Imagine for a moment that you a visitor in your 20s at a little white country church in the middle of nowhere. The first thing you noticed is that the vast majority of the people who are there are elderly and they represent people in their late 60s, all the way up to a centenarian. It just so happens that they’re all authors who have written Christian relationship advice books all based on their own personal experience and the advice they were given when they were your age. As you shake their hands, they give you all sorts of unsolicited advice: “Only fathers can be trusted to find potential matches for their daughters. So daughters must carefully obey their father’s instruction in this reguard.” “The important thing is the intention of marriage, you must carefully evaluate your patner for their potential as your spouse.” “Having an equal yoke is a priority, do not continue a relationship with an unsuitable person. Scripture clearly indicates that mixed marriages are not blesed by God.” Whose advice do you trust without question? The advice that is 40, 50, or 60 years out of date and out of step with the times?
I pretty much never read such books because they are presented as always being relevant, helpful, and well – biblical. With concepts such as ‘guarding your heart’ ‘purity’ and ‘modesty’ being the emphasis for the ladies – I’ve heard all I ever need to know so I know that I never need to read these books. But one thing about such books is that they don’t always tell you when they were written. They don’t always tell you which advice is centuries old, which advice is decades old, and which advice is updated for the world in which we live.
Watching ‘Beverly Hillbilies’ the concept of a ‘parlor’ would be out of place for modern relationships – those scenes just seem awkward. Reading about an 1800s courtship where the primary concerns were wealth, status, and power meant that all marriages were arranged and that love was not a factor in the equation would seem odd given today’s emphasis on love. And yet, here we are, reinventing Christian courtship for the modern age as if it never went out of style. And if that’s not sufficiently conservative, one can always opt for betrothal. The good old days are alive and well, given how fallen our modern world is. The problem is that in the good old days, men and women were never on equal ground.
The bible isn’t a rule-book that describes how to perfectly find, date, and marry a spouse in a God-pleasing way. That doesn’t stop people from using scripture to interpret rules just for that purpose. After all, intermarrying between races has been discouraged for centuries because that’s what the Bible says to the ancient Israelites. That advice continues to be recycled into: don’t marry the wrong person. How many forms has that message taken over the centuries? “Don’t marry members of another race. Don’t marry members of another class. Don’t marry non-believers. Don’t marry members of other religions.” For centuries, the men and women who dared to love each other enough to break these and other rules were shamed and ostracized in their communities by varying degrees – all in the name of Christian love.
There’s no shortage of books written here and now full of Godly advice for Christian relationships – some of their advice matches advice from decades and centuries ago. Biblicalness aside, human nature cannot be denied:
Beyond doubt, most people stayed strictly within the bounds of propriety, but in the mid to late 1700s, more than one girl in three was pregnant when she walked down the aisle. In parts of Britain, 50 percent of brides were great with child. – http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Holiday07/court.cfm
The good old days really weren’t all that good. They weren’t even fair for the ladies. The reality is that even at the height of old-fashioned courtship, it didn’t really work or live up to it’s promises. I wonder how often my great grandmothers and their ancestors dreamed of a better world for their daughters and their grand daugthers. A world where their descendents wouldn’t be given the same advice that they were.
That’s why I find courtship to be so very odd – it feels as if the 1900s are too modern and the 1800s are better. That the 1960s shouldn’t have happened. That fathers can arrange happiness for their daughters, but only if they are not too concerned with love. Or as one commenter said about her courtship, “They said that if we got married, God would bless us with love for each other later on.” I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t take that advice. I won’t take any advice from any books written by people who don’t know me personally no matter how Biblical it is.