Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of Kalamazoo Protestant Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Dating in the Church – 1

When a person dates, he must seriously look for a life’s mate. That fact has already been established. Dating is not in itself a form of recreation. It is a serious matter. For that reason, never may a young person of the covenant date an unbeliever. The Bible is clear: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” This we established in the last article we wrote concerning courtship. Dating someone who is not a professing believer and who shows no interest in God’s kingdom is expressly forbidden. The rule of Scripture is: dating must be carried on within the sphere of the church and covenant.

But that raises another question of more immediate concern: may I date a person who is not a member of my own church or denomination? May I date a young man or woman who may not believe exactly the way I do, yet professes his or her love for Christ and His cause in this world? To many this question has an easy answer: “Of course I may!” Most parents in the church world today do not have a problem with their children marrying and going to a denomination other than their own. This careless attitude arises out of a lack of spiritual conviction and an ignorance of what it means to be a member of a church institute. In fact, carried through to its logical end, this attitude will result in the cutting off of the covenant in the line of one’s generations. Children and children’s children will be lost to the myriads of churches that have turned from the truth and entertain the lie.

To one who takes seriously what he believes and what is taught in the churches of which he is a member, the question of dating outside of his own church is difficult to answer. We emphatically believe that God’s church and covenant is not limited to one denomination of churches. Likewise, we believe that God has His people in churches that differ from us doctrinally. Believers are not limited to one denomination of churches. If this is true, then certainly it is not necessarily wrong for a young person to date or even marry another believer who comes from a denomination or church other than his own.

There are a number of serious considerations, however, that one must bear in mind when it comes to dating outside the sphere of his own churches.

In the first place, there are many denominations in our world and society that call themselves Christian. Yet, many of these denominations and those in them maintain doctrines and practices that are far from the truth expressed objectively in the Bible. They say they believe in God! They say they believe in Jesus Christ! But what they believe of God and Christ is very different from what the Bible teaches. Just because one says he is a Christian, therefore, does not make him a true follower of the Christ of the Scriptures. There are those who zealously follow after false doctrines which deny the God and Christ of the Scriptures. They are truly sincere in what they believe! In fact, sometimes their enthusiasm puts us to shame! But zeal for a certain cause or position does not make a person a true Christian. The truth is that a person can be sincerely wrong! Consider how zealously wrong the Jews were (Rom. 10:2)!

That we come in contact with all kinds of people that call themselves Christian is a given. We are in this world. God has placed us here to carry on our life. Just as we often at work or in our recreation meet people who are unbelievers, so also we meet and speak with people who bear the name Christian. And it is not really all that difficult to discover where a person stands spiritually. When we converse with others we find out quickly where they stand on many different issues and doctrines. If they are filled with zeal over a false Christianity, this will reveal itself in the topics of their conversation. We also can soon tell what type of a life-style people live simply by talking with them. It they live for the pleasures of this present world, this will become clear in what they want to talk about.

The point is that we are able to discover this about people before we date them. We need not date them to learn what their life and faith consist in. And the rule we ought to follow is this: we may not date for fun (because dating is not recreational) those who, although claiming to be Christian, nevertheless oppose in their doctrine and walk of life the God and Christ of the Bible! We will find in the next article that this is true within the sphere of one’s own denomination too; and if it holds true there, it certainly holds true of those outside of one’s denomination! In the realm of Christianity, where the false church swells in size and the true church dwindles, we must not assume that we may date just anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian. Rather, we must exercise consciously the command of I John 4:1, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God,” before dating even someone who calls himself a Christian.

This is not, however, the only warning that needs to be issued at this point. People are members of a particular church or denomination because they are convinced of the doctrines that are taught there. Believing children of God take seriously what the Bible teaches — or at least they should! When they make confession of faith in their own church, then they vow before God and the church that they acknowledge the doctrines taught in their particular church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation. That means that young people who make confession of their faith in another denomination are committed to the doctrines of their churches as much as we are to ours. That is the only conclusion we may reach.

