Can The Clergy Marry?
Can The Clergy Marry?
This is a hot topic in some Christian circles these days, particularly with the declining numbers of clergy in some groups because of the requirement of celibacy. Yet many other groups not only allow their clergy to marry, but some see it as a requirement of serving as a pastor of a congregation. This leads us to the question, what does the bible say about the clergy and marriage?
1) At least some of the disciples of the Lord were married. In Matthew 8:14-15, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. The last I checked the only way to have a mother-in-law is to be married. However this does not fully answer the question at hand. Those who believe that the clergy should be celibate counter by saying that Peter was the first Pope and therefore he had to be unmarried to assume this position. It is their belief that by the time he became an Apostle that he had either denounced marriage or his wife had died. Likewise they point to passages such as 1 Cor. 7 in which Paul makes an appeal to be single to better serve the Lord
1 Co 7:29-35, “But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord. . But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world — how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.”
This seems like pretty solid reasoning until one considers the context of these verses. In verse 26 Paul indicates because of the rise in persecution in his day (“present distress”), he deemed that it would better for people to remain single because it would be less stressful to be on one’s own, than to have to care for a family. Paul’s point had to do more with the rise in persecution than with the limitations that marriage may bring to the ministry. Secondly, in verse 28, he declares that if a believer chooses to marry that is okay before God. However, he will ultimately face “trouble in the flesh” because of the rising persecution against the church. Also it should be noted that Paul spends the first 16 verses of this chapter speaking of who should marry and what their responsibilities are if married. (1-16)
There is another verse that should be noted in answering this matter of whether the Apostles were married. Many say Paul was single and he probably was by the time he was an Apostle. However take note of his words to the Corinthians when he writes:
1 Co 9:3-7, “My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?”
In this statement it would imply that Paul felt that he, like the other apostles, had a right not only to marry but also to take his wife with him on his missionary trips. In this statement it is clear that the other Apostles, the Brother of the Lord and even Peter (Cephas) were all married and all took their wives with them on their missionary trips. Therefore It can be concluded that if celibacy was to be a requirement for the clergy, it would have been for the Apostles as well. However they were married and thus there is a good possibility that when Peter was martyred for the Lord in Rome, he left behind a widow. Therefore Peter nor Paul can used as proof that God called for celibacy for the clergy.
2) The qualifications given for the pastor, elder (bishop or overseer), and the deacon at the very minimum makes provision for them to marry. In 1 Tim. 3:2, 11 and Titus 6, the pastor/elder/ deacon is to be a “one woman man.” Now there are various interpretations as how this passage is to be applied but one thing that is held in common by all is that God made it clear that the leadership and clergy of the Church were free to marry. It should be further noted, that as Paul continues on giving the qualifications of the ministers of Christ, that he puts further emphasis on marriage. In 1 Tim. 3:4-5, Paul indicates not only will the bishop (overseer/elder/pastor) be married, but he also must have his wife and children in submission to him. Likewise in 1 Tim. 3:11-12, Paul says the deacon’s wives must meet certain qualifications and they and their children are to be in submission to the deacon. The same can be found in Titus 6. It therefore must be concluded that God intended that the norm for clergy and leaders of the church not only to be married but also to have children. Hardly the path of celibacy.
3) Another verse to be considered in this matter is found in 1 Tim. 4:1-4. Paul knew that day would come that some would depart from the faith adding doctrines of demons as doctrinal truth (1-2). What were these perversions that would introduce to the church? The answer is clear. “The forbidding of marriage and the abstaining of certain foods.” It is clear from this verse that any group that declares itself representatives of Christ and require celibacy and abstaining from certain foods does not fully represent God but in many things represents the lies of Satan.
4) One other verse should be considered in this discussion. In 1 Cor. 7:2, Paul writes, “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” Further into the chapter Paul continues this idea when he writes (v. 9), “But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. Fir it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
In these verses Paul recognizes that the sexual drive God created in man is a strong one and is to be fulfilled in marriage. It is such a relationship through a wife that can prevent a pastor or leader from falling into sexual immorality. It is too often these days to hear of victims of clergy who are either single or who have bad marriages who victimize those whom God has entrusted into their care. Marriage is a God given blessing for the Clergy and Leadership as they must council and care for women, their wives can be a valuable asset and in the same time keep them from temptation to fall into sin.
“It is clear than that God ordains marriage for the all believers including the clergy. If fact being married and having children are a measuring stick of whether a man is qualified to serve in this position. Having been a pastor now for 30 years, I can tell you that having a wife and children are a great help to the ministry. When I am counseling a woman, I know that I can call on my wife to counsel with me or at least be in a side room to protect me from any false and destructive rumors. Likewise, when a couple comes for pre-martial counseling or marriage counseling, I can speak from experience since I have “been there” and have learned the lessons that marriage and parenting teach. Yes it is biblical for most men who enter the clergy to be married. It is also a beneficial move in most cases.