Category Archives: Pastoral ministry

The most damaging counseling mistakes

This could also be called, “Lessons from Ignaz Semmelweis.” He was a fascinating man. He was the first one to suggest that doctors wash their hands between patients. He was ridiculed and soundly mocked, put down, and outcast for it. Everyone knew that sickness came for spirits, bad air, bad joojoo, or God’s curse. What did handwashing have to do with it? He’s just being worldly. There’s got to be Bible verses about the evils of medicine. Isn’t it “trusting in man” or something like that?

I used to think the same way. I was taught that anything learned about counseling from a (hushed gasp) secular counselor, or, the most shocking of all, the psychologist (!) was just one step away from inviting the devil to dinner. I heard of a sermon where the pastor said that anyone who goes to a psychologist is denying Christ and the sufficiency of scripture. Stupid hand-washers!

I say this to my shame, for I used to believe and counsel the same way, and have since repented of my ungodly, unbiblical attitude.

If we will put aside our pride and listen to the voice of simplicity, and just “wash our hands” we will learn from our mistakes and quit killing the souls of those who come to us for help.

Here are the biggest mistakes we still make – soul killers – in no particular order. By the way, for you “nouthetic” people out there, each one of these mistakes is a mistake because it contradicts scripture, not because unbelievers say they are wrong. I agree with you that scripture alone is our only guide. So let’s hear what it says. So here is my list. I suspect there will be more to come.

  1. We say, “It takes two to ruin a marriage”. Or “It takes two to fight”. No. The Bible nowhere teaches this. Abel didn’t cause Cain to sin. David didn’t provoke Saul. Jesus didn’t provoke Judas. Joseph wasn’t to blame for his slavery. Stephen didn’t cause his stoning. And on and on. In fact, David said, “I am for peace, but when I speak they are for war.” (Ps. 120:7). There is a difference between David and those who sought to kill him. They wanted him dead because they “were for war”, not because “it takes two to fight.” Quit making this completely unbiblical statement. It simply isn’t true.
  2. When we hear of pornography use, we say, “Are you satisfying him in bed?” This one astounds me. Everyone listen up: Pornography and marital sexuality are as different as night and day, dark and light, good and evil. One is an expression of our one flesh intimacy, an act of love and mutual dignity and honor. The other is assault. A man who assaults doesn’t learn how to not assault by being taught to assault his wife instead. Just stop. Porn is death, murder, darkness. It isn’t “sex with the wrong person”. It is as far from the love of marriage as death is from life. Just stop. Now read Ephesians 5 again – from the beginning, not just the “submit” part. Fornicators need Christ and repentance, not a “porn-star wife”. Sheesh.
  3. (Similar to 3) We hear of a man committing adultery, and assume it is because the wife isn’t loving him enough. This comes from a horrible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7. If you want to know what it really means, you can listen here. But, again, adultery is not simply sex with the wrong person. It is death, folly, madness – assault. The same applies, by the way, with the sexes reversed.
  4. When we hear the cry of the soul against injustices done, and we say, “You are just bitter.” Not only is this NOT the meaning of “bitter” in the scripture, the hatred of sin and the cry for justice is NOT sinful. It is what it means to be in God’s image. Jesus will not come in justice because he is bitter, but because he is just. We long for that day. We long to see our enemies destroyed, and justice reign. It is what Psalm 72 is all about. The promise of the kingdom is NOT that we should quit being “bitter” but that Christ will come with justice and righteousness in his hands. This is how we learn to put off anger, wrath and malice. Not by pretending that injustice is OK. You can learn more here.
  5. When someone is weeping, we assume that they are trying to manipulate us. Very common, but again, contrary to scripture. I am so glad that Jesus doesn’t treat us like that. Paul said to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Can someone show me the passage that says, “Beware of those who weepeth, for they are seeking to manipulate thee.”? Compassion with wisdom can only be taught by the Holy Spirit.
  6. We automatically assume that depression is a sin.  Depression is sometimes medical – an imbalance of chemicals.  Counselors, learn the signs of depression and get people to medical help if needed. But sometimes, our sighs and tears are just the proper response to living in a cursed world, far from the shores of the celestial city. We aren’t home yet, and sometimes that makes us sigh and weep.
  7. We make the same assumptions with every medical condition we don’t want to deal with. Chronic illness? Just laziness. Bipolar? Just rebellion. Adhd? Just a scam. Tourettes? Just looking for attention. They could stop if they wanted to. This one makes me want to scream at people.
  8. We assume that every problem that anyone can have can be fixed if we just find the right thing to rebuke them for.

And so we have turned into the most heartless bunch. Cruel, unkind, uncaring, fools. Heaping burdens of shame on those who come to us for help. It is no wonder that people won’t see pastors for guidance anymore. We forgot how to be compassionate. We look for the simple fix, when maybe we just need to listen, to stop and hear, to offer a kind word. Maybe point someone to Christ, who sweat great drops of blood, who was afraid,  who wept at the tomb of Lazarus – KNOWING that he was about to raise him from the dead.

Weeping doesn’t mean I don’t believe the promise; fear doesn’t mean I’m not trusting God; sadness doesn’t mean I am unthankful. These things mean I am human, just like my Lord. And he came to redeem this flesh and this blood. He suffered with every infirmity, and was without sin, to redeem me, body and soul. The day will come when every tear will be dried, but that day is not today.

So excuse me if I weep now and then. Don’t mind me if I get afraid sometimes. Don’t sing “joy, joy, joy” at me when the infirmities of the flesh are sometimes too much to bear. Yes, I know that God is good. Yes, I know that he is coming again. Yes, I know that all things work together, and so on. But right now I’m sad. If all you can say is “All things work together for good!”, then just go away.

