Courtship: Ethical Decisions About Moral Conduct
Foundation Premises of Christian Principles: In the Image of God
Foundation Premises of Christian Principles: Human Beings are Moral Beings
Foundation Premises of Christian Principles: An Accountable Being of Will
Foundation Premises of Christian Principles: The Necessity of Making a Choice
Foundation Premises of Christian Principles: Choice and Obedience
Foundation Premises of Christian Principles: The Total Life
The Bond of Responsibility
Common Concepts of Spiritual Responsibility
Basic Christian Principles: Holiness
Basic Christian Principles: Purity
Basic Christian Principles: Righteousness
Basic Christian Principles: Love
What is Courtship
The Purposes of Courtship
The Critical Age
Basic Decisions in Courtship
Boundaries in Courtship
Lasciviousness and Uncleanness
Courtship and Promiscuous Conduct
Courtship and the Live-in Situation
Courtship and Marriage
Evidences of Successful Courtship
One of the most frightening problems confronting the church and New Testament Christianity in the American society of today is the problem of marriage failure. The spiritual threat it poses for the Lord's church is so significant it cannot be exaggerated. Congregational stability is directly dependent on happy, stable, successful Christian homes. Troubled homes generate unhappy Christians, and unhappy Christians perpetuate troubled homes. Troubled homes, misery-filled husbands and wives drowning in anxiety, and strained or ruptured parent-child relationships are not and never shall be the building blocks of dynamic, involved, spiritually successful congregations. The higher the ratio of troubled marriages in a congregation, the more significant are the number and the magnitude of the problems which affect the congregation internally. Strained relationships in homes inevitably affect the quality of the fellowship of the spirit and of the overall morale of the congregation.
One does not have to talk to many preachers and elders, nor look far in our brotherhood to see the magnitude of the problem of marital failure. Preachers in private conversations with preachers commonly comment, "The greatest problem which the church shall face in the next decade is the problem of divorce." Elders often ask ministers, "Is every congregation as troubled with marriage problems as is this congregation?" Examine the programs of major brotherhood lectureships and see how often lectures dealing with troubled homes, divorce or the need for successful marriage appear. Read brotherhood publications and note how commonly marriage failures in some form are the subject of articles. Examine how varied and, often, how controversial proposed solutions to the problem are.
Ministers and elders are constantly besieged with questions and decisions which will not go away. Do you baptize unscripturally divorced and remarried persons who divorced before knowing the teachings of Jesus? If not, what can you scripturally expect of such people as proper repentance? How do you handle teen-age divorces which result from immature marriages? Is the only solution for very young divorced individuals a lifetime of single existence, an existence which is near impossible to live after tasting the companionship and sexual fulfillment of marriage? What do you do when knowledgeable Christians in clear awareness of the teaching of Scripture divorce and remarry? What do you do with the same couples ten years later when deepening spiritual concerns revive, and they wish to make their souls secure with the Lord? Does homosexual conduct by a mate constitute scriptural grounds for divorce? Do you accept unscripturally married individuals into fellowship as "second class members" who have the right to worship and fellowship, but no right to get involved and bear responsibility? When a divorced-remarried Christian family moves into the community and in seeking to place membership frankly state they had scriptural grounds for their divorce (or divorces), do you accept their statement or do you investigate?
These are not hypothetical questions dealing with hypothetical situations. Elders and ministers confront them too many times every year. In fact, these questions reflect simplified situations not nearly as complex as some real cases. It is relatively easy to develop academic answers to these problems, but those answers often oversimplify the problem. Are there many conscientious elders who actively shepherd the flock who have not experienced the following situation? He sits in a living room counseling two worried, anxious, tearful adults caught up in a divorce problem. He listens to the complexities of their situation as he also hears their children playing in the den. In full awareness of all the academic answers, being both a devout and compassionate person, he silently prays, "Lord, what do we do? Please, Lord, grant us more wisdom and understanding!"
After a considerable amount of study, of preaching, of teaching classes and of marriage counseling, I have come to two conclusions. If the church has any hope of dealing effectively with this frightening, threatening, rapidly growing problem, two things must change. First, we must redefine a successful marriage. A successful marriage is NOT a marriage that merely evades the divorce court. Elders and ministers have not succeeded in their responsibility when they merely convince Christians they have no right to divorce and families agree to stay together regardless of how miserable they are. Successful marriage is a marriage with a happy husband and wife, a stable relationship, a joy in the oneness God created in marriage, and a love and respect which fulfills the marital needs of both husband and wife. Anything less than this is marital failure whether or not it ever ends up in a divorce court. We need to take the lead in teaching people how to build happy homes of mutual fulfillment. We need to stop trying to content ourselves by considering undivorced misery as a success for the Lord.
Second, we must concentrate more on preventing unhappy homes from forming rather than focusing all our effort in trying to correct existing problem. It frightens me to realize if we found every scriptural answer to every marriage and divorce problem in our society today this still would not do one thing toward preventing those problems from arising. The great question which throbs in the minds of elders and ministers is, "How are we going to handle these problems?" Yes, the problems must be handled. Yet, if the question, "How can we prevent these problems from occurring?" does not also begin to throb, the problems will only multiply no matter how hard we work or how many cases we successfully resolve.
The first important key in preventing marital failure is found in teaching responsible courtship. Louise Montague, author of The Divorcee's Handbook and What Every Formerly Married Woman Should Know, stated in the READER'S DIGEST article, "Straight Talk About the Living-Together Arrangement," (April, 1977, pp 91-94) that one answer to the soaring divorce rate is preventive thinking. "The time to face many of the problems of divorce is before marriage." The majority of significant marriage problems which exist in all troubled marriages can be easily traced to ignorant or irresponsible courtship. The quality of Christian marriages of today cannot and will not be significantly improved unless the quality of Christian courtship is improved. Over 20 years of preaching and nine years of working with university students on state campuses have made me acutely aware of the essential link between responsible courtship and successful marriage. It is because I see and feel the critical need to prevent unhappy marriages, and because I see a real relationship between responsible courtship and successful marriage that I am moved to write this book. This book is not the result of academic research only. It is also the result of counseling troubled marriages.
This book is written intentionally on a level which will require serious study and thought of senior high school and college age students. It is my aim to set the whole question of courtship in the total context of Christian responsibility. I shall also treat the sexual decisions and problems of courtship frankly and without apology. To do otherwise is to turn our heads foolishly from some real, critical issues which trouble many of our young people. It seems foolish and blind for us to allow our children to listen without restriction to all the secular songs which speak frankly and lewdly about sexual relationships, to watch the sexually explicit television programs and movies of today, and to read the magazines and books which describe or portray sexual activities in the bluntest terms, and then suddenly decide spiritual straight talk about sexual realities is out of place. I have no desire to be crude, but I have every desire to be understood.
The following is written in the genuine hope that it is worthy of study and is suitable for private reading or class discussion. Passages unless otherwise noted are taken from the American Standard Version. Primary sources for reference to Greek words are Theological Dictionary of the New Testament edited by Gerhard Friedrich and translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, and New Testament Words by William Barclay.
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