Courtship vs. Dating
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 2Peter 1:3, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.”

The Lord has given my wife and I two beautiful girls. Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys with all my heart (all 6 of them), but there is something very special about my daughters that delights me like nothing else. Their smile, their sweet innocence (relatively speaking), their desire to please me in most things that they do. Yet lately, as I kiss them goodnight and tuck them into bed, there comes to my mind a very critical question, “what will happen to them in the years to come as they discover boys?”. Thankfully my youngest girl is only 4 and she thinks boys are pests and only slightly above the worms they chase her with. I love this age! But my 9 year old is only a few years away from what the world calls the “dating scene”, and my heart trembles with what I see as an example within the Reformed Church.

For some reason, much of the Reformed community scratches their heads in bewilderment when you bring up the subject of dating. As if the Word is silent on the subject and all we can do is hope for the best. Yet, the text quoted above seems to indicate that according to the divine power of God, we have been given “all thing that pertain unto life and godliness”. Does this include the subject of dating? It must! For our youth, dating and the opposite sex is a huge part of their life no matter what we as parents would like to think. So there must be a biblical response to this thorny subject or else the Word has failed us. Impossible.


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Dating itself is quite new. Only a few generations ago dating was almost unheard of in North America. Ellen K. Rothman, a secular humanist in her thesis, ‘Intimate acquaintance’: courtship and the transition to marriage in America, 1770-1900: A Finding Aid, writes,

A first-class revolt against the accepted American order took place among American youth in the 1920’s. This was not a sudden eruption, but rather a series of seismic tremors that occurred with increasing intensity and frequency through the 1910’s and 1920’s. By 1930, the terrain through which young Americans passed en route to marriage would be almost unrecognizable to their parents. In 1900, middle-class courtship was more carefully supervised; by 1930, the supervision and formality had given way, like a poorly designed dam, and many of the familiar landmarks were swept aside.

There was a time, if a young man’s fancy was struck by a young woman, the first place he would go was to her father. With sweaty palms, and quivering lips he would ask permission to court his daughter. Often the father would say no the first time, watching this lad to see his reaction. Only after repeated attempts, and many visits, would he even consider this proposal. “What Church do you go to?”, “Who are your parents?”, “Where do you work?”, and “What are your future plans?”, would be only a sampling of the bombardment of questions asked of the boy. This is healthy, and right. All relationships in the home should pass through the covenant head as the gate keeper of the family. He alone will be responsible before God for the relationships fostered under his care. He has the right and duty to put up such a barricade, that only the most worthy of suiters gains entrance into the life of his cherished daughters.

Sadly this is not the case in modern society. In our day the parent is often the last to find out that one of their children has a boyfriend or girlfriend (usually over dinner or on the way out the door). Somehow, over the years, we have adopted the world’s mentality that dating is simply a part of growing up, and hopefully we have taught our young people enough of the Bible to govern their actions. But we haven’t. Obviously if we let them out that door, we have failed them and our Lord on a rather large scale. Fathers, it is your job to protect your daughters, in the face of tears, arguments, and fainting fits. We are not given to them to be popular, or their friends, but their fathers who will one day stand and give an account for our children.

The Lord never intended for covenant children to “date”. Dating is the romantic equivalent of a buffet, where you sample this dish and that until you find exactly what you want.

More harm comes to many of us through dating than in any other way. According to the world, dating is a way for singles to enjoy the comforts and pleasures of the opposite sex. If marriage is in the picture at all, then dating is a tryout for a potential partner. The idea is to start living as if you were married and see how things go. If one isn’t finding fulfillment in the other person, then you can simply break up and move on. It’s not much different from finding the right pair of shoes. At least you can have some fun along the way, or so it goes. The problem is that the heart doesn’t work that way. The intimacy of romance – both physical and emotional intimacy – is one that binds two people tightly together. If we don’t treat our own and others’ hearts carefully, there will be a lot of pain and bleeding. A broken heart is no small matter, as so many of us know from experience. This is the cause of untold pain in our world today, and Christians need to respond to affairs of the heart with respect, with care, and with the wisdom that God is able to give. (Richard D. Phillips & Sharon L. Phillips, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts).

Not only does this system teach our youth to give themselves emotionally to someone whom they will never marry, it sets the groundwork for divorce by cultivating a dissatisfaction for what has been given to them, longing to try something different or “better”. Contemporary society had fostered this with the rise of feminism, Hollywood’s romantic expressions of “love”, the accessibility of transportation (cars, trucks, vans), couple oriented dances, and the deterioration of the fathers roll in both family and culture. In absence of the father, a peer-directed accountability has taken his place, becoming a self regulating body. Kind of like the fox guarding the hen house. But the scriptures say, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Courtship is the biblical model we are to follow. The difference between dating and courtship is striking. Where dating is done much earlier, courtship is done later. Dating usually begins in the mid to late teens, whereas courtship begins at the time just prior to marriage. Dating is “having fun” with the opposite sex with no strings attached. It allows he teen to “play” grownup and imbibe in some of the fruits of a committed marriage- with no commitment. Courtship is an event in which the man seeks for a marriage partner. Dating is left by and large to the discretion of the teen, whereas courtship has the oversight of the parents, and more specifically the father.

