Dialogue w a Baptist on Required Clerical Celibacy

Dialogue w a Baptist on Required Clerical Celibacy August 6, 2018
Ken Temple’s words will be in blue. When he cites my words, they will be in green.
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Paul is trying to guard against “making a rule” that one has to be single and celibate by “command force”, but rather is up to the free will and choice of the individual and that they should understand that they have the gift (charismata of celibacy – 7:7) “in order to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord”. ( 7:35) Which, it seems to me, the RCC actually violates the spirit of this passage by making celibacy a dogmatic “command force – rule” for all pastors and elders and overseers ( in the RCC system priests),

This doesn’t follow. You accept (good for you: Luther and Calvin scarcely understood this explicit Pauline teaching) that God can give some individuals the charismata of celibacy.

Now, if an institution simply states that “we want our priests to be drawn almost exclusively from that class of men who are called by God to be single, so that they can give undistracted devotion to the Lord [1 Cor 7:35],” then your objection is irrelevant, as the Church is not forcing anyone to do anything, but simply holding that its priests are required to be from this class of those already called in such a manner by God.

In other words, what sense does it make to believe that the Church “forces” men to do something that God already called them to do? This is what 95 out of a 100 Protestants never seem to grasp, because they hate the notion of celibacy so much (probably because they themselves couldn’t do it, which is also irrelevant, but is the emotional key to why they irrationally object so vociferously).

So there is anti-Catholic and contra-Catholic and emotional, personal bias (whenever sexual matters are discussed), but in the end, it is a quite simple, straightforward logical matter. The Catholic Church is following Paul’s injunctions here and not violating anyone’s “personal rights” to have sex. If they want to do so, they can get married. That is God’s plan for them. Every institution has a right to determine its internal rules of discipline and requirements for admission to its offices. This is self-evident.

Thanks! Yes, I agree to a certain degree, but your wording is carefully crafted with “almost”, and later, “who are already called” – those are the keys. It seems that many of these priests don’t know for sure about their calling, the screening process has many flaws, and still seems to go against the spirit of the passage, and I Tim. 3:2, etc.

we want our priests to be drawn almost exclusively from that class of men who are called by God to be single, so that they can give undistracted devotion to the Lord [1 Cor 7:35],

– this is OK, and I agree with the RCC position that they can make this rule if they want to, and that the priests understand it and make vows before entering into it; and I agree with the conservative orthodox RCs against those liberal Catholics and others who are arguing against the celibacy rule, and using the pedophilia as bolstering their case, because they have an agenda for homosexuality or women priests; which is what I usually see and hear on Talk shows or radio talk shows.

Still, it does seem to violate the spirit of the passage by emphasizing the freedom of choice aspect. Yes, there are life long celibates that have the gift of singleness, and some of them are ministers – John R. W. Stott, Gerald Bray (Anglicans), even Bill Gothard (Fundamentalist Baptist) had this gift. I am sure there are others. They followed the advice of the apostle Paul “in order to secure undistracted devotion” to the Lord.”

If they want to do so, they can get married.

But they cannot be ministers, elders, pastors – that is what seems wrong – making it a dogmatic rule or “discipline”. As long as monogomy and faithfulness is upheld, why not both? If one has the gift and another does not – it is a supernatural charismata – I Cor. 7:7 – it seems that both could minister in the Spirit and keep themselves from sinning in those areas, faithfulness in marriage, and celibacy for those called to that calling.

Every institution has a right to determine its internal rules of discipline and requirements for admission to its offices.

That part I agree with against the liberal arguments in favor of:

1.women’s ordination 


2. homosexuality

In other words, what sense does it make to believe that the Church “forces” men to do something that God already called them to do?

And that is the sticky issue, “already called them to do” – those that violate that were either never called to do that, or they sinned against their vows.

Difficult to know — its so subjective. Seems like the RCC would do better to not make it a hard and fast rule for all ministers, but uphold monogamy and faithfulness and also have celibates as ministers, but continue to stand firm against homosexuality and women’s ordination.

Why must marriage and sexuality be intrinsically joined with ordination? What have the two things to do with each other? If you say that they always must be together, then you deny Paul’s teaching on a certain “superiority” of celibacy (as Protestants overwhelmingly do). If you admit that this doesn’t have to be the case, then you have already made the crucial, central concession to our teaching on this.

Ordination and the religious life, in Catholic thinking, are precisely estates whereby the person is “married to the Lord.” It’s almost fundamental to the vocation (we do, of course, have married priests in the eastern rites and allow some married Anglican priests in: I know one personally: Fr. Ray Ryland).

The celibate priest can devote himself wholeheartedly to his parishioners and to the tasks of the priesthood. The married pastor, on the other hand, has a divided allegiance, just as Paul stated: he has to divide time between his pastoral ministry and his wife and children.

And as virtually anyone who has spent much time in Protestant environments (I was there for 32 years) knows well, “pastor’s kids” (PK’s) are notorious for their rebellion. Even Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son (now doing great work in his own right) was quite the rebel. And that is because one man can do only so much.

