Page 1

- Huw Lewis, from his Introduction

...devoted

to the Lord in both body and spirit... in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

Paul the Apostle, in 1 Corinthians 7 Julia Faire

If you would like a free subscription to Jesus Life magazine and modern Jesus army Streetpaper, write to: Jesus Fellowship, Nether Heyford, Northampton NN7 3LB Tel: 0845 123 5550 Fax: 0845 166 8178 www.jesus.org.uk email: info@jesus.org.uk Also available is a range of free Flame leaflets produced by the Jesus Fellowship to build you up in your Christian faith. Please ask for details.

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Price £3.99 ISBN 978-1-990878-18-3

9 781990 878183

Seven Silver Rings Julia Faire

A call to radical Christian love

‘We hope that, as this book is read, God will again bring to His Church the often forgotten pearl of a voluntary celibacy, birthed in a passion for God and a desire to be “undivided” in “devotion to the Lord,” living fully for Him and His Kingdom.’

Seven Silver Rings

In Seven Silver Rings, seven celibates from the Jesus Fellowship tell their stories, sharing how such committed singleness has enabled them to live ‘undivided’ for Jesus and His kingdom. Their stories are interspersed with author Julia Faire’s reflections on celibacy. She explores celibacy in the New Testament, some of its history in the Christian Church through the centuries and examines some of the practical issues of living out celibacy in the 21st century.

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A MULTIPLY ‘Let’s talk’ book for those wanting to experience living Christianity

Qu es t

Seven Silver Rings

Seven Silver Rings

A MULTIPLY ‘Let’s talk’ book for those wanting to experience living Christianity


Seven Silver Rings

Questions about Celibacy

12

The time when Christian celibacy was placed on a pedestal by sections of the Church and society has passed. Celibacy is now subject to the questions of an age cynical about the motives behind embracing it, concerned about its psychological fallout and alarmed by the results of enforced celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church. Such questions deserve an answer. Wasn’t Paul’s advice about celibacy for a particular time – perhaps a time of persecution? We live in a different age now. Do his words still apply? Paul’s advice was: ‘Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.’1 As we saw in the chapter about celibacy and the early church (see page 35), we do not know exactly what ‘present crisis’ Paul was referring to, although it probably links with his statement later in the chapter that ‘the time is short’.2 Whatever he meant, only the spiritually blind would claim that these are not days of crisis for the true Church of God. In the West, church-going is rapidly dwindling and statisticians predict the virtual demise of Christianity, whilst Islam, materialism and secular humanism are advancing daily. Further afield, there have been more martyrs in the last century than in all the previous nineteen centuries put together. The conflicts we face as we seek to be a Church faithful to God are very different now from those that faced the early Church – but every bit as fierce! The battle for the purity and whole-hearted devotion of the Church rages Page 108

1 2

1 Corinthians 7:26 1 Corinthians 7: 29

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as strong as ever. If we ever needed those with undivided hearts it is now! What would Paul say? One can only guess but perhaps, in view of the unleashed spiritual forces that lie behind our ‘present crisis’, he would say an army of celibates is needed!

Is it not necessary to have a partner (and children) to meet one’s emotional needs?

Genesis 2:18 Genesis 2:18 5 John 11:33-36 6 John 21:7 7 Luke 22:28 3 4

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Surely, some may say, to have a partner is still a basic human necessity for emotional and personal fulfilment. After all, in the opening chapters of the Old Testament, God is recording as saying: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’3 Because of this, He provided the first man with a woman as his companion. Yes, it is true that it is not good for man or woman to be alone. In the majestic early chapters of Genesis we see man surrounded by the glory and wonder of a creation as yet unspoilt by the Fall. Yet, even in this, he feels alone and we see God having compassion on his loneliness and giving him the woman as a ‘helper’.4 It was from this union that the human family grew. Man, who was in perfect fellowship with God, still needed human companionship. But, to read from this that the union between man and woman is the highest goal of all human relationships or that sexual relationships are the ultimately fulfilling ones is a mistake – as it is to say our human needs need be fulfilled in one person. In fact these are some of the myths of our present age. Relationships are of the utmost importance for all of us. But they are also available to everyone – including singles. For this we only have to look at Jesus, who must always be the first model for any Christian. As a single man, close friendships for Him were of great importance. We see Him deeply troubled as He senses Mary’s grief over the death of her brother, Lazarus and He himself weeps as He approaches his tomb.5 John, the Apostle, had a particularly brotherly relationship with Jesus. We read of how, at the Last Supper, he leant on Jesus’ breast and, in later years, described himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’.6 ‘You are those who have stood by Me in My trials,’7 Jesus said warmly to His disciples that same evening and,

