Sovereign Grace Ministries: Not a “Courtship” Church?

May 23, 2008 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

The other day, while my attention was still being absorbed by the message board (which has now been put into “read only” status), something interesting was posted here on the blog, in a comment buried deep under an old post.

Reader and commenter “Pampy” said,

I also read on the Women’s Blog about C.J. and Carolyn’s recent 33rd wedding anniversary and Carolyn’s blog on how she and C.J. met and began “courting”. She said that, initially, she didn’t want anything to do with C.J., and that this is what attracted him to her…the fact that she didn’t want anything to do with him. As someone who is very familiar with counseling techniques and emotional conditions, I can say that this qualifies as a very dysfunctional situation that can be referred to as the “push-pull” syndrome. Meaning that a person isn’t attracted to someone who is obviously attracted to them….only when there is a challenge presented do they feel compelled pursue someone and win/conquer them. Very interesting to read the history of the beginning of their relationship.

While a psychologist could probably have a field day with many elements of Pampy’s observations, I was struck by something else, something that at first blush probably seems trivial but upon closer examination is actually significant, in my opinion.

The thing that stood out to me most was Carolyn Mahaney’s use of the word “courtship” to describe her pre-marriage relationship with CJ.

You see, back in the days when we were part of a Sovereign Grace church and were trying to figure out whether we wanted to put down roots and actually become full-fledged members there, something that kept getting in the way of our feeling fully comfortable with SGM’s culture was the fact that every family in our church apparently believed that the “courtship system” was the only truly “biblical” way to find a mate.  Yes, there were varying degrees to which the different families subscribed to these beliefs in courtship.  Some did not seem legalistic about it, while others did.  But throughout our SGM congregation, there was a definite underlying assumption that “real Christians don’t date.”

Since we have a lot of admiration and respect for the supposed main goal of courtship – maintaining sexual purity before marriage – we might have been able to overlook Sovereign Grace’s “thing” for courtship.  We might have been able to think of it as just a quirky little trait unique to SGM’s church culture.

But the thing that was seriously off-putting about Sovereign Grace’s promotion of “courtship” as being more Godly than “dating” was that everybody we ever talked to about this always denied that they indeed promoted courtship.

We heard, over and over again, this line:  “Sovereign Grace is not a ‘courtship’ church!  It is a ‘Gospel’ church.”

Uh…like those two things are mutually exclusive?  Like you can’t believe in the Gospel AND courtship at the same time?  That doesn’t make any sense.

But I actually knew what they were trying to say – they were trying to say that the “courtship system” was not supposed to be a defining characteristic of Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Yet if just about everybody in a church engages in a practice, to the exclusion of another practice, doesn’t that make the thing they’re engaging in a defining characteristic of their church culture?

I believe that it does.

In fact, I think Carolyn Mahaney’s use of the word “courtship” proves that Sovereign Grace Ministries is well aware of how pervasive the courtship system is in their “family of churches.”  In the “comments” section of that same old blog thread, here is what I wrote about Pampy’s observation:

I think it’s sort of funny that Carolyn now calls it “courting.” I knew nothing of the Mahaneys until recently, but if they met in the 1970s, I highly doubt they used the anachronistic term of “courting” to describe the beginning of their relationship back then. How artificial is that, that she won’t call it what it was: DATING?? Instead, she uses the buzzword that is now acceptable among SGMers, “courting.”

If that’s not proof that courtship is somehow perceived as “more holy” than dating by SGMers, then I don’t know what is. I mean, I’d bet money that CJ didn’t formally approach Carolyn’s father to “woo” him into helping “woo” Carolyn. I doubt they took part in the structured process of “courtship” as SGM folks are taught to understand it today. I’d be willing to guess that Seedge simply asked Carolyn out, and she eventually (albeit reluctantly) said “yes” – in other words, they DATED.

Why not just say so?  Why insinuate something that wasn’t there?

Only because SGM does not believe “dating” to be as holy or as acceptable as courtship.

There you have it, folks.  No matter what your own personal views are on the practice of “courtship” versus “dating” for Christians, the reality is that Sovereign Grace Ministries thinks that courtship is superior to dating, even going so far as to slap the term “courtship” onto behaviors that anybody back in the 1970s would call “dating.” 

Why won’t they just admit it?  Why do they dance around the truth?

© 2008, Kris. All rights reserved.