The desire of the Church to differentiate herself from the world has led to creation of flyover sociologies. In pursuit of differentiation, the Church reassigned certain social terminologies and abrogated some, flying over certain stages of relationship and development. This is in doctrinal salute to scriptures like, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John. 2:15)… “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind…” (Romans 12:2). This is why in certain Christian communities sociological conventions like boyfriend/girlfriend relationship are disapproved, and that terminology eliminated from local ecclesiastical lexicon. And in an effort to distinguish faith convention from “worldly” convention, Christians are not allowed to date, they can only “court.” Which is amazing since the word “courtship” is not even found in the Bible! The mating rites of the ancient world were quite different from what we have today. And so there’s nothing “Christian” about courtship. It’s societal convention going back many centuries.
Some churches insist Christians can only be “engaged”, that a boy and a girl cannot have a relationship outside of “engagement.” This has unfortunately created flyover anomalies. But how can 16- and 17-year olds in university campuses get engaged! And how do you get engaged without a ring or family introductions? Meanwhile, these pseudo engagements are technically regarded as covenanted promise of marriage. A break of course technically constitutes breach of promise of marriage. And because of the seriousness attached to the pseudo usage of “engaged”, breakups have proved very traumatic. But it’s not unusual for 16-, 17-, 18-year olds to break up. That’s fairly normal. How can a 17-year old commit to marriage! He has NO IDEA what marriage is all about, has little understanding of life, no adult world experience. At that age kids are trying to grow up, struggling to discover themselves. They’re battling with sexuality and hormones, which is why they’re prone to mistakes. It is asking for too much to ask a kid to commit to marriage at that tender age.
Because university campuses are closed idealistic social systems, the relationship will likely work on campus. But as soon as these kids emerge from campus everything changes. Very few of the relationships survive. The young man (or woman) is confronted with a larger choice pool, which creates confusion. Does he honour his prior “engagement”, or does he succumb to the lure of wide choices in the real world he’s interacting with? He has to come to terms with the realization that his earlier choice might have been hasty, mistaken or immature. Unfortunately any breakup at that point is considered abrogation of spirituality. God help the young man if he was head of fellowship and the relationship began with a “Thus saith the Lord” proposal. The immediate question of course is, is it that God is no longer saying? He either admits he didn’t hear God, or he’s disobeying God.
In fairness to the faith communities who ban boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, they are trying to prevent libertinism and fornication. The objective is noble no doubt, but the methodology employed is doubtful. You don’t ban fornication by banning terminologies.
The other reason given for the banning of these social conventions is to prevent confusion in a local assembly. It is aimed at curbing brothers who propose to multiple women. Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is lacking in commitment the reasoning goes, and this may encourage a fleeting brother to pollinate many flowers. To prevent this happenstance, artificial constructs are erected to vet “engagement” proposals. A brother must first report to a committee his INTENTION to approach a sister. Only after the committee greenlights his desire can he proceed to talk to the lady. This committee is a rather curious administrative contraption. It’s conceptually riddled with contradictions. Besides the command and control nature of the system, how about the huge potential for abuse as well as conflict of interest? What if a member of that committee is interested in the very lady for whom an applicant approached the committee? What if a committee member is “believing God for the lady” for his son? Of course he should be expected to recuse himself, but what if he does not and hides his intentions? He’s human after all!
And now fellowships in university campuses are adopting the contraption. But isn’t it rather odd that young boys and young girls are vetting “engagement” proposals. The potential for abuse is even higher in such settings. And how do kids who know nothing about marriage vet kids who know nothing about marriage about marriage? Isn’t that akin to the blind leading the blind? And now in some university fellowships you can’t even approach a girl until you’re in your final year. Who comes up with these rules?! How do you regulate natural affection with artificialism? And what happens if the proposer is in third year but the object of his love is in first year? Is that relationship allowed?
