16 March 2009

What This World Needs

is less celibacy and more chastity.

Delaying marriage, as a general rule, especially in the case of young women, until . . . [insert goal or aspiration here] . . . has resulted in rampant fornication and a lot of lonely people.

Whereas the Holy Scriptures set forth holy matrimony as both a blessed gift of God and a remedy for lust and perversion, the world increasingly praises and supports illicit sex as good and marriage as bad. Better to marry than burn with passion, St. Paul writes; yet, many parents would prefer to have their children fornicate than get married "too early." The temptations of the flesh are taken lightly, so that parents naively suppose that their children will sail through college and the work-a-day world with nary a scratch to their body and soul. Would that it were so in far more cases than it is!

Kudos to those fathers and mothers who have assured their daughters and sons of their support, financial and otherwise, irrespective of whether they remain single or get married.

It is not necessary that every person marry or be given in marriage. But the blessed cross of celibacy is neither a common gift nor an easy vocation to bear. Those who are not married should possess their own vessel in purity and honor, and dedicate themselves to the service of Christ and His Church and their neighbors in the world. Those who are not yet "ready" to get married are even less "ready" to fornicate; there is never a good time for sin, whether in the teens or twenties, the thirties or forties, the fifties, sixties or seventies.

Of course, chastity belongs also to the married estate. Husbands and wives are to live, not as though their marriage were their god, but unto Christ in faith and love. We are neither more nor less righteous by the vocation of marriage, nor by the vocation of celibacy; but, wherever God has placed us by His grace, we are given to live according to His Word.

Thanks be to God for that one sacred and eternal marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church, wherein He has given Himself for us, bedecked us in His righteousness, adorned us with His holiness, cleansed and healed us of every blemish, stain and wrinkle. He has not remained celibate, but He is chaste, and all that belongs to Him is ours, according to the tender mercies of our God. So do our bodies belong to Him, as members of His Body, and that is a good thing.


Rebekah said...

This is tricky. My beloved and I anxiously waited to get married until we graduated from college since we didn't expect my parents to keep bankrolling my expenses once I was under someone else's roof (we never thought to ask them). Factor in the procreative ethic we later adopted and we might not have gotten married until he was almost done with seminary, which would have required us to live several states apart in the interest of virtue. It would have been hard, but not necessarily bad (we even got to test this setup while I was student teaching--indeed, hard, but not bad).

Might continence be a virtue which Christians in our culture, requiring as much education and affiliated expenses throughout early adulthood as it does, must cultivate rather more diligently? Should those who wish to marry young give up on school and become happily married truck drivers? Does a man not assume the responsibility to provide for his wife (and family) if he takes one, even if he is very young? How much and how long should Christian parents provide for their married children? Can you tell this question keeps me up at night?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I don't propose that there are easy answers to these questions; nor do I presume, at all, that there is one right answer for every person in every situation. As I have said elsewhere, in this and other contexts, God has given us fathers, not instruction manuals. The active participation of fathers in the plans and pursuits of their children, both sons and daughters, would go a long way toward promoting chastity and continence, to say nothing of other virtues.

I'm not at all opposed to education, nor the pursuit of various occupations; but all such pursuits ought to have as their purpose the service of God and man in faith and love, rather than the pleasures of the flesh, position, prestige and possessions for their own sake. We have set ourselves up for trouble in this country, in particular, by having such high standards, expectations and aspirations for our lifestyles, that we confuse luxuries with necessities.

Again, as I have mentioned above, I don't think or suggest that everyone ought to get married; nor that everyone ought to get married "early" (a relative term, in any case). But I do not agree with the general attitude that marriage ought to be delayed and postponed until this, that and the other thing have been accomplished first. Increasing numbers of years beyond high school when many young people, most of them not closely supervised by their parents, have relatively few responsibilities, lots of free time and lots of expendable cash, within a culture saturated with provocative images and thoroughly immersed in loose mores, results in bad behavior with all of its attendant consequences.

I had not really thought of it until recently, when I encountered it in a couple of concrete cases, but why on earth would parents not continue to support their sons and daughters, also financially, in the same way they otherwise would, whether or not they get married in the meantime? Where did that rationale or reasoning come from?

