My friend Leemarc tagged me in a note, which was a repost of a Tim Keller article. I haven’t finished it quite yet (I’m about 3/4 done) but even so I desire to share this with you anyway. It is a lengthy and weighty article. As I was reading it, I definitely felt convicted because many of the things Tim Keller writes about I either believed, struggle against, or still subconsciously (or consciously) hold onto. Today has been a day where in a very short while God has convicted me on many things. This one being very recent.
Thank you for who you are, that you constantly pursue us, and show us your amazing goodness. Reveal to me my heart, what I hold onto. Reveal to me the things that impede my pursuit of You. Allow me to pursue You with the same passion and love that You pursued me. Let me dwell in You, so that You may be glorified.
In your wonderful name,
GOSPEL-COMMUNITY: SINGLENESS, MARRIAGE, AND FAMILY
by Dr. Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City)
The church is to be an alternate city (Matt.5:14-16), alternate nation (1 Peter 2:9), even a ‘new humanity’ (Eph.2:15). It’s to be a place where the world can see what a society would look like if Christ was the ultimate value rather than sex, money, power, or some other idols. (A corporate idol is often called a ‘power’ in the New Testament (NT), which is defined as a good thing shaping a society in a bad way because it has been given idolatrous ultimate value.) It’s not enough to discuss Christian living in terms of individual ethics only. We also ask how as a community lives out the ‘gospel-values’ corporately, creating a society that reflects those priorities.
All studies show that in western cultures the percentage of single adults is growing. In 2000 the census showed that 48% of all adult householders were unmarried (up from 42% in 1990.) Center city areas are heavily single and churches like Redeemer will be largely filled with single Christians who must find a way to conduct their relationships in community so as to reflect the ‘new humanity’ created by the gospel.
A. THE GOODNESS OF THE SINGLE LIFE (The non-idolatry of marriage)
Paul’s weird passage on singleness
Paul says “Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean is that the time is short.” (1 Cor 7:27-28) This passage is very confusing on its surface. First, this view of marriage seems at profound variance with the exalted picture of marriage in Ephesians 5:21ff. Was Paul just having a bad day when he wrote this? Second, his view of marriage seems to have been conditioned by a conviction that Jesus was coming back any day (“The time is short”). Doesn’t history show that he was wrong?
‘Kingdom Theology’ Applied to Singleness
But immediately after this passage Paul writes: “From now on, those who have wives should live as if they had none. Those who mourn as if they did not. Those who are happy as if they were not. Those who buy as if it was not theirs. Those who use the things of the world as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:29-31) Here we see that behind “the time is short” phrase is a much more sophisticated view of history. Paul (as Jesus) taught the ‘overlap’ of the ages. The kingdom of God–God’s power to renew the whole of creation–has broken into the old world (‘aeon’ or ‘age’) through Christ’s first coming. The kingdom is here in a substantial but partial way (Rom 13:11-14).
On the one hand, it means that all the social and material concerns of this world still exist. But on the other hand, the gospel brings us an internal joy-peace and a hope in the future-of-God which relativizes and transforms all our earthly relationships (Rom 14:17). Therefore we must not “over-invest” ourselves and our hearts in anything besides the kingdom. The future of God means radical freedom! We are neither too elated by success nor too cast down by disappointment–because our true success is in God (Col 3:1-4). Though we have possessions we should live as if they weren’t really ours–for our real wealth is in God (Luke 16:1ff.) We should ‘sit loose’ to everything. There is nothing now that we have to have. Finally, Paul applies this principle to marriage and singleness. We are neither over-elated by getting married nor over-disappointed by not being so–because Christ is the only spouse that can truly fulfill us and God’s family the only family that will truly embrace and satisfy us (Eph.5:21ff.).
The Goodness and Necessity of Singleness in the Christian Community
Christianity was the very first religion or world-view that held up single adulthood as a viable way of life. Jesus himself and St. Paul were single. “One clear difference between Christianity and Judaism [and all other traditional religions] is the former’s entertainment of the idea of singleness as the paradigm way of life for its followers.” (Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character p.174) Nearly all religions and cultures made an absolute value of the family and of the bearing of children. There was no honor without family honor, and there was no real lasting significance or ‘legacy’ without leaving heirs. By contrast, the early church not only did not pressure people to marry (as we see in Paul’s letter) but it institutionally supported poor widows so they did not have to remarry.
