Church: Don’t set up your “singles”

Here’s the problem with teh interwebz. For every great article/blog post/comment you read, there are a million not-great ones that you have to sift through to get there.

Sometimes you don’t even have to go looking for them. More often than not it appears in your Facebook feed. That’s what happened a few days ago. This article was shared by a fb friend, as despite knowing their good intentions in sharing it, this article is so wrong it’s not even funny.

Before I tell you why, let me be up front and say as soon as I saw the title of this article (Church: set up your singles) I knew I was going to hate it for 2 reasons – 1) a ‘single’ is an individually wrapped piece of cheese. I am a person. The whole Christian world should STOP. CALLING. ME. A. SINGLE. 2) The article wasn’t called “Church: encourage all people to follow Jesus, regardless of their marital status”.

There’s too many things wrong with the theology of this article to possibly mention all of them, but let me tell the 3 most discouraging and dangerous errors.

1. Is singleness good?

A friend asked me recently, “If God said it is not good for man to be alone, but all he does is good, is my singleness actually good?” Sometimes the best answer to difficult questions is to just say, “I don’t know but he is good,” and so I did.

If someone asks you if their singleness is good the correct answer is yes! I know this because God has told us it is good.

1 Corinthians 7:7 says

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

The 2 gifts Paul is talking about are marriage and singleness. (see the comments on this post for more detail on the Greek of this verse). Singleness is a gift. The Greek word used is charisma (literally ‘grace gift’) and is the same word used in chapter 12 about spiritual gifts. Singleness is a good gift from a good God. Of course, sometimes it feels like the kind of gift you get and give a fake smile in response, while inwardly thinking ‘what do I want this for? Can I exchange it for what she has, please?”

That’s exactly the reason I need to be reminded it’s good. When I’m finding it hard, and sad, and bitter I need my Christian family to remind me that God is good and he wants good things for me, and that even when I hate it, yes, my singleness is good.

(For those who are single, this what I want you to know about your gift.)

2. Is marriage a glimpse of the eternal marriage?

Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by helping them get married.

Yes, it is. But in the same way singleness is itself a glimpse into eternity.

Andrew Cameron says it best

Jesus’ new teaching arises from the new future. It turns out that human marriages are not reinstated in the new future, because they point to the ultimate ‘marriage’ – a final union between Christ and his people (Eph 5:29-32; Rev 19:6-8; 21:2, 9-11; cf 22:17). But we need a little more theological detective work to determine how chaste singleness points to the new future.

In the new future, John looks and sees ‘a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the lamb’ (Rev 7:9). The significance of normal social identity markers (nation, tribe, people and language) has melted away. The markers remain visible – but people now gather on a new basis other than ties of culture genes or kinship. These structure social life now, but not then. As theologian Oliver O’Donovan puts it ‘Humanity in the presence of God will know a community in which the fidelity of love which marriage makes possibly will be extended beyond the limits of marriage.’

Single people offer a glimpse of this kind of society. They’re harbingers of an aspect of heavenly community, because they’re not constrained by family boundaries of genetics and kinship. They know how care and intimacy can go beyond family boundaries. They nudge members of families out of the introverted obsession with family life that becomes its dark side. They remind families that God calls everyone into the ‘great multitude’, and they call couples and families to attend to the wider community, and t0 point to heaven. (Joined-up Life, 234-235)

If I was to rewrite this sentence in the article it would say ‘Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by sharing your life with them. Likewise, you too can taste a glimpse of eternal community by sharing in their life.’

3. What’s missing from a single person’s life?

It is not good for a man to be alone and he who finds a wife finds goodness, but it takes the beauty of a family to see the goodness far below the surface and in the crevices of these clay jars. Church, be that family, be the mothers and father, the sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honorable in marriage, and then, please, help them get there.

It is true, it’s not good for anyone to be alone but as Christians we must recognise that our loneliness is only fully met in Jesus. Earthly marriage is but a shadow of this, and it’s a shadow that, no matter how good, will never completely satisfy our need. Jesus is the one who does that. The answer to the lonely single person is not simple ‘get married’ (though of course they may) but to enjoy Jesus and his people.

