Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Alastair Roberts at Passing The Salt Shaker. In present day American evangelicalism, marriage is an automatic part of the cultural script, meaning that it’s just something you do. At some point in your life, you will meet someone, get married, move out to the suburbs and start raising a family. That’s just what you do. The question then becomes not whether to marry, but whom to marry. And if the marriage thing doesn’t work out for you, then expect all manner of reassurances from well-meaning individuals about how God has the perfect spouse for you and you just have to trust His timing. And when evangelicals do talk about God’s plans and purposes for singleness, it almost always sounds like a consolation prize for the kids who didn’t get picked to be on the class team.
Yet in the Gospels, Jesus said things about marriage which caused his disciples to say that if that is the case, then it is better not to marry at all (Matthew 19:10). That should give us pause. Certainly it should cause us to rethink the cultural script where marriage is automatic. Instead we need to think of marriage as one possible Christian vocation among many others.
Alastair gives the example of his grandparents, who were career missionaries in Africa and strongly committed to remaining single in order to serve God. Through God’s leading, each in turn overcame their reluctance and became open to the possibility of marriage. Their decision to marry, and the process by which they arrived at that decision, shows that they viewed marriage as a vocation and not as an automatic next step in their lives.
A view of marriage as one possible mode of Christian discipleship rather than the automatic and expected script would serve as a powerful counter to a culture where people enter into marriage thinking only of how it can enhance their own personal fulfillment, or because marriage is what is expected of them.
When the Church and society becomes forgetful of unmarried vocations, it risks losing sight of marriage itself. People walk blindly into marriage in pursuit of personal satisfaction or because everyone is expected to get married, without ever being prompted to reflect deeply upon just how awesome a vocation they have committed themselves to. The pause that a strong doctrine of unmarried vocations can give us—is it ‘better not to marry’ or what reason do we have to believe that God would have us marry?—may help people to understand marriage in a way that they never would have done otherwise.