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 other 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 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). Christians who date should limit their physical contact with each other to avoid temptation (1 Corinthians 6:18–20).
Those who advocate courtship instead of dating take the position that the couple should have no physical contact at all (no touching, no handholding, no kissing) until marriage. Many in a courtship relationship will not spend any time together unless family members, preferably parents, are also present. In addition, courting couples state up front that their intentions are to see if they are suitable marriage partners. Courtship advocates claim that courtship allows for two people to truly get to know each other in a platonic setting without the pressures of physical intimacy or emotions clouding their view.
There are problems inherent with both relationship approaches. For daters, spending time alone with a member of the opposite sex whom they find attractive can present hard-to-resist temptations. 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 in their relationship. If the dating couple are still under parental authority, then the parents should be involved, knowledgeable, and available.
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 something akin to an arranged marriage, which can foster resentment in the couple.
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. The result of the process—whatever method is used—should be godly Christian men and women marrying and raising families that honor God. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NKJV).
Believing one’s personal preference—dating or courting—is the “only way” is a pitfall. Looking down on those who make the opposite choice is prideful. The unity of the body of Christ is something we should strive for, regardless of personal choices others make pertaining to relationship issues on which the Bible is silent.