Dating, Courtship, Engagement
We’ve been discussing aspects of marriage. In this article, I tie dating, courtship, engagement, marriage to the biblical command we’ve looked at before. Regarding unbelievers, God commands Israel, “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons” (Deuteronomy 7:3). Paul picks up the same thought in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
God forbids Christians to marry non-Christians, period! We have covered this ground. Let me add a note. This command does not require Reformed Presbyterians to marry other Reformed Presbyterians. We may think this is desirable but the command of God does not draw such a narrow circle.
As noted in our discussion of 1 Corinthians 7:39, it is wise to settle doctrinal questions such as infant baptism and predestination before marriage. Differences can cause much heartache. These differences may be held so strongly as to discourage marriage. Unity on spiritual matters is essential for a sound marriage.
What about engagement? Engagement is a promise to marry. Can you promise to marry someone whom God forbids you to marry? Of course not. This excludes using engagement as a period for evangelism. You cannot promise to do something God forbids even if the reason seems good.
How should we handle courtship? A young man is courting a young lady. Courtship involves the intent to marry. The young man is pursuing the relationship with a view of moving toward engagement and eventual marriage. It is possible the young lady is not of the same mind. When both parties realize they are pursuing their relationship with a view toward promising to marry, they have entered courtship. On the other hand, both parties should realize that neither of them can court a person God forbids them to marry or a person God forbids them to promise to marry.
This brings us to dating. Dating is a casual time of fun and getting acquainted. For this reason, our family has always encouraged group dates, several couples going to a party or a ball game. Dating has nothing in view but simple enjoyment and getting acquainted with members of the opposite sex. In a sense dates are fact finding missions.
We may put “going steady” into this category with these caveats. If “going steady” is a prelude to engagement, it is actually courtship. If a young man asks permission to date one of my daughters, he may actually be seeking permission to court her.
On the other hand, most “steady” relationships are just that. Engagement and marriage are not in view. The couple wants the security of having regular dates. Obviously, this should not be for illicit reasons. Our family always discouraged going steady. Steady dating is an oxymoron. It narrows the field to quickly and does not allow sufficient fact finding to take place. It forces the issue of courtship too quickly. It therefore places undue pressure upon both parties. Parents should discourage going steady so that healthy dating can proceed.
Finally, dating can naturally lead to courtship. This will take place when the field is narrowed and considerable fact finding has taken place. It has often been said every date is a potential mate. This is true. For this reason, although the Bible does not forbid the enjoyment of the company of unbelievers, the dating process should have the objective of screening out unbelievers, if they are not excluded already. How else can young people follow the command of God not to marry an unbeliever?