Cultural historians point to the late 1800s and early 1900s as the introduction of “dating” in America. Prior to this, courtship was the normal practice. (There were even still remnants of prearranged marriage—rooted in European culture—in some pockets of America.) Dating during this time was not a separate and distinct custom, but rather it was an “evolution” of courtship practices. Prior to modern dating, young men would come to a young lady’s home—and under the watchful eye of parents (and maybe siblings), a young couple would get to know one another for the intent of getting married. Dating pulled this system out of the young lady’s home, away from the watchful eyes of the parents, and multiplied the number of suitors significantly.
Sadly, during this transition from courtship to modern dating the church remained quiet—taking the position that dating was a private matter. But that silence came at a very high cost. Mix into that silence the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, and one can quickly identify the recipe for disaster. It was during those silent years that millions of Baby boomers were sexually active before marriage. They dated around and then finally settled down and got married. However, many of those marriages did not work and sadly ended in divorce.
The knee-jerk reaction from the church was to flood our teen classes with material on marriage, abstinence, and dating. The pendulum had already swung so far away from courtship that most congregations never even gave it any thought. Thankfully, many congregations are now waking up realizing that the old way of doing things is not working. As such, some parents and congregations are reanalyzing the notion of courtship.
Here’s what I intend on teaching my children about courtship.
First and foremost, I want you to know that your mom and I desire that you marry someone who will help you get to Heaven. This is the second biggest decision that you will make during your lifetime (the first being the decision to become a Christian). The Bible doesn’t give specific commands regarding finding your mate, and as such Christians must look at Biblical precepts and use common sense. While we don’t believe in “arranged marriages” (even though it is awfully tempting! J), we do want to help and guide you through the selection process. In Colossians 3:17 we read, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This includes selecting a mate. It does not make any sense for us to watch over your souls in every other aspect of your life, but then send you out by yourself and “hope you find a good one.” As I’ve said many times, “hope” is not a strategy for success.
Merriam Webster defines courting as engaging“in social activities leading to engagement and marriage.” It entails a single man going through the father of a single young lady. Notice that it has marriage as its end goal. Courtship entails a different motive than dating—the motive is to find a spouse. If marriage is the end-goal, then we should ask why anyone would get involved in a relationship with someone if they were not candidates for marriage? For young men this means they have secured a job that will allow them to provide for himself and his future spouse.
Courtship also entails a different mindset.Rather than looking for someone based solely on external features, having a checklist of qualities you desire, and judging how someone makes you “feel,” you search for a godly spouse. This needs to be someone you can love, and yes are attracted to, but more importantly someone who will help you serve the Lord and will help you get to heaven. Abraham loved his son so much he sent his servant back to his home country to find a wife (Genesis 24). Notice that Rebekah agreed to be married to Isaac having never seen him. Likewise, Isaac had never seen Rebekah prior to the day he was walking in the field.
Finally, courtship entails a different method. In courtship the young man goes through the father—who vets the young man as a possible suitor. The father approaches the daughter to discern if this is someone in whom she has an interest. And then after clearance is given, the young couple use group/public situations to get to know each other and their families. While there is not a “paint-by-numbers” detailed method, the process is one that everyone feels will protect the heart and purity of both individuals.
Please understand that your mom and I don’t have all the answers in this area—and there will be some trial and error. But we are committed to helping you walk down the aisle honorable before God and finding someone who loves your soul as much as we do. We continue to pray for that person.