A brief history of Christian Singleness

Marriage is being thrust under the spotlight once again. But where does that leave singles? Any media coverage that is targeted towards single men and women is almost always… ‘Meet Mr. Right’ or ‘How to move on from Mr. Wrong’.

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Our culture shouts at us, teaching us that singleness is a time of transition. You’re either preparing for, or moving away from a relationship. This toxic understanding of singleness suggests that the ideal is always to be in a relationship. In fact, if your single for too long, there’s likely something wrong with you, or so social media tells us. If we have a brief look at the history of singleness we will see where this unhealthy understanding has stemmed from.

The Jewish Perspective

In the Old Testament there was no real place for singles. Everyone, including priests, were encouraged to marry. This was because their was very little teaching on an ‘afterlife’. Unlike today where spiritual people focus on moving toward a heaven or nirvana like experience, the ancient Hebrew culture thought that the hereditary line was most valuable. This is why there is so much emphasis on genealogy in the Old Testament. A man or woman without a family had no means of continuing their family line.

Even in the New Testament period we can see that Jewish teaching were just as strict, if not more so. In the Mishnah suggests that ‘a man without a family is not a man at all.’

The New Testament Perspective

Then, as if we were watching a wrecking ball sweep through the flimsy veil of a Jewish understanding of relationships, along comes Jesus. He entered into the first century culture and broke down the negative stigma of singleness. Jesus taught that marriage and family are not an eternal reality, that it is not supposed to be the centre of one’s life. He taught counter to the Jewish teachings, there is no eternity in bloodlines, but only in the resurrection. Therefore, Christ should be more central than even family. Jesus clearly teaches that people can choose to remain single for the purpose of serving the kingdom of heaven.

Paul then continues this message by saying he wishes ‘people could remain single as he does’ but also understands that it’s not always possible. Alongside Paul it appears that Luke, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Apollos, Lydia, Dorcas and Pheobe all remained single throughout their ministry.

It was obvious that single men and women had much to contribute to growing the kingdom of God.

The Early Church Perspective

After the wrecking ball shatters the Jewish context it bursts through the debris and swings like a pendulum out the other side. All of a sudden singleness becomes the ‘best practice’ for the ‘most holy’. Examples of spiritual devotion laid out by the apostle Paul inspired his successors to remain celibate in their service to the Lord. Ignatius, Justin Martyr and Origen in the second and third centuries all commended the celibate lifestyle. The ascetic Gnostic influence pushed common religious practice to the extreme, the body was evil and humanity must resist it’s urges at every point in order to remain pure and holy.

Later, people such as Augustine taught that sin was transmitted from generation to generation through sexual intercourse. The best practice was that one would abstain from building families. There were certainly enough heathens to convert in order to grow the kingdom. He taught that while marriage was good, celibacy was even better.

The Reformers Perspective

The 16th century reformation came at a time where the dominate catholic church was rife with not-so-celibate priests. It was common knowledge that Renaissance priests had mistresses and children. Protestant Reformers sought to renew the corrupt church. German reformer, Martin Luther, who had begun his ministry as a monk, new the dangers of forced clerical celibacy. He rooted his argument against the doctrine in the natural order. If men and women are being forced to go against their created natural instincts they are preventing nature from being nature. (I wouldn’t use this argument today).

Likewise, John Calvin the Swiss reformer taught that God not only permitted but commended marriage. He taught that there was still a place for singleness but it is only for those who had been ‘singled out by the divine will of God’.

Where does that leave us today?

With the benefit of hindsight, teaching on singleness has started to find some balance, though emphasis still clearly lays on the family unit. Our churches try and emphasise with single Christians but the feedback is that they have a tendency to come across as condescending. Statements like: ‘It’s alright, your time will come…’ or ‘I know how you feel, I really struggled as a single before I got married at 22…’ or even ‘God has given you the gift of singleness…’. (I think singleness is a gift [1Cor 7:7] but when spoken about as a place of empathy it’s like a gift of bad cologne. ‘Thanks, but I really don’t want it’.

As our culture continues to water down the concept of marriage, sexuality and morals it is obvious that there will be an increasing number of singles within our communities. With a divorce rate of roughly 50%, a homosexual rate of roughly 10%, an aging population increasing the number of widows and widowers, we need to be increasingly aware of the singles within our communities.

