I clearly recall a thread I followed a number of years ago on a Reformed Baptist discussion board. Someone posed a question to the group about whether or not there was anything he should do with regard to something he knew a female friend was planning. She was going to elope with her boyfriend without letting her parents know. This was a professing Christian young woman and he was concerned as to whether he should try to stop her, warn her parents, or something else. What I remember the most was the comment made by someone that made my jaw drop. He said something to the effect of: “She’s over 18, so she can make her own decisions and her parent’s knowledge or blessing is irrelevant.” I was dumbfounded that a mature Christian who taught at a well known seminary could make such a statement. Where in the Bible do we find any such notion? Where in Scripture do we find the idea that a woman leaves the protective care and authority of her father for any other reason than being given to a husband? I bring this up, not simply because it is shocking, but because it reveals just how much Christians can unwittingly imbibe from culture without realizing how unscriptural it may be.
I promised a follow up to my last post about dating/courtship in which I would flesh out some of the scriptural principles I believe must guide us through the difficult waters of courtship and dating in our day. As I stated from the beginning, I do not claim to have all the answers. I do not have a new scheme that will solve all our problems and ensure that our children will all end up with great marriages and live lives free from heartache. I will, however, lay out the principles I think we need to keep in mind regarding the issue, and discuss how I am attempting to navigate these waters with my children in light of them.
It is not good that man should be alone
At the completion of each day of creation God declared that it was good. It is not until verse 18 of chapter 2 that He describes something as not good. It was not good that man should be alone. God did not create man to live a solitary existence, he created a helper comparable to him. Even before falling into sin it was not good for man to be alone, how much more so today. If unfallen man needed a helper, how much more does fallen man? When Christian singles find themselves yearning for a godly spouse, it is a good thing which they desire.
We need to recognize this as a fact and live in light of it. We ought to direct our children to actively seek the Lord’s aid in finding a spouse. We should help them in any way we can. We should teach them early on, by scripture and by example, what kind of a spouse they should seek. We should also teach them what kind of a spouse they need to become, and help them to develop the character and attitudes that the Lord requires of them. We should pray with them and for them as they go about this difficult task. We need to teach our sons that they need a helper and teach our daughters that the Lord has a man who needs their help.
This being said, we must also teach them that no spouse will ever fulfill their desires. No spouse can ever fulfill all their needs. Only Christ can do that. They must seek Christ above all else. They must be fully satisfied in Him and Him alone. Disappointment , discontentment and frustration will be the inevitable outcome of a failure to understand this. Whatever spouse God provides for them will be a sinner, and they will experience first-hand how difficult life yoked to a sinful man or woman can be. Yes, a godly spouse will be an incredible blessing to them, but if they ever expect to gain from that person what they can truly find in God alone, the results will be devastating.
What about Celibacy?
The Bible does teach that the Lord sovereignly chooses to grant the gift of celibacy to some. We ought to teach our children this as well, but we need to recognize that this is the exception and not the rule. God may indeed reveal that one of our children is never going to marry, and His grace is sufficient to sustain them if this is the case. But how do we know? There are indeed many factors to take into account that I will not take the time to attempt to lay out. I do have a simple litmus test that can help though. It is a fact that ought to be recognized by all, that men and women typically struggle with lust in different ways. Men struggle with the lust of looking upon women, and women struggle with the lust of desiring to be looked at. If a young woman or man has not attained an unusual ability to mortify these particular lusts, I think it is a very strong sign that the Lord has not given them the gift of celibacy. I can’t proclaim this as dogma, but it seems like sound reasoning to me.
Make No Provision for the Flesh
God commands all Christians to “flee youthful lusts”(2 Tim. 2:22). The very description of these lusts as “youthful” makes it clear that they are particularly strong in young people, even though they do not disappear with age and must be mortified by all. Notice the verb as well. We are to flee from these lusts. We are not to toy with them, let alone indulge them. We find a parallel admonition in 1 Cor. 6:18, “Flee sexual immorality.” Again, the verb denotes the urgency. We are to flee from youthful lusts and sexual immorality as if they were a battalion of armed men or a bear robbed of her cubs! We are never to see how close we can come without stepping over the line. We are never to indulge in “just a little”. Parents must instill this in their children early on and repeatedly admonish them, for this is as exceedingly deceitful a sin as any.
