We’ve all heard people say that courtship, and/or courtship advocates, are legalistic. To some extent, this is true. While I haven’t met any legalistic courtship believers, I have heard plenty of stories about them. Additionally, anything can become a form of legalism. Any belief, any idea, any thing can become an idol or source of legalism.
However, there is a “system” which is far more legalistic, in general, than courtship: recreational dating. Yes, recreational dating is legalistic.
Now, perhaps, you may be shocked. You don’t hear people claim dating is legalistic very often, if at all. Before I go into just how dating has become a form of legalism, first we need to define terms. What is legalism after all?
There seem to be three forms of legalism today:
- Good works and/or obeying the Law must be done to attain salvation
- Good works and/or obeying the Law must be done tomaintain salvation
- Looking down on other Christians who do not hold to an individual’s standard of holiness.
This third form of legalism is the sort of legalism most commonly thrown around today. I have never heard of anyone claiming that you must court in order to achieve or maintain salvation, but if they exist, that is pretty peculiar. However, we do have courtship/betrothal advocates being labelled legalistic because it is believed many of them look down on Christians who do not court.
As I said above, this is possible. Courtship and/or betrothal can become idols. They can become legalistic. That being said, Dating, and it’s loyal supporters, are far more guilty of this form of legalism. While courtship opponents are quick to point out that courtship is not a system to be found in the Bible, they forget that dating is nowhere to be found. In fact, the dating practices of today would have been considered scandalous during biblical times.
While I think courtship advocates do need to be careful, I think it is the courtship opponents, and supporters of dating, who really need to look themselves in the mirror.
While I personally believe that courtship can look very different from person to person, many dating activists religiously cling on to certain aspects of dating, and believe that you must do things their way, or else you’re a weird, legalistic buffoon doomed to never marry or “marry the wrong person.”
5 Ways Dating is legalistic:
1. You must have feelings first
Dating is vehemently opposed to the idea that we should guard our hearts during courtship. Wrapped up in the fairy tale romances of Hollywood, dating claims that you must be head-over-heels “in love” with someone before you enter a “relationship”. This isn’t biblical, yet Christian dating die-hards cling to emotional love like scripture.
Certainly, attraction is important, and to some extent, feelings can’t be controlled; however, the foundation of love is sacrifice, not romance. You have to put the needs of your spouse above your own needs or wants, and this is very hard to do if you are not attracted to someone. Attraction helps, and is definitely important. Attraction will allow the feelings to come. However, to claim that you must be “love drunk” first is dogmatic, and closes the door on other possibilities.
The mockery and dating dogma surrounding the idea that you can or should guard your heart is evidence of legalism, of looking down on those who don’t meet certain, unbiblical standards. Other people have had God-honoring courtships and marriages without starting out deeply “in love”. There is no formula.
2. You must pick your own spouse
Dating believes that you absolutely must pick your own spouse. While this is what I would prefer to do, this isn’t necessarily Biblical. In the case of Isaac and Rebecca, they didn’t meet, fall in love, and then decide to marry. It was decided for them. Apparently there are other ways to find a spouse that are just as legitimate.
While I don’t believe the example of Isaac and Rebecca is ideal, I don’t think we can say that this is wrong. I know other people, living today, who have gotten happily married through betrothal or arranged marriage. It has worked in the past, and it can and does still work today.
Yet, we are so quick to mock and look down on those who forsake the recently formed tradition of dating. According to our third definition mentioned above, this is legalism.
3. You must “try on” the other person first
Here is another blatant example of dating legalism, the idea that you have to “try on” someone before you know if they are the right one for you. You must interact with your boyfriend or girlfriend as if you were actually married to them to see if marriage would actually work. This makes sense if you were considering buying a new tool or piece of equipment. However, people are bit more valuable and complicated than mere machines.
