with each of us in it, is the only hope of something different.  We have to be counter cultural, not just sub-cultural.  Read that line again.  It might be from the Lord.

We have to lead, not follow, not just respond and react.  If the Church (read all of us) don’t step back and consider the whole picture of celibacy and marriage, no one else will.

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.

Most places won’t explicitly say it.  Which in my opinion is sort of cowardice.  But there are those who will say it.  And honestly while I completely disagree, at least they come out in the open.

What’s interesting with most of these folks is that they don’t claim it’s completely biblical, it’s instead mostly biblical.  Haha.  Seriously.  Follow along.

Al Mohler reasons that pastors should be married because of the logic of scripture and the centrality of marriage.

For the logic of Scripture he points to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9  which both essentially state that the elder must be above reproach, the husband of one wife and manage his own household well etc.

But another point of logic here might say that the person who is writing these instructions is . . . wait for it. . . not married.

In Mohler’s version of the Kingdom, marriage is central.  This is true of many of our churches, not just him.  He’s just saying it out loud so to speak.  But the problem is that marriage is not central to the biblical kingdom*.  Marriage is from God.  And if you are not called to celibacy, then by all means you should pursue it.  Paul says it, if you are distracted with that drive, which almost all of us are, then go get married.  It’s natural and good.  But it’s not for everyone and even many of the folks who long for marriage won’t attain it.

Here’s another problem with the “logic” (which I still question if any seminaries actually teach logic).  What happens if you hire the pastor and two years later his spouse dies.  Can he still be your pastor?  Is there a time table on remarriage?  That’s just one of a bunch of examples I could list.

Also he drops the “logic” that all the relationships inside the church will be more natural if the leader(s) is married.  In other words, how can you be an example to all the married men or lead the single men to marriage or minster to married people if you’re not married.  That makes sense.  It seems to me by this “logic” that I’ve never been 50 so I probably can’t minister to those over 50.  I’m not rich so it would be hard to minister to rich folks.  I’m not poor so the poor are out.  Basically I should only do ministry with white middle class people younger than me.  That’s an interesting plan.

But the main reason folks don’t want single pastors is because we all know that no man can overcome or control in any way his sexual desire.

Mark Driscoll writes as much in a blog responding to an email question that literally asks, “Does God still call men with the gift of singleness into pastoral ministry?

Driscoll answer is no, well sometimes, but it won’t go well, or they all die. . . Haha.  I mean this guy is something.

First Driscoll points out that Paul and Jesus were single but they both lived hard lives and died.  Because of course married people don’t live hard lives and die?  Ummm.

Secondly he of course quotes the same verses that Mohler does.

But he goes further – he says that much of what he learned as a pastor he learned as a husband and father, which I don’t doubt (although it gives me some pause with his style). But the catch here is that he was never actually single.  He got married at 21.  Of course he learned it after he was married.

But he goes really big on this idea that a single pastor couldn’t possibly with stand today’s sexual temptations.  He states:

I have known only a few single men who were pastors, and the majority of them disqualified themselves morally.  I know thousands and thousands of pastors and only one is a single pastor who has not disqualified himself and has a church that is healthy and growing.

Wow, just wow.  First, there are many ways to be disqualified.  Ahem.  Also we’ve seen plenty of married pastors be “disqualified”.  Third, you do not know thousands and thousands of married pastors that have a church that is healthy and growing.  I could go at this all day.

Both of these folks admit that they can’t really say that a single person biblically can’t be a pastor.  It’s just that they can’t be.

This is all so bad.

It just completely eliminates a whole lot of people, completely dishonors those called to celibate service in the Kingdom, is completely confusing to young men trying to find their calling, and honestly just continues to send us to back to the cycle where the church is for the people with a current nuclear family.

 

* Marriage is becoming less central in the secular culture as well.

The Church’s Uncoupled Teaching Problem

My last two posts I’ve been responding to a post from Relevant that Scott Sauls wrote dealing with the Church and its focus on the nuclear family and lack of focus on singles.  I want to respond to one last part today.

I want to restate that I’m not trying to pick on Scott or attack him in any way.  I appreciate that he is at least identifying that there is a problem in our evangelical culture when it comes to this issue.  I also believe that he represents where a lot of people in our circle are at.  That is, they see there is a problem, but they don’t realize how deep it is and that a lot of the assumptions they are making are actually deeply flawed.

In the last post we looked at the idea that God will either bring you someone or He won’t and if you aren’t married then He just hasn’t done so yet.  I actually think the main reason that Scott brought this up is not so much to offer a terrible platitude to singles but to try to say that unmarried folks can have just as rich of walk with Jesus as married folks.  Let me say a huge Amen to that.

I think more and more church leaders are waking up to that idea.  However, the way in which they view that unmarried life is lacking and it is a huge reason we have all the confusion that we have.  So let me respond to that here.

