Excellent piece by Jackson Watts (I omitted the footnotes; you can visit the link “The Scandal of Singleness” to view them); click the “more” link to read the rest:
(Link): The Scandal of Singleness
Sometimes others know us better than we know ourselves. Though the world sees through a darkened lens, occasionally it observes something in Christians worth considering. Recently, a New York Times has done just that in exploring the bias in evangelicalism against hiring unmarried pastors .
Erik Eckholm recounts the case of one experienced pastor unable to find work after searching since 2009. According to Eckholm, most evangelical churches will never seriously consider a single pastor for fear that (a) he cannot relate well to married couples, or (b) his sexual orientation is in question. While it would be easy to target search committees for their myopia, the data shows that this bias extends throughout many evangelical denominations.
This trend represents the concerns of Christians about the state of marriage in America. Many publications have noted the fact that unmarried adults are now the largest demographic in America. According to the last census, nearly 50% of American adults are unmarried—the most in history. It is in this vein that evangelical theologian Al Mohler responds to Eckholm’s findings: “Both the logic of Scripture and the centrality of marriage in society,” he said, justify “the strong inclination of congregations to hire a man who is not only married but faithfully married” .
So, is this bias against singles, especially in ministry, justified? Is the privileged status of marriage over singleness Scriptural? Is singleness as scandalous as some imply? I contend that the church’s witness is hindered insomuch as it ignores or belittles faithful expressions of singleness in the church.
Biblical-Theological Reflections on Singleness and Ministry
A biblical account of family life challenges our 21st century, conservative assumptions .
Consider these provocative episodes related to family and service to God that emerge from the Old Testament: Moses was unmarried until age 40. Abraham and Sarah were childless until their nineties. Isaac raised two contentious sons, neither of whom modeled “family values.” Ruth initially chose singleness in order to serve her mother-in-law. Elijah and Elisha both appeared to have been single. Hosea married an unrepentant whore to make a theological point. And Jeremiah was called to be single and preach for 50 years to a non-repentant people. In these peculiar episodes we find certain facts conspicuously absent such as the timing of marriage and number of children.
Yet these and others are assumptions that we often hold as Christians. We must remember that expectations for family life ought not come from cultural accretions; instead they come from Scriptural imperatives and norms.
While Scripture reveals much about well-ordered family life, no heaven-given mold is given that aligns with many evangelicals’ expectations on the marital status of church members and ministers.
Consider that in our fallen world, a Gospel-centered church will likely consist of young singles, widows, divorceés, and couples.
Further, invoking Scripture to support a married-only model for church leadership is odd since Jesus Himself and the Apostle Paul do not exemplify this model (This is ironic since Jesus was the church’s founder, and Paul its greatest missionary).
Consider the facts: Jesus was born to an unwed mother [a fact that followed Him throughout His ministry (Jn. 8:41)]. He lived a chaste, celibate, single life. When He addressed the topic of family He frequently said that family divides loyalties to God.
Most famously He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26).
He warned that whoever loved their children more than Him could not be his disciple (Mt. 10:37b).
Consider also that this single Savior taught that there will be no marriage in the life to come (Mt. 22:23-28).
The Apostle Paul also ministered as a single man . He offers the clearest words concerning singleness when he states that singles are able to serve God more freely than married people.
Thus, “singleness, like salvation itself, is an open call to live a distinctive life for the sake of the kingdom of God” .
Paul even calls married Christians to embody “marital forgetfulness” (1 Cor. 7:29). This does not mean that they neglect their spouses, but they allow the Word and Spirit, rather than the world, to inform their marriage and ministry.
Under the New Covenant, the family of God is privileged over flesh-and-blood ties (e.g., Mt. 12:46-50). When we value biological relations over spiritual commitments, we forget the example of Jesus and His followers. Some were unmarried, but others had wives and lived as if they had none.
Either can issue forth in witness: Marriage shows we are still part of an age in which God’s blessings, which are rooted in creation, abound; yet singleness reminds us that we are in a spiritual age inaugurated in Christ, awaiting consummation .
