In my last post, I responded to an article written by Thomas Umstattd Jr. that went viral condemning courtship as fundamentally flawed. In my response, I hoped to point out the many logical fallacies that formed the basis of Mr. Umstattd’s conclusions and at a secondary level point out the negatives of the modern approach to dating.
As a follow up over the next several posts, I intend to demonstrate why courtship is a superior mechanism for the identification and choosing of a spouse, and lay out a practical model that virtually anyone can follow who desires to court rather than to date.
A Definition of Courtship
In my response to Thomas I provided a definition for courtship. It is:
A purposeful process for men and women to evaluate their compatibility for marriage, and for men to strive to win the affection of a woman found to be compatible that maximizes the capacity for objectivity, wisdom, and godliness, thereby creating the highest probability of marital success.
Before we get into the whys and hows of courtship, I want to spend this post laying out a few fundamental principles that can guide our thinking.
Principle #1: Discipleship is the Foundation
The first principle is that the most important ingredient in the success of our lives and the lives of our children is Discipleship.
Dallas Willard, in his book The Great Omission said, “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”
There is no formula for Godly fruit in your life apart from Christ and Christlikeness. You cannot legislate morality, as they say. If we want to have a fruitful and Godly season of singleness, and then a fruitful and Godly marriage, we must lay the groundwork of growing into Christlikeness. It doesn’t matter if you court, date, or arrange; if you double date, speed date, or blind date; if it’s online, offline, the bread line or any other avenue for men and women to meet and interact. None of it will produce a high probability of a Godly marriage if the individuals involved are not discipled.
Even though this is not a post about discipleship, I do feel obligated to say a word about the difference between salvation and discipleship. Discipleship, as Dr. Willard’s book is titled, is the great omission of the modern church. For the most part, churches no longer disciple. They create baby Christians. We get people down the aisle to say the “sinner’s prayer,” and then it’s “good luck!”
Discipleship is what we are called to do in the Great Commission. In Matt 28:19-20 Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We are not to make converts. We are to make disciples, and we are to teach them to observe, or as it says in another translation, obey all that Christ has commanded us.
Only by the process of sanctification, empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, growing in Christlikeness, putting off the old man and putting on the new man do we have a hope of bearing much fruit.
As I said in the last post, courtship is not a silver bullet. If we hope our children will make wise, Godly decisions regarding a relationship with the opposite sex, no amount of rules, regulations, oversight, or accountability will be able to account for a lack of Godly character.
A Note To Parents
A note to parents: If you care about your children having successful marriages, care more about their discipleship than the rules of courtship. I am saying this as an advocate of courtship. I have to be careful here to make sure you don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying to be foolish with the process used for your children to identify their spouse. I’m not saying the process doesn’t matter. What I am saying is that the process is an external issue, and what matters is the inner man.
1 Sam 16:7 says, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Paul says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.” (Rom 7:22) The disciple of Christ is being strengthened in their inner man every day. (2 Cor 4:16)
Why would a young person heed the advice of their parents over and above the desires of their flesh? Why would they lack a desire to be rebellious? Why would they seek the counsel of Godly peers and mentors? It will only be because they have spiritual wisdom to know that those things are to their abounding and eternal benefit. 2 Cor 2:14-16 says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
The point of courtship is to have an effective process that facilitates making God’s will for our life clear when it comes to choosing a spouse. Romans 12:2 says that the only way for us to understand the will of God is through the renewing of our mind through discipleship (Rom 12:1).
Note To Singles
Note to single people: Whether you have Godly parents or not, if you desire to successfully identify a spouse in a way that honors the Lord, and in a way that gives you the highest probability of marital success, you have to make your own discipleship priority #1. Learn and begin to apply the spiritual disciplines: study, prayer, worship, fasting, service, meditation, confession, celebration, etc.
There is an old illustration about how to have your life go well in which you have a pile of rocks of various sizes along with a bag of sand and an empty jar. You are told to put the sand and rocks into the jar. When most people try they are not able to. The rocks stick out of the top of the jar. The secret is to put the big rocks in first. Then the smaller rocks. Then the sand. Discipleship (Christlikeness… Christ-mindedness) is the biggest rock. It must go in first. When it does. All else will fit.
Principle #2: There Must Be A Degree of Trust
The second major principle is trust. If our children are saved and are discipled, we must trust them in the process. I see lots of courtship discussions essentially revolving around paranoia at the potential behavior of the man and woman involved. There seems to be this assumption that the young man and young woman are going to fling their clothes off and dive into bed the second someone is not looking.
If our children are saved they have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If they are discipled they have learned, at least to some degree, to crucify the flesh and to flee from temptation.
Once again, I’m not advocating foolishness. I’m not suggesting that caution and accountability have no place. To the contrary, wise accountability is going to be a major ingredient in the model I prescribe. I am simply saying that this process must include a level of trust in the person courting/being courted and trust in the guidance of the “counselor,” the Holy Spirit, in their life.
Principle #3: Universal Applicability
The last overarching principle I want to establish before diving into a practical model of courtship is that whatever we establish has to have universal application. As with all things, it is wise to presume some degree of individualization and flexibility in every system. For the most part, however, our model must apply to a broad spectrum of people. Too much of the courtship conversation is limited to paradigms in which both the man and woman are young, come from Christian homes, and involve 2 sets of parents that not only advocate courtship, but desire to be engaged in the process. This is a VERY small percentage of the population. If, as courtship advocates, we truly believe this is the best mechanism for screening candidates for marriage and positioning a man and woman for marital success, then we must desire to see it adopted by the population at large. That means the model must work for a broader group of people. What about 1st generation Christians who do not have Christian parents? What about widows? What about singles that are in their 30’s or 40’s with homes and careers of their own? What about situations where there is one or both fathers missing (an epidemic in this culture)? Our model of courtship must be applicable in all of these cases and more.
These 3 overarching principles should guide our dialogue and our development of a model for courtship. First, we must remember that courtship is not a magic cure and that only discipleship can transform a person into the Christlike member of the marriage that they need to be. Second, we have to be able to trust the Holy Spirit and the people courting at some level. And last, we need a model that applies to as many people from as many circumstances as possible.
In the next post, with those three principles in mind, I’ll begin to lay out a practical model for courtship. Leave your thoughts on these three principles in the comment section below.