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Christ embodied it. He became the ultimate preview for how we will all live in the age to come. He provided a symbol of devotion to kingdom work through singleness that all Christians can find hope in. And Jesus is the perfect model of lifetime singleness for the kingdom that celibates today can look to. Jesus himself was celibate. He did not marry or have sex or have children. He was not romantic with anyone. He is hinting at a new order where both celibacy and marriage are normative.
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God specifically chose this, in part, so that Jesus could serve as a preview for how we will all live in heaven. Jesus has established a new order where our hope is found in our membership in the household of God—not the financial provision of our spouse or the legacy of our children—because Christ has torn down every barrier than separates us from the direct love and provision of God.
The Church groans in pain from our lack of the hope that singles for the kingdom are meant to provide. We can regain the hope found in the witness of singles for the kingdom and their example of living into the reality of the age to come. Plus, in light of the mounting pain and brokenness in the world around us, imagine the benefit of a minority of Christians wholly committed to advancing the Kingdom through lifetime singleness. As good sacramentalists, we recognize that God made us to experience a physical embodiment of the gospel. How much more attractive would the gospel be if a new generation of celibate lay leaders and pastors multiplied the rich discipleship found in our churches and came alongside nuclear families to help raise their children and strengthen their marriages?
What if this new generation of singles for the Lord led the Church in addressing wealth inequality, racial injustice, xenophobia, and mental illness in our country? How much more beautiful would our embodiment of the gospel become if we finally had enough laborers for the plentiful harvest? To become churches where Christians are thriving in lifetime singleness for the Lord, we can take these three steps:. We need to teach children in our churches about the rich theology of celibacy in Scripture. Every time we speak about marriage, we need to talk about celibacy.
From a young age, we need to start sharing that both marriage and celibacy are beautiful possibilities. Help teens in your church discern whether they are called to celibacy or marriage.
As we teach children and teens how to think theologically about their sexual stewardship and relational vocation, we need to also invite them to discern that with parents and mentors—in prayer and Scripture with the Holy Spirit. Help teens develop their spiritual muscles to discern any question. Much social science, including the sociology of religion, has tended to erect society itself into a kind of first principle, the source of all human movements and institutions. It has not only described the relations of religion to other functions in social life but seemed to explain it as nothing but a social function.
When the Church has accepted this view of itself it has given evidence of its complete fall into worldliness, for now it has substituted civilization or society for God as author and end of its being.
The most important reason, doubtless, for the prevalence of such "social religion" in modern Christian churches is their reaction against the isolationism which long characterized many of them. Isolationism is the heresy opposite to worldliness. It appears when the Church seeks to respond to God but does so only for itself.
The isolated church is keenly aware of the fact that it must answer to God-in-Christ for all its deeds and for all the values it administers. But it thinks of itself as the being for which it must answer and it regards the secular societies with which it lives as outside the divine concern. Its attitude toward them is like that of certain Israelites toward the Gentiles or of Greeks toward barbarians—they are beyond the pale.
What is required of the Church, according to this conception, is the intense development of its own life and the careful guarding of its holiness.
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This holiness religion is intensely self-regarding both with respect to the individual Christian and with respect to the Christian community. It thinks of the secular societies as antagonists of the Christian Church and as beyond the possibility of redemption.
They are not only mortal but sinful and must be shunned so far as possible because contact with them is defiling. It is the ark of salvation and the concern of its officers and crew is to see that it rides safely through the storms which bring destruction to other groups and other men. It is not unfair to call this holiness religion irresponsible, for it is so in the definite sense that it disclaims accountability for secular societies. It rejects not only nationalism but nationality, not only worldliness but the world.
The politics and economics and sometimes the family life of human groups are regarded by the extremer advocates of holiness faith as too defiling for contact. Hence the isolated church disclaims all interest in these social functions and with the disclaimer tends to abandon the secular societies to their own devices. The history of the Church contains many examples of more or less extreme isolationism. It thought of the Church as a new society for the sake of which the world had been created and which was destined to govern the world.
