Courtship is not mentioned by name in the Bible. However, to hear many people speak of it, not only is it specifically defined in scripture, it is also commanded as the only proper way to come into marriage. As I see it, some are guilty of giving biblical authority to the opinions of men. This is not much help. My dictionary defines courtship as the act, process, or period of courting, or wooing. One of the definitions of courting is to seek as a mate. This does not help much either.
Most advocates of a strict courting ritual will pull scriptures as support for their formula. Some of their principles are very biblical but some are not. The problem I have is in giving scriptural level authority to manmade procedures. Much of the courtship formulae I have seen are akin to fads. People are overcome with the power to arrange the lives of others and go too far.
The Bible does not command any particular ritual of courtship. In the case of Isaac and Rebekah, their marriage was arranged for them before they even saw each other. In the case of Jacob and Rachel, Jacob chose to marry because of love--though he still had to work things out with Rachel's father. Biblical marriages almost always had a dowry. The betrothal involved the making of a covenant. There is much more--too much to go into here. The point is, marriages in the Bible followed a particular pattern because of the customs of the times. But nowhere in scripture does God make any commandment that His people follow these customs. In Bible times, even the lost people followed these customs. They were not some form of divine plan.
We can learn from the biblical practices and perhaps put some of them into play in our own lives, but that is not the same thing as making them a required set of rules. I have recently seen some pretty nasty situations where families have tried so hard to control the courtship of their children that they have created greater problems. Often, they have tended to alienate their children instead of bringing them closer. But now that I have given the down side of courtship, let me look at it differently.
I am not in any way advocating a return to the dating game as practiced by the world. As I see dating, it is a pairing off of couples for outings for the purpose of having fun and checking each other out. This plan goes against Bible principles. It has led to many sorrows. Young people have lost their innocence to people they hardly knew. The practice has led to unwed mothers, abortions, and various evils. It is ungodly to put such a temptation on young people by allowing them unsupervised time with individuals of the opposite sex. We told our children before we were ever asked that dating would not be allowed. They could enjoy being around others of their own age in groups--at church, supervised activities, etc. This was the best way to get to know other people.
Also, I certainly believe in a form of courtship. After all, in its basic definition it refers to the finding of a mate for marriage. As such, I set up certain guidelines for the process. The distinction I want to make is this--these are guidelines created by a father seeking the best for his children. And, although I believe they mesh with Bible principles, they are not a set of absolute rules with divine authority. In the right circumstances, I would even bend them to fit the occasion. Here they are:
- Dating in the sense of two people pairing off for unsupervised fun and without marriage in the picture is not allowed. This type of fun can be done in groups.
- Any sort of pairing activities are allowed only when the young person is of the age, maturity, and disposition for marriage. Also, it can be done only with those for which marriage is considered a possibility.
- Courtship must be done in a way that is supervised or accounted for. This does not mean that they have to be watched at all times. I trust my children more than that and think they should be given the trust. Perhaps they want to walk around the block or run an errand together. Activities like this would be acceptable. The purpose of this rule is to keep them from having long periods of time out of the site of others without any accountability for their time. Time like this tends to create many temptations. I do this to help my children; not to coerce them. This rule can be adjusted for age, maturity, etc. Some situations would require much more supervision than others.
- Family should be very involved. Courtship should often include family and should bring the prospective mate into close contact with future in-laws. This helps that person begin to get used to them. Also, if there are any serious problems, Mom and Dad might be able to deal with it. That is, if I see a serious problem I would sit my son or daughter down and seriously discuss it with them. Then, I would reassure them that I would love them no matter what. My wife and I have worked hard to maintain this kind of relationship with our children and hope to keep it. I cannot help them if I am not a part of their lives.
- One Bible practice concerning courtship that seems to go beyond the realm of example is the practice of giving away the daughter. Paul certainly affirms the practice in 1 Corinthians 7:36-37. I take this as a giving of permission to get married for the daughter. This practice was taken seriously even in America until recent years. I plan to give or withhold permission concerning my daughter. However, as in other situations, I will love her and her family no matter what she does.
As I said before, these are the guidelines we have set in our family. They do not have the same level of authority as scriptural command. I might even alter them if I saw good reason to do so. But they give us a starting point. Arranged marriages have a long and prosperous history (still being practiced in certain lands). However, they are not commanded in scripture and many who attempt to go back to such practices are creating as many problems as they are solving. We just need to be careful how we play with the lives of our children. Moms and Dads can make big mistakes too. We need to join with our children in prayer and loving guidance in order to help them find the mate God has for them (if, indeed, He wishes them to marry--but that is another story).