Singleness is not always a time of transition. We pray, under God’s sovereignty, that men and women would continue to unite in marriage, however it is unrealistic to expect this to be a reality for all singles. By making this the goal, we marginalise people who haven’t yet obtained it. What if the goal was something else?

The church needs to be clear that one’s relationship status does not primarily define their identity. One’s value does not come from their circumstances. Both singles and marrieds should be actively seeking to place Christ at the centre of their lives.

A truly Christian view of both singleness and marriage will honour both equally without disparaging one or the other. Recovering such a balance is the first step toward a church where singles are valued equally with marrieds.

Keeping Christ at the centre means that regardless of our relationship circumstances Christ gives us value, meaning and purpose. If our relationship circumstances change, and Christ is still centre, then the value, meaning and purpose of our lives in still intact.

[Edit: Thoughts stemmed from chapters 2 and 3 of The Single Issue by Al Hsu.]

The reason I’m a Christian…

This is why I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

First, I look outside of myself, into the world, and see absolute wonder. I see Earth, that appears to be in a constant state of change. I see the complexity of the universe. Stars. Galaxies. Other earth-like planets. I look and see the intricate nature of emotion. I see corruption. Hate and anger. Violence. Inequality. I see brokenness. Pain and sorrow. But I also see compassion, love and forgiveness. I see charity and selflessness. I get the sense that there is something mysterious about the universe. Something that the human mind can’t explain. When I look outside of myself I feel like something isn’t ‘right’ with the world that I live in. The way I see it, there is something wrong. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

Then, I look inside of myself, into who I am, and see something that has a purpose. I don’t consider myself to be just a bunch of particles gathered together without direction. I feel like I can achieve things. Achievements that are significant, not just to me, but to the world. I feel like I can add value to other people’s lives. And I also feel like I have the power to detract value from other people’s lives. I can sometimes be a weapon, that is something that can cause harm. I can hurt other people. I can destroy the wonderful nature around me. I see inside of myself something that is not quite right, like the world around me there is something wrong. Sometimes I am happy. Excited. Enthusiastic. And Filled with hope. Other times I am sad. Lonely. Lethargic. And feel hopeless. I get the sense that I am supposed to be better than I am. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

I strive to be a better me. But in all my striving I can never achieve a standard of humanness that satisfies me. What am I comparing myself to? There must be something greater than me. There must be something greater than the world that I live in. If there is not, there is no purpose to life. How can I, and my world, be the greatest thing on offer? It is beautiful. And I really do enjoy my life. But no matter how much joy I experience, I am always left craving more. I have an insatiable appetite for more. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

In search for more, I could turn to science and knowledge. I would do well to do so as it offers my many answers to my questions. The vast universe. The complexity of Earth. The intricate construction of the human body. But it does not answer my yearnings for ‘WHY?’ Why am I here? Why do I feel like I have purpose?

I could also turn to philosophy. The love of wisdom. I could reflect inwardly to such a deep level that I am confident even unto death that my soul is real. I could justify love and forgiveness. Hate and violence. Greed and corruption. I could even convince myself of an afterlife. Of divine powers. But philosophy does not answer the question of truth… What are the facts? How can one philosopher draw such different conclusions to another? Reflecting inwardly does not always reveal universal truths.

In the search for more I could turn to religion. If I have the sense of something more, than there are plenty of ‘extras’ available through the various religions. All regions have one thing in common. They all tell me that there is something wrong with the world. BAM. That first thing that really hits home. That’s how I felt before I even started my search.

And that’s where the similarities end, see, most religions tell me I have to do more… Chant. Pray. Meditate. Tithe. And be charitable. They say that if I do more, I will ‘be more’. Some religions are focused on reaching external gods. Others are focused on reaching internal perfection. Yet, I already feel that the more I strive to do, the further I am from achieving my own standard. Let alone the standard of ‘the more’ that I seek.

Then I heard about Jesus. I had grown up listening to people talk about him. He makes sense of my world. We are supposed to marvel at the complexities of our universe. We are supposed to feel the full spectrum of emotion. People will sacrifice themselves for their friends in ultimate acts of love, and at other times allow others to die in spiteful and vindictive ways. Jesus explains greed and corruption. He understands my longing for more.

