A Cry For Justice

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

Wise as Serpents: Does the Christian Still Have an Evil Heart? (Part 24 of Sermon Series)

Question: Does the Christian, a regenerate person, a truly justified person, still have an evil heart?  Lots of professing Christians reply to that question is, “Oh yes! Absolutely! The Christian still has an evil heart.”

We want to show you how that erroneous idea is being taught, and the devastating effect on people’s lives because of getting the answer to that question wrong.

Let us give you an example of some fogginess in teaching regarding the nature of the heart of the Christian. This is an example of a person who still has not come to clarity about the nature of justification and sanctification and who the Christian really is in Jesus Christ as a new creation.

The example we’re going to give is Leslie Vernick’s article Indicators of an evil and wicked heart (22 Jan 2015). It is actually quite a good article in that Vernick is recognizing that (1) not all sinners are the same, and (2) there are people that are just plain evil. It’s very good when people like Vernick to come to realise these things! It’s not mainstream thinking in the church. And we wouldn’t be surprised if Leslie got some flack from the biblical counseling community for saying that not all sinners are the same and there are some people who are just plain evil

So a lot of her article is spot on, and we honor her for that. What she says here is excellent:

As Christian counselors, pastors and people helpers we often have a hard time discerning between an evil heart and an ordinary sinner who messes up, who isn’t perfect, and full of weakness and sin.

I think one of the reasons we don’t “see” evil is because we find it so difficult to believe that evil individuals actually exist. We can’t imagine someone deceiving us with no conscience, hurting others with no remorse, spinning outrageous fabrications to ruin someone’s reputation, or pretending he or she is spiritually committed yet has no fear of God before his or her eyes.

With wise insight, based on her extensive counseling experience, Vernick then lists and describes some of the traits that an evil person possesses: 

1. Evil hearts are experts at creating confusion and contention.

2. Evil hearts are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech and flattering words.

3. Evil hearts crave and demand control, and their highest authority is their own self-reference.

4. Evil hearts play on the sympathies of good-willed people, often trumping the grace card.

5. Evil hearts have no conscience, no remorse.

Vernick then notes two typical tenets (fundamental beliefs) that an evil heart holds to:

6. [An evil person thinks:] My horrible actions should have no serious or painful consequences.

When they say “I’m sorry,” they look to you as the pastor or Christian counselor to be their advocate for amnesty with the person he or she has harmed. They believe grace means they are immediately granted immunity from the relational fallout of their serious sin. They believe forgiveness entitles them to full reconciliation and will pressure you and their victim to comply.

7. [An evil person thinks:] If I talk like a gospel-believing Christian I am one, even if my actions don’t line up with my talk.

If week after week you hear the talk but there is no change in the walk, you have every reason to question someone’s relationship with God.

Part of our maturity as spiritual leaders is that we have been trained to discern between good and evil. [Jeff and Barb think that Leslie is being overgenerous or naive here: would say that most of today’s leaders are not trained to discern good from evil]. Why is that so important? It’s important because evil usually pretends to be good, and without discernment we can be easily fooled (Hebrews 5:14).

When you confront evil, chances are good that the evil heart will stop counseling with you because the darkness hates the light (John 3:20) and the foolish and evil heart reject correction (Proverbs 9:7,8). But that outcome is far better than allowing the evil heart to believe you are on his or her side, or that “he’s not that bad” or “that he’s really sorry” or “that he’s changing” when, in fact, he is not.

But there is a portion of Vernick’s article that is an example of wrong-thinking or at least foggy-thinking regarding just who a Christian is. 

The statement in Vernick’s article that we are about to critique shows, in our opinion, that she has not yet quite sorted out some of the wrong teaching that she has been taught. And this is the kind of faulty teaching that many of us were taught as we grew up in the church.

Vernick states:

The Bible clearly tells us that among God’s people there are wolves that wear sheep’s clothing (Jeremiah 23:14Titus 1:10Revelations 2:2). 

It’s true that every human heart is inclined toward sin (Romans 3:23), and that includes evil (Genesis 8:21James 1:4). We all miss God’s mark of moral perfection.  However, most ordinary sinners do not happily indulge evil urges, nor do we feel good about having them. We feel ashamed and guilty, rightly so (Romans 7:19–21). These things are not true of the evil heart.

Vernick actually words these ideas more accurately than many, but do you see the doctrinal fogginess in that second paragraph? Vernick makes a blanket statement that includes all of us. She says ‘every human heart,’ the heart of every human being universally, unregenerate believer and regenerate Christian alike, is inclined toward sin and evil. If that blanket statement is true, the heart of the Christian is inclined towards evil. That is to say then, Leslie Vernick would say that Jeremiah 17:9 — The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? — applies to the Christian.

This leaves regenerate Christians wondering just exactly who they are in their very personhood in Christ. And it leaves Christian victims of abuse vulnerable to massive finger-pointing and condemnation from everyone in the church who has foggy thinking like Vernick has —which is most of the church, because this doctrine has not been properly taught for a long long time. 

This confusion, this error, is causing rampant confusion in the church. And it is enabling wicked people to creep in and remain in the pews and in leadership positions in the church and in the biblical counseling world.

Leslie Vernick applies Romans 3:23 to every human heart. Let’s look at Romans 3:21-24:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 

Does this passage teach that the Christian’s heart is “inclined toward evil? No; it does not. Paul is speaking about the unregenerate human heart, whether Jew or Gentile, which is in need of justification through the redemption in Christ Jesus. 

Vernick further underscores her belief the Christian’s heart is inclined toward evil by citing Genesis 8:21, a verse which tells us about the Lord’s thoughts after the Flood, when Noah was making his offering —

And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. (Gen 8:21)

Is this verse teaching that the intention of the Christian’s heart is evil from his youth? No. Clearly it is speaking of unregenerate man. Fallen man. The kind of humanity that the Lord had just wiped out in the Flood.

If you believe that the Christian’s heart is inclined toward evil, how is that going to direct you when you counseling someone, even someone who is a regenerate Christian? Your counselling will tend to go this way: “Your problem is your sin. The issues in your life, the PTSD in you life, the issues in your marriage, etc., are all due to your own sin, or, to put it another way, your character defects. You’ve got to look to your own sin, You need to work on your own character.”  This kind of thinking tends to ignore the fact that there are many many people in this world who are suffering immensely due to the sin of someone else! It results in situations where a person who has PTSD gets hammered with counsel like this: “You wouldn’t be waking up at night with these terrifying dreams if you had enough faith!”  That is what tends to happen if a pastor or counselor holds to this notion that the heart of the Christian is deceitful and wicked. And Jay Adams championed the idea that all Christians are counselors — so the church is awash with ‘counsel and advice’.

