The Three Eunuchs

One of the things we have to do is our Christian culture and language is rescue the idea of Celibacy.  I’ve tried to write quite a bit about this in the past but I realize that we need to talk about it even more.  The good news is that more people are talking about it.  The bad news is that a lot of us don’t realize what we are talking about including most of our “leaders”.  We are going to need a more full theological and biblical understanding if we are going to lead in this conversation.

Most people tend to start in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul talks about marriage, celibacy and the gifts.  But I believe a better place to start is Matthew 19 where Jesus discusses the three eunuchs.

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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.

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A Good God And Singleness

In my last post I shared some thoughts in response to what Scott Sauls wrote at Relevant’s site about why we in the Church focus so much on the nuclear family.  The focus of that post was to point out that we need to focus on God’s family not the nuclear family.  Simply saying that the nuclear family is not the savior or necessary for salvation is not a good enough starting point.

Today, I want to talk about the idea that God is running every aspect of our dating lives.

I want to again say that I’m not trying to go after Scott but simply saying that what he writes, while better than what a lot of Church leaders are doing, is frankly not enough.  I believe he represents what many people in leadership are thinking.  There are assumptions here that I believe are at best short sighted.

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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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You Are Single For A Reason – But Probably Not The One You Think

In my 20 plus years of being single I’ve heard a lot of reasons for singleness.  Some of it was attempted pastoring or self righteousness, but most times it was attempted encouragement which I learned to appreciate because I knew people loved me.

As I’ve said almost ad nauseum here we in the Christian single culture have basically settled for spiritual platitudes that don’t really deal with the issue at hand – either individually or as a whole society.

One of those is the idea that God has you single right now. This is of course often followed by other platitudes such as “God has you single right now for a reason”, or “Since God has you single right now, take advantage of that”. Or “God has you single right now so be content in that”.

One of the big problems we have in protestant culture when it comes to singleness is a complete lack of understanding of what Paul is talking about when it comes to the unmarried.  It kills us because we keep bringing “the word” to the situation without even understanding what we are saying.  We mix and match scriptures in an attempt to make the current singleness culture fit into our favorite theological leanings.  It ends up being “help us sleep at night theology” that frankly doesn’t help many people live well single or get married.

Now before I say more and make some people really uncomfortable, let me say this clearly for the record – God may indeed want you to be single right now.  No doubt He calls us to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different seasons.  So I’m not negating that possibility in someone’s personal life.

But it is a terrible blanket answer to singleness.  It would mean that God has suddenly in the last 40 years of history decided that people shouldn’t get married until 30 or older.  Or I guess it could mean that for thousands of years people disobeyed God by getting married earlier.  I’m not comfortable with either of those answers.

First off, the bible never talks about singleness as we know it.  It just doesn’t.  In the oft referred to passage in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul is answering questions the Corinthians had asked about marriage and sexual immorality.  There was mass confusion and he was attempting to clear some things up.

Paul says a lot of things here but when it comes to the “gift” of being unmarried, Paul is NOT talking about a call to a season of singleness.  He is instead talking about a call to (or gift of) celibacy.  He is saying that some are called to serve God from an unmarried state. He is not saying you have the gift of singleness until you get married.  He is saying if you have it, don’t get married.  That is a HUGE distinction.  

What we’ve done is taken this and turned it into a way to avoid dealing with why we are single.  Or we take other things Paul says in other places and transpose it into this passage.  For example in Philippians 4 Paul says he has learned to be content in all circumstances.  We transpose that to mean, “God has called you to singleness right now and you should be content in that.”  But that isn’t what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7.  He says if you aren’t content (read called, or gifted) in celibacy – Go Get Married!

This is so critical.  Paul is not saying if you are unmarried that you don’t have to worry about the things of marriage.  It would be more accurate to say that one of the ways to see if you are called to celibacy is to ask if you are worried about it.  Otherwise he would be saying that celibate people are better followers of Jesus than married people.  If that were true then no one should get married.

My biggest problem with this is that we end up saying to people, if you are single right now that is where God has you and you should just sit there and be content in it.  That is not what Paul says.

