A Case For Courtship

         

Ladies, do you think it’s biblical for us Christian women to have boyfriends? Those who answer, ‘yes’ to that question will often provide the following reason: ‘Just because the Bible doesn’t talk about boyfriends, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong to have one.  After all, the Bible doesn’t talk about driving, the internet or electricity either and they are not wrong. In any case everyone just had arranged marriages in bible times. Therefore, you can’t say it’s wrong to have a boyfriend’.

The Bible and romance

Is this a sound argument? I would argue no. Unlike driving, the internet or electricity, the Bible has a huge amount to say about romance.  From the first marriage between Adam and Eve (Genesis 2) to the final marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19)…romance is a central theme in the Bible. We continually see God comparing his relationship with his people to a romance (Ezekiel 16, Hosea 1- 3, Ephesians 5) and their idolatry compared to adultery.  God is called Israel’s husband (Isaiah 54:5) and Jesus is referred to as a bridegroom (John 3:29).  Christ is shown as our pursuer…loving us and dying for us before we even loved Him (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10 and 1 John 4:19) and we see men pursuing and taking wives throughout scripture (as well as fathers taking wives for their sons). There were arranged marriage (Genesis 24) and contrary to popular belief, marriages that were not arranged (Numbers 36:6 and Jeremiah 29:6) and there are many laws and guidelines concerning marriage, betrothal and singleness in the Old and New Testament (1 Corinthians 7, Deuteronomy 22:13-30, Deuteronomy 25:5-10, Ephesians 5).  The Bible contains everything we need to know to reflect Christ in this important area of our lives.

Four categories

Up until the early 1900’s there were four categories of relationship between a man and woman that were considered biblical (Read ‘Sex, Dating, Relationship: A Fresh Approach’ to understand this better):

courtshipbw2

A romantic pursuer would have been considered to be in the neighbour category.  After all, men and women who are not betrothed are considered single in the Bible: ‘To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am’. (1 Cor 7:8). And men are called to:  ‘Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity’. (1 Tim 5:1b-2)

Men and women would explore the possibility of marriage while treating each other physically as neighbours/family.  They did not consider each other their partner, but rather their prospective partner.

A new category

Then, in the 1900’s a new category of relationship was born in the western world and the church soon adopted it:

courtshipbwbfbwWith this new ‘category’ of relationship came a whole new set of vocabulary, behaviour, boundaries and attitudes stolen from the fiancé/husband category:

  • A girl with a boyfriend was now ‘taken’, she was no longer ‘single’, her boyfriend was ‘her man’ and she was now considered to be one half of a ‘couple’ in a ‘committed relationship’.
  • When asked ‘how far is too far?’ a girl would no longer answer according to 1 Timothy 5:1-2 ‘doing anything I wouldn’t do with any other brother in Christ’, but would rather answer ‘doing anything sexual’.
  • The purpose of a girl and guy spending time together was no longer to ‘see if they were suited to marriage’ but rather to ‘enjoy the intimacy and pleasure of being a couple’.
  • A girl’s priorities would radically change now that she was ‘no longer single’ and much of her free time would be spent with her ‘man’.

Much of the church accepted this new category of relationship:

  • Christian fathers began letting their daughters have boyfriends who they would hug, kiss and spend a lot of time with alone, as long as they didn’t have sex.
  • Pastors began seeing it as normal if their young people became couples, acted as if they were deeply committed, grew in emotional oneness and then spilt up.
  • Books started to be written on how to act in a godly way while being in this new category of boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.
  • A woman would no longer have just had a number of ‘suitors’ before marriage, but rather a number of ‘partners’ before marriage…a number of men she had kissed, a number of men she had shared deep emotional intimacy with, a number of men she had considered her own. In fact she was considered abnormal if she had not.
  • Suddenly ‘committed’ no longer meant ‘committed for life’, but rather ‘committed for right now’.

Strange beliefs soon developed in the Christian community, completely foreign to the scriptural principle of ‘not stirring or awakening up love until it pleases’ such as:

  • You need to try before you buy.  You need to feel what it’s like to be deeply emotionally attached to a guy before you can know if you should marry them.
  • You need relational experience to prepare for marriage.  The more men you have been partnered with before marriage, the better prepared you will be for marriage.

So what’s been the result of the western church accepting this new category of relationship?  Many Christians will now:

  • Experience major heartbreak numerous times in their lives
  • Walk down the aisle having been deeply emotionally (and sometimes physically) bonded to a number of different people who are not their spouse.
  • Marry a person whom they have little in common with or who has serious character flaws, because they are too emotionally attached to think clearly or walk away before getting engaged.

Is it any surprise that the divorce rate in the western church is not so different to the western world? Voddie Baucham, author of ‘Family Driven Faith’[1], refers to our modern boyfriend/girlfriend culture as ‘glorified divorce practice’ because people ‘are learning how to give themselves away in exclusive, romantic, highly committed (at times sexual) relationships, only to break up and do it all over again’. We Christians are copying the world’s relationship patterns with the only real difference being, we don’t believe in pre-marital sex.  Sadly, with the deep emotional oneness of boyfriend relationships, many of us are even having sex before marriage.

Christ’s love for His church

Furthermore, in scripture we see that human romantic relationships clearly parallel Christ’s relationship with His church. Never do we see Christ acting as if we are His and as if we are committed and then breaking things off.  Christ only treats us as if we are His when we are committed to one another for life. By accepting the category of boyfriend/girlfriend relationship we have accepted an additional category of relationship that does not reflect Christ’s treatment of us.

So what can we do?

Many Christians are calling out for us to go back to the Bible and draw up a model of biblical courtship that is wholly rooted in scripture.  What does this model look like?

Well first of all biblical courtship is not considered a ‘category’ of relationship but rather a ‘period of time’ in which a man who is romantically interested in a woman pursues with the purpose of exploring the possibility of marriage. The man and woman attempt to not stir up each other’s love prematurely (Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5 and 8:4). The man considers the woman as a sister in all purity (1 Tim 5:1b-2) and thus treats her physically like a biological sister. The man and woman’s aim is to reach a wise decision, with the help of their families (Exodus 20:12) and/or Christian community (Proverbs 15:22), on whether they should or shouldn’t marry while behaving in a way that honours God. The hope is that whether things work out or not, each person is left undamaged as to love our neighbor is to do them no harm (Romans 13:10).

I believe it’s high time us women reject the western world’s new ‘category’ of boyfriend/girlfriend relationship and get back to what the scriptures can teach us about romance.  I think it’s high time we adopt a model of biblical courtship, rather than trying to Christianize a worldly relationships system [Rowina Seidler. First appeared in Grace Magazine, August 2014]

[1] Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham ISBN: 1433528126 Pg. 23

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