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Should Unmarried Men Be Ordained?

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Archives / 1969 / December



Should Unmarried Men Be Ordained?

J.R. Spangler
-editor Ministry at the time this article was written


EACH year on the campuses of our liberal arts colleges and seminaries, a tension builds up in the breasts of certain young men those studying theology and about to be graduated but who are yet single. To what extent will their unmarried status affect their chances of receiving a call into the ministry? Perhaps for the engaged, there is little pressure, but what about the one who has not yet found a candidate for his life companion. Does he have a chance?

Even greater pressure is to be found in the conference or mission executive committee or the credentials and licenses committee when considering prospective candidates for ordination. In some areas it is an unwritten but apparently inflexible law that an unmarried man must not be ordained (even if his marriage is quite imminent). In the spirit of fairness, we should examine the reasons for such a stand and see if it can be supported by Scripture, the Spirit of Prophecy, church policy, or logic.

At the outset let us recognize that the Adventist Church does well to encourage its ministers to be married. Most men can do better work when they are happily married, for without a wife they are not whole. A part of them lacks fulfillment. There is a wider field of service open to married workers, and certainly a minister's consecrated wife can do much for her husband and for his flock that he could not do. This article is not a call for celibacy but an examination to see if there might not be an extreme trend in the other direction.

Among the reasons given for expecting a candidate for ordination to be married is that "it is just not done" otherwise. Such reliance on precedent is none other than an appeal to tradition, a word that carries deserved opprobrium in doctrinal circles but unfortunately continues all too often in actual practice. A man who has proved his calling to the gospel ministry cannot be refused ordination on this ground alone.

More Susceptible to Temptations?

Another objection offered is that "an unmarried man is more susceptible to temptations." However true this may be in a general sense, it is not for one man to define what are the temptations of another. That is tantamount to acting as his conscience.

Because most men get married, we are apt to think this is the only normal state. It is not. There are single men who are normal in the full sense just as there are normal, single women. Some men are born with such a balance of hormones that they have no interest in sexual matters. Others may have been raised under such circumstances that they have been emotionally turned against a life of marriage. Some have successfully sublimated their sexual drive in intensive work and study, and others simply have not found the right lady companion.

Christ observed, "For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (Matt. 19:12).

After noting that some men do well to remain single and others to marry, the apostle Paul adds, "But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that" (1 Cor. 7:7). In commenting on this verse, the SDA Bible Commentary says, "Recognition is here made of the fact that all men are not alike in this matter of marrying or not marrying. Some prefer to remain single, and have the ability to live a satisfactory life without marriage. Others prefer to follow the normal plan for life on this earth, and enter the married state. Both courses are ap proved by the Lord when carried out in harmony with His counsel."

Marriage Is No Guarantee

As for giving counsel in family problems, a good observer and student of human nature can give counsel regarding human relationships, although himself unmarried. Indeed, even marriage does not per se make a man an expert on such matters. Furthermore, not all ordained men are expected to be marriage counselors; as for instance, conference treasurers, publishing secretaries, et cetera.

Some may suggest it would be incongruous for an unmarried man to unite a couple in the marriage ceremony, but there are too many unmarried priests and civil magistrates performing this rite to allow any credence to this particular objection.

As a final argument we hear some quote 1 Timothy 3:2 in objecting to the ordination of a man without a wife. Paul says, "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife." But this text may quite properly be interpreted that a bishop is to have no more than one wife at a time. (If taken very literally, as some do take it, it could be made to say that should a bishop's wife die, he may not remarry.) If one were to assume from this text that a bishop must be married, one must also assume, from verse 4, that a bishop must have children (plural) as well. Further, if one's children get out of line, the bishop would lose his credentials.

Rather, it is more in harmony with reason to interpret these verses as saying that a bishop must be circumspect and above reproach in his private and family life whatever his family status as well as in his public ministry.

Less Expensive Worker

We know that Christ Himself did not marry, nor did John the Baptist. It is not beyond doubt that Paul was married. Paul does point out certain advantages in celibacy: It leaves a man free to devote all his energies to his work (perhaps to go to isolated areas where the maintenance of a family would be difficult). Such a worker is also less expensive to support from the viewpoint of a mission budget.

In several pages of the Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White referring to characteristics desired in ministers, no mention is made of the necessity of marriage. Mrs. White has much to say about how a good wife can aid her minister husband, but she did not say a minister must be married. Similarly, while church policy amply provides for the support of a worker's wife and family, the General Conference has never stipulated marriage as a qualification for ordination. There are several instances of ordained single men, some of whom have held responsible positions of national scope in North America.

For balance, let it be reiterated that the best plan for most ministers is that they be married. But to refuse ordination to a man for the sole reason that he is not married is as extreme as to withhold it because he is married! To follow either course is to add a man-made commandment to the law of God, for God has not so ordered it. Indeed, such a practice may well bar many good, consecrated young men from the ministry. Why should a young man with a bit of reserve in his nature, submit to a constant pressure: "When will you get married?" Such a person, even if he has marital plans, may choose another profession rather than be humiliated over a matter that he considers a private affair.

Church leaders quite properly should examine a candidate's relationship toward the opposite sex even as they consider his relationship to his fellow workers, his church, his leaders, and his God. A man who is not married because he passionately hates women, definitely would be undesirable in the ministry.

The examining committee should consider each case on its own merits, taking care to weigh each factor in consonance with divine guidance.

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