Now, we are not saying that Leslie Vernick counsels victims of abuse by saying “You’ve got to look to your own sin!”  We have read her books and it is clear that she does not take a hard victim-condemning line, and that she correctly points out the characteristic sin-patterns of abusers. We rejoice that Leslie is more wise on these things than many of her colleagues in the biblical counseling world. But it seems that, like many of us, she has been wrongly taught and so is still somewhat foggy and confused about some things.

So you see the problem. Verses like Jeremiah 17:9, Genesis 8:21 and Romans 3:23 are being taught as if they apply just as much to the Christian as to the unregenerate.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)

People are citing verses like that and saying, “The Christian’s heart is still evil!”  They are applying Jeremiah 17:9 to a regenerate person. When I (Jeff) say to them, “That’s not talking about a Christian! Don’t you understand what the Lord does in Christ to us?” these people are confounded. It seems like it’s the first time that someone has plainly said to them: The regenerate Christian does not have an evil heart.

When we talk about the heart we are talking the person, who the person is, the heart being the seat of the affections. It is that personhood that defines the things that we love and even the things that we hate, and therefore it defines largely who we are. Let us look that Jeremiah 17:9 in its context.

Jeremiah 17:5-10

There is a curse pronounced on the man who does not believe and trust in the Lord:

[5] Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. [6] He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.

There is a blessing pronounced on the man who trusts in the Lord:

[7] “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. [8] He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

And Jeremiah then says, “Yeah; but there’s a problem!”

[9] The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

But Jeremiah then assures us the Lord is able to deal with that problem:

[10] “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

To paraphrase: “I the Lord, can look into the heart. I can look into the heart of every human being and I am able easily to discern if it is a deceitful, desperately sick heart; or if it is a heart that trusts the Lord. So I can rightly pronounce my curse on the one, and my blessing on the other.”

Is the regenerated heart of the Christian who is a new creation in Christ deceitful above all things and desperately wicked?  No!  What the Lord is declaring here, through Jeremiah, is His blessing upon the man who trusts in the Lord, and that even though the wicked man’s heart is so deceitful that no human being can sort out its webs of lies, the Lord can and does!  Therefore, the righteous man can be encouraged — because the Lord, without error, gives to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.

Along with this teaching that all sinners are the same and that the Christian’s heart still remains evil, is the common notion that you can never judge or discern what a person is: you can never judge whether a person is wicked and evil, or whether the person is righteous in Christ. People will adamantly resist any idea that we as Christians are able to discern and make a pronouncement about whether a person has an evil heart.

But the Bible urges us to discern the wicked. If we are not discerning the wicked, how can we ever beware of them?

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.  

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

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. (Mat 7:14-21)

If we are not discerning evil people who have crept in amongst us, we are not ‘taking care’. Hebrews 3:12 —

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.

If we are not discerning the wicked, we will not be able to identify wicked hypocrites who are esconsed in the church and excommunicate them as we are commanded to in 1 Corinthians 5.

We can indeed recognize the evil person. There is a vast difference between the heart of the Christian and that of the unregenerate man. And an even greater difference between the heart of the Christian and the heart of the evil unregenerate man, the man whose conscience is totally seared — the sociopath, the kind of person we might even call reprobate.

This is where the great error is among Christians and churches today. Over and over again we hear it – that no one but the Lord can know the heart, no one but the Lord knows if a person is a Christian or not, and therefore if a person claims to have faith in Christ we must take them at their word because after all, the inclination of even the Christian’s heart is evil. 

Ezekiel 36 talks about regeneration — the new birth —and how God gives us a new heart when He brings us to saving faith. This is the passage that Jesus had in mind when he was speaking to Nicodemus in John 3.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:22-27)

Likewise Jeremiah 31:33 speak about the New Covenant, describing how God will write His law upon our hearts — our tender heart tissue, whose regular muscular beating is essential to keep our bodies alive — and contrasts that with how the law was previously written on stone, a hard external inanimate substance.

And yet this great error seems to be prevalent to day: that a person can be a Christian and yet have a heart that is inclined, in its leaning, in its very nature, to evil.  Is it any wonder, then, that that churches are not discerning between evil and righteousness, and that evil people are able to parade as christians quite comfortably?

Often at this point in the discussion about the nature of the Christian, Romans 7 comes up, especially verse 24. 

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom 7:24)

Romans 7 is a difficult passage. People debate about whether Paul is talking about himself before he was a believer, or about himself after conversion — as a Christian. Some people say: “See? Paul says he is a wretched man! All Christians still have evil hearts, so when Paul’s talking about his wretchedness he is referring to that.” But consider the context:

Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Rom 7:20-25)

This is talking about  the same thing that Galatians 5 addresses. It’s talking about the spirit warring against the flesh.

I myself serve the law of God with my mind”  is talking about the Christian’s heart:  the born-of-the-Spirit heart upon which God has written His law so that the Christian is inclined to love God’s precepts — I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” is talking about the flesh: the remaining sin which the Christian still battles against, and will battle against until the resurrection takes place and that sinful flesh will finally be done away with. 

Regeneration frees us from the penalty of sin and the power of sin. But we will not be free from presence of sin until the resurrection in the heavens and the new earth.

What is the nature of the essence of the Christian’s being?

The Christian is a person who does not want to sin but has sin dwelling in him, ultimately to be set free by Christ at the resurrection.

The Christian is a person who “delights in the law of God” in his heart, but whose flesh (members) has a principle (law) of sin operative in it, warring against the true person he is in his inner being.

The Christian is a person for whom evil lies close at hand, but who is not evil is in his very identity. His very identity used to be evil: before God brought him to saving faith, he was defying God. But not anymore. God has regenerated his inner being, given him a new heart, brought him from death to life and written His law upon his heart so that his heart now delights in God’s ways and he delights in God’s law, even though his flesh still wars against it.

There are many passages in scripture which tell us who the Christian really is:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” [I’m a Christian!] but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him. (1Jn 2:3-5)

And by extension, we may also know that a certain person is not in Him.

Here’s another passage:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1Jn 3:14-15)

We love other true believers. But we don’t have the same kind of feeling for the false christians who parade as brothers! We are vexed by their wicked ways, just as Lot, a righteous man was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day (2Pet 2:8). We shrink from evildoers who parade as Christians. We flee from them!  And we long for the church to obey 1 Corinthians 5:11-1 and put the evildoers out of the church, so we can be safe. 

These are things that we cannot (must not) get wrong. We must reject any teaching that a person walking in habitual, unrepentant, ongoing sin is a Christian. That person is not to be allowed refuge in our churches. We must forcefully reject the notion that a Christian’s heart is inclined toward evil. We must forcefully reject the notion that because we are all sinners we must not and cannot judge anyone.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1Jn 2:18-29)

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

*****

Audio and PDF versions on this sermon here.  But bear in mind that the PDF is much less extensive that this blog post. In these posts, Barb has transcribed, recast for clarity, and amplified a lot of what Jeff preached extempore in the sermon.

