There’s been so much talk about courtship and dating lately. What’s the difference between dating and courtship? Should we court? How long should courtship be? What should we do during courtship?
WHAT IS COURTSHIP?
It is best to first find out what courtship is. Courtship is a relationship entered into by a man and a woman to ascertain if the two people can go into marriage. During this period, the two persons will get to know each other, study each other, and will see if they can go into a marriage relationship. If after the courtship period, one or both parties decide not to go into marriage for any reason, the relationship will end without ceremony or obligation. But if after the courtship period, they agree that they both can go into marriage. A marriage proposal will be made and the two shall be engaged. Often a wedding date is fixed at the engagement.
IS IT BIBLICAL?
Courtship is not a biblical practice. It was invented by unbelievers. The first record of courtship is in 1708 and it was initiated by magistrate who wanted to protect his daughter. A young man had approached his daughter for marriage. He found that that man had proposed marriage to three other women in the past and disappointed them. The father, being highly respected in society, did not want such a thing to happen to his daughter, so he wrote a letter to the man’s father demanding that their children enter into a courtship period where he (father of the lady) would study the suitor. He indicated some behavioural conditions that the suitor must meet. After the courtship period, if the magistrate was satisfied, he would then approve the marriage proposal and the two can get married. This happened in the West.
Note that at the time in the Western societies, the practice was for the father of the man to go straight into making a marriage proposal to the father of the girl his son wanted to marry. Also note that it was a father-to-father discussion. Also note that in this first recorded case of courtship, the person doing the studying was the father of the lady and that the families used to look into the background of the suitor before they approve the proposal. (Does this sound like a practice Africans know of?)
Courtship was invented by this man. He was not a pastor. He did not claim that God sent him. He used his own wisdom to protect his daughter from being hurt. He did not use any bible verse to support his idea.
THE SPREAD AND EFFECTS OF COURTSHIP
After decades, the practice evolved and became widespread.
Over time, parental involvement in marriage in these societies reduced and people began to enter into courtship by themselves. As parental involvement reduced, the institution of courtship went haywire, ladies began to experience heartbreak. Men would go into courtship with ladies, after the courtship period they would change their minds and dump the ladies. A lady who has been through this would experience heartbreak and another man would come around, and the cycle of pain would continue. Marriage began to be delayed and some men became serial suitors and some women even decided to remain spinsters all their lives.
After some time, the courtship arrangement became so relaxed that people just enter into relationships without the mention of marriage. That’s how the whole boyfriend and girlfriend – “in a relationship” - thing came about in Western societies. After a while, the whole thing was even watered down to dating. Where a man can ask a lady out without any kind of commitment whatsoever, they can date or say they are dating. After dating for some time, they can take it to the next level, and enter into a relationship. After the relationship, they can take it to the next level, which now a days is even called “dating exclusively”. After that, they can take it to the next level, co-habitation. After that, they can take it to the next level which could be having children out of wedlock, entering into civil partnership and it keeps going on. We all know that the whole thing is a mess.
HOW COURTSHIP ENTERED THE CHURCH
In 1976, somebody took this worldly practice into the church. He created a doctrine which he called Christian courtship. He defined courtship as follows, “Courtship is experiencing the blessing of God by loving the Lord Jesus Christ and honoring both sets of parents. The purpose of courtship is to determine a couple’s readiness for marriage and to discern the will of God for a covenant marriage that will benefit the world. While the actual manifestation of a courtship relationship will vary because no two couples are alike, one of the primary motivations behind courtship (as opposed to dating) is the protection of the emotions of those involved until the time when it is clearly God’s will to proceed into marriage.”
He did not provide any Biblical reference to support the practice of courtship because there is none. Frankly, the whole doctrine amounts to boyfriend/girlfriend relationships in the church. Nobody is committed to anybody. People can walk away at anytime without hard feelings.
He introduced the notion of “God’s will” which has confused so many till today. He created the current lists/dos and don’ts of Christian courtship. Some of the common statements like “better to have a broken courtship than a broken marriage” came from him. He even taught that a broken courtship can be considered a successful one if certain conditions are met. He introduced the “qualifications to get married” which are still being echoed today. He began the wrong teaching that Mary and Joseph (parents of Jesus Christ) were in courtship. They were never in courtship. They were married when Mary was found with child.
EFFECTS OF THE COURTSHIP DOCTRINE IN THE CHURCH
This teaching is not inspired by any sound doctrine and before this teaching came, Christian in the West used to marry very early and stay married all their lives. In fact, the people of the world used to mock Christian for marrying early and marrying as virgins to the first person they fell in love with. Back then, if two young Christian were found to be fornicating, their parents would fix a wedding date and marry them. Talk less of pre-marital pregnancy; their parents would be so horrified that the couple would be married immediately!
It may be important to note that this was the same practice in African societies. Once a young lady was pregnant and she identified who was responsible, the man’s family would immediately pay her bride price and take her home. Even if the man said he doesn't want her, it doesn’t make a difference. They would ask him rhetorically, if he didn't want her, why did he get her pregnant? It’s too late for him, they have married her and she belongs in the family.
This strange teaching on “Christian courtship” came to Nigeria in the 80s and by the mid 80s it became very popular, along with it came strife and tension in marriages in Nigeria. In the 90s it was made even more popular by a female TV preacher. Delayed marriage began, people began to find it difficult to get married, making a choice became difficult, single parenthood became common, and divorce rates shot up. A simple institution, beautiful and pure as marriage it, became complex and difficult. People who have come of age will hear this teaching and begin to think they are not “ready” to get married.
HOW DID IT WORK OUT FOR THE ORIGINATOR OF THE TEACHING
It may interest us to know that the originator of this teaching is 76 years going on 77 and he is still single. He has never been married. It is important to find out the root of any teaching we hear.
EFFECTS OF COURTSHIP IN THE AFRICAN SOCIETIES
Before this courtship started in Africa young ladies and young men come of age and get married. Young ladies only receive suitors, not boyfriends or people who want to study them. In fact a young lady found to be talking to a young man anywhere would be severely punished at home. A young man’s parents would approach a young lady’s parents and begin marriage talk without dating or courtship.
Young ladies used to receive multiple marriage proposals from which they and their family would choose. When the marriage proposal was accepted by way of a ceremony (called introduction today) everybody would know that the young lady has been spoken for. Marriage preparations would begin. The young man would be trained on how to be a husband. The young lady would be trained on how to be a wife. And everybody got married early. Divorce rate was less than 1% and even in such cases, the young lady would be remarried almost immediately. Note that in Western societies, this is what used to happen till the practice of courtship was introduced.
A number of people wrongly call the engagement period courtship. Engagement period where you have a marriage date is not courtship. Engagement period without a marriage date is tricky; I think it is a glorified courtship.
IS COURTSHIP FOR CHRISTIANS
If courtship is for Christians, God would have indicated it in His Word. Every approved relationship for Christians has guidelines in the Bible. God did not purposely leave it out from the Bible for it to be invented by unbelievers and repackaged for His children. He never meant for His children to go into meaningless relationships that could hurt them.
(c) 2011, Aziza Uko. This work is the original work of the author and copyrighted. It may not be reproduced in part or in whole in any form without the permission of the author and proper acknowledgement.