Singleness in the church—new normal but wrong

[I am still gathering my thoughts on this matter, and so comments from Christian readers is welcome. Ideally, I should only publish this when I’m completely comfortable with what I have written, but I think I’ll publish anyway as these thoughts may help others crystallise their own thinking; I am sure I am not the only one who has noticed these things.]

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Many of the trends in Christian practice come as a reaction to and correction of past errors. The predicament that we find ourselves in, with so many single people in the church, is not a good thing and is, I strongly believe, the influence of contemporary secular thinking. We need to go back to the scriptures to regain our bearings, and this could involve a good measure of unlearning.

It was, for millennia, assumed that the norm for men and women was to be married; people married usually somewhere between the ages of 18 and 30. This is not necessarily a wrong assumption, as it is the mandate given to us after creation, to be fruitful and multiply.  It was part of our basic design; it is interesting how the Lord profusely wove gospel-signifying themes into the very fabric of our lives, namely marriage and parenting. Marriage was an important aspect of being human—universally—and different cultures had different ways of finding the right matches, each method with its pros and cons.

Christians in all cultures found ways to find their matches despite the pitfalls. In the West, purity before marriage was a serious concern and in the East, careless attitudes towards the need for compatibility between the boy and girl, rather than merely between the families, was an issue. But believers were greatly helped by the scriptures to overcome these issues. The scriptures showed the brethren how they ought to conduct themselves in purity, and as for compatibility, the word of God revealed implicitly and explicitly what one should look for in the spouse. It showed that the compatibility between the boy and the girl was vital as from it was to grow a loving relationship that would mirror that of Christ with His church. And this compatibility had to obviously be Christ-centric—to do with faith and love for the Saviour.

Whether in the West or in the East, someone had to do the seeking, usually the man and/or the man’s family, and this selection process had to be according to the will of God as shown in the scriptures. The man needed to look for the beauty of the inner spirit rather than for outward beauty. He needed to prize godliness and a gentle spirit very highly. The woman needed to look for godliness too and for a man who had his eyes fixed on Jesus. It was not wrong to want outward things and look for compatibility in education, status, background, intelligence, and beauty. But obviously, God did not intend for these to be of very great importance or He would not have created people who do not exactly look like models, for example. The Bible also frowns on discrimination based on status and wealth. So Christians needed to be very careful when allowing these matters to influence their search.

Like in a game of musical chairs, some men and women would get left out of marriage. Or they may lose a spouse under tragic circumstances to death or other kinds of separation. The Bible is clear that single people are not of less value. Slave or free, single or married, Christ and His grace is the same for all. But slave is not as good as free and singleness is not necessarily as ideal as marriage. We are created to need help and to help. We are also created to raise another generation in godliness. If someone is left single, in spite of their willingness, then the Lord, the God of the widow and the fatherless, will be their stay, and His grace is sufficient. The Bible also tells us that some have been given the gift of singleness to use for greater service in the kingdom. That subject is beyond the purview of what I am writing here.

I said earlier that for millennia marriage was thought to be the norm. What changed? I believe that in the last 50 years, advertising and commercialisation has made society very materialistic. Today selfishness is a virtue and sensuality reigns. Excessive spending on luxuries and travel is commonplace. Sadly much of this has crept into the church. Our priorities in godly living have gone awry. The eagerness to establish godly homes, a home with a godly man at the helm with a godly wife, both together raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, is absent. In its place youth of today have careers, travel plans, and real estate dreams. How can a young Christian man in this state even know to disregard the girls who dress to attract and search for heart beauty? This, in my opinion, is why many girls in the church have been left waiting, many of them for good. This could go both ways, for in some instances, the boys in the church have not been accepted by the girls for superficial reasons, in spite of wholeheartedly following after the Lord.

In reaction to this phenomenon of the growing number of singles, much has been written in recent times to encourage singles. Rightly so, for to those godly young women and men who have been left out in this way, the Lord is their portion and He is able to make it up to them. Sensitivity for singles, is essential and much work is still needed on this front.

However, I fear that we are now realising another danger, which is the normalising of singlesness. When the world normalises singleness, it does so against the backdrop of Tinder and with no reference to sexual purity. The singleness that has become the new normal inside the church is naturally influenced and strengthened by its worldly counterpart.

Here are some other reasons why this alarms me:
** Surely it is not good for a man to be alone. Where have we heard that before! Moreover, the qualifications, which all men ought to aspire for, for elders and deacons are that they be one-woman men. But on the other hand, the sexually-normal young men, who are single, are open to a million temptations. It was always so, but even more so today with the culture and technology being what they are, with so many sinful options including catalogued porn theirs for the taking at the click of the mouse, I am afraid for the souls of our young men, very afraid.
** I do not think that the God who through His word has laid out several good rules for how women ought to conduct themselves in the home and in the church would say to a 25-year old young woman: “You are free to leave the safety of your parents’ home and flat out with others or even live on your own. You may do what you want, when you want, however you want. Rules are only for your mother; you are free” I very much doubt that the single women who Paul speaks of lived autonomously like single women today. I am very afraid for the safety and the souls of our young women.
** The change in the church’s demographic brings with it new needs with new dangers and the necessity for new safeguards. This would impact pastoral visits, pastoral counseling, avenues of ministry, and so on.

Singleness for Christian men and women does not seem wise as a norm, both in terms of practical living—for doing life—as well as in terms of the safety of their souls. One needs to be endowed with a special gift to be able to navigate these waters successfully.

I think Christian young men need to be educated to look for godliness in girls, when  choosing a spouse, while Christian girls need to resist worldly attitudes and affectations and seek God’s will in this matter. I think pastors and men and women in the church need to help and assist, at least till the singleness malady persists, in encouraging young people to drop their worldly, and often unrealistic, expectations and look forward to finding godly spouses with whom to establish Jesus-reflecting homes, taking their eyes off themselves and fixing their gaze on Him.

And for any godly single Christian reading this, take courage, for our God specialises in things thought impossible. His grace is sufficient even for you. My post is not to alarm you but to stir up those who may have not noticed the seriousness of the situation.

2 comments

  1. I really do not agree with the assumption that the Biblical norm is to marry. You seem to forget that both Jesus (the perfect model for us all) and Paul were single. Paul even went so far as to say that being single was better! (Obviously not for selfish reasons.)

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