What is the Assemblies of God’s position on appropriate and inappropriate intimacy for Christians in dating and in premarital courtship (engagements)?
It is commonly believed among Assemblies of God constituents that lenient attitudes toward sex before or outside of marriage are completely contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture. It is also felt that uncontrolled and irresponsible expressions of affection and sexual permissiveness are directly responsible for the breakdown of much in our society.
Dating and Courtship
Dating and premarital courtship as practiced in 20th-century America are entirely different from the process of mate selection in Bible days. In ancient times dating and courtship were virtually nonexistent. Marriages were arranged by fathers; and great importance was placed on family lines, histories, and dowries.
Few in modern culture would care to return to the marriage system of ancient civilization. It is safe to say most of us today enjoy the freedom to date, court, and select one’s lifelong spouse. Yet our modern system is not without flaw. The moral erosion of our culture has encouraged people to place an over-emphasis on physical attributes, appearance, and sexual attraction. This has occurred to the neglect of focusing on important qualities such as integrity, purity, and commitment; all of which are needed to sustain a marriage and family.
Because dating and courtship did not exist then, neither Jesus, His disciples nor the authors of Scripture were led to specifically address these modern practices. However Scripture is full of stories and truths that declare the need for sexual purity and self control.
God’s Purpose for Sex
Our beliefs concerning sexual intimacies are based mainly on (1) the Apostle Paul’s interpretation of God’s purpose in creating male and female, and (2) the biblical model of Christ and the Church. After the creation of mankind, God identified His creation as male and female with the capacity and basic need to unite, become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
The family, formed through the marriage covenant, is God’s plan for populating the earth with people who would love God and be loved by Him. The primary purpose of the family is to nourish children and guide them spiritually so that they too come to understand and know the Lord Jesus Christ and the joy of life He brings. Later, as adults, they, through a new family, will be able to establish another generation to serve and bring glory to God.
God’s Regulations Concerning Sex
The Apostle Paul teaches that regulation of sexual behavior is necessary to preserve the sacred meaning of intercourse, wherein two partners become “one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). Sexual intercourse outside marriage is wrong because it violates God’s purpose, destroying the meaning of total union that He intended.
In speaking of the permanent commitment two partners make in becoming “one flesh,” Paul says, “This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32). While Paul specifically mentions marriage, the tone of Paul’s urging is clear. Christ’s relationship to the Church is our model in all human relationships. At the core of such commitment are purity, love, and self-sacrifice.
The Bible uses strong words in speaking of sexual sins. Acts of fornication are repeatedly declared as sin (1 Corinthians 6:9,18-20; 7:1-10; Colossians 3:5,6). The original word translated “fornication” in some Bible versions, and “immorality” in others, clearly includes sexual intercourse outside of marriage, for either married or unmarried couples.
According to the Bible’s explicit or implied teachings there are no reasons or circumstances to justify sexual intercourse outside marriage (either previous to, or during the marriage covenant). Therefore, any behavior that causes one to be tempted, or moves one in that direction is unacceptable in God’s eyes and should be avoided. Romans 6:12-13 says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”
Although the church typically refrains from legalistic lifestyle lists, it cannot ignore the need to speak out and address problem areas that so often beset youth and singles in the dating process. In light of this truth the Assemblies of God calls youth and singles to refrain from all forms of sexual intimacy until marriage. Such actions would include prolonged sessions of kissing, words of unique expression, actions of intimate caressing, and partial or total nudity. Christian youth and singles must also avoid immodest dress, sexually explicit conversation, and sexually suggestive forms of media and entertainment as all model expressions that are sinful.
There are also other dangers that lead to such sin. Paul further warns everyone against lust and passion (2 Timothy 2:22). He tells us to beware of godless associations that can ensnare us, and to avoid talking in ways that corrupt our thinking (Ephesians 5:3-7). James explains the process of sin from temptation to spiritual death, “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14,15).