These are some of my thoughts today. What are yours? What is the worst thing you’ve heard? It seems like I am missing some. I expect that this blog will be continued…

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Filed under counseling, Grief, Pastoral ministry

The Opinions of men

Recently, I saw that someone posted the following quote from Dr. Jay Adams:

In my opinion, advocating, allowing and practicing psychiatric and psychoanalytical dogmas within the church is every bit as pagan and heretical, and therefore perilous as propagating the teachings of some of the most bizarre cults. The only vital difference is that the cults are less dangerous because their errors are more identifiable.

I am sharing my response to this here – not because I have any wish to be controversial, but because I really think that it is time we as conservative, Reformed Christians, started to compare the words of our heroes to the scriptures and to the creeds. It is supposed to be what we do.

So here is my response:

Statements like these from Dr. Adams have caused more harm to the body of Christ than anything I can think of in the last 30 years.

“In my opinion” – the opinion of Dr. Adams has been elevated to creedal status, woe be to anyone who may question it.

Those who have dedicated their lives to the study of the human soul and to the easing of the suffering of so many millions are dismissed if they use “heretical” words like trauma, narcissist, abuser, pedophile…
Victims are cast out of the church and wolves are given safety within because we look for quick proof-texts, and refuse to do any soul-searching.
Those who have suffered unspeakable trauma and suffering are given 8 sessions with their pastor, not allowed to speak their story, given a few proof-texts and then cast out of the church for “bitterness”.

All because Dr. Adams had an opinion. This opinion is not backed up with any scripture, which is odd (since it is purportedly based on Sola Scriptura) but simply declared so to be.

So I would ask here – what scripture is used to cast everything with the title “psychiatric and psychoanalytical dogmas” into the bowels of hell? By what authority does Dr. Adams’ opinion supersede the creeds of the church?

Why is it, that in the ancient Heidelberg Catechism, which we all revere, we learn that good works are “not such as rest on our own opinions or the commandments of men” but are based upon the law of God, which is further defined as the Ten Commandments, – why is it now that Dr. Adams’ self-declared opinion is the criterion by which thousands and thousands of sufferers are allowed no relief, no second opinion, no question, and no other answers?

Some serious things that we should perhaps think about…

To back up my whole point, I am well aware that I am now going to be branded a dangerous heretic and anything I might say will be suspect from henceforth – because I dared to question Dr. Adams opinion.

How many of those suffering from real mental illness are allowed no relief because of this man?

How many have been beaten and abused and raped by their husbands and sent back home because of this man?

Those who follow Adams would have rebuked Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus for bawling like a baby.

I’m sick of it.

Yes, he said some good things, and some of his critiques were valid.

But he was just a guy. His opinion isn’t a creed. Speaking of trauma and narcissism and abuse and PTSD and depression isn’t heresy. It is naming what most of the Psalms are all about. We are created in the image of God, and naming things is what we do.

I would add a few things here:

When God created the heavens and the earth, he gave names to some of the things that he created. When he created man, he gave man the task of naming the animals. Men and women exercise their dominion as image-bearers of God by naming. Any study, any discipline, and lessons, first begin with learning the names of things.

The scripture gives us the outlines, the framework, the first principles. But because we are image-bearers of God, we are called to use wisdom and give things names as we study them.

Classifying biblical concepts is not being “worldly”. It’s called wisdom, and it is what we are called to do. I thank God for those who have spent their lives studying and classifying human behavior. The bible says that Jesus knew the hearts of men, and answered accordingly. We don’t have that ability, because we are finite. So we are called to listen, to classify, to stop our mouths, to hear what others might have to say.

But that takes work. It is a lot easier to simply classify all opposition as heretical, cult-like and evil and be done with it. But this keeps us steadfastly bound to our ignorance and happily immune from loving our neighbor.

God would have us reach outside our little bubbles and see that there is a huge world out there that cannot be explained by Christianized behaviorialism. Skinner is not the gospel, no matter how you baptize him.

Think about it.

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More notes on a remarkable book

So I finally finished reading “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” As I said in a previous post, I would let you know if I found anything goofy. Good news! Nothing goofy here. Just solid theology and an outstanding exhortation to all of us. Aimee does an admirable work here with human nature, the nature of salvation and sanctification, the holy catholic church and the communion of the saints. As I have said before, I don’t write book reviews, since I have completely forgotten how since my college days, but please go get this book and read through it. You won’t regret it.

I do have a few thoughts on the reaction to the book – in the myriad of blogs, tweets and comments, which I found quite distressing.

First, I am distressed and how many professing Christians seem to be completely obsessed by sex. It makes me sad that we can’t discuss friendship between men and women without “sex getting in the way”. We are obsessed with it. It occupies all of our thoughts and every waking moment. Aimee’s warning is proven by the aftermath. The modern evangelical is totally obsessed with sex. It’s sad to me.

Second, I am distressed by how many pastors confess that they cannot be trusted alone with a woman. Oh, they don’t put it exactly like that. They say, “I never text a woman. That’s how adultery starts.”

Or “I will never be alone with a woman, that’s how adultery starts.”

Or “I would never pick up a woman to give her a ride. That’s how adultery starts.”

So I would like to translate this for the layman. “I, a minister of the gospel, am so out of control and untrustworthy, that you cannot leave your wife or your daughters alone in my vicinity. I couldn’t even give them a ride to the hospital, because it is possible that I would be overcome with lust and attack them in the car.”

Really?

Why, then, are these guys ministers? So, you in the congregation, do yourself a favor. Whenever you hear an ordained minister confess that he has no self-control, and that he is so obsessed with sex that he cannot be trusted giving your daughter a ride to the hospital, or sending a text to your sister or wife, then please remove him from office. Why is he a shepherd to begin with?

And third, we really need to understand love and hate.