In some churches, if a couple is found to have been dating BEFORE formal declaration of intendment to the marriage committee the relationship is voided. If the couple insist on going on with the wedding, the church will have no part in the ceremony. Marriage can even be ecclesiastically proscribed for violation of the dating protocol set by the committee, the official basis being, “Not sanctioned by God.” Would be interesting to find out what portion of scripture the committee is relying on for such abrogation. And in some churches, a young man interested in a lady must first report to his Pastor, who then goes to pray to find out if the union is approved in Heaven! Isn’t this an adaptation of the cleromancy divination in African traditional religion, the christianisation of occult practice? Isn’t it an idolatrous progression? You won’t find this practice in the New Testament. And for those who seek to justify it on the basis of practices in the Old Testament, well, we’re NOT in the Old Testament! The priesthood of the Old Testament is not the priesthood of the New Testament. The priesthood of the Old Testament is a focalised, limited and centralised system called the Levitical priesthood; whereas the priesthood of the New Testament is a democratised system called the Order of Melchizedek. Our High Priest is not human. He’s our risen Lord. The urim and thummin of the Old Testament have been replaced by the Spirit of God. ALL Christians have the Spirit of God in them. God promised he would lead us by his Spirit into all truth. Jesus told his disciples, “When He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all Truth. For He will not speak His own message; but He will tell whatever He hears from the Father; he will give the message that has been given to Him, and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come THAT WILL HAPPEN IN THE FUTURE.” (John.16:13 AMP)
And anyway, clearly at some point inefficiencies will creep into this divination process. The Pastor will become a serious bottleneck as the ministry grows. Or how will the Pastor attend to say, 5,000 of such requests in a year for example? How’s he going to combine this interesting duty with his REAL ecclesiastical responsibilities – the ones prescribed by the Bible? Will the function be subcontracted to associate Pastors? Which of course raises the question of authenticity and quality of divination. The potential for error has increased. The larger the number of diviners, the larger the potential for abuse and error. Men of God are men nonetheless.
God’s desire is for the individual Christian to take personal responsibility for his life. It’s why he retailed his Spirit in men. It’s why he made the Bible widely available and cheap. The Bible costs practically nothing. Can be downloaded. God has democratised his word. He wants the believer to be Berean, to read his word by himself, to crosscheck what he’s taught. (Acts 17:11)
But we have made the believer lease out responsibility for his life to the Pastor. The Pastor has now become augury, fortuneteller, soothsayer, prognosticator, vaticinator. He controls the minutiae of the believer’s life, a function totally at variance with the spirit of the New Testament. One will be hard pressed to cite ONE instance in the New Testament where a Christian approached the apostles for divination on life partner. To get yardage for this extracurricular function, we’ll need to take creative latitude with the schedule of duties prescribed for Pastors in the New Testament. What we’ve done is create spiritual communism – a central control system for the extreme regulation of individual lives. Whereas God favours empowerment of the individual to do the work of the ministry, and to manage his life. Which is why Paul said, the man who can’t manage his home is unqualified to function as an officer in church. (1 Timothy 3:4) God wants you to manage your affairs, not subcontract its management to your Pastor. God will hold you responsible for your life.
If we’re honest with ourselves we can arrive at no other conclusion than that our concept of sociology is pretty warped. Even disturbing. We often fail to think through our sociological innovations and so create dangerous consequences.
But what does the Bible say about the subject of dating? Turns out nothing! And that’s because God deems the FORMAT for mating a cultural convention. The excuse Laban provided when he tricked Jacob into marrying Leah is quite instructive: “It’s not our CUSTOM HERE to marry off a younger daughter ahead of the firstborn.” (Genesis 29:26) And God respected that custom. Customs vary from place to place is what Laban is saying. Abraham married his half sister. The sociological convention of his community and time allowed it. (Genesis 20:12) Different peoples have different marital conventions. The idea that if you don’t marry in church, God will not recognize your marriage is utter fabrication, though church wedding must be desirable to the Christian. Truth is, unless a church is authorised by the State to issue marriage license, those marriage certificates we sign in church have no legal validity. It’s why you go to the registry first before marrying in some churches. And so the idea that if you do not marry in church God will not recognise your marriage is bunkum. Marriage is a cultural convention. Peter didn’t marry in church yet the Bible recognised his marriage. (Matthew 8:14) There was even no church at that time. He married according to Jewish custom. Some mistake Jewish cultural conventions for Christian convention. Not so. There are Jewish marital rites, as well Jewish burial rites. These are not necessarily Christian rites just because they’re reported in scriptures. And a lot of the marital rites we observe today are not found in scriptures. Nowhere in scriptures for example is a bride mandated to wear white on her wedding. The Church bought into that cultural convention. The “white wedding” originated in Britain. And the white wedding dress is attributed to Queen Victoria who wore a white lace dress at her wedding in 1840. Before then, royal brides wore “heavily brocaded gowns,” red being particularly popular in Western Europe.