later that night, we glimpse His need of close friends in His ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemane. How disappointed He was when those friends were not there for Him in His hour of need!8 After His resurrection He came first to comfort the grieving Mary who, perhaps more than any other, was torn apart with the grief of losing so profound a friendship.9 For Jesus, as for us, ‘it is not good for the man to be alone’ and His life, as recorded by the Gospel writers, reveals this well. Yet, He was a single man. Or look at Paul. With stony-hearted and misguided zeal, he hounded the early Christians before he was converted. Yet, in later life, his warmth and longings for human friendship are clearly shown in the letters that he wrote. As an apostle too, he needed others to help him fulfil his God-given ministry. He longed for his companions and missed them sorely when they were away from him. He fretted over their health and well-being and, at times, felt thoroughly let down by them. He compared himself to a mother looking after her children,10 he saw himself as a father to many11 and to another, a son.12 He wrote a particularly touching letter to the owner of a run-away slave whom he had befriended and ‘fathered’ in his own imprisonment, requesting he receive the slave back with full-hearted forgiveness – and acceptance – as a dear Christian brother: ‘I am sending him – who is my very heart – back to you,’ Paul wrote and later added, ‘He is very dear to me...if he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me’.13 Whilst in prison in Rome and standing for the trial that would end in his execution, Paul wrote to Timothy ‘my dear son’14 and, nearing the end of the letter, he wrote in his loneliness ‘do your best to come to me quickly!’15 Like Jesus, Paul, for all his strength of drive and vision, was a man who had a human need to be supported and loved by others in what was often a very demanding ministry. Yet he, too, was single.

Questions about Celibacy

Matthew 26:38-45 John 20:11-17 10 1 Thessalonians 2:7 11 1 Corinthians 4:15 12 Romans 16:13 13 Philemon 1:12,16,18 14 2 Timothy 1:2 15 2 Timothy 4:9 8 9

By upholding the gift of celibacy, are you antisex and seeing marriage as second best? In the earlier chapters of this book we looked at both

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Seven Silver Rings

what Jesus and Paul said about celibacy. The focus of their words is not on what one abstains from but what one abstains for. Celibacy is not about keeping away from sex. Celibacy is about a positive goal lived for – a love for Jesus and His Kingdom, unhindered by cares of marriage and family life. The Bible is not anti-sex as some ascetic religious systems are. In the Bible, sex is treated as a natural and necessary part of human life. However, the Bible is against sex in a wrong setting. Adultery, fornication and homosexual practices are all forbidden. The New Testament teaches that self-control and respect for one’s partner is a must within marriage. Both Jesus Himself and Paul placed marriage on a surer footing. Jesus upheld the Old Testament teaching on marriage but added weight to it. The only ground for divorce, He said, was unfaithfulness in your partner: ‘Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’.16 Paul urged Christian husbands to love their wives with selfless devotion – not to treat them as the inferior partner, as was customary in those days: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her..,’ he wrote.17 To see marriage as second best is quite wrong. Rather, celibacy and marriage are meant to complement each other. Paul, writing in his first letter to the Corinthians of the variety of gifts and ministries in the Church, likens the Church to a human body: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” and the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”’.18 His words can be applied to celibacy and marriage – both are vital in a Church that truly wants to move on with God.

Is there such a thing as a call to celibacy?