I was thinking this through as I was reading Aimee’s book. The Heidelberg Catechism says that we are “prone by nature to hate God and our neighbor.” God created us to love him with our whole heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But when man fell, he became obsessed with himself. He became a fool, and said in his heart “There is no God. I am, and there is none like me. (Psalm 14:1; Isaiah 47:7-8).

When we are redeemed from our sin and misery by Christ, we are taken out of ourselves and our obsessing with ourselves, and our thoughts are directed outwards, first to God and then to our neighbor. This is love. When our affections are placed upon someone other than ourselves.

John wrote,

9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. (1 Jn. 2:9-11 KJV)

So here is what I am thinking. When we are born again, when we are walking in the light, we become far less obsessed about ourselves and our “purity” and far more interested in the duties we owe to God and the duties we owe to our neighbor.

This is really what concerns me about current evangelical ethics. We have become so self-absorbed and narcissistic that when we see a woman broken down on the side of the road, our first thought is “How will this affect my purity?”

Do you see the problem? It seems that this is hatred. It seems that this is the problem that Jesus had with the Pharisees. He said,

23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Matt. 23:23 KJV)

The tithe, which is the duty we owe to God, was to be paid. But not as an excuse to act in hatred or indifference towards our neighbors in need. We might use as an excuse that we are very concerned with our purity, because it is the duty we owe to God, but we must remember what John wrote – this is a false dichotomy.

20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 Jn. 4:20 KJV)

As I see it, this is the problem with current evangelical ethics. We are so concerned with our own personal purity, that we turn our backs on those in need. So we have become exactly like the Priest or Levite who wouldn’t cross the road to help a man in need because of their obsession with purity.

We would empty our diaconal account to make sure someone is not cremated, while abused women and children starve for lack of resources. We pass by a woman in need because we fear that we might start the neighbors talking – or worse, that we might lose control and attack her, apparently….

I don’t get it. We obsess over whether Rahab sinned by telling a lie, even though the alternative would have been the death of the spies. We say to God,

‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed.
25 ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.’ (Matt. 25:24-25 NAS)

But when you say that, be prepared for the answer from the Master:

‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed.
27 ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
28 ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’
(Matt. 25:26-28 NAS)

Honestly, it is easier to obsess over your own personal “purity” than it is to reach out to a neighbor in love. It is easier to hide the talent in the earth. You can’t get hurt that way. You won’t catch adultery that way. You can keep everything the way that it is and not be bothered.

But you can’t love that way. The true motivation isn’t purity, it is laziness and wickedness. Jesus calls it what it is.

This is the real problem. I’m glad that Aimee wrote about it.

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Filed under Men and women, Pastoral ministry

Chantry, Hezekiah and Chloe

When thoughts collide…

Last week I was preparing for my Sunday School teaching on Hezekiah and the siege of Jerusalem. As I was preparing, I was struck by this message from Isaiah to Hezekiah:

Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard (2 Kings 19:20)

Hezekiah was in bad trouble. Sennacherib had conquered the whole world, and he was unstoppable. He had now surrounded Jerusalem and gave Hezekiah the terms of absolute surrender. There was no strength left in Hezekiah.

And Hezekiah took the letter demanding his surrender and laid it on the altar of God, crying out to the Creator of Heaven and Earth and telling God the problem. He spoke honestly and directly.

God delights when we call upon him. God takes pleasure in our prayers, when we speak to him honestly and directly. When we are in trouble, and when we are weak and helpless, fearful and doubting, in pain and in distress – God would have us tell him about it. He is our God, and we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:
15 And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. (Ps. 50:14-15 KJV)

But this goes against the culture of most churches. If you have been following the Tom Chantry trial, you see what so many people have suffered. People aren’t believed, they are silenced, when they complain about mistreatment or abuse, they are told to be quiet. To be thankful and put off their “bitterness” and their “complaining spirit”.

And so people are being groomed to take abuse and mistreatment, and put on the happy face. Let’s all play happy families. Only sinners are in trouble. Only sinners complain. Only unthankful people are unhappy.

But Isaiah didn’t rebuke Hezekiah for being bitter or for complaining. Hezekiah was in trouble, and God heard him because he spoke the truth to God.

And while I was thinking about that, I was also thinking about the household of Chloe.

For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house  of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. (1 Cor. 1:11 KJV)

If Paul had been a modern church planter, 1 Corinthians would never have been written. Instead, Paul would have rebuked Chloe’s household for gossip and bitterness.

How many of you have heard these?

“Now, Chloe. Have you gone through the steps of Matthew 18? I don’t want to hear about this.”

“This is just gossip. You need to repent of your bitterness.”

“We are right in the middle of a fund-raising campaign for the saints in Jerusalem. We can’t have this negative talk and gossip going on. It will hurt the Jerusalem Famine Ministry.”

“Chloe, have you spoken to a man about these things? In fact, it isn’t even your household. You need to go submit to your husband and let the men handle it. When women usurp authority, all sorts of gossip and complaining start happening.”

“I know the man who you say was sleeping with his step-mother. He’s a good man. Remember that he is innocent until proven guilty. I know everyone is talking about it, but we really need to get a handle on the undisciplined talk before it destroys a good man’s name.”

“Chloe, I can’t hear this unless you have two or three witnesses. No, the children don’t count. No, the women don’t count. No, those men don’t count. They’re just bitter.”

And on and on it goes.

Aren’t you glad that Paul wasn’t a modern Big Eva guy?

“I hear that Paul is coming to Corinth! Did you get your tickets yet? I hear he will have another epistle to the Thessalonians on sale in the foyer. His conferences sell out every year!”

I thank God for the pastors that are far more concerned about truth than their reputations or their bank accounts!

Hezekiah spoke the truth and was heard, even though he was surrounded by Assyrians. Chloe’s household spoke the truth.

It was when David finally spoke the truth to God that God heard him (Psalm 51).

In fact, all of the Psalms are about speaking the truth to God. Tell God what is going on. Tell God the truth.

