The gift of singleness or continency?

(Ryan) #1

I’d like to get the thoughts of folks here on this subject. It’s something that Doug Wilson has addressed on his blog a number of times:

In recent years the position of many evangelicals is the that if you are single you have the “gift” of singleness, but the traditional view was that it was a special gift of God given to a minority:

“considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.” The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony, 1662 BCP. (The joys of being Anglican!)

Sam Allberry has recently written a book “7 myths about singleness” and he seems to refer to the traditional view as one of those “myths”.

Anyone read Allberry’s book yet? And any thoughts on where the modern view has come from? Is it another capitulation to the times we live in?

Also feel free to correct me if you think my characterisation of the topic is at fault somewhere. :slight_smile:

(Daniel Meyer) #2

Ryan, I’d recommend reading a couple of articles from Baylyblog (linked here) to help you get some context about who Allberry is and what he’s pushing for. Allberry is not a man we should be looking to for wisdom in evaluating the creeds and confessions.


(Ryan) #3

Yes certainly I agree. DW’s point though is that our confusion over what Paul means by the gift in 1 Cor 7 has lead to further confusion around the gay identity:

“Given the fact that a number of Christians have adopted the idea that a person can have a gay identity, and yet live a full Christian life, just so long as he or she is committed to celibacy, it is time for us to go back and review some basics. There are many areas of human endeavor where an apparently slight error at the start lands you in some very weird territory later on, and human sexuality is most certainly one of those areas.”

(Nathan Smith) #4

Celibacy and singleness is certainly one of the many areas of confusion for the contemporary American church. I think Wilson’s insights are helpful. He goes into it in some more detail in his book, Fidelity, as well. There he described the gift of celibacy as something that is more common than expected, in my mind at least.

I agree with Mr Meyer regarding Allberry - someone to read with a lot of discernment at least. I haven’t read him extensively, but reviews of his books - some of the reviews are absolutely glowing, but for all the wrong reasons - have been enough for me, really.

I know there are benefits of singleness when that is your station of life. I don’t think it is meant to be a long term station for most American men. We burn with passion. I think we do a disservice to singles when we teach about it wrongly. And we can also hurt them when we fail to appreciate their station and help them in their walk, living holy during that station. It’s almost like discernment is something you have to use all the time…

(Valerie) #5

Singleness is a circumstance, and to most faithful people, it is an affliction. It is a gift only in the sense that any affliction is a gift—it should be received from the hand of God with obedient gratitude. But it is not a spiritual charism, a supernatural enabling, the way celibacy/continence is. Being single doesn’t mean you have the gift of celibacy any more that being in Greek class means you have the gift of tongues. It just means you have a difficult obedience in front of you.

(Jesse Tiersma) #6

I haven’t read any of Alberry’s work, so I can’t comment on that, however, I think Pastor Wilson is dead on in the articles cited. There is one aspect of the “gift of singleness” that I think is right though. 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 says a married man or woman is concerned with pleasing their husband or wife. Their time and efforts are divided, because of their responsibilities and commitments to their family. One way singleness can be a gift is that a single person has more time to serve the church and the people in it. If I can give an example of how this can be true, there is a young woman in my church in her early twenties. She certainly desires to have a husband and children, and Lord willing she will someday. Until that time, she is a great blessing to our church through the time she invests in others. She often plays piano during during Sunday worship, she volunteers in the church nursery, she does the lion’s share of the prep work for the children’s Sunday School, she volunteers at a small local Christian school her parents run. One time last summer, she had a week off from work and no real commitments, so she spent every day helping a different mother in the congregation with things needing to be done in their house, including an entire day with my wife reorganizing the kids clothes. She’s a real blessing to our church. Undoubtedly, once she’s married and has a new family of her own, she will be a blessing to them. Although she will no doubt continue to bless her church, she will not have the time to do all of the things she helps others with now, and that’s as it should be. This doesn’t mean she’s more important single, or better off single, or a greater blessing single, but the time she has as a single woman is a blessing and a gift from God, just as the time she will devote to her family, if and when the Lord gives her one, will be a blessing and a gift. I think this is something that people often overlook, even those who tout the “gift of singleness.” Sadly, I certainly wasted much of my single days when I had many fewer responsibilities.

There’s a lot of truth in this, and I remember it well from my own single days. My heart definitely goes out to anyone desiring a family who doesn’t have one.

(Ross Clark) #7

An interesting discussion. Some thoughts:

  • It would be very helpful to get at this point the contribution of a covenant father who has had a child or children single past thirty.

