By: Steven Nelms
As we should do, let’s look at what the Bible has to say about Christian dating…
Well now that we’ve done that, let’s talk about what we like to make the Bible say about Christian dating. For the most part there have been two sides to the conversation. Those in favor of the traditional form of courting and those in favor of the contemporary form of dating.
The traditional form of courting usually involves a guy making the first move, which must always be asking the Dad for permission. In the potential absence of a Dad, ask the oldest brother. In the potential absence of an older brother, ask her closest father-like figure. Maybe an uncle? Maybe an older cousin? Maybe her pastor? Oh wait! She has a mom? Well then I guess you could ask a woman for permission too. Then after you’ve gotten permission, you get to ask the girl to hang out in “group settings” so that you get to know each other in more of a casual environment. Group settings include anything where there are 3 or more people. Like the Bible says, “where there are 3 or more of you meeting as Christians, there is a group setting appropriate for courtship”. After some group setting hang outs have been successful, then you can upgrade to getting coffee together. At some point, you transfigure from courting to dating. Depending on what age you are when you begin this process you might be dating for months and months and even years! And then when you graduate high school, who knows what could happen!
The contemporary form of dating usually involves someone asking someone else out on a date, which usually starts by using the tool of Facebook Messenger and/or Instagram. Once you’ve established a simple, innocent line of casual conversation, you ask to grab a meal. If it’s going to be dating, you gotta go with a meal. Lunch or dinner. Not breakfast. Who do you think you are? Unless it’s breakfast for dinner. Then that’s a hole in one. But the idea is that you are pursuing getting to know the person you’re interested in without including, acknowledging, or conferring with anyone else. If you have the permission of the person you asked out on a date, then you have all the permission you need. And again, you eventually continue dating for months and sometimes even years and someday move on to the next chapter of your life with the conundrum of what to do with your relationship.
I personally wasn’t raised in the church so the idea of pursuing a girl by asking her dad for permission was foreign to me. I thought the only permission I needed from a dad was to ask to marry her, and even then it was really more of a formality than a legitimate consideration. So asking a girl’s dad for permission to ask her out on a date seemed way too serious. But after becoming a Christian and going through a breakup, a new relationship, and another breakup, I decided to try the whole courting thing. I had a bit of a crush on this girl that went to the same church as me and decided I wanted to date her – I mean court her. I asked her dad and he more or less said he’s not afraid to go to jail. So I asked her to get frozen yogurt with me sometime and there we went. We ended up dating for maybe 3 months and it didn’t quite work out. But from my own personal experience, the whole practice of asking her dad for permission first seemed to unnecessarily apply more pressure than needed to the whole situation. I decided that I’d probably not try the courting thing anymore. I was 21 years old at the time and assumed that any girl I would be interested in pursuing should probably not need their dad’s permission to go on a date.
The next girl I decided to go after was an absolute fox. So I use the phrase “go after” by analogy. I was the hound. But anyway, I decided that I wasn’t going to be asking anyone for permission. She was 21. I was 21. I resolved that we were adults. So I of course began my pursuit by messaging her on Facebook to ask her about a band she had mentioned the first time we had hung out. We were hanging out in one of those handy-dandy “group settings”, so I was able to come off as nonchalant as if I wasn’t quite paying enough attention to her other conversation to catch the name of the band. But that was a lie. I was listening to her every word that whole night. It was hard not to, what with all the beauty of those lips – oh, sorry. Again, I digress. The point is, I pursued her. It worked out and believe it or not we ended up getting pregnant – I mean – married! Also pregnant, but that distinctly came after the marriage part. Now it may seem that I’m arguing in favor of the dating methodology over the courting method. But that’s not the case! I really don’t intend to argue in favor of one or the other. But seriously, what are we to do as Christians about dating when it seems like so many single Christians are genuinely troubled about how to navigate the ferocious world of pre-marital romance?
Let’s try to broaden the scope then. What does the Bible say about romantic relationships? And when I say “romantic”, I mean in the sense of monogamous devotion between two people and not so much in the sense of candles, wine, rose petals, meat lover’s pizza, and Netflix.