I do agree that a young man should be responsible in providing for his wife and family; and that may well mean establishing himself in certain ways before getting married. But discerning where and how those lines are drawn is not so clear-cut in my mind as it seems to be to many others. I'm not saying it's easy; but neither is it easy for fallen flesh and blood to remain continent and chaste, even with the best of intentions and a disciplined life.

In any case, I am saddened by the growing number of young women who either end up with a baby and no husband, because they've been used, used up and cast aside, or end up in their late twenties and early thirties wondering what is to become of their avocation for marriage and family, because they've been chasing the manufactured dreams of feminism.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Issues, Etc. had an excellent segment on this last year in which Pr. Wilken pointed out that "college is not a divine institution - marriage is."

I couldn't agree with you more, Pr. Stuckwisch. Well said. Very well said. I really appreciate you saying it too!

I also would like to echo what you said in your followup comment: "God has given us fathers, not instruction manuals." Applying the Fourth Commandment is crucial in these matters.

The cultural attitude seems to teach that once you graduate from high school, you go out and live independent of your parents, where you basically have to make your own moral judgments without the protective influence of your parents. Hey, we raised our kids well, right? Why worry?

As to how to handle these questions individually, there are important differences between girls and boys and even from child to child, just as there is also room for differences of opinion and practice among Christians. As you said, "God has given us fathers, not instruction manuals."

Unfortunately, as the introduction of your post reminds us, this particular aspect of the vocation of Hausvater been abdicated far too often. The active duties of fatherhood do not end at his child's high school graduation, and neither does the obligation of the child to honor father and mother.

There is no way a book, article, or Bible study on this could possibly address all the variables, but additional basic guidance from pastors on this is much needed. Thank you, Pr. Stuckwisch, for so publicly stating some of the basics of what needs to be said.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

We do have a "spirit of independence," as sinners of course, but also as citizens of a country that prizes its freedom. As Christians, we rejoice in the freedom of the Gospel, and we give thanks for God's good gift of political freedom; but the "spirit of independence" of which I speak is adverse to the communal life of both the Church and the family.

Anyway, one of my biggest frustrations is parents who not only tolerate but even encourage fornication on the part of their children, in disparagement of holy marriage. Less blatant, but not so different, is the case of parents who tolerate and condone fornication (and other great shame and vice) while their children are off to college (with the "ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies" approach to parenting), but who effectively punish their children by withdrawing their support if they get married.

Absentee fathers who set no example for their daughters and sons, set their children up for real disaster, both spiritual and otherwise. Even the best father is no guarantee that his children will not fall into temptation and sin, but the office of father and the catechesis of the Word of God are not impotent in guiding and guarding the children of God.

I do want to reiterate that celibacy is a holy calling, and that not everyone needs to get married. However, the Holy Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions suggest that celibacy (a.) requires a special charism of God, and (b.) that it is aimed at the undivided service of the Lord's Church. Celibacy that is undertaken as a matter of self-indulgence, or as a despising of God's institution of holy marriage, is a dangerous game. In any event, celibacy without chastity is a mockery and a lie, as is marriage without chastity.

Because temptations of the flesh are particularly powerful, especially in youth, and because sexual sins are particularly harmful to both body and soul, the Lord has graciously provided the aid and support of holy marriage to guard and protect us. Not that marriage has for its sole purpose the avoidance of sin; indeed, it is a gracious good gift in its own right. But it does have this special benefit against sin, which further commends it to us.

At some point I want to think out loud about that blessed cross of celibacy, which is a gift of God and a holy vocation. What that suggests to me is not that celibacy is "easy" for some people, as though they had no desires of the flesh or longing for companionship and intimacy; but that the Lord sustains them in and through their vocation, by the comfort and communion of His Church, in much the same way that He comforts and sustains husbands and wives within the holy vocation and under the blessed cross of marriage.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

To summarize and clarify a few main aspects of my point, briefly and more simply:

The vocation of celibacy is not easier, but more difficult, than the vocation of marriage; taking into account that each of us is called to chastity in whatever particular vocation God has placed us.

I am not at all persuaded that it is more difficult to be a married student than it is to be a single student; nor more expensive, for that matter. Different, yes, but not more difficult. Indeed, I maintain that several of the most difficult aspects of college life are made significantly easier by marriage.