And find a church that is more interested in the truth than in the cover-up. That is more interested in the health of the sheep than the hurt feelings of the wolf. That is more interested in being faithful to God than in their reputations and bank accounts.

We need more pastors that want to know the truth about your marriage, your families, your fears and your doubts and your struggles. This is what the church is for. God is not interested in the happy façade. He wants the truth.

Listen to Chloe. You just might learn something.

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Bad Listeners

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” (James 1:19)

Yesterday I was watching old reruns of Monk. I don’t know if you remember the show about the OCD detective. Tony Shalhoub is brilliant, but that really isn’t what this post is about.

Anyway, one scene in the show was the detective interviewing a witness in her home. While she was trying to tell him what she saw and what she experienced, he was extremely distracted. The items on her coffee table were out of place and disorderly. Monk, suffering from OCD, couldn’t hear a word she said until he rearranged all of her knick-knacks.

I’ve been thinking about that. Why are pastors such horrible listeners? Yes, I am talking about you – particularly Reformed pastors. This is a critique of my own tribe. I also have struggled with being a good listener, so these things are coming from my experience.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and they weren’t listening to anything you were saying? You can see the exact moment they shut down. They have already figured out what they were going to say, and anything else you might say is not relevant. I think it is a problem for pastors. We are really bad at listening.

Why are we such bad listeners?

I have a few suggestions:

  1. We are OCD with theological error. We completely miss someone’s trauma, but woe to the uninformed that uses the word “potluck” (you mean “pot providence”) or “My father was a good man” (THERE IS NONE GOOD; NO NOT ONE!) Just like Mr. Monk, if all of the theological ducks aren’t neatly lined up to our liking, we shut down. Seriously, when was the last time you allowed a theological mistake to just pass you by. Even the attempt to “let it go” causes our muscles to twitch, our words to stammer, our eyes to water…
  2. We forget to remember that Jesus was moved with compassion for the multitudes – like sheep without a shepherd. Are you compassionate enough to actually let someone tell you their story – even if it makes you uncomfortable, even if you don’t know what to say, even if it takes several hours? Jesus was moved with compassion. So should we be.
  3. Most of us heard Jay Adams tell us that after 6 or 8 sessions you have a discipline problem. We feel this urge to rush through, tell people what they need to do and move on. Depressed? Get over it. Still depressed? Church discipline! Angry at your rapist? Quit being bitter. Get over it. Move on with your life. We are convinced that we HAVE to give the solution, give the cure, tell them what to do to make this uncomfortable feeling stop. But only a fool answers a matter before he hears it. Listen first. Then speak. It’s what the Bible commands.

I was at a church years and years ago. There was a young man visiting. After the service, I was talking to a couple of the elders and this young man came up to us and asked “Is there a grocery store around here? I need some food”. The elders looked stunned, and then said,

“We don’t shop on the Sabbath Day.”

Really.

This is what I mean. Where is the compassion? Where is the discernment?

Be compassionate. Be educated. Be like Christ. Listen.

The hardest thing for a pastor to learn is this: You don’t have to talk all the time. You don’t have to have answers all the time. You don’t have to fill the air around you with a miasma of ignorant pious slogans. You don’t have to correct everyone that is wrong.

But you do have to listen. And you do have to be compassionate.

Let’s practice:

“Potluck, potluck, potluck, potluck.

“He’s a good man. He’s a good man. He’s a good man.

“God loves everybody. God loves everybody. God loves everybody…..

“Last Sunday I went to a restaurant…”

 

Let it go. There is a time and place for correcting theology, but remember that we would be in a far better place to do that if we first learned how to listen.

(By the way, Jay Adams was wrong here. Most people haven’t even gotten to the real issue until the 6th  session. They start out by seeing if you are trustworthy and willing to listen. If you shut them down the first session, they won’t come to you with the real issue. I believe that this is a major reason why nouthetic counseling has been so disastrous with trauma and assault.)

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The Pence Rule and Wisdom

This topic keeps coming up. Again, I want to stress this. I do not at all care, nor have any issue whatsoever with what Mr. Pence does. As a high powered politician, he might have many reasons not to eat with a woman alone.

My greatest concern is with false teaching. As Christians, we all want strong marriages. As Christians we despise sexual immorality, and seek to flee from it. For these reasons, false teaching sounds appealing and it is hard to put a finger on what is wrong with it. It isn’t that it is completely wrong. It’s that it is almost right, which in many ways is far worse. Almost right is more deadly than completely wrong.

For example, here is a post today from Beautiful Christian Life: Why the Pence Rule Shows Wisdom. These five reasons listed are purported to be Biblical. But are they?

Lets look at them:

1. It helps men and women to avoid sexual temptation.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:13)

I don’t see the connection. If a man meeting with a woman alone leads to sexual temptation, then there is a serious problem with the heart. It is the heart that must be addressed.

I think that this is often an excuse. A pastor gets caught in adultery. The facts are that he selected his victim, singled her out, met with her, groomed her, and then seduced her. When he is caught, he says, “I made some poor decision.” Which sounds far better than, “I’m a predator and got caught.”

But let’s not be foolish. A pastor committing adultery is a predator, not someone who made poor decisions concerning the Mike Pence rule.

Quit giving predators this excuse.

If your commitment to righteousness is so thin that being alone with the opposite sex puts you in danger, then you need to examine your heart, rather than add a rule.

I am afraid that this reason simple adds pride and will-worship to the gospel, making it of none-effect.

2. It seeks to honor the marital union.

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (Heb. 13:4)

I would say that a far better way to honor the marital union would be to love, honor and respect your spouse. It is absolutely true that a man who honors his marriage will never allow another to cause his wife pain. But, again, I fear this is an excuse.

