Matt Chandler’s vague confession and suspension from preaching for frequently DM’ing with a woman on Instagram in a non-sexual or romantic way raises a lot of questions. As I wrote, the confession itself sends a message from The Village Church about women, friendship, and the gospel. Both ways to look at this vague public confession is bad news for women: either there’s more to the story or women are viewed as a threat to men and their ministries.
And either way, it reveals the need in the church to learn more about our honor and responsibility as brothers and sisters in the household of God. Like everything else in the Christian life, friendship costs. It costs our perception of freedom, our capacity to be hurt, and our reputations, even. I want to spend time on that last one. So much of the Billy Graham Rule and the perceptions surrounding it are really about protecting the reputation of male leaders. One could argue that it is the reputation of the church that is at stake. I don’t disagree. Let’s see how the early church’s reputation of cross-gender friendship and worship in the church affected them. Here’s an excerpt on that from Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:
Unbelievers were very suspicious of these Christian assemblies. Marcus Minucius Felix, an early Latin Christian apologist, narrates popular accusations against the early Christians in his apologetic work called Octavius. In this dialogue on Christianity between a pagan and a Christian, the pagan Caecilius Natalis says to the Christian Octavius Januarius:
And now, as wickeder things advance more fruitfully, and abandoned manners creep on day by day, those abominable shrines of an impious assembly are maturing themselves throughout the whole world. Assuredly this confederacy ought to be rooted out and execrated. They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another. Everywhere there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous.
Here is the consequence of Jesus talking theology to a woman at a well in Samaria and telling sisters that they too can be disciples. Here are the consequences of Paul planting house churches with women, colaboring with them, and upholding the value of their participation in worship. The consequence isn’t merely being misunderstood, but a whole argument being built against Christianity at such a vulnerable time as the early days of the church. Christians needed to meet in secret as they were under threat of persecution. The Romans heard of their love feasts, which included wine, brother-sister language, and holy kisses, and let their imaginations run wild:
And of their banqueting it is well known all men speak of it everywhere. . . . On a solemn day they assemble at the feast, with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of every sex and of every age. There, after much feasting, when the fellowship has grown warm, and the fervor of incestuous lust has grown hot with drunkenness . . . the conscious light being overturned and extinguished in the shameless darkness.
Friends, Jesus can handle the accusations. This is part of counting the cost. Friendship in Christ is much more glorious than our reputation. And those who really want to see are going to behold this. Do we want to be stuck in our selfish notions of friendship, or do we want what Christ has to give us in his very body?
A Religion of Sacred Siblingship*
Our friendship with one another in Christ is rooted in our siblingship in Christ. He is our elder brother. Reidar Aasgaard, professor of intellectual history at the University of Oslo, points out that Paul uses sibling language to refer to Christians more frequently than he uses any other term. Examining Paul’s epistles to the Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon, Aasgaard finds that Paul uses the Greek root referring to siblings more than one hundred times. In contrast, he uses the words holy and church fewer than fifty times each and words such as called and body of Christ only a handful of times. This is a significant distinction! If this is Paul’s favored way to address and describe his fellow Christians, then we should examine what he is communicating about us with this language…
We are supernaturally adopted siblings in Christ. As David Garner explains, “Adoption changes status. It also changes hearts. It changes everything.” This is why Christians are directly addressed in Scripture as siblings so many times—ninety-two times to be exact. Aasgaard notes that this affectionate form of address is used more frequently by Paul in the practical sections of his letters, where the theology he has just taught is applied to Christian behavior in relationships. The Romans recognized this special affection and let their imaginations run wild. Nevertheless, Paul uses it to appeal to Christians to remember who they are and how they are related to one another…
Christians have a high standard that comes with our status as siblings. As antiquity shows us, siblingship comes with rights and obligations and honor and affection among members of a family. But siblings in Christ have an even higher calling. Since we are siblings in Christ, we ought to pray (1 Thess. 5:25), we ought to stand firm (1 Cor. 15:58), we ought to turn from idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14), and we especially ought to rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3:1).
Let’s return to the Roman accusation that Christianity is a religion of lust. What is our witness be to the outside world? Does it model sibling solidarity, in which siblings honor one another, have affection for one another, live in harmony, promote familial unity, mature together, and treasure our special sibling relationship? Ancient siblings lived by this ideal, and they were tied only by a narrow bloodline. They cherished their special sibling relationship as a way to get them through life. But ours is the bloodline of Christ, which carries with it victory over sin, grace that abounds, transformative sanctification, and life everlasting. We are not just living for a legacy here on earth. We are new creations with a holy eternal destiny.
We have not only a supernatural sibling status, but a supernatural love. Paul tells us in Romans to “love one another deeply as brothers and sisters.” Rather than merely honoring one another, we are to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).
When instead we regard one another as temptations, as means of merely gratifying sexual desires, or as threats to our image, we do not regard one another honorably as brothers and sisters, we are not loving deeply. And what, then, does the world see about God’s plan for his household? For the new earth? Are we suggesting that we have a cruel God who says that he made us to be brothers and sisters in Christ when we can’t control our sexual impulses enough to be friends?
*This section borrows excerpts from my book, Why Can’t We Be Friends?
 Marcus Minucius Felix narrates these accusations in his apologetic work Octavius (published AD 150–210), trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, Early Christian Writings Book 1 (annotated) (Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2012), loc. 294–99, Kindle.
 Felix, Octavius, loc. 310–16.