Mailbag

Throwback Thursday ~ The Mailbag: Is It OK for Christian Women to Wear Bikinis?

It’s that time of year again, ladies :0)

Originally published February 27, 2017

mailbag

 

Summer is just around the corner, so a lot of women will soon be shopping for swimwear. With regard to modesty- do you think it’s OK for Christian women to wear bikinis?

I’m trying to remember back to the days when I might have actually considered – without doubling over in laughter – wearing a bikini. It was a really long time ago. Young, svelte sisters, if I may bring you a bit of comfort- you won’t have to grapple with this question for the rest of your life. As your other older sisters and I can attest, one day, age-appropriateness, your figure, sun exposure, and the desire not to frighten people will make this decision for you long before you have to consider modesty as part of the equation. It’s one of the blessings of getting older.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page here, let’s quickly define our terms. When I say “bikini,” I’m talking about the fabric equivalent of a bra and panties, not swimwear that covers a lot more yet comes in two pieces.

bikini-377488_1280women_in_bathing_suits_on_collaroy_beach_1908_photographed_by_colin_caird
     bikini                           not bikinis

Generally speaking, I don’t think bikinis are wise in public unless you’re wearing a shirt or some kind of cover up over it. I’m reluctant to make a hard and fast law about it, though, because, as I’m sure you’re aware, the Bible doesn’t say “Thou shalt not wear a bikini.” (My husband would like to chime in here and says, “However, if you and your husband have a private place for just the two of you to swim or sunbathe, go for it!” You’re welcome, guys.)

As with various other issues, the Bible gives us a general principle (in this case about dressing modestly) and we work out our own salvation in our own cultural context according to all pertinent biblical principles and our own consciences. A law is a fast and easy “yes” or “no” answer to our question- which is often what our flesh wants, because our flesh is lazy. But what God wants Christians to do is study His word about the issue, pray, and ask Him for wisdom to make a godly decision. When we work through this process, it helps us to develop a greater desire to be conformed to the image of Christ and to be obedient to Him. Let’s take a look at just one passage of Scripture that could be helpful in this regard:

3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:3-8 

So, at first glance, you might wonder, “What in the world does this passage have to do with wearing a bikini?” It doesn’t have anything to do with the bikini itself, it zeros in on your heart (Why do you want to wear a bikini?) and your sanctification (Will wearing a bikini make me more Christlike?).

Verse 3a:
Examine your heart- could your motive for wearing a bikini be classified as selfish ambition or vain conceit? Is it possible you want to show your body off to men to appear desirable, or to women to make them jealous?

Verse 3b-4:
Is this a situation in which you should humble yourself and put the interests of those men who might be tempted to lust or those women who might be tempted to covet ahead of your own desire to appear attractive?

Verse 5:
Do you truly desire to have the same mindset as Christ- about this issue and all others?

Verse 6-8:
How did Jesus approach life, according to these verses? He set aside His own rights and privileges (6), He took on the role of a servant (7), He humbled Himself and was obedient to the point of death (8).

When it comes to wearing a bikini, are you willing to have the same mindset as Christ? To set aside your own rights and privileges, be a servant to others, humble yourself, and obey Christ even to the point of death?

These are not questions God wants me to answer for you. These are questions He wants you to come to Him and answer, because He wants your heart. And He wants you to examine your heart and see if it belongs to Him in this area.


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.

Uncategorized

The Word on Wednesdays

 

Hi ladies! I hope you enjoyed our most recent Bible study, Imperishable Beauty, which we wrapped up last week.

For the next several weeks, I’ll be making preparations to speak at the Reliance on God and His Word conference (Need a speaker for your next women’s event or podcast? Click the Speaking Engagements tab at the top of this page.), so our next regular weekly Bible study won’t start until after I return home and get my household back in order (I’m thinking probably mid-April-ish, but don’t quote me on that.). :0) I have a study in mind, but will keep thinking and praying about it for a few more weeks.

For the past couple of studies, we’ve kicked things off with a title pic contest. I thought it was kind of fun, and I loved getting the opportunity to see the creativity of my readers! Would y’all like to have a title pic contest for the next study? Let me know what you think.

So anyway, for the next several Wednesdays, you’ve got some options:

📖 You can finish up Imperishable Beauty or any of my other studies you’re currently working on.

📖 You can choose a book(s) of the Bible to work through on your own.

📖 You can choose one of my studies to work through at the Bible Studies tab at the top of this page. (I would choose one of the shorter ones, like Colossians or Ruth rather than one of the longer ones if you’re only trying to fill the space between now and the beginning of our next study.)

📖 You can follow along with the sampling of “re-run” lessons I’ll be posting here on the blog each week.