I knew a man whose wife was jealous of him, for just cause – as it turns out. He spent many hours dining alone in romantic restaurants with another woman. His issue wasn’t that he violated the Pence rule. His issue was that he was committing adultery. Let’s call it what it is.

So, yes, absolutely go home and love, honor and respect your spouses. But don’t think that adding a man-made rule is the same thing as honoring your wife or husband.

I would suggest that we let scripture define what it means to honor your spouse, rather than a rule imposed from on high.

3. It recognizes the battle within all Christians between the flesh and the Spirit.

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Rom. 7:22-23)

Paul’s whole point in this passage is that the battle is fought and won with the gospel (Romans 8:1), not the law. If the law of Moses is of no effect in the battle against the flesh, how on earth can the law of Pence do that which the law of Moses cannot do?

Who will deliver us from this body of death? Only the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for me and rose the third day! Blessed be the name of the Lord!

By all means, if it is wise in your job to protect yourself then do so. But please do not pretend that the law can deliver us from the bondage of the flesh. Not even Moses could do that.

4. It shows respect for one’s family by keeping boundaries.

Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart. (Prov. 11:29)

I love that verse. It has nothing to do with the subject under consideration. A man troubles his family with pride, arrogance, abuse, adultery, pornography, tyranny, abdication, abandonment, hatred, violence – and on, and on, and on.

A man who does those things certainly doesn’t care about what people think when he goes to a bar with whomever he wants. But the problem is not the Pence rule. The problem is that the troubler of the family is a child of the devil.

He needs converted, not another rule to thumb his nose at. Are there not enough laws in the Bible about honoring your family without adding another one? If he keeps none of the ones there, how can adding another one change anything.

5. It strives to bring glory to God.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)

Again, a great verse. I love it. It has nothing to do with the Pence rule. In fact, this one bugs me the most. It equates being alone with a woman with sexual immorality.

Really? If this one is true, then Jesus himself sinned when he was alone with the woman at the well, and the woman taken in adultery.

By all means, flee sexual immorality. But have a little bit more respect for our sisters in Christ. You may have a lot of reasons not to meet alone with a woman, either in church or at work. But if your reason is that you are afraid that you might commit adultery with her, then you are an adulterer, and perhaps a predator. You don’t need the Pence rule. You need to be born again. Let’s quit minimizing sexual immorality by equating it with meeting with a woman. It’s degrading to you and to your sisters in Christ.

We need far more than sound bites and twisted scripture. We need the Spirit of God poured out on our hearts. We need wisdom, which only comes from God (Proverbs 2).

Wisdom does not come from the law. The ability to keep the law of God comes from the wisdom of the heart, which is a gift of God. It only comes through the gospel; never through the law.

The difference between almost right and right is the difference between the gospel and another gospel. I fear, whenever we speak of the Pence rule, we aren’t speaking about the gospel anymore. We are adding the law into grace, and pretending that having begun in the spirit, we are now made perfect by the flesh.

It’s time we stopped.

11 Comments

Filed under Gospel, Love, Marriage, Pastoral ministry

“…Let’s just pipe down and let the experts handle this.”

I normally try to take Mondays off. But I made the mistake of trying to catch up with the controversy over Piper’s recent “final salvation” post.

I’m not really at this point going to expound on my own problems with this post. It has been done already by Rachel Miller and Brad Mason and in other places. Scott Clark has done some excellent work on this subject at https://heidelblog.net/. So we’ll leave that lie for now. That isn’t what has me worked up today.

This morning in my studying through this issue, I read this by Mark Jones:

Here’s the problem for these critics of Piper. This isn’t really a problem. And if you write blog posts taking issue with Piper on this particular topic, but claim to be Reformed, you probably need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publishing via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously. And even then, it’s possible that you could have such a built-in bias against someone that you’d find a problem with them for saying “Jesus loves sinners.”

I read it again. And then I went back to it and read it again. And to me, this is a big problem, and is infecting every area of the church. What he is saying is this: “She isn’t educated according to our standards of education and therefore has no right to speak to theological issues and be taken seriously.”

Does this not bother anyone else? Throughout the history of the church, since Jesus in the days of his flesh, there have been the “scholars” who have refused to hear anyone who was not “properly educated and peer reviewed.”

At the time of the Reformation, it was forbidden to put a bible into the hands of a layperson because only the scholars had the proper training to interpret the bible correctly. A layperson would mess it up to no end and start talking about justification by faith apart from works and salvation by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone.

Is this really where we want to go? Are we now going to defend those who attempt to add works to our salvation by rejecting the perspicuity of scripture?

It is starting to sound quite familiar, isn’t it?

I fear that we are creating many mini-popes, untouchable by the common layperson. This is a very, very dangerous place to be.

Do we really want to go back to that? Here is the Westminster on the subject:

Westminster Confession of Faith (1.7)
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2 Pet. 3:16); yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Ps. 119:105, 130).

The question is not how many peer-reviewed articles one has, or what their alma mater is, or how many letters they have on their name. The only question is this: Are they right? Is what they are saying consistent with the Holy Scriptures?

Many years ago, my late father was involved in the controversy surrounding Norman Shepherd and Federal Vision. The debate took its usual turn, with every party quoting every Reformer. Calvin quotes and Witsius quotes and Ursinus quotes all thrown back and forth like arrows in the quiver.

At the end of it all, Dad – now in the arms of Jesus – responded with a quote that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “I don’t care who said it. If they said that, they were wrong. If Calvin said it, he was wrong. If Ursinus said it, he was wrong. If Witsius said it, he was wrong!”

As Paul puts it,

8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
  9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
  (Gal 1:8-9 KJV)

Do we need the experts to explain that to us? It doesn’t matter how big a ministry someone has. It doesn’t matter how many books one has sold. It doesn’t matter how many peers have reviewed your articles in respected journals. It doesn’t matter where you graduated from. If you proclaim another gospel, YOU ARE WRONG. And if someone calls you on it, you better listen, no matter how big their ministry is, how many followers they have, whether they are male or female, young or old, rich or poor, peer-reviewed or not. You better listen even if they went to *gasp* COMMUNITY COLLEGE!

