Photo montage by Kristoffer Relander. Paris, France.
The Bible presents two lifestyle choices – marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy. As Apostle Paul so clearly explained in 1 Corinthians 7, we can either choose marriage and the concerns of the world or celibacy and the concerns of the Lord. If we take his words seriously, we understand there is more difference between family values and celibate values than there is between male and female. But since we live in a pagan culture where it is unnatural for anyone to live a celibate life, that leaves only one option open in the minds of many – marriage and family. But what happens when a person doesn’t feel called to marriage and at the same time doesn’t feel they can faithfully live out a celibate life? The answer is quite simple. Family values become family idolatry. They choose a lifestyle that looks like marriage, but is rooted in hedonism. Look around and you’ll see plenty of marriage counterfeits – same sex marriage, homosexuality, domestic partnership, lifetime companionship, cohabitation, etc. Pairing off with . . . anything is the ultimate goal. Today, a person must not appear to be alone in public, or there could be dire consequences. Already, single people – especially men – are being banned in public places all over the world – Abu Dhabi beach areas, Israeli resorts, British parks. On the news recently was Puxton Park in London: “Puxton Park, a family-friendly theme park in a coastal town west of London, has a policy of not allowing single men or women through its gates in order to protect the children inside.” Quiet honestly, this only confirmed my feeling of not being welcomed in any “family friendly” spaces – especially those found in churches. I’m sure they will follow suit soon enough. After all, the people you find in theme parks are the same ones you find in churches. I can see a sign on the church door already: “Notice, no unaccompanied people beyond this point.” Of course, there will be a sign on the other door that reads: “We accept and affirm all lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders.” Actually, that’s where we’re at today with the focus on the family. It’s just morphed into focus on sex, of any kind.
In the midst of singing praises to the family and sending their youth off to kids camp, the church forgot two major things – the definition of a biblical marriage and its dependency on biblical celibacy. Discerning between those two lifestyles became nonexistent when marriage became the norm. Consider this: Celibacy is 50% of the Christian lifestyle coin. How many sermons have you heard on it? How many have you heard that addressed marriage, the role of husbands and wives, two becoming one flesh, the husband being the head of the household, etc.? I would estimate 99.95% of Protestant pastors have never mentioned celibacy from a pulpit. I’m not saying that half of all sermons should be on celibacy. I’m saying that it’s sanctity, role, and social significance must be given the same honor and respect as marriage, beyond an obligatory sermon every 5-10 years. Because words are meaningless. That is not happening today.
That’s one of the major reasons biblical marriage disintegrated. Without the check on family greed, self-preservation, and sexual indulgence that celibacy provided, marriage became no more than a civil contract, a tax break, and ticket to sexual fulfillment. Without the balance of the Lord’s concerns with the world’s concerns, marriage dissolved into state-sanctioned greed and sex worship any way you can get it – as seen with the government’s recent acceptance of same sex marriage with all the standard tax breaks and benefits. It should be clear now to all theologians and students of the Bible that Christianity and civilization itself is grounded in sexual ethics. And these include both celibate and family values. For a family man or woman, the concerns of God do take a back seat to the concerns of the world and that is often a necessary compromise (1 Cor 7:34).
That is where celibacy comes in because it does not have to compromise. What the family may have wished they could have done if they had the time and resources and guarantee of safety, solitary individuals are often able to do, even risking their own lives. They are able to value all of creation on the same level with no conflicts of interests found in blood ties or economic barriers. More importantly, they’re able to value humankind with unconditional love. Their love is not limited by financially responsibilities. In addition, celibate people are able to see beyond the pressures of socio-political conformity and are able to provide a witness that is free from the bonds of sexual perversion and addiction and stereotypes associated with the American dream. They are not compelled to keep up with the Joneses. Oh, but it’s so rare, you say? Is anybody qualified to tell God how many people he needs on earth to perform a certain task? It could be one in ten people. Or it could be one in a million people. Do you really think God needs to worry himself with numbers and calculators? I think not. It is us who need to be concerned about performing those tasks.
Some people think celibacy is especially unfair to women, since they only have a limit number of childbearing years. Instead of being a repressive religious rule, the choice of celibacy is actually able to free women from the repression of objectification and sexual slavery. It is ultimate freedom, beyond that heralded in the era of feminism. It frees women from having to choose between a complementarian or an egalitarian role in marriage, a traditional or nontraditional role in society, having children or not having children. She doesn’t have to worry about patriarchy or hierarchies. It restores her dignity. Celibacy after the ascension of Christ stands in stark contrast to the patriarchal system seen in the Old Testament under Mosaic Law where daughters were owned by fathers, handed off to the ownership of husbands, and expected to produce heirs for the assurance of a man’s lineage. Celibacy testifies that man’s lineage is limited to this earth, that men and women are of equal worth, and that there are no marriages in heaven. It transcends any traditions found in Greco-Roman culture or 21st century America and reminds the human brain of a spiritual reality. Jesus was totally human. He had a human brain. Although he didn’t have a sexual relationship, he was a sexual being. The fact that the New Testament writers did not include these details for 21st century speculation is a testament to their divine revelation. Modern writers would have already ascertained that Jesus had a dozen gay lovers, another secret marriage to Mary Magadalene’s sister, and had been arrested once for possession of pornography.
One of the big problems today is the belief that celibacy takes a negative view of sex and that it denies a person of sexuality. How then can celibacy make sense in a world that worships sex? The answer is that it does not take a negative of sex. Just the opposite – It shows a reverence to the body that transcends our understanding of human sexuality. Celibacy is able to value a baby more than any pro life organization. It reminds us that a sexual relationship is not necessary to live a fulfilling and sexual life. In addition, it places the human construct of time under the light of eternal life. It takes the predictability and rhythm out of seasons. In short, it point us to heaven and eternal life with Christ.