This paragraph should say “It is not good for anyone to be lonely. Church, to those who are lonely, be their family. Be their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honourable in following Jesus and run the race beside them.”

(Here’s more stuff I’ve written about singleness)

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Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community

From the Gospel Coalition 

I looked nervously across the table, fidgeting with my coffee cup. Do you realize what you’re asking of me? he questioned. We’d been meeting for more than an hour, talking about his struggle with same-sex attraction and his decision about whether to enter into a more intentional relationship with his boyfriend. He’d been part of our church and community group for a couple of years, always intelligent and effervescent, exhibiting many marks of a mature Christian. Yet my friend’s dark internal struggle had finally reached its culmination, and here we were together in a coffee shop, grappling with the reality of his decision.

Do you realize what you’re asking of me? I did. I was asking him not to act on his same-sex desires, to commit to a celibate lifestyle, and to turn away from an important romantic relationship. Yet as I reflect on that discussion, I now realize I didn’t fully understand what I was asking of him. I was asking him to do something our church community wasn’t prepared to support. I was asking him to make some astonishing and countercultural decisions that would put him out of step with those around him. In many ways, I was asking him to live as a misfit in a community that couldn’t yet provide the social support to make such a decision tenable, much less desirable. No wonder he walked away.

Several years have passed since that conversation, but it’s convinced me of the vital relationship between sexuality and ecclesiology. There are many churches like ours that believe there are two possible paths for followers of Jesus to live obedient sexual lives: heterosexual marriage and sexual abstinence. But among churches that are committed to a biblical sexual ethic, there are few, I’m afraid, that make living out that ethic possible for the average person dealing with same-sex attraction.

I’m now convinced any church that holds a traditional view of sexuality must also foster a radical practice of Christian community in which living out a biblical sexual ethic becomes possible and even attractive.

This is a great article on the need for Christian community to a place where living a godly, counter-cultural life plausible, practical and attractive. While it focuses on Christians who have same-sex attraction, there’s lots in here that is true of all single Christians. Though this is an important distinction to remember

Those of us who are heterosexual must realize, however, that even though God is calling us to the same thing (chastity), our LGBTQ friends will experience this calling differently. When heterosexuals commit to chastity, they do so knowing they may meet someone, get married, and be able to have sex. When those tempted by same-sex attraction commit to chastity, though, they’re doing so knowing that unless God changes their sexual desires, they may never know the intimacy of a sexual relationship.

Of course for those of us who are still single in our mid-thirties, the possibility that we may never marry is very real. And, speaking on behalf of women, we live every day with the unforgettable sadness that every day that passes brings us closer to the possibility of never having kids. It does often feel like I have to bear this burden on my own. But Christian community should provide a better way.

Now picture the other scenario. Bob’s been introduced to Jesus by a community group at the invitation of a colleague. The group shares deeply and vulnerably, confessing sin and praying for one another. As Bob struggles with the prospect of chastity, he looks around the group and sees ways others in the group have embraced hard things because of the gospel. At least two other singles in the group are straight and have also embraced chastity. There’s a married couple who are honest about their struggles and failings but committed to not leaving each other despite the immense pain. Another person wasn’t willing to participate in the fraudulent activities of her company, and lost her job because of it.

In this scenario the demands of Jesus don’t lessen for Bob, but he does look around and see he’s not the only one being asked to lose certain things for the gospel. He sees a mixed community of married and single, same-sex attracted and straight, all bearing their crosses together and helping one another bear those heavy burdens. Our gay friends must see a church community in which all of us—not just those who battle same-sex attraction—are facing the demands of the gospel and the struggle against sin.

This is so important. I’m thankful for my married friends who are honest enough to share their struggles with me. Because it reminds me that the grass on their side of the fence has just as many muddy puddles as the grass I’m standing on. When I see the hardships that come with marriage, I’m much more likely to see the goodness of singleness. This is how I persevere.

But here is the most important challenge for churches.  Honour singleness & demystify marriage.

Another way we can create healthy countercultural plausibility structures is by removing marriage from the idolatrous pedestal on which it’s often placed. At times marriage, and the presumed sexual joy therein, is cast as such an objective for Christians that it starts sounding like the supreme goal, surpassing Jesus himself. Talk about “family values” cements this idea, suggesting God’s basic desire for human flourishing is for you to be married and start a family and, if you’re not experiencing that, then hurry up and try.

