Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of Kalamazoo Protestant Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The safest place for young people to date is within the confines of their own church or denomination. Who can deny that? When looking for a book, we search in a bookstore. When searching for a loaf of bread, we look in a store that sells groceries. When looking for a life’s mate, we look in the sphere of our own denomination. That is where we will find believers, and that is where we will find people of like faith with us.
We have already concluded in the last article that it is not a sin to date someone outside the sphere of one’s own denomination. God’s covenant and church are not limited to one denomination of churches. God has His people in churches that may differ from us doctrinally. We did find, however, that there are some serious concerns which must be resolved before we marry someone of a different religious background. The safest place to search for a life’s mate, therefore, is within the same church or denomination of churches of which we are members.
I can anticipate the objection that will be leveled against such a statement. “This guy is living with his head in the clouds! He must have lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan his whole life and never gotten out into the real world! There may be a large nucleus of people with the same faith (PRC) as he in that area, but it is not like that everywhere. My children and I come from a small, isolated church in which there are very few young men and women, and most of these are relatives. To limit dating to the sphere of our own church is simply not realistic.” This is a serious and legitimate concern. Neither may it be ignored. We certainly understand the difficulty that this presents to covenant parents and children alike.
Remember, however, we made the statement that the safest place to look is in one’s own denomination of churches. We did not say it is the only place to look. That has already been established. But there is something more that should be considered by parents who are called by God to live and raise children in a place where the church is small and isolated. Parents ought, whenever it is feasible, to encourage their sons and daughters to attend functions of their denomination which promote fellowship with others of like faith. I realize that this is not always possible to do. Neither do I wish to oversimplify a difficult dilemma. But parents themselves, with their children, ought to exert themselves to maintain contact with as many others of like faith as possible.
The objection that there are few or no people of like faith available for dating where we live does notchange the fact that the safest place to find a life’s mate is in the sphere of one’s own denomination of churches. This is true no matter what denomination it is to which we belong. If I am convinced that my church teaches the truth and that I want a wife or husband who agrees with me in that truth, then I look in my own church. It is simple wisdom. It is a matter of common sense. Those who do otherwise in the long run only hurt themselves.
But that is not the end of the matter. There is another principle of Scripture that enters in at this point. We read in Romans 9:6-8, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel…. They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Not every member of a church institute, even if that institute is pure in doctrine, is a believing child of God. There are those who are born in the church, or who join it from the outside, who are not elect. The decree of election and reprobation cuts through the heart of the church. There are tares in the wheat field. Sometimes there can be many tares, depending on the spiritual condition of the denomination. Just as it is rash to assume that every child born into the church is an elect, so also is it rash to assume when looking for a husband or wife in the church that everyone in it is an elect.
There are those who will testify that this was the simple assumption they made when they courted. After they married, however, they found out that such an assumption was a mistake! When looking for a wife or a husband, the believer must be careful even in his own churches — no matter how doctrinally faithful those churches may be! I do not disparage dating within the sphere of the church and covenant when I say this. That is certainly where it belongs! But we must realize the seriousness of finding the proper mate. Our husband or wife is someone with whom we are going to spend a lifetime, for better or for worse. Do not we desire a husband on whom we can rely entirely from a spiritual point of view? Do not we want a wife whom we can trust in the home with our children when we are away at work? Well, that means we must always be selective, even when looking for a husband or wife in the church!
That raises some practical, concrete questions. How do I know, how can I be sure, that the one I marry is a child of God who will share with me a lifetime of joy and happiness? I have had young people come and ask me that question because they see the trend of the church world today toward divorce. It frightens them! How can they be sure? The answer is found in this: only by determining that the one we marry is a believer! We may not simply assume this. We have to probe the heart of that person to find what is in him or her.
This may begin already before one decides to date a particular person. Jesus gives some practical advice in this regard in Matthew 7:15-20. In these verses He warns us specifically against false prophets. But certainly we can apply this Word of God to include also all those in the church who make the claim of being believers but are not. Jesus warns us: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit: but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit…. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
Before you ask a young woman out or give consent to a young man, look first at the way he or she lives. You can know them by their works. Do they live a godly life — or a sinful, rebellious life? Surely, if we live with them in the confines of the same church and covenant we know what kind of persons they are! Everyone has a reputation. Is that young man who has asked me out one who boasts to his peers of his exploits with women? Does he enjoy the sinful pleasures of this world? Does he like his drinking and enjoy the theater? Does the horrendous, godless music of this wicked world blast from the windows of his car? Does he use foul language, even going so far as to use God’s name in vain? Is that the kind of guy we want to marry and settle down with for our entire life? If so, we are fools. Okay, so maybe he is guilty of only a couple of the things mentioned. Still, is that the one we want to marry? Obviously, his works show that he is not serious about a sanctified, godly walk. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
Likewise, we are able to discern the heart of a young woman whose works are sinful. She dresses in a wanton manner and flirts with every guy that will cast his eye her way. She too enjoys her drinking and party life. She is seldom home, but always on the fly with her friends. She also uses the language of this world and enjoys its sinful music along with its dance and theater. Is that the type of young woman that a godly young man will look for to spend a lifetime in marriage? Is that the kind of woman who will keep house for me and teach my children spiritually? I would be a fool to date someone like that! Unless, of course, I am just as sinful as she is! Like seeks like, I guess! But those who seek this kind of young person for a date do so only because they enjoy recreational dating. They most often do not take dating seriously!
But the objection may again be raised by some parents: “The church does not have members who do these things. What horrible accusations you raise against young people of the church!” Those parents who raise such accusations had better open their eyes! Surely not all the young men and women of the church are this way. I am not even saying that the majority of the young people are this way. I certainly pray not! But every denomination has young men and women of this nature. And these are not the kind that one who is seriously looking for a husband or wife wants. Young people who live carnally may indeed repent of such sin and turn from it. But so long as they live in this manner we ought not even desire to date them. They are not the type of person with whom the believer wishes to be united for a lifetime.
The matter of proper discernment in dating, however, gets even more complicated than this. There are also young men and women of the church who do lead good outward lives, whose moral life seems exemplary — but who are not necessarily truly believers. They simply are not of a rebellious nature at that point in their life. Yet, they are not motivated by any real conviction. How do we know that we are not dating a person of this sort? Again, do you see how serious a matter dating is? Courtship in the sphere of the covenant is not recreational! It is serious work!
It is important for covenant young men and women to be able to talk with one another about their spiritual life. Again, this ought to begin before they start dating each other. But certainly it is a requirement immediately after they begin dating. When spiritual struggles and goals in life are discussed it will soon become evident to one who is himself a believer whether that person whom they date is also truly a believer. That does not mean they must talk only about the doctrines and practices of the church, but they must share with each other their conviction that they are sinners saved by grace and that solely in the blood of Jesus Christ. This is in the heart of the true believer. This faith will soon enough be detected in their conversation.
Again, I am not saying that every date must involve a discussion of some heavy spiritual subject. A young couple may go out and have a good time. But even when a guy and his girl are having a nice time with each other, they can talk about their spiritual lives. They should. They must. This may not be ignored. Even in the midst of the good times a person’s faith should be evident.
When we discover such faith in a person, then we can be certain that if we are led by God to marry that person, God will indeed bless that union. When we date following the principles of Scripture, God will lead us to a mate who will give us a lifetime of happiness and joy. God does not give us His Word in order to restrict us or to keep us from having a good time. On the contrary, God gives us the guidelines of His Word in order that by following that Word we discover the true joy that can be found in marriage.
May God give us hearts to follow His Word, that we might search for a life’s mate in the way God chooses for us. This will lead to a solid, lasting relationship.