Celibacy, Discerning A Higher Love

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I have written about discerning the call to the charism of virginity (celibacy) on my blog before. Here I will try to add some new things to consider. Even though I use the word celibacy, I am addressing those who are virgins, both men and women, exclusively. I’m not talking about a period of time of not having sex or even someone choosing celibacy after having a sexual relationship. It’s just that celibacy is the word you’ll have more luck with when you research this subject. So if you read this post from the perspective of someone who has had a sexual relationship, looking for discernment, whether or not you should get remarried, etc., you will probably be lost. I happen to think it’s way past time for virginity to be given a little exclusivity. The biggest challenge when talking about discernment from a Protestant perspective is that it is a rare calling and so little is known. I usually have no idea how many people read my blog or what anybody thinks about it. I just try to picture an imaginary audience and go from there. So, how does one discern the call to celibate life? We first have to come to grips with the fact that Protestant churches, even the one you may be attending, have gotten it wrong since the Protestant Reformation some 500 years ago. So don’t expect things to change overnight.

One of the things you will definitely need is a rebellious spirit. I’m not talking about taking up arms against a rogue government or drag racing behind the liquor store. I’m talking about saying no to the idol of family worship and all the comforts and conveniences society has bestowed upon them; saying no to sex worship, mother and child worship, and all the materialism and comforts we associate with the American dream. We have to be okay with not having children to pass inheritances to. We don’t have to hate women and children, but we have to be able to prioritize their status when comparing them to eternity. So if the current status quo of “family church” makes you uncomfortable, don’t rule out celibacy just yet. Don’t rule out the chance to help bring the value of married life and celibate life more into balance. After time, you will be the one making families take a second look at their priorities. Yes, it is a rebellious lifestyle.

We also have to be able to say no to ourselves and any plans for nuptial bliss, while saying yes to a closer walk with God and serving as witnesses of the world to come. That means we have to look at our motivations very closely. If you’re in college, are you looking for a spouse? A choice for celibacy should not be made based on the notion that the opposite sex don’t find you attractive, that you can’t get a date, or that men don’t ask you out. It should be based on the realization that there are some things in the world more important than sex. It’s one thing to hear somebody say that. It’s quite another thing to live it out. When I was in college, I jokingly told people that I had so many girlfriends I couldn’t make up my mind about which one to marry. And I think that’s actually a good way to look at the call to celibate life. God has allowed us to have hearts that have enough love for more than one person or one family.

Timing. We are invariably comparing the timing of a wedding to the timing of . . . something that doesn’t even have a name in Protestant circles. The New Testament has only one mention of a wedding in Matthew 22, the marriage at Cana, where Jesus turned the water to wine. Nothing is said about the timing of the wedding or even the ceremony. What we have made of marriage today is exactly that – It’s manmade. All of the hoopla that we associate with weddings, including church ceremonies, bridesmaids, vows, dresses, cakes, marriage licenses, rings, is the product of manmade tradition. None of it is mentioned in the Bible. Does that make marriage or weddings wrong? Here’s how I answer that: Not necessarily. But to the extent marriages are undertaken with no regard for celibacy, with not even a fleeting thought given to a life with Christ, they are worse than the unfaithfulness and divorces to which most of them lead. I know that Catholic tradition is all we have to go on, but I don’t think celibate vows or ceremonies are necessary. So instead of timing a ceremony, I think it’s appropriate that we begin to tell our close friends and family of the decision we have made to remain as we are and devote our lives to other worthwhile (eternal) causes. And I think it would be okay to do that when you know you’ll never love a spouse more than you love the people you are forgoing marriage for. So it’s not about us having more free time to do God’s work. We actually have less time, because there is no free time doing his work.

It helps to understand celibacy’s role in relation to marriage. This is a big one and the one that took the most time for me. Of course, the biggest challenge is that we live in a married world. Celibacy has to be looked at with at least as much honor, value, and respect as marriage and family. If you know of a godly family, you can learn a lot by watching them in public with their kids. Watch their interactions, not only amongst themselves, but also with other people. There is a certain grace and dignity that comes with being comfortable in your own shoes. Watch a husband jump into action to protect his wife or children from harm. It’s like an inborn instinct. He doesn’t have to stop and think about it. He acts. Whether it’s pulling them out of the way of oncoming traffic or shielding their eyes from sexually explicit images, the drive to protect his family comes very natural. The same thing is true of mothers. So it is with a person called to celibate life. We are not saying no to paternal or maternal instincts. Rather, by sacrificing much more than is possible in marriage, we are taking them to a higher level. We ought to care just as much about marginalized people as a father cares about his family. Our hearts should be ready to respond in a heartbeat. If you feel that tug, a tug beyond passive empathy, then celibacy may be right for you. I’m not necessarily talking about being a missionary in a third world country. There are lots of needs all over the U.S.A. Needs that can only be met with the passion of a celibate person. Unfortunately, all that we’re likely to hear about virginity in Protestant churches is from the standpoint of true love waits on a spouse. It’s most likely to come from a very comfortable and frumpy married white preacher dude who depends on the tithes and offerings collected in church to take care of him and his family. So as far as discussing anything besides family life, he has a conflict of interest the moment he opens his mouth. I’ve heard many preachers claim that they can relate to the gift of singleness because “I was once single before I met my wife.” That is simply not true. Waiting on marriage as a single person and waiting on the return of Christ as a person with the gift of celibacy are not even in the same hemisphere. As far as someone in the Protestant church having insight into celibacy, the only exception may be a preacher who lived a chaste life into his 30’s-40’s before he got married. Then he might have a hint. So we have to be willing to educate, tactfully.

