Image and the “Billy Graham Rule” (Part III)

(Read the previous discussions here and here.)

Society has increasingly become image driven. From the curated pictures on Instagram to political correctness, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to appear perfect.

This same pressure has driven Christians for decades to eschew all relationships with the opposite sex for fear of appearing to have an inappropriate relationship. They have witnessed the moral failures of key Christian leaders and vowed to never follow in their footsteps. Many ministers have also been wrongly accused. False accusations have occurred so frequently that each minister goes into ministry knowing an accusation will come at least once or twice in their career, no matter their conduct. Accusations are viewed as an attack of the enemy, Satan, to try and destroy one’s ministry, reputation, marriage, and family. The “Billy Graham Rule” is followed by many Christians so as to appear faultless, perfect, and without an ounce of suspicion for one’s actions and character.

A cornerstone scripture used to support the Billy Graham Rule is 1 Thessalonians 5:22. This verse has been misused, though, to support the view of presenting a blameless image. In the King James Version (KJV), it says, “Abstain from all appearances of evil.” In the New International Version (NIV) and English Standard Version (ESV), it is translated as “reject every kind of evil” and “Abstain from every form of evil.” The original Greek word eidos can be translated as “visible form,” “outward appearance,” or “kind, sort.” The KJV chose to translate the sentence focusing on outward appearance, while other translations made the superior choice of focusing on kinds of evil. The translation of this word changes its meaning. Modern translations with greater scholarship no longer support the appearance-driven interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 commonly used to support the Billy Graham Rule.

Jesus himself also does not support the view of an image-driven spirituality. Jesus upturned the religious society of his day by being friends with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. The conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well happened when the two were alone, with no one else present. Likewise, Jesus included Mary and Martha as intimate friends alongside his disciples. He gave a place to women, ministered to them, and endorsed their role along with their discipleship. In fact, Jesus was often slandered and had a poor reputation due to the company he kept. He was well-known as a friend of prostitutes, and the story of the alabaster box remains risqué because the woman was a prostitute.

Jesus was often slandered and had a poor reputation due to the company he kept.

He called the Pharisees a whitewashed tomb because though they appeared perfect and sinless, their outward appearance was not attributed to them as righteousness. Jesus himself did not avoid every appearance of evil, but saw his role in life as shepherding and discipling all people: sinful, pure, male, female, alone, and together. Jesus’s life should be emulated by every Christian today.

When scriptures are twisted, it distorts the fullness of the Gospel. The Bible supports all ministers in ministry, the discipleship of both genders, and likewise identifies sin as sin. The role of the minister is to reproduce him or herself into others. Following the Billy Graham Rule, the development of many ministers is stunted. The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 is a good way of viewing the results of limiting relationships based on gender. In the parable, the seed sown produced a 30-, 60-, or 100-fold increase in harvest. The talent of the minister as well as the ground being worked are involved in the difference between the results. Yet the difference may also involve gender. If a minister only disciples those who are of the same gender, they will have a lower percentage of discipleship reproduction. When the same minister produces disciples of both genders, that percentage significantly increases.

When the Body of Christ fully endorses, commissions, disciples, and releases men and women into full functioning, without discrimination, then the church increases and prospers. This would affect every area of life, numbers, finances, and health within the church. It makes no sense why discipleship would exclude those of the opposite sex, because such an approach harms the harvest and mission of the church.

The Bible does not support the image-driven interpretation of the Billy Graham Rule; no minister should fall into faulty reasoning to support their actions. Ministers must lead the church with authenticity, discipleship, conviction, purity, and a clear goal of producing a harvest through reproducing ministers and leaders of both genders. The erroneous view of being “presented blameless” based on image is not biblical. As Jesus is our ultimate example of character, purity, and blamelessness, we are to follow Jesus in all that he did and said. Jesus cared more about preaching the Gospel, reaching the lost, and making disciples than he cared about his own image.

Reality Changing Observations:

1. How has my need for a perfect image driven what I do?

2. How have I been intentional about producing disciples among both men and women?

3. What allowances or advantages have I given one gender over the other? As I reflect, how should I change that?

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