“If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it.” -Beyonce
Once upon a time, a bride was about to give herself to her groom. All the Christian community had gathered to have watch a couple make sacred promises to each other.
But it never happened.
Because Thomas, as in Thomas the Apostle, the one who had touched Jesus nail scarred hands after the Resurrection, busted in during the wedding ceremony and talked them out of getting married so that they could devote themselves more fully toward the Kingdom of God. If you had been attending the wedding ceremony that day, I’ll bet you would have thought, “Sheesh Thomas! Do you have to doubt everything?!!”
Now this story probably sounds crazy to most of you, but Christian tradition says that Thomas actually did this exact thing. And if he didn’t than at least we know that enough of the earliest Christians thought like this to keep telling this story.
Because they knew what we have forgotten.
Jesus was single.
The Single Most Forgotten
At Highland Church, we are in a series called The Sequels, and yesterday Jeff Childers and I did a sermon together, and I’ve never had so many people come up and say something like, “We’ve never heard that before.”
So I wanted to share a bit of what we talked about on here too.
I’ve been in full time ministry for over a decade, and for several years I served as a Singles minister, and what I’ve learned is that most American churches don’t know what to do with Single adults. Which is crazy, because for the first time in American history, more people are Single than married. When we train missionaries to go to another culture, they are expected to learn the language and how they think. But Churches in America haven’t done that well at all.
Instead it is incredibly difficult for a single to feel like they belong to a local church. The on ramp seems to be something like, attend this new member’s class, sign up to volunteer in a ministry, wait a few years to get married and then belong.
And all of this makes me wonder, how did a movement that was started by a Single man and advanced by another (Paul) become a community that didn’t have a place for people who were in a season of life just like them? And if you doubt what I’m saying, here’s a well written take on it from someone else.
And by the way, I get it. I understand how we got here.
When the Sexual Revolution happened, the Church realized that the way we had been talking about sex was very wrong. We realized that sex was really not something to be ashamed of, but was a gift from God given to people who had made promises and covenant to each other.
But then we bought into the idea that if God gives a gift, than everyone must have it.
Did you know, historically speaking, that people used to live Celibate lives and they didn’t blow up or die? We lost our imagination for what it meant to be human, and we started listening to the story that without someone else a person was incomplete, and then we started telling that story ourselves.
Henri Nouwen once said that the task of a minister is to keep people from suffering for the wrong reasons. Here’s what he says:
“Many people suffer because of the false suppositions on which they have built their lives…Therefore ministry is a very confronting service. it does not allow people to live with illusions of immorality and wholeness. It keeps reminding others that they are mortal and broken, but also that with the recognition of this condition, liberating starts.”
Every kind of relationship status is going to have suffering, married people let each other down, and single people sometimes wonder if life is better if you are married.
But more than just not creating a space for people, do we realize what a gift to the Church a Single person is?
Stay Where You Are
There’s a reason that Paul was able to go all over the world planting churches. It was because He was fully committed to the Kingdom of God. In fact, that’s what he wanted people in all of the churches he planted to be! Look at what Paul says:
I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is.Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned;and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this… I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided.
Paul wants people to be able to be fully devoted to the Kingdom of God, so much so that he has to say, “Don’t worry you haven’t sinned if you’ve gotten married.”
Well that’s comforting.
This is not a new idea. It’s not a Catholic idea, it’s a Jesus one. Some people are called to be single, to show radical trust in God and His family. Some people are called to singleness and some of us are called to show God’s love for the world by how we love our spouse.
And we need each other.
Jesus doesn’t need you to get married to belong to His Church. And any church or Christian Institution that makes you think that way, or makes you feel like a 2nd class citizen probably isn’t communicating the Gospel as much as they are an American dream.
By all means, if you meet someone who you want to pledge your life to, do it! Show the world what God is like by making a promise and keep it.
But I wouldn’t send St. Thomas an invitation.