I was out on a dirt road jogging yesterday (my new tool of self-torture), praying for individuals within my little ministry sphere. While praying for two particular individuals and measuring my life by the distance between soaptree yucca plants, the words "Christian dating" came into my head.
Can I ask a question? Where is this thing in the Bible? When I read household codes like the one found in Ephesians 5:22-6:9 (though, since Paul is writing to believers, this is not a "household" code, but an ethic for Christian covenant members - a "home mission church" ethic, if you will), I find two things:
- An ethic for Christian covenant members who are married to one another: "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord [yes, I know the verb here builds off of the mutual submission COMMAND for the ENTIRE CHURCH in 5:21, which in turn is the inevitable outworking of the COMMAND to be "filled with the Spirit" in 5:18]. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is also the head of the Church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the Church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present to Himself the Church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the Church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh [a quote from Genesis 2:24]. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband" (Ephesians 5:22-33). The foundational unit - a Creation ordinance, according to Jesus (Matthew 19:4-6) - of the Church (not society, for that's not what Paul is addressing here) is the married couple (one man and one woman covenanted as one in a Spirit-filled relationship with the God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ). This is the starting point.
- Secondly, we see an ethic for the fruit of this physical and spiritual union: the children of the household of Christian covenant members (being Baptist I am refraining from calling them "covenant children," all due respect given to my sincerely beloved Reformed brothers and sisters). "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth [a quote from Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16]" (6:1-3). I believe Paul purposefully quotes from the Law of Moses at this point in reference to how we raise our children in a home parented by married members of the covenant in Christ: "...the Law [becomes] our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). Until in the marriage relationship, children are to be regarded as part of the household of the parent. This is to be done with a wisdom beyond this desert rat (hence the need for the filling of the Spirit commanded in 5:18): "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (6:4). When there are two believing, married parents involved, the child should obey their wisdom - particularly in matters of relationship.
Back to my original question: where is the room for "Christian dating"? Is there an implied parenthesis between 5:22-33 and 6:1-4 where the parents release the bodies and spirits of their children to others their age, hoping that eventually - after much trial, error, and "experience" - the children stumble from 6:1-4 into 5:22-33? Or does Paul give us only these two categories, back-to-back, all under the command to be "filled with the Spirit," on purpose?
"The Bible doesn't mention chocolate-chip cookies, either, but you'll eat them, won't you?" I've heard the question before. The Bible does mention chocolate-chip cookies: "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4,5 - in context Paul is referring to both marriage and chocolate-chip cookies). Despite that, do want your chocolate-chip cookie ethic to create a category wedged in-between 5:22-33 and 6:1-4? Really? If you see a lot between the lines of your Bible and readily admit that, then I suppose that's up to your conscience.
Then there's the argument that my experience as a father doesn't really permit me to make such statements. "Just wait, rat, until we see how your tween daughter is doing in 10 years." This reasoning, in which I almost hear challengers cursing my daughter with wishes for her failure (imagine a red-eyed, sharp-fanged ugly desert rat snarling at this point), reminds me of an illustration (since we're basing our child-rearing on a chocolate-chip cookie ethic, I'm sure there won't be too many objections).
When teaching our children to drive, we don't send them off in a recently-new beat-up car driven by a careless 16-year-old who's only had his license for a year (during most of which he was grounded from the car because of tickets, wrecks, other irresponsible behavior). No. Responsible parents make their children study the drivers' manual and take the potential driver's education upon themselves. Parents hopefully model preferred driving habits, remind the young driver of the rules, and guide them through teaching in a wide-open parking lot.
And that's just driving. How much more important is the command of Scripture for how we relate to one another in Christ in the most basic units of the Church?
All that jogging yesterday and all this typing this morning is making me hungry. Luckily there aren't any chocolate-chip cookies in reach. They're good for a moment, but mess up my blood sugar and add more pounds to this short frame...and I don't want anything to slow me down as I go down the road later.