And speaking of re-runs, here’s the first one!

bible-reading-plans

Did you miss Bible Reading Plans for the New Year – 2019 when I posted it in December? Or maybe you’re new to the blog since then? There are all kinds of Bible reading plans here, including some that are only a few days or weeks in length.

If you’re just looking for a plan that fills the time between now and the beginning of our next study, #5, #18, or #20 might be a good choice. Also be sure to check the links under Need more suggestions? for shorter plans. Or, you might wish to modify or just do part of, one of the longer plans. Go exploring and choose the plan that works best for you!

Testimony Tuesday

Testimony Tuesday: Stories from Several Sisters 4

On today’s Testimony Tuesday,
several sisters in Christ share their stories.

Gaylin’s Story

THANK YOU! For #6“Extra-biblical revelation sets up a class system within Christianity.” I found my way to this site due to this exact issue! A friend shared a link on Facebook to some guy who regularly has dreams and “hears” from God…I thought, “Why him and not ME?!” My heart was breaking and I was SO sad!! Yet deep down, I knew something was off; it didn’t sit right. You, my friend, are a balm to a bruised heart, using the Word as a healing salve. Reminding me to let go of the emotional kick in the gut the devil aims at me and keep my eyes on HIM.


Louise’s Story

At one time, I was a follower of Joyce Meyer and other false teachers. I had her teaching tapes and would listen to them over and over but never read the Bible to make sure her words were lining up with it. I was the church secretary (an Assemblies of God church) and one morning on the way to work I tuned in to hear R.C. Sproul teaching on the Holiness of God, something I had never heard of. I pulled into the parking lot and sat to listen until he finished. That was the beginning of me coming out of the A/G churches, eventually quitting my job, and looking for another church. It took a while, but after a year I was introduced to the church I’ve been in for over 15 years where the Bible is taught verse by verse and reading the Bible is highly stressed. I now listen to John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, and a local pastor who correctly interprets God’s Holy Word. I have read the Bible from cover to cover and I thank God for leading me out as He did.


Dolores’ Story

I was one of those women who followed particularly Joyce Myer, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Joseph Prince, etc. One reason being I only had my TV as my resource. Since receiving the gift of a “tablet” my world has opened up to YouTube, Google, etc. I prayed for discernment due to the fact I’m the only practicing Christian in my family. I repented to my children/grandchildren that I was wrong to have followed false teachers. I wanted to learn so much, and as I said with limited resources. They respect my faith and will often still discuss why and what I believe. I have spent many hours listening to programs like “Wretched” which is helping me to discern more carefully, including in the church I’m currently attending. I don’t know where this will lead me, but I do know with God’s guidance and people He has given the gift of discernment to also guide me His will will be done. Thank you. I turn 80 this year – never too late.


Kim’s Story

[This was] my testimony until I was 33 years old and surrendered my life and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour! Deceived for years but God opened my eyes by reading 1 John ….describing pretty succinctly what your life will look like if you truly know Him. He gave me the gift of faith unto salvation and revealed Himself so very clearly to me in His word.


Alma’s Story

Here’s a wonderful story of God’s faithfulness in steering the ladies ministry at my church out of doctrinally weak teachers. I joined my daughter’s Southern Baptist Church about 10 months ago to be able to worship with her and my 3 grandchildren. I met with the pastor a few times and we had wonderful conversations about Reformed theology and the church’s long history.

Since I had developed somewhat of a rapport with him I felt comfortable going to him when I found out the ladies ministry leader had chosen, yet again, a not so doctrinally sound study. Last fall we did a study by a popular Christian women’s author which I faithfully attended and early on realized was not what I needed or wanted in a Bible study. This teacher likes to share personal stories of her life in each of her weekly video lessons and it soon became burdensome and kind of annoying (I don’t have much patience when it comes to studying the Word). Before that study were several studies by other problematic authors, so the church has had a history of fluffy studies.

In late December of last year the announcement was made that we would be doing yet another popular study by a false teacher. I was disappointed to say the least. I prayed a lot about how to approach my pastor about this because the woman in charge of selecting our studies is a friend and fellow Sunday School attendee.

Since I’m so new to the church I decided to find out who was in charge of overseeing the ladies ministry. I assumed it was a deacon but soon found out that wasn’t the case. The head of the deacons told me it was our discipleship minister. So I contacted him and he confirmed that he oversees the men’s and ladies’ ministry and when I asked if he oversees the Bible study selection he said that’s left up to the ladies’ ministry leader. So I decided it was time to talk to my pastor.

I did my due diligence and researched the problems and concerns about the author of the upcoming study and sent him links to your critique and also pastors who have written about her to warn the women in their churches.

One of the comments my pastor made in his defense was he assumed if a teacher is promoted by LifeWay, they must be good.

