Does Scripture Clearly Command This?

Recently, someone told me their church had instituted a new “courtship policy.”  The policy contains some of the following “guidelines.”

  • When a young man is interested in someone he should first meet with a married leader in the church for counsel.
  • If the leader gives the go ahead, the young man should go to the young lady’s father (whether he’s a believer or not) and ask for his blessing on the young man cultivating a relationship with his daughter.
  • If the father doesn’t agree, they should wait until he does, unless they are adults not living with or dependent on their parents.
  • If the father approves, someone should assign a married couple in the church to hold them accountable and give regular reports on the relationship to the elders.
  • The couple should try to discern as quickly as possible if it’s God’s will for them to be married, get a date on the calendar and begin to take appropriate steps toward marriage.
  • If they can’t set a date, they should not be in a relationship.

I assume the leaders’ motives are to encourage purity and protect young men and women from falling into sexual sin.

But we have to be careful to distinguish between principle and practice.

For example it is a principle of Scripture that we should walk in purity.  But the Bible does NOT forbid a long engagement in order to promote purity.  To have a short engagement might be someone’s personal practice, but we should not make a personal practice equal to Scripture.

It might be wise for some not to have a long engagement, because of temptation, but I know couples who dated (or whatever you want to call it) for a long time, then were engaged for a long time (one couple a year and a half) and walked in purity.

Scripture doesn’t tell us precisely how to head toward marriage. There are no commands regarding talking to someone’s father, getting permission, setting dates, getting specific accountability, etc.  These may be good ideas, but they are practices, not principles.

Christians tend to make personal practices into principles all the time.  For example, they take the principle of loving discipline of children and say, “You must do it THIS way – 3 whacks with a wooden spoon.”

We must always ask does Scripture command this?  Does the Bible spell out this particular practice?  There are lots of ways to walk out relationships in purity and move toward marriage.  We have to be really careful not to make our practices or our good ideas into principles.  That’s adding to Scripture.

Scripture definitely has a lot to say about relationships between believers, including those between men and women.  For example, we must not use others, or be sexually impure.  We should serve others, love others, encourage others, look to the interest of others.  But HOW we do these things can vary from person to person.  For one person, it might be tempting to be alone in an apartment of someone of the opposite sex.  For them it might not be wise.  They may need to avoid that to flee temptation.  But for others it might not be a temptation.  So we cannot make a rule that when a couple is in a relationship they must never be alone in an apartment together.

I think that one reason we tend to elevate specific practices to the status of principle is because we either don’t understand or don’t trust the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel 36:26-27 tells us God’s Spirit will indwell believers and motivate them to obey.  But we tend to not trust the Holy Spirit to give people the desire and strength to walk in purity.  We think we must add some “fences” to keep people from sinning.  Fences like you must get a couple to hold you accountable and report to the elders.

Is it good to get counsel?  Is it good to talk about walking in purity?  Is it good to ask questions about timing, ability to provide, etc?  Sure.  But we have to be careful not to add to Scripture.  We must be careful to avoid legalism.  We must be careful not to take our personal practices and make them rules.

Remember we must always ask – Does Scripture clearly command this?

photo: Canterbury versus Bladbean

  • https://www.facebook.com/samuel.h.bradshaw Samuel Bradshaw

    In the church I belong to there is a distinction between policy (current procedures) and principle (doctrine). Every church has policies – like, who is in charge of building maintenance, what kind of music should we sing in church, what should we wear to church? To one extent or another, policies are needed to make sure everyone has a meaningful experience when they worship. But they may change from time to time, based on the needs and circumstances of the people, and following the guidance of the Spirit in specific application. For example, I don't know of any church that wears the same type of clothes and sings the same songs as Christ and His early followers.

    Every policy, however, is connected to some principle or doctrine, with the intent to allow people to remember or think about the unchangeable truths of God. Those things that are doctrine are the truths received directly from God to his authorized representatives on the earth – the apostles and prophets, whose words we read in the Bible (though, in my personal belief, not limited to the Bible alone). The doctrines of God are unchangeable decrees of things as they really are, have been, and always will be. It is application of the doctrines, and especially the application of Christ's atonement in our lives, that will allow us to increase in faith and love and ultimately to come into God's presence.

