Christian, single and proud
Is the church functioning the way it should, if young people are afraid of being single for life? Pastor Sam Allberry doesn’t think so. ‘The blood of Jesus is thicker than family ties,’ says the single pastor.
British pastor and presenter Sam Allberry recently led a weekend in Misjonssalen church in Oslo. The topic was gender and identity. Allberry shared that as a 17-year-old he discovered that he was attracted to men, and has therefore lived as a bachelor. He says that there is a problem if today’s Christians give the idea that life as a single is abhorrent.
‘In our Western culture living as a single, in celibacy, is seen as either ridiculous or dangerous,’ says Allberry. He highlights Hollywood, ‘The message in lots of films is that a person has to have sex in order to experience what it means to be human. Unfortunately, I think the church has a similar attitude. Some years ago I met a woman I hadn’t seen for ten years, and asked how her children were. “One of them’s married, the other is engaged, so everything is fine,” she replied.’
Paul the bachelor
Allberry thinks that churches should think completely differently about marriage, sexuality and life as a single.
‘Paul doesn’t talk negatively about being single for life. In 1 Corinthians 7 he recommends being single since then you can avoid many problems. This can be true,’ explains Allberry, who is a pastor, author, preacher and presenter for the apologetics organisation Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He has been open about his ‘homosexual feelings’ and lives in voluntary celibacy.
Ih his teaching, he argues that the church family should be even more important in your life than your biological family.
‘Numerous people think that singles don’t have any family. But the Bible usually categorises the church as “family”. Church affiliation should actually be seen as family membership, and Jesus’ blood should be thicker and more defining than family ties,’ says Allberry. He points to Jesus’ words when He hears that His mother and brothers are coming to see Him. Jesus then answers, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘“Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”’
A closed nuclear family
According to Sam Allberry the nuclear family, as it functions in the West, is generally a closed unit. People think that the family has to work everything out itself. ‘But the nuclear family needs support and input from the church family. Those who have their own family need to consciously include other people in their family. The borders around the nuclear family should be porous,’ he says. He thinks that if they were more open, there would be a double blessing – both for those who have a nuclear family and for those who don’t.
He continues, ‘As a single man I think it’s nice to be invited to read bedtime stories for my friends’ children, or attend a concert when a child is playing there.’ Allberry has come up with his own version of the phrase ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child,’: ‘It takes a whole church to raise a Christian.’
If this is going to work in practice then churches need to have people who can be ‘spiritual parents’. Allberry relates how some friends asked him to be a godfather for their newborn daughter. ‘They said to me, “We would like you to be present in her life. Someone who she can talk to when it’s perhaps not so easy to talk to us,”’ he explains.
He says that the idea of spiritual parents is Biblical. ‘It’s worth noting that Paul calls Titus “my true child in a common faith”. He says almost the same thing to Timothy. The Greek text shows that Paul emphasises that these are his genuine, true sons. Paul had many children even though he never had biological children. This is parenthood with eternal value.’
Allberry highlights that he is in no doubt as to whether God instituted marriage as a good practice. He continues, ‘But being married or not is not the decisive factor for having a good life. If you are focussed on marriage being everything for your life, then you are probably demanding too much of your spouse. If you think that your spouse will make you whole, you might break them.’
He also thinks that the importance of close friendships is understated in our day.
‘Lots of people seem to think that it is impossible to experience intimacy outside of marriage. I think this is a very Western and unbiblical idea. The Bible says that you can have lots of sex, but still not experience intimacy. Just think of Solomon with all his wives and concubines. But perhaps more importantly, the Bible states that you can experience a lot of intimacy which has nothing to do with sex. Just think of Jesus and Paul. I believe that in our culture we’ve downgraded friendship, but we all need close friends. If you read Romans 16, and all of Paul’s greetings, you can see that Paul was certainly not a lone wolf.’
‘But what about physical intimacy? Isn’t marriage the answer for those who long for that?’
‘We all need physical intimacy. Studies show that it is unhealthy not to have any kind of physical touch. There are some depths of intimacy that I can’t experience as an unmarried man, but I can experience a greater breadth of intimacy. There are loads of great non-romantic ways to greet other people. I give lots of hugs. In other cultures it’s normal to kiss each other on the cheek or hold hands. I think it’s particularly in the West that we connect physical touch with sex.’
Original text: Espen Ottosen