On Doctrine & Dating

September 3rd, 2009 § 7 comments

Recently, a respected friend of mine began teaching a group of college students about dating. Though I don’t disagree significantly with much of what he said, I sometimes found myself disagreeing with why something was the case. (Though sometimes I did also agree with what was said.) The primary point of disagreement that I had with him was why the man should take the initiative and why he should lead in beginning the dating relationship.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The primary point of his lesson was one with which I most thoroughly agree. The dating relationship (or whatever fancy moniker you want to through throw on that thing that a guy and a girl are before they are engaged or married) is meant to investigate intentionally the possibility of marriage. If marriage is not going to happen, then that sort of relationship needs to end. Here we agree: dating is for marriage.

But before we go any farther, we need to figure out just a bit more what this marriage thing is. What is it that we are going for? What is our aim? We cannot begin to discuss the means before we have at least a basic understanding of the end. If we were told that we needed transportation for some reason, we might consider a unicycle. But if we’re told that our destination is Japan, that could drastically change our discussion of means. So let’s consider our destination for just a bit before we talk about means.

Ephesians 5:32 is the pivotal verse for understanding marriage. Everything about our goals and purposes changes when we read this verse. In this verse, Paul tells us that the marriage relationship is a picture of Christ and his church. If a marriage is functioning properly, it should look like a picture of the gospel. People should see a relationship of love and forgiveness not because that’s what is needed for a marriage to work, but because that’s what the relationship between Christ and his church is like. A successful marriage isn’t the solving of problems and the having of happinesses; a successful marriage is a picture of God’s redemptive grace and active intervention in a fallen world.

One of the first things that we must realize about the Gospel is that is it entirely a divine work. There is nothing in me that turns God’s love toward me in this special work. There is nothing in me that merits his favor, nor is there anything that I have done (to any degree whatsoever) that has aided in the salvific process. Most importantly, (for the purposs of this discussion) the process of salvation begins with God, before the foundation of the world, in the act of election.

Election simply means choosing. It is the doctrine that God chooses all who come to him. We also refer to this doctrine as predestination. (As Charles H. Spurgeon once said, this doctrine is “written in scripture with an iron pen.”) This choosing is the beginning of salvation; without it none would come to repentance. In a relationship intended specially to be a picture of the Gospel, the beginning of marriage also includes a choosing, and the choosing is done by the Christ figure in the relationship—the male.

Now there are a whole other host of reasons we can give for this choosing. For example: that’s how the patriarchs did it. The guys (or their dads) chose the bride. But I do not think that this is point of any of the narratives. It is simply a cultural habit which seems to be viewed with neither approbation or disapprobation; it is simply a part of the story. It is what happened. (This seems to be much the same as their polygamy which never quite seems to be condemned. Yet we disapprove of it quite thoroughly despite the fact that the Old Testament text seems merely to report it, like the weather or a sports score.) Therefore, the example of the patriarchs is a rather weak foundation upon which to build a case for male initiation.

Another reason we might consider for male leadership could be more of these verses in Ephesians 5. Men, we are told, are the head of the wife, much like Christ is the head of the church. No doubt the head has something of a leadership role, but that isn’t actually Paul’s main point here. Rather, he is saying: “How stupid must a man be that he would hurt his own body! Everyone loves his own flesh and nurtures it; so must a man love cherish and nurture his wife, because his wife is the body of which he is the head!” The fact of headship here isn’t being used by Paul to argue for leadership, but rather for love! (Curiously enough, guys don’t seem to need to be told they are to lead, but the wife, in the preceding verses must be told that she is to submit. The guys are here really only exhorted to love radically, like Christ who gave himself out of love for his body.)

To temper the preceding paragraph: I do believe that there is a definite notion of leadership inherent in headship. The church is Christ’s and must submit to him. To be an accurate representation of this relationship, a marriage must similarly have submission to its head, the husband. But lets not hijack this text and make it all about leadership; it is not. The husband’s exhortation is all about love because a head must absolutely love its own body. Anything other than that would be ludicrous and self-harmful. No right thinking person looks down and his body and chops off an arm or a leg, just for kicks. To hurt one’s wife is to do just that! It’s ridiculous! That said: headship includes leadership, but let’s not do Paul the injustice of making this passage (or headship) about leadership.

So where then must we go if we are to seat leadership on a solid foundation? If we are to divide up roles between to equal partners, and make one a leader, why do we pick the male to lead? Simply this: divided roles in marriage are necessary to showcase the gracious and divine act of salvation. In the beginning of marriage, before a marriage even has begun to be, there is to be a choosing, and that choosing belongs to the man, that the relationship may shine with the glory of the gospel to a world that barely can understand the beauty it is just beginning to see, when a man chooses a woman, just as God chose the elect.

§ 7 Responses to On Doctrine & Dating"

  • I find that when people attempt to explain labels placed by other people trying to explain life generally just muck up the whole system.

  • David says:

    What label are you talking about? “Dating” vs. “Courtship”?

  • Actually, just generally trying to explain the way people and the world work mucks up my thought process. Saying, “well, a man is a leader” because of XYZ just seems like yet another rule to explain why we are all sinful, terrible people living in a sinful terrible world.

    I do understand why some people need these standards, but a lot of the folks I hang with just don’t find a reason to make it part of their daily lives. I’m not even talking about dating and courting.

    For me and my people (which is what, exactly? Haha!) we tend to be more concerned with getting grouchy at stingy, socially unjust religious people and trying to get back to the garden of eden.

    If that doesn’t make sense, it is yet another reminder that I studied vet med and animal behavior. :-D

  • But, I will say this, Hannah has finally put her dating philosophy to words and has a wonderfully mature perspective. It probably is more like your definition of courting, but she calls it kinda-dating.

  • Drew says:

    Bankes, good to see you writing profoundly again. Or at least POSTING your profound writings.

    Anyway, I might have one minor quibble. In Eph. 5, I believe the connection between Christ-church and husband-wife is made at the point of love-submission. In other words, the specific way in which marriages are meant to portray the gospel is through the husband’s giving of himself in love and the wife’s giving of herself in submission. This is as far as the text goes.

    I think, therefore, we must be careful in expanding the Christ-church and husband-wife correlation beyond what the text does. Thus, while it is true that the church is a chosen people, I nevertheless doubt that this mean the wife must be chosen in a similar way that the church is chosen. Surely there are many points at which it is simply impossible to maintain the Christ-church and husband-wife connection (this being one of them). Since the text limits the connection to the issue of love-submission, then I think we should do likewise.

    And as one final note, if we read Eph. 1, I think we’ll find that it is the FATHER who chooses us THROUGH the Son. Consequently, if you want to push this idea of “choosing” in dating, then I think you have to be aware of this distinction. The husband is meant to emulate Christ, who (strictly speaking) is not the one who does the choosing. Christ’s role in Trinitarian salvation is to effect (or win, or secure) the salvation for those whom God the FATHER has chosen.

    But all that’s pretty nit-picky. Keep writing, please. I enjoy it.

  • I just got really creeped out thinking about arranged marriages when reading about fathers choosing a mate for their spawn. Sorry, dude.

  • Ben says:

    David, I would enjoy hearing some added support to your theory. I am currently with Drew on the topic of choosing. However, I can’t for the life of me figure the initiation issue out.

    Also, I wonder… should the husband also submit to the wife? Is this love a form of submission? (Eph 5:21) I don’t know the answer to that either.

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