Being a Single Christian, or Christian Singleness

Sometimes amidst the intense debates concerning home-schooling, Christian schooling, focusing on the family, political marriage issues, and the like, we end up forgetting an important teaching from Paul: 1 Corinthians 7.8. It is really good to remain unmarried. Paul repeats this a few times (1 Cor. 7.1, 26-28, 37-38). Actually, though it sounds odd to many Christians, it is better to remain single than to marry.

Stanley Hauerwas has some helpful insights about singleness and the Christian life. Singleness, he says, is a legitimate form of life among Christians. “The early church’s legitimation of singleness as a form of life symbolized the necessity of the church to grow through witness and conversion. Singleness was legitimate, not because sex was thought to be a particularly questionable activity, but the mission of the church was such that ‘between the times’ the church required those who were capable of complete service to the Kingdom.”

“And we must remember that the ‘sacrifice’ made by the single is not that of ‘giving up sex,’ but the much more significant sacrifice of giving up heirs. There can be no more radical act than this, as it is the clearest institutional expression that one’s future is not guaranteed by the family, but by the church. The church, the harbinger of the Kingdom of God, is now the source of our primary loyalty.” In other words, Christians who are “single for life” visibly show the fact that God does not need us to build his church. Or, in other words from Hauerwas, single Christians, when they give up heirs, do so because “they now understand that they have been made part of a community that is more determinative than the biological family.”

Hauerwas nails it: “When the church loses the significance of singleness, I suspect it does so because Christians no longer have confidence that the Gospel can be received by those who have not been, so to speak, ‘raised in it.’ Put differently: Christian justifications of the family may often be the result that Christians no longer believe the Gospel is true or joyful.”

Quotes of Hauerwas taken from The Hauerwas Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), 497-8, 512.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

8 thoughts on “Being a Single Christian, or Christian Singleness”

  1. I’m not so sure that just because something is good means that it is better than another good thing. I’m no family-values type (I realize my family will be dissolved in the consummation), but I’m not so persuaded that the best thing to combat familial idolatry is what Hauerwas is saying.

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  2. The question that always comes to my mind when discussions like these arise is this: If being single is better than being married, then why was it “not good that the man should be alone”? And so on through the Bible in every place where it speaks of the glorious blessings of marriage and children. In his context and under the specific circumstances Paul was addressing, I can easily see the benefits of remaining single, but I would find myself hard-pressed indeed to apply that principle generally and broadly to Christendom today.

    When the church loses the significance of singleness, I suspect it does so because Christians no longer have confidence that the Gospel can be received by those who have not been, so to speak, ‘raised in it.’ Put differently: Christian justifications of the family may often be the result that Christians no longer believe the Gospel is true or joyful.

    That is certainly a bold and offensive statement, and I am rather surprised to see you agree with it so wholeheartedly. It makes me wonder if I’m grossly misinterpreting something here, especially seeing as one need not look far to find a great many biblical “justifications of the family”–far more numerous and of broader applicability, I daresay, than the biblical justifications of singleness. Remaining single may well be a “legitimate form of life among Christians”, but given the bulk of Scripture outside of 1 Cor. 7 I would hesitate to say that under normal circumstances it’s a better one.

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  3. Thanks for the interaction, men. Check Calvin’s commentary on this section of 1 Corinthians. Feel free to send me an email if you still have comments/questions after reading Calvin.

    shane

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  4. Since I suffer from a serious mental illness, the likelihood of my being able to withstand the challenges of marriage is somewhat doubtful. I have a fairly serious friendship with a member of the opposite sex, but any desire to consummate the relationship is more often caused by emotional imbalance rather than balance.

    There is beauty in chaste relationships with the opposite sex, remaining pure and laying one’s life down for one another in agape love.

    There is beauty in singleness, knowing one could become married but choosing not to, for the good of the Church and one’s own personal good.

    There is beauty in worship with the Body, where the barrier between single and married dissolves during the time of divine worship.

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  5. Singles often think that getting married will solve all their problems. In reality, it is just exchanging one set of problems of another set. Marriage has it’s pros and cons.

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  6. Great post–I recently wrote some things on singleness and the church as well. Someone forwarded me your post. Always encouraging to know other people are thinking about these things! Thanks.

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