Mailbag

The Mailbag: You need to set up an appointment with your pastor for counsel…

A family member and I had a falling out…

I’m unequally yoked in my marriage

We’ve got this situation with my husband’s ex-wife…

My adult child lives with us and has broken the law…

…what do I do? How do I handle all of this?

I hurt for so many of y’all facing difficult situations out there. Detailed situations. Complicated situations. Situations you desperately need some help with.

Situations I get emails and comments about that I deeply want to help you with, but I can’t, because it would be unbiblical and irresponsible of me to try to do so.

It would be irresponsible, because I don’t know you. I don’t know the situation or the other people involved. I don’t know the laws in your area. And, although I’m sure you’re all truthful when you write to me, I’m only getting your side of the story, so I’m not getting a complete picture of what’s going on. I could give you advice that might inadvertently prove wrong or harmful.

It would also be irresponsible to my family, because my primary duty is to serve them. If I tried to spend as much time as it would take to properly counsel everyone who asks me to, I would be neglecting my family.

It would be unbiblical because there’s no “stranger thousands of miles away on the internet” role for me in the framework God has set up for Christianity. God’s framework for Christianity is the local church, and in that framework, if you need counsel, the person God has designated to be your first point of contact in most situations is your pastor, an elder, or a spiritually mature brother or sister in Christ.

Not only would it be wrong for me to try to usurp one of those positions, it would be robbing your church of the opportunity to shepherd and disciple you one on one, face to face, for the long haul. And it would be robbing you of the joy and blessings of being ministered to by your church family. When you and your church walk through a situation like this together, it strengthens your bond, grows all of you, and increases your joy in one another.

But I don’t have a church. I promise I’m not trying to pile on here, but I need to take this opportunity to drive home to everybody who’s reading this who has been lackadaisical or defiant about finding a church: this is one of the reasons you need to find, join, and get plugged in to a good church. This is one of the reasons Scripture tells us that, for Christians, church is not optional and non-negotiable. That we’re to meet together more as the Day draws near, not less.

Furthermore, being faithful to a local body can sometimes help prevent certain situations from happening in the first place because you’re getting good, biblical instruction, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age”. (Titus 2:12)

If you’re not currently a member of a church (or you are and you’ve stopped attending), you need to make that right immediately. Disobeying God’s command for us to gather isn’t going to help your situation, and obeying it can do nothing but help.

If you’re not sure where to look for a solid church, start praying fervently for God to lead you to one. Then go to the blue menu bar at the top of this page, click on Searching for a new church?, and start by reading the materials in the “What to look for in a church” section.

But I’m hanging in there, trying to effect / waiting for change at a church that’s operating unbiblically and I don’t trust my pastor to give me biblical counsel. Believe me, I know from first hand experience exactly what that’s like.

(I also know that many readers’ knee jerk reaction will be, “Well, you need to get out of there and find a different church.” I get that, and in many cases that’s the right answer. But in other cases it’s not. There are lots of different reasons why someone might choose to weather a temporary storm at her church, and immediately bailing out isn’t always the godly answer.)

What about your Sunday School or Bible study teacher? A spiritually mature friend who’s also hanging in there? An older lady in the church? Think about it and pray for God to lead you to the right person who can help.

If you can’t find someone in your own church, what about a godly friend who goes to another (doctrinally sound) church? Talk things over with her. If she feels like your situation is outside her wheelhouse, perhaps she would be willing to introduce you to her pastor and he would be willing to counsel you. You could even “cold call” a pastor at a doctrinally sound church in your area and see if he counsels “walk-ins” who are members of other churches. It never hurts to ask.

If all else fails, see if there’s a church in your area that has an ACBC certified Biblical Counselor (this is not the same thing as a “Christian counselor/therapist”) available for counseling, or explore my Biblical Counseling resource in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.

But there isn’t a doctrinally sound church in my area. I know that for a few of you, this is true. You live in a remote area where there are no churches. Or, everything close by is Catholic, or NAR, or progressive, and the nearest semblance of a doctrinally sound church is five hours away. You’re willing to make sacrifices to attend church, but there just isn’t one to attend.

But I also know that for some, what this means is, “My ideal church isn’t located within a 15 minute drive of me.”

I’ve addressed these scenarios in detail in some of the links above, so, long story short: check every single church search engine at the Searching for a new church? tab to make sure you haven’t overlooked a good church within achievable driving distance, move, or look into church planting. And, above all, pray that God would provide you with a good church.