Matthew 19:6 Ephesians 5:25 18 1 Corinthians 12:21 19 Matthew 19:12 20 1 Corinthians 7:7 16 17

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Jesus said that the gift of celibacy was not for everyone – it was for those who ‘can accept it’.19 Paul wrote about marriage and celibacy: ‘One has this gift, another has that’.20 Celibacy, according to the New Testament, is a God-given gift that some are called to – and able to – receive. Many claim to have such a call; having interviewed

upwards of twenty-five people over the last few years concerning this, I am convinced that there is such a thing as a call to celibacy. For some this is a clear-cut thing: one day they have never given the subject much thought; the next day, beyond a shadow of doubt, they know that God has called them to celibacy. For others, the call of God is a slow and gradual thing that quietly takes root in the heart and grows until there is a deep awareness of God’s call within. Some do not receive such a clear-cut call. Maybe they have not found a partner and time is pressing on; maybe they have lost a partner. They begin to wonder if God is calling them to singleness and start to ask Him about this. Others are faced with a choice. There are two paths that they can take and, after careful thought, they decide that marriage and the fulfilling of their ministry are not fully compatible and celibacy is chosen as the practical option. Some, having lived a celibate life-style for a few years, find the garment fits! It is them! They end up choosing what they have been, in fact, living in already. It is vitally important that celibacy is embraced willingly. The problems caused by the Roman Catholic Church’s requirements that its priests must be celibate are well documented in the press and accounts of clerical immorality and abuse have given rise to widespread concern. Institutional celibacy has been an important part of the expression of single-minded dedication over the years of a multitude of church leaders and people in religious orders (see chapters six and eight.) Its obvious downside is that some have been unable to reach into a gift that they have felt neither called to nor fitted for – although they clearly had leadership gifts and a longing to be servants of both Christ and His Church. Tragically, this has at times had devastating consequences both for those who have been victims of clerical abuse and adultery and for the reputation of the Church. It is very hard to lead a celibate life in isolation. The temptations are many for those who live in perpetually lonely circumstances, without close human companionship and unfortunately many celibate leaders have found themselves in just such a position. We saw how, in a

Questions about Celibacy

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Questions about Celibacy

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previous chapter, Jesus Himself both loved – and needed – human company. If this were true of Him, how much more is it for us!

What about singles who never feel a call to be celibate? Many who are single may never know the call to celibacy. Perhaps they still hope for a partner. Perhaps circumstances, such as looking after an elderly parent or relative, have forced them into singleness. Maybe celibacy is not something God has put in their heart. Singles such as these can sometimes feel second-rate, the in-betweens, people who have neither a partner nor a call to celibacy. Some ache inside because they feel that a life of opportunity has been missed because they have never found – or perhaps had the chance to find – a suitable partner. Often there is a struggle with the pain of childlessness. Others feel keenly the loss of a partner due to death or the failure of a relationship. The important thing to remember is that there is no first and second class in the kingdom of God. A lack of commitment to celibacy never implies inferiority. Many such singles carry a strong desire to live out their singleness for God and to spend themselves, their time and their resources, ’for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.’ These represent an immense – and sometimes overlooked – treasure in the Church. Much of what is written in this book applies to singles of this sort.

Is it really necessary or wise to make a vow? Many people make a vow to seal their celibate commitment. The advantages of this are several: it clarifies your course in life, ruling out the possibility of future veering from that course in terms of courtship, marriage and family life. It enables you to give yourself to your chosen lifestyle and God-given ministry completely, with singleminded vision. For some it can be the end of years of frustration – at last life has a clear direction! It is good, too, to make known to others exactly where you stand: celibate vows bring security, direction and boundaries to relationships. In this way, celibate vows carry the same advantages Page 114

as marriage vows. After all, there are few that remain engaged and never make the marriage vow because they know such a binding commitment closes down all further options with another partner! They have chosen to marry the one they love and want to give themselves to them unreservedly! It is of course possible to be celibate without making a vow. Making any vows must be approached with considerable caution as, although the making of vows is a widespread practice in the Bible, it also brings to our notice that broken vows are very displeasing to God. There is a need both for a total assurance that making the vow is in God’s plan, wise counsel from those who are mature in God – and a sensible length of time to test the call. For the Jesus Fellowship this period of testing the call to celibacy is a year at the minimum but a longer period of time is often recommended.

