A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Abuse and Divorce: The Case Against the “Permanence View”

Revelation 3:14-16 ESV (14)  “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. (15)  “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! (16)  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

I suppose that our Lord’s words here to the lukewarm church at Laodicea could possibly not mean that He would reject them forever if they did not repent, but “spitting out” of His mouth does tend to lead us to that conclusion.  Similarly His warning that He would remove the lampstand of the Ephesian church out of its place if they did not repent sounds rather final as well.

But here is my point.  There are numbers of Scriptures in the New Testament that indicate that Christ does indeed divorce His “bride” when that bride turns out to be unbelieving, disobedient, and false.  This all runs quite counter of course to the teachings of people like John Piper who claim that divorce is never permissible and argue from the model of Christ and His church.  Consider however:

Acts 5:1-5 ESV
(1)  But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, (2)  and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  (3)  But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? (4)  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (5)  When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.

I suspect some people would try to argue that Ananias and his wife Sapphira were actually genuine believers and this business of striking them dead was just a form of discipline from their heavenly Father.  I don’t think so.  I think this was a public exposure of false brethren.  A rather final divorce.  Here is another divorce of professing Christians:

1 Corinthians 5:11-13 ESV (11)  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. (12)  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (13)  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

And again:

Jude 1:4 ESV (4)  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

These “hidden reefs” as Jude calls them a bit later obviously profess to be Christians.  That is how they “creep in.”  Jude says that the Lord will judge them.  Once again, Christ divorces a false, unfaithful bride.  He disciplines and purifies His true people and will never let them go.  But as He dealt with Israel in the Old Testament, so the author of Hebrews tells us He deals with those who profess His name today:

Hebrews 2:1-3 ESV (1)  Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (2)  For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, (3)  how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard,

And once more:

Hebrews 3:7-19 ESV (7)  Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, (8)  do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, (9)  where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. (10)  Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ (11)  As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” (12)  Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. (13)  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (14)  For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (15)  As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (16)  For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? (17)  And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? (18)  And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? (19)  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Hebrews clearly connects the experience of these false Israelites in the OT with our experience in the New Testament era.  Anyone who hears Christ’s voice and bears the name Christian, but in the end hardens his heart and is unbelieving and disobedient, will never enter heaven.  Christ will reject them.  He will, I would say, divorce them.

One more time:

Matthew 7:21-23 ESV (21)  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22)  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ (23)  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Therefore, when a Christian finds themselves married to an abuser, and even (perhaps especially) when that abuser claims to be a Christian, how is it not Christlike to divorce that abuser?  How is remaining in such a “marriage” a model of how Christ deals with people who claim to belong to Him but in fact do not?  Not even the true, genuine local church is to allow such a person to remain in its ranks but is to put them out.  To divorce them, we could even say.

“Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”  The words of the Lord Jesus Himself.

 

 

12 Comments

  1. “how is it not Christlike to divorce that abuser?”
    Oh YES! Jeff, you’ve been brave enough to say what I could never fully bring myself to say.
    When I was writing Not Under Bondage I hesitated to say God that positively INSTRUCTS a victim of domestic abuse to divorce her abuser. (reverse the genders if necessary)
    I felt like saying it was a pretty strong directive, but I knew that would put me so much more on the outer than I was going to be already.

    Exodus 21:10-11, on which my argument is partially based, says, “And if he does not do these three things for her [provide food, clothing and 'oil' (= loving intimacy) ], she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”
    She SHALL… That sounds pretty much like a directive to me.

    In Deuteronomy 21:14, another of my scriptural grounds for divorce for abuse, it says, “But if you [the husband who took the prisoner-of-war as your wife] no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.”
    You SHALL let her go where she wants… you SHALL not sell her or treat her as a slave. This also sounds like a directive. It’s not optional, it’s compulsory.

    And certainly the passage in 1 Corinthians 5 is compulsory: “Purge the evil person from among you.” No ambivalence there.

    • Laurie

      Barbara, I agree with what both you and Ps. Jeff are saying here. I also think that God directs us to leave an abusive marriage…but there is so much stacked against such a view. Truly, though, most of the teachings are from traditional interpretations and not from the heart of God…which we miss when we step over one little road block or get so caught up with the crowd that we conclude that our questions and doubtings are wrong.

      Opening my heart a little: its difficult to think that someone I have loved/tried so hard to love, is actually living a life God rejects, and God asks me to reject it, too. But He has been opening my eyes to see that I have never been loved by my ex in return, in spite of his words of love or financial provision, which soothes ex’s conscience, thinking he has done the work of God, but when I have a need and ask for help, he will refuse what I ask for and give me something I don’t want…egg/scorpion.

