The Sacredness Of Celibacy

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No responsibility, no commitment, extended adolescence, wasting time. You can’t trust them. I know what the world – and the church – says about singleness. To understand the sacredness of celibacy, we first have to uncover the pretense of singleness. It all starts in church. Churches typically segregate members based on age and marital status, under the assumption that these criteria determine a person’s “life stage.” Division by age is pretty much a no brainer for kids. But things get a little more complicated with adults, especially adults who are not holding a marriage license. In a typical singles class, you could have a 20 year old virgin, a 30 year old divorcee, a 40 year old widow, a 50 year old transgender, and a 60 year old homosexual. How do they relate to each other? They don’t. It’s just more comfortable and more politically correct to pile everybody into the same boat. And it provides everybody with an equal shot in the dating game. You see, relating to each other and meeting each other’s needs doesn’t matter much to the church. What matters is that people keep coming back and putting more money in the offering plates.

But biblically speaking, what is marriage and what is singleness? According to Webster’s Dictionary, marriage is a legal contract between two people and singles are people who don’t have one. However we know in the Bible that sex initiates marriage, not a wedding ceremony or legal contract (1 Cor 6:16). Sadly, the church has adopted the standards of the world. It does not see sexual ethics as the responsibility of individual members, but of the courthouse. The courts define marriage, all types of marriages, and the courts define singleness. Sexual purity before marriage and faithfulness in marriage have been relegated to quaint old-fashioned ideas. So when Paul talks about marriage, he is not talking about our idea of a temporary living arrangement. When he talks about virgins, he is not talking about our idea of singleness. He says something else that is foreign to our ears, that everybody is either called to celibacy or to marriage between a man and woman. But if you choose celibacy, the U.S. Supreme Court will tell you that you’re doomed to loneliness. If you choose marriage, you’re expected to have kids and circle your wagon around the throne of the family. It may seem like a loose-loose situation. But it’s a decision that every Christian must make. If you enter marriage without considering celibacy, you are – in effect – denying the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ and casting doubt on salvation and spiritual rebirth.

When Paul talks about the gift of celibacy and remaining unmarried (a virgin), he is not talking about single people waiting on marriage. He is talking about a commitment between God and a believing Christian that is just as real as the commitment between any husband and wife in marriage. Matthew 19 and Jesus’ comment about eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven makes that a little clearer, I think. I know that many churches teach that if you’re single you have the gift of singleness and if you’re married you have the gift of marriage. That’s not true. When you consider the whole metaphor of the eunuch, it’s clear that choosing to be a spiritual eunuch concerned about the coming kingdom of God is much more than a default state of waiting on a spouse. Being any one of the three eunuchs in Matthew 19:12 requires an event; whether it’s a birth with genetic anomalies or an act of violence or a conscious decision. All of them preclude a sexual relationship required for marriage. In the case of a conscious decision to be a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven, it is intentionally chosen for a specific reason, much the same as husbands and wives choose each other in marriage. It is not the default state of singleness while waiting on a spouse. I would say celibacy is even a deeper commitment because it involves caring for the things that belong to the Lord, not the world. Notice also in 1 Corinthians 7 that Paul does not define those with the gift of celibacy based on their marital status and something they don’t have, but rather on something they do have. 1 Corinthians 7:32-33:

32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:

33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.

I think it’s fair to substitute values for cares. The married person expresses his values for the world through marriage. The celibate person expresses his cares for the Lord through virginity. Viewed in this light, it’s easy to see why Paul considered it a better choice. So discerning marriage or celibacy comes down to a question of whom do you want to please – the world or God? That does not mean that a person cannot serve God in marriage. It means they cannot serve God with the same energy, insight, motivation, identity, or frame of mind that a virgin can. So in celibacy, a person remains totally devoted in Christ during his entire lifetime and his priorities do not change. However, in marriage, a person’s devotion is divided and his priorities do change. Change is consistent with the world. It’s not consistent with eternity.

