Category Archives: practical theology

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

Every Appearance of Evil, and the Billy Graham Rule

I’ve been gone and out of the loop for a while. The debate over the so-called “Billy Graham” rule, in light of the comments of Mike Pence, went on without me. That was probably a good thing.

But every generation renews its battle with the horrible interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You have probably heard it:

22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1Th 5:22 KJV)

This is generally interpreted by small-minded men as an excuse to avoid interacting for good in the lives of others. When the passage is poorly translated, and taken out of context, it appears as if it is saying that one should avoid doing anything that someone else might take as being evil. Thus, lazy and guilt-ridden men can avoid interaction with “undesireables” and still pretend to take the high ground.

For example, I heard one man say that if he were driving alone down the road and saw a beautiful woman stranded with car trouble, he wouldn’t stop to help, but would call someone at the next town. He wouldn’t want the neighbors to think evil of him being alone with a beautiful woman. And, as he said, the Bible says, “Avoid every appearance of evil.” (This rule only applies to beautiful women, apparently.)

Another man told me once that he couldn’t be seen with a troubled teen who appeared to be “effeminate” (I hate that word), for fear that someone might think evil of him. I just can’t even…

I do not wish to judge the heart of Billy Graham. I simply don’t know enough about the situation, and God did not assign to me the task of being everyone’s conscience. I only wish to make one point. Is dining alone with a member of the opposite sex an “appearance of evil” and thus forbidden by 1 Thessalonians 5:22?

If that is the case, then Jesus himself broke the rule. He spoke with women one on one, alone. He even dined with publicans and sinners.

Further, Paul wrote that we should not seek to please men, but to please God (Gal.1:10), and Jesus commanded us not to judge according to appearance (John 7:24). So does the Bible have contradictions? Certainly not!

A quick look at the historical and grammatical context of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 will sort out the issues, if one wishes to have eyes to see.

The historical context is this: Remember that the Thessalonians were real people with real problems, and Paul knew them.  Paul preached at Thessalonica and the conversions there caused the Jews to respond with furious envy (Acts 17). The believers in that city had to send Paul away quickly to spare his life, and Paul went from there to Berea, where they were “more noble”, since they searched the scriptures daily to “see if these things be so.…”

Paul, then, is very concerned about the new church in Thessalonica. He left them suddenly without new leadership in place. This in turn left them open to various itinerate preachers. Some were good and some were not so good.

This is the historical context of 1 Thessalonians.

Here is the grammatical context:

19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
(1Th 5:19-22 KJV)

As you can see, what Paul is saying is this. “When you hear the word of God preached to you, don’t despise it. But at the same time, don’t swallow everything you hear. Test it according to the scriptures (like the Bereans do). If it is good, grapple it unto your soul with hoops of steel. If it is evil, shun it strongly and completely, no matter what appearance it takes.”

When evil comes, don’t be fooled by the mask. Shun it, no matter what mask it wears.

So, in the context, if someone comes to you and says, “Don’t do good to others because someone might think you are doing evil”, perhaps we should apply 1 Thessalonians 5:22 and reject that counsel as bad. This is, after all, what the scripture tells us to do.

Let’s be discerning in what we hear. If what we hear is good, embrace it. If it is evil, reject it – no matter how pretty one makes it sound. It is only the scripture that determines what is pleasing to God, not the envious and self-righteous judgments of passersby.

There may be all sorts of valid reasons to try to avoid getting into a situation alone with a member of the opposite sex, but the “appearance of evil” is not one of them.

You can see my follow-up post here.

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Filed under practical theology, Sex, Sin and Grace, Wisdom