Dating and Courtship

Date: March 23, 2014
Study: In His Image: Biblical Manhood, Womanhood, and Relationships
Teacher: Kameron Slater

The goal of Christian relationships: spur one another on to greater faith, love, self-sacrifice, and maturity.
Types of relationships for singles in the church:

  1. Other same-sex single adults
  2. Opposite-sex single adults
  3. The rest of Christian community
    1. Families
    2. Senior adults
    3. Children and youth


What is the difference between dating and courtship?
The word “courtship” often brings to mind images of horse drawn buggies and people in fancy outfits sipping tea. It feels like “ancient” terminology.  The term “dating” is our cultures common term for the relationship between a man and woman that precedes marriage. Both terms—dating and courtship—are loaded with baggage and essentially synonymous, so what term we use isn’t as important as defining the concept biblically. 

A Brief History of Dating (1900s-Present)
1900s – In the early 1900s, a young man would schedule a time to meet a young lady in the parlor of her parent’s home.  If the courting progressed, the couple might advance to the front porch, always under the eye of watchful parents.  Such a process was meant to protect from danger (abuse, rape), involve the family in the courtship process, allow for the father to keep away the wrong kinds of men, and reduce the opportunity for premarital sex.

1920s – By the 1920s, urbanization provided a number of social outlets for meeting outside the home. Now singles were able to go out together at places like restaurants, movie theaters, and dance halls. Casual dating began to become more common.

1930s – With the invention of the automobile, dating changed dramatically with a new found freedom to gather away from the parents’ home. Money became the means by which a man could pursue a woman so that when he took a girl out in a car and spent money on her, he could expect certain things in return – not just her undivided attention, but sexual favors as well.

1960s-Present – By the 60s, the feminist movement and sexual revolution came on the scene. It wasn’t long before casual sex became normal, Playboy and other forms of pornography were being sold at stores, abortion (1973) and no-fault divorce (1974) were legalized. Consequently, sex, dating, marriage and children were no longer necessarily seen as connected issues. Things became even more confusing.

The point of taking a brief look at the development of dating like this is not to suggest that we need to adopt the dating techniques of a century before us. Rather it highlights the fact that what is ‘normal’ in our culture does not mean it is right; it highlights that what we think dating is is often affected by the world we live in more than we realize.  As a result, we cannot afford to be passive in our thinking about marriage or dating – instead we must do the hard work of active thinking.  Paul reminds us in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Defining Courtship
Courtship is a relationship between a man and a woman who are actively and intentionally together to consider marriage.

So, if courtship is a relationship where a man and a woman are actively considering marriage, does that mean marriage is the destination? Is a successful courtship one that ends in marriage? In some respects, we could say the answer is ‘yes’– the couple is not out to just have a fun weekend; they’re looking towards marriage. But, on the other hand the answer is ‘no,’ because the goal is to determine if God would have them be married, and if a couple finds that the answer is ‘no, we shouldn’t’ and were able to date in a way that they honored God and have no regrets afterwards, it was a success.

As a result, we shouldn’t make courtship a bigger deal than it is. In other words, going out for dinner or coffee is not the same thing as a marriage proposal. We need to give each other breathing room and understand there is space between the beginning when two people are just getting to know each other, and the end of a courtship when two people decide to get married.

At the same time, we shouldn’t take courtship too lightly either.  Though a dating relationship should not let intimacy outpace commitment, there is a level of commitment in a dating because the two people are not playing games, but making a decision if they should spend the rest of their lives together.

Am I Ready for Courtship?
Possible reasons to wait:

  • It might be that the individual is a new convert and needs to get grounded in their faith and mature as a follower of Jesus before they are able to lead a family spiritually (if it’s the husband) or be a good helpmate (if it’s the wife).
  • It might be that they need to get biblical counseling on overcoming a habitual sin such as pornography, substance abuse, or an eating disorder.
  • It might be that they need to get a handle on their finances or put together a plan where they are able to make progress on reducing a mountain of debt. Obviously, you don’t have to be rich, but if a financial concern is going to delay you getting married should you begin dating?

In any of these categories, it’s important to realize we shouldn’t wait for perfection or else none of us would get married!  We do, however, need to be honest with ourselves and with what is best for the person we would potentially be merging our lives with.  A desire for intimacy should be under the control of wisdom (Philippians 2:3-4).

Christian vs. Worldly Dating
–Christian- future intimacy (emotionally, physically, and spiritually) with one person
–Wordly- immediate intimacy (emotionally and physically) with current partner

Dating environment:
–Christian- values time in group settings early on to protect against premature intimacy
–Worldly- assumes best/only way to get to know a person is to spend exclusive time together

Gender roles:
–Christian- complementarian
–Worldly- egalitarian

Use of time:
–Christian- long periods of time together aren’t necessary. What matters is gaining an appropriate level of knowledge needed in order to decide if future commitment is desired.
–Worldly- great deal of time spent together because you need to get to know the person more deeply than anyone else in the world to figure out whether you want to be with him or her.

–Christian- holiness is more important that happiness
–Worldly- meeting each other’s needs is the most important thing

–Christian- Commitment before intimacy
–Worldly- Intimacy before commitment

–Christian- accountable to God and others
–Worldly- accountability from family/church isn’t necessary

Every dating relationship is not going to (nor should it) look exactly the same – this is not like ‘one size fits all’. These are principles. These principles are either explicitly biblical or implied from the wisdom of Scripture (things like how to genuinely love others, our need for the wisdom and perspective that comes from community and the priority of sexual purity).

One way to think of it is to see the principles not as shackles, but as the fence around the playground.  They are meant to keep you on safe territory, to protect you from harmful things outside the fence.  But once you figure out what those fences are, then go inside the playground and have fun.  Dating should be something you enjoy!

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem
Love for a Lifetime by Dr. James Dobson
Singleness and Courtship: Lesson 6. Capital Hill Core Seminars.




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