Scott writes:

Rather than feed the false view that the single life is the unfulfilled life, the Church must renew its vision for singleness as a high and honored calling—one that was shared by the Apostle Paul and Jesus, no less—that positions uncoupled men and women to serve God’s Kingdom with unhindered focus, creativity and zeal.

 

We need to quit using the word singleness as catch all.  Here’s what I mean.  When we talk about singleness as a calling, at least biblically, we are talking about the call to celibacy.  We have to get this.  This is exactly what I’m talking about when I say that we can’t afford to take short cuts on this issue.  We have to define what all of these things are.  There are people who end up celibate in one three ways (from birth, by choice, or by the sin of man).  Then there are those who are called to be married, the divorced and the widowed.  All completely different.

Being unmarried is not the same as being called to celibacy.  Paul and Jesus were not called to date indefinitely.  They were not widowed or divorced.  They were not forced into singleness because they couldn’t get a date or interact with the opposite sex.  Was Jesus hoping to get married and God was just good to Him by not giving Him a spouse? We have to actually think this through.

More importantly, we cannot afford to continue to equate all unmarried people with what Paul writes in 1st Corinthians. Uncoupled?  Really?!  All uncoupled people have unhindered focus, creativity and zeal? This makes my head want to explode.

If that is the case then all “uncoupled” people would be closer to and more mature in Christ than married people.  Why would we want anyone to get married?  Do they offer a logic course in seminary?

A person who is called to celibacy does have a distinct and high calling.  It is way more than just not being married.  Instead it is a calling, gifting and/or choice to live with a singular focus on doing God’s work from an unmarried context.  It is not a calling away from something but towards something.  It’s not seasonal.  It is a picture of the future and a special place in the Kingdom now.  We should indeed see this as a high and honored calling.  We don’t.  At all.  In fact we have no plan for these people.  But it starts with recognizing it as different and unique and not just an outcome for all people who don’t happen to be married right now.

When we don’t separate it out we end up with a completely confusing and unfair message to both the people who have this high calling and to those who don’t but aren’t currently married.

We are failing to honor and support those who are called to it and therefore end up not allowing them to offer all that they can to our Church family.  They are getting ripped off and so is our family as a whole because their gifts go unused or at least under utilized.

At the same time it’s unfair to those without this gift.  We end up essentially saying to the single who feels called to get married, “No worries. This is so great you can focus more on the Lord.  If you get married that means less Jesus for you.”  Is this our message to them? Is our message to the married folks that they can’t be as focused on Jesus?

It also puts undue pressure on the people who are single but not called to this high honor. To try to call them to something that they are not called to and not trying to choose.  To say that they should or could look for a spouse but also be undistracted by it is frankly sort of asinine.  A straight reading of 1 Corinthians seems to me to say, “If you are not distracted – stay single and follow that calling.  If you are distracted – go get married.”

The bottom line here is that Paul’s teaching is not referring to singleness as we know it in our culture and we need to quit teaching that it does.  We also do need to offer the honor that Scott is suggesting to those that are called to it.  If we did that one thing the whole game would change.

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.

So let’s look at the first part today.  While talking about the family Scott writes:

The Bible does have a lot to say about the significance of the family structure.

Family is the chief biblical metaphor to describe how God relates to us. God is our Father and we are His children. Jesus is husband and we are His Bride, the Church. “We are our Beloved’s, and our Beloved is ours,” says Solomon’s Song.

The marriage between a man and a woman, in the purest sense, is a pointer to and picture of the love between Christ and the Church. In our shared union with Christ, we are also sisters and brothers to each other.

God established three structures to advance His Kingdom and support the flourishing of societies and persons: the Church, government and the nuclear family. As the family goes, so goes a society.

But like any good thing, when family becomes the main thing, it can cause more harm than good.

It is true that the Bible does indeed have a lot to say about the significance of the family structure.  This is true in the sense that there are many direct instructions for families and without doubt it is used as a picture of the Kingdom in many different ways.

I’m not sure that we can call the family the “chief” biblical metaphor for describing how God relates to us.  It is certainly one of them.  But, the problem here is that Jesus changes so much of what the family has to do with the Kingdom.

In the Old Testament, marriage and offspring were basically THE way that the kingdom was advanced. God chose the Israelites as His people.  They were His family so to speak. They needed to continue the line from Abraham to Jesus. After all, this was the promise that God made to Abraham.  His descendants (blood family) were to represent God to the world and advance the Kingdom.  Basically if you think being single now is tough, being single in the Israelite family was by far worse.  If you had no physical lineage, then you had no way to advance the Kingdom.  You had no children in the Kingdom.

But that is not true after Jesus.  Jesus throws open the Kingdom to everybody.  Not only do you not have to be physically born into it, you CAN’T be physically born into it.  You must be born again into it.  What this means is that the nuclear family is NOT the way that the Kingdom advances.  Read that again friends.

For a great message on this take some time and listen to what Hunter Beaumont has to say here.  I was fortunate enough to hear him share a similar message a few months ago. His main point, as I took it, was that we must have a theology of singleness (and marriage frankly) that stems from this new idea that Jesus started.  While important in many ways, the nuclear family is not the way that God’s family is built.

