Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Barry Danylak’s Singleness Paper: A Mother’s Perspective by Leslie

Chris reviewed Barry's well-written, well-researched contribution to questions of singleness facing the church today last week here. But since I have a major disagreement with some aspects of the paper, I'll post on it as well. First, here is what I think was great about it.

Agreement:

He makes the excellent point that the only legitimate reason to be single within the church is so that you can whole-heartedly serve the body in a way that married couples with children can’t. Wow! This whole idea seems to be totally foreign to many Christian singles today. We all know of a few single missionaries who are living this out, but would this characterize the majority of singles you know? Are they more involved in serving the church than married couples? Barry’s statistics show they are not. In the world, the reason many remain single is that it allows them to pursue their own passions and ambitions without hindrances. They have time and money to have all kinds of hobbies and pursuits that married folk just can’t have. I’m afraid that is also the unspoken reason for much of the singleness in the body of Christ as well. Perhaps the number of singles have been steadily rising because there is so much more alluring opportunities for leisure in this decadent, self-absorbed culture than in the past. Just think of how much more exciting video games are now than when Pac-man on Atari was all there was.

This article is bringing us back to upholding singleness as a legitimate and even vital part of the body of Christ as a means for building up the body. If any part of the human body is not functioning, the whole body suffers. So, when the singles, a necessary part of the church body, are not living up to the call to which God designed singleness, the whole church will suffer. Some of those who will suffer are the moms of toddlers and babies who are trying to serve on committees, work in nurseries, bring people meals, when some of their work could be picked up by singles. Or, there are needs that are not being met within the church that the singles could be doing.

Disagreement:

We’ve all heard the statement about how in the Old Testament God is a God of wrath but in the New Testament He is a God of mercy. Many Christians acknowledge this to be an entirely untrue statement of gross oversimplification. But I want to argue that Barry has made an error of the same kind. He writes:
“Third, in the Old Testament God is building his covenant people (Israel) primarily through the mechanism of physical procreation. In the New Testament God is building his people (the church) through the mechanism of spiritual regeneration.”
I think this is a false dichotomy akin to the one I mentioned above (although a lot less obvious of a blunder). We have to ask ourselves if we see an either/or theme developed through the scriptures. Does God speak of himself as working primarily through one or the other, or can they go together? I do agree with Barry’s analysis that in the Old Testament there was an emphasis on the physical descendants, physical land etc. But what I don’t see is God ever revoking His plan to work through physical descendants. Instead, I see the New Testament as being more inclusive. It almost appears that Barry believes that when God radically expanded his kingdom by including us (who aren’t Jewish), he ceased working through families to expand his kingdom. For he goes on to say:
“While the Old Testament creation mandate “Be fruitful and multiply” is never reiterated in the New Testament, the Gospel mandate to “Make disciples of all nations” is there introduced.”
Be fruitful and multiply doesn’t have to be reiterated because it was given many times in the Old Testament and it was never revoked. Instead, it has been added to, not replaced, by the great commission. This is one of the many ways in which the new covenant is greater than the old covenant. It’s not only that the two covenants are different, but one is actually a better covenant. By being greater, the New Covenant doesn’t remove any of the blessings and promises of the Old Covenant and replace them with different blessings and promises; but it adds to them. So I think what Barry should have written is:

In the Old Testament, God is building his covenant people primarily through the mechanism of physical procreation. But now look how amazing the New Testament is! Now God is building his people through spiritual regeneration as well! So now, not only are the married building his kingdom through raising up godly offspring, but the single people are sharing in building the kingdom through spiritual children, a concept not widely found in the Old Testament. While the Old Testament said only “Be fruitful and multiply,” the new desires that we be fruitful with physical descendants and spiritual children. This is something that the singles can share in!

How would it be a greater covenant if anything that was operative in the old was no longer operative in the new? In the OT God says:
“Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.”
Malachi 2:15 ESV
If we are to say that now instead of seeking godly offspring through marriage, he is seeking godly offspring through spiritual means (i.e. witnessing), aren’t we saying that God is not doing something in the new covenant that he was doing in the old?

Barry again writes:
...marriage and procreation no longer serve the vital function in the kingdom of God as they did in ancient Israel. In the kingdom which Jesus proclaims through the gospel, marriage and procreation are neither the mechanism by which God builds his people, nor the necessary conduit to maintain one’s place within the divine blessing. (emphasis mine)
To say that marriage and procreation is no longer a mechanism (at all?) by which God builds his people is a very unbiblical concept in my mind. I totally agree that it is now no longer the only mechanism, like it was in the Old Testament. But I would have a very hard time understanding how the new covenant is any greater than the old if I believed that God no longer used families as at least one of the mechanisms for building his church.

The biggest point of contention is that Barry is not acknowledging that in the new covenant, the spirit is poured out in a way that it wasn’t in the old such that the covenant has expanded and is more inclusive, not just different. Yes, singles now have a special, vital function in building God’s church that the Old Testament did not recognize, but the function of the physical family in building God’s people is neither minimized nor eliminated by the inclusion of spiritual children into God’s kingdom.

5 comments:

tex said...

You make some really good points, but I would like to make a few comments.

First, to have a better covenant does not imply that it must have all the good parts of the first covenant. The new covenant is better because it is a heavenly, eternal covenant that results in spiritual life with the Lord. Compare that with the old covenant that only pertained to this life. The new covenant gives us the indwelling Holy Spirit who will never leave us, but the old covenant only gave glimpses of the Holy Spirit that came and went. Thus, saying the old covenant was based on physical descendency but the new covenant is solely based on "spiritual descendency" in no way lessens the new covenant's superior status.