Yet, dating proponents claim that we must “experience all the thrills and chills” of the dating world. Date often, and for whatever reason you would like so you can figure out what it is you’re looking for in a person. You must engage in romance, including physical affection such as kissing, to see if they have what it takes to please you. All these things, and more, I have been advised to do by those who esteem dating. To do otherwise, they claim, is ridiculous, foolish, and even legalistic.
On the contrary, the dogmatic belief that you must “try on” the other person is legalistic. I don’t want to do any of those things. I don’t really want to marry someone who wants to do all of those things either, since much of that advice contradicts scripture, and the idea of loving others.
4. You must have a long relationship to make sure they are the “right one.”
Similar to the above, many who support dating believe that you must have a long romantic “relationship” prior to marriage. Short relationships are looked down on, and are assumed to be inferior to longer relationships. Our culture of dating and divorce has caused us to believe that the longer the relationship, the safer you will be. The longer you get to know someone, the better you know them, the better your odds of choosing the right person.
While this seems intuitive, reality is less so. The reality is less experience is actually a benefit when it comes to making marriages last. Yet, the judgment still continues.
5. The dating “formula” is seen as the only way to achieve a healthy marriage
As all of these examples have shown, dating champions a formula that must be adhered to…or else. While critics of courtship often claim it is courtship which puts forth a formula, it is really dating which has become a formula.
It is expected that you will date. It is expected that you will fall in and out of love until you meet “the one.” If you don’t date, that must mean something is wrong with you. Either you are undesirable, or you are anti-social, or have been emotionally scarred.
To be fair, this makes sense since dating is so prevalent and assumed in our culture. When someone deviates from something so culturally foundational as dating, it’s easy to think there might be something wrong with them.
However, dating is not the only way to get married, and not even the best way to get married in my opinion. I personally have described several different methods which have shown to lead to healthy marriages, and also uphold the biblical principles of faithfulness and love.Dating, on the other-hand, often takes the stance that all other ways of finding a spouse are wrong, and that dating is superior. While merely believing dating to be the best would be fine (if it were true), such a belief falls into legalism when those who stand for dating look down on those who do not agree with them, which seems to be common.
All of that said, it definitely is possible to believe in dating without being legalistic, just as it is possible to believe in courtship without being legalistic. It is even possible to disagree with courtship and betrothal without being legalistic, just as it is possible to disagree with dating without being legalistic.
I think dating is wrong and harmful, but that doesn’t mean I think I’m better than those who do date. You may think what I believe is wrong and harmful, that is fine. You don’t need to feel superior either. It’s okay to disagree. There is no need to throw derogatory names around or believe yourself to be above a brother or sister in Christ. Someone disagreeing with you doesn’t make them a legalist.
If you believe in dating, okay, you can do that, but don’t make it a formula that everyone else has to follow. We already know all about how courtship can become legalistic. Don’t continue to make dating a form of legalism—it has enough issues already.
Some people are probably baffled that I’m actually going to make an argument for arranged marriage. But thanks to my friendly commenter, Wynd, who gave me the idea, I am doing just that.
Whether or not you seek emotional intimacy in courtship, of course, depends heavily on your definition of courtship. When I refer to courtship, I am talking about a time to evaluate whether or not two people would make a good match for marriage; however, there shouldn’t be any pressure or expectation that the courtship MUST end in marriage. Even in a courtship, you should seek to remain faithful to your future spouse.
Courtship is discovering whether or not you have found your future spouse. Maybe you have found them, maybe you haven’t. Since there is a chance you haven’t, you can’t jump all in yet. Your heart shouldn’t be set on the presumption that you will marry this person, because the courtship could be stopped prior to marriage. You must still seek to be spiritually pure for your future spouse. If a courtship does not end in marriage, but those courting have both acted with purity, then the courtship is still a success.
Read the rest of this article on A Lovely Calling
|Mario knows well the sweet joy of leveling up.|
One final fact that I find very interesting is that practically all of my critics are the same age as me, or even younger, while the majority of my supporters are married adults in their mid-40s or above. It seems to me that experience is on my side.
