Recently, we’ve talked about how society views singleness; but have you ever felt like the church puts out any sort of message that our sexuality is the way in which we become fully human? Or maybe that, unless you are married, you are not really an adult? And when I say, “the church,” I mean, not just church leadership; the people who teach on the weekends and so forth, but the larger body of Christ that makes up the present evangelical culture of North American Christians. Has this “family” of believers ever made you feel less than because you are presently single or “single again?”
I ask because an article and podcast that were shared with me recently, got me looking at and talking about the subject from those perspectives. Based upon a book entitled, The Significance of Singleness by Dr. Christina Hitchcock, two professors from the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University interviewed her on the podcast, Think Biblically back in August of 2019. And it made me wonder: how many people in our North Coast Singles Community have experienced this?
Within this blog, I’ll begin to unpack and summarize some of the key thoughts from that interview and, in doing so, hope to create enough interest to entice you to listen to the entire (30 minutes) podcast at this link.
As you may have heard, the number of adults who identify as “single” in the U.S. has been growing steadily for the past few decades. And today, for the first time in history, the number of households headed up by a single person has surpassed the 50% threshold. That means that U.S. households now being led by people who are single now surpasses those led by marrieds. Yet in many churches, the unwritten norm is still “married with children,” and marriage is often seen as a sign of maturity. So where does that leave single adults, especially those who feel that they might be called to singleness?
You may find yourself among many singles who had the strong expectation that they would get married in their 20s or early 30s, start a family and begin to settle into adult life. If/when that did not happen or, even if it did and the dream was later shattered, it’s likely been unsettling and led you to wonder what to make of the situation. Especially as a believer, maybe you sometimes wonder what life will be like if you never marry or marry again and/or perhaps, as significantly, if you don’t have children? “Has a vision been created for my life where there is no alternate vision?” “If God doesn’t do this thing that everybody in the church seems to be saying He will, at some point do, and if I don’t have this way of relating to the church and the world then, who am I?” Asked another way, “How am I supposed to fit in and be a part of the church when it seems to place such emphasis on marriage and family?” or even, “How is my life going to be significant in the season or even a lifetime of singlehood?”
And all of these complicated and challenging questions get to the root of what Dr. Hitchcock explores in her book; how can we as a church, both body and leadership do a better job communicating value in both marriage and in singleness?
In her case, having gotten married at 30, Dr. Hitchcock spent many of her young adult years feeling as though her church family did not know quite what to do with her; that maybe they seemed to think; “Well, we should try and marry her off as fast as we can because that will help us all know what category she fits in.” It was as though the church felt uncomfortable with her singleness. She asks a poignant question, “…but why didn’t the church have a vision of life for single people that was significant and valuable?”
And she suggests an initial belief that, by and large, American Christians adore marriage and are terrified of singleness. That ‘many seem to have adopted a secular view of sexuality that advances the notion referenced earlier; that our sexuality is, they believe, the way in which we become fully human; that it’s in a romantic relationship that we realize our full humanness. You can watch any Hollywood movie or TV show and see this being displayed front and center.’ She believes this is why so many adore marriage; why so many want marriage. ‘Marriage is still very much something on sitcoms or in movies that people want; that they strive for; that they hope for and plan for. Many have essentially wrapped up their identity in this idea that we’re supposed to have a romantic, sexual partner.’
“We’re terrified of singleness, partly I think, of course, because no one wants to be alone or lonely,” she continues. “But I think much more importantly because we feel that being single is a reflection of our identity or lack of identity; a reflection of me not being the person I’m supposed to be.”
But when she started reading the Bible, that’s not at all what she heard. She learned something very different from Scripture; that singleness was very much valued and very important to the church, both practically and theologically. That singleness has a theological value.
So, what is the theological value that the Bible teaches on singleness, you may ask?
Well, just to make sure we are all working from the same definition, theology is the study of the nature of God; who God is and what God is doing.
The apostle Paul talks very specifically about singleness in the 7th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians. And Dr. Hitchcock agrees with Paul that there is something theologically very special and important about being single that she sums up with the following 3 points referred to as a Theology of Singleness:
- Beyond our biological or marital families, singleness points us to see the church as the only true and eternal institution.
- It’s not that our marital/biological families don’t matter, but that in Jesus Christ, the church becomes our new family, our true family, our eternal family.
- So that even in our biological families, we become more fully related to them through Christ; husband to wife; parent to child; sibling to sibling, etc.; all become and are considered the Children of God; each a brother or sister in Christ Jesus.
- In this way, a singleness theology can help us to see the church as our one, true family; our first family.
- Singleness points us toward God’s future; a sign of God’s future breaking into the present since, as Jesus said to the Sadducees about marriage and singleness: ‘In the resurrection, there’ll be neither giving or taking in marriage because we will all be made like the angels. They are God’s children since they are children of the resurrection. (Luke 20; Matthew 22)
- In the new heavens and the new earth, marriage as we now know it will cease to exist because marriage is simply a “foreshadowing of a much greater, deeper community that will exist in and through our relationship with Christ by the power of the resurrection.”
- Singleness now points to an order that’s coming.
- Singleness should remind us of God’s future as opposed to our present; an eternal view in place of getting so wrapped up or settled in our present circumstances.
- Singleness should remind us that our hope and our trust is ultimately in God.
- Marriage and children can be wonderful – so often why we are tempted to place our hope and trust in them.
- Singleness reminds us that our hope is not in our spouse or our children or in any other human being. To place them there is ultimately tantamount to inviting uncertainty, if not disappointment.
- Our true and lasting hope is to be in Jesus. He is the one who will keep us safe. He’s the one who loves us no matter what. He’s the one who ultimately secures our future and makes it what it is supposed to be – if not in this life, then in the next. He’s the one we are to entrust our very lives to.
We as the church; the body of Christ will do well to think about and encourage one another with these truths of the Theology of Singleness that Dr. Hitchcock reminds us about in her book, The Significance of Singleness.
As individuals, I believe we are at our best when we remember to be an example of the way in which we would like others to think and act. Our specific church (North Coast) I think, is doing a great job in creating significance and value in both marriage and singleness. We regularly hear balance and inclusion in the weekend teachings and single people are very generously supported through ministry and programming.
But one of the things I love about North Coast is the culture of consistently striving to improve; to do even better as we continue to grow and move forward together. So, I’d love to hear your thoughts and garner your feedback. What do you think? Drop me a line at [email protected] and share your thoughts and ideas. I look forward to hearing from you and, in the meantime remain…
Right here with you,