“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
The blessedness of covenant truth is that God’s covenant friendship extends to believers and their seed. God purposes to save not only individuals but families in their organic lines as well. He does so by instructing covenant parents to teach their children his ways, raising them up in the fear of Jehovah. As covenant parents discharge their parental duties faithfully, covenant children grow up in the consciousness of their salvation in Christ and their membership in the church of God. In so doing God’s people are saved in the lines of their generations.
Part of covenant instruction in the home involves teaching young teenagers what covenant courtship involves. Covenant parents play a crucial role in the way their children engage in courtship. In the first place covenant parents teach their children what kind of partners they should choose. On one occasion I had a conversation with an elder of a Reformed church. During the course of the conversation I asked him what kind of Christian he would want his children to marry. His reply was that he would be satisfied so long as their partners are godly and sincere Christians.
The Reformed believer questions: What is the measure of godliness and sincerity? I believe the answer lies in 2 parts: 1) A biblical confession of God as he reveals himself in Scripture and 2) A godly Christian walk according to his confession.
These two fundamental aspects make up the Reformed believer’s understanding of godliness and sincerity. It is necessary to confess God rightly. This means knowing who God is as he reveals himself in his Word. It means confessing him as the sovereign one who governs and purposes all things according to his counsel. It means confessing the cardinal truths of Scripture as expressed in the five points of Calvinism and the Three Forms of Unity.
When a believer confesses God rightly, then he will be able to live aright with God. He will walk in humility as he acknowledges the absolute sovereignty of God in his life. He will love God and his neighbor aright when he appreciates God’s eternal and predestined love for him in Christ. The truth of God is the moral compass by which a Christian directs his life and the course of his courtship.
In the next place covenant parents are living examples for their children to follow. How covenant parents relate to each other and govern the life of the home will affect their children’s way of managing their own courtships. A young man whose father rules over his wife and the home in love will likewise learn how to lead his girlfriend in love and care for her needs. A young girl whose mother obediently submits to her husband will learn the importance of submitting to her boyfriend as God’s divine will for her. As covenant children learn from their parents, so they will learn how to treat and live with their partners in courtship.
Covenant parents also serve to be good counselors for their children. As their children are engaged in courtship they will be able to supply them with a wealth of advice from their own experiences. The problems and heartaches arising from courtship are not few, neither are they all easy to solve. Sometimes breakups happen which cause great emotional turmoil to the individual. Covenant parents are placed there by God to comfort and ease the pain of their children. Godly counsel from covenant parents therefore serves to make our children wiser and better equipped to manage courtship.
The dangers for covenant parents are not insignificant. They can sometimes be indifferent to the relationships their children are involved in, preferring to let them handle things completely on their own. Such parents care little about who their children are dating, or the spiritual character of their partners. I find it very tragic that Reformed parents would allow their covenant children to date unbelievers outside the church or Christians from vastly different denominations. We risk losing our faith when we allow our children to date flippantly. The Reformed faith insists on unity in the faith between covenant couples. Covenant parents must do all in their power to warn their young people about the consequences of dating outside the church.
Sometimes overly-concerned parents can be too stringent in managing their children who are engaged in courtship. They want to decide who their children date. They pry into every single detail of their children’s relationships and sometimes intrude upon their privacy. This is inappropriate as it creates unnecessary fear and suspicions in the minds of the young people. It also restricts the proper development of a covenant couple who are learning to live independently as one flesh.
It is necessary, therefore, to establish trust between covenant parents and their children. The young people must be given sufficient, guided freedom to pursue the course of courtship with their covenant partners. When trust is established they will not hesitate to share all the abundant details of their courtship with their parents, seek their godly counsel and follow after them.
In a small congregation like CERC, dating within the church can sometimes be a tricky situation. A couple who begin dating is naturally brought under the spotlight and scrutiny of the congregation. Members of the congregation can sometimes be rash to point out the flaws, incompatibility and weaknesses of the couple. Such criticism is most unwise and harmful to the couple’s relationship. It is necessary that the people of God exercise love and wisdom towards the young couple, encouraging them in the way of the Lord.
Another problem arises when the parents of the couple sinfully assess each other’s child. They set ridiculous standards for their child’s partner according to their misconceptions on what a good married life ought to be. This is sinful and it injures the unity amongst fellow members of the congregation. Covenant parents are to be concerned, above all else, with the spiritual character of the young person their child is dating. They must insist on the spiritual element of the relationship. The person whom their child dates must be godly, one who fears God and who will fulfill his calling in the church and home. Such a person must provoke their own child to godliness and union with Christ. Covenant courtship is spiritual.
Covenant parents are ultimately responsible for who their children date. God has given them the authority to instruct and discipline them according to his ways, all in obedience to him. Although the common excuse from many parents is that their children are already young adults with minds of their own, it nevertheless remains their sacred duty to discipline them. Covenant parents are authoritative influences for their children. In love for their souls covenant parents must exhaust themselves and all their resources to ensure that their children engage in godly relationships.
In ensuring that their covenant children enter into godly relationships, covenant parents preserve the precious faith that God has entrusted to them and their children. Children are an heritage, says the Scriptures. This means that the children whom God entrusts to us to raise are living testimonies of God’s faithfulness to us. For them we must labour and train up to the end that they will be well-equipped to carry on the faith of our fathers.
In the final sense I think covenant parents carry the sacred responsibility of envisioning what the church should be in the generations after them. Do I, as a covenant parent, want the church in my children’s generations to be strong? Do I want my children to continue in the faith that the Lord has entrusted to me? This is indeed a heavy responsibility for which the Lord will require our accountability in the day of his coming.
If we prize the Reformed faith, we must teach our children to marry in the unity of the Reformed faith.