But for the purposes of this article, if there isn’t a doctrinally sound church in your area, many of the same suggestions above will apply: talk to a godly friend, Zoom with a solid pastor friend in another area, or visit my Biblical Counseling tab (linked above).

But couldn’t you just recommend a book for me to read that addresses what I’m going through? No, I probably can’t, primarily for the very simple reason that there are thousands of books out there on zillions of topics, and I haven’t read them all. And if I haven’t read a particular book, I don’t know if it’s doctrinally sound, and I don’t know if it adequately addresses your issue.

Additionally, while good books can be somewhat helpful in a general, “one size fits all” sort of way, no book is going to address all the specifics of your particular situation. But a one on one, ongoing counseling or discipleship relationship with your pastor or a godly older sister at church can.

Let’s (I’ve been guilty of this too) be careful not to fall into the subtle mindset of, “If I could just find the right book, it’ll be the magic bullet to solve my problem.” I can practically guarantee you, it won’t.

All of that being said, if your pastor recommends a certain (doctrinally sound) book while he’s counseling you, by all means, read it. If the friend you’re talking things over with says, “This book really helped me a lot in when I was in your situation,” go for it. As you’re pursuing one on one, face to face counsel in the context of your local church, go ahead and read up (I’d recommend anything from Grace to You, Ligonier, or anything written by the folks at the Recommended Bible Teachers tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.)

I’m not saying good books aren’t helpful. I’m just saying books alone aren’t a substitute for godly counsel from real, flesh and blood brothers and sisters in Christ.

Life can be hard and painful sometimes. God knew it would be, and He knows the best way to help us. That’s why He gave us the church.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Guest Posts

Guest Post: Why Not Yoga?

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in my “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail, and let’s chat about it.

Why Not Yoga?
by Michal Russo

Most people in the world are familiar with, or have at least heard of, “yoga”. Whether it’s simply wearing yoga pants, or actually practicing and teaching, the notion is widespread and accepted as a pillar of wellness and spirituality. A practice that is often referred to as uniting the mind, body, and soul through asana (poses) and pranayama (breathing techniques) has evolved widely over the centuries. Beginning with ancient times and pre-classical yoga, all the way through modern day westernized schools of “yoga”. However, one thing remains the same, and that is: it’s all deeply rooted in connecting your spirit to other spirits.

First let’s make sure we fully understand, and agree, on what yoga truly is.

What is yoga?

The origin and the name of the word “yoga” dates back to roughly 5,000 years ago and comes from two sanskrit roots: (1) yujir and (2) yuj, with its first mention coming in the Rig Veda, an ancient and sacred text used by the Brahmans, or Vedic Priests. The Veda used the word ‘yoga’ with the meaning of ‘yoking’, ‘joining’, ‘coming together’ and ‘connection’. These priests were considered mystic seers, and they documented their beliefs in a collection of hundreds of scriptures called The Upanishads, culminating in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ around 500 B.C.E. They went on to become the very foundations for Hinduism, and Yoga.

Now, many will argue that over time, and most especially in the Western World, Yoga has lost this yoke, or connection, to the religion, or spirituality.

B.K.S. Iyengar (one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world and founder of Iyengar Yoga) wrote about it quite succinctly in the preface to his book, “The Illustrated Light on Yoga” by stating:

Yoga is a timeless pragmatic science evolved over thoughts of years dealing with the physical, moral, mental and spiritual well-being of a man as a whole.

The first book to systematize this practice was the classic treatise The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali dating from 200 BC. Unfortunately most of the books published on yoga have been unworthy of both the subject and its first great exponent, as they are superficial, popular and at times misleading.

The Western reader may be surprised at the recurring reference to the Universal Spirit, to mythology and even some philosophical and moral principles. He must not forget that in ancient times all the higher achievements of man, and knowledge, art, and power, were part of religion and were seen to belong to God and to his priestly servants on Earth. The Catholic Pope is the last such embodiment of divine knowledge and power in the West.

But formerly, even in the Western World, music, painting, architecture, philosophy and medicine, as well as wars, were always in the service of God. It is only very recently in India that these arts and sciences have begun to shake off the Divine – but with due respect, for the emancipation of man’s will, as this thing from the Divine will, we in India continue to value the purity of purpose, the humility of discipline and the selflessness that are the legacy of our long bondage to God. I consider it important as well as interesting that the reader should know the origin of asanas, and I have, therefore, included legends handed down by practicing Yogis and Sages. All the ancient commentaries on yoga have stressed that it is essential to work under the direction of a guru (Master), and although my experience proves the wisdom of this rule, I have endeavoured with all humility in this book to guide the reader – both to teacher and student – to a correct and safe method of mastering these asanas and pranayamas.

