Discussions and sermons

Celibacy and the clergy

1. Imposition of celibacy a basic error

The idea that a separate group of men are called to lead a celibate life in order that they may effectively minister to the flock of God is another example of the traditions of men taking priority over the teachings set forth in the canon of the Scripture. Jesus spoke of similar setting aside of the Word of God in Mark.7:13

This imposition of celibacy is a basic error, which due to over emphasis and legalism takes from the ecclesia a liberty of the Spirit that is the birthright of the Christian. Jesus introduced the idea of choice in Matt.19:10 in response to the disciples’ comment that it would be better not to marry than to be tied to a wife. He used the opportunity to point out that we should accept the word we are given. i.e. the calling of God to celibacy or to marriage. (Not we might add, a call to priesthood or laity.)

Paul made it abundantly clear that each may choose freely their way and serve as a celibate or a married person without restriction upon their ministry calling.

2. For some a commendable state

For himself Paul was pleased to be one who served the Lord in a state of celibacy. From his experience he commended this state. He rightly shows that a celibate may indeed have more time to devote to tasks directly relating to the preaching and ministering. 1 Cor. 7:1. However, he also made it very clear that this was in no way to be seen as binding on those called to minister (As we all are!) in the household of faith. 1.Cor.7: 17. The Scripture is very specific, ‘as the Lord has called every person so let him walk’ or again ‘ 1.Cor.7: 7. ‘I wish that all men were as I am. However, each man has his own gift from God ‘ The emphasis in this chapter is obedience to one’s calling.

3. An obligation for ministers of the Gospel?

Exactly so, some might argue. The Roman church in particular insist that the calling to the ministry of elder (some call this priest, minister, bishop) embraces celibacy as being part of, or obligatory to that calling. However, this need to be celibate is not sustained by Scripture and can be shown incorrect. Such a bar to answering the call to eldership (in RC communion, priest) rather than being a blessing to the church and allowing the fulfilment of God’s purpose, clearly shuts out many of His called and chosen ministries on the basis of man made rules. The result is a lack of balance in the oversight of the ecclesias and part of the Lord’s ascension ministry is unable to guide His people.

4. The Lord may call married or unmarried persons.

Some ministers are not called till later in life and the call may come at a time when they already have a family. Salvation may come at any stage of man’s life and from such the Lord often chooses his ministers. There is an implication in the celibate idea that ALL ministers are set aside from the moment of natural birth to the ministry calling, which is nonsense. The reality is that they are ‘born again’ at any time in their lives and then called into the ministry of the ecclesia.

All believers are in fact priests and kings, and ministers to our God, but this needs a separate discussion.))

5. All are free to choose to marry, or not to marry

Consider 1 Cor. 9:5 where Paul defends his right to be free to make a choice. Herein he specifically notes a freedom to marry, and not only for himself but for other apostles also. ‘Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us as do other apostles and the Lord’s brother and Peter?’

Also in 1 Tim. 3:1-2 reference is made to the qualifications of a bishop (elder, minister, priest.). He is to be the husband of one wife. While this does not imply that he must be married in every case, it does emphatically permit a minister, priest, elder, bishop to be a married person. Deacons are permitted to marry also. V12.

The scriptural intention is plain, the oversight ministry, whatever any ecclesia decides to call the persons so appointed, may be celibate or married as they are guided to do so by the Holy Spirit. For a ecclesia to impose celibacy is clearly against the spirit of the scriptural examples.

6. Inherited from paganism

As has been the case with many of man’s introduced ideas, this concept that celibacy is important, and in some way increases one’s holiness, sanctity and spiritual usefulness came directly from paganism. It is readily found in eastern mysticism and is much prized in Yoga, Buddhism, Hindu teachings, and with Muslim ascetics. It shows up in most movements aimed at gaining virtue by mortification of the flesh. What a false concept, to think that by self inflicted pain, suffering and deprivation we will become more ‘holy’

Let us be clear however, this does not mean we will not experience suffering as our calling leads in the steps of the Master. As we are led by the Spirit of God the path leads to the cross. However, note that the persecution and suffering that comes upon the ecclesia is because they are already new creatures in Christ. They are already seated in heavenly places with Christ.

7. Creates an exclusive class

A more elusive and subtle danger grows out of this setting aside of a priestly celibate ministry. The promotion of the concept of an exclusive class called ‘the priesthood’ moves the ecclesia towards a Nicolaitane doctrine that the Lord hates. Rev. 2:6. Compulsory celibacy divides the king/priest calling into priest and laity. A subtle spiritualising of the priest occurs as the ‘laity’ in an almost unaware response to being shut out of the priesthood imbue their ‘priest class’ with a sanctity and elevation not called for by the ‘priest’s’ professed task in God.

8. Gives the priesthood power over the people

The separation into a priest class and laity enhances the power of the priesthood and one would be naive to suppose that this was unrealised by Hildebrand when he enforced celibacy upon the Roman church. A similar power is inherent in the need for priestly pardon for deadly sin before salvation is assured.

9. Conclusion

To sum up; it is clear that celibacy can be a calling of God but it is not justified as a compulsory imposition on the ministering elder / bishop / priest / minister within Christ’s ecclesia.