Parents are key to determining what is right and best for their children, especially when it comes to questions of education, vocational pursuits, and prospectives for holy marriage. I do not presume to dictate for anyone else what is right and best for their children, provided that the Word of God is not contradicted or set aside. I am saying, however, that several now common presuppositions concerning marriage tend to work against the fear of the Lord and the true wisdom of faith and love.

Moria said...

I agree with the general thrust of your comments and with many of your more particular admonitions, especially that the father be more involved, not give up support of children once they are married, etc. I won't reiterate these points because you have stated them very well.

Yet I am confused by some of the implications of a few of your comments. First, I'm not sure what you mean by this:

Delaying marriage, as a general rule, especially in the case of young women, until . . . [insert goal or aspiration here] . . . has resulted in rampant fornication and a lot of lonely people.

I'm just not sure delaying marriage is the primary factor, nor is this generally a worse problem for women than for men. You are on the right track when you say that chastity, both in and out of marriage, is what is called for. The unchaste young man or woman is unchaste whether he or she is married or not. To put it another way, a young person who has been taught to be chaste will be able, generally speaking, to avoid acts of fornication and the problems of loneliness that you mention (especially with the continued support of parents into adulthood).

In other words, I don't think we should simply say that young people should get married as a way to overcome problems of unchastity. Marriage is one factor that assists against fornication, but not the primary one.

Also, achieving an education contributes to one's capacities to love and serve others. I understand and agree with your points that we should not put off marriage, the divine institution, for the sake of college and other pursuits, a human institution. Yet we should not assume that pursuing an education, in whatever manner this may manifest in an individual, is only or even partially for the sake of self-fulfillment/indulgence. I recognize that this is how it is typically viewed in contemporary society, but it need not be among Christians.

To be sure, celibacy is rarer than the call to marriage, and celibacy may be more difficult than marriage (although I'm not sure that is the case if one actually has the gift of celibacy), but ultimately, as you have said, each person is an individual, free to serve others as they have been gifted by God. That means that any one of our children may actually have the gift of celibacy. Any one young person in our congregations may have the gift of celibacy. This should be presented as an option for all families as they consider these decisions and a life of chastity.

For these reasons it does not appear to me that we should assume marriage for all, or even most, people in their late teens and early twenties. Most people will eventually marry, or should marry, yet the fundamental call to chastity--not marriage itself--is the ground for all of us in each of our situations.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you for your comments and good points, Pastor Grobien.

If there is any point at which I would perhaps disagree with your additions, it is only in this, that the Holy Scriptures do specifically identify marriage as a guard and protection against the lusts of the flesh, etc. But you are quite right, as I have also tried to express, that each person is called to be chaste in whatever vocation he or she is given; and I have not intended to suggest that marriage is the only protection against fornication.

Nor, for the record, do I suppose that most people should necessarily get married in their teens or early twenties. But, as a general rule, I think marriage is delayed too long and, too often, for reasons that do not serve faith and love as well as marriage would.

My main concern (here) is in the case of young people who do not have any avocation for celibacy, and yet are discouraged from getting married "too early," only to end up living in sin and suffering the consequences. That scenario seems increasingly to be a norm, rather than the exception.

Those who have the gift of celibacy will, with the support of their parents and the Church, be able to pursue their studies and other skills with peace and a quiet heart. Those who find themselves consistently distracted and consumed with passion, as St. Paul describes, would do better to marry (with the guidance and blessing of their parents) than to avoid marriage for the sake of a societal expectation that is rather novel in the long view of history.

In any event, those who determine to avoid or delay marriage ought not to pursue recreational "dating." Those who desire to be celibate ought to be serious about that, rather than trying to play both sides against the middle.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

One of the things that brought these thoughts to mind was an article I read about a year or so ago, in which various sociologists were noting a growing trend in reckless behavior among young people in their early twenties. The sociologists, as well as many of the young people interviewed for the article, commented on the situation in which these young adults had time and money and freedom with relatively little responsibility. In particular, it was noted that the average age at which people tend to get married is later than it used to be; and this was identified as a significant contributing factor.

Of course, people can choose not to get married at all, or to wait on marriage until later in life; but that decision, as I have said, ought to be made in purity and carried out in chastity. Instead, a great many of those who deliberately avoid or delay marriage are engaged in fornication of various kinds. That all-too-common scenario is not only sinful, but hypocritical, and a typical example of the sinful desire to "have your cake and eat it too."