This was a fantastic book! Therefore, prepare ye self for a long review/summary!
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about “Biblical courtship” but they have often failed to really give any Biblical support other than the basic Biblical principles of love and serving others, which obviously go contrary to the modern dating model with is typically about self-gratification and manipulation–even if it’s subconscious.
“Her Hand In Marriage” is great from the start, opening with a fantastic introduction which I can easily relate to. Wilson lays down some ground rules about how he is going to approach the topic, and makes some great points.
1. He points out how there are success stories hidden among all of the bad of modern recreational dating. As Wilson says, “Nothing said in the following pages should be taken as directed against godly Christians who came together within the dating system.” Sometimes people can take offense when you say you think courtship is more Biblical than dating, and they think you are saying they automatically were sinning by dating. Criticism of dating is not meant to criticize individuals, but the system as a whole. “People survive plane crashes too, some of them without a scratch, and we should all be happy about it. But this acknowledgement does not disqualify us from opposing the general habit of crashing airplanes.” – pg.10
2. Wilson also points out how “generalizations are legitimate if they honestly describe an overall pattern. Generalizations are consequently NOT refuted through particular and individual counter examples.” So many people think that just because “I did it, and I turned out fine” that everything is just peachy. Deviants from the pattern don’t change the fact that there is still a pattern.
3. Sadly, “success stories” are not as abundant as they are assumed to be. “The modern dating system does not train young people to form a relationship…at the very least, this system is as much prep for divorce as it is marriage….”
Still lingering in the introduction, I loved what Wilson said on the topic of feminism and how, “The beauty of Biblical courtship is that it never leaves women unprotected.” – pg.13. This is just the opposite in dating, where there are relatively few risks for the young man, and many risks for the young woman. Wilson also touches on how men and women are created differently, and have different roles in courtship, as with life: men initiate, women respond. He also touches on the subject of “submission” in courtship and marriage, and how “headship in marriage does NOT mean that women submit to men; it means ONE woman submits to ONE man. Her submission to her husband protects her from having to submit to other men. Prior to marriage, her submission to her father protects her from having to submit to other men…the so-called ‘independent’ woman is not under any kind of protection. She is truly on her own, but with the result being that she is buffeted about by all sorts of men.”
Moving into chapter 1:
The book begins to focus on the authority of parents (especially the father of the young woman) in a courtship. The relationship between the courting pair should not be founded on romance. As Wilson says, “Romance is believed to be ‘the thing’ which ties a marriage together, and it is further thought that young people understand the dynamics of romance far better than their elders…What establishes the foundation for any godly marriage is covenantal faithfulness to the God who gives us marriage.” My translation is that marriage should be based on committed LOVE, not romance. Our culture gets the two mixed up. Consequently, founding a marriage on this covenant leads to strong emotional and romantic attachments. The world gets it backwards, which is one reason why there is so much divorce. Those marriages are “self” focused, rather than “other” focused.
The rest of the chapter focused on providing Biblical support for the authority a father has over his daughter, and his responsibility to protect and seek out his daughter’s best interests. Additionally, Wilson explains how in courtship, “the courting activity is publicly connected to the life of the family, most likely the family of the young daughter. With recreational dating, the privacy of the couple is paramount.” Not only does the privacy of dating create an unrealistic environment, but it almost unfailingly leads to sin.
This chapter focused on preparing sons for courtship, and how a man is meant to “grow up, leave his parents, and cleave to his wife. The wife, having been given in marriage, has transferred her allegiance from her father to her husband.”
Before a son can leave to take a wife, he must be instructed in certain key areas.
First, he must understand what the Bible teaches about marriage itself. “A son should know what constitutes the formation of a marriage, the obligations of a marriage, the boundaries of marriage, etc….”
Second, he must be taught what godly married life is like.
Third, he must be masculine.
