Celibacy & Priesthood

The Pope defends celibacy for every priest & wonders why sexually confused pedophiles end up in ministry? 1 Timothy 4 says, "some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry," like the Pope.

There are roughly 1 billion Catholics. To care for that many people you need a lot of godly pastors. If you exclude men who want to marry & have kids, you have to take some less than healthy men to fill the ranks around the godly men called to celibacy.

- Mark Driscoll

These are bold points, and it reckons the question, is it right for the church to demand celibacy from its priests?

From a catholic friend of mine:

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

"I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord."

Does St. Paul contradict himself? Or was he warning against the dissolution of marriage in society in your scriptural reference?

You could say that in 1 Corinthians, he is merely speaking of an ideal, and not something that could actually be achieved in practice. But I would have to disagree with such an argument based solely on pragmatism.

My friend Rob argues Paul is being spiritually pragmatic, and that he is describing a literal spiritual gift, one of singleness, claiming "How can we know if we have the spiritual gift of singleness? Simply stated, do you want to have sex? If your answer is yes, you don't have it."

But to answer my Catholic friend directly, I have two thoughts. One answer could be in the purpose of 1 Corinthians. J.I. Packer writes:

"The purpose of 1 Corinthians, in large part, is to encourage Christians to attend the kinds of daily affairs that would be unimportant if Christ were returning within weeks or months… Like other NT writers, Paul considers all of time from the cross forward to be the "last days" (Acts 2:17, Heb. 1:2, James 5:3) and cousels Christians to live in the light of Christ's certain return at an unforeseen moment. Paul's point here is simply the form of this world, or its day to day affairs, is not eternal. Christians should prioritize their human relationships. material possessions, and worldly dealings accordingly."

But most of all, I see the key to understanding those verses to be earlier in the chapter. Back in verses 6-7, Paul notes:

"as a concession, not as a command, I wish that all men were as I am [that is, celibate]. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that."

Both marriage and celibacy have their own benefits, and should be considered, in Paul's words, "gifts." Paul recognizes his gift is not the norm, but his gift does not make him any holier than others. Note v. 28, 36 ("let them marry - it is no sin").

My friend responded saying

I agree with you that neither the gift of marriage or the gift of celibacy is "holier" than another. However, in the Catholic world, a priest is considered to lead a life of Christ in the sense that he must also live the lifestyle that Christ led. Christ was indeed celibate (unless you're a Dan Brown-er) so priests should be celibate as well.

Keep in mind that priesthood shouldn't really be a choice for men to make, but rather be a vocation, or calling, that can be just as holy as married life. It can also be just as sinful as married life can be.

I agree that a vocation is completely a calling on a priest's life, and that the men that answer that call are accountable to model Christ, but if I may ask though, where do you see in the scriptures that pastors are called to celibacy? I can see the interpretation in v. 7-8, or 32-35, but within the context of the chapter, this appears to me to be only an ideal (esp. considering v. 6 or 36). The scriptures even go so far as to prescribe elders and "overseers" to be "a one woman man" who can manage his family household. (1 Tim. 3, Titus 1)

I recognize the pragmatic situation, but just because something is fruitful in one man's life does not demand it of every person. Christ was homeless, and the early Christians sold all of their possessions for the sake of the church. Yet the call to be a Christian today does not require selling everything to give to the poor (i.e. the rich young ruler in Mark 10). In fact, the call of a Christian is often to maintain a level of wealth to be able to fund other ministries or missions (i.e. Joseph of Arimathea, who provided Christ's tomb to fulfill the prophecy 'He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.').

Furthermore, if you combine a call to marriage with a call to follow Christ, Paul writes in 1 Tim 5, "if a man cannot provide for his loved ones, especially his family, he has forsaken the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." The thought is slightly off topic, but I trust you can already see my implication that Christians and Leaders are not called to follow every command of Christ. But noting 1 Tim. 3 & Titus 1, before a man is called to be an overseer (pastor, literally bishop), he is a one woman man, managing his household with fiscal, moral, and spiritual responsibility. The same follows for deacons (elders). In order to ever be considered a leader, there is a presumed family. So where is an enforced celibacy justified here?

