Is it just me, or has the whole Christian dating / courting / dorting thing become really, really complicated?
When Josh Harris wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye, he had good intentions. He was reacting against the casual, recreational, aimless dating that had come to dominate the American landscape. He was trying to help young men and women stop hurting each other through the endless hooking up, breaking up, hooking up, breaking up, etc. Like I said, good intentions, good impulse. I’m grateful for Josh.
But, as we are so prone to do, we took good principles and distorted them and distilled them into a series of unhelpful / legalistic practices. Dating / courting has turned into an elaborate set of unwritten rules which must be followed to the letter, no matter what the circumstances. A guy must ask a girl’s dad first, then the guy must ask the girl, then the girl must say yes, then the couple can start seeing each other IN GROUPS (!). If things go well for the first eight months or so, the couple may or may not be allowed to spend semi-unsupervised time together and possibly even (GASP!) hold hands. Once the young man has firmly established himself financially and is sufficiently godly, he can ask the girl to marry him. Of course, he again must ask the dad first. Both families, as well as lots of church members, must be involved in the entire process, from start to finish.
Now, is there wisdom in some of these practices? Of course. But the reality is, you can’t slap these practices on top of every relationship and expect the relationship to go well. There are so many variables in each relationship: the age of the couple, the spiritual maturity of the couple, whether or not both sets of parents are believers, how long the guy and girl have been a Christian, the ethnicity of the couple, and on and on. To take some variation of the practices above and arbitrarily slap them onto a relationship can actually end up harming the relationship.
And here’s the kicker: believe it or not, the Bible doesn’t actually say a whole lot about dating/courting relationships.
When we place our practices above Biblical principles, it’s a recipe for disaster.
I want to suggest that we can make this whole dating thing a lot simpler and less confusing by simply holding fast to the clear, relatively few principles spelled out in Scripture. What are those principles?
Christians Pursue Jesus Above All
This is the overriding principle which must govern every relationship. Loving Jesus first and foremost means seeking him above all else and obeying his commands above all else. To love Jesus is to obey Jesus. Once this is set firmly in place for both individuals in the relationship, many of the other details will fall into place. Obedience to Jesus is the filter through which every action must pass.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
If we are committed to obeying Jesus, than that necessarily rules out dating unbelievers. There’s no such thing as missionary dating. Missionary dating is simply disobedience dating.
Christians Pursue God’s Wisdom
When it comes to dating, God’s wisdom is desperately needed. There are so many issues which aren’t explicitly addressed by Scripture, and therefore require wisdom. Is it sinful for a couple to drive to a deserted area at night just to “hang out”? No, but it might not be the wisest thing. Is it wise for a young man to talk to a young woman’s parents about dating/courting their daughter? Sometimes. It depends on whether the parents are Christians, how old the woman is, and a host of other conditions. Does a young man need to have financial stability before he can get married? Not necessarily, but it is wise for him to think through his financial status.
The good news is, God loves to give wisdom.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)
Christians Pursue Absolute Purity
“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
This is definitely a tough one. Here’s why: part of this is principle and part of this is practice. The principle stands firm: absolute purity. The practices, however, may differ from relationship to relationship. Obviously, premarital sex is out of bounds. Making out in the bedroom is off limits, as is all sexual activity. But there are certain things that may be tempting for some people and not others, like holding hands. This is why we need to be careful about laying strict, absolute practices. Life has so many hues, and each person is so different. Wisdom is an essential component when thinking through this issue.
Men and women must pursue absolute purity when dating. Each individual must wrestle through exactly what this looks like in practice.
Christians Pursue Community
This principle applies to dating couples, just like it applies to every other Christian. As Christians, we are part of God’s family, and we allow other believers to speak into our lives. Dating couples are called to let other Christians speak the truth in love to them. This doesn’t mean that they hang out exclusively in groups, or only in the context of their extended families. It simply means that they open their lives up to other believers.
Christians pursue Jesus, pursue wisdom, pursue purity, and pursue community. These are the firm biblical principles. The practice of these principles will look very different in each relationship. Let’s simplify dating by being committed to these principles, rather than a set of extra-biblical practices.