Can I Break The Yoke and Still Practice Yoga?

So, I ask you, is it still possible to practice yoga but not submit to this “yoke” or “connection”, which is the very name and essence of this ancient “science”, “art”, “ritual”, “practice” or whatever name chosen to describe it?

Does it not raise the very question as to what you are yoking to at the very least? If the answer is ambiguous, does that not alone irk your very soul? The answer seen most often to this question: You are connecting to whatever belief, power, or God you have (if you ask a Westernized teacher). Clearly, Iyengar had different feelings.

Further, the very nature of a practice is to make it become a ritual, so routine that it is automatic.

Perhaps that sounds like offering ourselves wholly to something, while “opening our mind, our body, and our soul”. You are commiting to serve something.

Perhaps that means becoming a bondservant, or slave.

What Does The Word Say?

To prepare this answer I prayed for the Holy Spirit to coat me in the armor of God and grant me the wisdom to discern and learn the Word, not with eisegesis (not to read it out of context or read into it my own cultural biases), but with evangelistic power, and the wisdom of apologetics.

Notice Iyengar’s direct usage of the term “bondage to God”, and understanding that “yoga” means to connect or to yoke, and a bondslave, or a bondservant, is one that makes a long lasting and permanent commitment as a slave.

In the Book of James, chapter 2, we see James the Just use the Greek word for “bondservant” – doulos- to describe his relationship to Jesus. While this may have been a gesture of humility coming from the very brother of Jesus himself, I am sure, there is no humility in shrugging off the clear and defined yoke and connection to any other god, or actively practicing a bondage to a god other than the One and Holy God of Israel.

Matthew 11:28-30
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Joshua 24:15
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Psalm 32:8
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

My Personal Journey

Through practicing and teaching yoga, I thought I was contributing to the overall positive well-being of myself and others. I was in pursuit of calm and peace and tranquility. This was the way, I thought.

So I began to study it, and not just any form – I began in the College of India School of Bikram where the whole theory was that 90 minutes in this heated room was better than an eternity in hell. My emancipation and salvation would come after Savasana, or the final resting “dead man’s pose”, and I thought nothing more of this, even then, even as a believer.

Ten years passed and I traveled across the world to get my yoga teacher training. I sought out more than a teacher. Now, I wanted a guru. I got my teaching certificate and Yoga Alliance membership and started offering classes. Again, I thought I was helping people. Helping them relieve pain, stress, tension. I thought that when I put a Buddha in my home, it was harmless. We had them in the studio and so I thought it was a harmless symbol that represents peace, but it was an idol.

I eventually even built a small altar in my basement with my yogic books, chakra stones, guides and incense. Again, every studio I worked in had these at the front of the room so I thought that it wasn’t wrong. When I led chants, mantras and Ohms I thought they were harmless, even though they directly called out auspicious goodness, or Shiva, or other gods by name.

When I wore “yoga pants” I never thought twice about what I was truly calling them or adorning my body in. When I bowed down on my yoga mat, I never considered myself bowing down to other gods or submitting myself in connection by yoking to anything at all. I was just breathing and stretching… right?

Again, this wasn’t and isn’t an easy assignment, answering this call to renounce and repent from the practice of yoga entirely. The further I pursued my faith in Jesus Christ, the block came. It was like a spiritual stop sign that no longer allowed me to continue practicing yoga, and definitely to stop teaching it.

Like any ritual, especially one that involves the body, mind, and even my soul, I longed for that time where I could flow but now I knew it needed to be clear and intentionally in His mercy and grace. I can worship Him safely and without unintentionally leading others into the very slippery slope I found myself in by teaching and practicing yoga.

Now, all I want is to practice Christianity with my entire heart, mind, and soul: free and uncompromised by deceptive practices.


Michal Russo is a wife and mother of two teens, a toddler, and one baby on the way. She moved back to her small hometown in Ohio after she renounced her life as a yoga teacher, and founded a ministry called WorshipFlow, bringing the message of Christ and His healing deliverance to those who may have fallen into the snares of Yoga and New Age mysticism. Follow her on Instagram.

