A Cry For Justice

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

Churches and Abuse: What Does the Authority of Scripture Mean? –

2 Timothy 3:14-17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it (15) and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (16) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

I believe in the inerrancy, authority, and infallibility of Scripture.  That is to say, I believe that the original manuscripts (often called “autographs”) of Scripture were so directed in their composition by the Holy Spirit working through the human authors that what was written was the perfect Word of God without error in word and in entirety.  Of course we do not have those manuscripts now, which is no doubt just as well or human nature being what it is, we would have 66 or more shrines set up for worshiping them!  Scripture, being the Word of God, is necessarily infallible.  You can trust it and it will never fail you. And it is authoritative because it is God’s Word.  And if you are at all familiar with the science of textual criticism, the discipline that deals with taking all of the existing ancient copies of Scripture and re-constructing the original, then you know that we can have full confidence that our Bibles are the Word of God.

But what else does Biblical inerrancy, infallibility, and authority mean?  Recently we were having a discussion in our main Sunday School class about the early creation-account chapters of Genesis.  For myself, I believe that they teach a literal 24-hour day, 7-day creation week.  I do not believe that the universe is a bajillion years old.  But we were discussing whether or not the literal 24-hour day creation should be put in the fundamental doctrinal statement of local churches and new members then required to adhere to it in order to be members.  Quite a number of conservative, perhaps we might say fundamental, churches have done this and encourage others to do it.  In my opinion, this should not be done.  But that is another story.

My point here is that these are the kinds of issues that we think of when we think about the inerrancy and infallibility and authority of the Bible.  Was Adam a real individual?  Is Paul’s take on a certain issue just his own opinion or is it God’s Word?  Those kinds of things.  And they are important issues.  But let me suggest that while we can be all caught up in energetic debates over these things, we can easily slide into the trap that the Pharisees did:

Matthew 23:23-26 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (24) You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (25) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (26) You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

I know of churches and Christians and pastors and denominations that have done intense battle over attacks upon the Word of God, particularly in these areas of inerrancy and authority and so on.  And we need to stand firm for these things.  But I also know of churches and Christians and pastors and denominations who, all the while they are fighting the fight for Scripture, deny Scripture themselves by neglecting the weightier matters:  justice and mercy and faithfulness.  And in probably no greater frequency, we see this failure in respect to how the powerful wield that power and how they deal with the weak.  How they treat the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in the land.  Many, many people who have fought all out warfare for the integrity of Scripture end up disregarding Scripture!!

Because, in the end, when I say that I believe that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God, I am saying that I bow my knee to the One who speaks in it and ask Him, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  And then I go out and DO that Word.  If not, then I am no more than the son who is all talk but no action:

Matthew 21:28-31 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ (29) And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. (30) And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. (31) Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.

7 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    For me it is that I have been taught for years, that I cannot trust myself, and that men should always be leading women, even when it comes to interpreting Scripture. They deny that this is true, but in practice, it is truth. They deny mercy to women who are being abused. I ask, is it possible to focus so much on marriage and headship and submission, that you leave off greater things, like love and the ability to enjoy God Himself, and the response I get is, “what could be greater than your marriage? It is the most important thing to God in your entire life”. Confusion comes to me, because I do not know how to trust my own discernment of the situation I am in. I hate the marriage I am in, and yet I am told it is what is most important to God in my life. Are they being Pharisees, or am I being selfish? Here is a little “self-talk”…”God is using this (all the problems, including the abuse in your marriage) to His glory, and all you can do is think of how to get out of it! How selfish you are! You need to learn to be content and wait for God!” It is what I have heard so often from others, that these are now my words to myself. Which is weightier?

    • Dear anonymous
      Sorry to have taken a few days to get to this. Your perplexity is shared by many Christians who are battened down in abusive relationships, where the church and Christian bystanders tie up the ropes that hold down the hatches. In fact, I’d say it is one of the core dilemmas faced by Christian victims. What’s more important: marriage, or my mental, spiritual and bodily health (and even my sheer survival)?
      Those who say “What could be greater than your marriage? It is the most important thing to God in your entire life!” are actually putting marriage, the institution of marriage, on a pedestal. Last time I checked, that’s called idolatry.

      And yes, it comes down to people neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. They try to make out that Institution of Marriage is so important. “Hey, it’s not mint, dill and cumin we’re talking about here, it’s MARRIAGE! The fundamental building block of society! The thing we’re all fighting to maintain against the gay and lesbian lobby! The thing God instituted at Creation! So, little wife, you should put up with a bit of unhappiness for the sake of the Institution. And if you let your marriage fail, well what a terrible witness that would be to unbelievers!” (notice they say “if you let it fail” – as if you are the one responsible)

      Thus they rant. They maintain the high moral ground by pulling out all these justifications to give Marriage such a high priority. But what’s the hidden agenda?

