Is family too exalted in today’s society? Has having a family become next to godliness? Is this the mentality that makes singles feel isolated and unimportant in church today?
Rodney Clapp, author of Families at the Crossroads, Beyond traditional Modern Options believes so.
Most churches treat their singles ministries as little more than sanctified substitutes for singles bars. (Clapp, 89)
I can attest to that fact. I stopped attending our single’s service when we started to sponsor single’s dances in conjunction with other local churches. Why should I go to the sanctuary to awkwardly mingle and try to dance to the Backstreet Boys? Don’t we avoid bars becaues we’re tired of that scene why bring it into the church?
A right understanding and practice of singleness is crucial to the health of the Christian family – especially in a postmodern world. (Clapp, 89)
We live in a world of choices, sometimes its almost paralizing and we have no idea what to choose. In the grocery story the other day the roommate pointed of that there are 18 different kind of mustard. So do we settle for routine and ambivalence because we have no help or training in how to choose what is best for us in a given situation or for our life?
"All kinds of things we are free from – but we have little to say about what we are free for."
Clapp says that in this era of choice the witness of Christian singles is the cornerstone of expressing true Christian freedom. Ooh, I never looked at it like that. In Christ’s death, resurrection and ushering in of the Kingdom of heaven tells us that marital status doesn’t matter. Really?
This requires a kingdom understanding of singleness and sexuality disovered in community.
The church has been afraid of sex for centuries and it started way back with Augustine. During this time spiritual matters trumphed the physical, material and emotional world. So to be celibate was preferred to marriage. Sex was seen as a duty to produce children only. And bodies and their functions were dirty, shameful and to be repressed for the glorification of the spiritual. He sited Gen 2-3 and Romans 7:21-25 as evidence of this.
Augustine idealized virginity as the remastery of the rebellious body by a controlling mind and will…Those who chose celibacy chose the morally and spiritually higher way. Augustine said, ‘Fertility is a blessing in marriage, but virginal integrity in holiness is better.'(Clapp, 93)
Then along came Luther who moved marriage and children above singleness and celibacy. Though like Augustine, he still viewed sex as impure. However, a closer reading of the text will not show a link between sex and impurity. The victorian purified marital sex for the sake of the children but that we needed to claim discipline and mastery over our bodies.
There needs to be a clarification of a NT understanding of singlessness to reclaim its dignity and integrity. Jesus came preaching a message that no one was ready for, it was contrary to everything they knew about God, a messiah and our purpose for living. The culimination of this message was the cross.
Clapp asserts that Jesus’ ressurection brought about a major shift for marriage and singleness, which has roots in the Old Testament. In the OT marriage was life. If you didn’t marry there was no chance for an heir and for women it meant you had no voice since you passed like property from your father to your husband. Family is essential to a Hebrew understanding of God, they didn’t even have a word for bachelor. It was about an heir, this is your legacy, since they also didn’t have a concept of the afterlife.
With Christ we are given the hope of eternal life. We no longer have to be committed to our earthly legacies. Our earthly families should not be the center of our universe. In Christ, marriage is no longer a duty (Matt 19:10-12).
With Jesus’ sacrifice "natural family relationships were made secondary in doing the will of God." (Clapp, 100)
Paul sees both marriage and singleness as honorable to be lived out in service to God. (I Cor 7:7, 17-24) But the context of this freedom calling comes in a crazy world and while Jesus came to announce the inaurgation of the Kingdom of God it is not yet in full. We are waging war not in our flesh but the spirit challenging the gods and rule of our age. Paul recognizes that a married person cannot have devoted zeal to this battle because they have family to tend to. Their calling is at home.
So this is why Paul says that singleness is superior, because we can have completely devotion to God we have a large role to play in the purpose of the church, the great commandment and the great commission. To be married is to be divided and limited in your ability to participate. As singles, we have the freedom to chose service. Our contribution, as singles, is vital. We are important to the Kingdom of God.
The modern ideal of liberation is one of casting aside custom, tradition and social inhibition to decide for ourseles, moment by moment, who we will be and what we will do. A Christian critique of this version of freedom must ask how much of a self will be left if individuals are cut off from the past and from reponsible relationship to others – especially to God. The Christian single radically witnesses to the truth for all of us: outside of relationship to God and others, we are lost. We do not know who we are, and we have no real assurance of an identity beyond death. (Clapp, 102)
The biggest shift of thinking that Clapp offers is that our biological families are not our first families but as adopted children of God our first family is now the church. With this view there is no division between married or single people, but we all have a role to play. When we rely on our church family we have no limitations. What limits us is isolation and reliance on our own power. The division is no longer on something we can’t control, our marital status, but on how much we are devoted to God and our Christian family. Interesting.
Israel knows itself in relation to God: its very name means ‘God-wrestler’ (Gen 32:28) So to know yourself means to know yourself as God-sourced, God-rooted; to know yourself in God. (Clapp 102-103)
So we cannot live alone, we cannot identify ourselves in our own power because our primary enemy is ourself. This is why Jesus says we have to lose ourselves to find it. (Mk 8:35) Clapp says that we must align ourselves with a cause that is bigger than ourselves to be other-focused. This is what are we liberated for, service to the kingdom. But this is not the service required of a servant but rather the service of a child of God who is contributing to the family business. I think this is part of storing up our treasures in heaven, this is our inheritance, that as children, we are entitled to benefit from eternally.
So the health of a church can be measured, in part, by what they do with their singles. We need to be commissioned for special service. Imagine what God can do in us and through us when we stop focusing on marriage as our ultimate goal. Clapp says that as singles we are radical witnesses to the power and purpose of the resurrection. WOW!