Just as many people are breaking society’s mold for education and taking full responsibility for their children’s schooling by teaching their children at home, many are also beginning to question accepted ideas about their children in other areas. One of those areas is dating.
They began by questioning whether public education was best for their children and are now questioning whether dating is the best way just because “everyone is doing it.” Many people are spending a great amount of time and effort to raise up godly children, but they remember what it was like for them when they were dating. Even though they had the best intentions, some of them did things in dating relationships that they wish they had not – things that drew them away from their parents and their Heavenly Father. Now they are asking if there is any way that they can help their children avoid some of those same pitfalls.
A recent survey showed that among evangelical church youth, forty-three percent had lost their chastity before the age of eighteen. Sixty-five percent had engaged in sexual behavior that should be reserved for marriage. The divorce rate among the church is one out of every two marriages – the same as society at large. Does it have to be like that?
It has not always been this way. Even forty years ago, it was not socially acceptable to engage in premarital sex; however, with dating in cars, going steady, and the like, the temptations have compounded while there is little supervision to help overcome them. Was resisting the temptation ever the norm for this country?
Looking back through history, it seems that dating is a new idea that started around the turn of the 20th century and gained momentum with the coming of the automobile. Before that, the accepted model was courtship. Did that work? Could it work in these modem times? What is courtship exactly, and how is it different from dating?
Dating vs Courtship
The Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines courtship as “the act of soliciting favor. The act of wooing in love; solicitation of a woman to marriage.” In other words, the goal of courtship is marriage and marriage only. The definition of a date in the Webster 3rd International Unabridged Dictionary  is “an appointment between two persons of the opposite sex for the mutual enjoyment of some form of social activity.” The goal is personal pleasure.
Courtship is attractive to many home schoolers because it provides a safe atmosphere for cultivating a godly relationship and helps a couple “avoid all appearance of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:22) It allows a couple to get to know each other under the supervision of their parents. A courtship does not take place until the couple is ready for marriage and they have the permission of both sets of parents to consider one another as potential marriage partners.
In most dating relationships, parents have abdicated their responsibility to protect and direct their young people. The young people decide whom they want to date based on looks, popularity, or whatever reason strikes their fancy. Dating takes place with the couple mostly alone, with little or no supervision, and away from the protection of family. Romans 13:14 says “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Dating, in its typical form, makes “provision for the flesh” and maximizes disastrous temptations.
Before 1900, it was common not to touch before marriage. A national speaker tells the true story that a week before his grandparents’ wedding, they encountered each other in the woods and were alone. His grandfather tried to steal a kiss, but his grandmother told him that if he kissed her that day, there would be no wedding on Saturday. The rest is history.
In contrast, dating often escalates physical intimacy outside of marriage from holding hands to intercourse. That brings up the question – how far is too far? Matthew 5:28 says, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Many a young man is participating in activities that cause him, at the very least, to be lustful. Many young women are defrauding young men by arousing desires in them that cannot be righteously satisfied. The evidence of this problem is that this society has seen an alarming increase in the number of pregnancies outside of marriage.
Can it be that young people are also establishing habits that encourage a divorce pattern? The typical dating pattern is that people date and fall in love, then they fall out of love so they break up. They date others and fall in love; they fall out of love, so they break up, and on and on. What is going to happen in a marriage when the going gets tough and there is an established pattern of breaking up and moving on? Many believe dating is one of the causes of today’s high divorce rate.
Preparing for Courtship
Young people often have the same kinds of reactions to the idea of courtship as they do when introduced to home schooling. Some embrace it, others do not want anything to do with it, and others will have reactions of all ranges between the two extremes. Should parents keep young adults from dating and force them to court? The parents must decide at what age a young person can make those decisions for himself. The goal is for the young person to make his own commitment to courtship.
If possible, parents should start discussing the precepts that are the foundation of courtship with their children at an early age, teaching them the principle of being under the God-given protection and authority of their parents. They should talk to them about how important it is to listen to their parents in all areas and particularly in the area of choosing spouses. Many couples that have experienced severe marital problems admit they could have avoided a lot of heartache if they had listened to their parents when making this important decision.
Parents should teach young people to avoid pornography. They should recognize that reading romance books may be as harmful to young ladies and their expectations as pornography can be to men. Young adults can learn to control their emotions and to not spend time dwelling on people who may or may not become their spouses.