Wilson gives an interesting example on this third point: “Courtship reveals how necessary this masculinity is. Many modern young men approach a girl, and thy are quite serious as far as their intentions go, but they are afraid of interfering with her life. ‘You know, she is going to graduate soon, but she wants to go to school at Notre Dame, and I don’t really want to go to Notre Dame, and showing interest in her would really disrupt all her plans.’ But the whole point of courtship is to disrupt a young lady’s plans. A godly young woman is not going to stand around waiting for marriage. Rather, she will be preparing herself for marriage. This means she will be heading in some particular direction, and not just marking time. A young man should not be afraid of disrupting, because marriage is by its very nature a disruption of her previous way of life. But there are many guys who have an ‘excuse me for existing’ kind of attitude–which is not very masculine–when it comes to a potentially serious relationship with a young woman…A son must not be afraid to take the initiative in such matters.”
I really like this idea, and it fits with what I’ve experienced. I have come across a lot of godly young ladies who are interested in marrying young, but there aren’t any marriageable young men around. Rather than wasting their time waiting, these young women put themselves to work for the kingdom. Yet if one is called to marriage, that takes a higher importance than any career or other ministry. How sad it would be if a young woman who wants to get married is never approached because all the young men are afraid to “disrupt” her plans.
This doesn’t mean, however, that he should be inconsiderate of her plans or her calling, but it does speak to the roles of men and women in marriage and courtship.
“Suppose John wants to marry Susan. But he knows that after she graduates, she is going to try to get a job in Seattle where her grandparents live. He goes to her father and says that he would like to ask her to marry him, but she has other plans. Now if John is really interested in Susan, and if he is masculine, he should cheerfully want to interfere with her plans. If she is not interested in marriage, she will not mind if he asks her father; there will be no imposition. Her father will just say no. If she is interested in him, it will not be an imposition either. Women are not supposed to sit on the couch and wait for somebody to marry them. They should always seek to do something productive with their lives in the meantime. Consequently, men who are seeking a helper are going to have to seek this helpmate from among women who are going in other directions at the time. A man who understands masculinity and marriage should know generally what he wants to do, and he should be seeking a woman who agrees to come with him. It is not the other way around. He is not coming into her life in order to help her with her vocational calling. Of course if a husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church, he is going to help her in many ways…The Bible teaches that the woman was made for man, not man for the woman (1 Cor. 11:9).”
This chapter addressed preparing daughters for courtship. The importance of creating the habit of submission and trust with her father is stressed, and then Wilson moves into the topic of modesty, which I found very good. He points out how it’s not wrong or a sin to look beautiful and to wear jewelry or make-up, but it becomes immodest when women attempt to make a display of themselves. “Women should seek to be beautiful by a certain means, through the hidden person of the heart…A man’s daughters should be taught to cultivate an inner beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Peace should pervade a young woman’s demeanor. There should be an absence of anxiety, so that the inner calm will work its way out. And such calm daughters will be beautiful on the outside.”
However, today, modesty is not valued, and fathers are allowing their daughters to date and interact with men and boys unprotected. As Wilson quotes C.S. Lewis, “a society in which conjugal infidelity is tolerated must always be, in the long run, a society adverse to women.”
Wilson also goes into the difference between morality and prudishness, which was also very interesting.
Mr. Wilson brings up the topic of “godly responses”, as well, and how Christian girls should be equipped to respond to suitors well. I liked how Wilson says, “Christian girls need to learn a godly rudeness. In a corrupt culture such as ours, this ability is increasingly necessarily.” I definitely agree. Sometimes, rudeness is definitely called for.
Chapter 4: The Culmination of Courtship
This chapter focused on “what standard should a future spouse be chosen?” I thought Mr. Wilson explained the drive of courtship well when he said, “Our situation would not be very much improved if it were to go from a system based upon a young girl ‘liking’ a guy–from the system of ‘recreational dating’ to a pattern of courtship based upon parental prejudice and whim. Such decisions are very important, and cannot be left to anyone’s current whims.”
