Too often the question of singles in the church is addressed apart from the Biblical context. Failure to conform to God's understanding of the church and singles makes compromise with the world inevitable.
The church began as a family, in particular, the family of Abraham (Gen 12:7; 13:14-16; 15:1-21; 17:1-27; 18:19). This household also included many dependents, especially slaves. This definition of the church was God's decision through His covenant with Abraham. Moreover, this covenant was reaffirmed with Abraham and Sarah's son Isaac, not to those who left Abraham's and then Isaac's household (Gen 26:1-5,24). With Jacob, however, the covenant is extended to all of His sons and their descendants, as well as those who were part of their households (Gen 28:13-14; 35:9-12; Ex 1:1-7; 2:23-25; 3:16-17). Indeed, the Bible so speaks of the twelve tribes of Israel (Jacob) descending from these twelve sons, that the number twelve becomes a symbol of the church, of Israel (Gen 35:22; 49:28; Ex 24:4; 28:21; 39:14; Lev 24:5; Num 1:44; 7:84,86,87; 17:2,6; Dt 1:23; Josh 3:12; 4:1-24) This language is retained even after the exile and dispersion of the twelve tribes (Ezek 47:13). Thus, Jesus chose twelve apostles to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 10:1-5; 19:28). In Revelation the 24 elders (two twelves) represent the entire church, the twelve tribal patriarchs and the twelve apostles who take the gospel to the elect among the gentiles (Rev 4:4,10; 5:8,14; 11:16; 19:4; 21:12,14).
Given this background, we should first ask how Israel assimilated singles since the church then was very family based. The answer of course is that all singles were members of a family. They either were members of their own natural family or servants in the family of another, as with Jacob in Haran. Unmarried youth remained in the protective confines of a family, although independence, such as the case of Dinah, is recorded with its disastrous results (Gen 34). Married young people sought to establish their own household, often with difficulties, as we see in the stories of Abram and Jacob. Unmarried young adults were not supposed to get their own apartments as singles and live independently. The only example comparable to that circumstance might be the parable of the Prodigal Son in the New Testament (Lk 15:11-32).
However, the Old Testament does mention one category of single person fairly often: widows. The need to care for widows is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible (Ex 22:22-24; Dt 24:19-21; Isa 1:17; Jas 1:27). Part of the tithe set aside for the feasts went to widows (Dt 14:29). Widows without children were cared for by marriage to a brother of the dead husband in which the deceased's inheritance rights were preserved for the benefit of his widow. With the death of their husbands, Naomi and Ruth did not decide to set up their own household in Moab, but returned to Judah to seek the protection of a kinsman redeemer, who presented himself in the person of Boaz. Boaz helped them, eventually redeemed their inheritance and married Ruth.
In the period of the New Testament the patriarchal family structure of the church had ceased to exist on the level of the tribes and clans. Families might live in towns far removed from relatives. Also, families became divided as a result of the gospel. Therefore, the issue of singles arises in the New Testament especially with respect to widows and those who never married.
Widows in the church might be in situations in which no family member was willing or able to care for them. If such family members were able to care for needy widow relations, they were expected to do so. A church member who failed in this responsibility was worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8). Therefore, such a person probably would be excommunicated. The church cared for needy widows who did not have family help. However, there were strict requirements. All young widows, under the age of 60, were excluded, they were expected to remarry (1 Tim 5:9,11). Also, the widow had to have a good reputation and be willing to offer hospitality and wash the feet of the saints (1 Tim 5:10). The early church did apply these principles. Churches today rarely care for widows, and when they do the Biblical requirements often are waived.
One of the greatest errors on the matter of widows in the churches today is the notion that divorced women are somehow in the category of widows. Such women also are wrongly considered to be "single" and urged to remarry like widows. However, Jesus taught that those who divorce, except for unrepented sexual immorality, commit adultery and those who marry divorced people also commit adultery (Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 16:18; also 1 Cor 7:2-3). The evasion of these clear words by many avowed Christians today may be one of the clearest evidences of the rejection of the Lordship of Jesus in favor of worldly trends. Nevertheless, the world should be resisted and the Lord obeyed.
The New Testament does seem to recognize that some people may continue in a state of singleness if they are not tempted to engage in sexual relations (1 Cor 7:8-9). They, like those who hoped to marry, tended to remain in their father's household while single.
The issue before the church today is not the issue of singles as found in the Bible, but the existence of a large number of "single" people outside of families. Some are placed in this situation when children are sent away to college. The results of this practice are sexual immorality and generational remoteness. The experience of "Christian" colleges is little better.
This singles problem is made worse by the fact that many of these people after finishing their education are single because of a commitment to a sexually immoral lifestyle. No one in that category should be a church member. However, many churches today in their desire for church growth, bigger budgets, and more programs to staff, ignore Biblical criteria for church membership and discipline. Christians fall short in many ways, however, unrepented sin, such as sexual immorality, must be disciplined. Toleration is not love for that person but love for their money.
Separate singles groups, aside from their lack of Scriptural warrant, actually tend to offend those who are genuinely committed to lifelong celibacy, because such ministries often serve as Christian equivalents of singles bars.
One of the blessings of God is that He sets the solitary in families (Ps 68:6). Indeed, that should be the principle ministry to singles who are separated from family life because of circumstances or faith, not preference for a sinful lifestyle. Separate programs for singles does not set them in families. Indeed, united Christian congregational life, by including all members, should give single people this kind of contact with family life. Our congregation shares a meal together after worship, followed by informal discussion. This provides many opportunities for single people to fellowship with whomever they please.
It is true that much of the spiritual growth in a congregation like the Covenant Family Fellowship takes place in the family, especially through family worship. However, there is a tendency for people who have family worship or Bible study on a daily basis to neglect their personal Bible study. Singles should be encouraged to give special emphasis to personal prayer and Bible study. They also should be encouraged to discuss with the elders issues that arise in their personal devotions.
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