Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. A day when every street corner sells roses, when ads for 1-800-FLOWERS show up everywhere, when many scramble to craft a perfect date night, and when many stay at home trying not to care. It's very difficult to not be affected by all the public displays of love... not just during this season, but every day as we seek to live out our faith in the city.
One of the areas of growth that our elders laid out for us at our first congregational meeting is to grow in understanding and practice of love, relationships, sex, and marriage. How are followers of Jesus set apart by these categories in a city like New York? The question lies not only in (1) how we are called to live, but more importantly (2) how we respond to one another with grace.
We know that Christians set themselves apart in the early church. One of the earliest written descriptions of Christian community portrays life in contrast to what was typical in Roman society: "They have a common table, but not a common bed" (The Epistle to Diognetes, c. AD 130). We also know that the early church treated women differently than Roman society and engaged in different practices that protected them from dangerous marriages and family support (Rodney Stark, Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief). It's clear that the church took seriously the call to be holy as God is holy in their relationships and sexuality. Seeking to live according to God's word brought them many freedoms and joys and that should be an encouragement to us to live out our faith in these areas. However, but freedom and joy doesn't seem to be the sentiment in many of our church communities.
My guess is that many of us have had our fair share of less-than-helpful interactions with the church on the subject of love, relationships, and sex. Church community can place so much pressure on someone in a dating relationship it can suffocate the life out of a new relationship. Sometimes it feels like the church indirectly teaches that we are not complete until we are married, or have a child, or at the very least it seems like everything is moving in that direction; where does it leave those of us who are single?
Unfortunately, these sentiments often go unaddressed and lead to feelings of inadequacy and shame... and ultimately to hiding. The church becomes an unsafe place to talk about such things. And the few times we do mention it, we find ourselves needing to insert a joke, perhaps to make light of an uncomfortable subject. Very few of us can claim to have perfect records when it comes to love and relationships, yet somehow it seems like we can't show up at church with anything less. But by hiding from one another we've also separated ourselves from one of the gifts God has given us in this area: the community of believers.
Within our church body there are members who have made mistakes, but also found grace. We have those who hid for fear of exposure, but unexpectedly found love. We also have people that are "in process" or feel trapped and alone, but are unsure of who is "safe" to talk to. If we as a church community are to grow, we need one another and the Holy Spirit to speak through us. We need to teach one another how to share the grace that we have received from the LORD in all of life. Only in a community that is saturated by the gospel of grace and seeks to restore instead of condemn can bring transformation into our lives to be more like Jesus. Only in such a community will singleness be a gift and marriage a worthwhile work of sanctification.
Jesus called us to a life together. That because of the resurrection, we can have the faith to live into the words scripture even in our brokenness: "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16).
Our panel discussion this coming Sunday is merely an invitation to grow with us. To cast light on subjects of conversation that have been hidden in the shadows. To reconnect on topics that have alienated us from one another, and to seek the Gospel to be active even in this part of life.
If you haven't considered joining us for this first step, we invite you! Our aim is not to lay out every bit of dating or marriage advice nor give definite instructions for singleness. We only want to start the conversation and to practice that there is a wealth of wisdom and experiences of brokenness and grace from within our community. Our panel is not one of "experts" but of sinners who have received grace. Come, listen and share life with us. We also have a form where you can submit questions so our humble panel to consider. It is our hope that we can learn to be a church that is open to the work of the Spirit in our midst and that we would be able to witness growth, maturity, and grace in abundance.