Have you noticed how frequently the word strategy is used today? Corporate, public, and ecclesiastical life are strategy-driven. Politicians tell us we must have strategies to alleviate poverty, to fix failing schools, and to advance minority rights. The list is seemingly endless and, of course, they all involve spending more of your and my money. Churches have strategies for “outreach” (one of those nebulous words which can mean just whatever you want it to mean); for attracting and retaining “the youth” (who seem to be a special group who require special attention); and for cultural engagement, to name but a few. At all costs we must have a strategy, or so we are told. Without exception, the strategies not only ignore the word of God, but flatly contradict it. They are all a series of humanistic answers to humanistic problems.
An example of this approach came to my attention recently as I listened to a news broadcast on the problem of sexual misconduct on American college campuses. Recent government-sponsored surveys have found that over 20% of female undergraduate students have reported being the subject of sexual assault. Numerous American colleges have legal judgments pending in cases brought by students aggrieved by what they consider to be colleges’ failure to protect them. The news segment ended with a proposal from public colleges to counter the problem of sexual misconduct. Yes, you’ve guessed it, they need a strategy: specifically a strategy to protect students from sexual assault.
Some colleges have already sought to address the problem of sexual misconduct. The University of Michigan, for example, has instituted what it terms “healthy sexual relationship training” for all students. The official in charge of the university’s program, Holly Rider-Milkovich, commenting on research data said the answer to sexual abuse is “changing our cultural expectations, so that sex is something people engage in when it is equally desired, not a goal ‘that someone strives toward, regardless of objection’”. In her view sexual intercourse among students is legitimate and good when it is consensual; it is only when one of the partners feels obligated that it is bad.
Holly Rider-Milkovich’s answer is no answer at all, but is part of the problem in that it is a deliberate and wicked rejection of the word of God. The Bible is very clear in its condemnation of all sexual activity outside the bond of marriage: “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4). Her position is representative of colleges, student bodies, and students who simply assume the goodness and legitimacy of sex outside of marriage. They call it good, but the Bible calls it fornication and warns those who continue in this sin that they will not inherit the kingdom of God, (1 Cor. 6:9–10).
The state is also leading the charge in developing such wicked strategies today. One state-sponsored higher education website begins its section on campus life this way: “College provides an environment for many students to explore intimate relationships with casual partners or serious relationships” (Best Colleges.Com). Forget the euphemistic language: they are promoting college as an environment for students to fornicate and bring upon themselves the judgment of God. That is their strategy and it is one which Protestant Reformed youth must reject outright.
In the place of such wicked strategies, our young people need to know and practice the Bible’s program for sexual relationships. Specifically, in view of the statistics cited above it is necessary for those of our daughters who attend college. In this article, I would like to address the obligation of our youth in this respect; I would also like to address the responsibility of our fathers.
The calling of covenant youth regarding sexual relationships can be summed up in one word: chastity. My dictionary defines chastity as follows: the state of being pure in body or conduct; modesty; purity of taste and style; simple, unadorned, unaffected. This definition embodies two distinct but related ideas. First, there is the idea of sexual purity. Chastity involves purity of conduct with respect to our outward behavior. It also involves purity of desire with respect to the inner desires of our hearts. The Bible commands purity of conduct in 1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” Purity of desire is commanded in Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”
Closely related to sexual purity of heart and conduct is the second part of the dictionary definition, namely, to be simple, unadorned, and unaffected. While these virtues or qualities have to do with our attitude to life in general, they are closely related to sexual purity. This relationship is made clear in the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Standards (the historic confession of Presbyterianism). In its explanation of the seventh commandment it lists as some of the duties required “modesty in apparel” and “diligent labor in our callings”. In its description of the sins forbidden by the seventh commandment it lists among other things “wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel” and “idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company.”
The relationship of these qualities to sexual purity is this: modesty and simplicity are inner attitudes or dispositions born out of contentment with who we are as a person and with the circumstances in which God has placed us. God has given to every one of his children special gifts and a wonderfully unique personality. And to you—godly teenage girl—God says you are beautiful. It may be that no one else tells you that and perhaps you would not say that of yourself; but beholding your meek and quiet spirit which is in his sight of great price God says you are stunningly beautiful. With such inner attitudes the Christian young person is able to live a life of devotion to God and consequently is better able to avoid the sinful pleasures of the world, one of which is fornication.
In addition to the obligation of chastity to which a covenant young person is called, there is also the need for support and accountability. It is essential for those of our youth who attend college to have the support and accountability of family, friends, and church. Covenant youth must not be in a position to “do their own thing” during their college years. Sometimes in our circles I hear it said that we cannot forever shelter our young people from exposure to the world. After all, so the argument goes, we shelter them for seventeen or eighteen years; there comes a time when they must stand on their own two feet. Really! Where do we read this in the Bible? Where do we read that at seventeen years of age we open the door some morning, give our child a pat on the back and say, “Well, we’ve done our bit, now it’s up to you; it’s time for you to stand on your own feet and make your own decisions.”
One of those life decisions our young people will have to make (and may even have made before attending college) will be when and whom to date. I believe this is a question that is especially relevant for our young women ( advisedly I refrain from using the term “teenager” since I believe the whole concept of the modern “teenager” is completely unbiblical). The prevailing idea today is that when a young women gets to be around sixteen or seventeen she becomes autonomous in the matter of relationships with young men and may make her own decisions about whom and in what way she will date.
It is not my purpose in this article to address all the issues involved in biblical dating as opposed to the widespread practice of recreational dating (in which young people form a relationship, or indeed a series of relationships, without any scriptural accountability or protection). I am seeking to describe God’s program for sexual relationships over against the wicked strategy of sexual awareness training promoted by many American colleges today. I want to do this with specific reference to our young women; not that our young men do not need guidance in this matter, but our daughters are particularly vulnerable, as I hope to demonstrate.