“Should they be widowed, Christian women enjoyed substantial advantages. Pagan widows faced great social pressure to remarry; Caesar Augustus (the first Roman emperor) even had widows fined if they failed to marry within two years. In contrast, among Christians, widowhood was highly respected and remarriage was, if anything, mildly discouraged. The church stood ready to sustain poor widows, allowing them a choice as to whether or not to remarry. [Single widows were active in care-giving and good deeds in the neighborhood.] (Stark, The Rise of Christianity, p.104).
Why? The Christian gospel and hope of the kingdom-future de-idolized marriage. “Singleness was legitimated, not because sex was questionable, but because the mission of the church is ‘between the times’ [the overlap of the ages] We must remember that the ‘sacrifice’ made by singles was not [just in] ‘giving up sex’ but in giving up heirs. There could be no more radical act that that! This was a clear expression that one’s future is not guaranteed by the family, but by the [kingdom of God and the] church” (Hauerwas, p.190). “[Now, in the overlap of the ages], both singleness and marriage are symbolic institutions for the constitution of the church’s witness of the kingdom. Neither can be valid without the other. If singleness is a symbol of the church’s confidence in God’s power to convert lives for the growth of the church, marriage and procreation is the symbol of the church’s hope for the world. For Christians do not place their hope in their children, but rather their children are a sign of their hope that God has not abandoned this world” (Hauerwas, p.191)
The First Theological Purpose of Marriage
Do you see how the gospel changes our view of marriage and singleness? Christians are to choose between marriage and singleness not a) for the basic contemporary motive (idolatry) of personal fulfillment nor b) for the traditional motive (idolatry) that you aren’t ‘anybody’ unless you have a family and children. Rather, we marry (or not) on the basis of which state makes us best a sign of the kingdom. Hauerwas says that single Christian adults were a startling witness to the coming kingdom in that ancient world. They showed that their hope and significance was not in family or heirs but in the kingdom. But both then (and especially now–see below) being married is also a way to be a sign of the kingdom.
This is a key reason why the Bible forbids you to wittingly marry someone who doesn’t share your faith—because one of the main purpose of marriage is to build kindgom-exhibiting community, to show the world how Christ transforms everything, including marriage. You can’t do that at all if both spouses aren’t believers. A Christian who wittingly marries a non-believer shows that his or her motive is not mission or kingdom-exhibition. One of the main ways (and maybe the main way) that married Christians witness to Christ is to show the difference Christ makes in marriage.
This is why many single Christian adults do not marry even though they have a very deep desire to do so. If one non-negotiable reason for marriage is kingdom-exhibition, then that leaves out a lot of otherwise good prospects! If you can only marry ‘in the Lord’ your ‘pool of candidates’ shrinks drastically. But if a single Christian remains single largely because he or she will not compromise here, then we are paying a price for the kingdom. We are promised to be blessed for that (1 Pet 4:13-14,19) And God will use the Christian’s singleness to minister to others in ways that married people cannot (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34).
In summary, the purpose of both singleness and marriage is to created communities which are a sign of the glory of the coming (and present) kingdom of God. But to do that, every church needs a combination of both Christian married couples and Christian singles. Both couples and singles can minister to each other (see point B.) Paul’s statements show that there are advantages and disadvantages in ministry for both singles and marrieds. Hauerwas points out that singles and marrieds both point to the hope of Christ in different ways. The world needs to see both.
A Truly High View of Marriage means a High View of Singleness
Ironically, Eph 5:21ff, with its ‘exalted’ view of marriage, also supports the idea of the goodness of singleness! How? Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage is not ultimately about sex or social stability or personal fulfillment. Marriage was created to be a reflection on the human level of our ultimate love relationship and union with the Lord. Married love is therefore sacred and blessed. Married love must therefore follow the pattern of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us.
But this exalted view of marriage tells us that marriage is only pen-ultimate. It points to the Real Marriage that our souls need and the Real Family our hearts want. The ‘overlap’ of the ages means that in this broken-but-redeeming world, marriage is only a partial help. It is not a panacea. No marriage will completely give us what we want or need. Ephesians 5 means that even those Christians married to Christians will do a terrible job of conducting their marriage if they don’t have a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Christ now, and an ultimate hope in a perfect love relationship then. If we don’t have that, married people will put too much pressure on their marriage to fulfill them, and that will always create pathology in their lives. If singles, then, don’t have the same fulfilling love relationship with Jesus, they will put that pressure on their dream of marriage, and that will create pathology in their lives as well. But if singles do rest in and rejoice in their marriage to Christ, that means they will be able to handle single life without devastating loneliness. Singles must realize that the very same idolatry of marriage that is distorting their single lives would (or will) distort their married lives.