It is possible to have deep and fulfilling relationships that are not of a sexual nature? In our culture sex and love are often seen as the same thing: they are, in fact, often many miles apart. Casual sex implies a fleeting attraction and lack of commitment. We can be sexually aroused without love. Equally, we can love without being sexually aroused – and it is the latter, the non-erotic expression of love, that is the central thrust of the teaching of Jesus and all the writers of the New Testament. Life is about loving; loving God with all that one is, with all that one has, and loving one’s neighbour as oneself.21 This love is the greatest goal of human life. Paul, in the same letter in which he wrote to the Corinthians about celibacy, also writes of ‘the most excellent way’.22 This is the way of agape, true Christian love. Most things will cease he writes, but never love. ‘If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing’.23 We have to make a distinction between love and sex. Love is not firstly about sexual expression. It is about agape, self-giving love, the primary building material of the kingdom of heaven. It is not always easy to be celibate – every celibate would

Matthew 22:37-40 1 Corinthians 12: 31 23 1 Corinthians 13:3 21 22

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tell you that. There can be periods of loneliness and the missing of a partner. Certain times of life will bring this out and this can be very painful. Yet, there is another side to the coin. If the goal of our life is to be engaged in the business of loving then, as a single person, our scope in terms of relationships is wide indeed. One can even argue that at times marriage is restricting in the sense that commitment to one person narrows down the field of one’s relationships, one’s ministry and one’s time. Celibacy is not about restricting human emotions.Writers on celibacy sometimes speak of the sublimation of love. This means that the natural human love that we need to express as celibates is not stifled but rather lifted onto a different plane. It is the re-channelling of both sexuality and the desire to love and to be loved. No one person is the special person in our lives; the love that married people have for one person in particular – and one’s children – is re-directed to many others. Love is not lost. The Rule of Taizé expresses this well: ‘Our celibacy means neither breaking with human affections, nor indifference, but calls for the transfiguration of our natural love.’ Some years ago a well-known psychologist, Abraham Maslow, made a study on people who showed a particular wholesomeness of attitude, strength of mind and roundness of character.24 He found that such people did not need sex for fulfilment. However he discovered that those who lacked self-worth were more likely to crave for sex. Perhaps, like him, we can conclude that the greatest need of us all is not sexual intimacy but deep relationships.

Celibacy is OK when you’re young but what about when you get old? Suppose you end up lonely and unfruitful?

Donald Goergen, The Sexual Celibate, SPCK London.1976. 25 Matthew 8:20 24

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Jesus said, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’.25 Jesus, the great celibate, had no natural security – no wife, no children and, in the last years of His earthly life, no home or personal income. He lived a life of simple faith, always believing that His heavenly Father would provide everything He needed. He encouraged His disciples to do

the same. ‘Do not worry about tomorrow,’ He told them. Everything necessary for life would be provided as they ordered their lives according to God’s ways. In a special way, those who choose celibacy also choose this life of simple faith that lacks earthly security. At times it feels insecure, even precarious! There is little that is solid and lasting to hold on to! Yet, it is a life of hanging onto God’s sure promise that He will never leave or forsake us27 and that He will provide us with all that we need.28 Like a marriage partnership, celibacy is a two-way contract – God has promised to fulfil His part. We must do ours and remain faithful. God will supply our need for deep companionship by bringing the right people at the right time into our lives. His promise is to provide a family for those who leave all, including those who put aside the possibility of a natural family, to follow Him – or who perhaps never find a partner.29 He will fulfil our humanity, bringing wholesomeness and completeness to our singleness. Part of this is that He completes and fulfils us with Himself. God’s provision is ample, abundant and overflowing. At times it may be necessary to reassess the situation in which we find ourselves. Are we in the right place? Do our circumstances and company lend themselves well to helping us to fulfil our celibate calling? Is God calling us elsewhere where we can serve Him better? Central in such a decision is the need for supportive relationships and plenty of room and opportunities for adventurous new ministry! Celibacy involves the risk of faith. Teresa of Avila would exuberantly describe it as a life of holy daring.This is its thrill and excitement. It is living trusting in the God who will never disappoint those who look to Him.With hands open wide to new and unexpected possibilities, celibates can look to God with eager anticipation and ask ‘What next, Lord?’ To believe in God’s promise, to believe in His provision, to believe in the power that is the source and life of the celibate gift will cause it to flourish abundantly. To be unbelieving will cause the gift to shrivel and become unfruitful. Celibacy is not a grim hanging on to a shaky hope, a life of grey skies heavily over-cast with self-denial and sacrifice. God gave us His life – and His gift – to enjoy and to live to the full. The celibate gift is meant to be worn with joy! 26

Matthew 6:34 Hebrews 13:5 28 Matthew 6:33 29 Luke 18:29,30 26 27

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