An Unfortunate Term
If you want to change culture’s mind, logos and ethos are insufficient. A logical argument presented with forceful confidence is helpful, but it will not sway the stubbornness of the human heart unless you are also able to touch your hearers emotions with vivid descriptions of the beauty and goodness of your argument. Unfortunately, the term courtship has suffered from both bad branding and a rather paltry job of depicting the beauty that is at the bottom of these relationship principles.
The term came to have the connotations of a sort of prudish, dour-faced pilgrim. It began to be associated with all the (seeming) dust of puritan sense with all the lacy, over-sentementalized Victorian sensibilities. Five points to those who spot the Jane Austin reference. Since you brought her up, let me say that BBC Jane Austin movies did a few things for the cause of courtship: caricatured silly women prattling on about men worth £5000 a year, coupled with stiff-dancing and out-dated carriages, thus cementing the notion of courtship as a decidedly 1800s “thing”; yet it was totally without the biblical principles which the term courtship is intended to represent.
At some point, describing a bundle of related ideas inevitably comes to have a name or term associated with it. Once the name sticks it is incredibly difficult to unstick it. Courtship, as a term, is perhaps an unfortunate term. We could probably do better.
Yet, as far as the principles are concerned, courtship reflects a far more thoroughgoing attempt to apply the Bible than does the modern Christian dating culture. Yet, because courtship has been branded poorly (i.e. Jane Austin sentimentality + Amish dourness), as well as some rather unhelpful advocates (Gothard, Vision Forum, etc.), many otherwise conservative Christians have tried to equivocate on the very principles that define what we mean by Courtship.
Sporting the Babylonian Wine Mustache
If you are embarrassed by the thought of a young man asking a girl’s dad for permission to pursue his daughter with the end game of likely marrying her, then you are likely already sporting a red Kool-Aid mustache from sipping the Wine of Babylon. If you want to distance yourself from the notion of formality, purity and respect in the romantic relationships of our Christian young people, then you are far more concerned about what the culture thinks than what God thinks.
When we are discussing romantic relationships we must not forget what ought to be the I-beams of truth supporting the whole structure. Both young men and young women need to be taught by their elder brothers and sisters in Christ that there is a purpose to their sexuality, and that this demands a hard look at what Scripture teaches is God’s design for our sexuality. In essence, our sexuality–and the romantic passions that come with it–are not intended for the mindless and selfish recreation which dating culture perpetuates. Rather, it is intended by God to exalt the Lord Jesus.
When “I’m Not With Him” is Our Only Argument
Young men and women need to be shown that marriage is the clearest parable of the Gospel which our Lord has given us. This means that the flippant and juvenile recreational dating that many churches simply accommodate (via youth groups and singles groups) must be identified as a gross-shortcoming in discipling our young people. The fact that young men are unhindered in flirting with all the girls in the church with nary a rebuke is a sad failing on the leadership and fathers in the church.
If a young man finally starts “going-steady” with one of the girls, without ever even considering asking her dad for oversight, permission, and submitting to his input, and we see nothing wrong with this picture, then it should not come as a surprise when conservative denominations begin forming committees to discuss whether women should be ordained. We are terrified that by insisting that husbands and fathers are in fact called by God to be the head of the their homes, we will lose the good opinion of the cool kids. A 16 year old boy who has not once been taught that the cute girl he wants to make out with after youth group is under her father’s authority, will also not see any issue–15 years later–with sitting under Mother Cindy’s pastoring, and will not have the spine to speak out once she marries her girlfriend.
He has been taught that authority and headship are outmoded, and thus he will know no better, despite the rock of discomfort in his gut. He knows he was made for more than just being his wife’s equal, he was made to be her head. But the cool kids contort their faces in repulsion at such patriarchal sentiments. Some may wince at my insistence that a man is to be the head of his home, but this is because we are far more concerned with trying to not be associated with the Christian husband who beats his wife because she won’t “submit” to him, rather than doing the hard work of teaching and living out what it actually means for a man to lead, be the head, sacrificially loving his wife and her rendering him obedience and submission. It is easier to point out all the knuckle-headed ways men apply the Scriptures rather than applying them and obeying them ourselves, especially when obedience means going dead-on into the head-wind of secular culture.
The Task Before Us: Disciple & Teach
Remember, if we do not teach God’s Word to our young people, and thereby inculcate into them a sense of awe before the splendor and glory of marriage, we must not be surprised when the Gospel itself no longer matters to them. If we want to build Christian communities and cities, we had better not neglect the incredibly important task of helping young men and women recognize that a romantic relationship should be a matter of reverence and joy. Reverence for it should be aimed at forming a godly marital union, and joy for God has filled the cup of marriage with greater blessedness than we could ever receive.
Courtship perhaps needs a better term to describe it; but whatever we term it, we must have an eye towards glorifying God by esteeming marriage as a Gospel matter. Viewing it this way has “downstream” implications for young couples “in love”; it means that their actions preceding marriage (i.e. how they enter a relationship, what sort of things they do and don’t do while still unmarried, how long before they get engaged and then marry, etc.) ought to be purposed for preparing for a God-exalting marriage. Sensual dances at the night club with the church singles ministry, then, is probably out of the question; and if you think I made that scenario up, I didn’t.