Second, we have to define what we mean by "the church" before we can talk about how God chooses to grow the church. If we mean the local congregation and the number of people who attend a church service every week, then clearly the church will grow by having more children and taking them with us. However, if by "the church" we mean born again Christians who have put their faith in the Lord, then physical procreation is not enough to grow the church. This is the defeinition of "the church" that I am using.

Physical reproduction is an extremely important part of God's plan for the world, but it is not sufficient to grow the church. Our children are our ministries for the very fact that they are not Christians yet. The only thing physical procreation does for our children is given them a sinful nature, making them children of Adam, destined for wrath. There is no longer Jew nor Greek (a.k.a. covenant based on ancestry), male nor female (covenant based on gender), but Christ is all. Those who are in Adam by natural birth inherit a covenant of wrath for disobedience. Those who are in Christ by spiritual conversion, being born again, inherit the superior covenant.

Leslie said...

Thanks Tex, for your comments.
You wrote:

Thus, saying the old covenant was based on physical decadency but the new covenant is solely based on "spiritual decadency" in no way lessens the new covenant's superior status.

I think it does lessen the superiority. In the Old Testament God promises to be a God to you and to your children after you. I believe that part of the greatness of the new covenant is that now the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. Acts 2:39 So the promise has been expanded.

Part of the difficulty in this debate is that I agree with so much of what you and Barry are saying. It's just that a few very nuanced hitches make a big difference. I couldn't agree with you more when you say:

The new covenant is better because it is a heavenly, eternal covenant that results in spiritual life with the Lord. Compare that with the old covenant that only pertained to this life.

But the rub comes in where I take what you just wrote and mean by it that now the physical children of believers get to become their spiritual children in the Lord as well. So that what was promised in the O.T., to be a God to your children after you, is actually effected through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, God also becomes a God to your spiritual children: coworkers, neighbors, neighbors kids, etc.

When I meant grow the church, I did mean spiritually, not just filling the pews with unregenerate children. I agree with you totally that physical procreation is not enough to grow the church and I understand that I wasn't very clear and that it would have been easy to misunderstand my words. Exactly because physical procreation is not enough to grow the true body of Christ, and only produces more sinners after the likeness of Adam, (as seen by the failure of true spiritual children to believers in the O.T.), the true greatness of the new covenant is displayed. The greatness is that God chooses the Christian family as a redemptive platform to restore these sinful, Adam-clones, to fellowship with himself. They are not unclean, but holy or set apart. They absolutely have to repent and be born again unto new life like every other believer.

So since everyone believes that children of believers must be born again, here is where the real dissention lies: are children of believers in covenant with God (though they may not yet be regenerate) and do they have promises and privileges that apply to them that do not apply to children of nonbelievers? I am not speaking only of the excellent privilege of sitting under the preaching of the word each week and having the prayers and instructions of godly parents. I would answer that yes, they absolutely are set apart by virtue of their birth. This is based solely on God's sovereign decision to promise to bless the children of believers. He didn't have to promise that. He could have promised to bless the children of next-door-neighbors to believers, or made no such promises. But he chose the family as a redemptive tool in building his spiritual kingdom, and has now included those outside of a redeemed family to share as well. What a beautiful and great covenant! Whole families regenerate, serving the Lord, and adding to their family spiritual, nonphysical members as well.

I hope that is helpful in defining terms.

Leslie said...

Correction: I made a goofy misprint from a quote of Tex's. I quoted him as saying physical decadency and spiritual decadency, when the word is supposed to be descendency. Microsoft Word marked descendency as mispelled so I right clicked on it and selected the only alternative spelling it offered, without looking closely at the word I was selecting. Sorry about the confusion.

tex said...

I'm not worried about a little "decadency" :)

Yeah, it's a difficult issue theologically. I don't doubt that we agree about 99% on this topic...and that the remaining 1% are, as you said, the "nuanced hitches [that] make a big difference."

You make interesting points, and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on related matters. I don't have much else to say on the matter...and even if I did, I don't see a point in picking a fight with someone I just bloggingly met.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your analysis of Danylak's arguments and found it extremely helpful (thank you!!); I found your post while looking for more information about the author, having just read the info about the book he's now published. However, I was shocked by your characterization of single Christians. Neither I (who FINALLY met the right [Godly] man after waiting until I was 39!) nor my (sadly, many) Christian friends now in their 30s and 40s who are still single put off being married for selfish reasons. On the contrary, we felt called to be married, thought we'd meet our spouses in college or shortly thereafter, and NEVER dreamed we'd still be single at this age. We grieve for the children we've lost. We are very active in the ministries of the church. We have completely different attitudes and world views than our unbelieving friends, who do resemble your characterization. Christians who are already suffering greatly from extended singleness when it is not their lifelong gift should not be torn down. They should instead be encouraged to persevere and not give up, that their great suffering will bear fruit and be rewarded. I'm sure it's different for those called to the lifelong of singleness, and I'm definitely not saying every single feels this way, but speaking for many of us called to marriage who had to wait years and years before finding a spouse, I cannot even begin to express how much easier it is to not be single. Single Christians need encouragement in their sometimes very great suffering, and certainly not blame.