I’m not waiting for marriage.
Like many other evangelical teenagers, I signed a yellow “True Love Waits” index card in youth group and wore a chastity ring. These symbols may create a temporary bulwark against raging teenage hormones, but a message that boils down to “just don’t give out your v-card till after the wedding” isn’t theologically robust enough to withstand the cultural bombardment of “everybody’s doing it.” The message of “wait so it’ll be great” isn’t enough to sustain a standard of purity when years turn into decades.
This isn’t to say I’ve stopped believing marriage marks an important boundary for healthy sexual activity. However, I find my parameters not through a checklist of don’ts, but by discovering who and what God calls us – as embodied souls – to be and do.
As singles become a larger proportion of the total population, our society need a church that models what holiness looks like in relationships – for teens in love, single thirtysomethings, and people who are married.
Follow Jesus, not the bridal path
Consider the fellowship groups and programs at our churches. They’re usually organized around age and marital status: children’s ministry, youth, young adults, young marrieds, family programs, empty nesters, seniors. And sermon topics: what’s the ratio of marriage and parenthood messages to those on singleness? How many illustrations derive from the context of a nuclear family, rather than the daily interactions of an individual? This language and structure betrays a distorted focus on marriage that fails the married people it idolizes almost as much as the single people it marginalizes.
If we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:15) and co-workers for God (Ephesians 2:10), why does the church have so little room for anyone who doesn’t match the picture of “traditional family” (husband, wife, children, minivan, pets)? As evangelicals, who take our very name from the good news, why do our churches seem to worship families instead of Jesus?
The gospel has no special provisions for married people; we’re all grafted through salvation, adopted precious children of the Father. The commission Jesus gave to his followers before he left earth was not to settle into families in safe neighbourhoods, but to make disciples (Matthew 28:19).
I’m convinced that the best thing the church can do to encourage holy living is to help us follow Jesus, not a spouse. By teaching us to respect ourselves and others as beloved of God with a purpose to fulfill, the church can equip its people (married or single) to choose purity – to withstand the temptation to take without giving, exert power instead of grace, and put our desires above God’s calling.
Tell me no lies
While culture implicitly and repeatedly urges me to “do what feels good,” the church constructs a fortress of denial; both deceive by giving desire more influence than it deserves. I don’t need rules about (not) having sex: I need the church to help me reject the lie that desire is the most important thing.
The apostle Paul teaches there are more than two possible responses (give in or get out) to desires, whether good or evil. His advice isn’t easy, but it lights the path to holiness: renewing our minds (Romans 12:2). We steward our urges and conform to a different pattern by shifting the focus off ourselves and what we want, and onto God and his purposes. Each Christ follower is called to witness to God’s reign in the world by our different lives – irrespective of marital status.
The challenge of intimacy
The popular notion that a romantic partner will complete me is as harmful to those who are married as those who are single. Paul’s follows his instructions for holiness in Romans 12 with a picture of the body of Christ – an interdependent aggregation of parts. As members of one body, we have different gifts; married or single, none are complete on our own, yet it is the body, not a partner, that makes a whole. As a single adult, I need the church to be the covenant community promised in the MB Confession of Faith: “[members who] love, care, and pray for each other, share each others’ joys and burdens, admonish and correct each other.”
Independence and its partner loneliness are a gift and a burden for all people, but they can be heightened for single people who have fewer built-in, cross-gender intergenerational relationships to foster accountability and provide opportunity for intimacy. The church should not only be a haven for marriage but a refuge for singles.
A celibate life may offer more opportunities to minister (my schedule isn’t constrained by a husband’s meetings nor children’s activities), but on the flipside, it may not provide enough occasions of being ministered to (who’s around to help me hang a shelf, or listen as I process at the end of the day?). If my God-given need for intimacy was tied up in waiting for a spouse to complete me, I’d have fallen into despair and bitterness long ago.
So I’m not waiting – for a spouse, for sex, for my own little nuclear family. I’m learning what it means to be a Christ follower, distinct from the patterns of the world, active in service, in relationships with others. Whether I’m single or married, the pursuit of purity isn’t about how I don’t, but how I do: stewarding body, emotions, and mind in ways that honour myself, those around me, and God.