Faith In Celibacy

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I think we would all agree that Christianity is built on faith, the belief in things we cannot see. We believe Christ is returning to earth to claim his virgin bride, the church. And we believe that the church’s virginity is only possible if individual members confess their sins. As Isaiah 1:18 states, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Or as 1 John 1:19 states, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But we must see things the way God intended, not the way the world has twisted them. Leading up to marriage, two people have faith that someone else is waiting for them, keeping all their sexual desires under control. Yes, God designed those two people to be virgins. I know. It makes the world cringe. And it includes men. Cringe even more. Virgins are not the adjectives you see in locker room graffiti or the buffoon characters in Hollywood movies. They are probably not the people you hear your preacher describe in church. But, most importantly, these “unknown” people have a choice. They can wait on an earthly marriage, as is common today, or they can wait on heavenly marriage, which is the uncommon spiritual gift of celibacy, and have the opportunity to be unknown the rest of their lives. Yes, I said opportunity. They have an opportunity to be barren and unknown with no family for the rest of their lives as far as the world and its kinship goes, but have so many spiritual children and siblings they can’t be counted. Young people today are not conscious of such a choice.  They go through no period of discernment and the church offers no alternative other than matrimony and the standard white picket fence. It’s “ring by spring” or nothing. Why?  It’s because churches today have very little faith, they follow the ways of the world, they worship the nuclear family, and they are still under the influence of Martin Luther and the Protestant reformation of some 500 years ago. The only tomorrow they know is the one they see in the eyes of their children and grandchildren. Unbeknownst to them, virgins are actually in a win-win situation because waiting for either one of those two marriages is what every Christian is called to do. And we can only wait one time because, even though it causes great pain to the world to think about, virginity is binary. That’s the way God designed creation. This is where marriage and celibacy intersect. The person waiting on marriage on earth has faith that they will meet their spouse soon and spend their time on earth together. The person waiting on marriage in heaven has faith that they will meet Christ soon and spend their time in eternity with him. Those two waits require totally different support. When the wait of celibacy fades out of the picture and is no longer respected, there is greater risk for society to elevate marriage to a place of sanctification, which is where we are today. If we do not provide young people a choice, we will never understand the spiritual nature of marriage or celibacy.

Even if that person with the gift of celibacy is as rare as 1 in a 1000 as Martin Luther claimed or 1 in a billion, it is still true. It doesn’t matter how many times a church says “most people.” That doesn’t make it so for everybody. The Southern Baptists have their foundational origins in segregation and slavery. Millions of people bought into those beliefs. Did it make them right? God puts just enough eunuchs on earth, male and female, to meet his needs. Our rarity ought to serve as a reinforcing agent for marriage and cut through the shortsighted quagmire that passes as faith today. Here’s why. If God created everything in this universe, he also created sex and the entire sexual process. Sexual desire had to be made strong in order for us to multiply. And that is a good thing, right? It had to be so strong that it would take a supernatural act of God for someone to resist it or, as Paul put it, for someone to “have power over his own will.” 1 Cor 7:37. Hence, we have the gift of celibacy and the gift of a supernatural faith.

Even if we do not exist in the statistics and opinion polls, as churches love to quote, our presence is nevertheless real and we have a responsibility to reproduce spiritually that eclipses the responsibility to reproduce biologically. Who are we to second-guess God’s numbers or set an “ideal age for marriage”? While marriage symbolizes Christ’s (groom) marriage to the church (bride), these marriages are temporary affairs. All of them will eventually end either in divorce or death, etc. Those who have the gift of celibacy, however, have a marriage that will not end in divorce or death. Their status as a virgin is the same today as it will be in heaven. Their commitment to Christ is just as real today as it will be in heaven. Their anticipation of the arrival of Christ is more real than anybody’s anticipation of a spouse or birth of a child. But their waiting takes a much larger leap of faith, as it should, than those waiting on husbands and wives and children. Even though it may take a little more blurring of the eyes to see the symbolism, people with the celibate gift literally guard in their own personhood what the church guards symbolically. We should see ourselves already separated from this world and drawing closer to Christ, with one foot on the ground and the other foot in heaven. Our advent should be more urgent than anything expressed in traditional candles and wreaths. So while earthly marriages symbolizes Christ’s marriage to the church, the celibate gift symbolizes eternity in heaven after the wedding is over. Like a landing signal officer on aircraft carriers, we point the way to our final destination. Marriage has not caused us detours. In other words, the person with the gift of celibacy has the capacity to serve as a witness for Christ that goes beyond the symbolic because he/she is closer to landing on the ship and closer to God. Since there will be no marriages in heaven, we represent a part of eternity that can be seen today. That does not mean we are perfect. It does not mean we should climb up on rooftops and boast about it. It should be something that other people see in us, a faith so real that it’s visible. That should speak for itself.

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