There are lots of reasons our society is where it is in terms of marriage.  Most of it is not God’s plan.

God is not calling you to be insecure around women you like.  He has not given you the “gift” of lack of commitment.  He has not called you to live with someone you are dating instead of marrying them.  He is not calling you to consumer date.  He is not promising you that if you are called to marriage that it will magically happen without your effort.  He has not “gifted” you with the fear of divorce.  He has not given you the “gift” of extended adolescence.  I could go on and on.

We as singles need to quit hiding from our crap in bad theology and the Church needs to get off it’s butt and quit enabling us to do it.  The Church should be the safest place to deal with all of the reasons why we are single, not just the ones that make a nice sermon.

You are single for a reason – lots of reasons actually.  Some of that may be God’s timing or calling.  But a whole heck of a lot of it isn’t.  The way out isn’t mixing and matching scripture to feel better.

The Theological Cop Out

A few weeks ago I was perusing some Christians singles sights and I came across one with a question and answer section – kind of a Dear Abby for Christian singles.  Most of it was pretty good.  However one of the most real questions got answered in a way that too many people answer singles’ real questions – namely without actually answering the real question.

A woman wrote in and basically said, “Hey I’ve read all the books on singleness and gone to church my whole life where I’ve heard plenty about what to do and not do, and what marriage is about.  However almost no one seems to address getting a date to begin with. What if I don’t have anyone to set boundaries with because I never actually have anyone? How do I know if it’s me?  How do I attract the guy to begin with.”

Now that’s called being real.  She’s saying, “I’m in.  I believe in dating and marrying right.  I’m following Jesus.  Now tell me how to start.  How do I get a date?”  I love this because she has the right heart, commitment and desire.  She just needs help forward. And she is even willing to learn, change and improve.  She’s not even mad.

So does she receive real talk back?  Not so much.  In a nutshell they tell her, “Dating is not the goal, an Ephesians 5 marriage is.  Just because you don’t ever date doesn’t mean you can’t get married.”  And this rich, “The goal is not to get dates but to discern if the person you are dating is a marriage candidate.”  What the . . . ?!  That’s why she is asking the question!!!  She would love to be discerning a candidate – how the heck does she get one.

The really long answer ends with saying, “while you are waiting for this person just focus on the Kingdom and all else shall be added.”

The thing is, it’s not that the person answering her is completely wrong.  We should seek God and the kingdom first.  We should engage community and live life well.  We should look to mature and grow. We should for sure keep in mind that the goal is not to go on 100 first dates.  It’s to find someone to marry.  But this woman was trying to go on one date, not 100.

It all sounds holy and is technically right.  It’s good help you sleep at night theology. Need a job?  Just seek the kingdom.  No reason to put a good resume together or apply anywhere.  God will bring you “the job”.  Now God might dang well bring you a job – but you still apply right?  Or you need to lose 10 pounds.  Just seek the kingdom.  God is in control.  He has you over weight for a reason.  AHHHHHHHHHHH!  In His time he will have you lose that weight.  I mean would you say that?

This sort of Oprah, postmodern “it’s all good crap” combined with bad Calvinism is killing us – and not just in dating.  But dating is one of the biggest places it shows up because it’s an easy answer – or lack of answer as the case may be.

This is especially important as guys.  We have to figure out how to actually act. Now I know some will say that they act and nothing happens.  I get that, I really do.  I’ve been there. For me that meant I needed to bring some others into the conversation at a deep level.  I needed some men to help me quit over thinking and over spiritualizing the whole thing.  I needed some people to challenge what part of my being single was my fault.  People to sit in it with me.

In the end it was that familiar combination of me dealing with my sin (including insecurity – which is a sin) and God bringing someone great into my life.  But I don’t think it would have “just happened”.

Here’s what I’m really getting at.  We need to deal with the reality whatever that is. Yes we need to know the need for sexual boundaries.  We need to keep the end in mind. We need to grow in Jesus.  We need to use discernment. But to get married, especially if you’re over 25, you’ll probably need to first figure out how to go on a date.  Hopefully not 100.  But at least one.