      1. They deny that you are really living with an abusive spouse: “You’re husband’s not THAT bad!”
      2. So they deny how much you are truly suffering. They just don’t want to know.
      3. They are actually pushing the agenda of headship and submission far more than the agenda of marriage per se. Their intent is to maintain male control over women – in the church and the home. And they lie: they say “we are not promoting control as in Lording It Over, we are promoting biblical roles: loving, protective male leadership and intelligent gentle female submission.”
      But in most cases this is just rhetoric, spin, deliberate denial and misinformation. In other words: lies.

      They put the Institution of Marriage above the commandment to show mercy to the oppressed and justice to the oppressor, and thus justice for the victim.

      Jesus never put the Institution of Marriage (or other family relationships) on such a high pedestal.

      “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 10:34-39, ESV)

      The ESV Study Bible notes for verses 34-37 say:

      Sword is a metaphor for the inevitable separation between those who believe in Christ and those who do not, even within a family (i.e., faith in Christ may set a man against his father). Jesus’ own family opposed him before they came to recognize his true identity (13:53–58; Mark 3:21; John 7:3–5). Thus, whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. Jesus asked for unqualified allegiance, something even the most esteemed rabbi did not demand. The central point of Matt. 10:34–37 is that love of God and his kingdom must take precedence over every other human relationship.

      You don’t hear this often from the Patriachal Family Values camp. But they read the same Bible we read. They just pay selective inattention to certain bits.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Barbara and Anonymous – one religion I know of that exalts marriage to the extent Anonymous described is Mormonism. It claims that marriage (polygamy if I am not mistaken) will be perpetual in heaven? Is that correct? Anyway, in contrast to that, Jesus said:

        Matthew 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

        So marriage, while wonderful when it is what God intends for it to be, is not the highest goal in anyone’s life. Christ is. Professing Christians who exalt marriage more than Scripture does are really using this distortion to subjugate people to an unscriptural bondage. If I am not mistaken, Roman Catholicism may well be guilty of the very same thing. Sometimes I wonder if Rome didn’t come up with the exaltation of Mary as a way to appease and control women. I don’t know if that is true, but in my opinion I think that it is highly suspect.

  2. Women have spent a long time being told we can’t hear from God or interpret scripture for ourselves but you’d have a hard time proving that from scripture, particularly the New Testament accounts of the believing women, starting with those who followed Jesus and continuing right on through to those women Paul commended in his epistles. And when Paul said, there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, he meant exactly that.

    And I can tell you what can be greater than your marriage– your relationship to God. The most important thing to God in your entire life is your relationship to Him, as His daughter. And I am fully persuaded that your Father doesn’t like it one bit when His daughters are mistreated. What normal, healthy father would?

    What earthly father, in their right mind, would leave his daughter in these abusive situations– the hell on earth–we find ourselves in? And is our heavenly Father any less compassionate than a love earthly father? God forbid~!

  3. Anonymous

    In response to the Scripture Barb quotes above, the people I know say, “See there! Right there in the Scripture itself, it does not include the marital relationship! It includes most or all others, but not the marital relationship!”. What say you to that, Barb and Pastor Crippen? Is the part of that verse that states “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household”, meant to include the marital relationship?

    • I thought some reader might bring that up!
      I’ve not personally heard anyone raise that argument, but I’ve always realized that it could be possible to raise it. Jeff may have a better response than me, but here’s my go:

      Yes, Jesus did not mention the spousal relationship when he gave examples of how believers may find themselves opposed to and separated from members of their own family, because of their faith. But it is pressing the passage too far to argue that because Jesus did not mention spouses, he was definitely and explicitly excluding the spousal relationship from his discussion.
      That’s why I quoted the ESV Study Bible note: “the inevitable separation between those who believe in Christ and those who do not, even within a family“.

      The people who say “See, that Scripture does not include the marital relationship! So you can’t separate from your husband!” are really arguing from silence.
      Arguments from silence are not strong arguments. Unless you can make a good case from the passage and its surrounding context, that Jesus deliberately omitted the spousal relationship from his list of examples, and he did so in order to make a doctrinal point that it is is utterly forbidden to separate from one’s spouse – no matter how bad the marriage might be – then you haven’t got a good argument. You are just blustering to intimidate the victim of marital abuse.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Anon- Barbara answered your question very well. I agree fully. Also, when you see people “woodenly” interpreting Scripture in that way, you can be pretty sure that they have a hidden agenda and really aren’t looking to the Scripture for answers. They have already decided and are pressing their opinion onto the Word of God instead of the other way round as it should be. Scripture doesn’t list every single possible application. It gives us principles and we must apply them. In this case, the principle is that Christ will divide the most intimate of human relationships. This Scripture indicates that taking up one’s cross and following Christ necessarily means not putting even the closest relationships above that duty to follow Christ.

      In addition, the Matthew 10 passage is talking about people whom we once were very close to becoming our enemies. So, those who insist that this passage doesn’t apply to marriage — are they claiming that it is impossible for this sword-dividing process of Christ’s to not happen in marriages just because marriages are not specifically listed here?

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