What's best: courtship or dating?

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Candice Watters

What's best: courtship or dating?

Aug 12, 2014 |Candice Watters
Question

I'm a 27-year-old single female who has never been married; however, a Christ-centered marriage is most definitely something I desire.

I've had a couple of serious dating relationships in the past but have never been one to casually date (e.g., a date with one guy on Friday, another guy on Saturday and so on). I don't necessarily regret dating these men; however, I definitely made mistakes in both relationships and feel convicted about not making those same mistakes again.

I recently finished Candice Watters' book Get Married, which was a definite eye opener and showed me some areas in my life in which I want to prayerfully improve and grow. She doesn't really talk a great deal about courtship, but it's something I've been thinking about a lot since reading her book and am not sure if this is the right choice for me. I'm afraid most guys would probably laugh in my face, and while I have great, loving parents, they very rarely get involved in my dating life. I have a feeling they would never feel comfortable taking on a bigger role in that respect.

How do I decide if a courtship is the best option for me versus dating?

Answer

Ever since Josh Harris' I Kissed Dating Goodbye hit the bestseller list in 1997, Christian singles have talked differently about dating. With that book, courtship went mainstream. That's not to say everyone traded the practice of recreational coupling for parent-directed matchmaking, but that many believing singles gave more thought to the purpose of dating and the process of getting married. And so here you are, wondering if that model will prevent the mistakes of your past relationships and lead you to your goal of a Christ-centered marriage, and if so, if it will work with the guys you know and the parents you have.

These are good questions to ask, and I think some of what Harris recommends may prove helpful. But before you can know if courtship is the solution, you need to rightly understand the problem.

You say you made mistakes in past dating relationships that you feel convicted about not making again. If the Holy Spirit is convicting you about these things, I can only surmise that by mistakes you mean sin. It is God's great mercy that these things bother you. Conviction is a sign of His kindness leading you to repentance (Romans 2:4); it is evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in your life (John 16:5-11). Conviction is a glorious gift. Where Satan would have you feel guilty and wallow in regret, God would have you repent, turn away from your sin, and be restored to Him.

Once you are restored comes the challenge of walking in obedience. The power to do that comes from the Holy Spirit, not a shift from dating to courting. Just because you court won't remove the presence of temptation to sin. While temptation comes at us from many angles (the world and the devil), the real trouble with temptation is that it originates most often from within — from our flesh (1 John 2:16). Our own hearts lead us astray. James 1:14-15 says, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

Courtship isn't the answer to sin in dating; Christ is. John says, "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:1-6).

How did Jesus walk? He always did the will of the Father (John 4:34, 5:19, 8:29). And He calls us to do the same. He said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). What are His commandments? To love God with heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). He spells out that love of neighbor in Matthew 5 where He shows how He is the fulfillment of the law, and in Him, we are called to live out a righteousness that "exceed[s] that of the scribes and the Pharisees" (v. 20). How is this possible? How can we in our fallen state walk in holiness, especially when it comes to matters of romantic love and sexual desire?

Second Peter 2:9 says, "…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation." One of the primary ways He does that is through fellow believers. Rather than trying to conduct a romantic relationship the world's way — just the two of you, mostly alone together, for the fun of it — God makes a way for singles to explore the potential of marriage in the context of community. What does that look like?

One way is spending time together along with other couples you know and trust, who know and trust you. We like to invite dating couples over for game nights, dinner and other family gatherings. It gives us a chance to get to know the boyfriends of my single friends and to ask good questions. (What are you plans for the future? What attracted you to Susie? How is God at work in your life? Do you hope to marry? Do you want to have a family someday? etc.) We can ask questions it may be hard for a single woman to ask and create opportunities for revealing conversations. We can also absorb some of the awkwardness so the two getting to know each other can relax and enjoy the process.

I've also had frank discussions with close friends about their plans for sexual purity, asking if they're successfully resisting temptation, praying with them, and encouraging them in obedience. Again, fellow believers can be a great help in the season of longing before marriage.

Finally, older married couples can step in to provide input, counsel and oversight where parents live too far away, aren't believers, or simply aren't interested in getting involved in the love lives of their adult children.

Your desire to leave sinful dating patterns for something better is praiseworthy and righteous. That's the sort of about-face Christ died to make possible. You won't find descriptions of "courtship" or "dating" anywhere in Scripture, but God's Word does give clear instruction for relating to members of the opposite sex. To cite just a few: Our bodies belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); we are called to live for Him (Colossians 1:15-18) and to practice the "one another" verses in the support, care and presence of other believers (Romans 15:5, 1 Corinthians 12:25, Galatians 5:13, 6:2); it is His will that we remain sexually moral (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6); and believers must marry other believers (2 Corinthians 6:14).

You're right to suspect that the older you get, the harder it is to find Christian men who are interested in a parent-directed courtship model and the more likely it is that you live too far away from them to effectively carry it out. I applaud Harris' book and recommend it to tweens and teens, but once someone is of marrying age, I suggest Scott Croft's Biblical Dating series.

Rather than choose between courtship or dating (both of which have useful elements), this hybrid distinguishes between worldly dating and biblical dating. One could just as readily see the need to distinguish between worldly courting (many cultures still practice parent-directed matchmaking) and biblical courting. What sets it apart is where it begins: with God's Word. Psalm 19:7-14 shows us the breadth of Scripture, how it is sufficient for all of life, including dating.

As you seek God's will in His Word, my prayer for you is 2 Peter 1:2-4.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2014 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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