Christian Courtship

Thanks to Margaret Surber for this excellent resource:

What does the Bible say about dating? God's model for male/ female relationships. How does a person relate to a person of the opposite sex that we are not married to? As a brother or sister. 1 Tim. 5:1-2. " Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity." So, biblically, if we are single, we treat each other as brothers and sisters; or, if we are married, as husband or wife. There is no Biblical model for a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. As Christians, we have made do with the world's model for relationships when we could look to God's Word for guidance and experience His best in our romantic relationships.[J. Harris]

History of Dating. Before dating came along, "calling" was the established practice. A guy would go to a girl's home to talk with her, meet her parents and possibly have some refreshments. Calling placed its emphasis on parental involvement and gave the girl the upper hand in the relationship. She was able to either accept or refuse a caller and, because all contact took place in her home, control the environment. Around the turn of the century, the invention of the automobile gave rise to getting out of the home and going on "dates," In the new system of dating, the guy had the upper hand. He was taking the girl into the outside world and covering the expense of transportation, dining, and entertainment. Money became the central issue of dating. The more money a man had, the better date he could provide and, logically, the better girl he could take out. World War II, which took over 16 million American men away from the homeland, greatly affected dating in America. Before the War, it was desirable to be dating as many different people as possible. At dances, girls and boys dreaded being stuck with a single partner. A popular girl expected to have a "stag line" of boys waiting to dance with her. But when the dust had settled after the war, all young people wanted was constancy. Dating now moved into the "going steady" era. The war also brought a rise in young marriages. The result was that teens at even earlier ages began entering the dating system. This early dating pattern flourished with the support of parents who by encouraging their children (organized dances for twelve-year-olds in strapless formals, etc.) hoped to gain some control in the mate selection. Unfortunately, these parents had little foresight into where early dating would lead. What parents once encouraged in the 1950's is today out of control, as premarital sex is not only acceptable but expected .[Dating Problems, Courtship Solutions by Josh Harris]

Dating Dangers: I. Loss of purity The following is a quote from a book called From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America by Beth L. Bailey: "In contemporary America, living together has become a conventional step in the path to marriage and an acceptable arrangement on its own terms. Sexual intercourse is a conventionally assumed part of long-term relationships (even among teenagers, for better or worse), and a clear possibility on first dates." I think we would all agree that this is against the laws of God. But exactly what does God's Word say about sexual behavior between unmarried persons? First of all, God's Word forbids fornication. 1 Cor. 6:18 says "Flee fornication." In some versions the word fornication is translated "sexual immorality." This is the Greek word "porneia" which Vine's dictionary defines as "illicit sexual intercourse." Does this mean that anything short of intercourse would be permitted? Jesus says in Matthew 5 that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 1 Tim 5:1 &2 says to treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters with absolute purity. God commands us to be pure--Phillipians 1:9-10 "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ". 2 Timothy 2:22-- "Flee youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." 1 Cor. 6:18--"Flee sexual immorality." This is some advice given by a well-known Christian author in answer to the question "How far can you go?" : "Much depends on your unique child and the person he or she is dating, as well as on your feelings as a family. It also depends on the emotional and spiritual maturity of your child and his or her date.One more way to put this to your child is to say,'Don't light a fire that you can't put out.' In other words don't create arousal that you can't satisfy in a God-honoring way. Sexual arousal is meant to lead to sexual intercourse, and once that fire starts to burn, it can quickly turn into a wildfire that is extremely difficult to control. Some couples can hold hands and kiss a little without losing control, but others will need pretty much to abstain from even light kissing. Again much depends on your particular child and the individual he or she is dating." What are the fallacies of this advice? The Bible gives sexual privileges only to married couples. This includes sexual arousal. How will your child know what will cause sexual arousal in each person he or she dates? After they find out what stage is too far, having crossed that line in their relationship, they may not be able to go backwards. By putting ourselves in this position, are we obeying the clear Biblical commands to "flee temptation" and "flee youthful lust?" In fact, this same author admits in the same chapter, "Although I can't say there should never be any physical contact, it is safest and appropriate for your teen to have as a principle of dating that he or she avoid it." Can we expect this much control out of our teens? Would we be able to exercise this much control ourselves, especially if we feel we are " in love" with the person we are dating? Here is another example of typical advice given to teens on how to handle temptation when dating. "Decide ahead of time how far you will and will not go on a date. Then when that danger point approaches, put on the brakes and say stop! What are your intentions? Then calmly explain to them your convictions and ask them not to go any further." Let's try to evaluate the wisdom of that advice. For example: Suppose the following letter was written to Dear Abby: Dear Abby: I always drive 30 miles an hour on the interstate highways.Although I know the speed limit is 65, I do not feel safe driving that speed and I believe in being cautious. My problem is : How do I handle the rude behavior of other motorists? They drive by me honking and making rude gestures. Sometimes they roll down their windows and shout at me. Please tell me what I should do. Sincerely, Slow in Seattle

