Don’t Just Aim For “Christian” Singleness/Dating/Marriage

The first thing you are required to answer if you are dating someone and you go to church is this, “So are they a Christian?”  Then if you answer yes, your next goal is to date in a Christian way, and then of course have a Christian marriage, and raise Christian kids.  But here’s my question – what does that actually mean?

One of my favorite scenes in the Bible happens in John 6. Jesus starts out by feeding the 5000. For an encore He walks on water.  Now the crowds figure this out and so they show up to greet Him and the disciples.  The conversation goes essentially like this.

Jesus says, “You are here because of the miracle yesterday.”  They say, “Um obviously.” Jesus says, “You need to work for the stuff that lasts, not the bread that you need more of.”  They then ask what they need to do.  Jesus says, “The work of God is this, to believe in the one whom He has sent.”  In other words, “Stake your whole life on me.”  Their response is classic.  “Give us a sign that we may believe.”  He of course refuses and they all leave.

Here’s what’s funny.  If Jesus would have answered the work question with any sort of job, they would have done it.  If He would have said, “Stand on one foot and dig a ditch 100 meters while saying the levitical code backwards,” they would have tried to do it.  But actually staking their life on Jesus, not so much.  They didn’t want much to do with Him.

This is a constant battle as we think about singleness, marriage and the Church and really any other area of life.

It is easy to get wrapped up in formula and for that matter religion.  The real question is, what is your identity in?  Are you, your relationships, friendships, singleness, marriage and church about Jesus?

We end up with the wrong goals.  We want a family centered church.  Everyone wants a Christian marriage and certainly to have a Christian household.  And if you’re single, then your job is to not have sex (because that’s not Christian) and if you do date, do it in a Christian way.

But this can be a trap for all of us.  It doesn’t matter what you call it, or if you follow all the rules, if you don’t actually walk with Jesus.  It gives us the wrong identity and it can make us come up short.

I’m not saying all the rules or ideas are wrong.  For example, not having sex outside of marriage is right.  It’s Biblical.  It’s from God.  And the truth is that if I’m following Jesus, He is not going to lead me to have sex unless I’m married.  But the problem is that I can abstain from sex and still not follow Jesus.  It’s not the having or not having of sex that makes me about Jesus.

This is so important as we are seeking a spouse.  We can’t just say, hey that girl/guy goes to church so it must be good to go.  We can’t just date, go to church, be in a small group, not have sex, and call it good (although again, those are all good things).  The real questions are more like, “Is this other person really trying to follow Jesus?”  “What is the fruit of this person’s life?”  “Does it seem like Jesus is in this?”  “Am I brought closer to Jesus by the relationship?”

But this goes way beyond who to date.  What do we want our marriage to look like?  There are so many marriages that are “Christian” more in name than in action.  Marriages without fruit and growth.  Marriages where we are “good people” and “plugged in” but yet don’t really seem to be about Jesus.

And finally, the Church get’s wrapped up in this too.  They get so concerned about the nuclear family, marriage and single people not having sex, that pretty much that’s all they are about.

We end up with our identity being in a religion, self-righteousness, our kids, family or marital status that we miss actually walking with Jesus.

Our first call is to know and love Jesus.  This is true regardless of literally anything else in our lives.  This is what brings us together.  It’s what makes US the family that matters most. It is what keeps things like marriage and family from becoming idols (whether we have them or not).  It’s also the hardest thing to do.  Which is why Jesus calls it work.

My thought is this.  What if we didn’t worry about Christian singleness/dating/marriage.  What if we worry about trying to follow Jesus and all of that will take care of itself.  I get the dangers of that statement, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Are your relationships Jesus centered or just “Christian”?  What kind of marriage or singleness do you want?

The Church’s Family Idol And Singleness

Here’s the truth about our culture right now. Close to 50% of marriages will end in divorce. Stats show that nearly one third of first marriages will end in divorce within the first 10 years.  When you add in out of wedlock births, close to 60% of kids in high school don’t live in their “nuclear family”.

The Church has seen this and tried to respond. . . mostly by talking about marriage and family.  But as an unintended consequence we have sometimes made family an idol. And for all of this attention to family, we are not winning.

We have this idea that if we do enough teaching on marriage and family that everything will turn around.  We have hundreds of books.  We hold seminars and conferences.  We have Focus on the Family, we have churches named the Family Church.  We have outreach to families.  We say, “We are going to be doing a sermon series on marriage so invite your neighbor.”

We’ve created this idea of the Biblical family.  This is a little crazy when you consider that there probably isn’t one marriage in the Bible that you would want to emulate.

Now to be sure there are great principles in the Bible for marriage.  But really they are mostly the same principles for all of life.  How do you love another person?  If you’re married, that should be the number one example of that. It’s your number one covenant relationship.

But the Bible isn’t about family. It’s about God and us, mainly God actually.  Jesus says unless you hate your wife and children, you can’t follow me.  How do we reconcile that with how we teach all this stuff?  Jesus is obviously not saying to hate anyone.  He is however saying that He comes first – and that is true regardless of marital status.  So the real question is regardless of my context how do I follow Jesus?  Seems to me we ought to talk to the other half of the peoples’ context.

