Singleness, Marriage, and the Church

Through the years I have heard many people claim that the contemporary American church does not know “what to do” with single people and often either intentionally or unintentionally marginalizes them. Sermons on marriage are preached and special marriage classes are offered, and churches have numerous ministries that focus on children and families; these are all good things to have, but they can exclude or ignore singles. In addition, people sometimes comment about (or even to!) singles that if they are single, something must be wrong with them (which is why they are not married) or that they are incomplete or lacking. Churches that have singles ministries can even reinforce this marginalization of singles by relegating them to their own “group” (and thus not interacting with people who are married) or by becoming something of a church-sponsored dating service (as if the goal is to get them married).

While the American church has marginalized singles, we do not see singles on the sidelines in God’s plan as it is unfolds in Scripture. David Hoffeditz’s book, They Were Single Too: Eight Biblical Role Models (Kregel, 2018) studies individuals from the Bible who were single for an extended period of time or for their entire lives and served God in great ways. One could easily write a sequel to that book which examines single Christians throughout history and how they have been used by God as He builds up His church. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul makes it clear that singleness is a viable way to serve God and should not be viewed as a “second-class state” — if anything, his preference would seem to be for people to remain single so they can serve the Lord. Therefore, the Bible does not marginalize singles but shows that they play a vital role in God’s work in the world.

This is an important truth for the church to remember in discussions about marriage: the church should be “pro-marriage” (which the Bible describes as intended by God to be the union of a man and a woman) but should also be “pro-single.” Some who oppose the church maintaining the biblical view of marriage note that it is not fair to those who experience same-sex attraction, as this standard relegates them to a life of loneliness and lack of fulfillment since they cannot get married. However, as the Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality notes, “Jesus showed us that true human fulfillment does not need to include marriage or sex. Yet, the life of Jesus most certainly included close, intimate relationships with those he called family” (Q and A 7). Both estates (singleness and marriage) should be promoted as having dignity and places where we can serve God and grow in faith. The Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality highlights the value of both estates, as it notes that “Singleness can serve as a sign and reminder to married people that our most basic calling is to seek first the kingdom of God, not our earthly families” and can “point us ahead to the life to come, when we will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Q and A 9). It also goes on to say that marriage is “a sign of Christ and the church, …. a state of mutual help for life’s journey, …. a relationship in which married Christians are sanctified” (Q and A 10). Singles can look to the married and see a picture of Christ and the church, and marriages can be a reminder to them that they need help in life’s journey, which singles can then find when they are welcomed into the church and when they also take the initiative to join in with married couples and families in all church gatherings, in small groups, and in leadership roles and are valued for who they are and for what they can add to the life of the church as singles.

When a church makes it clear that being single is not a second-class state but rather a place in which people can serve God in unique ways (just as marriage is a place in which one can serve God in unique ways), it will be a more attractive place for all who are single, and can be a church that includes those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Therefore, if we want to be a place that loves all and seeks to help people follow Christ, we must be ready to welcome and include singles into our churches.

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