All this to say, that while the family is a metaphor for the way that God interacts with us, it is not the only one and certainly not the way that God is bringing in His Kingdom.

Setting aside whether the Song of Solomon is a metaphor or not (which is open for debate at the least) Scott is right to suggest that marriage is a picture of the love between Christ and the Church.  I’ve said as much many times.  However, it is not the only picture of the Kingdom. What gets left out is that the celibate life is also a picture of the the Kingdom.  It is a picture of what it will look like in the end (which Scott mentions but doesn’t name).  That is a picture of pure and total devotion between us and God.  A person who is called to this is a demonstration of what is to come every bit as much as marriage.

The bottom line is that while the nuclear family is indeed a structure that God created and does indeed present a picture of the Kingdom, the Church family is THE picture and it trumps the nuclear family.  The nuclear family is not the the structure that advances the Kingdom.  The Church family is.

This is why focusing on the nuclear family is wrong.  In fact,  Jesus says that unless you love Him more than your family you are not worthy of the Kingdom.  In my opinion simply saying as the family goes, there goes society, ultimately (even if unintentionally) leaves the unmarried out.  It’s still focusing on the nuclear family. God’s family has to be the focus.  As God’s family goes there goes the society.

This is not merely semantics.  I wish it was, because that would be much easier.  But this baseline, that the Church family must be the focus, is the only way to avoid the traps that Scott mentions at the end of the quote – that is making too much of the nuclear family.

What I’m suggesting here is not that we stop teaching on how a family should operate (we probably need more of this) or that we stop saying that the family or marriage is a picture of the Kingdom.  But we need a sort of clean slate.  In other words we need to repent of how we’ve idolized the nuclear family –  not just offer excuses, justifications and rationalizations for it. We need to put God’s family first.  Then, and really only then, can we begin to paint the whole picture and include everybody.

 

 

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.

The first thing we have to do is we have to quit using the word single as a catch all.  As I’ve said before there are those who are not married (as in never married), those who are called, gifted, or in a position to not be married (this can happen several ways), the divorced, and the widowed.  These are not the same thing.  So when we say 50% of people in America are single, what we really need to say is that they are unmarried.   This is important in the Church context because they each have different instructions from scripture.  When we lump them together we create confusion for all the groups.

Here is the greatest example.  Everyone wants to look at 1 Corinthians 7 as the go to for singleness.  And there is a lot to learn from this chapter.  Paul essentially says that there are those who should get married and those who shouldn’t.  He says some have one gift and others another gift.  But the gift he is talking about is not the gift of singleness, he is talking about the gift of celibacy.

You are not called to “season” of celibacy.  You may not be married yet, but that is not the same.  You could be called to not get married right now for some reason.  God can ask us to do and pursue all sorts of things at different times.  No doubt.  But the call to celibacy is a call to live that way in a sort of vow with God, not a period of time.  Now we are all called to Chastity, but that’s not the same thing.

Here’s why that matters.  If we say that this gift is for a season, then we end up saying things that don’t make sense.  In one of the sermons the pastor said, “Single people should live in a devoted way that married people can’t.”  This is true of a person called to be celibate for the Kingdom.  But if this is true for everyone, then no one should ever get married.  What we end up saying is “serve the Lord now because when you get married that’s over.”  That simply is not a good plan.

The ironic part about this in the Protestant church is that we don’t even honor, or lift up the people who really do have this gift.  We don’t have celibate (or even single for a “season” people), as pastors or elders.  Missionaries maybe, but not here at home.  We typically have a sort of singleness glass ceiling when it comes to church leadership.

The pastor went on to say, “singles have the opportunity to be undistracted in their focus and can be completely loyal to their King.”  Um, so when I get married then I’m not as loyal to God?

This seems to me to fly in the face of what Paul is saying.  He basically says if you are “distracted” by the desire for sex – go get married.  My point here is that part of the test for the gift of celibacy (not the only one mind you) is if you feel the pull to get married.

Now I get it, if you get married and have kids you have a different set of responsibilities. Your approach to many things change.  But your loyalty to God?  To me this sets up married people to be over focussed on themselves (family idol) and lumps the people with the actual gift of celibacy in with the people who are just not yet married.

It also creates a problem for single people not called to celibacy because at what point does actually trying to get married come into play.  Chances are I’ll have to act to get married, not just sit around and hope it happens.

Using the word distracted is especially problematic.  I was unmarried until I was 40.  While it is true, I didn’t have family responsibilities, calling me undistracted would have been a huge mistake.

Having done ministry with married and unmarried people for the last 20 plus years I can assure you that someone looking to be married can be just as distracted from ministry as someone who is married.  I can list many people who became better ministers once they got married.  They had answered that question and were actually more free from distraction.

The bottom line here is, Paul is not equating a person who is not yet married to a person who is not called to be.  Neither should we.