Abby writes back: Dear Slow in Seattle: The next time someone harasses you, I suggest you do the following. Roll down your window and gesture to them to stop. Ask them "What are your intentions?" Then explain to them courteously your convictions about driving and ask them to please stop harassing you. Sincerely, Abby

Well, this seems like pretty ridiculous advice, doesn't it?. That woman doesn't need to learn how to deal with faster drivers, she needs to get off the interstate highway. Let me suggest to you that we, as Christian parents, may need to get our teenagers off of the "dating highway." [Holzmann] We like to think of purity as a line that you draw. We try to get as close to that line as possible with out stepping over it. But Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) that purity is an attitude of the heart. How can we, as parents, help our young people remain pure? God designed our sexuality as a physical expression of the oneness of marriage.He places many restrictions on it because of its emotional and spiritual consequences. A man and woman who make the commitment of marriage gain the right to express themselves sexually with each other. But if you are not married to someone, you do not have that right, that claim, to another person's body. Let's look at two scriptures about the ownership of the body.1 Cor 6:19-20 says our bodies belong to God. 1 Corinthians 7:4 says married people own each other's bodies. Nowhere in scripture are we given rights to the body of someone we are not married to. We all know that there are young Christians who are not married who are sexually intimate. We all know examples of young Christian girls who have gotten pregnant out of wedlock by young Christian boys. Being a Christian does not inoculate you from sexual impurity. And parents, if you think "My child won't do that because he or she is a strong Christian", you are fooling yourselves. Author Reb Bradley says that the pregnancy rate among Christian teens is actually higher than that among non-Christian teens because Christian girls do not think they will get in a situation where they might get pregnant, so they don't use birth control. In a survey published in "Intelligencer Journal," Lancaster. PA, 70% of the teens said they had lost their virginity. Their parents were asked "How many of you think your children have lost their virginity?" Only 14% of the parents of these teens thought their children had lost their virginity. Think back to your own dating relationships. We all know that as a relationship progresses, the desire for physical intimacy increases. Dwight Harvey Small says that we reach "tolerance" points in physical intimacy and diminishing returns make an urgent demand for something more. [Holzmann] You may have experienced it. At first handholding is a thrill, then that's no longer enough, then we move to light kissing, then that's not enough and we feel the desire for deep kissing, and on and on it goes. I say all this to prove the point that for teenagers, maintaining a perfectly pure dating relationship is very difficult. Josh Harris (a 22 year old man who has written a book on courtship) says that he believes that Christians can't keep from abusing God's gift of sex before marriage unless they choose to stay off the dating path altogether. I think we will be doing our young people a great service by presenting to them an alternative to this minefield of temptations. One study published in 1987 (in Youthworker) showed that 91 % of girls allowed to begin dating at twelve will have sex before graduating from high school. Fifty-six percent of those who date at age thirteen, 53 percent of those who date at age fourteen, 40 percent of those who date at age fifteen, and 20 percent of those who date at age sixteen will have intercourse before graduation day. So you can see that the earlier a girl begins to date, the greater is her chance of losing her virginity by the time she graduates from high school. Colossians 3:5 says " Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." James 1:14-15 says " but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."

2.Taking focus off of God and His will for their future.The teenage years are years that are relatively free of adult responsibilities. Most teens have their food and clothing provided by their parents. They don't have a house or a spouse or children to take care of. It can be a time when they focus a lot of their time and thoughts on learning more about God and his will for their lives. 1 Cor 7 :32-33 "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs--how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world--how he can please his wife--" When teens are playing the "dating game" much of their thoughts are occupied with "How can I get a date?" or "Who would I like to date?" or "How can I make enough money to afford to date?" When they are in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship much of their time is spent being with the other person and thinking about how to please the other person. Often, a person's long term plans are made not around "What would God have me do?" but "How can I arrange my life to spend as much time as possible with my boyfriend or girlfriend?" By getting off of the dating highway, young people spend more of their time pursuing godliness and Christian service.

3. Isolates a person from other relationships. I remember when I was in college I had a steady boyfriend for 2 1/2 years. During that time I spent almost all of my free time with him. After he broke up with me my senior year, I realized how much I had isolated myself from my friends. I missed 2 1/2 years of time when I could have been developing friendships with others and drawing closer to the Lord.