Which is why my opening assertion calls for less celibacy (not none) and more chastity (for everyone, whether married or celibate).

I do question the general rule by which marriage in the late teens or early twenties is viewed as "early." Human sexuality and biological development have not significantly changed; nor is it true that children and youth are more sheltered and "innocent" now than historically speaking. Rather, children are "growing up" earlier, bombarded with images and ideas of a very adult nature, and yet they are expected to wait considerably longer than our ancestors did to get married. That is a volatile equation, and the results are becoming more prevalent all the time.

Also, I should reiterate that I am not speaking against an education (for young women or young men). I don't believe that everyone must go to college, but neither do I think one must choose between college or marriage. The costs for a young person to go to college are not greater when married than when single; in some respects, the costs are less, and the financial aid is likely to be greater (because of the way that family contributions are calculated). As I have said, I think there are some ways in which college life is easier for one who is married than for one who is not. But I don't say that to suggest that everyone should or must get married. I'm only challenging some of the common assumptions that I frequently hear, which seem to have become taken for granted.

Finally, I should comment on the distinction I have implied between young women and young men: It is only this, that a man has the primary responsibility to provide for his wife and family, and for that reason may require more time for education and employment than a woman. Not necessarily so, but as a matter of general principle. I'm not meaning to imply that a young woman should not be educated or seek employment to support her family; perhaps even to assist her husband while he going to school or getting started in the job market. I'm only trying to acknowledge the fundamental differences between the primary vocations of husbands and wives.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Perhaps this will also help to explain my thinking on this:

Our Lutheran Confessions describe the enforced clerical celibacy of the Roman Church as contrary to nature and as a cause of rampant abuses among the Roman clergy.

Granted, there is no "enforced" celibacy in the circumstances that I have addressed. However, there certainly are prevalent strong pressures against marriage until such-and-such a point well beyond the time when most young men and women are experiencing the inclinations of heart, mind and body toward the sort of intimacy and companionship that rightly belong only within holy marriage.

Those pressures against marriage (whether at all or "too early") -- coupled with the fact that marriage is not held in high esteem within our culture and popular literacy, but is routinely ridiculed and lambasted -- and all of this within a society that is admittedly permissive and promiscuous -- those pressures are similarly "contrary to nature" and, so far as I have perceived, have contributed to similar abuses.

Moria said...

Thanks for the further comments, Pr. Stuckwisch. They help to clarify in my mind what you were saying initially. I was thinking more in the context of Christian young people, while it appears that you had general worldly behavior in mind, which does despise marriage and encourage self-indulgence and fornication.

I should like to comment further on the place of marriage and the control of lust. It is important to guard against the notion that marriage simply as a relationship, or even as an estate, is sufficient to protect against lust. I know you have not said this, but because the general thrust of your comments suggest that marriage is the fundamental solution to lust, I want to draw out a little more the relationship between marriage and avoiding sins of lust.

Besides marriage itself, development of self-control and chastity is taught by St. Paul when he says that it is better to marry than to burn. Marriage is a concession for those without self-control (which surely includes most people). But it is a good thing to stay unmarried, he also says. The implication is that one ought to be developing the attitude and practice of fleeing from temptations of lust. Then, because this temptation is so rampant among most people and cannot be completely controlled, as our confessions point out, marriage serves the practice of self-control by giving us the proper and holy relationship in which to exercise this inclination. Nevertheless, the basic defense against lust is self-control. For without some effort at self-control, even married people fall into lust and all kinds of immorality.

Perhaps it would not be inaccurate to say that for the world, marriage is the only practical guard against lust, yet for the Christian, spiritual and moral development becomes the basis for self-control against lust, and marriage serves as a helping institution to this practice of self-control.

I want to iterate that I am not arguing against marriage. Elsewhere in Scripture we recognize that marriage has its own goods as an institution, apart from the place of lust and temptation. Most importantly it is a picture of Christ's love for His church, and it serves as the place for procreation.

What I am saying, though, is that the problem of lust has to be combated in a comprehensive way that includes teaching on self-control, the way that marriage assists in upholding self-control, and, most importantly, the gospel which forgives and empowers.

Let me make this somewhat concrete. You are critical of the notion that people should not marry "too early," because natural and environmental stimuli tempt young people into fornication. I'm with you: marriage is not to be despised because of false contemporary notions of what is too early.

