Side B Christians and the Restoration of Celibacy, part 2March 24th, 2022
This is the second part in this series exploring Christians who experience same sex attractions, but are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, and have embraced celibacy. This group of Christians are known as “Side B” Christians. My earlier blog pointed out how this group of Christians are helping the larger church re-discover the power of same gender friendships (which have been on the decline in recent decades), as well as to restore a proper view of celibacy in the life of the church.
The purpose of this part in the series is to theologically explore the dual purposes of celibacy in the life of the church. The New Testament teaches that there is not one, but two sacred pathways which men and women are called to; two distinctive mysteries, different, but intricately related: The path of the spousal life, and the path of the celibate life.
To put these two mysteries in a theological context, let me say that for the Christian the spousal life is expressed through marriage as a covenant before God, and is a pointer to the mystery of Christ and the Church. It looks back to the Garden of Eden where God established the first marriage between a man and a woman, and it looks forward to the New Creation to the marriage supper of the Lamb, where we all become a collective bride, and Christ is our beloved. So, the Bible begins and ends with marriage. All marriages look back to creation when God first established marriage between Adam and Eve, but marriage also looks forward to the New Creation when we will be married to Christ in the Eschaton. The celibate meaning of the body, more neglected in the Protestant world, is also a lens looking back to the first creation, and looking forward to the new creation. Let me explore these two windows into the mystery of celibacy.
First, Celibacy as a Window of Sacred Remembrance
This lens looks back to the dawn of creation and that fleeting period before the entrance of sin in the world. The beauty of the creation is the seven-fold declaration of that all was good; the creation of man and woman, “very good.” The pre-fallen world was singularly noted for the whole of the created order being focused on the presence and glory of God. It is sin’s entrance into the world which unleashes distraction. Sin has many manifestations but it is all designed to distract us from God’s purpose in our life and His singular glory. The modern term singleness does not appear in the Bible and is decidedly not the language of the New Testament. So, in using this term, if we are to speak biblically, we need further clarification. A biblical view of singleness should not be equated with a state of autonomous solitude, separate from commitment or someone who is “alone,” which is sometimes connoted by the word “single.” Rather, the biblical concept of singleness more closely aligns to the concept of “single-minded focus” or the “undivided life.” In our text from 1 Corinthians 7 Paul, who himself you will recall, embraced the celibate life, reflects on the unmarried and he says this, “The unmarried person is focused on the Lord, and how they might please the Lord, whereas the married person is focused on how to please their spouse.” Paul goes on to say that he believes that celibacy promotes, “unhindered devotion to the Lord.” This is why Paul says in 1 Cor.7:38, “He who marries does well, but he who chooses not to marry does even better” because the celibate life is a sign to us all (married or unmarried) of what life was like before the Fall.
Second, The Celibate Life as a Window into the Eschatological Life
In Mark 12, Jesus teaches about celibacy and shocked those who first heard him when he taught that in heaven (or the New Creation) we “will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (See, Mart 12:24, 25). We are all headed to that day when none of us will be married in the spousal way of man and wife, because the very mystery to which marriage points will have given way to that which it points; namely, Christ and the Church, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 5 when he says about marriage, “this is a great mystery, but I speak about Christ and the Church.” There are some people who already in this life have captured a vision for the eschaton, the eschatological life, and they are prepared to live in union with Christ now in a way which anticipates the final state. Understood in light of the future age, a call to celibacy is a temporal anticipation in the present of the future resurrected life in which there will be no marriage, but we will all be married to Christ. Celibacy is a living icon or a pointer to the future New Creation. This is the “gift” that Jesus refers to in Mark 12, the mysterious path of celibacy. If a person has the sacred gift of singleness and celibacy, they have been called to live in the present age in such a way that they are already embodying the eschatological reality of the marriage supper of the Lamb. The celibate life is meant to be a compelling vision, one which stands side-by-side with marriage. As the Roman Catholic, celibate Bishop Robert Barron has aptly said, “Celibacy is meant to be an ‘eschatologically fascinating’ sign to the church and to the world.” I am convinced there is no greater witness against the overly sexualized world of late modernity and postmodernity than our Side B brothers and sisters who embody the celibate life in anticipation of the age to come. Thus, the celibate life is a special gift from God. Paul says, “I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that” (1 Cor. 7:7).
Please fill out the form below if you would like to provide feedback to Dr. Tennent concerning this blog entry.