But the great chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, isn’t describing love between husbands and wives or parents and kids but love between Christians in a church community. The Bible sees the church, not the nuclear family, as the primary level of relationships in our new kingdom life.

Further, we must return the New Testament’s high honoring of the single life. Whenever we treat singleness as a “second tier” calling or minor league to marriage we’re communicating to our single brothers and sisters that they’re experiencing less of the full human experience. This is obviously not the case. Jesus was single, and he was the perfect human. Paul advocated for singleness and even dubbed it a “higher calling” than marriage: “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38).

Imagine a community in which many celibate singles, both same-sex attracted and straight, are taking full advantage of their singleness as they live the life of the kingdom together. Imagine a community in which sex and marriage are seen as good gifts but not ultimate gifts—indeed, things a follower of Jesus can live without. In such a community, the possibility of a single life of chastity wouldn’t be the fate worse than death it’s sometimes portrayed to be.

In short, we should not call our single friends to sexual abstinence until we create the social environments (plausibility structures) that make such a life meaningful and viable.

Spot on. Read the whole article here.

Making Singleness Better

Yesterday one of our lectures at College directed us to this article from The Briefing.

The author, Tim Adeney, is thinking about singleness and the church, focusing on 1 Corinthians 7. In his introduction he notes that the response of many married people to single Christian – “Singleness is better, so get on with your life and deal with it”* – is inadequate because

it locates struggles with singleness solely with the single person, not within the entire Christian community; its consideration of the depth and causes of those struggles is cursory; and it does not reflect adequately on either 1 Corinthians 7 or the wider biblical witness.

I think his observation that this struggle is within the Christian community is a helpful one. For the single person there is an element of personal struggle but there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed, which is a lack of biblical understanding of singleness in the Christian community. This lack of understand manifests in a failure to adequately love the single people within the community.

Adeney recognises the eschatological reality that singleness reflects and then adds

However, we must not run ahead and get ourselves tangled in an over-realized eschatological stupor. While Jesus has indeed ushered in a new world order, he has not yet ushered in a new creation. We live in a new age and an old creation, and this old creation was made for marriage (cf. Gen 2:18-25). If our destiny is singleness, our created design is marriage. This does not detract from the status of being single; rather, it is a comment on its experience. In this creation, the ordinary pattern for humanity is marriage and family life, and while there is no suggestion in the Old Testament that being single is a sin, neither is there any suggestion that you would choose it. Perhaps we could go so far as to say that, from the point of view of our creaturely design, singleness isn’t better, and so we should expect any long-term singleness to be accompanied by grief and temptation to a greater or lesser extent.

Our created design was for marriage and the mandate to the first married couple was to fill the earth, but something substantial has changed since then. Jesus has come, and ascended and we await his return. A return that brings judgment upon those who do not follow him. We are living in the last days – surely this is the present crisis (vs 26), this is why the time is short (vs 29). Surely then the mandate changes from filling the earth to converting it (Matt 28:19ff).

Throughout the chapter, he provides us with a worked example of how to think eschatologically. “[T]he appointed time has grown very short” (v. 29), and all of us are called to live in light of that reality. Even married people must live as though they are not. How this eschatological reality affects decisions about singleness or marriage depends on what else needs to be considered along with the return of Christ. That is, Paul holds up a number of realities like lenses, and looks through them. In particular, he holds up the shortness of time and places it next to an appraisal of the practical realities of marriage as opposed to singleness. Thus he notes that marriage is complicated, involving “worldly troubles” (v. 28), whereas singleness leaves one “free from anxieties” (v. 32). He concludes that the opportunity to be single-mindedly devoted to “the things of the Lord” (v. 32) renders singleness a better option. But it is only better when certain realities or ‘lenses’ (i.e. the shortness of time and the practicalities of marriage) are considered; as he looks through both lenses together, his overall recommendation changes, which is why the person who is already married should stay married and the person who yearns for love should get married.