It’s ok to ask those real questions.  Why do women turn me down?  Why do I clam up when I’m around someone I like?  What am I afraid of?  Why is no one attracted to me? Why am I not attracted to anyone? Why can’t I commit? How do I increase attraction early on?  How do I get a date or two?  There are all sorts of answers depending on the situation.  There’s not one nice little answer for everyone.  

To some extent there is theological truth in every situation, fair enough.  But sometimes it’s not the only answer we need.

Is Marriage Under Attack?

There’s a lot of talk these days in the Christian community that marriage is under attack. The idea is that marriage is no longer seen as valuable or as a lifelong commitment.  I’ve heard it stated that young people don’t see it as important.

I can see how people come to this conclusion.  We are all well versed in the numbers. 50% of marriages end in divorce.  A third of first time marriages are over within 10 years. But, the divorce rate has actually dropped steadily for the last couple of decades. (That doesn’t make it good, but it’s not going up).  (This is also in spite of the fact that no fault divorce has been legal in 48 states since 1983).

But one of the biggest reasons the divorce rate is going down is that people aren’t getting married to begin with.  Only 51% of all people in the U.S. are married at all.  Only 20% of those aged 18-29 have ever been married.  That number is down from 60% 40 years ago. Catch that number again – 80% of adults 30 and under have never been married.

But here’s the part that should have everyone freaking out.  A lot of singles seem to not care about getting married.  They seem to be saying do whatever you want.  We haven’t quit having sex or even living with other people and having kids.  This is where the numbers are just astounding.  41% of women aged 15-44 have cohabited.  The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased 88% from 1990 to 2007.  Most startling of all, since the late 1980’s more women in the U.S. give birth to their first child out of wedlock than as a married person.  Read that last line again!

So everyone is dong what every generation has done. . . except get married.

That is not Biblical singleness.  Let me assure you that when the Bible talks about singleness it is not talking about living with someone and having a kid or two.

But here is where I think we are missing it. I’ve met literally thousands of people currently age 15-35.  I don’t actually think young singles are devaluing marriage.  In fact, a recent survey found that 84% of women and 82% of men said that marriage was somewhat or very important.  Only 5% said that it wasn’t important at all.

The problem is they have no idea how to do singleness and most don’t know how to get married. Many are scared crapless of marriage or better stated they are scared of divorce and bad marriages.  People like the idea of marriage, they just don’t know how to do it.

Marriage is under attack but not in the way we think.  The problem isn’t that people don’t want it.

I think we need a new strategy.  We need to quit defending marriage, and start helping people figure out how to get married.  This is going to take a lot more than slogans and rhetoric.  We are going to have to get messy.  We are going to have to actually go after these people.

First we have to help define what marriage really is.  We need a right theology and practice of marriage.  This is one thing that the Church is doing very, very well.  There has been a huge movement in the last 20 years to talk about marriage in a new way with an emphasis on covenant and commitment.  We have gotten much more real about how hard that can be.  We’ve become more practical and real in our sermons and books.  We’ve stepped up Christian marriage counseling.  I’ve been hard on the Church here and there so I want to give due credit here.  The Church truly is fighting for the married.  Not perfectly of course but they have changed.

But we also have to figure out how to help the unmarried.  We have to step into the mess, not just send out conflicting and confusing spiritual platitudes.  Instead of trying to convince people that marriage is right, we have to help them become right for marriage.  We have to help them face fear, be it fear of commitment, fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of divorce, fear of choosing wrong, fear of being let down, fear of how hard it is, or fear that they’ve already disqualified themselves.

That requires reaching out to them.  Want to change the culture?  Change how we do singleness.  Want to help people not have sex outside of marriage?  Want to deal with homosexuality, abortion and porn in a new way, and help young single people navigate this stuff?  Then help these young single people understand the theology of celibacy and marriage.  Help them pursue one or the other. Don’t just call out their sin, help them face their fear, hurt, and wounds. We need some sermons and books on this.  We need Christian singles counseling – dead serious.

Right now, over all, we are not winning.  But it isn’t because young singles don’t want to be married.  We are helping married people stay married.  It’s time to help single people get married.