Sunday, March 04, 2007

Celibacy, Sex and the Single Christian

For most contemporary Christians teaching on sexuality outside of marriage means counseling abstinence, but rarely (if ever) the New Testament challenge to celibacy and life-long virginity.Christians must affirm that while human sexuality is good and from God, as with all of human life after the Fall human sexuality is disordered, and wounded by the powers of sin and death. Maintaining a living awareness and practice of celibacy and life-long virginity helps to keep a balanced, Godly view of human sexuality.

Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion, on both the local and national levels, about the Christian teaching on human sexuality in general,and to homosexuality in particular. Both sides of this debate make some very sound, if very different, points that both the Christian communities and the larger society would do well to keep in mind. Quite appropriately, in this debate, Christians on both sides of the discussion appeal to the Scriptures to buttress their own arguments. Nevertheless, I do think that the New Testament’s active encouragement and advocacy of celibacy and life-long celibacy for those Christians who are able to live this way (see for example, Mt 19.11-12; 1 Cor7.7; 17; 35) is often neglected.

Celibacy and life-long virginity have been a part of the Christian life from the beginning. God becomes Man by the power Holy Spirit,and with the consent of the Virgin Mary (Lk 1.26-83). A celibate, John the Baptist, announces the ministry of Christ (Mt 3.1-12). The Gospel is proclaimed and the Church established throughout the Roman Empire by a celibate, the Apostle Paul. And finally, there is Christ Himself, a celibate Who’s only Bride is the Church. Viewed within the context of the New Testament, and the universal Christian practice of the first 1,000 years, celibacy and life-long virginity are (or should be) a normal part of how at least some members of the Christian community express the gift of sexuality in a God pleasing manner.

Christian contributions to a discussion of human sexuality, and here I would include not only homosexuality, but also teenage pregnancy, AIDS prevention, abortion and our growing divorce rate, generally seem to overlook celibacy and life-long virginity as viable options. At best, Christians will typically counsel premarital sexual abstinence, but rarely (if ever) celibacy and life-long virginity. Sadly, when as Christians we only counsel premarital abstinence, we forsake the fullness of the New Testament’s teaching of sexuality and essentially concede that sexual activity must be part of human life. The idea that one may live a sound, wholesome life as a celibate is simply not apart of the discussion.

Christians must affirm that while human sexuality is good and from God, as with all of human life after the Fall human sexuality is disordered, and wounded by the powers of sin and death (see Rms 6.12-12;7.23). Christians understand, or at least should understand, that all of life, including our sexuality, needs to be brought “into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (see 2 Cor 10.5; see also, Mt 11. 29-30). This must mean much more than simply saying: “We love each other and so this makes it right” or for that matter: “We are married and that makes it right.”

Those who have responded positively to God’s call to live a celibate life serve a prophetic function both in the Body of Christ, and for the world. Maintaining a living awareness and practice of celibacy and life-long virginity helps to keep a balanced view of human sexuality. The presence and practice, the positive teaching and encouragement of a life of celibacy and virginity as viable options within the Church reminds us that human sexuality is only a relative good. Presenting celibacy as a viable option means standing prophetically against a sex drenched and obsessed culture, in which seemingly even Christians have forgotten that when the dead arise “they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mk12:25). More importantly, to hurting men and women, a life of celibacy (which as St. Paul reminds us also includes a life of pray and service to others) can represent a positive, life-affirming alternative to the increasingly confused and destructive messages that our culture gives about human sexuality.

When as Christians we enter into our culture’s debates about any issue, we must in fidelity to Christ, and out of love for our neighbor, present the fullness of the Gospel and not simply those aspects of the Gospel that resonant with our own political or cultural biases. In our current cultural discussions of sexuality, this means more than teaching the merely negative goal of premarital sexual abstinence. Along side of the positive good of Christian marriage, authentic, biblical sound Christian teaching on human sexuality must include a willingness to present a life-long commitment to celibacy and virginity as a legitimate vocation, a true calling from God as relevant today as during the New Testament era. It is in proclaiming the vocational, and ultimately the prophetic dimension of celibacy and life-long virginity, that I think Christians can best make a contribution to our culture’s debates regarding human sexuality.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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