So let’s look at what Scripture says in terms of pursuing marriage and the purpose of having a spouse. The very first reference of purpose is in the Garden of Eden where God says it’s not right for man to be alone. He fashions out of Adam’s rib a woman whom Adam calls Eve. I’m going to be intentionally leaving out references to how a husband and wife function in roles respective to one another and am focusing solely on why someone might get married. So far, it’s because it’s not right for man to be alone. Since at the time Adam was the only human being around, it’s hard to say that this means it’s not right for man to be single or just that it means it’s not right for man to be isolated. Proverbs 18:22 seems to say that finding a good wife makes a man obtain favor with the Lord. Whatever that favor with the Lord might look like, I’m not sure. But finding a good wife is definitely portrayed as being a good thing.
Much of the stories in the Old Testament portray men taking a wife for the purpose of having sons to continue the family name. This seems to be why some men took so many wives. That never seems to be a motive for marriage explicitly taught by God. So while this kind of motive is reflected in Scripture, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that it is a "Godly motive." The next passage that speaks to a motive for pursuing a romantic relationship is 1 Corinthians 7.
“But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” – 1 Corinthians 7:2
Paul is responding to the Corinthian’s claim that “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (1 Cor. 7:1). For whatever reason, they had come to think that no sexual relations were okay. More than likely this stemmed from an over-reaction to some sexual immorality the church was struggling with. (1 Cor. 5:1). Instead of dealing with shortcomings of their congregants, they were trying to prohibit the entire action with overarching blanket statements. So here, it seems that Paul is saying that a motive for marriage is to provide a context in which sex is acceptable.
Again, I’m not arguing that increasing progeny, securing male descendants, or satisfying your sex drive are advisable motives for securing a romantic relationship. But what I am suggesting is that the Bible only emphasizes lifelong relational commitments and speaks only to motives and behavior toward the context of marriage alone. That being said, what does this suggest about the idea of pre-marital romance?
Think Long Term. If you’re committed to a life of pursuing righteousness in Christ, then it’s a good idea to consider whether or not the person you’re interested in is open to that pursuit in their personal lives as well. Your relationship with God should inform every aspect of your life. You may not arrive at the same conclusions and that’s usually a productive thing. But if you and the person you’re interested in being with are not having your lives informed by the same fundamental drive, then you’re signing up for a lot of difficult conversations. (Not that being with a Christian precludes you from all difficult conversations, but at least being on the same page is a good start).
Think Short Term. If marriage is the final context in which a romantic relationship is meant to be, then be realistic about your short term commitments. Pursuing a monogamous relationship with someone while you’re still several years from practically being able to commit into marriage may do more harm than good. If you can’t realistically commit to marriage, then is your boyfriend-girlfriend relationship going to unnecessarily overcommit you to a single person and single location? Will you pass up that summer internship as a 17 year old because you’re unwilling to spend 3 months apart? Will you refuse the scholarship or career opportunity as a 16 year old because it will take too much time away from your boyfriend?
Think Selflessly. If you really do care about this other person, think about whether you’re restraining them from something. Think about their long term life. Are you keeping them from pursuing life changing opportunities? Are you realistically able to support their goals? Is your relationship causing sin that is taking something away from their future spouse? This requires you to realistically think of the possibility that you won’t be their future spouse. To this very limited extent, a dating/courting relationship requires you to not think of your own romantic fulfillment or contentment. You have to think of the long term goals of the person you’re with and support those to the extent of not being an obstacle. If your pre-marital romantic relationship is an obstacle to their pursuit of their life’s goals, then move out of the way.
Think Selfishly. You only get one chance at growing up. The opportunities that are provided to you in high school and college are available short term. If I had decided on where to go to college based on my relationship in high school, I would never have left my hometown. I would’ve passed up a thousand opportunities that came with committing to a competitive team and going to an out-of-state university. One of those opportunities was in fact meeting my wife. When you’re engaging in pre-marital romance, you are exempt from living selflessly for that person. You don’t give up your hopes and dreams for them. You don’t sacrifice your opportunities for them. The most selfless you should be is to not expect them to sacrifice anything for you as well.
So for what it’s worth, that is my practical advice on how to navigate the dating and/or courting world as a Christian. Keep in mind that the final goal is meant to be marriage, for those of you who are not called to a life of singleness. Marriage is not everything. Nor is a romantic relationship. It’s not the end goal of life. It’s not the motive for living. It’s not the purpose to puberty. It is a life choice. But pursuing a romantic relationship is not synonymous with choosing to live. Keep it in perspective and keep it practical. That’s all I got for all those who are gravely curious about how they should deal with their co-ed interests. I did not address everything because no one person can. Some things you just have to decide for yourself.
Carry on my brothers and sisters.