It was a phrase I’d not heard before when co-eds at the college talked about “missionary dating.” When I heard it, I thought this is good: young ladies dating missionaries. But then they told me I misunderstood the concept. Missionary dating occurs when a young woman of faith dates a male ruffian in order to influence him to Christ.
I mentioned this in a sermon once, and Sarah stopped me after the service.
“That’s not what we call it,” she said. “We call it ‘flirt to convert!'” she said with a laugh.
Whatever it’s called, I don’t believe it’s the best course. Dating is auditioning for marriage, and people of faith are cautioned throughout scripture only to marry a partner who shares their faith. As long ago as the Old Testament Moses first, and then his successor Joshua warned the Hebrews not to marry Canaanites. These were the tribes who populated Israel when the Hebrews lived in Egypt. “They will corrupt your faith, and you will begin to worship false gods,” Moses warned.
Sadly, many Hebrews did intermarry, and the consequences were devastating. Three notable examples are Solomon, Ahab and Samson whose spiritual lives were wrecked by pagan women.
This continued to be a problem in the New Testament. Since Christianity was first-generation, many committed to follow Christ without the cooperation of their spouses. The apostle Paul dealt with this in 1 Corinthians. He urged the believing spouse, nevertheless, to maintain the marriage if possible in order to influence the unbelieving spouse. The apostle Peter similarly encouraged believing spouses to live lives of holiness and influence their partners without having to say anything. In other words, Peter argued that you can’t nag someone into heaven (1 Peter 3:1)!
I remember a lady who tried. She was married to a scoundrel. She said to me one day, “I really got him told last night! I told him how low-down he was and how he ought to be ashamed of himself.”
Certainly, I understood her frustration. I knew her spouse and shared her opinion! A better tactic, Peter insisted, is to live an exemplary Christian life at home.
I’ve talked with countless young people over the years who’ve sidestepped the clear teaching of scripture. “He promised when we get married, he’ll change, and he’ll follow Christ with me,” they say. I’m bolder in my old age now and respond by suggesting if he were that serious, he’d make a spiritual commitment before the wedding date, and simply continue this spiritual lifestyle in the marriage.
Christians are supposed to love everyone and share our faith at each opportunity, but dating and marriage is a unique friendship that must be handled with greater caution.