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?