Back in November of last year, Albert Mohler discussed the delay of marriage on his radio program. His remarks were in line with his previous statements about immature men, the cultural problems associated with people putting off marriage and family, and his insistence that God mandates that most people get married. The radio broadcast in question was the subject of an earlier post of mine regarding Puritan Calvinist's on-air exchange with Mohler. However, I want to revisit Mohler's comments for another reason.
Over the Christmas break, I mulled over the broadcast. I thought about the seeming insistence by Mohler and others that the only acceptable form of indefinite singleness is one which not only entails celibacy, but one that is singularly devoted to active ministry. Short of insisting on poverty, marriage mandators seem to demand that a confirmed bachelor live like a monk. It makes me wonder if their concept of celibacy and singleness is more rooted in the heritage of Roman Catholicism and it long shadow over Protestantism than it is in the Bible.
But let's suppose the marriage mandators' views of the single lifestyle are more a matter of exegesis than a matter of religious tradition. A particular argument that I often come across can be stated like this: "With regard to the decision to marry, the Bible only holds out two choices to people. You get married, or you stay single to serve the Lord in some demanding way that takes up all your time. The Bible doesn't say anything about the single man who wants more time for his hobbies."
The individuals making this argument may point to passages such as 1 Cor. 7:35. They may think the phrase "without distraction" precludes a lot of spare time for recreational pursuits (I am thinking about Candice Watters' take on 1 Cor. 7:35 in her book Get Married.). Of course, the immediate context of the phrase "without distraction" points back to 1 Cor. 7:32-34 (i.e., married life), not to all the pet scapegoats of the marriage mandate crowd. And I might ask, why aren't married people asked to give up their spare leisure time? If the only choices are minister or make babies, shouldn't everyone have to sacrifice their pleasures?
But anyway, let us grant the argument that with respect to the Bible, there is no mention or no anticipation of the man whose primary motivation for being single is to avoid the cares of married life. Granted, it means we must contradict Paul who wanted people to be "without care" (1 Cor. 7:32) and who left the choice marry up to individuals. (1 Cor. 7:35-40). In the case, the marriage mandator might say, "Forget what Paul said! Most people are to be with the cares of married life. It is required and there is no choice in this matter." But, nonetheless, I am still willing to consider the argument raised by marriage mandators.
For the sake of this discussion, consider Eph. 4:28, where it is written: "The thief must no longer steal but must work hard and do what is good with his own hands, so that he might earn something to give to the needy." This passage tells us that one purpose for earning income is to give to the poor. Now, in 1 Tim. 6:17, it says that God gives us everything for our enjoyment, but it also tells rich people to not trust in their riches. Furthermore, there is no mention in 1 Timothy of the luxuries and entertainments the our modern, affluent lifestyles can afford.
What if I were to tell you that Christians need to give up their nice houses, their nice cars, their home entertainment systems, their social outings at restaurants and theaters, etc.? What if I were to tell you that there is no scriptural authority for these things because the New Testament doesn't mention them? What if I were to say that what God "gives us to enjoy" may not be very much materially? What if I were to point to the horrible sins of materialism as a rationale for demanding an equalization of assets between rich and poor Christians? What if I were to say there are only two choices: (1) be poor, or (2) work for the sake of giving all your surplus income to the poor? What if I were to say my views are mandatory and are what Christians are supposed to believe?
It's a pretty strict application of Eph. 4:28 and 1 Tim. 6:17, isn't it? Hey, I didn't even bring in Acts. 2:45! Do you think my hypothetical reading of the passages in question ignores the context, historical setting, and primary intent of these passages? Is my exegesis marred by a wooden literalism? Does my argument depend too much on the argument from silence? Do you think I would be going too far to expand my reading into some sort of narrow rule for how Christians should live today? Would you write me off as some bleeding heart liberal or Marxist? Would the ghost of David Chilton rise to pan my writings the way he did Ron Sider?
Here's my point: I took the same exegetical approach to the Scriptures regarding rich people and their money as is often done regarding single people and their time. Let's be consistent (Matt. 7:2; James 2:1). If we are going to develop some strict, Pharisaical midrash about what singles do in their spare moments, let's clamp down on the discretionary income of middle-class and wealthy Christians.
To the Focus on the Family crowd, I ask the following: If single people having too much spare time for hobbies is a problem, then is James Dobson willing to sell off a good chunk of his material assets to help the poor? According to one source, Dr. Dobson's holdings in personal real estate exceed a million dollars.
What about Albert Mohler? Yes, let's get back to him. I suspect that he is able to live where he does, courtesy of Southern Seminary and the SBC. But come on, does a Christian really need to live in a house like the one he lives in? From the pictures I've seen, it looks pretty nice, to put it mildly.
Needless to say, the gauntlet has been thrown down on this issue. I think some people to put their "money where their mouth is" if you catch my drift.
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