Again in the monastic movement the temptation to isolation. These two sorts of irresponsibility, worldliness and isolationism, are evidently interdependent in so far as either extreme tends to call forth a reaction toward its antithesis. The general tendency of the Church in the twentieth century has been toward a conception of social responsibility which virtually made it an agent of secular society.
Under the circumstances it is not impossible that a strong countermovement will arise and that Christians will seek forms of church life that are independent of secular society not only in source but also in purpose. The relation to God and the relation to society must neither be confused with each other as is the case in social religion, nor separated from each other as is the case in Christian isolationism; they must be maintained in the unity of responsibility to God for the neighbor. The Church is by nature and commandment an apostolic community which exists for the sake of announcing the Gospel to all nations and of making them disciples of Christ.
The function of the Church as apostolic messenger to individuals is clear-cut, but emphasis upon it ought not to lead to the obscuring of its mission to social groups. The Gospel must be announced in different fashion when it is addressed to America or to Russia from the way in which it is proclaimed to individual Americans or Russians. Here again no absolute distinction can be made but it does seem important and imperative that the Church should discharge its apostolic responsibility by envisaging the needs of men in their societies as well as in their isolation before God.
This seems the more urgent in our time because the unbelief, the fear and sin of man come to exhibition more dramatically in the public life than else.
Marriage, Singleness, and the Family (of God)
The phenomenon of nationalism is religious in character; so also is the worship of civilization which seems to pervade the democratic societies. On the one hand, the social groups appear to be idolatrous in a sense that few of the individuals in them are; on the other hand, the idolatry of the great groups seems to arise out of that despair of God and the meaning of life for which the Gospel supplies the cure.
As the apostolic Church it is the function of the Christian community to proclaim to the great human societies, with all the persuasiveness and imagination at its disposal, with all the skill it has in becoming all things to all men, that the center and heart of all things, the first and last Being, is utter good. It is the function of the Church to convince not only men but mankind, that the goodness which appeared in history in the form of Jesus Christ was not defeated but rose triumphantly from death.
Today these messages are preached to individuals but their relevance to nations and civilizations is not adequately illuminated. The Church has not yet in its apostolic character made the transition from an individualistic to a social period which historic movements require. When it does take its social responsibility seriously it all too often thinks of society as a physical and not a spiritual form of human existence and it tends, therefore, to confine its care of society to interest in the prosperity and peace of men in their communities.
It is impossible for the Church in Germany to give assurance to the German nation that it is not the will of God that this sinful people should perish without at the same time assuring the nation that its transgressions must be recognized and condemned. So the apostolic Church in America cannot announce the mercy of God without pointing out how this nation transgresses the limits assigned to men when it defrauds the Negro and refuses to condemn itself for the indiscriminate manner in which it made war in its use of obliteration bombing, or deals with defeated nations in the spirit of retribution rather than of redemption.
It is not enough that the Church should discharge its apostolic function by speaking to governments. Its message is to the nations and societies, not to the officials. A truly apostolic Church may indeed address presidents, legislatures, kings and dictators as the prophets and Paul did of old; but like them it will be less inclined to deal with the mighty than with the great mass, with the community as it exists among the humble. How the Church is to carry out this apostolic task in our time is one of the most difficult problems it confronts.
Its habits and customs, its forms of speech and its methods of proclamation come from a time when individuals rather than societies were in the center of attention. The Church discharges its responsibility to God for society in carrying out its pastoral as well as its apostolic functions. The period of decline begins in the seventh century and by the 9th century, there are none left in the traditional form. Even at their peak, however, individual lavra communities never grew too large by coenobitic monastic standards: most were between a dozen to seventy people, though there are a couple of examples swelling to individual monks.
The constraining factor, as with most things in the Middle East, was water: they needed to find unsettled places in the Judean desert that had an adequate water supply, which usually meant inhabiting fierce cliffs and ravines.