I found this quote very interesting, since many I know consider courtship to mean parents wield power tyrannically and with absolute authority. Of course, a father can still veto a courtship if there are some legitimate concerns with his daughter’s suitor, or their compatibility of beliefs. However, the decision of who you are going to spend the rest of your life with is very important and serious. It will impact generations to come. Therefore, there should be a lot of things and a lot of people involved in the process, not just the whims of the courting pair or the parents. Ideally, all parties involved would work together to arrive at what is best and God-honoring. No one person’s feelings should settle the matter.
Wilson also points out how the gravity of the situation and the future implications also should not factor in. “We cannot make our decision based on what we predict might happen twenty years from now. Rather, we must proceed on what God has revealed in His Word. God does know the future so we must obey Him.”
Mr. Wilson goes on to explain how we must not be unequally yoked in marriage. Both the man and woman must be Christians, but not only that, but their beliefs about God must be compatible. A father, for example, should not let his daughter be courted by a man who disputes the sovereignty of God. “When a young couple has a child who dies in the first year, how will the young husband comfort his wife? How can he, if he has a theology which says that God wanted to prevent this tragedy but couldn’t?”
Like-mindedness is key, not only in beliefs, but in actions. Beliefs mean nothing if one does not live by them. If one does not act on their beliefs, they are not really beliefs at all (A very Dallas Willard idea). A man must be obedient to God for a father to permit his daughter to court him.
A man must also have financial stability. It was fascinating to learn more about how courtship was done in Biblical times, and how a man was expected to pay the “bride-price” before he could court. This demonstrates that a man can put his money where is mouth is, and he is serious, while also providing financial protection for a women in the event of a divorce. Many in our day, however, don’t like this idea.
“The romantic propaganda of our day typically portrays all such concerns as mean-spirited and materialistic–everyone knows ‘all you need is love.'”
Finally, Wilson also stresses physical attractiveness as being a Biblical principle, which I found interesting, as I’ve not heard many people stress this idea. However, he provided some very good arguments which make sense and stand with the Bible. Obviously, physical appearance should take its place in line behind more important attributes, because what if something happens and suddenly your spouse isn’t so attractive anymore? Accidents can happen. Now you’re stuck with someone who you married mostly on the basis of physical appearance, and now they don’t even have that anymore. All the same, attractiveness has importance.
In the 5th and final chapter, Wilson digs into the details of courtship.
It was fascinating to read about how Wilson described how a father should interact with a suitor, and it also made a lot of sense. He makes it very clear that if a daughter is not interested in a young man, then in virtually all circumstances, the father should get back to the suitor and simply say no. However, if the daughter IS interested in the young man, then the young man should be given permission to spend time with the family. Wilson continues, “If that goes well, he may begin to spend time alone with the daughter under the watchful oversight of the father. The young man is being invited to spend time with the family. Younger siblings get a good example of courtship lived out in front of them…”
Wilson also clarifies that these are not hard fast rules, but depend on the circumstances. “The father may give the young man permission to take his daughter to dinner, or to go out on what some people would call ‘a date.’ The point is not ‘how many times to the house before there is a proposal,’ but rather whether or not the father would be foolish to give permission to date, and other times such permission is wise.”
I found this part very interesting, and made me pause. I was wondering if this would be the one thing I disagreed with. But upon further reflection, I realized I agreed. Wilson is clear it depends on the circumstances, and I have to say I agree. I’m sure there would be some certain circumstances where that kind of interaction would be appropriate and helpful. No doubt, there would have to be a serious trust and commitment level, however.
If the family is impressed and the young man continues to show interest, then more one-on-one time can be spent together under the father’s oversight.
“If it becomes obvious during the courtship that the young man is not suitable, then it is the father’s duty to explain to him that he is not free to continue to come around in the same way.” – pg.78
Wilson then briefly touches on what the wedding should be like, that is, focusing on the convenantal aspect of it. A wedding is a ceremony where two people are making vows before the Lord, which are not to be made lightly, “the church therefore has an interest in /witnessing/ these vows, and insisting they be kept.”
