Courtship and the Gospel

November 28, 2007 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Something else occurred to me last night.  It hasn’t been brought up yet (at least not directly), so I thought I’d add it here and see what y’all thought about this:

One thing I realized, as I was remembering back over the many conversations I’ve had with my SG friends, is that it seems like the die-hard SGM folks really want people to “think the way the rest of the church thinks.”

Even about non-essentials like courtship.

SG’s central message, of course, is that “It’s all about the Cross.”  When we first started attending, I found this mindset very refreshing.  Church SHOULD be all about the Cross.

But then I realized that perhaps they might mean something a bit different in that phrase than I thought they meant.  Like maybe, I was ascribing MY interpretation of “the Cross” and they were using it in a different way.

You see, I began to pick up on a lot of talk about “bringing the Gospel into our marriage,” “bringing the Gospel into our family,” “bringing the Gospel into our relationships.”  And while they still DID mean “Christ’s work on the Cross” when they used the word “Gospel,” they broke it down even more, to mean something a bit more specific.

“Bringing the Gospel into our marriages,” for instance, involved women submitting themselves to their husbands, and involved husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church.  That’s still all good and biblical.  But then…and I’m not explaining myself very well here, because I’m still not quite able to find the words for exactly what I mean…it felt like “Bringing the Gospel into our marriages” involved some pretty specific ideas about “biblical manhood and womanhood.”

So in the end, while it was CALLED “bringing the Gospel into our marriages,” it actually worked out as, “Bringing our marriages into the Gospel.”

The same with courtship.

A theme of Josh Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” was that we must bring the Gospel into our romantic lives.  He then (in “Boy Meets Girl”) fleshes out the idea of “courtship” instead of “dating,” where there is no “dating” type of romantic interaction between men and women until the man is ready to “take a wife.”  Courtship is interaction with the intent of marriage, not just “recreational dating.”  Harris asserts that the courtship process shows more respect for marriage, is a better way to promote purity (both sexual AND emotional purity), and is overall more honoring to God.

Harris has, over the years, come out and said that he never intended to institute a rigid, legalistic “system.”  And I believe him on that.  But I also believe that many people have been influenced by his writings (and those of other more radical proponants of “courtship” or even “betrothal” – which is nothing more than arranged marriage) and have turned his ideas INTO a system.  Whether Harris meant to or not, if he outlines an “ideal process” for finding a spouse, and a bunch of people follow his guidelines, he’s instituted a system!

So he started out with GREAT motives, which were to bring the Gospel into romantic interactions and the spouse-finding process.  I believe he did offer up some good ideas, and the Evangelical Christian world could definitely benefit from discussing biblical purity more.

But it seems like whenever we, as human beings, begin to proscribe SPECIFIC WAYS to “bring the Gospel into” something, whether it’s dating, or marriage, or education, these specific ways can take on a life of their own.  Unless people are very deliberate and careful in their teachings on these subjects, the end result is that the “SOMETHING” ends up being brought into – or ADDED TO – the Gospel.

I saw this in a very specific, poignant way at our church.

A young man came to Christ while we were there.  His conversion was truly a joy to behold.  God radically changed him, and in such a short time, he grew immensely in his faith.  He was an inspiration to us!

But then I saw him, in all his new-believer eagerness and earnestness, begin to navigate the “courtship system” at our church.  Since he had no frame of reference, he truly believed that courtship simply WAS a part of his Christian faith.

I’m not going to go into detail about this young man’s specific forays into courtship.   Whether he found love, marriage, and happiness is really immaterial to my point, which is, he thought courtship was an integral part of his walk with Christ…that following the process as outlined in the handouts and by the girl’s father was something that a “good Christian” should do…and NOBODY CORRECTED HIM ON THIS THINKING!

Nobody took him aside and said, “Hey, Jason [not his real name], this is just something that WE do here.  It’s what WE believe, but it’s not necessarily what ALL Christians practice.”

Part of me thinks that this was because the folks involved were so entrenched in their Sovereign Grace pro-courtship mindset that they couldn’t even recognize this.  But another part of me sees an underlying assumption among SG folks, that if you truly believe the Gospel, you’ll obviously choose courtship over dating, since they’ve “proven” (or Josh Harris has proven) that courtship is more “Gospel-centered” than dating.

And once a specific course of action (about which the Bible does NOT speak specifically) gets labeled as “more Gospel-centered,” it’s just a short hop to the place where this specific course of action becomes a PART of the Gospel.

Does anyone else see what I mean?

© 2007, Kris. All rights reserved.