Have you ever noticed how married people sometimes become so one flesh that they even look like each other? I have known people whose very identities are tied up with their spouses. It’s even hard for me to think of them as individuals. They’re couples. That’s a good thing and I think it’s what God intended for marriage. Think about the ramifications though when that same “oneness” occurs in the gift of celibacy. Instead of taking on the image of a spouse, we are called to take on the image of Christ. It’s our job to change the meaning of procreation from childbirth to spiritual birth. It’s our job to announce his eminent return and to bridge the time between the ages, between the Old Covenant and New Covenant. Yes, marriage is sacred. But celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God is sacred and supernatural.

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Misconceptions About The Spiritual Gift Of Celibacy

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“They’re Gay, They’re Christian And They’re Celibate!” the headline screams. I think I’ll write an article and title it, “They’re Horses, They’re Flying And They Have Four Legs!” There are so many false beliefs about the gift of celibacy I can’t keep up with them. The world has infiltrated the church and has replaced the word of God with opinion polls and statistics. In this blog, I’ll talk about some of the misconceptions surrounding celibacy.

First, the word “gift” that the world uses to describe celibacy is not the same “gift” that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 7. It is not something that is bestowed on a person for good behavior. It’s not a reward. It is not something that can be earned. It is not a lifestyle that is set against marriage. Biblical celibacy is freely chosen. It is not associated with vows. When understood from a biblical point of view, celibacy does not disparage marriage. It can’t exist without it and marriage can’t exist without celibacy. But many people refuse to acknowledge this biblical dichotomy and choose to follow whichever road gets them a seat at the right hand of God. If you do an internet search on “marriage and celibacy – which one is better?” you’ll be reading for a long time. To the question “which one is better,” I would answer: Which is better – Day or night? Summer or winter? Male or female?

At the heart of the gift of celibacy though is self-control. The real Christian lifestyle dichotomy consists of those who cannot control their sexual desires and choose marriage and those who can control their sexual desires and choose celibacy. Both of them require faith. I think this is one of the reasons Christ chose the metaphor of the eunuch in Matthew 19 to represent those who are called to celibacy. It’s just as hard for a man to castrate himself as it is for him to bring every aspect of his life under control, including his sexual desires – just like it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Of course, churches lean heavy toward the marriage and family side of the equation. When they do, they are denying the part of the Bible that’s called “The New Testament.” One of the gifts that the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ brought into the world was the spiritual rebirth of those who believe in him. We have a world today that is just as blind as Nicodemus in John 3:4 when he asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” During the Old Testament, there was only one path to fruitfulness – procreation through sex. After Christ, it became possible to procreate through discipleship and making spiritual believers. The focus was no longer on having sex and making babies. It was on multiplying the number of souls for the kingdom of heaven. If you deny that, you are denying Christ. So really the only gift in this whole story is Christ himself. Unfortunately, there are still churches who teach the only way to be fruitful and multiply is to get married, heave sex, and make babies. They are living under the Old Covenant and creation order mandate. I would put over 90% of all Protestant churches in that category. Consider how big the wedding business is in this country – $55 billion dollars in 2014.

Even worse, instead of associating celibacy with self-control, sacrifice, rebirth and spiritual children, churches today associate it with homosexuality. In my opinion, that is an abomination. Non-Christians are constantly mocking and laughing at the church. And right now the world could sell front row tickets to a comedy show in most any church in America. If a young man or woman today feels called to the celibate life, they’re not going to find much support in church – because gay and celibacy are talked about as if they go together like a hand in glove. Here are a few recent headlines from churches and religious organizations:

Detroit Catholic Couple Provide Example Of ‘Gay Holiness’
New Dallas Episcopal Bishop Tells Gay Members To Marry
The Next Synod Battle: Married Priests?
Priest Paid His Male ‘Sex Master’ From Collection Plate
The Challenge Of Being Gary, Married, And Mormon
Why Gay Celibacy Is Not The Gospel-Centered Answer
Heterosexuality Is Godliness
The Plausibility of the Celibate Life for the Same-Sex Attracted
At Issue: Could it be celibacy, not homosexuality?
Celibate Gay Christians: Is That Biblical?
Finding Love In The Church As A Celibate Gay Christian
Gay, Catholic, And Doing Fine
Does God Have A Plan For Same-Sex Relationships?
Is Divorce Equivalent To Homosexuality?
Same Sex Marriage And The Future
50 Resources For Equipping The Church On Homosexuality