We have to understand celibacy in relation to society. One very common notion that is passed around when people talk about celibacy is that it frees us to do “greater service.” Well, okay. But that’s about as informative as saying the sky is blue. If all we understand about celibacy is that is frees up our time to do greater service to help greater numbers of people, we have missed the mark. We have become nothing more than a refried preacher. First, from a spiritual standpoint, we have to accept that celibacy itself is a higher calling than marriage. That doesn’t mean we are better than married people. It means that we have more responsibility, are better qualified to represent the love of God, and have a straighter path to heaven. If we just see celibacy as freeing up time, then it could very well become a means to an end. Our lives would be rated according to how much we did, how much we stayed busy, and how many people we served. We must see the gift of celibacy as something good in itself. Churches have to see it more than extended adolescence and a failure to “man up.” I’ve often wondered what families’ reactions to me would be if I treated them with the same suspiciousness and cynicism I see from them. “Well, congratulations on your 25th wedding anniversary Carl. How many women did you bang last year?” Or “Sorry to hear your wife has been dead 10 years. Have you found a homosexual lover yet?”

In discerning celibacy, we also must have our sexual desires under control and be content with living a life without sex. One word many Catholic authors use is sublimation, which just means that something is raised to a higher standard. For example, the short-term goal of sexual energy can be redirected to taking care of orphaned children in third world countries. The higher good has to be something we are passionate about and not just something to pass the time with until we figure out what we want to do. And we make the final call about what those other worthwhile causes are. There will always be people who will not see our long-term goals and higher values. It helps to have friends on the same journey to discuss these matters with. I think sexual desires tend to sublimate naturally as we get older, to a certain extent. When I’m with people I don’t know, I’m usually conscious about how I’m being perceived. It can be downright dangerous to be a single man in public today. I don’t want to come across as a monk in silent piety and prayer. But I don’t want to come across as a single man looking for a romantic partner either. Striking that balance is an ongoing challenge. Since I’m still the class clown, I’m always looking for ways to make people laugh. What I have found is that it only takes knowing a person is human to do that. I don’t need to know gender, age, marital status, race, or anything else society says is important. I have gotten to know several hermaphroditic/intersex-identified people through the years. It really is remarkable how people can relate to each other when cultural expectations are taken out of the picture. And it is even more remarkable how a small “hello” and recognition of another person’s existence can spark a conversation and a lifetime friendship. So if we are able to put aside our stereotypes and see all people as human beings in need of other people to relate to, God can take those desires and reshape them into passions and endeavors that far surpass romantic love.

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To Burn Or Not To Burn

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When I was a boy, Paul’s use of the word “burn” for sexual desire in 1 Corinthians 7 probably did more to educate me about sex than my parents or anything I learned in school. During the Dog Days of Summer in Alabama, one of my jobs was to help my dad rake and burn leaves in the backyard. The raking part wasn’t fun. But I always liked the fire. My dad made sure I knew everything about it. The whole process would start with him watching the weather forecast that morning. The time had to be right. If it were too wet, nothing would burn. If it were too dry, it would be too dangerous. He would choose a day that was not windy. He would put the fire in a big open space, far away from the house, usually the same spots year after year. He also made sure there was nothing else close by that could catch fire; like overhanging limbs, trees, buildings, plants, fence poles, etc. He said the flames could reach a lot higher than the pile of leaves. He allowed nothing but leaves and limbs on the fire. No rubber, glass, metal, or any kind of plastic. He did include paper bags and cardboard boxes. He said those were exceptions because they were made out of wood too. Oh, and privacy was important to him.  He didn’t want anybody to see the black scars they left on the ground.  So he would build the fires out of view of company. So, we sat off to gather the fallen limbs first. He would drive his tractor around the yard and I would pitch them in the trailer in back. After the limbs were gathered, we would start raking leaves on top of them. When the pile got to be a certain size, my dad would say “that’s enough!” Only he knew when that was. Then he got the kindling, which was usually a few shavings of heart pine or a crumpled newspaper. He put that at the base of it, on the side with the least wind. Then he struck a match and we watched the tiny flame shoot up through the wood and into the leaves. O’er the ramparts we watched! It only took a few minutes and the fire and smoke was rising over the pine trees. My dad also lectured (taught) me how the flames could leap out of the burning brush and onto the surrounding leaves and “get away from you before you know it.” He said a fire left unattended could spread out of control into a bigger fire, and that he would be responsible for anything else it burned – including a house.  He also told me about how burning embers could also be carried by the wind, land in somebody else’s yard, and start a fire – all without you knowing it. That is, until the neighbor called. That was scary. That’s why he always had either me, my sister, or my mom standing guard with a hosepipe and buckets of water. We stayed with the fire until it was extinguished. It had to be completely out with cold ashes before we went to bed. If it wasn’t, he poured water on it, and finished it another day. My dad did everything he could to minimize the risk of a fire getting out of control. It seemed to me that he actually had them contained before he built them. He planned things so meticulously.  My dad wasn’t afraid of fire, though.  He respected it and understood its capabilities. He also spent time telling me how beneficial lightning fires were in the forest, getting rid of dead trees, and making room for the sun to shine on new growth.  In 1963, fire researcher Herbert Stoddard discovered that one of the most harmful things modern man has done to birds has been his attempt to exclude fire from fire-type pine forests.  As he said:  “Within a few years most forests choke up with brush, lose their prairie-like vegetation, and can no longer support birds dependent on periodic burning for their food supply and proper cover.” There are a lot of other things a fire can do too.

