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Billy Graham Rule: a short, touching follow up by Jared C. Wilson

Yesterday I’d published a piece on the criticism of Vice-President Mike Pence and his statement that he does not eat alone or spend time alone with women other than his wife. Pence’s commitment stems from what’s known as the ‘Billy Graham Rule.’ Early in his career Graham had set out 4 rules by which he and his team would follow.

-Don’t be alone with women
-Don’t criticize the local church
-Be scrupulous with reporting Crusade attendance
-Be transparent with Crusade finances

In my piece yesterday, I’d looked at the issue of one’s motivation for instituting personal rules for behavior. If your motivation is to serve and honor God, personal rules can be an enhancement to one’s sanctification, although caution is needed so one’s rules don’t become a substitute for scripture, nor a hard-and-fast blind tradition. If your motivation for instituting personal rules is external-only and to win man’s approval and applause, and to avoid man’s criticism, then no rule is going to aid your sanctification, ever.

Today’s follow-up piece has one point. Man will always criticize you, especially if you’re a pastor. The flesh in man, sanctified or unsanctified, always finds a negative in which to fill in a gap. Even if you institute ‘Billy Graham Rules’ like Graham did, where he chose even to avoid eating with his adult daughter because of how people might perceive it if they didn’t know she was his daughter, man will still find something with which to criticize you. That’s what the part below clearly shows us.

So, are strict rules worth it especially they cause you to violate other scriptures in the process? No. And if you somehow miraculously achieve being well-spoken of by many, it may be a woe to you! (Luke 6:26). Though we do care about appearances because we do care about holiness, we also know that there will always be someone on the fringes watching and accuse you, (me) either to our faces or behind our backs.

Finally, Jesus behaved perfectly and followed ALL the rules, and He was killed. We can never escape criticism, if that is your reason for instituting personal rules for behavior.

If we are SO concerned with appearances that we alter our behavior to the degree that the rules we institute to guide us overtake our genial and joyful nature in Jesus and trust in Him as our ultimate Advocate, then we have become a Pharisee.

The best thing to do with respect to personal holiness is to follow the Bible’s prescriptive commands. Follow the spirit of the descriptive gray areas. Be scrupulous and transparent in behavior. If you follow the center line of Jesus’ path you will be well-served, because Jesus is your Advocate.

The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, And each is tested by the praise accorded him. (Proverbs 27:21)

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary explains the Proverbs verse:

Praise tests character. A man to his praise—according to his praise, as he bears it. Thus vain men seek it, weak men are inflated by it, wise men disregard it, &c.

With those thoughts in mind, here is Pastor Wilson’s recounting of his experience with the Pharisaical accusers. The sentences are in short bursts because this was a Twitter blast. In my opinion, the recounting of that experience is a good illustration of Matthew 23:23-24, where people were so concerned with appearances they forgot love, mercy, and kindness.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.


I [Jared C. Wilson] was once accused of eating a meal with a woman for lustful reasons, even though it was in plain view of our church in fellowship hall.

She was a lady from our town, an unbeliever, and dressed immodestly. I entered the hall late after most everyone was seated at tables.

She was at a table all by herself. Numerous church folks, women included, filed past her to sit at other tables. The image stunned me.

I stood there for a second & watched this lady sitting all alone, ignored and unmet. And my heart was broken for her. I sat down w her.

I was not attracted to her at all. She was dressed immodestly but she wasn’t, to my taste, attractive. (Not sure why I share that.)

I heard her story. Drug addict. Single mom. In and out of hospital for constant surgeries after a car accident.

I listened mostly. Invited her to come to church service. (This was a community fellowship-type thing.) But I mostly listened.

Almost immediately after, 2 ladies approached me, smirking, cracking jokes about pastor sitting with woman w “boobs hanging out”

I said, “If either one of you, or anybody else, had deemed her worthy of your time, I might not have needed to.”

I also told them I didn’t appreciate the accusations, which could do great harm to the reputations of me, my family, and the church.

One of them apologized. The other kind of snooted & walked away.

In that instance, at least, I was willing as a pastor to have my reputation “tarnished” for doing what I think Jesus would have done.

Not sure if that relates to the “Billy Graham rule,” which I mostly hold to personally out of respect for my wife. But, The End.

Jared C. Wilson is‏ Director of Content Strategy, @MBTS. Managing Editor, of For the Church, Gospel-centered resources from Midwestern Seminary, Director, Liberty Baptist Church Pastoral Training Center, @jaredcwilson.