The title for this post comes from Revd Kate Wharton’s excellent book “Single-Minded: Being single, whole and living life to the full” which I would highly recommend. Often people confuse and conflate “singleness”, “virginity”, and “celibacy”. If someone says, “I’m single” or “I’m a virgin”, then the clear implication is that this is their current state but that this may be liable to change in future. “Celibacy”, however, implies a permanent, lifelong vow/committment as is, for example, made by Roman Catholic and Orthodox Priests at their ordination, or by Monks, Nuns and Friars of all denominations. So, is Christian celibacy only for religious communities and priests? By no means. Who says this? Not just me! Rt Revd Beverly Mason (the Bishop of Warrington), Mike Pilavachi, Revd Sam Allberry Revd Vaughan Roberts, and Revd Kate Wharton. Yes but who else, I hear you say. Jesus, that’s who! He says in Matthew 19:12, ‘But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”’ Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:8: ‘To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am’.
Vaughan Roberts has noted that married people can have a tendency to put most of their eggs in one basket, whereas celibates tend to have deeper friendships as, in the absence of a partner, they rely on their friends more. Additionally, they have more time and freedom to socialise and meet up with their friends. For the Christian, investing deeply in friendship and having close, deep friendships is the cornerstone for evangelism. It is only within the context of true friendship that an unbeliever could open up about their thoughts on faith and feel comfortable enough to ask you questions about your faith.
When the Church places an excessive emphasis solely on the Christian call to marriage at the expense of devoting time to the Christian call to celibacy, it fails in its duty not just to sustain and hold Christian celibates but also in its mission and outreach to unbelieving singles. How can the Church relate to unbelieving singles by saying it is only open to the married or the seekers of marriage? How can we speak on the same wavelength as the unmarried who do not desire marriage if we say that we are reborn not when we accept Christ, but instead when we get married to an imperfect human? Why is it presumed that Christians not currently married must be seeking marriage but are just unlucky and we should perpetually feel sorry for them? What’s missing from the Church’s overarching vision of Christian marriage is actually the most important element of the faith, the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom is, as Revd Simon Tillotson notes, not just our whole goal, aim and end but it is, more than that, the concept undergirding, supporting, sustaining and upholding us throughout our entire Christian lives. As Jesus states in Matthew 10:22, ‘you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved’. Jesus further confirms this in Matthew 6:19-21, ‘“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’. Such an earthly treasure could include marriage between humans but we ought really to be more concerned with that glorious heavenly treasure is the marriage between Christ and His Church.