Last night I had the privilege of meeting with a group of Orange County young adults to hear from and discuss the challenges they face when building and maintaining relationships with the opposite sex. We discussed a wide array of issues, zeroing in on the differences between modern forms of dating (including online) and a more biblical form of friend-building, courtship, engagement etc.* Throughout the discussion there was one question that surfaced repeatedly, “Can a man and woman truly just be friends without hurting one or both people?”
This is an important question because it narrows in on the practical starting point for any Christian relationship that will ultimately lead to marriage. When I say Christian I mean two people agreed on bible as their authority, entrusting themselves to the support and counsel of their local church, and saving sexual intimacy for the marriage bed.
So, what is the practical starting point that may or may not evolve into a biblical period of courtship, where a man and woman grow to understand the spiritual and communal values of the other person? Further, can this man and woman truly just be friends during this time without hurting one another should things not progress?
The answer to this question is “yes” two Christians can enjoy being brother or sister in Christ, exploring the possibility of a true courtship, without hurting one another, if the following boundaries are agreed to:
1. Biblical Agreement
The first thing Christian guys and gals must do is document their non-negotiables as it relates to biblical belief and practice. This requires personal growth in God’s word, spiritual friendships with the same sex, and a ton of time with pastors and leaders, sharpening who they plan to be in marriage and what they expect from marriage. Once they’ve enlisted the help of their family and church in documenting these non-negotiables it will be easier to discern if/when another person shares these same values.
2. Inclusive Activity
The second thing Christian guys and gals must do is commit to inclusive activities instead of exclusive activities. Modern dating is designed to exclude a couple from their family, church, friends, and even conscience, so that “physicality” and “emotions” can be explored. Conversely, a Christian man or woman will grow their friendship in a communal environment with other like-minded believers, observing the character and conduct of their new “friend” all the while determining if this person is worth greater investment.
3. Brotherly Accuracy
The third and final thing Christian guys and gals must do is expect the Christian brother, after a period of inclusive and public friendship, be clear about his intention towards his Christian sister. This DTR talk (Define the Relationship) is where a man explains the number of days-months he plans to engage in friendship, after which he’ll schedule another DTR for follow up and appraisal from both parties. At this time, the two friends can determine if a possible courtship is impending, and can inform family and church for support. Or, if one or both parties choose to step back, this can be discussed. This is prerequisite to God’s design because if a man will not lead respectfully to begin, he will not lead respectfully later.
Overall, following these simple steps will allow Christians the joys of relational development, and meeting new people, without the tragic emotional damage caused by modern dating: 1) They will know their Bible and not be emotionally swayed by unbelievers 2) If a relational door is closed, they will still have friends and their church for support 3) They will have time to discern the character of a person without emotional confusions 4) They will not endure insecurity and/or consequences from sex outside of marriage 5) They, and their future spouse, won’t have a string of awkward relationships to navigate at church
In conclusion: Can a Christian Brother and Sister be friends without hurting one another? Yes, provided they are doctrinally aligned, stay inclusive avoiding private outings or intimate encounters, and have a clear “plan” as to their goal and when best to inform friends, family, and church. [1 Cor 7:1, 1 Cor 15:33, Phil 4:8, 2 Tim 2:22, Heb 13:4]
* If you’ve never heard of the term “courtship” or always felt it was some outdated mode of medieval dating, it simply means that instead of two people relating to one another from the outside-in (i.e. physical touch, emotional longings, mental esteem, and lastly spiritual alliance) as is so common to modern dating, two people instead approach their friendship from the inside-out (i.e. spiritual alliance, mental esteem, emotional longing, and lastly physical touch) [SEE CHART 1.0]. Courtship places proper emphasis on vetting and developing the most crucial features of relationship while saving, until marriage, the high blessing and bond that stems from physical intimacy.