If you’d like to know more about yoga and why Christians shouldn’t practice it, please click here.

Sermon on the Mount Bible Study

The Sermon on the Mount ~ Lesson 13

Be sure to come back next week for our “wrap up” lesson!

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Matthew 7:24-29

Questions to Consider

1. Briefly review the “middle parts” (ex: merciful, poor in spirit) of the Beatitudes, the “salt and light” passage, and the “heart of the law” passage in Matthew 5:1-12, 13-16, 14-20. Now read 7:24-29 in light of those passages.

2. In the Beatitudes, Jesus lists the traits that define Christian character. In much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount He fleshes out what many of these character traits look like when walked out in “real life”. Which of the traits (the “middle parts” – there could be several) listed in the Beatitudes is Jesus expanding on in today’s passage?

How do: being wise, obedient, “building your house on the rock,” and extolling Jesus’ authority make you salty and bright? (5:13-16)

3. Review from our previous lessons (links above) the idea that the Sermon on the Mount is to the New Testament / new covenant what the Ten Commandments were to the Old Testament / old covenant.

Zoom out and think “big picture” about the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments. How do they both reinforce the concept of God’s/Jesus’ authority (29) to direct our lives? How do they both impart the idea that we are to submit to Him and obey Him? How do they both demonstrate that God blesses our submission and obedience?

Despite having dropped the “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” framing of His teaching in chapter 6, how is Jesus still shifting the people’s focus from outward obedience to the letter of the law to zeroing in on the attitude of their hearts and the spirit of the law? How must being a genuinely regenerated Believer – being wise, building our lives on the rock of Christ, and bowing to the authority of Christ – be at the heart of our obedience to God?

4. Explain the parable in verses 24-27- What do the…

  • wise and foolish
  • the house
  • the rock and the sand
  • rain, floods, wind
  • the foundation

…represent?

5. How does 24-27 flow out of 21-23? In verse 24, how does the introductory phrase, “everyone then” function similarly to “therefore,” and other summarizing or “pivot” words/phrases? How is 24-25 the remedy for 21-23? What are “these words of Mine”? (24) Compare 24-27 to these verses. What similarities do you see? Compare verse 23 with verse 27. What is the main idea both of these verses convey?

6. Consider the concepts of “wise and foolish” here in this passage in light of other Scriptures about wisdom and foolishness that you’re familiar with. (If you’re not familiar, start with these, and use your cross-references.) How do the wise man and foolish man in this passage fit in with Scripture’s overall teaching about wisdom and foolishness? Where does wisdom come from?

Compare the wisdom of the wise man in verses 24-25 to the amazing wisdom Christ displayed throughout the Sermon on the Mount.

7. When Jesus originally preached this sermon, did He mean verses 24-27 in a “big picture” way (believing / disbelieving the gospel) or a “little picture” way (trusting Christ / not having Christ to trust through the “storms of life”)? Is it reasonable, and rightly handling Scripture, for today’s Believer to understand and apply this passage both ways? Why or why not?

Big picture: What is the end result of a life founded on Christ versus a life founded on anything else (i.e. “all other ground is sinking sand”)?

Little picture: How do Believers weather the storms of life compared to unbelievers? What assurances and comforts do we have during difficult times? What are some of the temporal benefits and blessings of believing the gospel and obeying Christ?

8. In verses 28-29, explain the difference between Jesus’ authoritative teaching and the scribes’ non-authoritative teaching. Where did Jesus’ authority in teaching come from? Think about the people Jesus was speaking to, and try to put yourself in their shoes. Why would His speaking authoritatively have been “astonishing”? (Don’t forget to use your cross-references.)


Homework

  • Imagine you’re an average, first century Jew, trying to live faithfully while waiting for the Messiah to come. You’ve just finished listening to the Sermon on the Mount. Think back over everything you’ve heard Jesus say in chapters 5-7. What are your 4-5 most important takeaways? What’s your impression of Jesus?
  • You knew it was coming… :0)
When I was a kid, we only had the first two verses of this song.
I like the verses that have been added!

Suggested Memory Verse

Church, Sin, Southern Baptist/SBC

“Wayback Wednesday” ~ Preventative Measures: 6 Steps SBC Churches Can Take to Prevent Sexual Abuse

(I had to flip flop Bible study with Throwback Thursday due to some scheduling issues. Our next lesson in The Sermon on the Mount study is coming tomorrow.)

