Pieter Valk on the Case for Vocational Singleness

Pieter Valk is a licensed professional counselor, the director of EQUIP (equipyourcommunity.org), and cofounder of the Nashville Family of Brothers (familyofbrothers.org), an ecumenically Christian brotherhood for men called to vocational singleness.

In a year of sickness and death, civic unrest due to systemic racism, and refugees looking for a place of welcome, the harvest of societal brokenness is plentiful, but the workers are few. In response to this scarcity, Jesus encourages us to “[a]sk the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38).

Every Christ-follower is invited to serve their neighbor, but God calls a small and mighty band of Christians to permanently leverage their singleness for kingdom work. For the first 1500 years of the church, many Christians prayerfully asked the Lord whether he was calling them to Christian marriage or to vocational singleness for the sake of the kingdom. What if Christians today once again discerned this question with God? And what if some or even many of them accepted a call to committed singleness and lived that calling to help heal their communities with undivided attention?

In Matthew 19, the disciples respond to Christ’s high standard of marital faithfulness by joking that it would be better never to marry. To their surprise, Jesus responds that some Christians are called to “live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.” He lifts up celibacy from being a curse of the few to a normative and honorable calling. He ends his teaching with an invitation: “The one who can accept this should accept it” (v. 12). In other words, Jesus institutes vocational singleness as a lifetime calling to address the plentiful harvest of societal brokenness.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul confirms this new teaching, sharing a practical preference for celibacy to do kingdom work married couples raising kids often do not have the time or financial freedom to do. The “unmarried man,” he writes, “is concerned about the Lord’s affairs…in undivided devotion to the Lord” (vvs. 32-35). Even Reformation-era critics of Catholic celibacy recognized that celibate people had a greater availability for kingdom work. John Calvin, a vocal critic of vocational singleness, recognized this practical benefit in his commentaries on 1 Corinthians 7: “Now the point of the whole argument is this—celibacy is better than marriage because there is more freedom in celibacy, so that men can serve God more easily.”

“The ‘gift-ness’ of being single for Paul,” writes Timothy Keller in The Meaning of Marriage, “lay in the freedom it gave him to concentrate on ministry in ways that a married man could not. … He not only found an ability to live a life of service to God and others in that situation, he discovered (and capitalized on) the unique features of single life (such as time flexibility) to minister with very great effectiveness.”

The strong consensus of Scripture and Reformed thinkers past and present is that Jesus and Paul modeled and spoke of a lifetime calling to leverage their availability in singleness to do more kingdom work.

Unfortunately, some church leaders teach their congregants (directly or indirectly) to assume they will get married while neglecting the Bible’s teachings about discernment. Some Christian young adults chase the idol of romance and default to marriage while ignoring the Bible’s teaching about divorce and child rearing. Others continue in involuntary singleness without leveraging it for the kingdom. Yet even in the Catholic church where celibacy is celebrated, less than 1 percent of Catholics accept a call to permanently give up dating, romance, marriage, and sex for the sake of single-minded kingdom work. There are too few workers for the harvest.

How can our churches raise up more kingdom workers to heal our communities with undivided attention? Our churches need to become places where young adults genuinely discern whether God is calling them to vocational singleness or Christian marriage.

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Source: Christianity Today