But let's be frank. When do these biological inclinations begin to manifest in young men? About age thirteen, give or take particulars of individual development? One could argue that they generally begin even earlier. If the solution to the problem of temptation and lack of self-control were fundamentally marriage, then oughtn't we be considering marriage of our young men at about this age?

Now, I am not saying we couldn't consider this, but I would need to be convinced by an explanation of how that would look in practice.

My point in all of this is that the institution of marriage is not the singular fundamental answer to lust. Marriage was not established for that purpose, but for its own goods which I mentioned above. Marriage is an important guard and institutional restraint, but it doesn't necessarily apply to every problem of lust.

Thus I am suggesting a comprehensive teaching of our families and young people on true chastity, grounded in the practice of self-control, confession and absolution. This includes guidance from parents and the eventual presumption for marriage, and also the life of chaste singleness in dedicated service to others until the time of marriage.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

“For this word which God speaks, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' is not a command. It is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore. Rather, it is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man, and more necessary than sleeping and waking, eating and drinking, and emptying the bowels and bladder. It is a nature and disposition just as innate as the organs involved in it. Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but created them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice.
. . . from this ordinance of creation God has himself exempted three categories of men, saying in Matthew 19:12, 'There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.' Apart from these three groups, let no man presume to be without a spouse. And whoever does not fall within one of these three categories should not consider anything except the estate of marriage. Otherwise it simply impossible for you to remain righteous. For the Word of God which created you and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' abides and rules within you; you can by no means ignore it, or you will be bound to commit heinous sins without end.
[Luther's Works, vol. 45, page 15 ff, emphasis mine]

Luther seems quite certain of the primary importance of marriage to the maintenance of chastity. The Apology also echos Luther's commentary on Genesis in its section regarding the marriage of priests:

7] First. Gen. 1:28 teaches that men were created to be fruitful, and that one sex in a proper way should desire the other. For we are speaking not of concupiscence, which is sin, but of that appetite which was to have been in nature in its integrity [which would have existed in nature even if it had remained uncorrupted], which they call physical love. And this love of one sex for the other is truly a divine ordinance. But since this ordinance of God cannot be removed without an extraordinary work of God, it follows that the right to contract marriage cannot be removed by statutes or vows.

8] The adversaries cavil at these arguments; they say that in the beginning the commandment was given to replenish the earth, but that now since the earth has been replenished, marriage is not commanded. See how wisely they judge! The nature of men is so formed by the word of God that it is fruitful not only in the beginning of the creation, but as long as this nature of our bodies will exist; just as the earth becomes fruitful by the word Gen. 1:11: Let the earth bring forth grass, yielding seed. Because of this ordinance the earth not only commenced in the beginning to bring forth plants, but the fields are clothed every year as long as this natural order will exist. Therefore, just as by human laws the nature of the earth cannot be changed, so, without a special work of God, the nature of a human being can be changed neither by vows nor by human law [that a woman should not desire a man, nor a man a woman].

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Well said, Pastor Grobien. Thank you for your further helpful comments.

I'm not ready to suggest that young men should be getting married in their early teens. I have wondered, though, about the fact that many public high schools now accommodate young single mothers with daycare and such for their children, and this is now regarded as relatively normal; yet, I suspect that a young married woman in the same high school context would be viewed askance and as risque or grotesque. I have ceased to be shocked, but I am still saddened, by persistent evidence of attitudes that despise marriage while condoning fornication.

Dr. Heidenrich, thank you for the helpful quotes from Luther and the Confessions. There is no doubt that our Lutheran fathers emphasized the prophylactic benefits of marriage as a guard against lust and fornication, etc. Those points do need to be remembered and kept in view, perhaps more so than they have been in recent generations. By the same token, the points that Pastor Grobien has made concerning the teaching of discipline, on the one hand, and the positive values of marriage (aside from its hedge against sexual sins), also need to be emphasized and advocated, perhaps even more so than they were in the sixteenth century.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Yes, I agree that both need to be emphasized. However, in my experience, what is lacking most in the church is teaching like Luther's words quoted above. I've heard plenty of talk in the church about abstinence, chastity, and discipline in my 44 years of life. Meanwhile, during that same four-decade "post-baby-boom" period, the church has virtually gutted the traditional Biblical view of marriage in favor of the selfish cultural view of "relationships."