For further reading

David Needham, Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are?

London (Baptist) Confession of Faith 1689, Chapter 13, Of Sanctification. (boldface added)

 1._____ They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. ( Acts 20:32; Romans 6:5, 6; John 17:17; Ephesians 3:16-19; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-23; Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:24; Colossians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:14 )

2._____This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Romans 7:18, 23; Galatians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:11 )

3._____ In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, pressing after an heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ as Head and King, in His Word hath prescribed them. ( Romans 7:23; Romans 6:14; Ephesians 4:15, 16; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 7:1 )

45 Comments

  1. NutMeg

    I really wish someone would have taught me this six years ago. When I started bible college our professor told us that our hearts were evil so we would not want the same things that God wanted. We could not trust our gut because it was of the flesh and could only trust the Holy Spirit who spoke through other Christians. Now I realize that this was how they kept students from leaving their school after they started having bad feelings about it. And they used those beliefs to get us to believe and do all kinds of things we wouldn’t have done otherwise. But that mistrust of myself has gotten me into a lot of trouble and opened me up for a world of pain. I even felt guilty for not getting along with some of the other students who were clearly bullies. I thought that since they claimed to be Christian I couldn’t doubt them and that my doubt meant that I wasn’t really a Christian because I didn’t love my brothers in Christ enough. The school never really disciplined anyone and most of the abuse went unnoticed. We were told that they were Christians too and we needed to show grace because we were just as bad as they were. Which only enabled the abuse. If I had known this before I would have just left all the nonsense behind.

    • Anonymous

      NutMeg, What you’ve written is exactly what Jeff and ACFJ are trying to wake people up to. That evil teaching robs us of our intuition from the Holy Spirit and denies us the chance to grow in our walk with Jesus. We also end up taking our true brethren for granted by placing all the responsibility on them and expecting them to accept it without complaining or being broken, all while making excuses in order to justify the behavior of evil ones. And everybody loses because God’s true children who do have the potential to be satisfied and filled with His joy because we have His heart are kept burdened down

      — and those written about in 2 Tim 3 and other places will NEVER be satisfied — even if we gave them everything they wanted. It’s all so SAD and such a waste but most importantly it’s EVIL!

      • NutMeg

        I know. I was just saying how I wish someone had taught me this sooner. Then I wouldn’t have believed all the lies I was taught at school. That’s all.

  2. Anonymous

    This post and the one just before it (https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2016/07/01/saying-no-to-sex-with-ones-spouse/) really address some horrible things that have been wrongly done to God’s true children. Namely, that we have been forced to pretend that evil people are good and have the same heart (and therefore the same motivation) that we do, and then we are forced to allow them to rape us.

    Wrong teaching about these two things (the hearts of evil ones and that wives are nothing more than human blow-up dolls for her husbands) have STOLEN from us and hindered our walk with and joy in the Lord.

    I will probably never know what a Godly sexual relationship is. The chance for this was stolen from me. I will probably have very few close relationships because I’ve learned to love to spend time alone with God, and don’t want to be intimately harmed again. This wasn’t God’s plan for my life according to His word but evil teaching has allowed the evil one to “…steal and kill and destroy” many things from God’s children.

    Thank you Jeff and Barb and all here for speaking the truth. I pray that you are able to reach many of God’s little ones BEFORE they set their lives down the path that many of us have walked. It’s why I’m always so glad when people comment here about healthy marriages (MeganC and The Wary Witness etc.) because we need these testimonies as much as we need to be able to talk about all the evil that’s been done to us. None of us are alone.

    • healinginhim

      Anonymous — Agreeing with you on your comments and encouragement to NutMeg and the fact that ACFJ and ‘a few’ others are prayerfully and compassionately extending the truth of God’s Word to those who have had so much thrown at them.
      I am praying that my children will open their eyes to the fact that I was also a victim of “legalistic teaching” which held me in bondage.

      Presently, I am being portrayed as the instigator of the ‘c’hristian legalism that was instilled in the family; the man I married has made it appear that way and of course many ‘c’hristians view him as a very nice man even though he now refuses to claim to be either a Christian or whatever??

      THANK YOU, again ACFJ for being so available. It is not an easy task as you try so diligently to answer us via this blog.

  3. Avid Reader

    Anonymous, this is for you:

    One of my friends was married to a police officer that made her life a living hell. She told me that the worst part was that he always said, “you can’t call the cops, I AM the cops!” So she never filed a police report because that would have required facing all of her husband’s friends that completely backed him.

    It took her a long time, but eventually she was able to break free and move on with her life. But because that had happened later in her life, she told me that she never thought she’d ever meet anyone who would really love her. Long story short, she ended up attending a new church where there was a man praying for God to send him a woman who really loved the Lord. They fell in love, got married, and I saw her face light up every time she talked about how she had found someone that really cherished her.

    There was another lady I knew who had also been through a painful divorce and given up on finding love. One day she came to me with the biggest smile I had ever seen—apparently, her high school sweetheart had gotten in touch with her—he had been looking for her for years. They had broken up in high school for whatever reason, both gone through painful marriages and divorces, and were now reconnecting after thirty years. She told me that she couldn’t believe she was finding love this late in life.

    Then there was an older gentleman that we knew who loved the Lord, but always had this stone cold expression on his face—never smiled at all. When he found love later in life, at his wedding we were all teasing him that this was the first time we knew he had teeth. He kept smiling and smiling and smiling and we were really happy for both of them. The lady he married had also thought she would never find love again later in life. Every time we’ve seen them since then, they look like two teenagers with puppy love!

    I hope you don’t mind me saying this—but after going to several weddings of friends who had felt they had nothing to offer because everything they had had been destroyed in painful marriages, then at a much later time in life, found someone who cherished them, I just wanted to say that you never know what can happen when you least expect it.

    • Thanks Avid Reader! What wonderful stories — they warmed my heart. 🙂

      You are very lucky to know so many people who have had this happen to them. I think that most of us can’t think of one such case in our personal friendship network.

  4. Sarah

    thank you

  5. Sarah

    I just love this sermon series and I hope you’ll leave these available online for a long time or offer them for purchase. I don’t want it to come to an end and they help me to keep focused when the world comes in with evil doctrine..especially since I have left the church. thank you again

    • Thank you Sarah! 🙂

      Jeff and I will be publishing this sermon series as a book when it is finished. And the book will also contain my teaching on the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16.