Because in the end, God just doesn’t care how many awards you have won or how many articles you have published in acceptable journals, or how many famous people endorse your books. In the end, only one thing matters – are you found in Christ? Are you washed in his blood and Spirit? When he comes again, will you be able to say this:

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phi 3:8-11 KJV)

This is what it means to know Christ. Nothing else matters. When I forget that, and begin to count on my credentials or my own righteousness, I thank God when he sends someone to remind me – no matter who he or she is or how many credentials or letters they might have.

We would do well to remember that.

36 Comments

Filed under Pastoral ministry, sanctification

Billy Graham Rule Follow-up

I recently wrote a blog to correct the misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You can find it here. I am certainly aware that in terms of the age of internet news, Mike Pence and the Billy Graham rule are the equivalent of 200 years ago, but I can’t seem to let bad theology go, especially when it harms the sheep.

I also know that most readers skim, so please – before you skim, read this paragraph: I have nothing against Mike Pence and his love for his wife and his desire to protect himself as a famous politician with a great deal of power. It seems like a wise thing to do, given his position in our country. So PLEASE don’t think that this post is about that. Also, I don’t know anything about Billy Graham or his rule, having never read his biography. How Billy Graham does things rarely enters my mind.

What this post is about is the bad theology that has surfaced in the aftermath of the discussion. I find it concerning and harmful.

The whole discussion seems to center around whether or not a pastor should be alone with a woman who is a member of his congregation. Apparently, the only danger is if the woman is attractive, because that seems to be the word attached to “young woman” every time she is spoken of.

As a disclaimer, I would never meet with a woman alone in my office with the door shut. I wrote in my previous blog that I could think of valid reasons to not meet with a woman alone. Here are a few.

  1. My wife is a very skilled counselor herself and has remarkable empathy and understanding, especially when it comes to counseling women. She is almost always with me.
  2. There are times when a woman wishes to meet with her pastor to discuss childhood sexual abuse, assault, domestic violence and other attacks on her person. The worst thing a pastor can do is to make her feel vulnerable and threatened. Meeting alone in a closed space does not tend to make a parishioner feel very safe.
  3. There are other times when a meeting alone in a closed space would not be good for the comfort and peace of the woman for other reasons, and as a pastor it is my calling to be sensitive to that.
  4. If it is necessary to meet alone, an open door or an open place takes away the feeling of being trapped, this is very important when counseling. You are seeking to reestablish the counselee as a person who matters, who can make choices, who can take power back in her life. Trapping her with a closed door seems to me to defeat that purpose .

So I would like everyone to understand me. I am not at all against acting in wisdom, walking circumspectly and being above reproach.

That being said, there are others who practice the so-called “Billy Graham Rule” but for reasons I reject completely. Here are some of those reasons.

First: “All it takes is one accusation to ruin a ministry.” This might be true, but are not our calling and reputation in the hands of God? It seems to me that our calling is to be faithful stewards and submit ourselves to the sovereign hand of God, doing what we are commanded to do and leaving the rest in His hands. We are simply farmhands in God’s field, workers in God’s vineyard. It isn’t our ministry to begin with.

I also can’t think of one example where someone’s ministry was ruined by one false accusation. Every one of the “destroyed ministries” that I can think of were destroyed because of accusations that were backed up with stacks of evidence, multiple witnesses, over many, many years. When it comes to famous celebrity pastors, one accusation is almost never believed. It usually takes mountains and evidence and years and years of time. Even then, the celebrity pastor generally just goes away for a few months and then starts again. So it is a false objection to begin with.

But suppose it is true, and a reputation is destroyed because a pastor met alone with a woman who was a sinner. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did?

Jesus “made himself of no reputation” when he saved us from our sins. The Bible tells us that this way of thinking is to be also in us (Phil. 2:5-12). Meditate on these verses for a while. Jesus, in order to save us from our sins, allowed himself to be viewed and treated as a sinner. He despised the shame of the cross, so great was his love for us. He came down from the glory of heaven and sunk right into our filth and mire and corruption in order to save our stinking rotten corpses. He healed our sicknesses and did it on the Sabbath day, knowing that it would “ruin his reputation”. In fact, this is specifically why they hated him.

I honestly cannot fathom why a Christian would not help one in need for fear that someone might ruin the reputation of his ministry. If this is your thinking, then the ministry that you have is truly yours, for it bears no resemblance to the ministry of Christ. Would it not be more pleasing to God to bear joyfully the reproach of Christ while helping those who need you?

This is the point of the account of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite were on their way to Jerusalem when they saw the broken and bloodied man. They had no idea if he were dead or not. If they helped, and he turned out to be dead, they would have been defiled for touching a dead body. If they were defiled, they would have been unable to fulfill their ministry in Jerusalem. So they protected their ministry, and “passed by on the other side.” Their ministry was more important to them than the life of a man.

The Good Samaritan was already ceremonially defiled, being a Samaritan, so he had nothing to lose.

And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” We are  to consider ourselves already defiled, so that we might love others as Christ loved the church. Take up your cross with him; despise the shame. Make yourself of no reputation. “Let this mind be in you, that was also in Christ Jesus.”

Perhaps it is time that we start thinking about love, rather than reputation.

Second: “You need to be aware of the temptations of the flesh and put no confidence in it. You never know what will happen if you allow yourself to get too close.”

Really? Think about this one for a while. This one is so common it’s frightening. It’s almost as if fornication is like the flu, and you accidently catch it if you happen to be close to a woman. “Here I was, minding my own business, when all of the sudden! BLAM! I caught adultery. I couldn’t help it. Her knees were exposed.”

