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What is a Courtship Covenant?
A young girl walks down the aisle of a crowded church. She’s wearing a lovely white dress, and the pastor and her father are waiting up at the front… is she about to be married? No, she is making a public commitment to courtship in this very wedding-like ceremony.
I believe very strongly in vows and covenant vows. I made one when I got married and I take it seriously. I do not believe in making vows or covenants rashly or about any little thing. The Advanced Training Institute (ATI) was a glutton for encouraging young people to make vows, covenants and commitments. The different meanings between those terms were sometimes cloudy.
Many of my friends were forced to make a covenant or vow to courtship. The terms varied between families. The ceremonies varied. Some were like my friend’s true story at the beginning with a wedding-like ceremony.
Many times a ring was given, to be worn on various fingers; I wore mine on my left-hand ring finger (and yes many times I was asked if I was married/engaged because of it). My ceremony included a dinner at a nice restaurant with family friends who were there as witnesses. I signed a page-long covenant vow that was signed by both my parents and me. I also received a commemorative gift. I wanted to do this because everyone I knew was doing it; it was “the thing to do,” so I thought nothing of it then, and my parents were eager to do this.
Upon reflection and further study as an adult, I have come to believe that it is wrong for parents to encourage their children to make a courtship covenant. I further believe that there are many problems with the ATI approach to courtship and relationships.
What is Wrong With the Courtship Covenant?
1. There is no scriptural basis for this kind of covenant/vow to be made. A marriage vow is scriptural; a vow to court is not. It’s a vow to something that is extra biblical, while being promoted as ultra spiritual.
2. One is much too young to make such a serious commitment at age 11, 12, and 13—when most of these covenants are made—for an event that is easily five years in the future or more.
3. Fathers should be protecting their daughters from making rash vows (Num. 30:5).
4. Many parents who choose courtship for their children believe that the burden of their child’s marital happiness rests on them. They want to make sure everything turns out perfectly, and I have often seen them caught up in details like doctrinal disagreement with the other parents, or a perceived stain on the suitor’s past. There is much fear and over-reaction, and I’ve seen many a parent get cold feet (they call it “no longer having a peace about the relationship”). Rather than trusting God to lead in the relationship, parents become overly involved and take a God-like role in their child’s future.
5. These vows are often involuntary. Even in families where the courtship covenant isn’t forced, there can be undue pressure from peers and parents, and even bribes (what girl doesn’t love the idea of a beautiful necklace or ring that is probably the most expensive piece of jewelry she’ll own until her engagement?). No biblical terms are set for this agreement; the whole concept is like a blank check for the parents to fill in. Some parents use the vow or covenant as a means to manipulate their child using the fear of violating a solemn vow.
6. The biggest problem I see, however, is that the courtship covenant interferes with an open, trusting relationship between parent and child. In ATI, rules, commitments and vows are emphasized over a relationship with God. In the area of courtship, the vow is also a substitute for a good parent/child relationship, since the parent is effectively taking over for God in the decision-making process.
I believe that if parents maintain a good relationship with their children, these same children will be willing, sometimes even eager, to seek their parents’ input on their relationships. To me, the very premise of a courtship covenant between parent and child seems based on fear—fear that a child might marry someone the parent disapproves of; fear because the parent really doesn’t have their child’s heart, thus necessitating the solemn, unbreakable vow. Even more importantly, this decision should belong to the child, because they are the ones who will have to live with the decision of whom they marry. A child of God is accountable to God, and while they may seek parental counsel out of respect, they are not obligated to agree with it, or to follow it. Courtship does not let God be God. And it arrests the spiritual growth of a child who has forfeited her ability to choose. A focus on relationship with God would have far greater long-term impact on a child than a vow that absolves that child of all responsibility for a life-changing decision.
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