4. Sets teens up for heartbreak. Suppose you don't have any money, but you want to go shopping just to "see what's out there." So you don't have any money, but you see some outfits that look like something you would like to buy, so you try them on. Now suppose you find an outfit that looks great on you and the price is right, and you don't think you'll ever be able to find another outfit that would suit you as well. Of course you can't buy it, so what do you do? Do you say. " Excuse me, but would you put this on layaway for me for five years?" Dating is like window shopping without money. You're trying out relationships when you don't have the ability to make a commitment. Dating provides a way to experience the exciting, romantic side of a relationship without commitment or responsibility. [J. Harris] However, God's word says there is a season for everything, a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecc. 3:1). The time for romance is when you're looking for a mate, when you're prepared to make a commitment. Josh Harris says: Intimacy is the reward of commitment. You've probably heard the song "Breaking up is Hard to Do." and if you've experienced it, you know how painful it is whether you're on the giving or receiving end.The emotional bonds formed in these relationships can be strong and the pain can be very great when these bonds are broken. Let's examine some reasons why breaking up is so painful: (1) It involves ownership. We've already talked about how biblically God is our owner, and when we get married, our spouse has certain ownership rights to us. In a serious dating relationship, boys and girls claim ownership rights for each other. Have you heard the phrases "you're my girl" or "you belong to me"? When you see a boy and girl holding hands, what assumption do you make? That they have a bond between them. That they are a couple. That they belong to each other. (2) A second reason breaking up is so painful is that a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is exclusive or one-at-a time. Just as you just have one spouse at a time, so you usually just have one boyfriend or girlfriend at a time. (3) A third reason is that there is usually some degree of physical-sexual intimacy. This intimacy conveys some promises to the other person whether intentional or unintentional,. When one of the couple reneges on these promises, there are feelings of betrayal. and (4) Fourthly, there exists a sense of obligation to keep going together. If one person begins to want out of the relationship, he usually struggles with how to tell the other person. There is often a feeling of guilt about promises that were made that are not going to be kept. And (5) lastly, the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship requires some form of spoken end. Usually, there is some form of confrontation or a letter or a phone call to end the relationship. Now I want you to look over this list and think about the similarities to marriage there are in this list. (Review list). Can you see why breaking up is so hard to do? There are all the implied promises of marriage without the commitment to the other person.[Holzmann] When I think back over all the pain I endured in broken relationships and the pain I inflicted on those that I broke relationships with, I want to spare my children this. This is not a necessary part of life. I see nowhere in scripture where this is a necessary part of life. There is another alternative.

If we are not going to date, how do we handle relationships with the opposite sex?.Brother/sister model.1 Tim 5:1&2. In treating members of the opposite sex as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to seek to bless them with our speech and behavior. Phillipians 2:3-4." Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Gal. 5:13 "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love."

Two of John Holzman's rules for treating the opposite sex are (1) I will treat people in whom I have no romantic interest no worse than I treat people in whom I have a romantic interest. In other words, he would do nothing to "lead them on" or try to create "heart bonds". He tells this story in his book, Dating With Integrity. A thirteen- year- old friend of John's wanted to give a large candy heart to a girl in his class named Wendy for Valentine's Day. John asked him if he would give a heart like that to anyone else in his class. He said no, he couldn't afford to do that. John said," Then giving Wendy a candy heart will kind of put her in a special category won't it?" John and Jeff discussed how Jeff could show more equal concern for all the members of his class. They came up with the idea of having him give chocolate kisses to everyone. When John later told this story to a friend, his friend criticized John's advice. He felt that Jeff should have shown special concern for Wendy because he had feelings for her. John disagreed. The fact that you have a romantic interest in someone doesn't mean that you've committed yourself to them. By showing special regard for someone of the opposite sex, you are implying that you are willing to be obligated to them. You are leading them to believe you wish to pursue a romantic relationship with them. ( 2) I will do nothing with members of the opposite sex, now, while we are unmarried, that we cannot continue to do in good conscience later, after one or the other of us has married someone else. How courtship works.Today's version of courtship is a reformed version of dating under the supervision of parents between a man and a woman who are ready to marry in the near future. If we compare dating to "window shopping," then courtship is shopping with cash in hand under the direction of experienced buyers.[J.Harris] Let me give you an example of how this works. Suppose a person has reached the age where he or she feels they are ready for marriage, -- financially, emotionally, and spiritually. The son/daughter has identified a person that he or she is interested in deepening a relationship with. The s/d asks his/her parents and some other trusted Christian friends or family to pray with them about the issue. Since the Bible defines the man as the spiritual leader in marriage (Ephesians 5:23-25), I believe the man should initiate the courtship.The man could say something like this to the girl. "We're growing closer in friendship and I want to be up front about my motives. With your parents' permission, I want to pursue the possibility of marriage. I'm ready to be tested by you and your family." [J.Harris] Next, the man informs the girl's parents of his desire and asks permission to court his daughter.Then the man spends time with the family, becoming a family friend. During the courtship period, there is no physical intimacy. Reason: This tends to encourage the formation of heart bonds and emotional defrauding. One of the advantages of "family courtship" is that the prospective spouse can be observed in real-life every day situations and valuable input can be obtained from the other family members. "Because the goal in a courtship relationship is not to achieve emotional and physical intimacy, the couple can terminate a relationship without leaving a piece of their heart behind. Courtship need only be as long as it takes to get to know a person and determine if he or she has certain characteristics." [J. Harris] Read excerpts of Andy and Betsy Barth's courtship story from The Teaching Home (attached).(Biblical precedent for courtship: Isaac and Rebekah.Ge.24;Jacob and Rachel,Gen29; Ruth and Boaz. Ruth 3; Joseph and Mary, Matthew 1.) It is best to start talking to your children about courtship before they reach the dating age. If they have no expectations of dating, then there will be less disappointment when they are not allowed to date.