      But to reiterate, God will and does lead victims to leave abusive spouses through the avenues of divorce, and we are not adulterers because of it. Actually, God showed me (like Ps. Jeff’s plumbing inspiration of late) that calling the spouse that is put away an adulteress was supposed to slap the Pharisees in the heart…they are FORCING women to become what they would never CHOOSE to be when the men put their wives away. But

      • Song

        Laurie,
        Oh, Laurie! I can so relate. You have articulated this so well….
        “Opening my heart a little: its difficult to think that someone I have loved/tried so hard to love, is actually living a life God rejects, and God asks me to reject it, too. But He has been opening my eyes to see that I have never been loved by my ex in return, in spite of his words of love or financial provision, which soothes ex’s conscience, thinking he has done the work of God, but when I have a need and ask for help, he will refuse what I ask for and give me something I don’t want…egg/scorpion.
        The contradiction feels so… weird, unbalancing, strange, awkward, unreal, plastic, trite…etc.

  2. no name please

    I had a friend argue with me that I couldn’t divorce him because…”I know he is a believer” , after numerous email exchanges with him. Okay, he says all the right words but his actions do not follow the words at all. And, contrary to what you think( my voice in my head to my friend) he’s been saying all the right words for years and years! And his actions have never matched the words. I just thought the words were most important when I married him.

    • Anonymous

      A quote from our sermon today: “Well done is better than well said.”

    • Mama Martin

      What you have said is key “his actions do not follow the words at all”. That is the way to discern – to look at what the actions say, not the words.

    • Song

      No Name Please,

      I believe you are understanding that words and actions must be congruent. Actions are the proof of what is expressed through words. The right words are not the same as the right actions. The evidence of a “right”-eous heart is the actions of that heart/person.
      I understand the frustration of people thinking the abuser is “a believer”, meaning they are following, walking, growing in integrity.
      You’ve got it!!!

  3. anonymous

    I don’t have time to give a lengthy response but just wanted to take a quick moment to say “Wow” and “Thanks!!” I am in wholehearted agreement with your assessment and would take it even further to say that these verses have indicated to me that OSAS is a false teaching. The warnings in scripture about “guarding,” “persevering” and “holding fast” are for a reason. They are spoken to believers not the lost and therefore indicate to me that apostasy is a real possibility (our falling away and turning against something once held dear, becoming a defector. … betraying that which we once professed partnership with… This doesn’t happen over night. It is through gradual compromise, hardening of heart, and plugging of ears to the voice of the Spirit…) Again, these are just my thoughts… but I share them because I believe this OSAS doctrine ties in heavily with the ability for many in the church today to live as though they have license to sin. This includes the abusers. They feel confident and assured of their salvation based on what they’ve been told in the pulpit. A few verses taken out of context. Their consciences are no longer pricked and they see no need for repentance. … This is a dangerous place to be spiritually.

    Thanks again for sharing the truth of how God Himself will not live a lie and force a continued outward appearance of relationship if it is genuinely not there – if it has become false. So neither should we.

  4. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17 ESV)

    This verse particularly comes to mind, probably because my (new) church was going through James at the time I was emotionally dealing with the fallout from hearing Piper teach his views. Whether he realizes it or not, his view asserts that the only defining characteristic of marriage is commitment. That is, we can abuse, cheat on, neglect, and even abandon our spouse, but even with no discernible “works” he still says there is a marriage. However, this in no way mirrors the Gospel. In the Gospel there is transforming power- in there are no good works, if our lives are not transformed to display the good works He commands, our faith is counterfeit and does not bare the mark of true regeneration. We do not look to a contract or a signature to evidence our true faith- why would we treat a marriage differently? If a marriage bears no good evidence of being a marriage, why do we still consider it a marriage?

    One of the questions I had to field multiple times is “Why do you have to divorce? Why not separate?” There are a lot of things to say on this subject, but the one applicable here is that I did not see how I could live in a different house, with a different life, bar all interaction with my wife (which I felt was necessary), and still hold to any biblical command of how I should be treating my wife. Or to day it differently, we would not be exhibiting a marriage in anyway except for a legalistic view that Jesus would not even allow for our faith.

  5. Wow . . . . Jeff. This is excellent. I have said to a few people that John Piper’s divorce decrees are perpetuating abuse! Now you have shown exactly why that is! I needed this! Repeating Piper’s theology plus insisting that one is a believer has been useful in putting the stamp of approval on abuse. Again, the burden placed on the victim. Your blog is a cool drink of water to my heart/soul every day!

  6. Amen and Amen. I don’t think the truth can be made any clearer.

  7. Heather

    Absolutely agree! I also wonder how many poor victims have continued to suffer because of John Pipers teaching that a woman should graciously take abuse for a season ? Makes me sick to think about ..

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