A warm fire is wonderful on a cold night in a fireplace under control. But if it gets out of control, that same fire can burn your house down. The fires may look the same, but one keeps you warm and the other kills you. It’s the same way with the fires of our sexual desires. They can keep us warm in the incinerators of our own passions while we wait on a spouse, burn our houses down if we don’t contain them, or they can be transformed into something entirely different than fire. When the flames of desire leap out of control, they can consume all of our lives – and leave scars of regret and heartbreak as permanent reminders. But controlling those flames still comes down to taking away at least one of the three things a fire needs for survival – oxygen, heat, or fuel. Take oxygen, for example. Lust thrives in the right environment. I’m sure you know of places where the flames will meet you at the door. There’s hardly anywhere we can go today that is not saturated with sex. That’s where we have to be vigilant and step away from the gases of superficial pleasures.  Taking lust out of the air will work wonders in controlling your fire. The same thing is true about the heat that ignites our fires.  We can follow the masses and ignite our fires with meetups in a bar, fuel them with pornography, stoke them with our imaginations, and let them burn out of control – destroying ourselves and anyone they come in contact with.   Or we can do it God’s way and wait patiently on marriage before having sex.  If your fire has already jumped over the line, it’s never too late to get it back under control.

Paul must have understood the nature of fires very well because the word “burn” so accurately describes what I felt as a teenager. It felt like my body was the pile of leaves, that my sexual desire was the flame, and girls were the sparks. I came to understand what Christ meant when he said it was good for a man not to touch a woman. I was certain one spark would do it.  But I knew there was nothing inherently wrong with fire if it was kept under control, and that God created sexual desire as a good thing. That seemed a little less daunting when I realized God expected everybody to keep their fires under control, whether waiting on marriage or waiting on his return, and that he wasn’t holding me to any higher firefighting standards than he was anybody else.

Burning was one of the most common ways of describing unfulfilled passion throughout Greek and Roman literature, as well as the Bible. Job 31:12 describes sexual immorality as “fire that consumeth to destruction”  I think this is the fire Apostle Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 7:9 when he said “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” He was talking about the sexual passion that can consume our time, energy, creativity, trust, and anything else that makes us who we are when we don’t moderate our fires with the outlet of sex in marriage. There’s a difference between the flame of natural sexual desire that is consumed (consummated) in marriage and one that is allowed to burn out of control with the heat of sexual immorality. With marriage, two unstable flames of desire come together to create one stable fire. They use each other’s oxygen, fuel, and heat. It consumes all of their energy and time and reproduces with the embers of children and the rhythm of life. It’s ignited with romance and fueled with committed love. In a marital relationship, the other person becomes the object of our love. In a celibate relationship with God, he becomes the object of our love. It is fueled with a passion to please him; whether that be meeting the needs of forgotten people or endeavors of a supernatural nature. For example, instead of the flames of passion burning your time and energy, the fire of celibacy could be fueled by a desire to end human trafficking, homelessness, or end an epidemic. Instead of being spread with human children and birthrights, it is spread with spiritual children. Of course, a married person can love both God and their spouse. But they can never love him with the same intensity and capacity as a person with the spiritual gift of celibacy can. That’s because the fire of romance is fueled by romantic love, not God’s love. Celibate fires often hidden behind the smoke of marriage, glossy photo packages, wedding ceremonies, diamond rings, and white picket fences.   Some work behind the scenes.  People who live celibate lives remind us that love is never satisfied on this earth, and that the transformation of human nature is possible through union with Christ.  The fire of romance propagates the earth.  The light of celibacy points us to heaven and propagates eternity.  Maybe it’s time to revisit the lessons a simple fire can teach us.

