Many of you know I love history and can’t resist a good story! I believe understanding our history gives us a fresh perspective on who we are and how far we have come. Our religious history is no exception and that is the reason I have focused my blog on sharing history of the protestant reformation over the last several weeks. I wanted to give you a high level view of what was happening 500 years ago and even 1,000 years ago in the Church, so that you might have a new appreciation for the history of the Church and experience more meaning during the upcoming celebration on Reformation Sunday! This week I want to look at the issue of allowing priests to marry and how this idea evolved during the reformation.
#1: Why priests should not marry
The idea that priests should not marry made its way into the Western Church during the Middle Ages. In 1139, a rule was passed in the church that forbid priests to marry. Remaining celibate and unmarried was a symbol of a priest’s commitment to God and serving the Church. The Church believed it would be a distraction for a priest to have a wife and family and that it could affect their commitment to serving the church, wholeheartedly. The Biblical nature of this idea stemmed from Paul’s statement in his first letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Cor. 7:8-9 saying “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do.” This verse was used to drive home the point that priests should remain unmarried since Paul, himself had been unmarried. Even so, there were no firm rules agains marriage for clergy in the early Christian Church and Peter was believed to have been married.
#2: God made us with desires for sex, love and family
Marriage was one of the key issues that Martin Luther felt so passionately about. During the 1500s, he began speaking out against the rule that priests could not marry. Luther believed denying ourselves from God-given desires for sex, love and family was not what God intended. He spoke out that married life was the best Christian Life. Luther’s marriage to a nun who had fled from her convent became a beautiful example of a meaningful marriage (….and that’s all I’m going to say about that here, because I’m saving some great stories about Luther and his wife Katharina Von Bora for this Sunday’s sermon on 10/29/17!)
#3 Do not deny yourselves
Much of the scripture concerning marriage and sex in the Bible comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. The people had written to Paul saying they had chosen to be married, but abstinent, in order to keep themselves pure. In response to this, Paul wrote back to them saying that this idea was like playing with fire and urged them not to deny themselves.
“Do not deny yourselves to each other, unless you first agree to do so for a while in order to spend your time in prayer; but then resume normal marital relations. In this way you will be kept from giving in to Satan’s temptation because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5)