Saturday, September 4, 2010

I Kissed Courtship Goodbye

While I don't espouse the theory of evolution when it comes to origins, I must admit that "evolving" is the best word I can find to explain my understanding of marriage and the process used when a man takes a woman to wife. And honestly, I hope I'm close to arriving at some sort of truth on the matter, because the journey has been painful and exhausting. It is my sincerest hope that my youngest children will be able to have a simple and joyful understanding of this long before they are ready to use it and that it will be substantially unchanged throughout their lives and the lives of their children. In other words, I hope it will be something that transcends cultural practice and becomes a part of their biblical worldview.

This blog post cannot even begin to operate as some sort of tutorial on the subject. It will be more like a brief summation of where I'm at right now, with some glimpses into where I've been. I once purchased a book covering the topic of children in the worship service. I bought it because I desired for my own children to remain with me during the service and I was having a disagreement about it with the pastor. While I understood my reasoning, I'd hoped the book would offer some more scriptural backing for my position. As it turned out, the book contained many more reasons for keeping children in worship than I could even understand, and most of those reasons were based upon covenant theology. The problem was, it was a small book and it was presuming the reader already had a basic understanding of covenant theology, which I did not.

And so it is with betrothal. Without a truly biblical understanding of betrothal and how God went about choosing a bride for His Son, much of what I'm going to say about betrothal for us humans will seem foreign. At the same time, rejecting betrothal as being God designed, and failing to study it in the Bible results in bad theology, primarily the rejecting of reformed theology. (Loosely defined by the 5 main points outlined by Calvin.) In modern marriage we have the woman choosing the man as much as the man chooses the woman and so modern theology teaches that man chooses God as much as God chooses man. And we wonder why our churches and families are in shambles.

Let's look for a minute at modern coupling, starting with dating. Dating is a recreational activity, started as young as age 12. Assuming 12 year-olds are not looking for life partners, there can be no other purpose in dating for those not yet ready to marry. Of course, it turns out that dating is actually good preparation for modern marriage, which could be described as "serial monogamy." Dating consists of two people getting to know each other until they know enough to realize that they don't really like each other. Or until someone better comes along for one of the parties. This goes on, swapping one partner for another until getting to a partner who, after a reasonable amount of time, doesn't make a person want to puke, so he/she marries him/her. Or some people just go on dating different people because they enjoy the recreation and lack of commitment and never choose to marry at all.

Many in the Christian community have rejected dating as a means to finding a spouse and have substituted in its place "courtship". Like dating, courtship consists of a man and a woman spending time together for the purpose of getting to know one another, and, if it works out right, they get married. I have heard it said that the express purpose of a courtship relationship is marriage rather than just having fun. But, like dating, courtship can end at any time with either party declaring that they don't think the other is "the one God has for me." In other words, just like dating, they break up and move on to someone else. To me it seems exactly the same as dating with all the same pitfalls and dangers. The ONLY difference is that the parents of the man and woman are supposed to be guiding the couple and the couple is supposed to be avoiding hanky panky and keeping themselves "pure".

Both dating and courtship make the same fundamental mistake in relying on emotions and feelings to be the main determining factor in marriage. In other words, even if the couple are an otherwise perfect match, if she doesn't "like" him, there will be no marriage. And for some reason, whether or not she likes him can only be determined by her spending lots of time with him? As if we tend to like people more after we have spent lots and lots of time with them? Generally the opposite is true, people that we liked very much at first tend to lose their shine when we really get to know them.

Besides, if spending time together is the best way to know whether a couple will be compatible in marriage, then why not just shack up? Then each can be absolutely certain that the other isn't concealing anything. If you say that shacking up is off limits for Christians, then where should the arbitrary line be drawn? Is it ok to be alone together? To hold hands? To kiss? To be affectionate and talk mushy? How can it be determined that they know each other well enough to make a decision?

I can already hear the questions now. "But, but, but, if they don't get to know each other, then how can they decide whether they should marry?" That is the wrong question. The question should be, "How do we know if a couple should marry?" Should it be based at all on "getting to know each other"? I think not. At least not in the personality, do I like him, sort of way. Instead, let the father discover for himself whether the man is qualified to be a husband to his daughter. The man looking for a wife should have a pretty good idea that this young lady will work for him before he ever approaches her father, and a few pointed questions to the father can probably clear up any ambiguities.

And the young lady, what part does she play in this? Not much. The father comes to her and says, "So and so wants to marry you. I think he would be a good husband for you. What do you say?" She says either "yes" or "no". If she agrees, the father enters into a betrothal agreement with the man, which includes a recitation of the bride price, which goes to the bride whether they marry or not.

A transition to this system as "normal" will be difficult. It will require teaching our children from infancy that Daddy will take care of getting a husband for the girls and that the boys must not ever speak with a woman about marriage, but are to restrict themselves to speaking ONLY with the father of a women whom they are ready to marry. Maybe I'll even evolve to the point that the man's father should pick out a prospective bride for his son, too.


Folky Dots....Treasures for the Sweetest People said...

Reading this made me think of the Pearls. I listened to a tape Mike did on children getting married etc. It was really good.
Debi tells the story of a young woman who had cared for one boy and her parents said they didn't think he was the one. She put her feelings for this boy down (which she should have) and went with the boy her parents wanted for her. He was a pervert. She wrote to Debi wanting to know why God had done this to her. Debi told her that God didn't do it to her, her parents did.

Some daughters (I'm thinking of Autumn here) have a deep desire to please their parents. While Felipe thinks Jason is a good man and would be a good husband for Autumn we have been careful to assure her that she does not have to accept him just because we think so. She is the type that would override her own thoughts and discernment because she trusts her dads discernment over her own.

There will have to be powerful love and teaching in your home to overcome the worlds way and even the churches way of marriage and make betrothal "normal" to your children. I think you and your husband can do it!

subject by design said...

Folky Dots said, "she trusts her dads discernment over her own"

And why should she not? Her father is wiser and more experienced. I think this is a good thing. :D

It's hard to imagine a father who goes through so much trouble to buck the world's system who would then pick a pervert for his daughter. I wonder what more there is to that story that the woman didn't share with Debi? But I don't know the facts, of course. Perhaps her dad was just wicked. That may happen, but it doesn't describe my husband or yours, or any of the men I know who want to be involved in finding husbands for their daughters.

Folky Dots....Treasures for the Sweetest People said...

I may have come off wrong. I do think it is a good thing, a wonderful thing that shes trusts her dads judgment over her own. The point I was wanting to make is that we want her to know she can reject a suitor if she doesn't like him. I don't think I agree with forcing someone to marry a person who they do not like.

I think we can raise our daughters to be critical and discerning. (critical in a good way)They can often pick up or point out things we missed. I would not want to make my daughter feel pushed into marrying someone that she had reservations about no matter how good of a young man her father thought he was. I want her to have the freedom to voice her concerns.

subject by design said...

I agree completely. I think if a woman doesn't like a guy, doesn't like being around him, or even if he has a hideous laugh that makes her skin crawl, it would be foolish to recommend a marriage be started with such hurdles to overcome. While I'm not morally opposed to totally arranged marriages between strangers who have never met, there is no practical reason for us to practice such a thing. We all know enough godly men that our daughters should be able to find at least one of them to be tolerably pleasant enough to be excited about the prospect of being married by him. And more than likely we can find one that she will "like" very much.

I don't believe it takes very much time for a young lady to discover that he "isn't for her" however. And a compassionate woman would surely endeavor to discover it quickly for the sake of all involved. :D

I think your daughter sounds like the type that will be greatly missed even while you rejoice when she is taken away in marriage.