Sorry, guys. This one is on you. Pastors who commit adultery commit adultery because they want to. They take one step after another because they want to.

They start by complaining about how their wives never understood them. Because they want to.

They let a church member linger in their thoughts, and dance through their fantasies. Because they want to.

They hold hands a little too long, hug just a little extra, and let their imaginations flit. Because they want to.

Then it progresses to trying to find time alone – and here they use the excuse of pastoral counseling. “I’m just ministering to her.”

Now, at this point please use discernment and follow me. Elders and wives, if the pastor is insisting on counseling a particular women alone in a closed study, there’s a reason for it and it usually isn’t a good one. It’s is perhaps wise at this point to ask some questions. BUT the problem is the HEART, NOT because he was left alone with a woman. We have to get that straight.

The reason that we have to get it straight is because the Bible insists on it. Sanctification does not come because we have hedged ourselves about with extra rules. Sanctification is the work of the Spirit in the heart which comes through the gospel, not the law. You can make a rule about pastors counseling alone in their studies after hours, and maybe you should to protect your sheep, but the rule will never change the man’s heart!

39 “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; (John 5:39 NAS)

The Pharisees searched the scriptures looking for rules that would fix whatever problem they were having, and they missed Christ. When we search for rules to protect us from catching adultery, we also miss Christ.

Adultery begins in the heart: in the will, and the reasoning, and the emotions and the desires. It starts with the idolatry that we were born with and progresses from there. We say in our hearts, “I will be as God and everyone will serve me.” This is what must be put to death. And the only way to deal with it is on your knees in confession, putting to death the old man with the lusts thereof and making alive the new man. And this can only come through the gospel. It only comes through Christ. You must be born again by the Spirit of God.

Finally, and this to me is the biggest problem. If you make the rule about never being alone with a woman because you are afraid of “catching adultery”, then your view of women is devilish and wicked, and you must repent of it. It is the same reason that non-Christian religions try to avoid fornication by covering up a woman from head to toe. It’s wicked, oppressive and wrong.

Let me explain. According to Scripture, a woman is a child of God, a firstborn son (Gal. 3:28-4:7), the image of God (Gen. 1:27), fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), with gifts and abilities and personhood, filled with the Spirit, and thus the Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

The devil hates that and seeks to destroy it. One very effective weapon is through sexual assault, domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment. The effects of sexual assault are that a woman is “reduced” in her mind and in the mind of the assailant, to a body to be despised and used and discarded.

And now she comes to the pastor for help and she is told that she can’t meet alone because the pastor might “catch adultery” from her.

I can see telling her that you would love to meet with her outside on the picnic table. Or with your wife who is very gentle and kind. Or in a place that isn’t nearly as threatening as alone in the pastors study. All of these I can see.

But to say that you won’t meet with her because you need to guard the heart is to confirm her worst fears: There is something wrong with her. She’s just a body to be gawked at and used. She has no worth other than sexually. She has to cover herself up and take responsibility for the pastor’s corruption. And this is the message that she is receiving from her pastor. It breaks my heart.

We should be restoring her to the image of God in Christ, giving her back her voice, her dignity, her worth. We should be talking to her as a whole person, in whom dwells the Holy Spirit of God. But instead, we are worrying about “catching adultery.”

25 percent of your congregation has been sexually assaulted. And this is how we respond. We may have a problem in our churches.

Perhaps I overreact. But I don’t know what else to think when I read comments that say, “So you would meet alone with an attractive woman in your study? Isn’t this an appearance of evil?”

I don’t know how else to take it. Let’s break it down. “Attractiveness” is apparently determined by the pastor. The fear is apparently that this woman would arouse so much lust in the pastor against his will that he will be unable to control himself. So really, it would be her fault – and his, by implication, for not hedging himself about with anti-adultery rules. If they get too close for too long, BAM – he catches adultery.

This rule also applies if she is in the car with him, walking down the sidewalk, or wearing a skirt a little to short. The solution, then, is burkas and isolation…wait a minute…

Do you see where this leads?

I believe that the Bible teaches another way. When we cast off the old man and put on the new, we start to learn to love our neighbor – men and women alike. This means that we MUST repent and flee from our fleshly tendency to view others as objects designed to give us what we want. Through the gospel, we are to reach out to humans AS HUMANS, made in God’s image. We must learn to see our sisters in Christ as sisters (1 Tim. 5:2), with thoughts, longings, dreams, hopes, fears. They also long for the marriage supper of the lamb. They also long to be closer to God. They long to be healed, just as we all do.

They long for a name, for significance and worth, for dignity – because they are in God’s image. We as Christians should begin to see one another as fellow-pilgrims, not as objects to be used and discarded. Cross the road and help the one in the ditch. Bear the reproach of Christ with joy.

Adultery starts when we reduce women to objects of possession, a collection of body parts, rather than sisters in Christ. This is where repentance must take place.

Please don’t use Joseph and Potiphar’s wife as an example. Joseph fled from her, not because he was afraid of “catching adultery”, but because he was a slave with no rights and was being sexually assaulted by someone in power.

We will never be effective pastors as long as we are afraid of the women in the congregation. When Paul said to have no confidence in the flesh, he meant that adding rules to protect yourself from sin would do absolutely nothing in the war against sin. Hedging the law with stacks of rules is exactly the “flesh” that Paul had no confidence in. Read all of Philippians 3 in the context to see what I mean. Paul was the expert in all the rules. A Pharisee of the Pharisees. THIS was exactly what he learned to have no confidence in. He counted it all dung, that he might know Christ.

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Filed under Men and women, Pastoral ministry, practical theology

Help! I’m On Fire!

I read an interesting quote from that out-dated comedian Garry Shandling. Remember him? He passed away in March of this year. It made me sad.

