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)

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.

New people

Today was the first day of Greek Weeks for the new first year students at college. It was also the first day of official duties of the Orientation Committee. And it was exhausting.

I love people and I love new people but its a lot in one day (about 130 new students today) and I’m quite tired right now.

But as much as its exhausting for me I’m sure it’s even worse for the students who have just started college. It’s a blessing to have them at college and so I hope you will join with me in praying for them, especially over these first 3 weeks. Here are some suggested prayer points to get you started –

  • For energy as they move through this people intensive time
  • Easy conversations
  • For those who are particularly anxious about Greek – that anxiety will ease and Greek will come easier than expected
  • For married students – that they would quickly work out how to manage study and time with family
  • For spouses & kids – that we will welcome them into the college community, especially during the house party this weekend
  • For single students – that living in community would be a blessing, not a burden
  • For part-time students (approx. 30) – that they would feel included in the year group relationships

The beginning of a new year…

I discovered early last year that every student at Moore College is assigned to a committee for the year. There are many different types of committees from music to computers to evangelism (can you believe we need a committee for that!!) and I was delighted when I was put on the orientation committee (amusingly referred to as the OC). There are 3 main things that we do. First is to organise the orientation bbq at the year of the end for the following years incoming students. Second is to organise the 1st year house party which is the weekend after next. Third is that we hang around during 1st year’s Greek weeks (this is the 3 weeks prior to college starting, when no-one else is around and Greek is high on the priority list).

2009’s first years students started yesterday, so for the last few days we have been working hard to welcome them, helping them move into Carillon and Chappo house, organising social get togethers, giving tours, talking lots about college life etc etc. Its been a fun and exhausted few days.

Its been great to spend time getting to know these fellow students of mine, and especially those who will be fellow housemates (or living across the road). The last few days, thought, have brought back vivid memories of my own first week at Carillon House and Moore College. It was a big adjustment to suddenly live, learn, eat and socialise with the same people day after day. But God is great and gave me great friends both at college and church and so here I am back for another round! So I thank God for the great times, and I pray he will use the hard times to encourage others and glorify his name.

And to those who have just joined this crazy and wonderful experience I say remember ‘when times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other’ (Ecclesiastes 7:14) and then remember your never alone.

More thoughts on community.

Community Living

Well here I am bursting into the world of blogging – mostly thanks to an afternoon of Greek study and my overwhelming talent of procrastination.

So what does a first year theology student blog about. I have no idea! Tonight I find myself with nothing much to say but here are some thoughts I had a few weeks ago about community living.

Today my first year group (a group of 8 first years who are amazing and get to sit and chat once a week) got me thinking about life in community, and specifically Moore Theological College as community.
It seems this is an issue that is very intense for some people, while others ask ‘what’s the big deal’?
And what is the big deal for me?? Community has amazing benefits – take for example the community I have with the 7 others in my first year group. We are a group made up of 2 single girls, 1 single guy, 3 married guys whose wives do not study and 1 married couple who both study. Among us are people from Queensland, South Australia, various places in NSW and across Sydney and some haven’t moved at all. Some have come from MTS, some have come from secular work. Some have been Christians all their lives and some only a few years. Some have even come from outside the Anglican Church (shocking i know ;)). Our experiences of life, college and community are all different and yet we are able to sit in a room and share ideas and thoughts and, more importantly, our own hurts and joys. Regardless of our different opinions we do this without judgment because we are unified in Christ and are all seeking to love and care for each other. We can sit and be honest with each other knowing that we are safe inside our community. This is an amazing privilege and hopefully an insight into the benefit of Christian community (albeit a small one). And as the community grows so does the scale of the benefits and joys.
But…. the same is true of the downfalls. The bigger community gets the more obvious its disadvantages are. Sometimes at college I feel as though the solution to my problems would be to get away from community – and as a college resident this can be hard to do. Not only do you study, eat and live in community, but walking the streets of Newtown you so frequently see other college students and faculty it seems that the whole suburb in an extension of the community.
And this big brother-ish feel is but one of the many facets of college community life. This didn’t even rate a mention in our discussion today and in fact was not even what I had intended to write about. What we did talk about was the expectations we had of college before we came, the reality of those expectations and relationships between married students and single students.
So the question I really want to ask is this – if community is intended to bring about unity, how can we stop segregation within a group of people who are so obviously different when the basic principle that like attracts like is true even here???