We live in a culture that does everything it can to usurp the divinely appointed duty of the father. From Married With Children’s Al Bundy to Homer Simpson, the last 20 years has produced a plum line of weak, indifferent, and morally listless fathers who have garnered the the attention of our youth by bumbling one liners, and gutter humor. And what has lead to the receptivity of such a low class model? One could argue that it is the feminization of our culture, or the humanistic ideology of our schools. Certainly these ideologies have played a part. But I rather think that much of this could be laid at the doorstep of the Church who has, by and large, drifted away from her responsibility to reflect the biblical model of the family. Unfortunately, even in many Reformed families, the roll of the father has been too readily abdicated to the more spiritually sensitive mother. Family worship, if remembered at all, is to often lead by the mother. Likewise, discipline, and parental counsel has also fallen to the one who was designed to be a help meet for the husband. What we have discovered in the past 40 years is an absentee father is not always absent in body, just in responsibility. Our Lord anticipate this modern trend when he says, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). One day, when history is rolled up as a scroll, and we all stand before the tribunal of the Triune God, it will be the fathers of our families that will have to give an account for their actions.

B.M. Palmer & J. W. Alexander in their excellent book, The Family, write,

Under every government, the sovereignty must visit some recognizable head; there must be a last tribunal beyond which no appeal can lie. In the supreme sense, this belongs to God alone; but in the Family, which is constituted under His providence, the dread prerogative of representing His power attaches to the husband and father. He is delegated as the head of the domestic state, and his authority binds the house together. (p. 33. Sprinkle Publications).

So how does this relate to courtship? Father’s are to be the covenant head of every relationship in the home, until such a time as there is a covenantal transferal to another head.The first giving away of a woman to a man is found in Genesis 2:21-24 and it was done by covenant transfer.
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Many would glance by this text and never connect it with courtship. However, if we look closely, and let the Word speak, what we find here (in principle), is a giving of Eve to Adam, and a cleaving to her by Adam. For Adam, there was not a multiplicity of women to chose from. Some might say that this subtracts from our point and does not prove it. However, the omission of a choice of help meet is a strong indication that the LORD had one woman in mind for Adam, predetermined and foreordained. Secondly notice that right on the heels of this giving was a remarkable addendum. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Adam had no earthly parents, neither did Eve, but that did not stop the Holy Spirit from inserting for future generations, the fact that the son will “leave his father and mother” so that he might “cleave to his wife“. Leavening here does not simply mean leave the house, but leave the covenantal oversight of the parents to form a new covenantal entity. There is no doubt that the LORD had in mind to set a biblical precedent for future generations. Parents are to be involved! Not on the periphery, but in the detail. Fathers are the covenant head of the home, and must retain the very place of headship until the question is answered, “Who gives this woman to this man?” The father must be entirely involved in the molding of any relationship that belongs to his family unit. Even in the similitude of the Gospel, when we speak of Christ, the great Husband of the Church, His bride was given to him by the Father (John 10:29; John 17:6, John 17:9, John 17:23). The reverse is also true. A daughter is under the covenantal headship of her father until such a time as she is given to another. Deuteronomy 7 says, “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.” Keep in mind, this is not an advocacy for arranged marriages, but a promotion of covenantal involvement on the part of the parents, and specifically the father. This is he God ordained way of creating the marriage bond.

(By Jerrold & Catherine Lewis)
*Much of what you read here comes from the thoughts of my wife Catherine, and from her extensive reading on the subject of modesty.*

Before we can begin discussing the idea of Courtship in earnest, we need to cover a few sociological barriers first. Cosmetic to be sure, but necessary nonetheless. There was a time when the women of the Church were very modest in what they wore. You could almost always spot a Christian woman by her discretion in attire. But having been in dozens of Reformed Churches over the past several years, I have come to realize that the attire of our next generation of mothers is far closer to the world than the Scriptures. You might ask, “What does this have to do with Courtship?” Everything. The kind of man a Christian woman will attract will be directly proportionate to the signals a woman sends prior to courtship. Can what a woman wears send the wrong message and attract the wrong kind of man? Absolutely! And I firmly believe that most of our Reformed young ladies have no idea what they are doing to the hormones of a man in what they wear. Did you know that your clothing or (lack of clothing) could be causing a man to sin? To illustrate this lets turn to one of the most famous passages in all the Bible that speaks to the subject of lust, 2 Samuel 11.

And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house:and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself;and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. II Samuel 11:2

We often think of David’s sin in this passage but never pause and think if Bathsheba had any part to play in this fiasco. Now it is true, that comparatively David’s sin was far greater than Bathsheba’s. His list of sins were lengthy and potent including an abuse of power, lust, adultery, lying, and finally murder. Bathsheba’s sin, some would say (if anything), was being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong man looking. But is there more here than meets the eye? Think for a moment, why was this woman bathing on the roof in clear sight of the kings window? Remember, it was not the case in Israel at that time that women bathed outside. Bathing was done inside as an act of discretion (much like today). David did not wake up every morning to a whole host of roof-top bathers! This was a strange thing in deed, and many believe that Bathsheba was in fact doing this on purpose. So then Bathsheba’s little sin was the cause of David’s great sin(s). So it is, when a young woman wears low rider jeans, or low cut tops, or tight fitting clothing that uncovers or exposes what should be otherwise covered.