      I really appreciate the comments on the Wise as Serpents posts. Jeff must spend many hours writing each sermon and then preaching it. I then spend many hours listening to the preached sermon and transcribing the extempore parts and (where appropriate) turning and ordering them into clear written prose rather than the register of the spoken word. I am often exhausted by the effort, but I benefit from it greatly as well, as it requires me to really think deeply about the truths Jeff has preached. My own understanding of doctrine improves as a result. And I know our efforts are all going to bear much more fruit when the book is published.

  6. Believer

    This website is a lifeline to me, I can’t begin to express my gratitude for the work you have done, Jeff C. and Barb. I learned the truth about everything you say, so painfully and gradually, through the shocking and disastrous experiences of my life, and the Word of God. It is baffling to me the lack of Christians who understand (or believe in) these truths.

    I am still stunned, reeling and paralyzed by the recent, final destruction of my children’s and my lives. I understand that my tolerance of (failure to shun) evil all along enabled this to happen and every day I long for this life to be over, I am so crushed by the consequences of my sin. The cruel irony is that my ex has gotten out by successfully lying that it is my intolerance of his sin that is the problem, not his sinful behavior; I have been condemned by two churches, and my outrageously deceitful, and abusive ex has been validated and supported. My elder “friends” pronounced that I am “a bad example to the children” for daring to disclose my husband’s abuse of me to a pastor, and they advised him to “get out.” And recommended to him a nasty lawyer. It is not the fact that he is a chronic, unapologetic liar and abuser that made life impossible; it is the fact that I “see him” that way. I am utterly devastated by this lie, and by all the lies that have burned up the past sixteen years into ashes and which seem will haunt and torture me until death.

    Thank you for your light in the darkness, may God pour out His blessing upon you now and richly reward you in eternity.

    • MarkQ

      Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
      Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
      Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Is 5:20)

    • Thank you Believer! Thank you for your encouragement. Sending cyber-hugs your way 🙂

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    • Gothard Survivor

      You said, “I am crushed by the consequences of my sin.” Your “sin” of hoping your husband will come to his senses? This sounds like the same self-doubt and blaming of ourselves that others of us have experienced. Please consider that it is not your fault.

  7. MarkQ

    Great article. I think this teaching is furthered in the church, because alongside that teaching is how we need godly leaders to protect us from ourselves. It’s the start of the spiritually abusive relationship in the church. This really ties things together. I keep being reminded in my new church that I feel like I’m being preached to as a Christian, rather than as a non-Christian. The difference is that stark.

    Christians who go to the church for help have things immediately put back on them. Why? Because the leaders assume that those who come to them have evil motives.

    Leaders who are caught with their pants down get grace and forgiveness. Why? Because THEIR hearts are regenerate and the sin was just a momentary failure of their flesh.

    In fact, it just so happens that the church plays the same game as the world. The rich, popular and powerful are above the law – do hideous things and get a slap on the wrist, where the poor and downtrodden get the book thrown at them and become the “marks of the true church” when they are disciplined.

    I was reminded last night of a friend who was spiritually abused by a former church. The advice he received from his spiritual mentors and Christian friends was that he should return and submit. Sound familiar? Even the church courts said they agreed that the church was screwed up, but he should return and submit and help make things better. It’s interesting, because I showed him over and over that the church’s own constitution said, RUN!

  8. Gothard Survivor

    I understand firsthand the self-doubt that being told you cannot trust your heart brings.

    However, I do not understand feeling as though we can judge each other. Which of us will die sinless? In fact, that verse in Corinthians is one of the hardest in the Bible for me to understand. Think about it this way: if someone has been molested as a child they will likely have a series of partners as a young adult. Should we kick out and shun these hurting people who need love more than anything else?

    After my daughter joined the Douglas Wilson crowd I got to understand firsthand what it is like to be shunned–they choose anything as a reason, saying the text doesn’t include everything.Then since the Bible doesn’t specify everything they change not eating with someone to not speaking with them. And they change church discipline to personal discipline. That leaves me shunned by a daughter who believes I am not respecting my not-so-nice husband enough to be included in her life. Who gets to decide these things? I think we should stick with letting God decide.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Gothard Survivor – Well, Scripture directs us to make these judgments. And it also directs us to avoid certain kinds of people whom we have judged to be guilty of certain things. For example:

      I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. (Rom 16:17-18)

      Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2Th 3:6)

      having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2Ti 3:5)

      As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, (Tit 3:10)

      Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. (2Ti 4:14-15)

      Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1Jn 4:1)

      And of course –

      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. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1Co 5:11-13)

      Can wicked people who claim to be pastors and teachers and church members misuse these very Scriptures so that the righteous person is wrongly accused and put out of a church? Of course. Church history is filled with such evil examples. But as you can see from these Scriptures and others, God calls you and me to make judgments about others who profess to be Christians. By His Spirit in us and by His Word we are to be wise as serpents about evil. We are to increase in our ability to possess the wisdom of God and thereby discern good and evil. And good and evil is always people. We must make judgments about people. The book of Proverbs is filled with page after page of wisdom that judges others and often withdraws from them, refusing to associate with them. Bad company corrupts good morals, Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Come out from among them and be separate says the Lord. All of these actions require making judgments about people.

      So we are not to leave all such issues to the Lord. He, in fact, has left them to us.

      • Gothard Survivor

        I don’t understand then. Would you kick out the girl who had been molested and sought many partners? (This is not me, by the way. I was not molested and was a virgin when I married. Just an example…)

        How would you conduct the judgment? I definitely think my daughter is being unfair in her judgment of me, and it looks like a lot of other people here have been judged unfairly too. No one knows the secret sins–including abuse, porn use, etc., even laziness.

        Please explain how this should work.

      • Dear Gothard Survivor

        I am so sorry to hear that your daughter, under the influence the Doug Wilson crowd, is shunning you. Doug Wilson is a hyper-hard patriarchist. We know that his doctrine is wonky — it has a lot of legalism and is driven by the idolization of male power and control. And his teaching has done harm to many people.

        I want to honor you for surviving Gothardism and breaking out of it… that’s not easy! The fact that you call yourself ‘Gothard survivor’ is to your credit — it shows that you have seen though Bill Gothard’s teaching and bravely extracted yourself from that scene. 🙂

        The biblical passages about church discipline (which Jeff Crippen has referred to here) give precepts and guidance to true Christians and the true church about how to deal with hypocrites in the church who parade as believers.

        But, in a sense, the guidance presupposes that those reading and applying the precepts are themselves true believers, not power-and-control-mongering hypocrites who are parading as believers.

        Your daughter shunning you — that has happened because she is under the beguilement of the Doug Wilson crowd. Her treatment of you is not a sound and balanced example of biblical discipline!

        So, to come to your hypothetical question. You asked:

        if someone has been molested as a child they will likely have a series of partners as a young adult. Should we kick out and shun these hurting people who need love more than anything else?