How to institute courtship if your teen is already dating. If you are convicted that dating is not Biblical and that it is not God's will for your child, then you have a responsibility as a parent to hold your child accountable to what God has revealed as His will. "To him who knows to do good and does not do it, it is sin."(James 4:17). First, explain to your child in a loving way why you have these convictions. It would probably be helpful to have your child read books and listen to some tapes on courtship. Also, apologize to your child for failing to properly train him in what the Bible teaches about male/female relationships. Apologize for allowing him to date in the past and for not protecting him from temptation. Pray with and for your child for strength to follow God's leading. If your child exhibits rebellion over this issue, then you need to seek Biblical wisdom for dealing with the sin of rebellion to parents. [Reb Bradley]

How to answer the objection "But dating prepares them for marriage. It allows them to shop around and make sure they are marrying the right person" Here is a quote from The Charlotte Observer in an article about Joshua Harris. "Psychologist and marriage therapist Shirley Glass of Owings Mills, Md., says dating can give two people a chance to practice the business of being in a relationship. 'It's a learner's permit for a long-term relationship,' says Glass. 'You get feedback from another person about how to make a relationship work so that, hopefully, you go into marriage less starry-eyed and with more of a sense of reality.'" I would argue that dating is not the best way to learn about relationships, especially since the "physical" tends to become the focus in so many dating relationships. You can learn about relationships from your interactions with your own family, and by brother-sister relationships with other Christians. The Bible teaches you all you need to know about how to make a relationship work. Some Christian teachers believe that dating is actually a training ground for divorce, because when one partner loses interest they just break up with the other person. Dating creates an appetite for variety and change which can cause discontentment in marriage.[Bradley] In many cases, as soon as that "falling in love" thrill wears off, then the person moves on to someone else so that he can feel that thrill again. It can also cause comparisons between previous boyfriends/girlfriends and spouse. Some studies show that there is an 80% higher incidence of divorce in couples that lived together before marriage.[Bradley]

Let me share with you my vision for my children. I pray that when they go to the altar to marry, that the person they are marrying will be one that the family is convinced God has led them to marry. I want them to be able to approach the altar pure and chaste in the eyes of God with no memories of past physical intimacies with other people. I want them to be able to approach marriage with no scars on their hearts from broken intimate relationships. I want them to be able to stand before God unashamed of their behavior while they were teenagers.

Bibliography:John Holzman, Dating with Integrity Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye and " Dating Problems, Courtship Solutions," New Attitude magazine Reb Bradley, "Preparing Your Children for Courtship and Marriage" audio tapes Josh McDowell, How to Help Your Child Say "no" to Sexual Pressure Beth L. Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America (1988). The Charlotte Observer, "Dateless by Choice he Leaves it up to God" by Susan Reimer Walt Mueller, Understanding Today's Youth Culture Jeff & Danielle Myers, Of Knights and Fair Maidens

Scriptures relating to Courtship:

Matthew 5

1 Corinthians 6:18-20

1 Corinthians 7

Galatians 5:13

Philippians 1:9-10

Philippians 2:3-4

Colossians 3:5

1 Timothy 5:1-2

2 Timothy 2:22

James 1: 14-15

James 4:17 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8


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