Originally published February 22, 2019

The state I live in is heavily Catholic and Southern Baptist. For many years, journalists and others have been delving into the gobsmacking number – thousands – of pedophile and sexually abusive Catholic clergy across the globe, and, in recent months, my own local paper has been tackling the issue as it pertains to priests and other Catholic leaders in our area who have been revealed as abusers. So I was kind of prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention to be the next entity to be investigated. My guess is that either Presbyterians or Mormons will be next.

It’s absolutely appropriate that the news media conducted this kind of investigation into the SBC. What’s not appropriate is that SBC leadership appeared not to be ready for it because – at least from my perspective as the average person in the pew – it’s not something the Convention has a history of policing itself on in any appreciable way. SBC leadership should have been ready and eager to fling the doors wide open and transparently welcome any sort of investigation by the media, demonstrating whatever progress has been made in dealing with perverts in our pulpits. Instead, they seemed to be caught virtually unprepared despite the fact that the signs of the times should have indicated to them that this was coming.

In my opinion, the Houston Chronicle did an excellent job of exposing the problems with abuse in the SBC in its three-part series of articles, even taking the time to explain the crucial point of church autonomy, which sets SBC churches apart from the governing structure of Catholicism and other organizations, and which has, in many cases enabled abusers to move from church to church undetected. SBC leaders who have explained that they have no authority to force churches to participate in any sort of registry of abusers and the credibly accused are correct (but couldn’t it be voluntary?). SBC leadership, unfortunately, has no such authority over individual churches. Each church has to set its own standards and methods for preventing abuse. So what can individual, autonomous churches do to prevent abuse?

1.
Preach the Gospel

That might sound pretty basic, but it’s one of the basics we desperately need to get back to. We need to be churches who hammer on the gospel – the wretchedness of sin, the supreme holiness of God, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, grace, mercy, repentance, forgiveness – week in and week out. Not only is that…well…it’s just what any biblical church is supposed to do, but my guess is that the vast majority of the perpetrators in these abuse cases are not actually Christians – despite what they may claim or what office they might hold – they are false converts because a lot of churches they’ve been part of have neglected their duty to preach the gospel.

Too many SBC churches teach an easy – “Just repeat this quick little prayer, and boom, you’re in!” – believism that unrepentant sinners hang their eternal hats on as a “Get out of Hell, Free!” card. They’ve never found themselves filthy and undone before an unfathomably holy God because they’ve never been confronted by that God or that characterization of their sin in the preaching and teaching of their churches. Could some of these perpetrators be genuinely regenerated Christians? It’s possible, but not likely. By and large, true Christians are not out there abusing others – it’s the false converts.

2.
Meaningful Membership

Some churches have done away with formal membership altogether. Everybody’s welcome, come and go whenever you want, if you want, no requirements, no accountability. That’s not biblical, nor is it how the church has handled membership over the course of church history.

Traditionally there have been three main ways to join a SBC church: a newly saved person makes a public profession of his faith to the church body and is baptized into membership, or membership can be transferred from one church to another. You can transfer your membership by promise of letter (your previous church sends a letter to your current church recommending or not recommending that you be accepted for membership) or by statement (when obtaining a letter from a previous church isn’t possible, this is an “honor system” personal testimony that you are a baptized Believer).

Promise of letter in particular is a decent and biblical system that needs to be upheld, adhered to, and taken gravely seriously rather than just waving every Tom, Dick, and Harry through the wide open doors of the church. And in the case of new church members and new staff members (new staff members have to transfer their membership, too), it could help curb abuse if both the sending and receiving churches would look upon it as far more than a mere formality.

One of the very valid problems the Chronicle articles cite is that sending churches (the churches the abusers came from) did not inform subsequent churches of the problems with the abuser. They silently foisted people they knew were dangerous onto unsuspecting congregations. If sending churches would respond honestly to inquiries from receiving churches (the churches the abusers are going to) about their former staff and members, and if receiving churches would ask probing, personal questions rather than sending out perfunctory form letters, that would be a good start to making more headway on preventing abuse.

