In my last post, we began a discussion based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19. In that Scripture Jesus discusses three groups of people that are eunuchs (unable to marry). There are those that are born that way (either physically or mentally unable to marry), those that are made that way by men (which I’m suggesting includes those made that way by the fall of man) and those who choose of their own volition to remain celibate for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Today I want to focus on this last group.
Before we go any further it is important to realize how completely revolutionary this entire conversation would have sounded to the disciples who were listening.
One of the things that I’ve read on occasion and heard in conversations as well as from the pulpit, is the way to know if you have the gift of singleness is if you are single right now, then you’ve got it.
Now, in some evangelical circles, there is of course debate on whether singleness is a gift or even a calling at all. But I’m going to go ahead and side with 2000 years of Church history along with a straight reading of the scriptures and say that it is.
Here is the general idea of what these folks are selling. The basic idea is of course that God is sovereign and therefore whatever context you find yourself in is the one that God is “gifting” you with right now. If you are unmarried then right now you have the gift of singleness. Married? Then right now you have the gift of marriage. Both are gifts. All contexts we find ourselves in are gifts.
But in our current culture this idea is fraught with problems.
One of the most overused, misunderstood, and confusing things in the church is the idea of leadership. This is especially true when it comes to men in relation to women. It’s my hope today to make that even more confusing. Just kidding. Maybe.
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.
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.
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.
A couple of years ago I was asked by a campus pastor at a local Catholic University if I would be willing to sit on a panel about vocation and represent the unmarried people who don’t feel called to celibacy. I said yes and was excited by the opportunity.
Now this is sort of funny but I was the only protestant in the room and perhaps the least educated. Ha! I was for sure the least educated person on the panel which included: the president of the university and his wife (married vocation – and they had been married for decades), a nun, a Jesuit Priest and a priest whose job it was to help students who felt they might be called to celibate ministry (becoming a priest or nun) discern that.
We went around and shared about our vocation/place in life. A lot of questions from the audience were centered around how you can figure out what you are supposed to do. Everyone on the panel was great – I was in very solid company and would gladly share a stage with any of them, any time.
But the person who stood out the most (and not just because we kept agreeing with each other) was the priest. This guy was unbelievably smart. He also had ways of explaining the call to full time celibate ministry that I had never really heard articulated before.