A Pastor’s Reflections: Don’t Make Assumptions
Over the years I have found that people in the church make a lot of assumptions about the people around them. I specifically have in mind the assumptions that people make about singles and married couples without children. All too often I either hear or read people making the assumption that if a married couple does not have children, then they are obviously sinfully neglecting their God-given responsibility to procreate and have children so that they can offer their contribution to fulfilling the dominion mandate. A similar assumption marks those who observe single people in the church. The immediate gut reaction is to assume that the single person must be desperately searching for a spouse and so people try to play cupid to end the single person’s suffering in a life of solitude. In both cases people make invalid assumptions that can sometimes be hurtful or insensitive.
In the case of the married couple that does not have children, we must first recognize that the church does not fulfill the dominion mandate (Gen 1:28) through procreation. After the fall, fulfilling the dominion mandate in this manner became impossible. Through Christ, the last Adam, the church fulfills the dominion mandate through evangelism. The church goes into the world and makes disciples of the nations. The Scriptures have no record, for example, that the apostle Paul had any natural (biological) children, yet he considered the many churches that he planted his children (e.g. Gal. 4:19; 1 Thess. 2:7).
When it comes to childless married couples, our first reaction should not automatically be to assume that they are sinfully avoiding having children. Like Paul’s call for some people to remain single so that they may better serve the Lord (1 Cor. 7:29-34), the Lord may have some couples refrain from having children so they can better serve him. There may be some missionary contexts in certain parts of the world where it would be inadvisable or even dangerous to place children in harm’s way. In other circumstances, some couples desire children very much but for reasons only known to the Lord, they are unable to conceive. Some couples readily accept this circumstance, but for others it is a very painful and difficult providence to endure. To accuse such a couple, then, of sinfully avoiding having children is only to pour salt into a very raw wound.
The same should be said about single people in the church. True, I suspect the vast majority of people in the church will likely end up being married, but there is a small minority for whom being single is a gift from God (1 Cor. 7:38). They are free to serve the church in a way far greater than the married person can (1 Cor. 7:32-33). Our assumption should not automatically be to pair off any single person we find.
Single people and married couples without children are two examples that should remind us not to rush to judgment about people’s motives in life. Yes, there are people who selfishly refrain from having children so they can enjoy the pleasures of life. But in all fairness, there are also married couples that have many children out of a legalistic motivation or to boast about their own perceived fidelity to Christ. In both scenarios, whether children are absent or present, sin abounds. Instead of rushing to judgment, we should look at all people in the church with charity and assume the best (1 Cor. 13:7). We should make an effort, first, to get to know people. Maybe in getting to know a single person, we will find that she is very content in her single life because she is serving Christ, and to try to set her up with a potential spouse is one more aggravation, a distraction from her God-given calling. Maybe in getting to know a childless couple, we will find that they have tried to conceive for years but the Lord has seen fit not to grant them children. In such a circumstance, your charity in judgment will enable you to uncover their painful burden and intercede on their behalf for contentment and peace with God’s Providence.
In the end, whether as a layperson or an ordained minister, patience and longsuffering rather than rushing to judgment will serve you and others in the church very well. Don’t make assumptions.