Jesus’ teachings are found in the Bible. Every word on every page makes sense of me and my world. There is supposed to be death in my world. Pain and sorrow are supposed to be present in our lives. To suggest that I can work my way towards perfection is unrealistic. It is opposed to science, and philosophy. Jesus makes the most sense of me. He makes sense of the way I feel. Jesus does not contradict science and philosophy, he perfects them. He answers the questions that they cannot.

Jesus offers a solution to the problems that I experience with myself and those that I see in the world. A solution that I find more appropriate than any other religion. All the other religions that the world has to offer say that I can achieve it on my own. But Jesus says, I cannot, that resonates with me. That is my experience. In all my striving, I am unable to fix these problems myself, so Jesus offers to fix them for me.

In response to his offer, I choose to follow his teachings. I am here to serve Jesus. I was created to bring glory to him. That is my purpose. The bible teaches countless ways that I can do this. But all of his commands boil down to this… I should love Him with all my heart, soul and mind. In addition I should love the people around me in a similar way, treating them as I would like to be treated. Everything the bible teaches hangs on this command. Yet, Jesus makes it clear that my perfection is not measured by how well I achieve this command. My work is in response to his work. In this simple fact, I am free to be the best human being I can, without fear or condemnation. I can be the best human I can, knowing that one day, in the future, I will be made perfect in the likeness of Jesus himself.

It is not what I can do, but what has been done on my behalf. Jesus makes most sense of my world and that is why I choose to follow him.

The more know about Jesus, the more sense he makes of myself, and the world that I live in. I would wager that it would be true for you as well. You should find a bible… find the book of Luke within it, and start reading about the most sensible thing this world has to offer. Good Luck.

The White Western Perspective on Masculinity

I was at a men’s forum this week, and was thoroughly challenged to think about the white, western perspective on masculinity and the extended period of adolescence into adult years. My thoughts are clearly rudimentary and I’d love to hear yours. Comment below.

In our current culture there are three imperative stages of life in manhood. Being born. Reaching puberty. And death. (You could argue that menopause is a fourth for women). The result, is a large group of adolescence aged ~30-70. An example given was Australian personality and sporting star: Sam Newman.

It was suggested that our culture is missing Rites of Passage into manhood. Well not entirely… the closest thing we have in Australia is ‘Schoolies Week’, but alcohol, drugs, sex and violence aren’t really challenging boys to be men. Thus, so far as maturity is concerned we are left in a constant state of neither being a child, nor an adult.

You might agree that we see this daily in our communities. Adults incapable of accepting responsibility. Parents burying themselves in financial debt because they want everything, and they want it now. Father’s who express sadness and futility by abusing against their families in temper-tantrum-like behaviour. Road users who use their vehicles as weapons and their hands as abusive communication devices because they feel that they are obviously more important than their neighbours. The list is endless, we could go on with any number of examples of where adults have failed to grow up.

In generations past, education was focused on learning about your parents’ life experience and replicating it, hopefully at some point extending it. Yet with the industrial revolution and the working class moving into factories, the father-son unit was split, and something had to be done with boys too young to work. Boys were sent to school to learn how to work in and manage factories. They were expected to graduate as men, but the system had failed. Academia does not equate to maturity. The point being, that adulthood was being delayed.

And now, according to our culture, it’s viewed that we can’t get an honourable job until we’ve completed 12 years of schooling, and 3 to 4 years of post-school training, either technical or academic. The point being, that adulthood is further being delayed.

It is a generalisation, but there are now several generations of Australian men who have avoided maturity. Now, for my Christian brothers and sisters, please don’t here me in the light of our good friend Mark Driscoll. I’m not calling for more machoism. I’m certainly not asking for more testosterone. I’m suggesting that what we need is to go back to the root what masculinity is. We need to embrace maturity and rediscover what it means for men in today’s culture.

At the forum this week it was discussed that youthful men typically take pride in their ‘maleness’. But as they become older, they tend to soften becoming more even tempered. They develop a caring nurturing side to their maleness. They find increased value in family and their experiences tend to be filtered with the lens of subjectivity rather than objectivity. Thus, as far as a cultural definition, (albeit misguided), males tend to start off more masculine and grow increasingly feminine with time. Unfortunately our culture doesn’t have a positive process for this to happen, and these changes take place in the midst of various forms of trauma. War. Abuse. Neglect. Depression. Physical and Mental Trauma.

