Church Leaders Charge Victims with Sin for Leaving the Abuser
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1Peter 5:1-3)
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb 13:17)
Ok, let’s sort this church authority thing out again.
Hardly a week goes by that we do not receive a report of a local church – pastor and leaders – threatening to or actually exercising discipline (up to ex-communication) on an abuse victim. Generally a woman. Why? Because she refuses to reconcile, return to, submit to her abuser. The church tells her God does not permit her to divorce.
And they cite verses like Hebrews 13:17 above, but in language that makes it sound like they are covered regarding Peter’s instruction to them not to lord it over the flock. “We are saddened and grieved. We love you and your husband. We want the best for you and your family. It grieves us to tears that you have not obeyed our instruction to return and be reconciled.” Yada, yada, yada. Same old schtick. Usually these kinds of letters save the real punch for last – “and unless you do obey we will be forced to enact church discipline upon you.”
So what about this church authority business?
The local church has indeed been given Christ’s authority. For what? To deal with unrepentant sin in people who claim to be Christians. The church has the authority to actually hand such a one over to Satan (see 1 Cor 5) and Christ stands with the church in that action when rightfully carried out. A church that will not obey the Lord in this regard is sinning. Their authority rests in the Scriptures.
Now, here’s the thing. In these abuse cases (and probably in many others as well) what is happening over and over again is that THE WICKED PERSON – THE ABUSER – IS NOT BEING PUT OUT OF THE CHURCH, THE VICTIM IS!! Happens all the time. ALL the time! And why is she being put out? Because she will not “obey” the pastor/elders instruction to return to her abuser, remain married, and never divorce.
Alright then. Let’s move on a bit further here and ask the pertinent question: DOES THE LOCAL CHURCH HAVE THE AUTHORITY GIVEN BY GOD TO GRANT OR DENY PERMISSION TO DIVORCE? Or, to put it this way, DOES A PERSON NEED TO OBTAIN THE PERMISSION OF THEIR CHURCH BEFORE THEY CAN DIVORCE? These churches would answer both questions “YES”!
And I am telling them, NO YOU DO NOT.
What churches DO have the authority to deal with is sin in unrepentant professing Christians – like abusers. The only authority the church has is the Word of God. And although there are legions of rankly arrogant church leaders around today who insist that THEIR take on what the Scriptures say about marriage, divorce, and remarriage is the infallible, inerrant position, what kind of person, really, is going to insist that THEIR position is correct when in fact it is obvious that so many Christians disagree on these subjects? YET THESE PEOPLE WILL ACTUALLY EX-COMMUNICATE AN ABUSE VICTIM FOR NOT SUBMITTING TO THEIR INTERPRETATION AND OBEYING THEM.
People – you do NOT need your church’s permission to divorce. Yes, if you sinfully abandon your spouse for selfish, evil reasons, then you are sinning and it is your SIN that the church has authority to deal with. But where – show me chapter and verse – where does the Bible EVER say that the local church has the “keys” that the Pope claims to hold when it comes to granting or denying marital divorce? Where? It isn’t in the Bible. It is an invented tradition of man that is holding so many people in bondage.
We have victims contact us regularly, all in fear and terrible anxiety, because they know they are being abused, they know in their own conscience God is leading them to leave their abuser, but their church is overtly or covertly threatening to ex-communicate them from the kingdom of God, and so they don’t know what to do. I tell them all the same thing. Don’t fear those threats. Laugh at them. They hold no authority over you in your decision to leave your abuser. You do not need the church’s permission to divorce.
Pastors, elders, and church members – all of you who keep laying this enslaving false teaching on people – YOU are playing the role of the false teachers the Apostle Paul warns us all against who hinder people from the kingdom of God. Yep, it’s YOU:
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. (Gal 5:7-8)
No, this persuasion is NOT from the Lord. It is from YOU guys who are lording it over the flock and claiming authority for yourselves that Christ never gave you. You know what He says about you? This –
I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! (Gal 5:12)
And the Lord also exposes your real motive in treating victims like you do –
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (Gal 6:12)
Oh, I’ve seen the game. I know the company line. No divorce for abuse. No divorce except for adultery and even if the guy does adulterate, God’s best is for you to stay in the game. That’s the line. That’s the “approved tradition” of the usual culprits who sit on stages at conference after conference (which I gave up attending long ago) and write the books (which I quit buying long ago) and garner the oohs and ahhs from the masses (that I never received). And you, the disciples of these culprits, all know full well that if you stray from their company line, it’s going to cost you. So you just keep perpetuating these perversions of God’s Word else you know that you might have to pay up like a creationist professor in a typical evolutionary university. I know. I have seen it over and over again. I have personally communicated with big name church leaders who privately admit that divorce for abuse is right but then say “but if you tell anyone I said that I will deny it.” Yep, that’s what they say.
You, the victims of abuse or other wrongs that destroy the marriage covenant – you do not need the permission of your pastor, of your elders, of your church to divorce. And when they insist that you do, when they start the rumblings and threatenings of the ex-communication machinery, shake your head, knock their dust off your shoes, and move on with no fear into freedom.
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Church discipline and church permission for divorce – how my mind has changed (by Barbara Roberts)
The Puritan Confessions on Divorce & Remarriage — Ps David Dykstra discusses why the London Confession (the confession of Reformed Baptists) did not include the section on divorce and remarriage which the Westminster Confession included.
Does God hate divorce? (Youtube)