I was surprised he didn’t know about LifeWay and all the [doctrinally unsound] authors and books they have on their shelves. I also shared with him the problems and concerns with other studies the church has done in the past. He listened, reviewed the links I sent him and decided he needed to call a meeting with the discipleship minister and ladies’ ministry leader to discuss this matter. That meeting hasn’t happened yet (he promised it would be soon) but I’m praying for all to come to the right decision going forward. I give all glory to God for giving my pastor eyes to see and ears to hear.


Ladies, God is still at work in the hearts and lives of His people, including yours! Would you like to share a testimony of how God saved you, how He has blessed you, convicted you, taught you something from His Word, brought you out from under false doctrine, placed you in a good church or done something otherwise awesome in your life? Private/direct message me on social media, e-mail me (MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com), or comment below. Your testimony can be as brief as a few sentences or as long as 1500 words. Let’s encourage one another with God’s work in our lives!

Calvinism/Arminianism, Mailbag

The Mailbag: God loves everybody?

 

You stated that God loves each and every one of us. Can you help me understand that in terms of election? I had understood that He loves His elect, although it is His desire that each one be saved. I’m having trouble reconciling those two things! Thank you!

That is a super question. I love it when women dig into the deep questions of theology!

I’m not sure if I can help you understand that or not, because I’m not sure anybody out there has a complete grasp of that concept. God’s ways and His thoughts are much higher than our ways and our thoughts, and there are things He chooses not to reveal fully to us. This is one of those things. So if you ask this question of several different people, you’ll probably get several different answers. And anybody who thinks she’s got this completely figured out…well, I’d be a bit concerned.

All I can do is give you my perspective and the Scriptures (click the hyperlinks) I base that perspective on. My perspective isn’t based on Reformed theology treatises, but rather on my understanding – limited and flawed by sin as it is – of the nature and character of God as I’ve come to know it from the Bible. I’m sure I’ll get plenty of disagreement from both my Calvinist/Reformed brethren and my Traditionalist/Arminian brethren, and that’s fine. (I would just remind you to please review my comment parameters before commenting. In addition to those parameters, I don’t participate in debates over Calvinism in the comments sections of my articles or anywhere else. Ever. It’s fruitless.)

Let me start by saying that in the discussion of God’s love for people, my understanding is that people are talking about, for lack of a better way of saying it, God’s heartfelt feelings towards people. His emotional affections toward people. Not any way He might act toward them, position them, bless or not bless them, etc. So as I talk about God’s love in the remainder of this article, that’s what I mean, because that’s what I understand the question to mean.

Do I believe that God loves all people without regard to whether or not they’re elect? Yes. But I don’t believe God loves all people in the same way. Why? Because I’m a parent. And because God frequently and intentionally reveals Himself to us in Scripture as Father, and because we, being made in His image, demonstrate His communicable attributes, there are some things we can observe in our own relationships with our children that reflect – albeit through a glass dimly – God’s posture toward both sinners and saints.

My husband and I have six children. (For the purposes of the point I’m about to make, we will stipulate that he and I created all of them.¹) I love all the children I have created. Some of them are saved, and some of them are not, but I still love all of them regardless of their spiritual state.

But my love for my children who are saved is qualitatively different from my love for my children whom I know are not saved. There is a deeper bond between my saved children and me because we are not only familially mother and child, we are also spiritually brothers and sisters. We’re not just related by flesh and blood, we’re also related by the blood of Christ.

My unsaved children and I only have the love of familial affection between us. And not only that, while there is nothing in my saved children that wars against the Holy Spirit who resides within me, the sinful nature of my unsaved children does. Furthermore, there is the burden and longing in my heart for my unsaved children to know Christ. With my saved children, that burden and longing is replaced with joy that they are walking with the Lord. But none of that means I don’t love my unsaved children. It just means I love them in a different way than the way I love my saved children.

God personally created every human being in His image. So, strictly in that broad, creative sense – reflected in the way that when a man sires offspring he is their father and they are his children – God is the Father of all people, and all people are His children. And in the same sense that I love all of my children though in different ways, I believe God loves all of His created children though in different ways. Those who are saved (elect) are doubly His children, in the creative sense and in the spiritual sense, so there is a special bond and intimacy there that is higher and qualitatively different from those who are unsaved (not elect), because God is only “related” to them as Creator. Additionally, as with the way I love my own children, though God already knows who will and won’t be saved, the longing of His heart is for His unsaved children to repent and be saved, and the joy of His heart is His saved children who are walking with Him.

We see part of this idea a bit in the parable of the prodigal son (and remember, Jesus is the one who came up with this story). Let’s peel back the main spiritual point of the parable for just a moment and look at the structural elements of the story from an earthly perspective. Jesus intentionally chose a father and his two sons to build this story around. The father represents God. The older son represents “righteous” people, and the younger son represents “sinners”. Both boys are the father’s sons in the sense that he created both of them.²  Nothing in the story indicates that the father only loves the older, righteous son and doesn’t love the younger, sinful son. I would argue that this father loves the younger son in the same way I described loving my unsaved children, and I believe the father’s reaction to the younger son’s return (starting in verse 20) supports this. You don’t hate your own child for months or years on end and then, in a split second, show this kind of heartfelt love toward him. This is a dad – representing God – who loved his kid without regard to his spiritual state.