Practical Implication for the Church
The gospel-based community practices a view of singleness that is contrary to the idolatry of marriage often seen in traditional culture. It frees singles from the shame of being unmarried. It speaks realistically and not sentimentally about marriage. It treats singles like equal members and leaders in the church. Unfortunately, many or most Christian churches imbibe more of the traditional-society-view of marriage than a gospel based marriage. It is no exaggeration to say that most churches continue to make Christian single adults feel like freaks or else make them an object of well-meant but patronizing pity. Churches do not take 1 Cor.7 seriously at all. They cannot fathom how or why Paul would speak so highly about singleness and so realistically about marriage.
B. THE FREEDOM OF THE SINGLE LIFE (The non-fear of marriage)
Contemporary Idolatries and Marriage
However, the gospel-based community does not only practice a view of singleness that is contrary to that of traditional culture, but also to that of contemporary culture. Contemporary culture is very cynical about marriage and avoids it and fears it (or at least puts it off) inordinately. The Bible does have an exalted view of marriage, as Ephesians 5 shows us. That means that marriage should also not be feared or avoided. While traditional societies tend to make an idol out of marriage (because it makes an idol out of the family and tribe), contemporary societies tend to make an idol of independence (because it makes an idol out of individual choice and happiness.) While the traditional motive for marriage was social duty, stability, and status, the contemporary motive for marriage is for personal fulfillment. Both of these motives are partially true, of course, but they tend to become ultimates if the gospel has not changed your mind and heart. However, since we live in a contemporary western society which idolizes independence and personal fulfillment, Christian singles are often effected by these ‘worldly’ values in subtle ways. My experience in NYC is that at least as many Christian singles are infected the contemporary idols (fear of marriage) as by traditional idols (over-desire for marriage). This view of marriage brings with it the following pathologies:
General Perfectionism: One major fruit of the contemporary culture-view is that singles are extremely perfectionistic and impossible to satisfy as they look at prospective spouses.
Looks and Money (Specific Perfectionism): When contemporary singles say they want personal ‘fulfillment’ in marriage, they usually mean 1) sexual fulfillment and 2) career or material fulfillment, not the fulfillment of character growth (Eph 5:25-27) into love, peace, joy, and hope (Col 1, Gal 5, 1 Cor 13). As a result, modern dating is a remarkably crass form of self-merchandising. You must look good and make money if you are to attract dates, a partner, or a spouse. The reason you want a good looking or affluent partner is for your own self-esteem (i.e. ‘personal fulfillment’).
The Second Theological Purpose of Marriage
There are many sociological explanations for why singles today put off marriage and are so slow to move into commitment. One reason given is that, because so many younger adults are now the product of divorce, they are suspicious of prospective partners. Another reason given is that in the past it was hard to ‘get sex’ without being married, but that is no problem now. These are certainly factors, and yet I know many Christian singles who are being celibate and who have come from intact homes who (nonetheless) are having as much trouble moving into committed relationships as everyone else. I propose that the reason for the perfectionism goes deeper. The culture sees the purpose of marriage as basically “fulfillment”. Ephesians 5, however, holds out that at least one of the purposes of Christian marriage is “sanctification”.
“Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself a radiant church, without strain or wrinkle or any blemish…” (Eph 5:25-27)
First, marriage here is held out as one of the best possible ways to learn about our sins and grow out of them through speaking the truth in love with one another. Second, this process takes sacrifice on the part of the spouse. It is not an easy process, but often threatening and painful. None of this fits into the contemporary model of ‘marriage as fulfillment’!
As much as possible contemporary singles want a partner who is already a ‘together’ person and one who is low maintenance and will not require lots of rearranging of your life. No wonder it is so hard to find candidates like this!
I think it is only fair to say that while there have been many happy exceptions, the Christian community of singles in most cities operate in pretty much the same way. In the Christian single’s mind, most candidates are immediately screened out (eliminated from consideration) on the basis of looks, polish, and material/social status. This is simply another way in which Christian singles are being effected by the culture’s ‘far idol’ of personal fulfillment and ‘near idols’ of sexual beauty and money. They are looking for someone already ‘beautiful’ in the most superficial way.
