Dating vs. Courtship: Part 3

by Nathan Bailey

Relationship based on covenant
Whose wife are you dating?

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The worst thing about dating is your vulnerability. Dating is like marriage, but without the protection! That's the only difference. You relate, spend time together, give your hearts to each other -- with no life-long commitment, with no covenant! And then we wonder why we get hurt! We must learn to relate according to covenant -- marriage is the boundary that protects our 'sphere of vulnerability'.

Covenant vs. Contract

God designed relationships to operate in covenant. A covenant is a commitment that cannot be broken. In our contract-happy society, we think of legal contracts -- as soon as one party fails to fulfil their obligations, the other party is free from the commitments of the contract. In covenant, the commitment holds regardless of the performance of the other party.

An example of covenant relationship is God's love to us. No matter what we do, God is committed to our covenant! How different our view is -- at the first difficulty, we pronounce that "our marriage isn't working out" and we terminate the covenant. But it can't be terminated! It's a lifelong commitment, and it cannot be broken! (See also: Covenant and divorce).

With a life-long focus, you want to get it right the first time (since there will be no 'second time'! :)

Debunking arguments for dating

There are two arguments commonly raised in favour of dating. Firstly "If people don't date, how will they learn to relate with the opposite sex?" and secondly "Dating is just cultural. Our culture dates, the Jewish culture courted." I'm going to debunk these myths by taking them to their logical conclusions. :)

The first statement can be reinterpreted positively two ways "Dating teaches people how to conduct [good] relationships with the opposite sex," or "Dating is the only way people can meet their partner in our society." If the first statement were true, then we should see a growth in strong relationships and strong marriages since the invention of dating earlier this century. Instead, we see an exponential increase in divorce, date rape and many other stains on society. The evidence shows that dating does NOT build strong relationships at all! For the last 1900 years, people have been building good relationships with the opposite sex without dating.

What about meeting your partner? How can anyone expect to meet their mate if they don't date? I question if dating is the best environment to determine if someone has the qualities you desire in a mate. Much better opportunities lie in team ministry, or families visiting families, etc, where there is no emotional involvement, and no agenda to give a good appearance. Then partners can truly judge how that person acts in a variety of circumstances, before they even commence in their relationship. But more about that later! :)

Some people say that dating is our culture. But our culture also says that you should sleep with your partner and live together for a while before you get married, if you get married at all. By what standard do you call the first "acceptable culture" and the second "unacceptable?" The same standard must be used to judge both, and the Bible is not ambiguous in its teaching on relationships. How then can we justify drawing the line between emotional promiscuity vs. physical promiscuity instead of complete fidelity vs. promiscuity?

Dating vs. relating

I think hanging out with the opposite sex is very healthy and necessary. As singles, we need to invest in relationship with each other -- to encourage, to nurture, to bless and to protect. God has created each of us with strengths and weaknesses, and in our single years it is especially important to maintain a vital social network of Christian brothers and sisters to ensure balance and growth.

What I am highlighting is 'special' hanging out that encourages such distinction and segregation, as one couple distinguishes themselves from all others and loses the strength and support of that network by focusing on each other rather than maintaining a balance of focus that includes equal time for God and their community. And a relationship that provides the 'benefits' of a romantic relationships without the 'boundaries' of a defined, covenental relationship.

Let's maintain vibrant social networks, built on shared mission, shared commitment to God, shared interests and shared service. But let's do it in a way that focuses growth in character and godliness (Heb 10:24-25), and avoids romance without commitment.

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