There seems to be a line of thought among some Calvinists that starts with taking mainly Romans 9:13 – “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated” – at least a little bit out of context and understanding it to mean that God feels the emotion of hatred toward (detests, is passionately hostile toward, dislikes to the ultimate degree – that’s the way most of us define the word “hates”) everyone who isn’t elect. I have a few thoughts on that:

• If you read Romans 9:13 in context, it’s obvious that the “love” and “hate” mentioned in verse 13 are not about God’s emotional feelings toward the elect and non-elect. The whole point of the passage is that God is sovereign and He decides, based on His own reasons that have nothing to do with our behavior, who is elect and who is not, and that He draws a very clear line between the two. He uses the words “love” and “hate” for contrast very much like we would say, “this is a black and white issue”. What this verse means is “This group over here (Jacob), I have set apart and chosen. This group over here (Esau), I have not.” If you read the cross-references for this verse, it becomes even more obvious that God is not talking about emotions here, but about His right to set apart for salvation whomever He chooses, as well as the position of the elect versus the position of the non-elect, which He metaphorically compares to the positions of Jacob and Esau respectively.

• God chose Jacob and Esau to illustrate this point. Isaac was Jacob’s and Esau’s father. Isaac didn’t demonstrate any sort of feelings of hatred toward Esau even though he knew Jacob was the “chosen one”. In fact, Scripture tells us it was Esau, not Jacob, whom Isaac “loved”. (Remember, we’re still talking feelings, here.)

• Compare Romans 9:13:

As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

with Luke 14:26:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

The same Greek word translated “hate”, μισέω (miseó), is used in both verses. Is Jesus saying that we have to despise our closest and most beloved family members and even our own lives in order to be His disciple? Of course not. Again, it’s a contrast statement He’s using to make a point.

The way this verse is usually explained is that the love we have for Christ is to so far eclipse our love for anyone or anything else that our love for them seems like hatred in comparison to our love for Him.

But the love we have for Christ involves far more than mere feelings of affection. Loving Christ enough to follow Him means your loyalties lie with Him regardless of the cost. You cast your lot with Him to the exclusion of anyone or anything else that gets in your way. It’s almost like the part of the wedding vows that says, “…and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him as long as you both shall live.” It’s not like you completely cut everybody out of your life except your husband and decide to feel hatefully toward them. It means your highest earthly loyalty, love, dedication, priority, and commitment are reserved for him. The same way our highest spiritual loyalty, love, dedication, priority, and commitment are reserved for Christ. Which is the same sort of way that God’s highest loyalty, love, dedication, priority, and commitment are reserved for His elect in Romans 9:13.

The question then arises, “But the Bible says God’s wrath abides upon the unsaved, and He is going to send them to Hell. Doesn’t that mean He hates them?”. Again, going back to our parent-child motif, my answer would be no. Let me proffer some examples: I can be extremely angry or wrathful toward my children for defying me and yet still love them. If I have a prodigal child who sins in every imaginable way, shakes his fist at me, curses me, and whatever other abominable behavior we could imagine, I could tell my child he’s no longer welcome in my home or at family gatherings unless he repents. But it would be heartbreaking to do because I would still love him. If I have a child who is constantly and unrepentantly breaking the law, and I have an opportunity to turn him in to the police, knowing that he’s going to go to jail, I’m going to turn him in. And I’ll do it with tears streaming down my face, because I love him.

I’m just a finite, sinful parent living in a fallen world. God is our perfect Heavenly Father. His heart is much bigger than mine. His character is much holier than mine. And He is able to be perfect in all ways simultaneously. He can be perfect in wrath and perfect in love, perfect in judgment and perfect in compassion, toward the same person at the same time. We may not be able to completely understand how He loves, but we can trust that however He loves, He loves perfectly.


¹For the purposes of being accurate, our two oldest children are my step-sons.
²Some will argue that both were sons in the sense that both were elect – the older son being saved at an early age, and the younger son saved later in life. I’m not sure we could use that argument because, while the younger son (the “sinner”) becomes a Believer in the story, the older son mainly represents the scribes and Pharisees, and when we see Jesus interacting with the scribes and Pharisees in the gospels, He generally regards them as unbelievers. And since Jesus is God, He knows whether or not they’re elect.

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.

Church, Sin, Southern Baptist/SBC

Preventative Measures: 6 Steps SBC Churches Can Take to Prevent Sexual Abuse

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 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.