Instead, we should realize that marriage is a vehicle for helping our spouses become their future-selves through sacrificial service. We are to fall in love with the glorious thing God is doing in our spouse’s life. We become committed to our spouse’s future glory. We want to do whatever it takes to be a vehicle for that. Ironically, this view of marriage eventually does provide unbelievable personal fulfillment, but not in the sacrifice-less and superficial way that contemporary people want it to come.
[Note: Actually, people with ‘traditional society’ idols can make idols out of looks and money as well. In traditional culture, the family was our hope–it was the way to establish our name, our economic and social status. This also leads to making looks and money into inordinate factors in choosing relationships.] (‘Traditional society’ here would apply to prevailing social norms in countries that have not totally subscribed to individualism. While Asia is adopting certain Western attitudes, the vast majority of the world still adheres to traditional society. -Leemarc)
Some Other Reasons for Marriage-Avoidance
There are probably some other reasons for the fact that many Christian singles won’t move out into relationships.
First, in a church like Redeemer, many people are newer to the Christian faith. They were completely adept at the contemporary approach to dating and marriage, namely: 1) dating is simply for fun, sex, and maybe social status, while 2) marriage-seeking is very optional, only for the brave, and when it is done–only for risk-free personal fulfillment, sex and career. Newer Christians now realize that Christian dating relationships should be different–more serious, or something (!?) But the seriousness may be rather scary to a person who is used to dating-as-sexual-fun.
Second, I think Redeemer has a rather equal balance of singles who have the over-desire for marriage and singles who have the fear-avoidance problem. The chances of one kind dating the other kind at Redeemer is fairly good, but the combination can be explosive!
Third, some people simply have temperaments that highly value individual freedom and autonomy. Disproportionate numbers of these people are attracted to a place like New York City. Here they can construct their own lives and lifestyles free from the constraints and expectations put on them in most of the rest of the world. A high percentage of such people probably make an emotional-psychological idol of personal freedom. They feel simply stifled by the loss of freedom that marriage will mean.
Fourth, dating and marriage has always been a frightening prospect for a significant percentage of every generation. In more traditional settings, that percentage of scared-of-marriage people got significant support and guidance (and pressure to marry!) from the surrounding community and culture. But that does not happen in a place like NYC.
Rules of Thumb for Seasonal Marriage-Seeking
So how does a Christian single strike a balance between marriage-idolatry and marriage-avoiding? Seasonal marriage-seeking. In general, that means that while much of the time you can be relatively passive, waiting to ‘come across’ someone, there are other times in which you should be deliberately looking for prospective marriage partners among people that you may have overlooked. That is a balanced approach. Here are some rules of thumb.
A. Recognize the seasons for not doing marriage-seeking:
There are many times or ‘seasons’ in which active dating and marriage-seeking do not have to be pursued. Anyone who always needs to ‘have somebody’ is probably in to marriage-idolatry.
Anyone who is never marriage-seeking is naive about your own sinful fears and perfectionism. When you are going through a significant transition–starting a new job, starting a new school, death of a parent, or some other fairly absorbing time or event–it might not at all be a good time to ‘begin a relationship’. In fact, after some emotionally-charged times you might want to deliberately avoid marriage-seeking. In such situations, often your judgement is cloudy and your motives bad. During some times of healing or re-grouping you probably need deep Christian friendship more than marriage-seeking and dates.
B. Have a balanced view of ‘single calling’
Paul refers to his singleness as a ‘gift’ in 1 Cor 7:7. Since he almost immediately afterwards says, “but if they cannot control themselves they should marry” (v.8), Paul probably means that a single ‘gift’ consists of a very low ‘felt need’ for a romantic relationship or marriage. We need to make a few cautionary remarks here, however.
First, it is possible that a ‘low need’ for relationships is not from God but is a sign of a deep idolatry of personal freedom. Or it may be an inability to create deep relationships in general. Don’t mistake a selfish spirit or an inability to keep friendships or a fear/disdain of the opposite sex as a ‘single gift’! In other words, we should not be too quick to accept a lack of romantic desire as a ‘gift’ from God. Unless you’ve done some serious dating and made a true effort, you can’t be sure about your own heart in this regard.
Second, it is possible that a ‘gift’ like this is not a permanent condition but rather something given for a definite period of time. It must be re-evaluated periodically.
Third, it is not possible for a man or woman to be so sure of ‘God’s calling’ that they ever totally close off the possibility of marriage. You should stay open to God by allowing yourself to be in a more ‘passive’ mode for dating. Don’t seek but don’t refuse.
