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

Dating, or courtship, is a serious matter! It is not a popularity contest to see how many girls or guys one can go out with. It is not a game to see how far one can go sexually without going all the way. Neither is it a means which one uses simply to have fun with a person (believer or unbeliever) without any commitments or responsibilities. Dating is not a game! On the contrary, dating is courtship. It is a means which a person uses prayerfully to seek out a spouse. It is to be used by a man and woman solely for the purpose of ascertaining whether God has intended them to spend a lifetime together in marriage. That is the godly goal of dating or courtship.

If this is truly the purpose or goal of dating, however, then it carries with it some very practical implications for our dating life. These we consider in this and the next couple of articles. As we do, keep in mind that we are not using the standard that is set for us by the wicked society in which we live. We do not follow after the example or the advice unbelievers give us in this area of our lives. We are Christians—followers of Christ. We therefore follow the norm of Scripture. We are believers whose dating life is governed by the covenant which God has established with us. The bond of friendship God establishes with His people in Christ has much to say about dating. How so? Consider the following.

A man must search out a wife

God’s covenant relationship with His people has much to say about who takes the lead in dating. We have already learned in previous articles that the covenant relationship which God establishes with His church is described in Scripture as a marriage relationship (e.g., Is. 62:4, 5). We need not demonstrate that again. The question we wish to consider is: who sought out whom in this relationship? Did the church, the bride, seek out God or Christ, the bridegroom? Or did God search out His bride in this world?

The answer is clear from Scripture: God seeks and saves His church! This is firmly established in eternity already in the counsel of God. God who is the eternal One, in order to bring glory to His name, determined to share His fellowship with the creature outside of Himself. To accomplish this goal God elected Christ as the firstborn among His people (Col. 1:15-17). Only upon this election of Christ follows the election of the church (Col. 1:18). In eternity already, therefore, we find the bridegroom (God) choosing unto Himself in Christ His bride (the church).

But what is firmly rooted in eternity is even more clearly revealed in time. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, this affected the entire human race, including God’s elect. “… for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9). When God looks down from heaven to assess the children of men, to see if there are any that understand and seek Him (Ps. 14), this is what He finds: “there is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:10, 11). This is true of God’s elect, too, prior to salvation. We are children of wrath even as others. But God seeks out His people in this world. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The divine Bridegroom seeks His wife. This is described most beautifully in Ezekiel 16. It is profitable to read the entire passage, but a quotation of verses 4-8 here will suffice.

And as for thy nativity, in the day that thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the loathing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee in thine own blood, I said unto thee, Live. I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare. Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine.

This is the divine example we are given in Scripture.

This example must govern us in our dating life: the man is called by God to seek a wife. Already in this approach to courtship we find an all-important principle being established which later will be exercised in marriage itself. The husband is called to exercise headship in his marriage. Contrary to the cry of alarm sounded by the feminists, this is not chauvinistic! It is proper! And it is only logical too! If the man is going to assume headship in his home as Scripture commands him to do, then that headship is not something turned on like a light-switch on the day of his marriage. It is exercised from the very start. It begins with a man searching out a wife and continues on into the dating relationship and finally into marriage itself.

This role of the man seeking a wife is also scriptural. We need only look at the examples of godly men of old. Abraham sent a servant to Haran to find a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24). The opposite was not true: Rebekah did not come seeking Isaac. Jacob too was charged by Isaac with these words, “Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padanaram to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother” (Gen. 28:1, 2). Prior to the Flood we also read of “the sons of God” taking the lead in seeking to themselves wives. We read in Genesis 6:1, 2: “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and took them wives of all which they chose.” The sons of the church sinned, of course, by marrying ungodly wives—but not by taking the lead in seeking out wives for themselves.

Other passages of Scripture simply assume that it is the man who seeks and finds for himself a wife. Proverbs 18:22: “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing and obtaineth favor of the Lord.” Proverbs 31:10: “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” Proverbs 18:19: “There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: the way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent on a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.”