Furthermore, meaningful membership makes it harder for people to anonymously breeze in to the church, abuse, and slip out before anybody realizes what’s going on. There are sexual abusers out there who find and attend churches with loosey-goosey membership policies for the express purpose of cultivating a pool of victims. They know these churches are blindly and ignorantly trusting, so they show up for a couple of weeks, talk a good game, and promptly volunteer to work in the nursery or with the youth. If your church has a firm membership policy, required membership class, requires members to sign a church covenant, only allows church members (not just anybody who wants to or seems talented) to serve in any office, task, role, or capacity – and only after they have been members for a specified amount of time (ex: must have been a faithful member for at least six months to teach, serve on a committee, etc.), that sort of abuser isn’t going to waste his time or chance being caught by attending your church.

3.
Church Discipline

One of the failings of far too many SBC (and other) churches is sweeping sin under the rug and refusing to biblically exercise church discipline before it’s too late and calamity strikes. Church discipline isn’t just for the “big” sins like a pastor who commits adultery. Church discipline is for all observable, unrepentant, biblically defined sin. If we have verifiable knowledge that a brother or sister in our church is sinning, we have the obligation not to please ourselves by turning a blind eye and avoiding a confrontation, but to lovingly go to that person and plead with her, for her own restoration and reconciliation to Christ, to repent and walk blamelessly. Often (hopefully), that first step in the church discipline process precludes the need for the remaining two.

Churches that consistently, lovingly, and biblically practice church discipline help prevent abuse in four ways:

First of all, nobody wakes up one morning and decides to start sexually abusing others. There are always “smaller” sins leading up to abuse – obscene comments, dirty jokes, leering, pornography, inappropriate touching in public. If we would address those “smaller” sins when we see them happening, we might just prevent the potential abuser from continually hardening his heart by getting away with sin, bring the gospel to bear on his life, and keep him from becoming an abuser in the first place. He might actually get saved, which is one of the goals of church discipline.

Second, if a church cultivates an atmosphere of practicing church discipline, unrepentant abusers aren’t going to hang around long. They don’t want to be caught.

Third, if a church ends up having to go through all the steps of church discipline with an unrepentant potential abuser, the last step – bringing this person before the church to remove him from membership – is public. Church members are made aware of the problems with this person so they can avoid being victimized by him and the procedure of removing the potential abuser from church membership goes into the church records. When he then goes to a new church, that receiving church should inquire of the sending church about him (see “Meaningful Membership” above). The sending church can then provide the record of his removal so the receiving church will be aware of the problems with this person.

Fourth, if we practice church discipline on the “smaller” sins with an unrepentant abuser, he is likely to be removed from membership in the church before he gets to the point of abusing someone.

Another aspect of church discipline is tightening up the rolls and removing members who are dead (no, I’m not kidding), have moved away, have stopped attending, or are no longer members in good standing for other reasons. This may not prevent someone from abusing, but at least if he does abuse, the media won’t be able to report that he’s (still) a member of your church, thus tarnishing your church’s, and possibly God’s, good name.

4.
Take Biblical Requirements for Leadership Seriously

It’s not like the Bible doesn’t tell us what kind of man should be a pastor, elder, or deacon. It’s right there, in black and white, twice, in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. And yet there are churches who barely give those requirements a glance in favor of “more important” qualities they want in a pastor: Does he have at least a master’s degree from seminary? Is he a certain age? Does he rub elbows with Christian celebrities? Does he have a track record of successful building programs, fundraising, and attracting lots of new members? Is he charismatic and a dynamic speaker? None of those things are inherently bad unless they take precedence over the biblical qualifications.

But when churches are hiring men as pastors, youth directors, etc., whom they know have been in prison for abuse, as the Chronicle articles cited, we have to think some other factor is more important to those churches than the biblical requirements. Because someone who has been accused, tried, convicted, and imprisoned by worldly courts for sexual abuse is no longer “above reproach” – the very first requirement in both passages (and Titus mentions it twice for emphasis) – he is not “respectable”, and he is not “well thought of by outsiders”. The very existence of the Chronicle’s articles proves that. It boggles the mind that something like this has to be said to professing Christians who are supposedly spiritually mature and biblically knowledgeable enough to be on the pastor search committees for their churches, but people who have criminal records as sex abusers are permanently disqualified from professional ministry because they no longer meet these biblical requirements. (And just as an aside, if your church has a “no hire” policy for men who have ever been divorced for any reason but yet you’ll hire a convicted sexual abuser…well…I’m just at a loss for words at that level of hypocrisy. OK, maybe one word: repent.)