        If someone has been molested as a child, they may become promiscuous as a young adult (alternatively, they may avoid and be repulsed by sex — that’s what the research shows). But if they go the promiscuity way, their promiscuity ought to be interpreted by wise Christians as a desperate search for acceptance and ‘love’ — albeit a search in the wrong places.

        If such a person were be converted and become a regular attender in a church, the wise Christians (would that we had more of them!) in that church would see that person’s sexually immoral history as just a symptom of their state of lostness and confusion. A wise church and wise leaders should not shun that person; rather, they should gently listen to that person’s story and confusion, with empathy, and without slamming down the sword of Condemnation, and they should gently teach that person about the principles which the Bible gives us about sexual morality.

        If that individual has been gently and compassionately taught about God’s precepts re sexual immorality, and that person nevertheless persists and continues in sexual immorality, then biblical discipline processes can be gradually brought to bear…

        I hope my explanation has given you more of a picture of how biblical discipline can and should be exercised by a genuine church that follows and honours Christ, as contrasted to a pseudo-christian group like the Doug Wilson crowd.

      • MarkQ

        I’ve come to the conclusion that church discipline is protective rather than coercive. All the churches I’ve been in so far try to use church discipline to force change through fear. When a “sin” is first discovered, the member is threatened with a trial and punishment if he doesn’t immediately repent. There is no desire to counsel or help, just “fix it or suffer the consequences”. Generally all of this is kept private until the leaders are forced to make an announcement, and the announcement generally avoids any of the facts. So, in one case. “Susie (not real name) has been excommunicated for the sin of unrepentant adultery”. It was in a marriage, and we weren’t given her side of the story, which might have included spousal abuse. I presume that the leaders were trying to push the couple to reconcile, and when that didn’t happen, they excommunicated the wife – but we will never know. We have to trust THEIR judgment.

        Do we as members need to be protected from Susie? Probably not. However, a few years back a man left receiving no discipline. He was being pushed on the congregation as the next leader, and suddenly he was removed from that, without any public announcement. It turns out he was teaching heresy and had led some congregants astray. So, in this case, there is someone the members need to be protected from, yet the leadership chose the easy route, which was to lead him quietly out the back door, rather than declare that he was a wolf.

        I think that’s the sort of thing that happens in Wilson-land. Their church makes molehills out of mountains – “rehabilitating” child molesters and elevating them in the congregation, and at the same time, they make mountains out of molehills – trying to force forgiveness and reconciliation for their victims and excommunicating them.

    • Misti

      Matthew 7:18 was the light bulb reference for me. “Good trees can’t produce bad fruit,” Jesus told us outright, and in that context, He told us TWICE to know others by their fruits.

      What are “fruits”? They’re patterns of behavior. Peter got angry, lost his temper, and denied Christ — but he admitted his fault, sought forgiveness from the one he had wronged, and did better in the future. His overall pattern was that he was increasing in patience and peace, which was a good fruit.

      See Galatians 5:22–23 for the fruits of the Spirit, and I Corinthians 5:11 lists the fruits of the hypocrite. I Corinthians 5 makes clear that we’re to avoid professing believers who display the fruits of the hypocrite, which we are to outright expect them from unbelievers.

      And this avoidance is, in fact, a personal decision. Your daughter isn’t talking to you. It hurts, and her reasoning may or may not be justified or sound, but it’s her right to decide she doesn’t want to talk to you, just as it’s your right to decide to not speak to whomever you don’t want to speak to.

      The validity of anyone’s reasoning is between them and God. All you can do on your end is pray for her and for God to open her eyes—otherwise, you’re saying that your own desires (to talk to your daughter) are more important than and supersede hers (to not talk to you), which is a violation of Romans 12:10 (“Honor one another above yourselves,” NIV). From what you said, she gave you due notice of why she made that choice, according you the respect of alerting you why her conscience has led her to this decision so you can remedy the situation or not, according to however your own conscience dictates.

      You each have the right to think the other wrong.

      • Misti

        Note: I’m not intending to say that you *are* in the wrong, just pointing out how the right to think a person wrong cuts both ways. It can hurt, but it isn’t our place to somehow get, make, or force another person to do as we want. Lovingly seek to convince, sure, when the opportunity’s there. But it isn’t our duty, responsibility, or right to change another person. That’s in God’s hands.

        The purpose of Biblical discernment and judgement is protection of self and others, not punishment of the party being judged. Consider the example of Solomon in I Kings 3, with the infant and two women claiming the child. Solomon’s primary focus was to identify which woman was the child’s mother, in order to reunite mother and child, not to identify and punish whoever was daring to lie to him, the king.

        Much of the misuse and abuse of them (and of tactics like avoidance) could be thought to stem from focusing on them as primarily tools or means of punishment.

  9. Renewed Spirit

    Very clear – thanks for sharing.

    I think my situation is a huge eye opener for many – I have been banned from taking part in Lord’s Supper because I was angry after the man I married kept pulling the rug from under my feet after I was in a serious car accident.
    This after a few years previous we had ‘dealt’ with his alcohol and porn.
    It’s a long complicated story – in the end, I am finally being treated for post-concussion symptoms 3 years after the fact.

    People cannot understand why I keep attending the worship services – I go to hear the preaching, worship my Lord and see my children who are living with him because I was in no shape to care for them.

    Today we had an excellent sermon on true contrition versus sorry I was caught. The Lord is working in many other people’s lives through all of this – I know I am not the only one who has dealt with ‘issues’ that eventually surface.

    I sat by myself in a quiet room upstairs in the Church building for many many months as I dealt with symptoms of visual and vestibular nature. Now I have joined the congregation in the sanctuary and really am trying hard to assess my situation and how to best go forward. I am not strong enough to ‘fight’ due to my injuries – making me fully dependent on the Lord to come through for me while I wait on Him.

    In the meantime, I keep searching my own heart, whether there is any wicked way in me that needs addressing. At the final Day I am accountable for my life; also how I handle this.
    Learning ever so slowly as this all plays out.
    Thanks for the sharpening ‘tools’.

    • Wow — post concussion symptoms three years on! And undiagnosed for so long! How awful!

      blessings and hugs to you, Renewed Spirit. 🙂

    • healinginhim

      Renewed Spirit — Praying for you as you, “…keep searching my own heart … ”
      I am thankful you were finally led to the ACFJ blog as it has helped so many.
      I am caring for a resident in a long-term-care home who sustained serious concussion injuries in an accident and tender-loving-care is very much required.
      Please be reassured that others especially associated with ACFJ do not forget believers like you who can often ‘feel forgotten’. ((hugs))

      • Renewed Spirit

        Thanks for your encouraging words! I’m just thankful I wasn’t in a coma or I’m afraid someone would have pulled the plug.
        I have many working parts thankfully and have come miles despite the circumstances and setbacks – Soli Deo Gloria!
        I plan to keep hobbling forward 🙂

  10. Lost#2

    I have been in an abusive relationship with my husband for years. He has been in adulterous relationships with other women and has even used my money to pay for his expenses with these women. He avoided any intimacy with me for many years and relied on porn instead. I kept thinking that God may someday save my marriage for the sake of my children but my husband has never changed.