This is why it is so important that young people be careful to make no provision for the flesh. They ought not to be placing themselves in positions in which it would be easy for them to give in to carnal lusts. Spending time alone with a member of the opposite sex in private ought to be avoided like the plague. A young woman should not be comfortable in such a situation, for she is indeed in great danger, whether she realizes it or not. Every man has lust within him. A Christian man is indeed striving to mortify that lust, but a woman has no way of looking into his heart to observe how successful he is. I am well aware that there are examples of Christian men and women who spent time alone in private and did not give in to such lusts. But there are myriads of examples of those who attempted to do so and failed miserably with dire results. We should never presume upon the grace of God when He has so clearly admonished us to make no provision for the flesh.
I once had a former youth pastor tell me about how devastated he was to find out that the majority of girls in his youth group were taking birth control pills. This was in a conservative PCA church! What were their parents thinking? While the fear of getting a girl pregnant is far from the main reason a man should flee fornication, it is indeed an obstacle that should not be removed.
I do not mean to say that an unmarried couple should never have private conversation. There are plenty of ways to be in private in one sense while still being in public in another sense. Dinner in a restaurant, being in a room alone while the door is open and others are in the house etc. But a single man living alone ought not to have a girl over for dinner without others present. I’m sure this seems restrictive and legalistic to many, but the Biblical admonitions I’ve cited, as well as many others throughout the word of God make this very wise counsel.
Guard Your Heart
While most will recognize that what I propose looks more like what is commonly known as courtship than dating, it is not dating per se that I have the biggest problem with. It is recreational dating. What I mean by recreational dating is a man and woman entering into a romantic relationship simply to enjoy the romance, with no commitment to each other except that they will continue as long as the relationship gives them pleasure. The Bible is perfectly clear that physical intimacy is to be confined to marriage, and that fornication, which I do not believe is confined to intercourse, is sin. But what is marriage? Is it merely a commitment to an exclusive physical relationship? Of course not. Marriage is a commitment of the heart as well as the body. A man or woman can commit adultery in many ways without ever committing the physical act. How devastating it would be for one to hear his/her spouse say “I love you” to someone else! It is my sincerest conviction that just as singles must be diligent to reserve their bodies for marriage they must also seek to reserve their hearts. This is why I oppose the practice that leads, multiple times in some cases, to “falling in love” with someone with no intention of ever marrying them.
I recognize that this idea will meet strong opposition from many quarters. I also realize that it will be far more difficult to work this out practically than it is to avoid fornication. And I’m not saying that a couple should attempt to somehow not fall in love until after the marriage ceremony. Hopefully setting forth some practical advice will help to clarify what I’m talking about.
A young man or woman should never date someone that they would never marry. The idea that it would be fun to date someone even though they have some character flaws or something else that makes them unsuitable as a possible spouse is unwise to say the least. A romance that cannot rightly end in marriage will end in heartache.
A young man ought to be careful not to lead a girl on. He may at first desire to get to know a young woman better because he recognizes her Christian character and finds her attractive. He may spend time with her in small groups etc. A mutual attraction ( and I mean that in a wholesome way) may begin to become obvious. In such cases a girl’s heart is very vulnerable. He should be careful to keep from giving her the impression that she means more to him than she actually does, and if it becomes clear to him that he does not see her as a potential spouse he should make it known in a gracious manner.
A young woman needs to guard her heart. As my wife said to me recently, a girl can fall in love with a guy on the first date. She needs to be diligent not to allow herself to do so. She needs to keep a close watch over her affections and be careful not to hand her heart to someone just because he has taken notice of her, even if he is a fine Christian man. I know this is easier said than done, but if she is successful, she will indeed save herself from much potential heartache.
I do believe there may be a good degree of affection of the heart between a couple by the time they are prepared to pursue marriage, and that it will grow stronger and stronger as their wedding day approaches. But they must both be diligent to practice restraint before there is any sort of commitment involved.
