Do we make Vows of Celibacy?

Brothers do not make vows of celibacy to the Nashville Family of Brothers. Instead, we make commitments to vocational singleness for the sake of the kingdom and to the Nashville Family of Brothers (in addition to commitments to simplicity and our Community Covenant).

Our commitments are…

Carefully discerned
Brothers discern for a minimum of 4.5 years—longer than most married people date and are engaged—before making longterm commitments to the Nashville Family of Brothers. Men do not jump hastily into vocational singleness. Instead, brothers currently considering making one-year commitments to the Nashville Family of Brothers have already spent a year having regular conversation with their pastors, deepening their theology of vocational singleness and capacity to discern through weekly discussions with brothers, exploring the possibility with biological family, and visiting similar communities in the United States. And these are merely the steps taken before making one-year promises. The depth of discernment only multiplies for three-year and then permanent commitments.

For the sake of the kingdom
When Jesus institutes vocational singleness in Matthew 19, he doesn’t invite his disciples to consider lifetime singleness for the sake of more material wealth, freedom from interpersonal conflict, more free time to watch Netflix, or freedom from the responsibility of discipling young people. Jesus invites his disciples to consider singleness for the sake of the kingdom. Brothers who commit to vocational singleness are doin so because they believe God is calling them to use the time and energy they would have used to raise children (if married) to instead do kingdom work that parents do not have the time and energy to do.

Still a call to love biological family
John 19:26-27 informs how we stay connected to our own biological families and the biological families of other brothers. Jesus makes clear to Mary that John is her son. He tells John that Mary is his mother. When we become spiritual family with each other by committing to our community, we aren’t replacing people’s biological families (or our own). We are adding to them. We are knitting each other into each other’s biological families. Committing to vocational singleness and the Nashville Family of Brothers is still a commitment to love and care for one’s own biological family (and the biological families of other brothers).

Permanent, God willing
Brothers eventually make permanent commitments to vocational singleness and the Nashville Family of Brothers. But we recognize that only God can be trusted to perfectly keep a vow. On a rare occasion, brothers will mistakenly discern that God is calling them to vocational singleness or the Nashville Family of Brothers. So if later, brothers are convicted by the Holy Spirit that we discerned incorrectly and God did not mean for a brother to make commitments, we will be eager to free him from his commitments and celebrate his next steps, whether that be Christian marriage or vocational singleness in another context. In the words of John Calvin, “St. Paul wishes those who now live chastely to persevere in it to the end; but because they are not assured that the gift is given to them for life he commands all to consider what gift they have received” (1 Calvin, op. cit., Comm. in I Cor. 7.8, Vol. III, p. 297.). Even a celibacy-skeptic like Calvin seems to urge men of the Nashville Family of Brothers who feel called to vocational singleness to persevere in it to the end, but we should always be open to the Holy Spirit correcting us that we did not truly receive the gift we believed we had received.

Our commitments are not…

Better than marriage
Those committed to vocational singleness are not better than married people. We aren’t more holy. We don’t get to skip the line into heaven. God isn’t more pleased with us. We don’t do more kingdom work than those raising children—we just do different kingdom work that parents don’t have the time or energy to carry out. Despite his strong opposition to the abuses of celibacy, Luther surprisingly allows for permanent commitment to vocational singleness if three conditions are met: (1) The celibate must have a proper understanding of his commitment, recognizing he is not superior to married people, (2) there must be a community or some other practical circumstances in which the celibate could reasonably thrive in his commitments, and (3) the commitments must be made after careful consideration and without compulsion (Augsburg Confession of 1530). The Nashville Family of Brothers strives to satisfy each of these conditions.

A default calling for anyone
No one should assume they are called to vocational singleness without discerning, anymore than someone should assume they are called to Christian marriage without discerning. Christians should not default to vocational singleness just because they don’t want to have children, don’t want to get married, or aren’t interested in marrying those available to them according to their sexual ethic. In the same way, Christians should not default to Christian marriage just because they want to have sex, want to be married, want to have children, or find abstinent singleness difficult.

In his commentary on Matthew 19, John Calvin teaches that committing to vocational singleness “…does not depend on the will of a man, but the plain meaning is that there are certain people naturally capable of marrying who, nevertheless, by abstaining from marriage do not tempt God, because he allows them to do without it and grants them a privilege above others” (1 Calvin, op. cit., Comm. in Matt. 19.11, Vol. I? pp. 389-90.). Calvin seems to make clear that straight people, perfect capable and desirous of marriage, should consider vocational singleness, AND a person should only step into vocational singleness if God has provided the gift of vocational singleness. Those who desire marriage and children should consider vocational singleness, and those who do not desire Christian marriage or children should consider Christian marriage. The Nashville Family of Brothers believes that every Christian should open-handedly ask God whether He wants the Christian to pursue vocational singleness or Christian marriage.

A limit on the Holy Spirit
Permanent commitments—made after careful discernment, confirmation from the Holy Spirit, and the support of biological family, pastors, and friends—do not limit the Holy Spirit. These commitments only limit our human freedom, but that is a gift. Settling down into vocational singleness allows us to focus on our spiritual family and kingdom work. By committing to “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35), I find perfect freedom. It is true, these commitments involve allowing the Holy Spirit to limit our human freedom. But closing doors actually frees us to live more fully into who God created us to be. Instead of having one foot in the potential for marriage and one foot in the potential for vocational singleness, permanent commitment to vocational singleness allows the Christian to fully invest in his spiritual family and kingdom work.

Unlike other commitments Christians make
Just like in marriage, committing to a church, committing to a vocation such as being a pastor, or committing to raising a child, commitments seem limiting at first. Christian marriage, for example, limits the parent to kingdom work they could carry out while stille faithfully serving their family. But these commitments, these necessary sacrifices of freedom, are necessary to take hold of the full blessings of marriage, church-life, being a pastor, raising a child, or walking out vocational singleness. Commitments that compel us to stay in healthy but challenging circumstances sanctify us. Plus, these commitments free us from the distraction fo constantly wondering, “But what if…? What if I had married a different person? What if I changed churches? What if I abandoned my call from God? What if I hadn’t had children? What if I had married? What if I had committed to a different community?” These questions only distract us from focusing on spiritual family and kingdom work the Holy Spirit has set before us.

 

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