So if you had a daughter who was trying to discern marriage or celibacy, where would you point her? Who is even talking about celibacy as a spiritual gift? Not Protestant churches. If you do a Google search on celibacy and church, 100% of the first 100 results are about homosexuality and celibacy in the Catholic Church. On their Baptist Press web site in 2011, the SBC even conceded: “In today’s twisted world, Paul’s gift of celibacy would most likely be misinterpreted as homosexual tendencies.” I’ve got news for them. It’s way beyond that point. Let’s turn the tables a while. If I viewed marriage the same way Protestants view celibacy, I may be inclined to approach a married couple in the fellowship hall of your church and make a few observations:

“Gee, are you two still married?”
“How long did you wait before you adulterated?”
“You’re really faithful to each other? I don’t believe it. Sexual desire is just too powerful for that kind of commitment.”
“How can you be faithful with so much porn around?”
“You know, only a few people are truly called to marriage.”
“What are you really doing on the weekends dude?”
“How did you know marriage was really for you?”
“So, did you rape her on your first date?”
“Well, I’m sure ya’ll had to get married.”
“After you had premarital sex, had long did it take to get married?”
“Do you have a voluntary or involuntary marriage?”
“Are you two accountable to anybody?”
“Are you sure you’re qualified to teach a Sunday School class? There are single people in there.”
“You both are getting up in age. How long are you going to keep up this extended marriage charade?”
“Do ya’ll have a clerical marriage or common law marriage?
“Just admit that you can’t be faithful to each other and get a divorce.”
“Excuse me Mrs. Jones, but you’ve been spending time alone with your refrigerator repairman. Have you any shame?”
“Marriage goes against nature because all men play the field.”

Churches, if you feel compelled to offer commentary that links celibacy with homosexuality without offering commentary on celibacy as a positive response to God, be prepared to hear negative commentary about the state of your marriages. I’m doing it face to face. It’s never pleasant.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/04/gay-christian-celibacy_n_5649015.html

http://www.bpnews.net/35684/at-issue-could-it-be-celibacy-not-homosexuality

Review Of “The Dating Manifesto” By Lisa Anderson

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The Dating Manifesto – A Drama Free Plan For Pursuing Marriage With Purpose. There’s been a lot written lately on the “marriage mandate” and this title suggests more of the same. You may be asking, “But John, why would you even read such a book if you have chosen a life of celibacy?” Good question. But the answer is quite simple: From a social standpoint, I am just as single as my neighbor who divorced his fourth wife last year. I’m an unknown quantity. My ring finger is just as empty as anybody else’s. So whether I like it or not, I am lumped in with the single and dating/pursuing crowd. I get all the same questions. Does Protestant theology make room for people who are neither married or looking for marriage? Not that I’m aware of. Anderson’s book didn’t make any room either. I read her biography first, which proved to be more of a puzzle. She’s 43 years old, never married, and is director of young adults for Focus on the Family and manages their boundless.org web site. I was curious to see if she would even say anything about the celibate gift. As expected, it didn’t take her long to get the exclusionary clause out of the way for those “pretty rare” people who are called to singleness.  From page 48:

“Paul had great things to say about those who are called to singleness, or celibate service. It’s a unique calling and one that should be celebrated. But it’s pretty rare, and those who are called to it generally know who they are. They should be comfortable with that calling. Those who are truly called to a life of celibate service generally don’t struggle overwhelmingly with their sex drive nor do they feel any sense of being less in God’s eyes.”