  • People end up single for a variety of reasons, some good (God has a separate mission for them at this stage); some not. People may be single because there are flaws of character getting in the way; flaws of personality (e.g. incipient Asperger’s); or they may simply be not wanted, not to put too fine a point on things. The key need is to get the “diagnosis” right.

  • There has been a temptation to draw analogies between Christians who would love to marry but can’t, for whatever reason, and Christians whose inclinations are homosexual; but this is drawing far too long a bow.

(Ryan) #8

Albery put up an article just on this subject: Does Singleness Require a Special Calling?

Its currently at number 1 on TGC #rightnow section.

(Nathan Smith) #9

There is so much wrong with the article that it is hard to know where to start, but consider that the author is “gay Christian” Sam Allberry. The whole article is gross.

(Jesse Tiersma) #10

This is a truly terrible article. Filled with strawmen. Point #2 about contentment in the situation God has put you in is good, but at 3 sentences long it is by far his shortest point, and doesn’t get fleshed out at all. Point #5 on Paul’s use of gifts in the rest of 1 Corinthians is really bad, because the way Paul uses gifts completely contradicts his point. Take the gift of hospitality for example. Paul doesn’t say that because you are being hospitable to someone, you automatically have this gift. That’s ridiculous. In fact, what Paul says, taking the Bible as a whole, is that all Christians are called and commanded to practice hospitality, but some are uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit in this practice, and able to do it especially well, for the building up of the body. The correct application of this to singleness is that all Christians will have at least a period of time in which they are single, some longer and some shorter, but only some are gifted by the Holy Spirit with the gift of singleness.

(Tom Kidd) #11

I posted this elsewhere in Sanityville, but thought it may be helpful here as well.

Speaking of Sam Allberry, he spoke at Cedarville’s chapel today. Here’s the link.

I haven’t listened to it, but my son described it as follows when I asked him if it glorified celibacy: “Well, it was nuanced. But basically he outlined a progression from universal marriage in the OT to singleness becoming advantageous for serving the kingdom to universal singleness in the resurrection.”

(Valerie) #12

“Advantageous for serving the kingdom” in the way that Paul served the kingdom – “in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” Show me a guy with the gift of celibacy, and I’ll show you a guy with a call to missions in Pakistan.

(Joseph Bayly) #13

If we are to be “progressing” on this, then we are to be convincing everybody we can not to marry.

It’s a return to monasticism. The more spiritual people will be single. It’s a call to convert Christianity to Shakerism—complete with the gradual extinction of the religion.

I haven’t listened to it, but I can’t imagine how you would describe that progression without implying the need to progress.

(Tom Kidd) #14

Here’s the second of the two talks given by Sam Allberry in chapel at Cedarville. In it he equates the gift of singleness (I Cor 7) as being no different than the “gift” of being married.

Of course, the state of marriage is never mentioned in Scripture as requiring a spiritual gift, but is viewed from Gen. 2:24 as a creational expectation.

He addresses the question of same-sex, celibate, romantic friendships here as well.

(Ross Clark) #15

Why do I think that when people talk about the gift of singleness, they are trying to make a virtue out of an apparent necessity?

(Ross Clark) #16

After some more thought: preaching the importance of marriage & family to singles is one thing, but wisdom in how it is done is sometimes lacking.

To illustrate: years ago, one female friend summed up the dilemma she felt, of being in a PCA where she felt “judged” by the Titus 2 women for what she was not (married, a mother), and did not have (a husband & children). She told me that she had the alternative option of going to another church (perhaps a Vineyard?) where she was appreciated for who she was and what she had, rather than being judged for the particular situation she was in.

From the POV of the single men, some have told me of being regarded in their churches as “losers” because they couldn’t find anyone (in a situation where there were fewer single men than single women). This didn’t happen to me, mercifully, but it was a reminder that some churches manage better than others in this respect.

(later edit to read “fewer single men”, not “more single men”. Mea culpa.

(Valerie) #17

My subjectivity alarm is going off. We’re hearing one side of the story, and presented entirely in terms of the feelings of one person.

(Ryan) #18

Certainly this is a really tricky thing to work out, and we need to be reminded daily that our value comes from who God says we are and not anything else. At the same time I think we need to recognise that for most people (who don’t have the gift of contingency) remaining single for longer periods does them spiritual harm. I know this has been true in my life.

There’s also responsibility on wider church families and ministers to try and think hard about how we can connect singles. There are many in different churches who would love to marry each other if they could only meet!

(Ross Clark) #19

Thanks for your feedback. In terms of connecting singles, the Internet has made a big difference.