C. But sans a ‘season’ or a ‘gift’ you should be actively dating and marriage seeking.
To affirm people of the opposite sex within the Christian community.
To help one another learn the intricacies of cross-gender communication, discernment, and relationship
To stay open to God’s own leading about whether you should be married or not
To avoid the contemporary idols that make dating and marriage very threatening
To avoid avoiding. Dating and marriage-seeking is a process of self-discovery as well as understanding cross-gender relationships. Don’t procrastinate.
There has been an interesting debate in the Christian world over the term ‘dating’. (cf. I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris.) Some are drawing a hard and fast distinction between the romantic approach of traditional society (ie “courtship”) with the romantic approach of contemporary society (ie “dating”) without noting the idolatry in each.
In ‘courtship’ the man went in to a woman’s home and family. He ‘called’ on her. There he met the family, got to know her in the context of her entire family, who also got to know him virtually as well as she did. The family then kept strong control over who the woman saw and had great input into whether he was suitable or not for marriage.
In ‘dating’ the man and woman went out into public places of entertainment in order to get to know one another. This not only removed family input to a great degree, but it also put the emphasis not on character assessment but on fun and ‘being seen’. (See Beth Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in the 20th Cent America (Johns Hopkins, 1988)
There are many movements and proponents of a ‘return to courtship’ but many of them are problematic.
First, they don’t take into consideration the idols inherent in traditional society.
Second, they tend to try to institutionalize one particular moment in human social history. Why not go ‘all the way back’ to arranged marriages?
Third, it probably creates more problems than it solves to refuse to use the word ‘dating’ at all. Instead, why not admit the problems with the contemporary motives for and models of relationships and talk about how dating should be different in a Christian community. Here are some guidelines:
A. Strike a ‘seriousness’ balance
‘Courtship’ is oriented toward character assessment and consideration of prospects for marriage. It is pure marriage-seeking. ‘Dating’ is oriented toward recreation with companionship. There is therefore a kind of pure ‘date’ that has nothing to do with assessing the other person for a future serious relationship. Are we never to date? Here are some rules of thumb:
If we try to insist that we should never ‘date’ without marriage-seeking, we are going to fall into legalism. There are too many social occasions that call for something like a ‘date’.On the other hand, those who preponderantly do pure ‘dating’ especially as they get older will be playing with the emotions of others.There must be gentle ways to signal the seriousness-level with which you ask/agree to a particular date. The older you are, and the more often you ‘go out’, the quicker both people must be to acknowledge that you are doing marriage-seeking. Yes, Christianity does tend to make dating relationships much more ‘serious’ more quickly.
B. Do not allow yourself deep emotional involvement with a non-believing person
2 Cor 6:14ff is invoked for this rule and rightly so, though the many prohibitions in the Old Testament against Jews marrying non-Jews teaches the same thing. (These were not prohibitions against marrying outside of one’s race, but of one’s faith as can be seen in Numbers 12.)
What is the logic behind this? If your partner doesn’t share your faith, then he or she doesn’t understand it. And if Jesus is central to you, then that means that your partner doesn’t understand you. He/she doesn’t understand the mainspring of your life, the ground motive of all you do. Over and over you will make decisions that your partner can’t fathom. Now the essence of intimacy in marriage is that finally you have someone who really understands you and accepts you as you are. Finally you have someone that you don’t have to hide from or always be ‘spinning’, who ‘gets’ you. But if the person is not a believer, he or she can’t understand your very essence and heart.
If you marry someone who does not share your faith, there is only two ways to go.
One is that you will more and more have to lose your transparency. In the normal, healthy Christian life, you relate Christ and the gospel to everything. You will think of Christ when watching a movie. You will base decisions on Christian principles. You will think about what you read in the Bible that day. But if you are natural and transparent about all of these thoughts, your partner will find it at least tedious or appalling and even offensive. Your partner will almost have to think that the normal Christian is obsessed. He or she will say, “I had no idea you were this overboard about this.’
The other possibility is that you simply move Christ out of such a central place in your consciousness. You may even have to let your heart-ardor for Christ cool. Why? Because if you keep him central you will feel isolated from your spouse.