https://books.google.com/books?id=zMiV__25izEC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=%22elements+in+the+bible%22+fire+water++-.com&source=bl&ots=NWUp0wDMMX&sig=vn2eH8K67mJkwNVU3XxWRcnNvTY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwii7YeFkrnKAhXIYyYKHVuWDc4Q6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

https://books.google.com/books?id=q7R2NFp8mtwC&pg=PA63&lpg=PA63&dq=keener+unfulfilled+passion&source=bl&ots=c-agjPVLar&sig=FPcNMwb71BcsMsWxXL6_Ssrr3Dg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj2zIfM1bvKAhWEOD4KHcVVAc4Q6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-timaeus/

http://www.rockrohr.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Luther-on-marriage-relations.pdf

https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/12436318/0614%20proofs%2013%20Nasrallah%20FCNT%201%20Cor%20aca.pdf?sequence=1

https://books.google.com/books?id=s8ml0NOoOdQC&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=%22place+for+sex%22+%22song+of+solomon%22&source=bl&ots=4GVotbrdkF&sig=IhAqsTwA90PgR2Wqx1mJbBs-i1U&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjzjdDUtsDKAhUB5iYKHfkQCGgQ6AEIOjAG#v=onepage&q&f=false

Do You Have the Gift of Singleness?

 

What Happened To Purity Culture?

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Really, the question should be what happened to the image of purity? What happened to the image of chastity? What happened to the image of virginity? Who took it upon themselves to change the meaning of these words in the first place? The short answer is that a culture of family idolatry derailed purity. Take a look at the intentions of the two men who created the whole idea of abstinence pledges and created the largest purity movement in this country, True Love Waits. The two family men who started it had one agenda – the future marriages of their teenage daughters. In all honesty, the name of the campaign should have been “True Love Waits For Marriage,” because marriage was assumed to be the ultimate goal. So what happens when teenagers wait and wait . . . and are still waiting past youth groups and pizza parties? Disillusionment. Do they wait? Why do you think the age of first marriage is increasing? In the absence of a Christian ethic, why would any man sacrifice his entire life for something he can get in 10 minutes on any street corner? Actually, what happened with all the “pretend” waiting is that the whole marriage/family worship culture came down like a house of cards, falling flat on its face in a cesspool of gay marriage, pornography, and Ashley Madisons. A single man waiting on marriage to have sex? Why, that’s funnier than a 40 year old virgin. But that’s where the family idolatry church culture has led us. While they kissed their babies and bowed down to the golden image of children, their single adult men were out on the streets putting more notches under their belts. After all, it’s not a marriage unless they make it official in a courthouse. Right? I always laugh when I hear church leaders say, “Oh, but marriage is not respected like it used to be.” “Look at all these good Christian women with no decent men to marry.” Churches – You killed marriage by placing it on a pedestal of idol worship. You killed marriage when you failed to show respect to people who chose celibate life. It’s a medical fact that a person can kill themselves by consuming too much of anything, even water. It’s also a fact that the church overdosed on sex and still doesn’t even know why it’s close to death. Even while congregations sit in “family worship centers,” they have no clue they are sitting in their own coffins.

So what’s left of purity culture today? What are people saying about it? Unfortunately, if a person is not Catholic and female, they don’t have a voice on the subject. So we are left with the same old age and gender stereotypes we have dealt with for the past 250 years. Have you heard of a Protestant conference on celibacy lately? As far as I know, there are no other 50+ year-old men “coming out” as virgins. Who wants that kind of disrespect? Honestly, it would have been easier for me if I had came out as a homosexual Mormon married to three men with a child by a previous marriage. Just think – If I were a 20-something Catholic girl, I could be lining up my next book signing tour, scheduling my next speaking engagement, mailing out T-shirts, writing my next advice column, etc.; all the while looking over my shoulder for Romeo. Oh, but I’m content with who I am. I know I make a lot of people uncomfortable. For those of us who have chosen the celibate life, I think challenging the status quo is part of our responsibility. Whose going to take the babies off the pedestals and put equal attention on people who are homeless, in prison, disabled, hungry?

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Kim Peek, The Real Rain Man

I guess you could say I’m old school. While I do think we’ve made a lot of advances with high tech and the internet, I think we’ve also taken several steps backwards. One of the biggest steps we’ve taken backwards is allowing words to become more important than actions. We have, quite literally, allowed words to mean anything we want them too. Like the word chastity I talked about in the last post. There are many people writing about chastity today. They wax eloquently about chastity being both for men and women, for young and old, for those pursuing marriage and those who are not, and about it having a spiritual meaning. But when you look at the actions behind those words, their messages falls apart. Inconsistencies sabotage messages. That is especially true in Christian ethics because the unbelieving public is scrutinizing everything we do. For instance, I could write a book about chastity for men over 50, “Chastity For Gentlemen.” I could build it up on my blog and get the best publisher in the world. But what if I put a picture of a teenage girl on the cover holding a Bible under one arm and her boyfriend under the other? I think whatever message was in the book would be defeated by the cover, don’t you? It’s sort of like a politician you build up in your mind and then find out he had an affair with his secretary and paid her off to keep quite. Whatever image was in your mind is now history.

