Dating culture has to be one of the more awkward aspects of striving to be a Christian in North America. Even in the Church, different communities have set various expectations and boundaries. Some communities set the bar high and some set the bar low. Others promote various forms of legalism, while others mislabel appropriate boundaries as legalistic. Let us begin this discussion with the assumption that Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord.
Take kissing as an example of a boundary. Everybody loves kissing a person that they are attracted to. This is where confusion begins to happen. My parents made it simple and (wisely) cautioned against all and every form of kissing on the mouth before marriage. And no, they never apologized for this position. I am thankful for that faithful and direct leadership. Not all evangelicals feel the need to apologize for their fight for godliness. In spite of that position, by and large, I would wager that kissing is commonly accepted and even assumed in many United Reformed and Canadian Reformed communities.
Now, someone might ask, what is your problem with kissing? The Bible does not speak much of it. Obviously, the clearest references are to sex outside of marriage. That is why the Apostle Paul encourages men and women to get married (I Cor. 7:2). That’s why sex is limited to the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4). That is why Paul commands Christians to flee sexual immorality (I Cor. 6:18-20). This is why sex before marriage is condemned in Deut. 22:13-19. But what does any of this have to do with kissing? What does this have to do with the 19 year old guy who wants to move to first base on his first date and his girlfriend feels uncomfortable because she has never kissed before? Nathan, you Pharisee! You holy roller! You Bible thumper!
Jesus goes deeper than the legalistic leaders in Israel who add line upon line and measure upon measure (Isaiah 28:13). He challenges the problem of lust in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus not only says that the one who lusts commits adultery (Matt. 5:28). But he also encourages young men to do anything to avoid that lust: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matt. 5:29-30) This teaching of Christ was promoted in Lord’s Day 41 the Heidelberg Catechism in the 1500s: “Therefore he forbids all unchaste acts, gestures, words, thoughts, desires,and whatever may entice us to unchastity.”
I become more and more convinced of the relevance of the Letters to Corinth to the Church in North America. We live in a culture dominated by entertainment, wealth, and laziness. The laissez-faire attitude toward sin in the culture is absorbed by the church. Reformed Christians talk about Christian liberty, and we often use this as a justification for our perversions. As a friend once pointed out to me: right theology does not guarantee right living.
The Apostle Peter warned the church about an abuse of Christian liberty in I Peter 2:16 “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” The Apostle Paul launches an argument back against the self-justifications of the Corinthian church: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” (I Cor. 6:12) This principle was important enough to the Apostle Paul and so necessary for the church in Corinth that he repeats it in reference to serving one another: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (I Cor. 10:23-24)
Since the first cavil against someone who tries to establish boundaries is that they are graceless, I may as well refute this argument asap. Sexual immorality before marriage does not turn you into damaged goods. Jesus dispenses His grace to sexual sinners who believe in His Name. But then His grace confronts old identities: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor. 6:11) The Apostle Paul himself engages with the culture in Thessalonika for a Christian culture: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (I Thess 4:3-5)
So here is my appeal to the 19-year-old guy who is evaluating the wisdom of making out with his girlfriend in the back of his pick-up at 1:00 in the morning. No the Bible does not condemn that in those words. It’s cool though that you care so much about what the Bible exactly says. When did you become a Biblicist? I know she is cute. But lets think this through rationally. Are you free from lust? Is this helpful for your spiritual life? Is this truly beneficial to your girlfriend? Are you controlling your body in holiness and honour? Does this provide strong Christian leadership? Does this show the strength of Spirit-filled self-control? I know, you think you are strong. But you won’t be the first guy to cross home base and make a home run. Why not do that honorably (ie within the bounds of marriage)?
So yes, you may not know of a single girl who has not kissed within the first couple dates. Sure, you may think that it is totally fine to kiss a girl and to kiss as many girls as you date. But maybe, just maybe, the bar is set too low and that is why there is so much sexual immorality in our churches. Maybe we have to think of boundaries less as legalisms and more as that act of tearing out the eye and cutting off the hands so that the whole body will not go to Hell.