I’ve listened to many “be fruitful and multiply” sermons over the years and have always chalked them up to preachers who never found the New Testament in their Bibles. But I heard one recently that was addressed to graduating high school seniors that left me speechless. In high Baptist style, the students marched in single file with caps and gowns on to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, sat on the first two pews marked “reserved,” and waited for their names to be called to walk onstage to get a new Bible and a picture with the preacher. Before the last one could sit down though, the preacher directed the audience (or is it still a congregation?) to turn their Bibles to Genesis Chapter 1. I felt a little dizzy and said a quick prayer, “Oh God, please don’t let this be what I think it’s going to be.” Unfortunately, it was, and to a degree I’ve never heard before. Just a few quotes:
“Okay seniors, you’ve reached your destination. Now it’s time to take your next step. Do you know what that’s going to be? It’s right here in the Bible. You’re going to be fruitful and multiply. That means it’s your time to make babies. That means one man and one woman. Let me say that again, one man and one woman.” The woman sitting behind me almost knocked my head off as she jumped to her feet clapping and cheering. Hoots and applause broke out all over the church, as if the home team just scored a touchdown. The pastor continued with other advice for them. “Now, let me make it clear that if you’re not physically defective in some way it’s your responsibility to make babies. The Bible says be fruitful and multiply. The people who don’t are immature and lazy. You’ve got to take the next step, because the future of the church depends on you.” Again, the congregation erupted in applause. I think I saw some confetti stream down from the balcony.
Church, if this is your way of shoring up the defenses around your nuclear families to guard against homosexuality, same sex marriage, and every other evil this world has to offer, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Here’s why: God can speak to a young person’s heart and tell them to remain as they are and not get married before they even know they have the spiritual gift of celibacy. When they reach those crossroads/decisions in their lives, they can be led off course by maps that are not correct and by foolish advice, like the sermon I quoted above. The things they are taught in church CANNOT be ambiguous. They have to be crystal clear. More importantly, they CANNOT be directed at the majority, like the “majority” who will marry and have families. God’s word does not operate on the same statistical principles as birth control pills. Advice given in church must include all of God’s children, not just those who will grow up and have families one day. If someone is considering a life of celibacy, they should be studying both the Old Testament and the words of Christ in the New Testament, especially 1 Corinthians. Other than serving as a historical lesson, the Mosaic Law as it pertains to human reproduction has no place in church teaching. A person who has the celibate gift will have enough insight into the New Testament to know that Christ’s death and resurrection nullified the Old Testament’s command to be fruitful and multiply. But confusing that insight with false teaching is JUST AS WRONG as a man asking another man’s wife out on a date. It’s even worse to assume that the first big decision a young person makes is who to marry and not discerning if they should get married at all. Teenagers mature sexually at different rates – both physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Though it may seem unfathomable to the idolatrous church today, it is possible to mature sexually without having sex. Of the high school seniors present in church that Sunday morning, some of them could have been making marriage plans, some of them could have been dating, some of them could have been without boyfriends or girlfriends, and some of them could be totally confused and have no idea what they want to do. For the church to assume all young people are called to marriage and making babies is blasphemy.
For the students there that morning who didn’t feel called to traditional marriage, what did they PERCEIVE as their choices? There could be only two. 1) They could pursue the default lifestyles of cohabitation and homosexuality. There is plenty of support for them out there; in college, on the streets, and even in churches. How do churches support the homosexual lifestyle? By idolizing marriage and family and not presenting celibacy as a viable alternative, by not upgrading their denominational theology from the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament to the Jesus of the New Testament, and by defining family only in terms of the nuclear family and not recognizing spiritual children resulting from repentance and salvation. Many conservative congregations take pride in not being middle of the road churches. They regularly quote Matthew 6:24: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” The same principle should apply to their teachings. They are either one hundred percent biblical and true or one hundred percent non-biblical and false. The admonition to be fruitful and multiply, when taken out of context and without explaining the new covenant of the New Testament, is one hundred percent false.
2) Of course the only other choice they perceived is a life of celibacy. What support is there for that option? There is certainly no support in the secular world. There is certainly no support in Protestant churches. So which lifestyle do you think those who don’t see marriage in their future are going to choose? Love and acceptance shacking up outside of marriage, a universally accepted homosexual lifestyle, or ridiculed as defective and fruitless in a church that doesn’t know what the truth is? It’s pretty obvious. The sermon I referred to above was streamed live on the internet and could potentially be responsible for untold numbers of young people entering the gay lifestyle where they are accepted and encouraged and where they don’t have to fit a predefined traditional “church family” role. I consider telling a group of high school seniors that they are expected to be fruitful and multiply to be pastoral malpractice, one of the highest forms of treason any church leader can be held responsible for.
The question I keep asking myself is why would a church silence the New Testament and Apostle Paul’s writings on human sexuality? After all, he had the most to say on the subject. Why would they not see a life of celibacy as a viable option and just as sacred as marriage and as meaningful as Paul presented it in 1 Corinthians? The only answer I can come up with is that the Baptist churches have sunken so deep in their divorce, adultery, birth control, abortion culture that the idea of self-control and a life without sex is beyond their comprehension. Maybe they are that averse to the word “celibacy” and everything it conjures up in their minds. Maybe they think it’s too Catholic. If that’s the case, may I suggest that the church reclaim the word “celibacy” and wipe it clean of the homosexuality and perversion the world has cast on it. If churches continue to play their one note chord of marriage and family, with celibacy an implied impossibility, all they are multiplying is the number of same sex marriages in the future and they are guaranteeing the death of traditional Christian marriage. Instead of looking at those with the celibate gift today as defective, consider us a witness to the power of God and proof that he still works miracles. Instead of seeing us as selfish and wanting to avoid responsibility, look at what we are giving up and what we are looking forward to in eternity with Christ. Instead of dismissing Paul’s words as only relevant for his time, consider us evidence that the Bible is just as true today as it was 2000 years ago. Instead of trying to work us into your fruitful nuclear families, think of us as heralding a new age where there will be no marriages, babies, or families. So my advice for students is this: Read the Bible for yourself. If you hear anything in church about Genesis and being fruitful and multiplying without a discussion of the New Testament and celibacy for the kingdom of God, consider it false teaching. It doesn’t matter what the credentials of the person doing the talking is. It doesn’t matter what his job title is or how much money he makes. It doesn’t matter who is wife is or how many kids he has. He is not qualified to whisper one syllable of advice on this subject. He is more than likely a married man who has no clue. We are no longer living under Mosaic Law. You are free to remain as you are with lifetime chastity or get married. Notice that I used the words chastity and freedom in the same sentence. Is that radical enough? Apostle Paul said both marriage and celibacy are good. That’s what I say.