It is my belief, that too many young ladies are displaying to every man they come across, what ought only to be for the eyes of her husband (present or future). And the kind of man you will attract by wearing revealing clothing will not be the kind of man that will lead the home in family worship, pray with you, or be a spiritual leader to your children. He will be a man who is attracted to you in a physical way first, because of what you have given him a sneak peak at before marriage. This is not the kind of man you want to court!

Listen to what George Abbott, an old writer on Courtship has to say about clothing some 120 years ago and see if men have changed in a century,

Another mistake ladies make is, they believe that foolish fellows, who flatter them about their beauty and fine appearance are really sincere, and mean what they say; while the truth is, that they in heart despise and ridicule them; or, if they feel any of the fondness they profess, it is but a low, selfish passion, to which they will not hesitate to sacrifice their pretty, garnished victim… Alas! by these mistakes thousands are every year brought to ruin and disgrace; and she who thoughtlessly begins with the first and simplest of these mistakes, is in danger of proceeding to the last and grossest.

Ladies, even young Christian men in Reformed & Presbyterian churches will stumble into lust over the clothing you wear. Why? Because they are fallen sons of Adam just like every other male. And if you, as a woman are sending out vibes, that you are not at all concerned to show off parts of your body that are not for general eyes, you will attract a baser sort of man that will care very little for your wellbeing, and more for his carnal lusts. Ladies, if you want to attract a man that will be a spiritual leader, a man who will be faithful to God, and who desires holiness and purity in marriage, don’t advertise with your body, advertise with your inner beauty. Because a godly man will not want a wife who is not chaste in her clothing.

What do the scripture say regarding clothing and beauty? “ 1Ti 2:9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array” (See also 1 Peter 3:3,4 ). This does not mean that a young woman needs to wear a gunny sack or walk around in bland clothing. There are many ways to look contemporary, trendy, and at the same time feminine and modest. Clothing itself is not religious or irreligious, but it does convey a message. What message are you sending?

Proverbs is a book of wisdom. It is written in part as a father to children, and more directly as a father to a son. Proverbs 2:1-5 “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; 3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.

There is another proverb I would like todraw your attention to, especially the young men reading. It is Proverbs 11:22, which says, “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.”
The picture being painted for us is one of contrast. Here you have something very beautiful, a piece of fine jewelery, well crafted, expensive, and attractive, set in the nose of a pig! Not a dove, or a gazelle, but the most disgusting animal in the Hebrew culture. What is this text saying? It is saying that outward beauty, is a of no consequence it is set within the context of a person who is internally unlovely. The truth of the matter is, some young man reading, will marry a woman because she is absolutely stunning. Every guy wants to be her husband, but she has eyes for you. But he problem will be, as time goes on, her youthful beauty will fade, (it always does) and you will be married to an unattractive woman, inside as well as out. You see outward beauty is comparatively small in this text in the nose of a pig. So outward beauty is comparatively small when compared to the whole person.
Young men, you do not want to court or marry a woman for her looks alone. A woman who dresses inappropriately before marriage will likely do so after. Do not let lust dictate who you will marry, but a godly inner beauty. “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22.).

And once you have found a woman to court, she is not to be treated as a sexual object. Society today teaches us that women or object of pleasure rather than made in the image of God. It is not appropriate to touch her, petting, or kissing until marriage. Some of you right now are saying, “Whatever! We can’t be expected to not do that, it is impossible.” Young men, it is not acceptable to touch another man’s wife after marriage. That would be considered adultery. In the same way it is not acceptable to touch another man’s wife before marriage, that is fornication. We believe in God’s sovereignty, predestination, and providence, don’t we? Then until you say “I do” you could very well be touching, petting, and kissing another man’s wife. Who are you to open up another man’s gift? Ladies, you do not want to be with a man who desires physical intimacy before marriage. It is not lawful and he is a predator, no matter how handsome he is or how much he says he loves you. If you want a godly man, a man who will lead your home in the paths of Christ, never court a man who would desire to touch you sexually before marriage. And if you ever hear the moronic line, “If you love me you will let me”, come out of his mouth, run to your father or elder as fast as you can and let then deal with the leach.

1 Cor 7:1,2 “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” To touch a woman in an sexual way, before marriage is fornication, Paul is saying. Men are to be respecters of women. To see them for who they are as crated in God’s image. As beautiful, intelligent, and pure sisters in the Lord. And women are to display the inner beauty, modest, godly. Looking for a man who will be faithful to the Lord, and lead her family in the ways of Christ.

Rev. Jerrold Lewis is the Pastor of Pompton Plains Free Reformed Church.



#1 Paul Hamelryck 2013-08-12 09:18
Thank you so much.

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