But that in turn means that, though perhaps we may not question the sincerity of others, nevertheless the content of their faith is different! Each one of them is convicted of doctrines that the other simply does not believe are true! The natural tendency at this point is to say, “Well, these doctrinal differences really do not matter to us. We are both believers. That is what counts! We will solve these differences later on, after we have fallen in love or are married.” Wrong! We must realize that what a person believes is not simply going to be cast aside, even for the love of another. These are matters of the heart, after all! We believe them! We are convicted of them! And though it may seem as if they really make little difference when we are in love, they do! And they will! We might close our eyes to them at first because we are attracted to a person, but later on in our relationship those differences will and must come out! Do you honestly think that you can expect anyone simply to throw away what he believes because you have married him? You would not, would you? Why should he, then?

We might argue that marriage does not really rely on doctrinal agreement. We ask the question the prophet Amos raises: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Marriage is an intimate bond into which two people enter. They are united in one flesh. They must walk through life together. What joy and happiness when they can do this in perfect agreement with one another! What heartache and pain when doctrinal differences stand in the way of doing that! The foundation of a happy marriage is spiritual agreement. When that is not there, the marriage is threatened. It may be true that, because both husband and wife are believers, they agree that divorce is wrong. Yet, because their spiritual differences stand in the way, they are never really able to attain to the fullest joy that is a part of marriage.

Remember, Christian young people must not rest content simply to get married. Their interest must lie in establishing a solid, unshakable bond that will give them a lifetime of happiness in the Lord. To attain this they must be one in faith and confession.

If only covenant young men and women would consider all of this before they begin dating outside the church where they are members! Instead, far too many view dating as fun — recreation. Nothing serious will develop out of it. Parents in ignorance permit it too, with the same thought in mind: “We will let you date him or her as long as you don’t get too serious!” How often it happens: suddenly the relationship becomes serious, and the young man and woman have not even discussed their faith with each other. An engagement ring appears, and now the work begins to change one another. Sometimes God is gracious and He brings unity where it is not deserved. We thank Him for that! Most often the differences are not resolved. Then what? There are only three choices: break off the relationship, go ahead and get married anyway and hope for the best, or compromise. Actually, the only right choice is to break off the relationship, but who is going to do that when he is in love? A few perhaps. Most do not. They then enter into a marriage that is destined for contention and strife, or that is unstable because of compromise.

Does all this mean that it is not right for one to date outside of his denomination of churches? Not at all! We have already established the fact that God has His people in other churches too. But all this does serve to warn us. When a young person chooses to date someone outside the sphere of his own churches it is urgent that he speak with that person openly and freely about her faith — and that he do so immediately! All spiritual differences ought to be solved before they come to love each other!

We understand what that means, of course. It requires that we know what we believe — before dating a believer outside of our own denomination. We ought to be mature believers. Parents, too, ought to exercise their authority in this regard. If our children are not ready to make confession of faith, do we think that they will be capable of making proper spiritual decisions when it comes to dating outside the sphere of their own churches? Wisdom and discretion are needed to do this. These come only with spiritual maturity.

We are beginning to find that courtship within the sphere of the covenant is not a frivolous part of life that anyone ought to enter lightly. Parents must train their children, while those children are still young, in the principles that will guide them when they come to the age of dating. One principle is, “what part hath he that believeth with an unbeliever (infidel)” (II Cor. 6:15). Courtship within the covenant excludes dating those who do not profess to be Christian. That is one principle. The second is, when dating in the sphere of the church at large (or, as we will find, even within one’s own denomination), “Try the spirits whether they are of God” (I John 4:1). Do not be content with mere Christian profession. And the third principle is, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Doctrinal agreement must be found before learning to love one another. In our next article we will add yet another principle.

These must be taught by parents, but our covenant youth must also have the wisdom to live according to them when they look for a life’s mate. This will determine for them the future joy and strength of their marriage.