Consistency is a virtue that is integral to honesty and character. Yes, we grow and change as individuals and we love our freedoms and artistic expressions, as inconsistent as they may be. But the one constant that falls outside the world and must be defended is the Bible. God was the same a million years ago as he is today. He does not change. His word does not change. Not only are the virtues in the Bible consistently the same, we must be consistent in defending them. If you wrote a book on the value of human life, would you put Jeffrey Dahmer on the cover? You may say that the title of a book is still words. Yes, but those words speak louder than the words inside the book. The nonbelieving world is looking for inconsistencies in the Christian message. It’s one of their number one weapons. As a matter of fact, it’s the reason the U.S. Supreme Court just condoned same sex marriage. “Those hypocrites. They don’t have any room to talk. Look at all their divorces. Look at their live-in arrangements.” Church people preaching one thing from the pulpit every Sunday, but living another thing during the rest of the week. That is the fastest track to moral destruction. The same thing applies to barrier-breaking chastity. If we’re going to defend its biblical meaning and take down the divisions of age and gender, we must be consistent. That means it would be wise if we didn’t associate chastity with teenagers, girls, beauty pageant queens, dresses, purity balls, Cinderellas, Boazes, weddings, pink T-shirts, the Catholic church, priests, homosexuality, schools, or even marriage. You may be saying, “But John, chastity is mostly for teenage girls.” That’s the problem. We have GOT to take “most” out of our vocabulary. It is not part of God’s vocabulary. It’s a lame word. All it does is reinforce stereotypes. You may also be saying, “What’s wrong with encouraging girls to live chaste lives?” There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. But the bigger wrong is that, by leaving out guys, you’re not telling the whole story of chastity. Can you find anything in the Bible that narrows down that virtue to one gender? I can’t either. We all know that a partial truth is worse than a one hundred percent lie. That is especially true when it comes to children. You may be one who believes that young minds are not impressionable. I don’t believe that. There are many, many young people today who have no guidance on sexuality at home and turn to their friends and the internet to find out what is right and wrong. Even though it is the fault of their parents, that does not give us the right to turn a blind eye. All of us are having an impact on at least one younger person, whether we know it or not. It could be someone at your job, at church, at school, wherever. They are looking for truth and consistency. Once you do something, you can’t take it back. The same thing is true for stories. Once you put them out there, how do you control who hears them or reads them? You can’t. They become part of our legacies.

Consider other people who do not fit stereotypes, like Kim Peek, the inspiration for the character played by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Even though he is severely disabled, scores well below average on IQ tests, and can’t button his shirts – he has read over 12,000 books and remembers everything about them. He reads two pages at once in about 3 seconds, one with his left eye and one with his right. He can recall facts and trivia in about 15 different subjects, from history to geography. He also remembers every musical piece he’s ever heard and can play them back on the piano. So, what pigeon hole would you put Kim in?  As far as his legacy, do you think his actions speak louder than his words?

Celibacy – Time Out Of Season

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The ruins of the Bagrati Cathedral, pre-restoration, painted by Aleksandr Fyodorovich Peters

Those of us who grew up in church know that marriage is supposed to be a sacred covenant between a man and woman. Married people’s identities are wrapped up in commitment. They’re committed to each other, to their children, to their family, to their school, to their church, etc. And of course today with the same sex marriage controversy, the family values flag is held up higher and higher to represent the highest form of Christian values. But where do singles get their identity? What commitments have they made? What affirms their adulthood? What responsibilities have they been given? After college and beyond, I’m afraid singles get their identify from the same place married people do – from the county clerk’s office in the local courthouse. Indeed, the absence of a marriage license is what defines a single in today’s church culture. It’s the epitome of political correctness. However, people called to celibacy are the epitome of political incorrectness. They cannot be defined by something they do not have. They have been given a special charisma, a spiritual gift that is just as important as all the others in the workings of the Holy Spirit. Instead of being contained in seasons, it survives through eternity. And the gift of celibacy usually comes with other special abilities. It’s not just an empty vacuum floating around spreading sprinkles of love and contentment. Even though I’m not a Catholic priest and haven’t taken vows, my consecrated celibacy is just as much a commitment to Christ as a couple’s commitment to each other in marriage.

Consecrated virginity is the oldest recognized form of consecrated life in the Catholic Church. It’s much older than their religious orders. It was discontinued in the Middle Ages because of the rise of monastic communities. But it was revived again in the 1950s with Vatican II. I find it ironic that women who are members of the Catholic Church’s Order of Consecrated Virgins today do not live in a cloistered community, but out in the real world. They do not wear habits or veils and do not refer to themselves as sisters. So if Martin Luther were alive today, what would he be protesting against? He wouldn’t find them in a monastery. He couldn’t find them in churches. He couldn’t identify them on the streets. And if the Catholic Church believes all their priests have the gift of celibacy and are not forcing it on anybody else, what are Protestants protesting today? The idea of not marrying and having sex? That seems weird. If they are protesting extended adolescence and delayed marriage, then their theology is not grounded in the Bible. Martin Luther eventually left the monastery and got married. But one man cannot undo what God ordained. Does that sound like marriage language? It’s supposed to. What was a spiritual gift 2000 years ago is just as much a spiritual gift today. Unless a church has identified members with the supernatural gift of celibacy, they need to leave open its door every time they discuss the vague issue of “singleness,” especially if they refer to 1 Corinthians 7; even more so if they might have a member who is discerning a call to celibacy. I’m not aware of a church that has done this. Maybe it’s time they should. I dare think what would happen if churches expended as much energy on building up lifestyles that are biblical as they do on battling lifestyles that are evil. What would happen if they found out there were singles who lived holy lives outside traditional seasons of singleness of marriage? Who are doing what Martin Luther could not do? It would probably blow their minds. Look at it this way: I don’t argue with my spouse all the time.

