When it comes to dating/courting relationships, men and women ought to be high church sacramentalists. By this I mean, they must not believe the lie of the “mere memorialists” who claim that the meaning of the sacrament is only supplied by those who faithfully “remember” the death and resurrection of Christ for their sins. On this view, if a little kid thinks its only a snack in the middle of church, for them, it is only a snack in the middle of church. The efficacy of the sacrament is wholly dependent upon the active, conscious application of the sacrament by the person eating the bread and drinking the wine. And it’s pretty much the same with the water of baptism. On this view, you need to clench your fists, hold your breath, and close your eyes tight and *really* believe while you get dunked in the tub or else you just got all wet in front of a bunch of people in church.
But our culture has imbibed this understanding of sacraments and applied it dutifully to all gestures and rituals. The world has taken notes from our play book and has faithfully applied our unbelief to symbols and sacraments in every area of life. And this shows up particularly strong in the physical, sexual realm. Holding hands, kissing, embracing, oral sex, intercourse, and everything in between is gesture and ritual and symbol and sacrament in human relations. And what the world wants you to believe is that it only means what you want it to mean. It only means what you think it means. It can be for you whatever you want it to be. If it only means “having a good time” or “a little fling” or “a committed, non-marital relationship” then that’s all well and good.
And because we have this subjective, mere memorialist position on sex, it doesn’t matter if you’re having sex with your wife, “a committed partner,” or your neighbor’s Dachshund. It means whatever you want it to mean. It means whatever seems right to you.
But this is nonsense because God made the world, and the world is infused with His glory, His meaning, and this means that everything has an objective, God ordained significance and power. In other words, all of life is sacramental in this broad sense, and this means that kissing and oral sex have meaning apart from what is going on in the participants’ minds. Just as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have objective meaning and significance apart from what people may or may not be thinking while celebrating the sacraments. The same thing applies to the Word of God read and preached. God’s Word is God’s Word whether you are listening or not, whether you are paying attention or not.
And these sacraments are powerful means of grace, power lines of the Spirit that are meant to communicate life and health and strength and mercy when received in faith. But when they are trifled with, when they are belittled, ignored, or abused, they short circuit and explode (to extend the analogy), and for this reason many have ended up sick, maimed, and dead (1 Cor. 11:27-30).
In other words, God’s guidelines for life, for sexual morality, for marital faithfulness are not just random rules. His guidelines are not arbitrary. The reason why God wants His people to guard their sexuality is because it is holy and potent. It is holy because God’s people are holy and the Spirit dwells in them (1 Cor. 6:18-19). The marriage bed is honorable, and we are to honor it and protect it from being defiled because it has the power to give life or destroy it (Heb. 13:4).
Obviously, this is an argument against fooling around before marriage, but more importantly, the point is to explain why physical affection is so potent and powerful. People who swing through relationships, sleeping with multiple sex partners are going to have some major scarring. You can’t go through life sucking on electrical outlets and expect to have a beautiful face. But even the more commonly accepted “Christian” practice of randomly and casually kissing various people in dating or courting relationships is asking for trouble, playing with fire. Why? Because gestures and rituals are sacramental; because kissing has a deep meaning of committed love. Now, of course kissing someone and then deciding they are not “the one” for you is way different than sleeping with them. I’ve touched live wires in my house on occasion, and that sharp vibration is a lot smaller than the electrical explosions that sometimes blow peoples’ bodies apart. I’m not trying to equate kissing and sex. But kissing is sexual, and so is holding hands and embracing. And just to fend off the accusations, this isn’t an argument against holding hands or kissing before marriage.
The point is that we should want our actions to match reality. We want our actions (and what they mean) to be consistent with what we mean. We want outlets that can handle the voltage. If she is a Christian sister who you might want to marry, there are signs and symbols for interest and care and low level affection. This might be brief hugs, sitting close to one another, perhaps holding hands. If you mean, I love you and I want you to be my wife, then there are physical signs and symbols for that reality. This might be kissing and embracing. And when you say “I do,” and she is your wife, then there are signs and symbols for *that* reality. And in the context of Christian marriage, God expects His people to get naked and have a good time.
And I know couples who have courted for a few weeks and then got married, and I’ve known others that stretched it out over a year or two. But this requires some wisdom in pacing the momentum of the relationship. There’s no biblically mandated time period for dating and marriage, but it is biblically mandated that we honor the marriage bed and that means honoring the highly charged sexuality of male/female relationships. If the marriage bed has an objective, sacramental meaning, then so do all the steps we take to get there. Foreplay is a liturgy that is going somewhere and it means that.