Now hear what I am saying. Does this mean a celibate man cannot be called to pastorship? I would say not, esp. in light of Matthew 19:12, when Jesus calls us to respect men who are called to give up sexuality for God (by choice or situation). Remember when the disciples asked Him two verses prior, "is it better not to marry?" and He said to them, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given." - asserting not all men are called to a celibate life, and this time by Christ Himself.

So some men are celibate for God, which Paul refers to as a gift, and we respect that. But it is never laid down as a requirement of man. If celibacy were truly a requirement of leading a life that exemplifies Christ, surely He would have told us!

Another Catholic friend affirmed to me,

the "scriptures do not call for celibacy, the ideal of a catholic priest to emulate Christ's life is to "act" like him. Christ never married nor does it say he had an intimate relationship with a woman. So the catholics priests, when ordained, vow to act as Christ did in all facets of life...celibacy is just one of MANY facets. It just gets the most attention because it is what sets a catholic priest apart from other christian ministers... it takes more of a commitment. Is it right?? That is the question."

And I would answer him, if the scriptures do not call for it, why make it a widespread requirement? My fear is that many men within the Catholic church are called to the priesthood, but are not called to celibacy, yet out of obedience to man-made religion and not god-breathed scriptures choose the priesthood, and suffer in ways they otherwise would not need to, if not for the fear of excommunication.

My Uncle John had this to say:

First, it must be noted that Judaism has no history of requiring celibacy in ministry. All Jewish men were expected to marry and have a family, in particular rabbis. The history of the early church shows ministers, pastors, and priests as married -- the apostles themselves were married! 1 Cor. 9:5 indicates while Paul was single, the other apostles had believing wives, and 1 Tim 3 has a requirement to serve as a bishop that he is "the husband of one wife." It has been already cited 1 Tim 4's declaration that forbidding to marry is rooted in a "deceiving spirit." Plus, the early church was not celibate. Clergy was generally married until the 4th century, and even then, the official declaration for priests not marrying did not come down until 1074, when Pope Gregory VII declared all clerical marriages invalid. The Catholic church's own history on this issue is rather sketchy.

He has a valid point when you consider the doctrine of perspicuity: That those verses in the Bible that are unclear should be interpreted in light of the passages that are clear. A look at the lives of the apostles, those who literally followed Jesus with everything they had, had wives themselves. If Christ wanted priests and pastors of churches to not have wives, He surely would have chosen single men!

The tradition is noble, but it is also a gift not all men are called to. To require a specific spiritual gift of all men in the priesthood is dangerous. Consider religions that demand all members to speak in tongues, and that if you cannot, you have not received the holy spirit (which is absurd). They point to event at Pentecost and claim that is the model for all churches. This is the model of a cult, taking one piece of scripture, and exploiting it out of context. For instance, consider 1 Peter 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

The issue comes with that word "saves," and it leads to many false doctrines in some churches. To save here means "to save from the evils which obstruct the reception of the Messianic deliverance," and NOT "to deliver from the penalties of the Messianic judgment." Peter is exhorting here that it is not the getting wet that saves you, it is the faith in Christ. To believe it is baptism that literally grants salvation is false, and has become nothing but superstition. Jesus is the source of faith and salvation alone. Baptism is an appeal to God for a clear conscience, and an opportunity to recognize before God and man your new found life following Jesus.

Taken out of context, you get things like baptizing children, or baptizing in the names of other people to try and rescue those that have passed on as the Jehovah's Witnesses do. Neither ideas are found in the bible nor are they practiced by the early church. This is not much unlike a church demanding celibacy for any man called the priesthood, exploiting one thought in scripture, and demanding it of a widespread group of people.

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