But, “forgiveness for repentant sinners!” I can hear compassionate Christians cry out. Absolutely. Absolutely. I have a loved one who was radically and genuinely saved while he was in prison for child molestation. God can and does save sexual abusers, and those forgiven Christians need a church home just like everybody else does. We lovingly welcome into membership repentant sinners who are transparent with the church about their previous sin and who volunteer to be kept accountable. But we do not put them back into the position of pastor, elder, deacon, etc., first because they are biblically disqualified, and second, because it is not loving to that person nor to the rest of the church to allow him access to facets of church life that would tempt him back into sin. And it is putting God to the test to intentionally put such a person into a tempting situation as some sort of way of “proving” that God has really saved this person. We would not make a convicted embezzler the church treasurer and we should not be putting sexual abusers in positions that would tempt or allow them to abuse again – even volunteer positions. That doesn’t mean we doubt their salvation or the work God has done in their hearts, that means we recognize that Satan is cruel and crafty and we humbly admit that we still succumb to temptations to sin. It’s not holding a grudge or unforgiveness, it’s exercising biblical wisdom.

5.
Stop Being Afraid

When we allow the fear of man to determine our actions instead of the fear of God, we are in grave spiritual error. Peter and the apostles stood up to the authorities who threatened and imprisoned them, insisted on obeying God’s Word, boldly declared, “We must obey God rather than men,” took their licks like men, went away rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name, and kept right on trucking in obedience to God. How far have we fallen when we won’t even address a brother’s sin with him because we’re afraid of confrontation? When we cover up a predator’s behavior and unleash him on others because we’re afraid of a defamation lawsuit? When we must obey men rather than God because we’re more afraid of the earthly consequences than spiritual consequences – because we don’t trust God to take care of us or His church?

Brothers and sisters, this must not be.

Should we act wisely? Of course. Make sure we’re obeying the law and not hurting anyone as far as we’re able? Certainly. Get some legal advice? Absolutely. But when the rubber meets the road of choosing what’s right in God’s eyes versus what’s safe or comfortable in our own eyes, we choose what’s right in God’s eyes every time and we trust Him with the outcome. The God who parts seas, cools furnaces, and raises the dead is powerful enough to handle court cases and the ire of sinful men. Let us say with the Psalms and the Proverbs:

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Proverbs 29:25

…in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Psalm 56:11

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Psalm 118:6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:5-7

6.
Practical Wisdom

Do the practical stuff. God has given us brains, experience, resources, and promises us wisdom. We would be failing to honor Him if we did not make use of all of those blessings in order to protect our churches from predators.

Perform criminal background checks on all staff members and on anyone who works with children, the disabled, or vulnerable adults regardless of how well you know them or how trustworthy you think they are.

Check references on every employee from the pastor to the janitor. Do it thoroughly and diligently, not flippantly.

Put accountability measures in place such as requiring at least two adults to be present in children’s and youth activities and classes at all times. No teen or adult – including the pastor, youth pastor or any other staff member – should ever be alone with a child on church property or at church functions.

Hold training sessions for the whole church on your church’s security measures, and how to report suspicious behavior and suspected abuse. Specifically address parents on the issue of trusting other adults in the church. Time after time, we hear that children are victimized because parents have left their child alone with a pastor or other Christian adult assuming that person was trustworthy. Teach them instead to assume that any adult – regardless of his title or position – who seeks to be alone with a child is untrustworthy.

Explore the services of organizations like Ministry Safe and others who can help you make your church a safer place. Pick the brains of sister churches who have put precautions in place for helpful suggestions and resources.

In the aftermath of bombshell news of abuse, the most common line of reasoning is, “How can we fix this? What can we do?”. Thoughts turn to practical solutions. That’s not wrong. In fact, it’s very, very right. We should make every effort to put pragmatic safeguards in place. But we can’t focus on the practical and tangible and leave out the spiritual. Because abuse is a spiritual issue way before it’s a safety issue. And if we get the spiritual part of it right from the get go, we drastically reduce the chances that we’ll have to fall back on practical safety measures. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and a church striving to uphold the highest Scriptural standards of holiness will find itself fortified with tons of both.

Church

A Polling Place

There are so many heavy issues to deal with out there. I wanted to do something a little lighter today, so I thought we’d do some polls and let you share your thoughts. If you choose “other” on any of the questions and want to elaborate on your choice, you may do so in the comments section (it will be helpful if you tell us the number of the question you’re addressing).

Some questions are more serious, some are just for fun. Answer any or all. Let’s hear what you think!

Any more thoughts? Feel free to share them in the comments!