That our young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual attention, unwanted or otherwise, in their college years is borne out by the statistics I quoted at the beginning of this article: some 20 percent of female undergraduates have reported sexual assault in a recent survey. This is not a statistic in which we may take any comfort. Perhaps some of us are tempted to respond, “You speak of sexual assault, which is a crime and therefore not something for which the young woman is responsible.” However, the designation “sexual assault” includes unwanted sexual attention and sexual attention and activity that was initially consensual but which the young female no longer wants. The statistic is therefore important more generally as an evidence of the sexual attention and pressure to which our college-age daughters are subject.
Our young godly women are vulnerable. They are especially vulnerable at college, not least because they very often live away from home. They are vulnerable to unwanted sexual attention, but they are also prone to the danger of forming romantic relationships with minimal or without parental supervision. What is the biblical method for their protection? In addition to the practice of personal chastity, it is parental supervision. And it is specifically fatherly supervision. To put it simply, it is dad’s job. It is a role that dad must not delegate to mom; indeed he delegates certain of his responsibilities to the Christian schoolteacher as he undoubtedly delegates some to his wife. But in the matter of protecting the sexual purity of his daughter and overseeing her romantic relationships, a Christian father takes the lead.
Fathers, you need to take your responsibility in this area seriously; much is riding on it, not least the establishment of godly, stable marriages in the church. Dating ought to be with a view to marriage. That means that if you want to know whom your daughter should date you need to start with the doctrine of marriage and work back. Is the young man someone who would meet the biblical requirements for a godly husband? Is he one who is diligent in his callings; showing himself to be submissive to his parents, someone with a work ethic who will be able to support your daughter? Is he one who knows and loves the precious truths of particular grace, the unconditional covenant, and the antithetical life and who will therefore be able to lead your daughter in the doctrine to which she promised to adhere when she made public confession of faith? These are questions that you as father, and really you alone, must answer.
That fathers have both the calling to protect their daughters from unwanted sexual attention and the authority to oversee the relationships they may form with young men follows from the father’s position within the family. A father is the head of his home. That God gives a father this position in his home is clear from 1 Timothy 3. There we read that a father ought to be “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity”. What is true for those who desire a special office in the church is true for all fathers, namely, that they are called to rule their homes.
There is one passage of scripture to which I want to refer in this connection. It is a passage which specifically addresses a father’s rule of his daughter while she is still in his home and it is found in Numbers 30. The context of the passage is the necessity of keeping our vows unto the Lord. In this connection we read the following: “If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth; And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand. But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.”
That this passage refers to a young woman is clear from the words, “being in her father’s house in her youth”. So even though this young woman may be attending college fifty miles, or for that matter one hundred and fifty miles distant from home makes no matter; the word of God says she is part of the home and thus under her father’s headship. These verses emphasize unmistakably the degree of authority a father possesses over his daughter. We are told that a father has the right to annul (or cancel) a vow that his daughter makes, even one that she makes to the Lord. Now it ought to be evident that if her father can annul a vow she has made unto the Lord, he can certainly cancel any promise or agreement she may have made with a young man.
A father’s right to cancel promises that he deems injurious to his daughter, including any agreement to enter into a romantic relationship with a young man, is an implication of his solemn calling to be her head. Numbers 30 is also important in that it speaks of the cancellation of vows by a father over his daughter and by a husband over his wife. Scripture knows of no period of autonomy for a young woman—that at the age of 16 or 17 she suddenly becomes her own head. Immediately after teaching that a father may cancel promises made by his young daughter, Numbers 30 teaches that if this young woman had a husband, then may he also cancel (or annul) any promises she has made. A young woman is under her father’s headship or that of her husband: the scriptures repudiate the notion of the young autonomous female.
The scriptures repudiate this notion for good reason. The reason is the wisdom of God for the welfare of our godly young daughters. They are precious to him; they are beautiful in his sight; he has made them beautiful in holiness, for in eternal love he elected them and by the blood of his Son he redeemed them. They belong to him and in his wisdom he protects them and leads them in love through the rule of godly fathers. This is an awesome responsibility for fathers; it also requires humble submission of godly daughters to their fathers. Such submission on the part of daughters is well pleasing to God.
In contrast to the strategies promoted by colleges for dealing with sexual abuse and unwanted sexual attention directed towards female students—which strategies arise out of unbelief and the rejection of God’s word—I have attempted to set out the biblical principles that should govern our behavior. These principles apply not only to the threats posed to our daughters at college, but also their vulnerability to unwanted sexual attention and improper romantic relationships generally.
The days are evil! The threats are real! Our covenant daughters are in danger! Not only so, but the threat of unwanted sexual attention and improper romantic relationships among our covenant daughters threatens the church. For a Reformed father the church is precious. He loves the church; he sacrifices time and money for the church; he works two jobs in order to pay Christian school tuition for the sake of the church; and he will fight for the church. Protestant Reformed fathers, you have both the solemn calling and exciting privilege to protect and lead your precious daughters. God gave them to you; they are the precious seed of the covenant who will produce and nurture the next generation. Keep them in our Protestant Reformed churches! You will do this as you exercise your calling to protect their sexual purity and to supervise their courtship: not just any young man will do; he must be one who knows and loves the Protestant Reformed faith.
It is that same Protestant Reformed faith that will enable our fathers to fulfil their calling. Of ourselves, by our own strength, we could never fulfill this calling. But our faith teaches us that God “hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations” (Ps. 105:8); and that our help is in the name of Jehovah who made heaven and earth. With much prayer, love, and not a few tears fathers do this. And the blessed result is that they “shall see their children’s´ children, and peace upon Israel” (Psalm 128:6).