(It might be seen that the opposite is true with women, they often are conditioned by society to be more ‘girly’ as children, playing with dolls and being pre-occupied with cooking, make-up and clothes, but as they grow older becoming parents and grandparents, they develop masculine traits such as stoicism and resilience).

As males culture places us on a spectrum of genderness, and our culture defines what is acceptable depending on our stage of life.

With all respect. I think this is ludicrous.

As a Christian I believe that God has created everyone unique. Neither individuals, nor the human collective, is at the centre of the universe. (Sorry to burst the bubbles). Every being in heaven and on Earth was created to worship God as the centre.

In God’s grand design he chose to make ‘male’ and ‘female’. We have discovered that He chose to take a combination of both a father’s and a mother’s genetic code and transfer that to a conceived child. Thus, each individual is going to express both masculine and feminine qualities. There are many influences on this in the pre-natal, early developing, and adolescent stages of life.

It’s time Australia stopped trying to cookie cut males into testosterone fuelled men. It’s time Australia starting embracing men for who they are and helping them to become who they were created to be. For the Christian community it’s time to share the love of Jesus which has never been dependent on sexual disposition. The current white, western perspective on masculinity stifles our culture and stops us moving into a new era of manhood.

On an aside, but an important one. I advocate the accuracy of the Bible. I affirm innerancy and divine inspiration. The scriptures are clear that corruption has infiltrated all generations of humanity. Sexuality, especially manhood, has been warped by sin. The result is: Confusion. Loneliness. Depression. Hate. Anger. Violence. Abuse. Neglect. Rape. Even same-sex attraction.

I believe God is deeply troubled by sin. In fact, he was so concerned for those he loved, that he demanded that his Son, Jesus, receive their death sentence. A demand that He willingly obeyed.

But, I believe that scripture is less concerned about the individual sin, and more concerned about the broken relationship that it causes with God. No matter how much damage you’ve caused with the weapon of masculinity, God is more concerned about your relationship with Him.

Men, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of masculinity, and no matter how you express yourself, the gospel is still true. And it’s still calling you to action. God has the power to restore hurting and broken people into a new and beautiful reflection of His glory.

Reach the City… Reach the World…

Tonight was a chance for everyone who serves at our church to get together and get the big idea of the upcoming terms series.

It was a collection of all different people from kids ministry workers, to youth leaders, music/worship teams, senior staff, bible study leaders, media teams and plenty more. About a hundred people came together and learned how we plan on sharing one big message over the next ten weeks to our entire church. I’m so encouraged that sharing about Jesus was at the centre of the night.

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The sermon series is ‘10 Cities God Loves‘. It’s shaping up to be a journey through Acts. Looking at how desperately in need of Jesus the cities of the first century are. It will show how desperately in need of Jesus that people are. How in need of Jesus I am. It will undoubtedly reveal the transforming power of the Gospel.

I am so excited to know that not only is this being taught on Sunday in church, but the kids, youth and young adults ministries are diving into the same message with similar material. Our mid-week bible studies, Sunday worship, seniors ministry are going to all experience a taste of this crucial message as well. Every member of our church, including some families with three generations, are going to hear the same message. That we are all in need of Jesus and by God’s grace He has chosen to use to share that message with our city… with our world.

Testimony: Where is your faith?

It’s not often I’m moved to tears during a Church service… maybe it’s because I was going through a pretty tumultuous time of life, or because this is a particularly moving testimony, or more likely both. This is a bloke from our church sharing about his tough, but rewarding journey in life. This testimony penetrates a generation gap and shows that our faith is best placed in the Lord Jesus.

Where Is Your Faith? ::: And Now For Some Questions Jesus Asks from Creek Road on Vimeo.

Truth… Am I missing something?

WARNING: Underdeveloped rant: still thinking this one through… Help, I wanna know what you think!

Truth: “That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality”

So I’m interested in what people think about ‘the truth’. I reckon Christians need to trust science in a way that doesn’t inhibit development of the human race and atheists need to be open to the idea that they don’t have a monopoly on the metaphysical department.

