Got a Minute? Dating vs. Courtship and Church Membership

Posted by TJ on 1/4/2023Tags: Church, Recommended Resource, TheologyGot a Minute? Dating vs. Courtship and Church Membership

Larson Hicks and Rich Lusk started a podcast a few months ago and it’s been fantastic. Allow me to recommend it to you.

Dating vs. Courtship

I’d say my favorite episode so far has been Dating vs. Courtship (YouTube). That’s because, in the ’90s and ’00s (at least in my circles) we went through “a phase” and things got really weird regarding courtship, dating, betrothal, you name it. But the end goal of all the weirdness sometimes got lost in the shuffle. Oh, we would talk about the end goals sometimes, solid marriages, avoid divorce, don’t give yourself away to someone before the vows are made, sexual purity, etc. etc. But courtship (or betrothal in some circles) became an end unto itself. If you didn’t follow the formula, things were bad, you were a sinner, you were probably getting a divorce later, and you had committed much sin.

Larson and Rich point out a lot of the pitfalls and talk about the troubles surrounding courtship and such — including (and I found this an especially salient point) that often these alternative methods of young people finding their spouses were explicitly designed to give the parents of those involved in the courtship all or almost all the control. But if you think about it for two seconds and remember that these are young adults that we’re about to turn loose (at least in the common case, I realize there are and could be long-time adults entering into relationships — but we’re mostly talking about the common case here in the illustrations), if they’re not capable of being the front-runner on choosing their own spouse, things aren’t gonna be great for that couple regardless of the method for getting there.

But, though my thinking and approach has changed a lot on this topic in the last 18 years, my view of the end goal has not changed. That’s why I like Rich’s emphasis on Christian Dating. And what I think he means by that based on his explanation, and what I certainly mean, is that we don’t want to do the casual dating and sleeping around of the world. Dating is not an end unto itself. We don’t enter into these kinds of relationships with someone with no intention of ending in marriage, or just for the fun of it. When a man or woman begins “dating” someone, it should be with the end goal of marriage. You should be in a relationship with someone to evaluate spending the rest of your life with them. And of course, there are off-ramps: we’re not right for each other, there’s significant sin in someone’s life, they’re not mature enough yet, turns out I’m not mature enough yet, and in a Christian context I shouldn’t need to say that the other person must be a faithful Christian. But as the relationship progresses, it should more and more surely as it moves forward lead to marriage.

The word dating becomes a placeholder word for beginning a relationship with the opposite sex for the purpose heading toward marriage.

I want to say here, too, something about emotional attachment. When I was coming up through the ranks, there was a big emphasis on detaching your emotions during the “courtship.” One was not to become emotionally attached or involved during this phase in case things didn’t work out. That is probably the shakiest part of the whole deal in my experience. Every single human relationship involves emotion on some level — even the most casual friendships. To not form emotions or some sort of investment over the course of the relationship is a). impossible for most, b). is actually a mental health issue, c). I would argue is not in the least desirable. Yeah, sometimes hearts are broken, Guess what, that’s life! Ideally, reasons for breaking off a relationship are discovered early and much pain can be avoided. But humans are designed by God to be communal. We form attachments to others in our lives. And in preparing for marriage, the strongest human bond possible, it is both natural and desirable to form a deep emotional connection with the one who will be your spouse.

I remember, because of all the teaching in my life about courtship, trying to understand my feelings toward Rachel right before and right after we were engaged. All the teaching confused me and told me I shouldn’t love Rachel yet. But after wrestling for some time, I came to the conclusions that I both loved Rachel deeply, and that this was right and proper. I then told her so, and she expressed some relief since neither of us had ever said it and it gave her some pause about whether I really loved her. It seems silly from my vantage point now. Of course I loved her (and still do more and more every day). How could I not? We were made for each other, which is what we had been discovering over that season of our relationship, we had been in a relationship for over a year forming attachment (whether we thought we were or not). If I did not love her, something would have been seriously wrong with me.

So, anyway, yes, go listen to this episode, it’s really good.

Church Membership

My second favorite episode thus far is Does Church Membership Matter? (YouTube). I would say, of course it does, but Larson and Rich get to the why. It’s a very important topic in our day of maverick Christianity. We know from numerous Biblical passages that Christians are required to submit to the elders and authority of the local church. But what does that mean? Who’s in, who’s not? We call that, “membership” these days. But all it means is drawing the boundary so that elders know who is under their care and members can know who’s care they are under.

Give it a listen!