He said, “I met a beautiful girl at a barbeque, which was exciting. Blonde, I think—l don’t know. Her hair was on fire. And all she talked about was herself. You know those kind of girls It was just me, me, me Help me. Put me out ”

It got me thinking. This seems to be the response so many of our Christian sisters seem to get when they are dying inside. They have been torn apart emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically. They have been broken and battered and torn down over and over again. Pornography, brutality, reviling, drunkenness, adultery. They have to live with it every day. And finally, they may come and tell us about it.

And what’s our response? “Oh. You again? You always talk about yourself. Why can’t you ever think about anyone else.”

But in Shandling’s bit, who is the real narcissist? It’s the one who is so self-absorbed he can’t even see that this poor woman is on fire!

How can we tend the sheep when we don’t even notice that they are on fire? They come to us broken and bloody and turned upside down, and we heap on them even more scorn and shame instead of putting out the fire!

For those who have a hard time making the connection, take these examples of counsel that I have actually heard.

“Pastor, my husband hit me last night.”

“Why did he hit you?”

“Because dinner wasn’t ready when he got home.”

“Well, let me have Mrs. Pastor show you how to manage your time so that you can get dinner on time”

Or, let’s take this one:

“Pastor, my husband stays up all night in his study watching pornography. it makes me feel ugly and useless.”

“I see. Have you made sure that you are satisfying him  in bed? Have you tried fixing yourself up a bit?”

So vile, so narcissistic, so contrary to Christ! Jesus requires us to be wise enough to see that someone is on fire. If we can’t do that one thing, perhaps it is time to retire our frocks.

Just some thoughts I’ve have lately.

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Filed under Pastoral ministry

The Pastor’s Great Struggle

13 He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. (Pro 18:13)

I have had fellowship with many pastors. I also am a pastor. I have had lunch with pastors, talked with pastors, and have even at times tried to reason with pastors as pastors have also tried to reason with me.

There is one particular sin that I see in myself and continually fight against. I think it is probably endemic among pastors, to our shame.

We don’t listen.

We think we do. We nod and go Mmmhmmm a lot. But if the story goes on to long, we want to finish it. If the problem is clear in the first three words, we want to give the answer and get on with things. This is also  my great shame, for which I continuously repent.

We thought we were validated by the early nouthetic counselors: The problem is sin; the solution is repentance. There. Don’t waste any more of my time. I already told you what to do.

But we never listened. It took me years of repentance to begin to understand that most people don’t actually get to the real problem the first time they meet with the pastor. They are simply testing the water to see if we listen.

We usually fail that test and the sheep scurry away. We then wonder why no one talks to us. They don’t talk because we don’t listen.

Reformed pastors, to which tribe I belong,  seem to struggle with this to a greater extent. I don’t know why, but I think I might have a few clues. We are usually well-read, full of book-knowledge, and love to see the inner workings of the great truths of scripture. We are usually well-acquainted with original languages, and have a high regard for the authority and inspiration of scripture. All of these things are great and to be greatly desired. But the devil never rests and sin turns our strengths into folly.

We already know everything, so we don’t need to listen. We already know what the problem is, so we don’t need to hear.

But the Bible doesn’t call this “an area to work on.” Nor does it call this “a weakness”.  It calls this folly and a shame to us.

Shame on us every time we fail to listen. Shame on us every time we don’t hear.

We fail to hear in so many ways: The language of a childhood victim of sexual abuse goes beyond words, but we usually don’t stick around long enough to hear.

We silence the voice of the victims of domestic abuse by repeating the mantra, “God hates divorce.”

The voice of the abuser is decidedly different, for it comes disguised as a sheep.

The voice of those who are hurting and poor and in trouble shout at us all around. We would far rather stand on the corner and shout gospel platitudes than actually listen to them.

If we would open our ears to hear, we would begin to make some sense to the cacophony around us. The voice of the proud, saying, “I am, and there is none like me.”

The voice of the hurt, building barriers around her heart to stop any more pain.

The voice of the oppressed, whispering in the corner.

We don’t hear the matter because we don’t want to. It rattles our windows and shakes our floors and makes our house unsteady. It is an unwanted visitor brought to us by sin and the power of the devil and we think that if we shut our eyes and stop our ears and ignore it perhaps it will politely go away and let us get back to our books.

But

13 Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. (Pro 21:13)

That should stop us in our tracks. When we refuse to hear the cry of the ones without strength, God will eventually stop HIS ears when WE cry to Him!

Also implied is the great truth that we ourselves, we pastors who have “so much knowledge” (sarcasm alert), who have everything all together – are just as needy, just as poor, just as helpless as that poor and oppressed one – we ALSO will cry out, and we will be heard to the extent that we heard those who cried to us. This should strike fear into our hearts.

Fellow pastors, we don’t need to do better. We need to repent. We need to learn to hear the cry of the poor and repent of all the times we were too busy, too uncomfortable, too unsure, too occupied with “important things”, to hear.

When we have shut our mouths long enough to listen, then we must open our mouths to speak.

8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
(Pro 31:8-9 KJV)

The phrase translated “such as are appointed to die” is literally “children of vanishing.” They are the ones who are so easily ignored, the ones who suffer quietly because they have been unheard for so long. They are the ones who don’t meet your eye, withdraw into the corner, whisper so low they are hard to hear.

They vanish and are forgotten – except that their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life and He entrusted them to your care and commanded you to hear them and then open your mouth to defend them, to plead their cause.

Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will rattle the very foundation of the nice and neat theological house that you built. Yes, the Enemy won’t give up without a fight.

But it is God’s fight, and He commanded you to fight it. And the day will come when you will stand before God and give an account of every idle word. You will be called to account for your listening skills. You will be called to account for your willingness to open your mouth.

Don’t delay. Learn to hear. Learn to speak. Learn to listen.

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, Repentance