The Role of Fathers
1 Cor. 7, Prov. 7, Num. 30
The biblical role of a father is a great responsibility. He is not a pope over his family, for a pope is an unbiblical usurper of authority. He has a delegated authority, under God, to fulfill a multitude of duties for the good of those in his family. He must provide for them (1 Tim. 5:8). He must instruct them in godliness (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4). He must lead by example as he directs his family to live as faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The father has a peculiar role in regard to his daughters. His authority over them extends even to the overruling of vows unto the Lord (Num. 30:1-5). He has the authority to refuse to give her in marriage if he deems it wise (1 Cor. 7:36-38, Exod. 22:16,17). But this authority is not for his benefit, but for his daughter’s. He needs to teach her the dangers of adulterous men just as he is to teach his sons about the dangers of adulterous women (Prov. 7). He needs to teach her what manner of woman she should strive to become (Prov. 31). He needs to teach her to be modest and diligent (1 Tim. 2:9-11, Titus 2:5). He needs to teach her to be sweetly submissive under godly authority (Titus 2:5, Eph. 5:22, 1 Pet. 3:1-6) He must ensure her safety and guard her reputation to the best of his ability (1 Tim. 5:8, Prov. 22:1, Eccl. 7:1).
A father’s responsibilities toward his daughters a manifold, who is sufficient for such matters? It is only by God’s grace that any man can begin to fulfill his God given role. How sad it is to observe how much of this responsibility is neglected in our day. Every time I see an immodestly dressed young woman from a Christian family I ask myself “What is her father thinking?” Take responsibility, man! Guard your daughter’s good name and virtue, please. She needs you.
This is why, if a young man asks my daughter to go out on a date with him, she will direct him to speak with me. (Unless she has no interest, she is free and perfectly capable of saying “no” without my assistance.) Since I take my responsibilities seriously, I need to know what kind of man he is and what his intentions are. If he’s looking for a romance without commitment, he’s looking for “love” in the wrong place. However, if he makes every appearance of being a sound Christian who would like to get to know my daughter better, I will give him permission within certain parameters and guidelines. He needs to be willing to remain in the presence of others. I will suggest that if they go out for dinner or a movie etc. they will need to take along one or more of her siblings, or other godly friends who I know. He doesn’t, however need to be ready to marry her. I know that because of our current culture’s ideas, it may seem like the equivalent to asking me for her hand, but I will do my best to set him at ease and treat him with Christian dignity. I will also make it crystal clear, that if he willfully misuses her, physically or emotionally, he will have to deal with me, and it won’t be pretty. But as long as he conducts himself in an upright manner, he has nothing to fear. If he starts to have feelings for my daughter, I will expect him to speak to me about it, but I will do my best to keep this from being anything to be apprehensive about.
My sons must be diligent to mind the authority of the father over any girl they might become interested in. They will speak to him before any form of dating occurs if that is what her father expects. I am aware, however, that many fathers would be quite troubled by a young man who has never dated their daughter asking to speak to him first. They may jump to the conclusion that he is indeed asking for her hand. Such things need to be worked out with wisdom and care. In a culture as diverse as ours we cannot demand a cookie cutter solution. Regardless of her father’s attitude, they must keep all the above principles in mind and take great care not to misuse the young woman’s heart or reputation in any way.
Know Your Children
The Lord has graciously blessed my wife and I with eight wonderful children. It amazes me how much diversity there is among their individual personalities. Parents need to recognize the individual strengths and weaknesses, propensities and inclinations of each of them if we are to guide them well. I have one daughter who will be very difficult to woo. I am really looking forward to meeting the man who can gain her heart, for it is a strong city, fortified by walls. I have another daughter who I will need to watch much more closely. Not because of any moral deficiency or lack of virtue, but because she takes after her father and I believe will easily fall in love. Two of my sons have few female friends and one of them has many more female friends than male friends. Each of them need to be reminded of their responsibilities with regard to the affairs of the heart and guided or admonished with regard to their own unique personalities.
In my response to Mr. Umstattd’s article, I stressed the fact that when looking for the reason any marriage failed, we cannot come to the conclusion that the couple were simply not compatible. I also stressed the need to place Christian virtue as the primary trait to look for in a potential spouse. This may have given some the impression that I think there’s nothing more to the equation. I apologize if I lead anyone to that conclusion. There are many factors that need to be considered in the search for a godly spouse. However, I stand by my conviction that one need not date multiple people in order to recognize who it is they are supposed to marry.
I will reiterate that godly character and virtues are paramount. Young people should be looking for the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5) in the Christian singles of their acquaintance. A young man should be looking for a girl who is sweetly submissive to her father, for if she is not, she will not be a submissive wife. A young man who chafes under authority must be avoided as well. He is likely to either shirk his proper responsibilities as a husband and father, or show himself to be an abuser of his own authority, either of which will lead to a very unhappy marriage. Diligence is a virtue to be eagerly sought in a future husband or wife, for both roles require this grace in abundance. Such virtues are utterly lacking among a large portion of professing Christian young people, which will make the search difficult, but when you indeed recognize these graces in a potential spouse you will know you struck gold.