    A few months back I got tired of living like this and tried to talk to him about the possibility of reconciling and seeing a counsellor and trying to work at the marriage. He said he could not be intimate with me partly because I was not feminine, did not dress up sexy for him and was not attractive enough. When I countered why he did not tell me this years ago so i could have done something about it, he said these are things women just know or was supposed to know. He said he thought that I knew what was the problem. He said he was not like an animal which could just jump into bed and have sex with no regard to the attractiveness of a woman. He made me feel so unattractive and horrible that I think there is no future with this man. I cannot understand why if dressing, etc was so important to him, he would just assume that I knew and let the marriage crumble and die. Even then I asked him to go see counsellor but he said a counsellor could not help us. I am wondering that If he could not say these things years ago, how come he can say them now?

    He currently is seeing someone but he does not want to divorce me. I think not so much because he loves me but he likes the comfortable life we lead. I am fearful of a divorce because I have read accounts of readers at this site where they complained of uncertainty and loneliness after a divorce. I do not want to be alone. I have questions if God will bring someone else into my life after a divorce.

    Lost

    • Hi — welcome to the blog 🙂

      I know it might be hard to take in, but I think you are a victim of domestic abuse. Your husband is certainly an adulterer, but he is also an abuser. He is unjustly blaming you for his adultery. Abusers typically shift the blame for their sins onto the person they have sinned against. You husband is doing just that. Also, the fact that he says he does not want to divorce you indicates that he is just using you.

      I am wondering that If he could not say these things years ago, how come he can say them now?

      He could have said those things years ago, you are right. I think the most likely explanation for why he didn’t tell you those things before is this: he has been mistreating you and breaking his marriage vows without any pangs of conscience for YEARS and he couldn’t care less how much he hurts you. He has CHOSEN to not say those things before because he was getting a ride of you — taking advantage of your willingness to treat him generously with good will and forgiveness and patience. He was getting away with his wicked behaviour all those years, and if he had told you what he was really feeling and thinking, you would have started objecting.

      Now you are raising your real and justified grievances, he is trying to shift the blame to you.

      All this is TYPICAL of abusers.
      Not all adulterers behave that way. But adulterers who are also abusers behave that way.

      I encourage you to read this post: https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2013/06/29/why-couple-counseling-is-not-recommended-for-domestic-abuse/

      We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      I changed your screen name to Lost#2. It looked like you’d given your real name — which not a safe thing to do in your situation where your husband could escalate the ways he is mistreating you if he were to happen to read your comment. We have another comment called Lost so I named you Lost#2. If you want us to change the screen name to something else, just email The woman behind the curtain: twbtc.acfj@gmail.com — she will be more than happy to assist. 🙂

      If you comment here again, please try to ensure that the fields (little boxes) in the comments form do not give a name or a URL that could identify you. You may have to manually correct what your device has auto-inputted into those two little boxes.
      We ask this because we are very busy managing the blog, and it really saves us time if commenters take care with what is in the name and URL fields in the comments form, before they hit the Submit button. Thanks!

  11. Woman of Shunem

    I think the professing church today greatly lacks discernment, perhaps in large part because they are merely ‘professing’ (hence not actually the church). It’s this very lack of discernment (and perhaps evil hearts of their own) that causes them to wipe the slate clean of all Godly wisdom given in His Word, replacing them with proof-texts like “Love your enemy” or “Respect your husband,” etc. slapped onto abusive scenarios before abandoning the victim.

    I think you’ve done right by Vernick here, and I hope she pops in and reads this. I think she’s done an excellent job helping victims of abuse (as she herself has been from her mother). It seems that when it comes to abuse we all continually learn as God opens our eyes more to His truth and rightly applying it. I hope she considers the wisdom in this post and moves forward to embrace it.

  12. Anonymous

    Great comments!

    NutMeg I was agreeing with you and expanding on what you’d said and you are right to be saddened and angered about the years spent feeling guilty that you didn’t like abusers. This also seems to be a common theme among bible colleges of today–they don’t teach about discernment and there’s lots of sin-leveling.

    Avid Reader your comments were such a blessing! Thank you for the testimonies you’ve given! Such beauty God created from ashes!

    Gothard Survivor, I understand what you are trying to say in your comments. The problem is that what we’ve been taught in the past as reasons that some people make bad choices such as after having been molested then going on to bad relationships, only deals with PART of the situation. The bible tells us that in the end times some people will be lovers of themselves……and gives a list of the type of people they are (2 Tim 3). This is what Jeff is trying to help us to see–that there are differences between people’s motivations (their heart) and that some people’s reasons for choosing certain relationships are due to abuse (and then not being properly helped) while others are only using abuse stories (sometimes manufactured or stolen from others who have truly been abused) as an excuse to abuse others.

    Lost#2’s comment is a great example of this. The behavior of her husband is sadly typical of many abuser’s behavior. I’ve read this same theme many times here and on other websites. The issues have NOTHING to do with the wife’s behavior and if she were to fix all the things her husband uses as an excuse as to why he is not being intimate with her, she would find that he would come up with other excuses. The problem is that he is a wicked, evil man with a wicked evil heart and he LOVES the filth of having sex with others while still married to his wife. It gives him someone to be against (which is true of all those who belong to their father the devil–they are against EVERYONE all the time, but especially their spouses) and the “dirtier” the person he is having sex with, the better because they love to degrade and humiliate others. Prostitutes are a favorite.

    Jeff, your response was so good and right on but until God allows us to see the truth of it there’s no way to truly see it. We are not all the same Gothard Survivor, and when we rightly judge based on God’s word with the wisdom He’s given us through our lives, we HONOR Him and we are in turn BLESSED by Him. That’s right! When we have nothing to do with people who have shown themselves to be evil we are obeying God and if there is someone who is walking in a path that was thrust on her or him because of abuses of the past, although they LOOK like they are choosing evil, there is a difference. What we can always do is PRAY for them. Pray that if they are capable of hearing the Lord’s voice that he reaches them. Pray that he takes away all the props in their life that are allowing them to harm others and to hide, so that God can reach their hearts. When you do this you are actually choosing to allow God to be the judge and you are also paying close attention to what’s happening. You may then be able to see that there is a difference and that people who have lost all their props and are broken by it have a chance to know God but people who are butt-hurt are not of God and are actually just angry that they can’t control people anymore.

