Let’s Talk Courtship!
After I announced my marriage on an old blog of mine, a young woman commented,
“I want to know more about how you got married! What do you think about courtship?”
In American culture there are really only two romantic relationship options that most people know: dating and courtship; so it’s not surprising that people are confused when someone uses a different term (i.e., “betrothal”) to describe how they got married. It raises eyebrows, and questions are sure to follow.
So today, I’m going to publicly answer that question I received two years ago.
- the wooing of one person by another.
- the period during which such wooing takes place.
In the conservative Christian church, courtship is an alternative to dating. After participating in the dating lifestyle, many Christian parents wondered what they could do better for their children since the dating world was filled with heartbreak, lust, and sinful behavior. So they opted for a different route completely: courtship.
Now everyone’s “courtship” looks a little different, but the basic premise is: a relationship with the intent of finding out God’s will in regards to two young people marrying, family-focused instead of individual-focused (parents take a guardianship role over the relationship), and a focus on marriage instead of “just having fun”.
So basically they took dating and turned it on its head… or so they thought.
I want to show you how dating and courtship really aren’t all that different, and ultimately have many of the same fundamental flaws.
Courtship & Scripture
The most fundamental problem with dating and courtship is that they aren’t Biblical. There is no such thing as “Biblical Courtship”. Almost every courtship advocate admits this outright, with all the books stating something to the effect of “this isn’t the way they did it in Scripture but…”. Courtship isn’t missing from the Bible because no one got married, but because everyone who married did so through some other method. This article about dating vs. courtship actually acknowledges the method that was used in Scripture and then, like all the other books and articles, they go on to completely ignore it.
In other words we’re effectively being taught that we don’t need to look to Scripture for patterns and principals to follow in the realm of the path to marriage.
This is sad, and so many Christians don’t even realize this is what they’re being taught. We need to be looking to Scripture for guidance in the path to marriage, even, or maybe especially, when the answer proves to be counter-cultural.
Courtship & Covenant
Courtship, like dating, is a semi-covenanted relationship that carries no solid commitment. Yet it requires, through an often unspoken decree, the participants to remain disentangled with anyone else for the duration of the courtship (after which point they either become covenanted together in marriage, or have to start back at square one). If anyone doesn’t follow this unstated law, they are looked upon as a cheat for breaking their obligation to the other person.
Why? Because common sense and proper moral code dictate that a man ought to focus on one woman, and vise versa. It’s Biblical, to do otherwise is sin (the reason we all recognize that promiscuous dating is wrong).
In the Bible there were none of these semi-covenanted relationships. A man and woman were either brother & sister in Christ (1 Timothy 5:1&2), or covenanted together as husband & wife. When a couple was betrothed (ie., Mary and Joseph) they were already in covenant with each other, only waiting for the marriage celebration before they would consummate the marriage and she would then live in his house. So courtship & dating are literally adding a relationship that never existed, and in reality never can.
Courtship & Consistency
Unlike modern dating, courtship is internally inconsistent. It holds impossible expectations for young men and women in regards to sexual temptation that go in direct contradiction to what Scripture teaches. At least dating is honest in this regard.
When a young man struggles with sexual temptation (although men aren’t the only ones who struggle in this area) those in the courtship crowd are quick to deny his eligibility as a potential spouse until he has conquered lust. Scripture, on the other hand, says, “…because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:2) and “but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:9)
Courtship advocates love to talk about being pro-marriage, but in action they often contradict their talk. They set up high standards that are usually not Biblical… and are sometime ridiculous. A good illustration is that my husband was once turned down by a father because he wasn’t “musical enough”!1
There are countless young men who are refused because they don’t have a college education, don’t own a house, aren’t 100% debt free, don’t have a high-paying job, aren’t spiritual enough, aren’t mature enough, or simply aren’t tall, dark, and handsome.
Courtship & Delayed Marriage
In 1960, the marriage rate among young adults was 45%. In 2010 only 9% of young adults were married.2
Many Christians are realizing that the delayed marriage in our Christian churches is becoming a major problem. But can we be surprised that marriage is delayed when our method for marrying has impossible requirements? We expect young men to be as wise, mature, and prepared as our fathers who have been married for 25 years. Marriage matures you and it is not only unfair, but outrageous, to expect an unmarried man to be as mature as an aged married father.
As a result of the unrealistic expectations courtship has produced, we have godly Christian women well past the flower of their youth (30’s and 40’s) who have little hope of ever being joined in holy matrimony, let alone bearing children. Their fathers have turned away countless young suitors because those imperfect, immature youths just didn’t measure up to the standard of what he must be.
This is a travesty. The conservative Christian church has been teaching young, fruitful marriage, and has attempted to be the antidote to the world’s attack on the marriage and family, yet it is barren because of the false doctrines found in courtship.
Courtship & Change
We need to reverse this trend. God said, “it is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), yet our churches are filled with those who are “alone”. As women we were created to be help meets, to bear children, to keep house (Titus 2:4-5), yet we’re living in our fathers’ houses with barren wombs.
We must go back to Scripture for principles to follow, not to the latest trending relationship book. Let us eradicate the mile-long lists of “what he must be” and anticipate with excitement the man we will grow, mature, and glorify God with. Let us not only pray that God bring a man, but actively work toward it.
Let us be the generation the rises up and glorifies God by marrying, bearing children, and raising souls for eternity.