My friend Justin Campbell, who blogs at More Than Don’t Have Sex, recently wrote a post about how celibacy is not a season. I completely agree. We should not use the word single as a catch-all for everyone who is not married. And this should be especially true for churches. Yes, single requires no thought. Don’t have a marriage license? That’s simple. You’re single. Single is easy. Comfortable. It’s politically correct, right? Everybody wants to be married, don’t they? The answer to that is no. That’s what makes sex the idol it is today. Our society makes room for nothing else but marriage. Young people who have the potential to live fulfilling lives of celibacy get no encouragement or counseling and end up drawn into the homosexual lifestyle. I’ve seen this firsthand. Yes, you can point to Paul in the Bible and go back to the Old Testament and read about Jeremiah. But their witness has all but disappeared from the face of the earth. The younger generation today have to see it to believe it. What they get in the church instead is another seminar on marriage and another sermon on the glories of children, with maybe a story about Lottie Moon thrown in every few years.

So churches, the fact that you don’t know who we are and don’t have a tidy label for us is not our fault. It’s yours. You have spent years decrying the evils of celibacy and linking it to homosexuality. You have spent years telling guys to man-up and telling girls to stay pure and procreate. In doing so, you threw all celibates under the bus, including Christ himself. You are the ones who need to grow up. You need to get your language together and be consistent. I’m as much a “single” as a husband is just a guy who is having state sanctioned sex. That’s right. Since my identity is just a pitiful old man who hasn’t found the right woman to turn him on, I consider marriage licenses no more sacred than a fishing license. There are a few exceptions, of course, like Justin Campbell who accurately points out:

“Paul essentially says that there are those who should get married and those who shouldn’t. He says some have one gift and others another gift. But the gift he is talking about is not the gift of singleness, he is talking about the gift of celibacy.”

Yes indeed, there are single people waiting on a mate. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In time though, that waiting could term into long term celibacy. It’s an important thing to discern, but I don’t think there are any age deadlines. And married people are not going to be able to help with that. What is critical is leading a chaste life. That way, you’re prepared if you say yes to marriage or yes to celibacy. It’s really a requirement for both lifestyles. I’ll never forget the day I met an elderly man in the grocery store. He was in a wheelchair and I was trying to help him get a carton of milk. He asked me where I went to church and if I was married. When I told him I thought the Lord had called me to single life, he said: “Really? Well, I am too. Yes I divorced my third wife last year I’ve been as content as all get out.”

I think the main thing people miss about 1 Corinthians 7 is that Paul is not describing a person’s present circumstances or pondering the merits of married life vs. single life. He isn’t hanging “singles” signs on Sunday School doors. He is describing the reality of the only two lifestyle choices God gives to every Christian – marriage and celibacy. Given by him and freely accepted by us. Marriage can’t be urged by parents at an early age because they’re afraid their children are going to fornicate. Marrying a particular person can’t be seen as a last resort because there are no other prospects. Marriage can’t be assumed the norm by youth pastors when they could have a student with the disposition to celibacy. Likewise, celibacy can’t be forced on priests who do not have that gift. I have several Catholic friends who have accepted the call to celibacy. I support them. Most everything I have read on the subject has been written by Catholic writers. The Protestants remain mute on the subject, like they have for the last 500 years.

I find it ironic that Protestants have forgotten that their entire identity is wrapped up in protesting celibacy. The only celibacy Christians of the 16th century knew anything about was institutionalized in the Catholic Church and expressed through vows taken by priests, monks, nuns, and other religious. Protestants today don’t even know what they are protesting about. They can’t fathom a commitment to something so radical as never marrying. It’s even more ironic that Martin Luther himself, the leader of the Protestant reformation, was a monk at one time and acknowledged those with the celibate gift:

“The third category consists of those spiritually rich and exalted persons, bridled by the grace of God, who . . . voluntarily remain celibate . . . Such persons are rare, not one in a thousand, for they are a special miracle of God. No one should venture on such a life unless he be especially called by God, like Jeremiah [16:2], or unless he finds God’s grace to be so powerful within him that the divine injunction, “Be fruitful and multiply,” has no place in him. (p. 21)”