God recognises marital conventions created by individual societies. God recognises traditional marriage rites. It has its own legal implications, just like the court wedding has proprietary legal implications. In some societies like Nigeria, a Christian couple will probably end up going through three wedding ceremonies – court registry wedding, traditional wedding and church wedding. Truth is, the only two recognised by the Law in Nigeria are actually the court registry wedding and the traditional marriage. As stated earlier, the State can only recognise the church wedding if the church is licensed by the State to issue marriage licenses. Otherwise that church wedding is nothing more but a ceremony. But that’s okay. It makes a bride happy, gets the ring bearer and little bride excited – though most times they sleep through the ceremony, and everyone gets to dress in lovely attire. There’s of course the photo album. And the couple gets prayed over by the Pastor; though in fairness they can still obtain such blessing by proceeding to the church office after the registry ceremony. Now, this is not saying people shouldn’t marry in church. By all means a Christian should. But if you can’t afford a grand church wedding, God will not be angry at registry wedding. A wedding can take place in a Pastor’s office, or even during a segment of a church service.
Though some churches claim Christians can’t date, they can only court, the truth however is that there’s nothing “Christian” about courtship. It’s a societal convention. Joseph and Mary were “betrothed” according to Jewish custom, not according to church regulation. It was cultural. There was no Christianity before Jesus was born. Engagement is societal convention. Even honeymoon is societal convention. The word is not in scriptures. According to an old French custom, a couple drank a brew called metheglin as the moon went through its phases. Metheglin was made from honey. That’s how we got the word “honeymoon.”
By that same token, dating is nothing but a social convention. If the Church must reject dating, it must reject courtship as well. Both are societal conventions. That’s not saying a young man must turn himself into a Lothario, dating sisters indiscriminately. That goes to the character of the young man rather than the subject of dating. One must separate the two. You can’t use the abuse of someone to define a social convention, any more than you can ban shoes because someone kicked someone while wearing shoes. It’s important we intelligently dissect issues. The Bible says God wants us to use our intelligence: “God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can.” (I Corinthians 12:1-3 MSG) [And I hope that passage speaks to those who think that intellect is anti Spirit of God].
The purpose of dating is for the young man and woman to get to know each other in less formal setting in consideration of commitment. Unguarded moments bring out suppressed information. The alternative to dating is reliance on third party testimony, or to commit to marrying someone you hardly know! Both are dangerous alternatives. Is he a stingy man, is she culturally exposed, is he intelligent, would we be able to hold conversation, is he really a Christian, is she hygienic, are we suited to each other, does he have social grace, what about her parents, is he just interested in me for sex, what are his views on money, is he devoted to Christ, how many children does he want, does he have a good job, what are his plans for the future, is he kind, is she empathetic, does he respect women, will he respect my parents, does he believe in valentine… These and many such questions can only find answers in one-on-one encounters in social settings. Dating is an information and intelligence gathering scheme, as well as a comfort development programme. The data collected will inform a marriage decision.
Dating doesn’t imply sexual activity. Neither does it imply indiscipline, or indiscriminate lust. These don’t have anything to do with the concept of dating, they are personal modifications. Whether we call it boyfriend/girlfriend relationship or not, it’s what it is. It’s all semantics. If two people who obviously like each other, and have marriage in mind meet to chat over a meal or a bottle of Coke, or they go to the movies together, it’s a date whether we call it that or not. We seem to want to deny rites of passage to our young adults. There’s nothing wrong with falling in love. It’s why God included the Song of Songs in the Bible. God is not against romance. And we’re going to run into lexical challenge with our modified sociology. If the young people are not boyfriend/girlfriend, are they engagee/engagor?
To restrict social interaction between young people to church settings is to set them up for surprises in marriage. That he’s a good usher is not a qualification for husband. That she’s a good singer is no qualification for wife either. There’s nothing as horrible as being trapped in a marriage with the wrong person. But how would they know each other if they don’t date each other? How would they find out those “little” big things? There’s a reason God gave us a brain, two ears and two eyes.
If you will like to give your life to Christ, please pray this prayer: Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.
If you have any questions you can write me. Just mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be glad to answer your questions.