So I’ve got a couple of assumptions about the truth.

  1. There can only be one truth.
  2. What people believe doesn’t change the truth.
  3. The way people talk about the truth doesn’t influence the facts behind truth.

Almost everyone I know is really passionate about seeking ‘the truth’. Yet people who have found what they think is the truth are ready to stop investigating all the possibilities. Some Christians who develop a belief in God instantly close off the possibility that the world might hold compatible truths. For example at a time when humanity had an underdeveloped understanding of the universe Christians developed a sound theory that the Earth was flat. This was very far from the truth, and it was people who were pro-science who discovered this was in fact not the truth. Mankind is much better off for the discovery of a spherical Earth.

Likewise my experience with atheists is once they come to the understanding that there isn’t a personal God they instantly close off the possibility of a higher spiritual being. At this stage the fact is that it is impossible to categorically prove that there isn’t a spiritual being who created us. Why would anyone who is pro-truth totally write off the possibility of a spiritual aspect to our being?

Just because you’re a Christian it doesn’t mean science is going to destroy your faith . While at the same time scientists need to accept that they really can’t explain everything and still have a ton of unanswered questions about how the world/universe works.

[EDIT: I just thought I’d add as an after thought, the reason I’m passionate about this stuff is not to convert atheists or bully Christians to be pro-science but I have a desire for our whole community to rally together and accept that while there is only one truth, your perception of that truth doesn’t mean that you can make life difficult for others.]

Is the Bible anti-gay? So what now?

On Sunday (24 February 2013) we asked the question “Is the Bible anti-gay?” as part of our “Got Questions?” series.  We opened up the Bible to let it speak for itself. 

A young woman (who we won’t identify) from our church community asked if she could share her story, with the hope of encouraging others.  A big ‘Thank You’ to this young woman – thank you for sharing your story. 

Here it is.  We hope you find it encouraging. 

http://www.ridgeviewcc.org/?i=14040&mid=1000&id=396096

“I first came to Creek Road through a friend who was coming here at the time. I was a bit wary of going back to church. I had already had a bad experience at a previous church, which had been very judgemental of me.

You see, at that time, I was in a homosexual relationship with another woman, and had been for three years.

My previous church had told me that I was not welcome there unless I changed. However, Creek Road seemed different, and over the next few months I started going more and more. Often I would sit by myself on one side of the church, and a group of girls noticed. They would come and speak to me, and over time, we became friends. These girls are now my best friends.

Creek Road was different because their approach was one of being welcoming and loving towards me. There was not a sense that I needed to be ‘fixed’ before I could come to church. They accepted me, and encouraged me to seek out God and find his will for me.

As I joined a growth group, and became part of Young Adults here at Creek Road, I slowly began to open up about my past. I felt more comfortable talking about my life with people I knew would not reject me.

I went to several Growth Groups before settling into an Adult Growth Group last year. Just recently, I shared my story with my Growth Group in the hope that it would encourage them to continue to treat people with love.

I am a Christian. I am no longer in the relationship with the girl, and she has visited church at Creek Road on several occasions. It is my hope and prayer that she will become a Christian. 
 It is thanks to God’s redemptive power that my life has changed so radically.

Last Sunday’s bible talk was immensely encouraging for me to hear. Steve spoke about the sexual brokenness experienced by everyone, and he didn’t single out gay people as being the worst offenders. Instead, he made it clear that none of us are in a position to judge others.

I wanted to share my story today to encourage others who may be struggling with this issue to reach out to people they trust – maybe your growth group. 
 I want to encourage people that this is not something you need to struggle with alone.

Recently I returned to my previous church where I had been rejected. They were happy to see that there had been some big changes in my life. I’m glad that my relationship with that church has now been restored.

The love and support of God’s people here at Creek Road has played a huge part in these changes occurring in my life. God has given me the strength to talk about this difficult subject in the hope that it might change other people’s lives, too.

I know I can safely say that if I had been treated with judgment and rejection at Creek Road, I would never have come back to church again.”

Praise God for how He has worked in this young woman’s life. 

Please pray for her that she would grow in her understanding of God’s love for her. 

Please pray for others who struggle with sexual brokenness. 

Please pray for us as a church, that we would always be a community of love, grace and acceptance – introducing people to Jesus.