Saturday, October 07, 2006

Scott Brown: Biblical thinking for the marriages of our sons and daughters

A few weeks ago my family was privileged to share the wedding of Scott's daughter Kelly to Peter Bradrick, a young man we had met through his work on the staff at Vision Forum. The ceremony and the subsequent feast -- yes, an actual wedding feast in the best ancient tradition! -- were Christ-centered and full of joy. Scott talks about that courtship and marriage in addition to broad principles below.

Scott opened discussing Calvin's Geneva. Under Calvin, they outlawed celibacy of the clergy, Roman Catholic laws about marriage and divorce were repealed in favor of Biblical models, and laws were enacted on matters from courtship and marriage to separation and dealing with broken engagements. There was an explosion of marriage, and people were traveling from all over Europe “to get in on the action”. Scott recommends an interesting book, Sex, Marriage and Family in John Calvin's Geneva, by John Witte and Robert Kingdon, which he said incorporates material and documents only uncovered in recent years.

The central portion of his message was based on Abraham's securing a wife, Rebekah, for his son Isaac. Abraham sent his oldest and most trusted servant to find a wife for his son, giving him specific instructions, a careful process, and taking a solemn oath. Compare that to the random process and absence of counsellors or guiding principles in the normal marriage pattern in college today. Criteria outside of our own feelings are almost not considered today.

Read this passage slowly (Gen 24) and consider why Abraham was so careful. Marriage is about so much more than just a couple. Isaac was Abraham's only hope for posterity. What is needed in the church today is powerful and principled thought about the importance of marriage.

Four marks of marriage making today: random engagement instead of strategic engagement; [the second I missed]; individualistic inclinations and passions instead of seed conscious thinking; romantic methodologies instead of principled methodologies.

Look, he said. Matthew Henry points out, “When he came to seek a wife for his master, he did not go the playhouse or the park, and pray that he might meet one there, but to the well of water, expecting to find one there well employed.” Do the math – how long would it take to water that many camels? He was looking for a woman with a heart to serve and work hard.

“Young people need help getting married, particularly in the culture we live in.” We have a whole generation of thirty-something women in the church who have not been encouraged and helped to be married. Al Mohler has an article on his website telling church leaders to urge their young people to get married. This was the ethic of Calvin's Geneva.

Rebekah has a good disposition and she is industrious. Scott said we have to urge men, do not raise picky, prima donna daughters. Train them to serve imperfect men and go to the ends of the earth to suffer what they suffer and help them through life.

Notice that this was an arranged marriage but not a forced marriage. Scott said he sees no evidence in Scripture for forced marriage, unlike the practice Calvin encountered and opposed in his day, when families would commit their infant children to future marriage, never consulting them further as they came of age.

Gen 24:60 – What a testimony of a spirit harmony with God's design. The brothers aren't allowing for a fling of childlessness or a time of career building, but of fruitfulness. Scott called for the young men under 15 present to memorize this speech and send out their older sisters with such a blessing. Rebekah seems to have the same spirit as Isaac's mother Sarah, too, being willing to leave home and follow her husband into the unknown.


  • Follow the best aspects of this example. Adam, Isaac, and Jacob, all had some peculiar circumstances which don't translate into modern days!
  • Parents ought to enter into the process of marrying your children
  • Bring the best resources to bear for the finding of mates for your children
  • Be affected by the trustful, worshipful, thankful childlikeness of Abraham's servant
  • Pray for the maririag of your children
  • Trust in God for providential meetings

Some personal thoughts about the process:

  • I believe Scripture applies to every aspect of courtship and marriage
  • I believe patterns of dating are fraught with destructive elements
  • I don't believe there are airtight biblical formulas to guide every part of the courtship process. There is diversity of application and flexibility in the process.

I hold five unbreakable principles for courtship in our family

A. The couple must honor parental authority and responsibility. Fathers are the head of sons and daughters. Suitors are not allowed to woo my daughters w/o permission, and not then until I'm convinced of the wisdom of moving forward. My sons are not allowed to court a young woman until I'm convinced that he is ready. I want to avoid premature twitterpations. The couple must be able to cheerfully place themselves under my timelines and requirements

B. Wise counsellors must be consulted and they should affirm the marriage. Gen 24, Pr 15.22

C. A process of screening is necessary to establish equal yoking and compatible values (2 Cor 6.14) There are questions to be asked and information to be gathered.