I must also apologize to any Arminian friends who were insulted by my reference to them in my previous post. I did not intend to set this doctrinal view on par with the sin of lying, that was not my intent. I simply wished to convey that a certain degree of doctrinal agreement is absolutely necessary in a Christian marriage. Of course there must be agreement on the essentials of the faith, that is a given. But it is also equally true that you will be very unlikely to ever find anyone who agrees with you on every jot and tittle. I believe it is of utmost importance that there is agreement on many major issues that genuine Christians disagree about. An Arminian and a Calvinist would end up with much strife, for such doctrines reach into every corner of life. A Cessationist and a continuationist would also face many difficulties. Agreement on issues like these, as well as doctrines like the Regulative Principle of worship or credobaptism vs. paedobaptism is important, though possibly not an insurmountable obstacle. Where would a couple with such differences worship together in unity? At the very least, the woman must be able to sweetly submit to her husband, and if her convictions are too strong to do this a marriage ought not to be pursued.
While I am unshakably convinced that the above two considerations ought to be foremost in the minds of those searching for a spouse, I am well aware that other things come into consideration as well. Some personalities just clash, even among genuine Christians with similar doctrinal convictions. What I want to make clear is that one can recognize such things without recreationally dating multiple people. Hobbies, interests, personality quirks and the like can all be discovered in a group atmosphere without entering into the dangerous practice of casual dating.
But Where Can We Look?
I conclude with the question that inevitably arises from a commitment to all I have just discussed. A large number of faithful Christian singles are in small churches in which they are the minority. They do not have a large pool of Christian singles with whom they are acquainted. Where are they to find their future spouse?
It is indeed possible that the Lord will bring a future spouse into the congregation to which they are joined, we ought not to rule out this possibility. But neither should we simply sit back and wait, for that may not be the means of God’s provision. In my previous post I mentioned Christian conferences. Building Tomorrow’s Church or a Reformed Baptist singles conference is a great place to meet other singles who share doctrinal convictions and demonstrate godly character. Other conferences, such as G3 are also excellent, though they are not specifically geared toward singles. My sons really enjoy these conferences, they are a great blessing in meeting new friends and feeding upon the word of God. Finding a potential spouse isn’t even the primary reason they attend. Many Christian couples have met each other while attending a Christian college. I mentioned the idea of visiting other faithful churches within driving distance. There may be a doctrinally sound church in your area that has a larger number of Christian singles. While I insist that leaving a faithful church for the sole purpose of finding a spouse is wrong, I don’t see anything wrong with attending Bible studies that most of these churches have for their singles. This may be a great idea for a godly young man. A man with strong doctrinal convictions and virtues would stick out in such an atmosphere and be quite attractive to a spiritually minded young woman who is tired of the shallow Christianity she sees in most professing Christian young men.
It is also difficult to know what to do once you’ve met someone who fits the biblical criteria for a potential spouse, but you don’t know them well enough to conclude that you may want to pursue a relationship with them. One idea is to plan some sort of activity with friends and invite them along. You can enjoy the company of friends and get to know them better as well as observing how they interact with others. This can actually be much more fruitful than asking them out on a date, since you have no romantic expectations or apprehensiveness that comes along with a “first date”.
As I stated from the beginning, I do not have all the answers to the difficult questions regarding dating/courtship. I do believe I have laid out some vital biblical principles that must be kept in mind as we guide and direct our children in their search for a godly spouse. It is my intention to leave the comments section open and hope others will provide other ideas that will be of assistance to others as well as myself. Please refrain from responses like, “Well, my spouse and I did such and such when we dated, and we have a strong marriage.”, if your purpose is to prove that some biblical principle can safely be ignored. There are happily married couples who followed biblical principles in courtship/dating, just as there are happily married couples who followed none. My wife and I were unbelievers and our relationship before marriage couldn’t have been much less biblical, but God has graciously given us an incredible marriage. That does not in any way lead me to believe that it isn’t important that my children take every biblical principle into consideration. What I’m interested in receiving, are ideas that will help us guide our children in following such principles while searching for a spouse.
His Throne is Forever and Ever!