Celibacy is a long term committment, not a season of short-term singleness. Those who have said no to marriage and have consecrated their lives to the service of Christ are committed for life. Even though we may never see it reflected in church ministry groups, there is more difference between the lives of married people and consecrated celibates than between male and female human beings. My unique committment to Christ is not just for a season. Are people committed to each other in marriage for a season? More importantly, is the only meaning marriage has in the 21st century derived from the county courthouse or does it have any more sacred meaning? If its meaning goes beyond a state-sanctioned marriage license, does the meaning of singleness go beyond the absence of such a license? Does it go beyond “extended adolescence?” Does it go beyond seasons of waiting? If sex can be consecrated to God in marriage, can chastity be consecrated to God in celibacy? I think it can. And I hope this encourages others who feel they have no identity in the church. Even though our biblical identities may have been lost with time, out witnesses continues to endure.

http://justinmcampbell.net/2015/03/24/celibacy-is-not-a-season/#comments

https://books.google.com/books?id=1bLvAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA227&lpg=PA227&dq=%22consider+early+marriage%22+%22denny+burk%22&source=bl&ots=6ReNLIpE2W&sig=ZwBrqATTjs2rnjnBfq_6DY4Sgog&hl=en&sa=X&ei=eF4ZVdXZFsilNun4gegP&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22consider%20early%20marriage%22%20%22denny%20burk%22&f=false

http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/08/23/why-arent-emerging-adults-emerging-as-adults/

http://consecratedvirgins.org/prepare-FAQ

The Land Of The Gray

Photo by Charles Bonham

Photo by Charles Bonham

I think everyone would agree that Americans are a people of comfort, people who will sacrifice anything for convenience. We also like choices – menu choices, lifestyle choices, education choices, religious choices, multiple choices, etc. We don’t like to choose between A and B. We like to choose between A, B, C, D, and E. We don’t like to choose between black and white. We like to choose from an infinite spectrum of gray. But can our preference in making decisions be carried over to the spiritual realm? Hardly. The land of the gray is not compatible with Christianity. Unfortunately, society today doesn’t even believe in good and evil, but in a vast expanse of uncertainty where sin has been replaced by imperfect examples of good and there are no standards. Hence, the popular concept of gradualism has entered the lexicon of sexual ethics where everything is 50 shades of gray. How did we arrive here? I think much of it can be traced to valuing the world-centered nature of marriage above the heavenly nature of celibacy, family greed above self-sacrifice. Without the perspective of celibacy, marriage devolves into a greed-centered dust cloud of power and pleasure. One without the other is like day without night, ocean without desert, or a body without gravity.

The same has happened to biblical standards. The Ten Commandments have become ideals floating in space; subject to change based on a person’s skin color and socioeconomic status. There’s no right and wrong, only shades of gray on a continuum of relativity, with banners of comfort and acceptance leading the way. And there can be no positive reference to the quaint ideals of virginity and chastity, only mercy and forgiveness and stories of brokenness. Political correctness thrives in a land of gray where marriage has no meaning. Instead of symbolizing God’s marriage to the church, we have a society today where marriage means no more than a free ticket to sex. We have a church that is lost in a land of gray, much like the people of Israel wandering in the land of Egypt. We have a world where sexual sin is met with comfort and affirmation; because political correctness requires a word of hope, never a word of condemnation. Conversion from a life of sin has been cast aside because there is really no sin in the land of the gray. Only redemption. As John Lennon said: “No hell below us. Above us only sky.” We are currently seeing that in the same sex marriage debate. The church is no longer turning to the Bible for answers. They’re turning to opinion polls and surveys. The tragedy is that the lights of evangelism cannot be seen if they have been dimmed to match the gray of the world.

A lot has been said recently about “all or nothing” thinking, especially as it relates to sexual purity and saving sex for marriage. The truth is that the idea originated in the Bible: “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 (Matthew 6:24).” That’s what you call all or nothing. A comfortable area of gradualism and relativism does not exist between serving God and serving Satan. Likewise, a comfortable area of gradualism does not exist between marriage and celibacy, between the affairs of the world and the affairs of God.

Meanwhile, the church – ever so afraid of voicing judgments of value – offers up another dose of appreciation, affirmation, love, and acceptance. “Come one, come all, receive blessings of hope.” Many church leaders have even wandered so far out into the gray area that they consider all relationships virtuous and all committed relationships biblically ordained, whether they’re between a man and woman or a man and a panda. If it feels good, it must be right. And they can’t point out wrongdoing – only positive values they perceive to hold any semblance of a Christian value. Unfortunately, the common core curriculum has come to our churches, where everybody’s opinion is of equal value and all definitions are up for grabs. Indeed, a marriage idolatry society has no clear definition of marriage – only shades of gray between strangers and lovers, meetups and hookups. It only knows how to take, not receive. If you can relate to it, it must have a common good. Many religious scholars today consider “relationality” a virtue in itself because they can’t fathom life outside marriage. They cannot comprehend the binary opposite of marriage – the solitary nature of celibacy. Instead of two clear lifestyle choices of marriage and celibacy, moral relativism allows for multiple choices – homosexuality, cohabitation, polygamy, common law marriage, divorce, remarriage, etc. Whatever arrangement feels good, just raise your hand when the church takes the next survey. After all, marriage is just a piece of paper you get at the courthouse, right? With no definition or defense of marriage, attributes of it have been counterfeited and used to support sinful lifestyles. For example, same sex marriage has been defended because it offers a level of stability, commitment, public bond, deep affection, mutual aid, sacrifice, and responsibility to offspring. Sound familiar? But no one can point out wrongdoing, only the positive aspects of “imperfect” relationships. “Ah, look at that deep level of commitment. Can we get another amen!” Just two animals bumping against each other in a cage and – presto – you’ve got a marriage. Bump again and you’ve got a family.