Oliver O’Donovan contends that this was the future hope to which the early church bore witness by fostering the belief that both marriage and singleness were both worthy forms of life .
Thus, marriage is not essential “in the building of God’s people in the new covenant as it was in the old covenant.” Instead, it “visibly heralds the coming of the new age” .
Singles in the Church Today
Many with concerns about single pastors or members often concede that their concerns are practical. In other words, they do not deny the biblical affirmation of singleness. They object on other grounds, such as the need for a companion in ministry.
Yet in this gesture they ignore how Scripture’s affirmation is not a concession. Singleness actually facilitates the church’s ability to be the church and testify to the truth, regardless of our initial misconceptions. Thus, Scripture upholds both marriage and singleness. And we must heed it. Ignoring Scripture ignores God—the one who understands the church better than we do.
Hypocrisy can plague the church’s witness on the issue of singleness and marriage as well, however. When churches denigrate singles, they elicit critical inspection from the world.
And particularly since nearly half of all “Christian” marriages end in divorce, we mustn’t be hasty to crown all marrieds with the wreath of wisdom and maturity.
Thus, as it relates to Scriptures affirmations of singleness and its warning against hypocrisy, we must remember that our church’s testimony is either light to a dark world, or reproach to the Gospel (e.g., 1 Tim. 3:7; 1 Pet. 2:12; 4:15).
Unfortunately, many churches exacerbate these problems. They tailor services toward singles, perpetuating distinctions between singles and marrieds that the Bible is slow to make.
Scripture demonstrates that everyone, regardless of marital status, can distinctly mirror the truth about Christ’s kingdom, and contribute to the body. Ironically, this diverse body is also called the family of God who serve and worship together in the New Testament.
Still, other troubling ironies abound. For all churches do to make seekers comfortable, the absence of a robust affirmation of biblical singleness is strange. As Lauren Winner candidly observes, “It can be dispiriting to sit alone in a church seemingly full of married couples, and many single people – generally happy, well-adjusted folks – feel utterly uncomfortable in church” .
Can’t the single pastor identify with the growing number of singles as much as the married pastor can identify with marrieds?
On the other hand, singles are often encouraged to pursue overseas missions, while ministry at home is simultaneously dismissed. They leave the familiar to minister in a strange and foreign land.
Yet this single servant is unacceptable to the search committees of evangelical churches.
It seems“[T]he only call of God that Western Christians fear more than the call to missions is the call to a life of celibacy” .
Churches should envision singleness as an asset in ministry, not a hindrance.
As one medieval theologian once said, celibacy should be seen as “vacancy for God” . Healthy singles depend wholly on God, not a spouse.
The call to chastity is just as radical to the married as the single. The difference is that the latter has a context where physical intimacy is appropriate. The former can remain chaste and celibate by the power of the Spirit and the accountability of the church, for they are reminded in their singleness that the church is their primary family .
Certainly many Christian singles are immature. They are often non-committal in relationships. They use their disposable income to travel more, and thus it is difficult to put them in places of service.
However, even if we assume that all singles are this way, this simply heightens the need for the church to teach and model a biblical view of marriage, and also of singleness.
Ignoring the problem will not bring balance to the church.
Pastors, teachers, and faithful singles and married couples should befriend, mentor, and love their singles as a valued part of the body.
Is singleness really scandalous? Is it always indicative of delayed commitment—“keeping one’s options open” or “avoiding being tied down”? When singleness is seen and practiced within the frame of Scripture, it is sanctified. The church should readily acknowledge the legitimacy of singleness. As Stanley Hauerwas says,
[S]ingleness becomes a sign that the church lives by hope rather than biological heirs, that brothers and sisters come not through natural generation but through baptism, that the future of the world and the significance of our future is ultimately up to God rather than us….Ultimately, there is…only one good reason to get married or to stay single, namely, that this has something to do with our discipleship .
(Link): Salvation Army Bans Duggar / Quivering Cult’s ‘Retreat’ (Called ‘Get Them Married’) that Promoted Arranged Marriages for Teen Girls – Quivering Advocates Are Anti-Adult Singleness and Anti-Celibacy