by Nathan Bailey
A trip into the future :)
The previous articles have mostly described the "what" and the "why." At this stage, it would probably be helpful to describe the "how", to give a step-by-step account of how a courtship could work. I'll start out by describing how I would like my courtship to work, "the ideal scenario!" Then I will go on to discuss a few possible variations on the theme.
Since this is me, I'll be talking about my wife -- ladies can flip all the gender pronouns around for their prospective husbands :) Specifically, I should point out that I make a number of demands on her character. I similarly expect that I should fulfill these demands before I begin to court her.
This is true even in the dating model. A romantic relationship is a form of more intimate friendship. If you aren't friends, then you are going to have to expend a lot of time and energy developing a simple friendship, which is going to be a lot more complicated with all these emotions flying around! From a courtship perspective, I am basically entering the first phase of marriage here, so I need to know at least a few things about her and her character to make this rather momentous decision!
Not a great deal has been written on how to transition from 'Hey, I'm interested in you' to courting, i.e. how to grow a relationship from occassional friend (who I don't know enough about to make any decision) to close friend (with whom I would like to take our relationship to the next level). I've thought about this a lot in the last couple of years and will write on it soon (once I work out where it best fits in this series of articles).
I emphasized "committed" because I would expect to see her commitment to Christ worked out in her daily life. [2 Cor 6:14; See also 'Unequally yoked: Marrying your match!'] She will be eager to know more of God, enjoy going to church, enjoy serving others and generally be a faithful and diligent member of her church and her community. Most importantly of all, she must be willing to address her faults and work them out with God and her leaders. [Pr. 3:11-12; Pr. 1:5-7; Rom. 13:1-5; Lk. 7:6-10] She doesn't have to be perfect by any measure, but she does have to embrace the fire and desire to be more like Jesus, whatever the cost!
We're getting more controversial here, so I just said "should" but this is quite important to me. I'm not talking about totally agreeing with each other about every little point of doctrine, but merely emphasizing that we should have similar views of the world. [Amos 3:3] I enjoy being generous. I enjoy interacting with people from other cultures. I feel that accountability groups are very important for successful Christian life. These aren't essential things, but if my wife doesn't embrace them, it will put extra strain on our relationship -- things that are important to me won't be important to her. Yes, we could work it out, but it's a lot easier to establish these things before marriage than after! I would hope that my wife shares my vision for the generations, and a desire to see people from all nations get saved. I hope she likes VeggieTales too! :)
In Jewish culture, both parties had a dowry. Today, this would mean that a husband could probably buy a house whilst his wife could probably furnish it (full amount of three years wages each). [Romans 13:7-8] The responsibility for the wife's dowry lay with her father, ie. it was his blessing on their marriage.
The concept of dowry has been (fairly, IMHO) extended to include character. This means that, just as getting married with a huge financial debt over your head is unwise, so is getting married with a huge emotional debt over your head. Issues such as unforgiveness, bitterness, abuse and lust need to be addressed before marriage. Otherwise marriage might merely be the result of people trying to fulfill these needs in a partner instead of God.
By "dealt with" I mean there should be no areas of unrepentant sin, ie no-one should be able to walk up to you and say "You still ..., and you've never done anything towards fixing it." This is not the same as saying that you never struggle in that area, more that you have addressed all your past struggles. As I said above, perfection isn't necessary, but a desire to change is, as displayed through a commitment to embracing loving confrontation. [Ecc. 11:9; Rom. 13:5; 1 Tim. 3:8-11; 1 Pet 3:15-17]
The parents would have close relationships with their respective children. The two friends would usually know each other well, have ministered together, served in church together, etc, and so are familiar with each others' values and belief systems.
Based on God's leading, the parents, together with the children, initiate the courtship process. Once both children commit to this process, they are "betrothed." In their cross-family relationships, they should have already addressed all "compatability issues" before this phase of the couple's relationship ever began. I would hope the girl's father is a strong spiritual leader, who could disciple me. Based on his intimate relationship with his daughter, he should have a good understanding of what she wants (and needs!), and through his discipleship of the me, know if I've got it (or help me to grow it).
This is a particularly critical foundation to a sound marriage -- having won the father's trust and support, there is a clear avenue of future advice and encouragement in times of trouble. All too often, parents are forced to side in a problem against the spouse, rather than in support for the marriage. A strong, mutual commitment to each other's success as Godly men provides an established positive advocacy.
After betrothal comes the commitment to marriage. When the commitment to marriage has been made, the couple are free to express their emotions. Up until this point, they should hide their feelings in their hearts, avoiding expressions such as "I love you" and "I will miss you" which naturally evoke emotional responses.
Of course! ;)
Okay, so that's how it might happen in an ideal world. But what if her parents are dead? Or just aren't Christians? Or are Christians, but don't like the idea of courtship? These are all important questions, and I will address them in turn.
The most important points about the interaction with the parents is the process; and the principle of submitting to spiritual authorities. Therefore if her parents are no longer alive, or refuse to participate in the courtship process, you could turn to another spiritual authority in her life, like her pastor or youth leader. What is needed is someone who knows her well, who can protect her from "unqualified applicants" and can help her to build a relationship with the right young man.
If the parents aren't Christians, but are willing to be involved in the courtship process, then they should be. God's authority structure still stands, even when it is not fully embraced by those who are part of it. And who knows, your courtship may well be a very influential example to your unsaved parents! It would still be wise, however, to also involve some spiritual authority to cover the spiritual aspects of discipleship and relationship.
And here's quite possibly the hardest question -- what if her parents don't want me to marry her? Then, quite simply, I cannot violate their spiritual authority. I have heard of unsaved fathers who exercised great discernment, one who did not like any of his daughter's suitors prior to the one who married her. She is now very happily married -- and grateful to her dad!
We need to understand that when we marry, we marry the family too. So, if I, their daughter and our spiritual authorities feel we should marry, but her parents still do not, then we would take our case up with God. This is a matter of trust -- is God in control of your world, or her parents? If you truly believe in a sovereign God who answers prayer, then this presents no problem at all! :) I also believe that it is similarly important to have her pastor's blessing.
What if she's divorced, or already had a child out of wedlock? Personally, I feel quite strongly about divorce and remarriage, see 'Covenant and divorce' for further details. Essentially, my conviction is that marriage is an unbreakable life-long covenant that is not based on performance, much like God's salvation covenant to us. Outside of the sin of divorce (which I believe is best resolved through reconciliation with your spouse), no other sin is important to me, as long as she has resolved it with God and those involved. If she has children, then I guess we get some extra blessings right from the word go! :)
I'm really not quite sure what to say here, but it seems I too should have a heading, for completeness! :) I think it is worth noting that, prior to meeting this wonderful woman, I am focusing on building my dowry, both financially and in character -- I am pursuing God and my destiny in him with a passion. And I am praying for her -- that God will guide her, protect her and bring her to me.© Copyright 1997-2010, Nathan Bailey, All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to print these articles for personal use, in whole or in part, provided the extract references the original URL, http://polynate.net/books/courtship/, so that people can find the latest version.