Celibate service?  I must have missed that verse in the Bible.  Married folks don’t serve God?   The other 241 pages was the dating manifesto. Let’s take a look at some of her assumptions.  Celibate lives “should be celebrated”?  Where is that being done?  “It’s pretty rare?” How many does she know?  “They should be comfortable with that calling?” I can’t find that in the Bible.  But then again, this is the 21st century and comfort is to be expected.  “They don’t struggle overwhelmingly with their sex drive”?  Oh, what torture that would be!  Oh sweet Jesus, please spare their poor miserable lives!   Maybe it’s just me, but I find it very odd that churches and religious organizations put a lot of effort into identifying those who have chosen marriage (heterosexual or homosexual), but put absolutely no effort into identifying those who have chosen celibacy. I guess most people are like Miss Anderson and think we generally know who we are. Why, of course! The Celibacy Club is meeting for brunch next Saturday evening! I need to get those invitations out. The truth is, a lot of people are trying to discern if they have the gift of celibacy and they really don’t know who they are. And the church is no help. At times, it seemed that the author was actually apologizing on behalf of all singles for being single. At other times, she lifted marriage up to such lofty heights I was wondering, “how could this be a book about singleness?” Here’s an excerpt from page 188:

“But staying connected to married friends is crucial. So is honoring their marriages. About eight years ago, I decided I would do everything within my power to honor and protect my friends’ marriages. This has a number of different faces. It means babysitting so my friends can get a night out together or finish their Christmas shopping or address an issue that’s becoming a problem in their relationship. It means building up my married friends verbally and publicly, both in front of each other and in front of our mutual friends and acquaintances. Saying what people are doing right in their marriages can go a lot further than dragging out the tired ball-and-chain metaphor in all its forms. It means praying for my friends’ marriages and refusing to gossip about their issues. It’s not participating in spousal gripe sessions. It’s not joking about marriage or lending credence to those who do. It’s vocally reaffirming God’s heart for marriage, as well as the people whom he’s blessed with it. Your single season is the best time to start preparing for your own marriage.”

Babysitting? It sounds like she’s been taken advantage of in her own church. Honoring marriages? I’d say there’s plenty of that going around. Building up my married friends verbally and publicly? I see people do that every single day of my life – whether it’s in the grocery store, post office, or in church. I wonder what she’s done to build up her celibate friends? You know, those people who have chosen not to marry or have sex. Saying what people are doing right in their marriages? Who is saying what people are doing right in their celibate lives? I can count the number I know on one hand. It’s not joking about marriage? Actually, I hear more joking about singleness and being condemned to loneliness than I do about marriage. It’s vocally reaffirming God’s heart for marriage? So, God doesn’t have a heart for celibacy?

In my opinion, The Dating Manifesto is just one in a long line of how to get married books. There’s nothing deeper here than a pink twinkie covered in chocolate syrup. It does seem that she has high standards when it comes to premarital sex and marriage and I commend her for that. But her book, like most books for Christian singles, does not present celibacy as a real alternative, other than to say there are not many of us. That is so . . . encouraging. Oh yes, let’s see, it’s right here in 1 Corinthians 7: “People with the celibate gift are pretty rare. So ye therefore assume everybody is either married or has a dating manifesto.” The Bible never says everybody should be dating and getting married. It never says anything about the numbers of people who should be married and the number who should be celibate. That is strictly the world’s assumptions and cannot be taken as scriptural. The only dating manifesto that exists is in the minds of those who idolize marriage and family and are not willing to discern if marriage or celibacy is right for them. I’d like to hear what Apostle Paul would say if Miss Anderson told him he had a “dating manifesto.”

Marriage – Asking The Wrong Questions

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Autumn Colors by Autumn de Forest

Who has God picked out for me? When will I meet him? What should I do to prepare for my wedding? Should I save sex for marriage? Should I get married in church? There is a whole industry today built around preparing for marriage – books, magazines, newspaper articles, blogs, TV shows, conferences, etc. The list is endless. It’s taken for granted that everybody who is not married is looking for marriage. Singleness is a disease to be cured. Most church singles groups are set up for this very reason – to get you married as soon as possible. The only problem is that it’s not biblical. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 7:25-26:

25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.