Now before you rip me, let me say that I’m not against any of this.  I think it is vital the Church talk about these things.  I know that I have been impacted, even as a single, by these teachings.  I’m for it and I’ve encouraged us as singles to learn from it for a variety of reasons.  I’ve seen marriages and families be saved by it.  But this focus on the family will not turn the tide because singles aren’t there to listen to it.

Married people already go to church.  Most of the people that don’t go to church are not married.  According to Barna 37% of them have never been married at all.

What used to happen is the Church would lose the young 20 somethings and then when they got married they would come back.  The problem is that now they are not getting married.  Only 20% of those 18-29 have ever been married.  That means that we are losing the late 20 somethings.  It means that the neighbor you are supposed to invite to the marriage sermon series – they are single.

We can’t just say let’s save marriages because if we’re not careful, there won’t be any marriages to save.  We need a theology of singleness to go with our theology of marriage.  We need to offer some practical help for single people.  We can’t just say get married and then we will help you.  We need to help people figure out if they are called to celibacy or marriage and then help them do it.

Let me give you an example from my own church (which I love).  At my church we have what we call position papers.  These are “brief” papers that say where we stand on certain things.  So for example we have papers on baptism, communion, the end times, etc.

So of course we have a paper on marriage.  We also have one on divorce and remarriage. We have one on Christian sexual ethics.  We even have one on “dating” (we’d be better off with a position paper on how to get a date).  But we do not have one on singleness or celibacy.  And our church at one point was 50% single!  If we don’t have it, who does?

I’m not mad, bitter or whining. That’s not my heart at all.  But, we are losing and this is part of the reason why.  We need to deal with it.

Catch this:  Most of the battle for sexual purity, Godly marriage and family, and even the hot button issues like homosexuality and abortion, cannot be won without a right theology of singleness. People are lost and confused.

You CANNOT change this without a right theology of singleness.  And that theology has to go WAY beyond what not to do on a date.  Until it does it’s going to get worse, not better.

What is your church’s theology of singleness?  What is yours?

Sexual Immorality Is Not Just About You

About two weeks ago I was relaxing at a hotel bar where I often go to chat with friends or write this blog.  I was just about to shut it down when a gentleman showed up who was from out of town.  He sat down and started to share about why he was in town etc. Anyway after a while he asked if I had a family and I said no, but I was about to get married.  He of course congratulated me and shared he had been married for 20 years. Then he said this, “Of course you know, that once you get married, you’ll have less sex.”  I laughed.  I sure as heck hope not, because we are not having sex now.

It was the same when I was in college.  I was literally the only person in my suite of 9, that didn’t have sex my freshmen year.  They used to joke about it.  I was also the person they came to when stuff in their life was hard.  They knew I was different.

You see we don’t just flee from sexual immorality for ourselves.  It’s one of God’s ways of separating us out – as a witness.  It’s not just about you and me and our little moral battle.

One of the big misconceptions that people have is that sexual immorality is worse today than at other points in history.  There is the idea that all of a sudden it’s “crazy” out there and that marriage is being devalued etc.

This leads to a couple of problems.  First, there a lot of people who think what the Bible says about sex is “old school” and not relevant for today.  On the other hand the Church ends up running around shouting that the world is ending, making an idol out of the family and longing for the past (which I think is the 1950’s America).

Now it is true that American culture is changing.  But none of this is new.  Neither is our call to live differently than the culture.

When you look at the sexual practices that God lays out in the old testament it needs to be understood that God was giving them these specifics for a reason.  That reason is that all the other societies in the Near East were not practicing them.  When God says, don’t sleep with an animal, He says it because others were.  He’s not making up random stuff.  The Near Eastern cultures were crazy, even by our standards.  People were having sex in every way, with everybody and everything.  They even worshiped to it.

God was saying to the Israelites, “You will not be like them.  You are my people and this will distinguish you.”

The same is true in Paul’s letter to Corinth.  They had written Paul and they asked him what they should do.  How should they practice sexuality and marriage now that they had Jesus?  Paul starts that whole message by saying, “Now for the questions you asked about – here’s how to apply God’s teaching and live the way He would want in your context.”  Which was a completely pagan and dualistic context.  Sound familiar?

If we are going to flee from sexual immorality we have to define what that is. The good news is that currently most folks are not sleeping with animals or temple prostitutes (at least I’ve never been tempted by either).  So in our day, we can’t just take one liners from the Bible and try to make them mean what we want them to.  Instead, we need to take the overall meaning of sex, marriage, and celibacy in the scriptures (which is pretty dang clear) and apply that to our current context.  In legal terms it’s like law and case law.  How does the law apply to our case today?

But beyond that we need to realize that our call to flee from immorality is not just as a set of rules to keep us out of trouble.  God called Israel out.  He made them His people and commanded them to live in a way that demonstrated Him to the world.  One of the ways they were to do this was by how they behaved sexually.  Paul tells the early church the same thing.  You are set apart.  You were bought at a price.  You are NEW and different.  Live like it – in the light!

One of the reasons we fail is that even in our morality or lack there of, it’s all about us.  That wasn’t really the point.  God has bigger plans.  When we are set apart, people are drawn to us.  Want to be counter cultural?  Want to make a difference?  Want to point towards God.  Live this area of your life differently than the world.  It was true 4000 years ago and it’s true now.