Mr. Wilson concludes the book by providing some counter arguments to typical concerns with courtship, and then ends with an allegorical short story painting a beautiful picture of the relationship between a father, his daughter, a suitor, and God.
I can’t think of anything I really disagreed with in this book, which is rare for me. While a lot of these concepts I’ve heard before, Wilson’s perspective was new to me, and he also gave a lot of interesting practical insight and advice. I definitely would recommend this book for anyone considering going about courtship in a god-honoring manner.
Courtship is much more conservative than dating, and almost always mandates the blessing of the parents. The young couple usually meets at the parents’ home, or with a group. There is little physical contact, and usually you would never court anyone who wouldn’t be a serious candidate for marriage. Courtship is considered the interim between just being friends, and being engaged. During the courtship stage, the family tries to determine whether the relationship should progress into an engagement. The parents are usually heavily involved with each stage and often have complete say as to when and if the relationship moves into engagement.Courting means “wooing, or seeking the affections of another person.” One dictionary even uses the term “flattery.” Unfortunately, if you are trying to gain someone’s favor (as you do in courting and dating), you may put on a false front, and not really act in a normal way. Therefore, couples who have no commitment for marriage, often have a difficult time getting to know the true personality of the person they are courting. This provides many surprises after the honeymoon has ended!I know many young couples who have been brought together, by the Lord, through courtship (or even dating for that matter). I don’t want to imply that their relationships aren’t legitimate or God-ordained. God can choose to bring two people together using any one of these options, but some are more risky processes than others. – Israel Wayne
In a betrothal model, there is no intermediate courtship stage. There is friendship and then there is betrothal or engagement. The two young people initially get to know each other as friends, in a non-romantic setting. They may do this at family get-togethers, or in church or group functions. Ideally, in a betrothal setting, a young man will evaluate a potential wife based on an objective set of Biblical standards and criteria, and if he feels God wants him to marry a certain young woman, he submits this idea to his parents.If his parents affirm that he should propose to a certain young lady, he then talks to her father. You may have heard the archaic term “pledging your troth.” It sounds funny, but it means that you are pledging your “loyalty, faithfulness and devotion.” Thus the young man makes a binding commitment to the young woman, and pledges to be faithful to her as long as they both shall live. If the father rejects the young man’s offer, the young man should have the integrity to move on with his life, and not hurt the emotions of the young lady. She should never know he has even proposed.
If the young woman’s father feels that this young man is the one who should marry his daughter, he and his wife talk to their daughter, and the decision is left with her. Her reply to the young man must be one that is approached with sobriety and prayer. If she says no, the father tells the young man, and he respects the young lady’s wishes. (A betrothal is not in any way a prearranged marriage which leaves the young people with no choice in the matter of who they marry. Even the Biblical Rebekah was asked if she would go away and marry Isaac. The decision was hers.) If she is in agreement, they become betrothed, or engaged, and set a date for the wedding.During the betrothal stage, they have the freedom to become emotionally bonded with each other, since both have committed to marriage. Betrothal is similar to courtship in that it insists that the young people must avoid inordinate physical contact. In fact, my wife and I kissed for the first time at the wedding altar.In Biblical times, a betrothal was legally binding and in order to break off a betrothal the young man had to give his betrothed a certificate of divorce. They were considered legally bound and committed to marriage. – Israel Wayne
It’s too hard to know if a young man and woman are compatible before they are ready to marry. They’re both going to change, so there is no reason to even start a romantic relationship. They may think they are compatible, but in a few years they may not be, or the reverse could also be true. Of course, the circumstances of individual cases will always result in exceptions to the rule, but in general, it doesn’t make sense to start a romantic relationship unless both the man and woman are ready to marry. Since it seems betrothal is the only system that actually holds this up as a key facet, I must actually believe in betrothal.
Quotes acquired from: http://www.biblicalbetrothal.com/shouldwekcg.htm