Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Legalism is Abuser-Friendly

1Ti 1:8-11 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, (9) understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, (10) the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, (11) in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

Timothy’s job at Ephesus was to “instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines.” Apparently these guys were misusing the Scriptures and stirring up trouble in the church. They were arrogant. They fancied themselves teachers but in fact, as Paul says, they were ignorant. Arrogance and ignorance – now there is trouble.
Specifically, they were not using the Law “lawfully.” How do you do that? How do you apply the moral Law of God, the ten commandments for instance, in the way God intends it to be used? Well, you have to realize this:

…realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, for for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane… (vs 9)

Law is for the lawless, not for the lawful. This is one of the big issues in our nation today, isn’t it? The unrighteous seem to want to make laws for the righteous. But then that is an issue for another day. Right now let’s bring this subject to bear directly on this matter of domestic abusers hiding in the church.
If a church is a place where the teaching and practice – the atmosphere and culture – are LAW – that is to say, if the teaching in that church is done by the kind of people who Timothy had to set straight at Ephesus, then what you are going to have is a climate of legalism. You are going to have Christians – regenerate, saved, redeemed people – having the law preached at them disguised as the gospel. As Jesus said, you can’t be putting new wine in old wineskins, but that is exactly what is happening in such places. No good comes of it.
Now don’t think that I am saying that the moral law of God has no place in our churches or in the Christian’s life. It does. We preach the Law of God to the unconverted in order to show them their desperate need of Christ. And we teach the Law of God to Christians in order to remind ourselves what God’s will and good pleasure is – so that when our flesh springs up, we are able to recognize the Spirit of Christ in us and put that flesh to death. Ok?
But to the degree that the air is poisoned by unlawful use of the Law, the Spirit of Christ is quenched. The New Testament tells Christians things like this:

Gal 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Rom 8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, (4) in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Rom 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Think then what is going to happen when the Law is preached at and taught to Christians, as if it is the way that we still relate to God. The wicked will take that Law, distort and pervert it, and use it to enslave their target.

  • God demands you obey me or else
  • Scripture says I am the priest of my family. Do what I say.
  • You will dress as I tell you
  • God forbids divorce for any reason – you can never leave me
  • We will raise our children according to the program taught at church
  • You are not being joyful. That is a sin.

And on and on and on. You all could add many other examples to the list.
You see, what happens in a legalistic environment is that the abuser, like a Pharisee, passes every test. Why? Because the whole thing is external. His heart is unconverted but it doesn’t matter. He can easily play to outside games and appear to be the most holy man in the world.
But if the real gospel is preached, if true Christianity shows up, if a religion that is spiritual and that emanates from a heart upon which the Law of God has been written in regeneration, well – that is something the hypocrite cannot abide. He will gnash his teeth and if he can’t shut the Spirit down, he will pack up and leave.
Which is precisely what should happen. Church growth is more often than not characterized by a reduction in numbers in a local congregation. Because where Christ is truly present, evil men must either repent or be gone.


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  1. Stormy

    Can you refresh my mind on forgiveness and the abuser? I heard a testimony on how a woman died and went to hell because she didn’t forgive her abuser. I’m troubled about the condition of my heart. Please help.

    • Jeff Crippen

      The story you heard is bogus. Christians are commonly taught false doctrine on this subject. God himself does not forgive when there is no repentance. Abusers don’t repent. Forgiveness even then does not require reconciliation of relationship in every case. And the victim can still call for justice and legal consequences.

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