Question: "What is the difference between dating and courting?"
Answer: Dating and courtship are two methods of beginning relationships with the opposite sex. While there are non-Christians who date with the intention of having a series of intimate physical relationships, for the Christian this is not acceptable and should never be the reason for dating. Many Christians see dating as little more than friendship and maintain the friendship aspect of their dating until both people are ready to commit to each another as potential marriage partners. First and foremost, dating is a time when a Christian finds out if his or her potential marriage partner is also a believer in Christ. The Bible warns us that believers and unbelievers should not marry each other, because those living in the light (of Christ) and those living in the darkness cannot live in harmony (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). As stated before, during this time there should be little or no physical contact, as this is something that should wait until marriage (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Courtship takes the position that the two people have no physical contact at all (no touching, no hand-holding, no kissing) until marriage. Many in a courtship relationship will not spend any time together unless family members, preferably parents, are present at all times. In addition, courting couples state up front that their intentions are to see if the other person is a suitable potential marriage partner. Courtship advocates claim that courtship allows for the two people to truly get to know each other in a more platonic setting without the pressures of physical intimacy or emotions clouding their view.
There are problems inherent with both styles. For daters, spending time alone with a member of the opposite sex whom we find attractive can present temptations that can be very hard to resist. The Christian dating couple must have boundaries in place and be committed to not crossing them. If they find this hard to do, they must take steps to ensure that Christ will always be honored during their time together and that sin is never given a chance to take hold of their relationship. Just as with the courting couple, the parents of the dating couple should be involved in the relationship, getting to know their child’s companion and being a source of wise and discerning advice and guidance for both of them.
Of course, the courtship style presents its own set of difficulties. While many courtship advocates see it as the only choice for finding a mate, others find it oppressive and overly controlling. In addition, it can be hard to find the “real” person behind the public face presented in front of the entire family. No one is the same in a group setting as he or she is one-on-one. If a couple is never alone together, they never have that one-on-one opportunity to relate and get to know one another in emotional and spiritual intimacy. In addition, some courtship situations have led to borderline “arranged marriages” by the parents and have resulted in resentment in one or both of the young people.
It is important to remember that neither dating nor courtship is mandated in Scripture. In the end, the Christian character and spiritual maturity of the couple is far more important than the exact nature of how and when they spend time together. Scripturally speaking, the result of the process—godly Christian men and women marrying and raising families to the glory of God—is far more important than the method they use to achieve that result. "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31, NKJV).
Finally, care must be taken to avoid the pitfall of believing one’s personal preference—dating or courting—is the “only way” and looking down upon those who make the opposite choice. As in all things, the unity of the body of Christ should be of utmost importance in our minds, regardless of personal choices others make pertaining to issues on which the Bible is silent.