“It is good for a man so to be” in verse 26 is directly referring to “virgins” in verse 25. Yes, believe it or not, virginity was defined in terms of both men and women in the Bible. What a stark contrast to the feminine based definition of virginity that permeates society today. Are you in shock? If you are, that’s not all. If it’s good for a man or a woman to be a virgin, why has marriage and family life been elevated to idolatry status? We first have to understand that marriage has become a means to an end. The golden calf of sex is what society worships today. Marriage is but a legal detail to this end. In a culture of greed and superficiality, marriage is but an artificial symbol of adulthood and responsibility. It becomes the substitution for self-control. The vocabulary of “premarital sex” has been used for quite a while in our culture. Does that mean when a person does get married that all the before sex becomes . . . okay? Does the marriage ceremony magically throw a person back in a time warp? I’m afraid not. “Premarital sex” is just euphemism for fornication. It’s supposed to make us feel better about those heavy biblical words. Biblically, marriage and sex should go together like a sunrise and sunset. Unfortunately, we have traveled light years from that ideal. Sexual purity has been separated from single life and sexual faithfulness has been separated from married life. And that adds up to moral decay. According to the latest numbers from the CDC, the average number of sexual partners in a lifetime for men ages 25-44 is 6.6 and 4.3 for women. When the scriptural definitions of marriage and singleness are obliterated and their distinctions disappear, it is only a matter of time before the world redefines both of them. Marriage you say? Would you like that adulterous, open, heterosexual, homosexual, or polygamous? Singleness you say? Would you like that cohabitating, playing the field, loving commitments, or test-drives before you buy? When viewed in light of the big picture, we can see how sexuality is much more than a private decision between two people. A biblical view of it is actually necessary for human civilization to survive. But it starts with each one of us.

It starts with a simple question. For singles waiting for marriage to have sex, I encourage you to take a step back and look at the big picture. Realize the significance of your lives in the world today. Instead of asking “who has God chosen for me?” ask yourself “is marriage right for me?” When a life of celibacy is considered as an option, the natural order of God’s creation is allowed to unfold. God’s concerns must be balanced with the world’s concerns in order for a Christian culture to survive. That cannot be done if everybody is married. Christianity has nothing to do with the majority opinion. When the default question has become “whom will I marry?” the inhabitants of a society will look inward to themselves and to their own pleasures. Self control will become a foreign concept in a land of unrestrained desire. Marriage will become a civil right, whether traditional or same sex. Everybody will have to have a slice of the pie. A baby’s cry will cause gasps of glorious anticipation. Sound familiar? The truth is that the love between a mother and child does not represent the pinnacle of Christian love. The love between Christ and the church does. Contrary to what Southern Baptists may believe, God HAS NOT ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. No, there’s nothing wrong with marriage. But the sexual ethics overlying the scriptures require us to look forward into eternity while spiritually multiplying, not just backward into the Old Testament fruitfully multiplying with babies. That can only be done when both marriage and celibacy are seen as viable alternatives. That has not been done in 500 years.

The marriage/celibacy dichotomy is as much a part of God’s creation as night and day. It cannot be separated without disastrous consequences, like the Supreme Court’s legalization of same sex marriage. I realize there are many church leaders (especially Protestants) who echo the words of Martin Luther on celibacy: “But these are rare; not one in a thousand can do it: it is one of God’s special miracles.” The problem is that God never mentioned numbers and who are we to say who can do it and who cannot? Church leaders use this kind of worldly thinking as an excuse for not discussing the options of marriage and celibacy. And they use the “only a few” rationale as a reason to circle their wagons around traditional families, while trying to fight the onslaught of same sex marriage. “Us against them.” I guess putting God in a box does make everybody feel comfortable. But doesn’t every church have the same odds of having celibates in their congregation as well as marrieds? If you don’t expect faithful singles, how will you ever see them in your church? It becomes a tragic self-fulfilling prophecy.  Could somebody pass the Pampers?  When we’re contemplating God’s will for our lives, we need to throw away the calculators, toss out the statistical charts, and forget the majority opinions. They will mean absolutely nothing in heaven.  Look where the faulty logic of Martin Luther got us. Do we want to continue on the road of satisfying every sexual desire or realize that God’s will requires self-control, both in marriage and celibacy.

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nsfg/key_statistics/n.htm

http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp