Singleness and the Church
Every Church has singles. Surprise!
Some have more than others for different reasons, but the principle remains the same. Every church has singles. This unavoidable reality is regularly met with different responses varying from disappointment to excitement. The response usually depends on people in the church being up for the task of matchmaking. Nevertheless, singleness is largely seen as a problem to overcome. If it is not explicitly said to be a problem (which it rarely is), the way in which it is described, and the rate at which potential matches are made say enough. While having a partner for life is more desirable than being without one and parents want to have grandchildren, these longings must not take precedence over the design of God for singles in the church.
Often, our preferences and desires start to shape the way we view and handle things – like singleness. Our culture is not the first to be obsessed about relationships; praising the couples and spurning the singles. We see marriage and relationships to be good (they are), and gradually make them an idol. We are good at this. John Calvin said well: “Hence we may infer, that the human mind (or human nature) is, so to speak, a perpetual forge (or factory) of idols” (Institutes 1.11.8, italicized mine). Our ability to take that which is good and make it a god should come as no surprise. It should also come as no surprise that I turn to the writings of Paul on singleness.
“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.” 1 Corinthians 7:8
The immediate question is: how can remaining single be good? I believe the answer is the church. Even though the church, as aforementioned, does not always get it right in dealing with singles, the church is who Paul is writing to, and the church is where singleness is good. How? Well, singles need the church and the church needs singles.
Singles Need the Church
Singles need the church to become holy. God has ordained the church as a primary means by which holiness comes to Christians. In our individualistic age, the church has believed the lie that our best times with God are our personal times. We have personalized our relationship with Christ which has caused us many problems when it comes to the Bible. Did you know that the term, “you,” in the New Testament refers to the Church and its body over 90% of its use? Yes, individuals are saved, but they are not saved to individuality. Salvation places us in the Church, and there is no separation between the two.
As to the primary means of holiness, the church holds the ingredients for this to happen. Christian writers, on the topic of marriage, often quip that marriage is the fastest way to see your faults. It is true; our sin is largely seen in interactions with others. Look at the curse of sin in the Garden of Eden; it mostly affected relationships.
In the Church, there is always interaction with others which means that sinning against one another is prone to happen. Do not let that get you down, for it is also the place where forgiveness and sanctification (becoming holy) are prone to happen. church is a place where mercy takes place – in both forgiveness and discipline. Since singles are not in such a close relationship, they need the church.
Where will singles learn to walk alongside one another through good times and bad times? Where will they learn to forgive those who sin against them? Where will they learn to bear one another’s burdens?
Singles are in desperate need for such a community, a city on a hill, which will offer an opportunity for such radical lessons to be learned. This is not to say that married people do not need church, they do. And I’m sure they will agree that just because they are in a close relationship with another person they are not guaranteed growth in holiness. The church offers a place for singles, and married folk alike to learn how to walk with one another in love, and grow in holiness.
The church is also a place where singles, who will eventually be married, can find a suitable partner. What better place than church to find a spouse? You can observe how they worship and relate to God; you can find wise counsel from others in the church regarding them, and can get to know them well. The community setting of a church is at an advantage when it comes to looking for a spouse.
Programs with the purpose of singles mingling take away from the purpose of the church for singles and do their part in the idolization of relationships. church services should suffice, and the more services there are, the better your chances, right? Now there is an argument you can take to your next church meeting!
Whether the singles in your church get married or not, they need the church. In fact, all Christians do, and we should be aware of this as often as we meet.
The Church Needs Singles
Paul knew it was better for him to remain single because of his ministry. He knew the burden that would be placed on a spouse with all his traveling, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and beatings. His ministry was better carried out as a single person. While some offices in the church require one to be married, there are many which do not. The flexibility and spontaneity singles have at their disposal allows them to be able to perform tasks married people cannot. This means the church needs singles.
Being content with the calling God has placed on your life displays to the world a source of joy which they cannot find. A church that celebrates singleness, and places purpose on singles is a bright light to a world set on finding purpose and satisfaction in the dark.
Not only are singles a bright light to those outside the church, but they are also a bright light to the married couples in the church. The church needs singles to show those who are married that there is more to life than the family in the yard; white picket fence and a dog; car (or two) in the driveway; American dream kind of life. It is not wrong for the married to be concerned with things of this world (1 Corinthians 7:33, 34), but the things of this world can easily become idols. Singleness can bring that proper balance to caring for the things of this world and the things of God. It comes as a reminder that those who are married were once single, and their life’s purpose is greater than their marriage.
Singles in the church can help direct the church’s focus. Churches have a tendency to create programs for just about everything. The problem with these programs is twofold. First, no one can participate in all of them, and secondly, they target certain groups which tend to split up a church by certain classifications. It seems to be a general rule that married people connect with married people, and singles connect with singles. This rule causes a divide between the married and the singles. If the church is to deal properly with singles, it must overcome this divide, and this happens when programs are forsaken, and church gatherings for services are embraced.
Why such an emphasis on church services? It is truth that unifies and sanctifies the church (John 17:14-19). There is no better place for the people of God to be than to sit under the teaching of the Word. Here the church will understand their need for singles to carry out tasks which the married cannot, and the singles understand their need for this body to grow in holiness and purity. Out of this focus on church unity flows a greater stream of evangelism and missions. So church, do not forsake your singles, for you need them, and they need you to accomplish the work God has ordained for the church to do.