This is the knowledge God’s Word gives to us about a man’s role in dating. But knowledge is not wisdom. We can know what God’s Word says, yet not be very wise in God’s Word. Spiritual wisdom is the ability to put the knowledge we have of God’s Word into effect practically in our lives. It is also the ability to discern what might dictate against God’s Word in a small but subtle way. We say this because there has definitely been worldly influence on us in this whole area of dating. We do not always detect this because Satan is pretty shrewd when dealing with the church. Yet, there is something appealing to us too about that free, independent woman. The world makes her look so glamorous. 

The sinful trends of feminism today are glaring! Feminists make their voices heard in politics and in society. We cringe when we hear of their agenda! But the views of feminists have made their way also into the media. Their doctrine of the supremacy (not equality) of the female gender creeps into the novels, magazines, and movies of today. And far too many of us sinfully enjoy reading about it and watching it. Yet, we assure ourselves, all of that is “out there” in the wicked world and we personally would not care to follow in this way. We are not affected by the feminist propaganda that pervades society. Are we sure about that?

Many churches today which at one time were solidly rooted in the Reformed truths of Scripture have come under the horrible influence of feminist thought. Women in church office and the career woman who gives her own children into the hands of day-care are just a couple of evidences of the horrible influences of feminism on the church. No wonder we witness so much divorce and remarriage in the church! Husbands and wives cohabit the same house, but do not care to depend on each other financially and emotionally. They live together but develop little interdependence. Yet, we contend, these things have not affected us as they have others. Maybe not to that degree as yet—of that we can be grateful. But do not forget how shrewd Satan is! Do not forget to be wise so that you are able to discern what his subtle attacks are on us! Feminism slowly but surely filters into the church. It trickles into the church in little, almost imperceptible, streams.

Who takes the lead in asking another out on a date? The young man, of course! Does he do that during “twerp week” too? “Come on! Don’t be such a kill-joy! This is only done in fun!” Is dating ever supposed to be a game? Do we switch gender roles in courtship in order to make it fun? Are we as adults teaching our children wisdom and discretion in dating with such a frivolous practice?

Who calls whom when seriously desirous of finding a life’s mate? The young man, of course! Are we teaching our children this when we allow our daughters (sometimes when they are thirteen or fourteen already!) to call young men on the phone to lay the “subtle” hint that they really like him and want to “go with” him? “Now you are going too far! We may not discourage our children by placing handcuffs on them in this whole area of their young lives. We did it when we were young and we turned out all right.” We ought to ask ourselves a serious question in this connection. What are we teaching our children when we allow them to do this? Are we teaching them that courtship is an aspect of life which a person must always take seriously? If so, then parents must teach their children that there are certain rules in dating. We must not simply allow our children to follow after the standards set by our godless society. We must teach our children correct behavior in dating. That means we must instruct our sons to be willing to exert headship and our daughters to be adorned with a “meek and a quiet” spirit.

These, of course, are only a couple of examples. They may seem to be of little consequence. And maybe that is true. But then, they are only examples. It is not the intention of this article to call attention to particulars. They are mentioned only in order to stimulate our thinking about the significance of dating. Dating will set the course for one’s whole future life in marriage. It is a serious matter when young men and women of the covenant and church of Christ date one another. If there is one thing Scripture is clear on it is this: every aspect of courting and marriage is of weighty significance. And, yes, that begins already in the matter of directing our young men to do the searching, and our young women to wait patiently on God to bring to them a man of His choosing.

Parents must exercise wisdom while guiding their children to establish a good marriage and family. The divorce rate even in the church is on the rise. Can we stem the tide? Scripture teaches what the calling of a young man and woman is in seeking a mate. God’s covenant with His church lays a valuable foundation for us in this matter. A lifelong commitment in marriage is greatly assisted by following this Word of God. We know what God’s Word tells us. But it is only the wise person who will take this Word in hand and put it to practical use in his life. May God give such wisdom to parents whose children are of age to date. 

May God give wisdom to young men and women in the church to use His Word to guide them in this important matter of dating. May we be bold to stand against the pressures of the wicked world and society in which we live. God give us wisdom.