D. The couple should have passion for the marriage and not be forced into it. (Gen 24.67). This was a core principle in Calvin's Geneva. People will have different views of romance, both too much and too little.

E. Purity must be maintained. (Col 3.5)

I believe the reformation of the church in its discipleship methodologies is critical for biblical marriage formation.

Questions to ask yourselves

Are you in the process of becoming long-term thinking Christians, like Abraham? Kingdom oriented and principle driven? Working on a plan for your children's marriage?

Are you living a local church neglecting lifestyle? Some in the homeschooling movement don't have space in their life and heart for local churches and they become a throwaway. When you don't love the local church you have serious problems; many people are more picky than God about fellowship. There are heartbreaking practical implications as well, such as not having the relationships that you should have – not just about courtship but about fellowship within the Body.

Are you living an age-segregated lifestyle? How many of your friends are younger than you, and appropriate ages for future mates for your children? Are you calling boys into brotherhood, not just letting them run wild? Are you a friend of young men and women in the church? Make it your aim to be a godly resource to young men in the church, don't just wait until your daughter turns twenty and start looking.

Are you a marriage mercenary or a godly brother? When your daughter turns that age you tend to become a mercenary. If you have no other relationships with other younger men, you can be forced into that role. Perhaps you have not been a disciple maker like you should be. It's worrisome if a family becomes instantaneously hospitable. I would tell a young man to be cautious about accepting a dinner invitation from a family with daughters over sixteen. We must treat young men in a brotherly and honest fashion.

Have you unreasonably kept your child from marriage? By being too picky or too passive? Calvin took men to court, the Consistory, for being too picky in an ungodly way. It does happen!

Young men: Are you in the game? Press for early maturity and early accomplishment. Throw off the chains of childishness or foolishness.

Thoughts on courtship and marriage

Keep your minds on kingdom purposes – all thoughts should be on the Biblical purposes of marriage.

How important is attraction and twitterpation? Courtship is the best time to see whether that happens.

The opportunity for misunderstanding and miscommunication are massive. Almost nobody defines courtship the same; get it defined clearly. Ask the hard questions.

For the Browns, there are three phases to the process:

Inquiry – Father listens to acceptable inquirers and qualify candidates.

Courtship – A time of more formal relationship. The couple has the freedom to end it at any time. It is specifically exploratory. Ends in engagement.

Engagement – In Calvin's Geneva, you were only allowed to be engaged six weeks.

What did we do with Peter and Kelly? Two years of observation, visiting families at great expense and cost in time. Sometimes you have to take 200 hundred camels and go 500 miles to figure this thing out. I probably traveled 20,000 miles with Peter so I'd know him well. I had a list of specific topics to see what he thought – including examining the history on his computer.

Consider how long you have left before you need a husband or wife for your child?

What should I do if I don't know anyone suitable for your child? Move or build relationships, either locally or around the country.

Like Abraham, we have a responsibility to our sons and daughters to help them.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reports. I know live-blogging is not an easy task. Just want you to know there are people out here reading who appreciate your effort. God bless.

von said...

You make a distinction between 'arranged marriage' and 'forced marriage'.. not focusing on 'force' but on 'consultation'. You support this with Gen 24:67. I find no support whatsoever in this verse; it speaks of no one being 'consulted'. Isaac and Rebekah were already betrothed in covenant by the word of their parents.

I would be interested in your further explanation.


Hal said...

Von, this individual post doesn't make it obvious, but where I use first person singular, I'm more or less quoting the speaker. Reading back over the posting in light of your comment, I realize that may not have been clear -- I either get undeserved credit or blame from the reader.

That said, the verse says that "Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her." (NKJV) Perhaps the consultation aspect between Abraham and Isaac is inferred for the time the servant was traveling, or Scott was simply pointing out that Isaac happily embraced the bride that was presented to him. From the rest of the chapter, I don't see any indication that Abraham knew Rebecca by name, either, until she was brought back to Isaac.