    I know for those of us who truly love peace and calm and quiet all this battling is exhausting and wears us out! BUT, it is a REAL battle that’s being waged and we are in it whether we like it or not (I DO NOT like it!). If I’d been taught all these truths from the beginning of my walk with the Lord I might not be so tired or so damaged and others who had taught me could have been a source of comfort and friendship and we could have helped each other out rather than dumped non-biblical lies on each other from which we had to then dig ourselves out of. (God actually dug me out of these lies.) And THAT’S what I’m hoping to do–to keep others from being destroyed by the evil one’s lies and to let them know that the evil that was dumped on them was NOT from God and that HE actually loves them and that there is hope in HIM. Thank you all again for sharing your lives and hearts–I need you!

  13. Misti

    I’m an author of sci-fi and fantasy. I have a few fans who followed me when I started a blog for writing theological thoughts, and one of them pointed out the “wicked heart = speaking of the unregenerate” thing earlier this year. I think that was the first time I’d heard that—or at least heard it in a manner where I realized what I was hearing—but it sure fits context, other Scripture, and my own experience as a believer far better than the premise that regenerate persons still have hearts of stone.

    There’s this common saying in the PCA, that believers “sin daily in word, thought, and deed,” and it’s applied to every moment and every possible sin listed in Scripture—and it’s used to “prove” that anybody who says they aren’t tempted by a particular sin is lying. Many pastors, when they speak of things like jealousy and envy and pride and lust, insist “We all do X sometimes.”

    Um, I’m an aromantic asexual, so far along on the spectrum that I never experience interest or desire for romance or sex—and have never done so. What is this “lust” they say I must be experiencing? I don’t even covet others’ belongings; I might ask God for the same thing to happen to me that has happened to someone else, but I don’t want that person’s item or whatever.

    Not saying I’m perfect or sinless, just that I don’t have those particular issues. Why is it so important to them that I must be experiencing them, that I must be lying if I say I don’t?

    Moreover, this idea that born-again Christians still have the wicked heart of stone outright contradicts so many other verses and even other verses they themselves profess to believe—like Matthew 7:18, which explicitly says that good trees CAN’T produce bad fruits (which are variously defined as specific recent actions or as overall patterns of behavior—whichever benefits the speaker more). If you dare point out such an outright contradiction, it’s at best handwaved as a “great mystery”, referencing Ephesians 5:32.

    But Eph 5:32 was speaking specifically of the two-becomes-one aspect of intercourse, so…how, precisely, is that a reasonable verse to apply as a serious counterargument to explain a logical contradiction? And for folks so interested in propriety that they protest things like purple hair or a strapless dress…how is a verse about sex even appropriate in that context?

    (Is it normal for folks to be more interested in the verses about sex and sexual relationships than they are the ones about discernment and wisdom? Asking seriously, b/c a matter of interest is the most innocuous reason I can think of for why there would be such a disconnect in familiarity.)

    The result seems to be an institutionalization of sheep suits, really. :-/

    • Is it normal for folks to be more interested in the verses about sex and sexual relationships than they are the ones about discernment and wisdom? Asking seriously, b/c a matter of interest is the most innocuous reason I can think of for why there would be such a disconnect in familiarity.

      Good question, Misti. I’m repeating it here so that we don’t miss it and remember to reply if we can. 🙂

    • Abby

      What a great comment, Misti. When you wrote, “What is this “lust” they say I must be experiencing? ” It made me laugh right out loud.
      It occurred to me that so often I have been accused of the very things that my abusers were doing, without any evidence of me doing these things. Projection, So, if a minister gives a sermon in which he assumes all have sinned in the way he says at the time, wouldn’t that be a red flag? Is he projecting his sins onto all his followers? Maybe that’s a simple clue to needing to find a new church.

      • Abby,
        It is very common for victims to be accused not only by their abusive spouse but also by church leaders. But these types of accusations are not accurate examples of ‘projection’. We have discussed the accurate definition of projection on some other comment threads. Here are links to a few comments that you may find insightful:

        Explanation of Projection by Barbara

        Comment by TWBTC

        Another comment by Barbara

      • Abby

        Yes, I did find those comments very insightful. Thanks. I missed them when they came through. It is an important distinction. Am I correct in thinking, after reading those comments, that actual *projection* is a much lesser evil than *blaming* as an offensive tactic?

      • Yes, that is how I would understand it.

      • Am I correct in thinking, after reading those comments, that actual *projection* is a much lesser evil than *blaming* as an offensive tactic?

        Yes, you are correct.

        We will soon be publishing a post explaining the difference between projection, and the unjust blaming that abusers and foolish pastors often do.

      • Misti

        So, if a minister gives a sermon in which he assumes all have sinned in the way he says at the time, wouldn’t that be a red flag?

        Yeah, if anybody else, in any other circumstances, did the same thing, it would be a red flag, right? And yet pastors and church leaders (and family…) are somehow exempt from that—but that’s entirely unbiblical. But it’s so common (in my experience)… :-/

        But then, I Timothy 5:17’s statement to show church leaders double honor only applies to those who lead/rule “well”, not to church leaders for the sake of them being church leaders.

        I’ve seen that “well” dropped a lot, as well as further warping of basic grammar. Which is aside from how some significant words have meanings in general church culture (in my experience) that they do not mean anywhere else and have never done so. (Case in point: that conflation of “obey” with “honor” and “hearken”.)

        This stuff is so. prevalent. in my experience. Even when I look for places without it, I’m still seeing it far more often than I’m not seeing it…but there’s also the factor that my parents would’ve self-selected churches and denominations that supported or enabled their abuses + I seem to have a natural tendency to look for victims. So how prevalent is it, really?

        My concern is that it seems to seriously be the norm—but Jesus also, just before warning us of wolves in sheeps’ clothing, gave the warning about the narrow vs. wide gates. It’s usually treated as an independent lesson, but what if it isn’t?

        I know I’m getting distracted from the post topic, but it’s all connected in the percolator in my head. Am trying to map it out. :-/

  14. ForMyDaughtersSake

    The doctrine of the T.U.L.I.P was heavily taught in the denomination that excommunicated our daughter for divorcing her abuser. 
    T=Total Depravity
    U=Unconditional Election
    L= Limited Atonement
    I = Irresistible Grace
    P=Perseverance and/or Preservation of the Saints
    U=Unconditional Election
     
    The teaching of this denomination, is mostly, supportable well by Bible verses.  Sadly, many of those verses were used in a way that kept the membership believing they had little value, and worth, but, should live as grateful recipients of a gift they are fully unworthy to be a benefactor of.  We were taught we were ‘worms’ worthy of hell; Totally Depraved, from the womb, coming forth ‘speaking lies.’
    We were taught that if not for the grace and mercy of God,  we too, could be an evil Hitler.
    We were taught that no good works on our part, or anyone’s part,
    was ‘evidence’ of Christianity, and, that even the non-elect called upon God, as, ‘Lord Lord!’
    and would say in the last days, ‘did we not do great works in your name?’
    We were taught that there were no ‘conditions on being an elect.’
    It was not because of any good works on our part, that we could earn heaven,
    but, solely, by grace alone, was there any hope of heaven.  To this day, I hold to that teaching, that God comes to his children, and quickens their heart, to desire Him and pursue godliness.