The problem with this is that the person who ‘yearns for love’ cannot simple decide to get married. Because, as you may have noticed, a marriage requires 2 people. So here we have (I suspect) the biggest group of single people in our churches – those who do yearn for love, but there’s nothing they can do about it. So how do we love them well? The section of his article titled The Church and Singles is, I think, very helpful (ignoring the fact that he constantly refers to single people as ‘singles’ which I hate).

THE CHURCH AND SINGLES

1. THE HABITS OF FAMILIES

The purpose of family is not only to be a blessing to its members, but also to be a blessing beyond itself. One of the major ways a family can bless beyond itself is by treating those who are outside as though they were inside. This, more likely than not, will require initiative (i.e. it won’t happen accidentally), and that initiative needs to come from the families, not the singles. Families in our culture generally don’t feel strong, but socially we are in a position where we can invite others. Our invitations need to be extensive and habitual. For example,

  • We could invite people into our homes—not just occasionally, but regularly. I’m sure there are many who would love to share a weekly meal with a family.
  • We could invite others to come on holidays with us.
  • Perhaps we could consider whether we could have others live with us. If we can’t do that where we live now, perhaps we could consider moving somewhere else where we could.

In addition, couples need to give each other space to build quality relationships with single people. At this point, it is worth taking a small detour to talk about how to relate to single people of the opposite gender. Paul counsels Timothy to treat “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim 5:2). Most Christian men have a predisposition to read just half this verse—that is, as either “treat younger women as sisters” or “treat younger women in all purity”. Men who do the former imagine that the distinctions of gender are no longer significant, and so relate to women as though they aren’t married, or as though the women are actually their biological sisters. Men who do the latter (which is more common in Christian culture) imagine that they can completely ignore women in the name of purity.

But both are wrong. Paul deftly avoids allowing me to deceive myself into thinking that there is no difference between my sisters in Christ and my biological sisters. But at the same time, he tells me where to get my cue for how to relate to my sisters in Christ. So I would not, in the ordinary course of events, hang out with my sisters in Christ without either my wife or their husbands, even though I would happily do this with my biological sisters. But I will offer lifts, I will have conversations, I will exchange the (occasional) email or text, I will give the (also occasional) hug, I won’t leave the house immediately if I come home and find that my wife has ducked out to the shops while a female friend minds my children, and if I could fix cars, I’d happily go over to a single friend’s place to spend an hour or two having a go. I think I can do these things without running the risk of unfaithfulness and creating a ‘hint’ of sexual immorality (Eph 5:3 NIV).

There’s 2 things I want to say from this. First: To my married friends – it is easier than you think to be a ‘blessing beyond [your]self’. Your house doesn’t need to be tidy, your cooking doesn’t need to restaurant quality, and your kids don’t need to be perfectly behaved. Being surrounded by the chaos of family life is something I love.

The second thing is that even though it sounds quite ridiculous that men would ignore women in the name of purity, it’s something I’ve been on the receiving end of. The comment from a married man that ‘I don’t know how to relate to single women’ was one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard. So I hope that men would make every effort to treat women as sisters and in all purity.

Adeney ends his article with a good aim for all our churches.

The Christian community needs to be one where the separate callings of marriage and singleness are both welcomed and honoured. Paul had a positive view of singleness, yet he also had harsh words for those who would “forbid marriage” (1 Tim 4:3). While we haven’t ‘forbidden’ singleness, Christians have allowed a culture to grow where it is ‘forbidding’. My hope is that, as a community, we can change to better look after those who are struggling with unwelcome circumstances, and that, once more, we will welcome the possibility of voluntary singleness for the sake of “the things of the Lord” as indeed “better” (1 Cor 7:32, 38).

If you are someone who struggles with singleness you can read more from me on the subject here including some links to helpful books and sermons.

I’d love to hear your thought on Adeney’s article too.

*No-one has ever said anything this harsh to me, but I get the point he is trying to make

Progressive Christianity??

Steve Kryger (Communicate Jesus) writes an interesting post responding to this poster displayed outside of a New Zealand church.

Xmas-billboard-09

I share Steve’s confusion and offense at the poster, but after a little reading on the website of the church I found so many more things to be offended by that the poster faded into the background.