I know from my own experience, as a full-time apologist with a wife and four kids, that it is a very delicate balancing act. I can do that because I don’t have a whole flock to look after and shepherd. I’m just up in my library upstairs, writing. I don’t have direct responsibility for spiritual oversight of hundreds of souls. I work at home and my kids can see me anytime they want. I spend almost every evening with my wife (we usually watch a video or enjoy some music): many couples do not even do that.

So, if you add all the responsibilities of pastors to the married situation (visiting the sick and elderly and those in prison, marriages, baptisms, funerals, pastoral counseling and visitation, perhaps some evangelism or social outreach, Bible studies, prayer groups), you readily see that much of this activity takes time away from family, beyond the “9 to 5” tasks. It’s extremely difficult to balance all that.

And I observed it firsthand. The pastor of the church I attended from 1980 to 1982 is divorced. Then the assembly of God pastor at the church I went to from 1982 to 1986 got divorced. One of his associate pastors had an affair.

I went back to the same non-denominational church from 1986 to 1989. At that time, both elders (basically, assistant pastors) in the church left their wives and had affairs, eventually divorcing. Now, of course, there are many factors in divorce, but I am saying that the lifestyle and workload of a pastor or priest is such that it doesn’t blend very well with marriage, which is challenging enough in ideal circumstances.

Furthermore, the single priest or pastor can be heroic in ways that married persons usually cannot be, such as entering into very dangerous situations, where they may have to give up their life. The married person hesitates because he (rightly, naturally) thinks of his responsibility to his wife and children. This is the same principle behind the military’s extra concern for married soldiers and emphasis on drafting single men. The extraordinary devotion required of combatants does not synthesize very well with the notion of a wife and children sitting at home, worried about receiving that fateful “knock at the door” and terrible news.

In one of my papers I recalled an incident in Luther’s time where there was a plague. Luther was disgusted because Lutheran pastors were too afraid to go and minister to the suffering. That’s because (at least in part) they were married. But Luther noted and admired the heroism and selflessness of the Catholic priests, who freely went in to care for the sick, suffering, and dying (some of them dying themselves).

Priestly celibacy, then, has many practical benefits: precisely the kind of thing Paul discussed in 1 Corinthians 7. Catholics believe that the willing celibate life (as a calling and gift from God) has a heroic, self-sacrificing, self-denying aspect that marriage doesn’t have, while marriage is also a sacrament and a holy and good thing. We don’t view marriage (and its moral sex) and religious celibacy as “bad” and “good” (as the stereotype would have it), but rather, as “very good” and “heroic / above and beyond the call of duty”.

In any event, everyone should lead the life that God has called them to. I’ve never had the slightest inkling that I was to be single. And I felt a very strong calling from God to do apologetics, in 1981 (which, I think, has been confirmed). The documents I have produced above [about lay apostolates] acknowledged this personal call (while many critical Protestants and Catholics have mocked my calling as either self-serving or contrary to Catholicism).

Every person must do that which God has called them to do. If they feel called to consecrated celibacy, then they may also be called to the Catholic priesthood, which treasures the heroic, practical aspects of that calling and wants to utilize them for the purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God.

I think a lot of the antipathy really comes down to a strong emotional revulsion at the thought of living without sex. We worship sex to such an extent in North American and European society, that we almost automatically mock and insult those who don’t do so, and who don’t think it is virtually the highest goal in life, and most important thing.

Because it would be so hard for us to abstain from sex, we assume that those who can and do are weird, abnormal, or some sort of unnatural freaks. Luther and Calvin did this, but Paul (himself single) did not at all. The Catholic view is eminently biblical, and rejects the idolatry of sex.

Secondly, I think there is the usual ambivalence towards folks who are more saintly and holy and self-sacrificing than we are. That threatens us, and so we must run it down, rather than simply admit that it is admirable that some people can live in ways which we cannot (or will not, perhaps more accurately).

Yet God gave them the ability and calling. It all goes back to Him. He gets all the glory. The celibate priest or nun or monk can be admired for going along with the calling anf not rejecting it. We are to honor and appreciate them and pray for them. I certainly do, and I get sick and tired of this endless crusade against celibacy as if it is 1) unbiblical, 2) weird and unnatural, and 3) impossible. As a happily married man, I can admire and appreciate those who have embraced the celibate life, and I will vigorously defend them and the validity and profundity of that choice and vocation till my dying day.

Why must marriage and sexuality be intrinsically joined with ordination?

I did not say that. I only said that both are there in Scripture: Peter and the other apostles are married (I Cor. 9:1-5), the elders/pastors/overseers are married (I Tim. 3:2, Titus 1, etc.) and Paul is single and he exhorts that for those that have the gift and you did a good job of explaining it. You are right, many people are railing against it out of emotion and selfishness, lust, and fear, etc.

a certain “superiority” of celibacy 

I agree that there is a “certain superiority” of it in terms of time and dedication and heroism, as you noted that Luther noted. The same goes for foreign missions in some contexts, but it is also a big negative in Muslim contexts, who have no box for celibacy at all.

I agree with most of what you are saying and the spirit of it, and I agree that Protestants over-reacted against it, but the RCC enforced ruling is not balanced either.

I personally think I am trying to bring the balance of both and say that both are needed and both are Scriptural.


(originally 7-2-06)

Photo credit: Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest, whose posthumous fame established him among the leading Victorian poets. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


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