    Every part of the teaching within the TULIP doctrine has been shown, in our situation, to be used to twist the scriptures, to justify evil in their churches. I wrote a more detailed version of the way this doctrine gave place to abusers in it’s midst, at my blog.

    I am so thankful!! It answers long wrestled with questions, that finally make since to how the teachings of that former denomination’s doctrinal teaching and practices, contributed to masses of ‘good people’ justifying turning their back on an abused girl(s) among them, and her family, casting both out from among them, while warmly welcoming to their ‘closed’ communion table, the ‘repentant’ abuser.

    Thank you!!

    • Jeff Crippen

      ForMyDaughtersSake – Like any true, sound biblical doctrines, TULIP can be and has been abused. In particular by what we would call hypercalvinists. That system is not reformed theology at all but a perversion of it. The five doctrines that TULIP stands for, properly taught and applied, are life-giving and they actually protect victims from abusers and expose the wicked. This is why it blows me away that reformed churches are often among those who mistreat/disbelieve and reject abuse victims while taking the side of the abuser. When we understand “T” (total depravity) properly for example, we will understand that it does not mean people are as evil as they possibly could be to some “totally wicked” level. But we will understand that the fallen, unregenerate human heart, mind, and will is capable of great wickedness. That is to say, we will realize that there are people who are purely evil. Sociopaths with no conscience.

      The twisted teachings you mention about election and grace also protect the abuser. Yes, God has elected His own people from eternity past. Yes, apart from the irresistible grace of God we would all be lost because we would never choose God. But taught wrongly, these things become the wicked man’s favorite trump cards. No matter what he does or has done, he is elect, he shouts. No matter how wicked, God’s grace covers his sin. And besides, he will remind us, “we are all sinners.”

      Yes, none of us deserve God’s grace in Christ. Else grace would no longer be grace. Grace is a gift, not wages earned. BUT once the Lord by that grace in His Son changes our hearts and makes us His children, the real child of God does not “go on sinning so that grace may abound” as Paul told the Romans. The abuser does exactly that. He runs to grace when he works his evil and then cries out “safe!”

    • Misti

      Any word, concept, or truth can be warped into a lie. It isn’t even particularly hard. You just adjust the meaning of a word or three, ideally in a slight/subtle but significant way. Parody and satire use this. (If you’ve never noticed how this works, I suggest you look up “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift.)

      More obvious examples can be found in politics. For example, the arguments for and against gun control tend to be misrepresented by the opposing sides in general. It’s a propaganda tactic, seeking to engage the audience’s emotions so they’ll avoid thinking too critically about it.

      I bring this up to point out that blaming an ideology itself tends to be problematic, because it tends to be defined and applied differently by different people. An ideology might lend itself to a particular result (as how complementarianism can lead to promotion of headship vs. obedience in a manner that promotes abuse), but ideologies’ formal definitions tend to have multiple possible applications, not all of which will necessarily have the same implications or applications as what causes the problems.

      It is useful to consider the connection or lack thereof between what something definitively or necessarily means and what it is interpreted or applied to mean. Sometimes, those things are complete opposites.

      I myself come from an environment that used those definitions that you describe. The persons involved would deny being hypercalvinists (who are always defined as some other standard), but T.U.L.I.P. is far from the only place where they display such disconnects in word definitions, argument logic, and what is said vs. how it is applied, defined, or practiced, I find that their definition of T.U.L.I.P. troubles me less than the overall pattern of manipulative communication tactics.

      There’s one word in particular that’s been bothering me lately, and that’s “cult”. I (as a reformed Presbyterian) always heard it defined as a false religion that worships a person other than Christ Jesus — that any faith that genuinely worships Christ as the Son of God and Man could not be a cult, by definition. A friend of mine who was raised independent Baptist learned the same definition.

      The problem is that isn’t what the word actually means—not in the dictionary, not in the etymology — none of it.

      This is despite the fact that the primary meaning of “cult” is “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object” (ref. Oxford). (Is that not how we are supposed to approach Christ?) And “cult” can also just be a basic catchall for “religion with which you disagree.”

      Now, there’s a degree to which a word means what it is used to mean, but why do they redefine this word in such a way that it cannot apply to them? Why is it so important to train the people in the environment so that they will not understand someone outside that environment who uses the word?

      That word redefinition is itself a tactic abuse and manipulation…and it’s a common factor in cult psychology. So that church culture engages in it at all is troubling, but that the redefinition extends into the word “cult” itself… That troubles me. A lot.

      • MarkQ

        Name calling/ad hominem is a manipulative tactic, not just towards people, but towards groups of people. For example, “Calvinist” and “Arminian” tend to be name-calling, used to label people or groups into some catchall argument.

        In theological circles, it might be helpful if someone can summarize their position without having to walk it from scripture, but I often find that people who stick labels on themselves and others really don’t want to understand the debate, they are just attached to the results.

        There is a more insidious version of word definition, in my opinion, and it’s used by Reformed scholars a lot. For example, does God want me to “enjoy” my job? Well, if I can’t find “joy”, then I’m missing a fruit of the Spirit and I need to change. But, what was done here was to use two different definitions. Joy as happiness (emotion) vs joy as a spiritual gift. This is how guys like Piper get Christians to stick their emotions in the box, because somehow happiness becomes my selfish desire that must be sacrificed at the altar, and if I just shove my desire to be emotionally happy in a box, then I can experience the spiritual gift of joy. Hopefully, it’s easy to see the damage this equivocation can cause – if I can’t find joy in an abusive marriage, then I need to STAY in the marriage and PRAY that God will give me the joy. If I leave, then I’m putting myself (emotional needs) above the promise of greater grace and spiritual fulfillment. It’s a huge trap that many fall into.

      • Yes. And we have a tag for John Piper, which includes several posts about his silly teachings about ‘joy’.

      • Misti

        I often find that people who stick labels on themselves and others really don’t want to understand the debate, they are just attached to the results.

        I’ve noticed the same thing, MarkQ.

  15. ForMyDaughtersSake

    Thank you Pastor Crippen…

    Indeed….”we are all sinners’ was frequently used,
    as justification to do nothing about the abuse,
    or the abuser…

    Thank you for clarifying the good about TULIP,
    and how it can be twisted into something destructive.

    Once twisted, it loses its, once sweet, aroma…

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