No, there is nothing in the Bible forbidding you to ‘date’ a non-Christian, since there is nothing in the Bible about ‘dating’ at all! But there is a clear rule against marrying outside the faith. Wisdom dictates then that you don’t get ‘serious’ with someone who doesn’t believe. You must consider that as a Christian, you know what it is like to be both inside and outside of Christ, while your partner does not. That puts the responsibility on you. He or she will never understand why you think the difference is such a big deal. (He/she will think it is something like a Democrat marrying a Republican or at most like two people of different races marrying one another.) That means if you get involved deeply, the other person will never really understand why you want to break up. That will be enormously painful.
C. Feel ‘attraction’ in the most comprehensive sense
Yes, physical attraction is something that must definitely grow between marriage partners and it will come easily if you have the ‘deeper’ attraction I’m speaking of. ‘Comprehensive attraction’ is something that you can begin to sense with people if you deliberately disable the default looks-polish screening mode (mentioned above) What is ‘comprehensive’ attraction? (In fact, you may find to your horror you are feeling it with people who directly violate your old screening policy.)
Part of it is being attracted to the person’s ‘character’ or spiritual fruit (Gal 5:22ff.) Jonathan Edwards said that ‘true virtue’ in any person–the contentment, peace, and joy from the gospel–is beautiful.
Part of it is being attracted to ‘mission in life’ or spiritual gifts. What is his or her deepest mission in life? What part of the work of the kingdom does he or she have a passion for?
On the basis of both of these, you must become attracted to the person’s future self. Ephesians 5 tells us that the purpose of marriage is to help one another become the glorious, unique persons God is making us. Marriage partners can say, “I see what you are becoming and what you will be (even though, frankly, you aren’t there yet). The flashes of your future attract me.
Ultimately, your marriage partner should be part of your ‘mythos’. C.S. Lewis spoke of a ‘secret thread’ that united every persons’ favorite books, music, places, or past-times. Certain things arouse in you an ‘inconsolable longing’ in you that gets you in touch with the Joy that is God. Bernstein said that Beethoven’s Fifth always made him sure (despite his intellectual atheism) that there was a God. Beethoven doesn’t do that for me. Everyone has something that moves you so that you long for heaven or the future kingdom of God. Sometimes you will meet a person who shares to a great degree the same ‘mythos’ thread. Often the person is part of the thread him or herself. This is very hard to describe, obviously.
Semi-tragic note. An awful lot of married people do not know what this whole ‘comprehensive’ attraction is. Many people choose their marriage partner on the basis of looks/polish/money and not on the basis of character, mission, future-self, and mythos. Often the person they married is not really attractive to them at all in the comprehensive way.
D. Don’t romanticize/sexualize things too quickly
This was one of the great advantages of the old ‘courtship’ approach. In courtship, the ‘suitor’ and the ‘suitoress’ got to see one another in more natural settings–family life, church life, community life. The comprehensive attraction and evaluation of character was easier to do. When a relationship goes out into public entertainment events and gets sexual, a very superficial and emotional attraction, even addiction, can arise quickly. The fact that these ‘crushes’ can become so hostile and bitter so quickly shows that the comprehensive attraction and admiration was never there.
Yes, early on, major in friendship experiences. The Christian community affords plenty of opportunity for this. Even after you declare to another “I want to date you”, you are able to ‘enter the worlds’ of one another in the older courtship way that is very difficult outside the Christian community. You can study the Bible together, serve in the city together, and so on.
Yes, don’t have sex before marriage. The Biblical, theological, and practical reasons are voluminous and we have other MCM handouts that address this. There is no ambiguity about this in the Bible or in the history of Christian theology and practice. It is even something that every major world religion agrees on! But even this handout should make obvious to you how important it is to put friendship development before romantic development.
E. Get and submit to community input
“Courtship” assumed that experienced married people (in your extended family) would give you major input in the selection of a spouse. Many people are now insisting that we return to the old requirement of getting the father’s consent or even of arranged marriages. But that is seldom practicable, especially for a) singles who have been away from home for years and b) single Christians whose parents have little understanding of the gospel. However, the basic principle is right and important. Marriage is not simply an individual decision. The Christian community has a deep investment in you and a deep interest in healthy and happy marriages. Also, the community has many married people in it who have much wisdom for the singles. Singles should get community input at every step of the way in their dating and marriage seeking.
F. What are the requirements for getting married?
Both Christians: Both on ‘same page’ which means spirituality is at least complementary, not too far ahead/behind, not too opposed, both growing.
Able to solve problems: Moving through and making changes without one person always getting way. Not working on very same problems over and over.