The church describes itself as practicing ‘progressive Christianity’. They feel the need to describe their type of Christianity because

being “Christian” does not tell us much about a faith community beyond the probability that Jesus plays a part in its beliefs.

According to their explanation of Progressive Christianity, the difference between different kinds of Christianity lies in what authority is most important to a particular group: Scripture, Church Teaching and Tradition, or Reason.

Progressive Christians take all three authorities seriously but make none of them supreme.  Progressives are more interested in spirituality than right belief or proper worship. The identity of Progressive Christians is centred in ethical living.

So, what kind of Christians are they? According to them they are Christians who

Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus.

Not perfect but a good start. Next?

Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God’s realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this second point is a problem for me. I’m about a million percent sure that John 14 records Jesus saying “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So I’m not sure how a church who claims that Scripture has any authority can also acknowledge that other people’s “ways to God” are as true for them as our ways are for us. But I guess that is the result of holding the authority of Scripture equal to that of human reason.

Really thats just the beginning of a bunch of stuff that bothers me but it was this comment on their post explaining that poster that started it

I am deeply saddened, dismayed and horrified by your billboard. Instead of trying to convey the true meaning of Christmas and promote Christianity you have only succeeded in being controversial. I will never again attend an Anglican service.

Excuse me?! This is an ANGLICAN church displaying this poster.

The reason it bothers me that this is an Anglican church is because I too am part of the world-wide Anglican Communion. And I’m uncomfortable with the thought of appearing to be in communion with people who clearly don’t believe in the God of the Bible.

True Christian communion is not about denominations, it’s about sharing in the same Spirit of God – which crosses denominational lines. But in the case of this church in NZ, because we share a denomination, we have is the appearance of unity, where no true unity of Spirit exists.

But it does remind me that New Zealand is a great mission field – and that possibility excites me!

Leaving church badly

This is an interesting article from Archie Poulos on how to leave a church well.

While this article deals with HOW to leave well as opposed to WHY to leave Archie raises some interesting questions

So I have begun quizzing people about why they leave churches. My conversations have raised two questions.
1. What issues are important enough to leave a church over?
2. What is the best way to deal with unhappiness about a church you are leaving?

I have been thinking a lot lately about what is worth leaving church over. I think the biggest cause of discontent in church is summed up well in this line –

Again, not always, but often the reasons distil down to the fact that we have absorbed the spirit of our age, where we relate to church as consumers not contributors.

I have seen this time and time again, where church becomes about what I can get out of it rather than what I can give. Church is a place of service. Christ, who is the head of the church, himself came not to be served but to serve. So if you are discontent with church I would first make sure you are not asking yourself ‘what am I getting out of this’ but rather asking ‘what am I putting into this’.

The last few weeks……


A few very exciting things have happened in the last few weeks and a few sad things.

Exciting things first –
I went to Batemans Bay for a week with some friends from church – and what a great week it was!! Very relaxing! We celebrated my birthday and New years while we were away which added an extra bit of fun to our week.
The following week was Summerfest on the Central Coast. I was on the Xtreme team (yrs 7-9) and we averaged about 90 kids a day!! It was HEAPS of fun :)
We also did some door knocking in the afternoons – which while being very scary, I actually enjoyed it and have been inspired to join the evangelism committee at college this year.
It was also a privilege to spend some time at Central Coast Evangelical Church (aka EV).
Next week will also be exciting as I head off to Next Gen (formally KYLC). Its is a great privilege and responsibility to be able to teach the leaders of the next generation of leaders so please pray for me and my co-leader Simon (Jacko) as we lead.
Now for some sad things –
Just before Christmas I farewelled my home church Glenmore Park Anglican. It has been my home for the last 4 years and it was a very sad day.
This Sunday I join the team at St Augustine’s Neutral Bay (this probably belong in the list of exciting things).
I blogged a few weeks ago about my aunty and grandma who were schedule for surgery after being diagnosed with breast cancer. My aunty’s surgery has been postponed until the end of the month. My grandma’s went well and has recovered well and is back at home. Sadly the cancer is in her lymph nodes. She requested that the lymph nodes not be removed and she has declined to have chemotherapy. Please continue to pray for them both and my dad.