The same thing has happened to the virtue of purity. It has devolved into a gray area of dirty tape and damaged flowers, worthlessness and shame. You would think those who advocate purity before marriage today were mercenary terrorists, out to destroy the world. Those evil virgins . . . for the love of God! Christianity is not a club offering varying degrees of membership. It is, like virginity, all or nothing. Christ is either accepted or rejected. This is where human sexuality transects the sacred, where two become one flesh. If parents can’t pass these values to their children, it’s not everybody else’s responsibility to make them comfortable. It’s not everybody else’s responsibility to dim the lights to a neutral gray.

Straw men accusations of shame and worthlessness thrive on gray areas in youth culture. But sadly these areas become more black and white when forgiveness doesn’t relieve them of the responsibilities of children they’ve brought into the world, when their STDs are not cured, when they don’t have the money to pay for college, and when their memories are not forgotten. Most tragic is when they realize their sexual history will permanently affect (not doom) their capacity for intimacy in a future marriage, when the tape metaphor makes a little more sense. Maybe it’s time for a little more shame and duct tape to clear the gray area out of chastity and reinforce the permanent nature of the sexual union.

http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2013/09/09/just-dont-say-it-chewed-gum-spit-cups-and-duct-tape/

Rape/sex abuse is not addressed on this blog.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day 2015

fetus

President Reagan signed the National Sanctity of Human Life proclamation in 1984 to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It is remembered every year on the third Sunday in January. A tragedy celebrated. But should the sanctification of human life even start with the thought of murdering a child? Should it start with the decision of whether or not to have an abortion? Should it start with the decision of whether or not to use contraception? Should it start with whether or not to give money to a crisis pregnancy center? Should it start with the testimony of someone who was nearly aborted? Absolutely not. The value we place on human life begins with self control, with man having enough dignity and civility to honor the women he comes in contact with. It begins when men realize that sexual ethics do not hinge on a woman saying yes or no. Men must place the same value on themselves as they do potential sons and daughters – as they do life itself. By surrendering control of sexual desire over to passion, man puts himself a little lower than the animals instead of a little lower than the angels. That’s why sexual assault and rape are not just isolated crimes. They are crimes against humanity. As tragic as the Holocaust was with an estimated 6,000,000 deaths, abortion has been even a greater holocaust in this country with over 50,000,000 deaths since Roe v. Wade in 1973.

When you think about the miracle involved with creating life, you begin to see how human sexuality is at the heart of Christianity. The two are intertwined so tightly you can’t see light between them. When the value of human life is diminished, so is Christianity itself, along with all of civilized society. That is what we are witnessing now in America today. Man is unable to respect himself because he can’t respect life. As Mother Teresa asked: “If a mother can kill her own child, what is there to stop you and me from killing each other?” Actually, there’s not anything. The potential for new life is what balances the boat of humanity.

We need to go back to the basic question, one that most Americans can’t agree on – When does life begin? Don’t we need to know the answer to that before we pay heed to the sanctification of life? I think so. In my opinion, life begins at conception. It does not start when a fetus reaches a certain size, takes its first breath, becomes viable, reaches a certain gestational age, etc. All of these are manmade legalities to obfuscate the responsibilities of life. In addition, it is our responsibility to see that all sex is open to life. That’s something that many Christians have a hard time accepting because . . . it requires us to risk the creation of life – even when it is inconvenient or unaffordable. Taking contraception out of the picture requires us to surrender control of our lives to God alone. Our plans for the future, finances, job status, education, and social standing itself are put completely in the hands of God when man and woman are joined as one and jointly risk making a new life. When the potential for new life is taken away with contraception and abortion, mankind denies God’s creation of life.

So men, we demonstrate the sanctity of human life every time we are in the company of a woman. We have the choice of either treating her like an object of pleasure or a creature of God to cherish and protect. And likewise, Christian women have the responsibility of treating men with respect, as joint creators of life. And we all have the responsibility of discussing sexual ethics, especially in our churches.

So this Sunday, I hope your church does more to commemorate Sanctity of Life Day than reviewing Moses and the Ten Commandments or bringing in guest speakers to incite drama with horror stories of near abortions. Hollywood can do that. I recommend that we commemorate Sanctify of Life Day by honoring self control and putting more focus on positive reinforcement for our young people – and a lot less on coathangers, contraception, and abortion. Honor the single men and women who understand the value of our creation, have not had sex outside marriage, and have not gambled with human life. Honor those who have not bought condoms or paid for abortions and the women who have not bought contraception pills or rendered their bodies sterile with surgical procedures. Embarrassing, you say? Look at the price we’ve paid for comfort and feeling good. Life is so much more than that.