  • ToddL

    Every practice in fact should be connected to a principle – but the problem comes about when a church or organization or family or person states that this practice is the only valid way to achieve the given principle. At that point it has gone too far.

  • Ray

    Stephen, you are spot on. One thing that stood out was the statement… "The couple should try to discern as quickly as possible if it’s God’s will for them to be married".. When does man "rush" God and his will? As you and your father has preached God's will or timetable is God's, I enjoy reading your blogs

    • http://fallenflawed.com/young-men-sexual-temptation/ Demian Farnworth

      Ray, I don't want to put words into their mouths, but I think the point is that they probably knew this person very well before they decided to "court." In fact, they may have come to the idea that this is a person they'd actually like to marry.

  • Hannah

    Mostly I agree but the being alone in an apartment together should not be, whether you think it would tempt you or not is not the point, first of all "Let he who thinks he stand take heed lest he fall" 1 cor 10:12 and "Abstain from the appearance of evil" 1 Thess 5:22 Even if you aren't doing anything wrong it just doesn't look right and it puts a question there to others about what you are doing. Just sayin… God bless!

    • Gracie

      Hannah, that verse isn't instructing people to avoid doing anything that anyone might possibly, potentially, maybe be suspicious of, it's telling Christians to reject false prophecy. Look at the context: "Do not treat prophecies with contempt; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil."

      I have a couple of dear friends who did not kiss until their wedding day. They were absolutely pure toward one another. One of the reasons they recommend holding off on kissing (etc.) is because it made it so they could hang out together more. And if your neighbors automatically think a man walking out of your place definitely means you're doing something sinful, either your neighbors don't know your testimony or they're determined to see evil where there is none. Just sayin.

  • http://fallenflawed.com/young-men-sexual-temptation/ Demian Farnworth

    I don't know why those policies are so problematic. You only shared a few guidelines but I don't get the sense that anyone was suggesting they were Scripture. Seems a bit sensational.

    Think about this: The guidelines make sense because it suggests that courtship is for marriage–not our pleasure. Our culture views courtship as pleasure, and you see where that has gotten us. And this view has leached into the church. Why, as a child of God would you date somebody? Hm? Because you enjoy being around them? Then don't "court" them. Hang out with them as a friend with friends. If you come to the conclusion that you could really see living the rest of your life with that person, then you can court them.

    Besides, long engagements and delaying getting married is opening the door to sexual sin. That a couple has remained in purity is rare, not common as you suggest.

    • Gracie

      Attention: strong words ahead, brother. This comes from ten+ years of experience in this world.

      If some man goes to my elders and then my dad "first," as the guidelines say (i.e., before any relationship has been defined), what that guy needs to hear is, "What are you thinking? She's a human being, and she gets a say in this! Ask her on a date before you start planning a future together, for Pete's sake. She is a precious daughter of God, and her choice is just as important as yours. Give her a chance to make it."

      Why would I date someone? So I can discover whether he is a godly man who I find solid, attractive, and interesting, with the intention of figuring out if I want to marry him and he wants to marry me. What a crazy idea! The real question for me is, why would I NOT date someone? Why would I ambiguously "hang out with" him, without the title of "dating" as a sign of our intention to figure this out, until we're both so mixed up and confused that we can't tell either way? Why would I give my time and emotional energy to someone who hasn't bothered to show enough interest to ask me out for a cup of coffee? Why would I let a bunch of passive men slink around the sidelines of my and my sisters' lives until they get some sign from God about a wedding date, rather than expecting that they'll find one of us interesting enough to say, "Hey, would you go out with me sometime?"

      Also, find me someone here who's approving of delaying marriage or dating recreationally. Please. The purpose of dating, for a Christian, is to find a spouse. Anyone who tells you otherwise is stuck in a time-warp.

  • Elaine

    Amen, Mark!

    I know it's not popular, particularly among many we know and love, but we don't see anything wrong with a young man and a young woman getting to know each other, ie, through dating. Not isolating yourselves and being aware of potential traps (like a young couple being alone in an apartment) are always good guidelines but to make so many hoops for both to jump through is just not helpful imo.

    Let's be plain about what God is plain about and gracious where His plan isn't black or white.