People who teach these ideas to their children may be accused of indoctrination. Nevertheless, either the parents will be the ones to teach their children about godly standards, or they will pick up their ideas from somewhere else in society – the television, billboards, books, magazines, or their peers.
As parents are making this decision, they should think about their goals for their young people. Society says, “You are young; have fun!” Adolescence is considered the age of irresponsibility; however, adolescence should be a time of preparation for adulthood and marriage. This is a time to develop one’s relationship with God and to work on the skills and character necessary to survive in the adult world.
So, do parents lock their adolescents in closets? Do they make them work all the time? How do young people ever get to know someone they might want to marry?
For their young people, many parents schedule group activities with the goal of service rather than entertainment. They teach them to serve others rather than themselves during planned, supervised group activities. Teens will socialize in a group no matter what they are doing. They can learn, however, to avoid flirting. The definition of flirting is “to play at courtship, to act the lover without serious intent; to trifle amorously especially in discourse; to evince superficial interest or liking.” Flirting is a type of defrauding.
The teen years are a time for parents to discern areas in which their young people are not developed and to disciple and train them to work on those areas. A teen’s goal should be to “flee also youthful lust; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (II Timothy 2:22)
Proceeding with Courtship
The older generations did not pass down to this generation the principles or the practical how-tos of courtship. Many families are trying to discern what works best for them. Each family’s experiences will probably be different as this generation tries to regain lost ground in this life-impacting area. The following are some general ideas that some have followed in implementing courtship in their families.
When a young man believes he is ready for marriage, with his parents’ permission, he goes first to the girl’s father to obtain permission to win the daughter’s heart, for it is the father’s job is to protect his daughter. Usually at this point, the father discusses the possibility with his daughter, or he may want more time to get to know the young man and to see if he would be suitable for his daughter.
Courtship is a time for the couple to get to know one another and one another’s families. It is a time of spiritual bonding – a time to share goals, concerns, likes, dislikes, and values. Courtship should not be entered into lightly. Unless something unforeseen happens, the goal and end result should be marriage. Otherwise, the young people are just “courting around” or going steady. Prayer for wisdom and guidance before and during the courtship is the key element.
The courtship takes place particularly under the supervision of the girl’s father. He oversees the courtship and meetings and sets the rules as he sees fit. The young adults, who are probably old enough to be doing anything they want to do, will need to understand that there is profit learning from experience and wisdom of parents, and they must be willing to place themselves under the father’s authority.
The courtship is not a time for developing a physical relationship. The amount of time (if any) the young couple gets to spend alone needs to be determined by the girl’s father. When the couple is more mature, there can be more freedom. Perhaps they can run daytime errands together or sit on the porch alone. Chaperoning is still a large part of the relationship.
Once a young man feels that he has won his girl’s heart, he goes first to her father to ask for her hand in marriage. When all lights are green, the father continues to give guidance to the couple as they plan and execute a wedding with the blessing of all the parents.
As the world turns further and further from God, more people are pulling back because they do not want to follow the direction our society is leading, and they are looking for alternatives. Courtship can be one of the major answers to the questions, “How do we raise godly children in this ungodly world?” and “How do we help them get through their teen years and ready to marry with their purity intact?” It provides the protection and guidance that they need when the world has so many ways to draw them into evil.
Some Helpful Books on Courtship
- It’s a Life Style by Andrew and Nathaniel Ryan (Silver Clarion Press)
- I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Josh Harris (Multnomah Books)
- Dating vs. Courtship by Paul Jehle (Plymouth Rock Foundation)
- Old-Fashioned Courtship & How It Works Today by Jeff Barth (Parable Publishing House) (See pages 6-6,7 for ordering information.)
- Passion and Purity and Quest for Love by Elisabeth Elliot (Fleming H. Revell)
- Her Hand in Marriage by Douglas Wilson
- Of Knights and Fair Maidens by Jeff and Danielle Myers (self-published: PO Box 88191, Colorado Springs, CO 80908)
- Best Friends for Life by Michael and Judy Phillips (Bethany House Publishers)
- Hands and Heart; a History of Courtship by Ellen K. Rottman
- From the Front Porch to the Back Seat by Beth L. Bailey (Johns Hopkins University Press)
- Courtship – One Family’s Perspective by Tim and Lyndsay Lambert with their son Peter and his wife Rita.
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