Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

The Sin of Forgiveness

NOTE: Subsequent to writing this post, a commenter (LB, see her comment below) tipped us off to the fact that Professor Gritter’s denomination, the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, has a doctrine of divorce, marriage, and remarriage, that does not accord with Professor Gritter’s article summarized here in this post. I asked him for comment but essentially he replied, “no comment.” Here is the denomination’s statement on their own website (prca.org) –

Among the practical implications of this covenant view, in the thinking of the PRC, is the calling of the church to promote and defend marriage, the earthly symbol of the covenant between Christ and the Church (cf. Ephesians 5:22ff.), as a life-long unbreakable bond – broken and dissolved only by God in death. On this basis, the church should, and can, oppose the evil of divorce and remarriage in her communion — an evil that devastates Protestant churches today, angers God, and disgusts godly men and women. Thus also, the family is safeguarded for the sake of the godly rearing of the children, who are included in the covenant (Malachi 2:14-16Matthew 19:3-15).–

If professor Gritters or anyone else in the PRCA can point me to other statements which show the denomination allows divorce for abuse, I will be glad to add such information here. In the meantime we are left wondering how Gritters’ articles on it being a sin to forgive someone who is unrepentant squares with insisting that a spouse remain married to an abuser who is unrepentant.

(The Standard Bearer is a publication of the Reformed Free Publishing Association which you can find at rfpa.org)

In the September and December (2022) issues of the Standard Bearer, Professor Barrett Gritters of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary wrote parts 1 & 2 (a 3rd to follow) of an article entitled The Sin of Forgiveness. This is how part 2 begins:

Forgiving an impenitent sinner is a sin. Offensive as that may sound – even blasphemous – this is Scripture’s teaching and that of the Reformed Church Order, as we saw last time (Nov. 1, 2022 issue). The automatic and immediate declaration of forgiveness to someone who is not sorry for gross sin is ‘the sin of forgiveness.’

When a 15 year old boy with a rifle murders three of his classmates, it is a sin for the victims’ parents and friends immediately and publicly to say, ‘We forgive you.’ If a father raped his daughter, it would be a sin for the daughter to forgive him immediately and unconditionally, and a worse sin for the rapist father to require her to do so. ‘I forgive you, daddy, even though you aren’t sorry. And since you taught me that to forgive is to forget, I will try to forget what you did, and I promise not to tell anyone else.’ It is not offensive to withhold forgiveness here. It is offensive to grant it.

Yet there are those who believe that anything less than immediate and automatic forgiveness is contrary to biblical principles and violates the essence of grace. For them, those who have been forgiven graciously must also forgive others graciously. Is this not Jesus’ teaching? It seems to make biblical sense until we look at it more carefully.

The key to understanding this is the biblical teaching that forgiveness is not a feeling I have in myself toward a sinner, is not releasing bitterness toward a sinner, is not even a decision not to be angry and to let the sin go. Rather, forgiveness is an audible declaration from the offended one to the offender: ‘I put away your sin; I release you from your debt; I will not deal with you based on your sin or think of you in light of it. I am finished.’ In the case of the impenitent sinner, God does not permit this. Why not?

Indeed, why not? The first reason that comes to my mind is simply this: God Himself never forgives, indeed He cannot forgive, when the sinner is impenitent (unrepentant). As Gritters will go on to say, “God forgives us only when we repent and He withholds it until we do.”

NOTE: Again, I do not understand how these very good teachings about forgiveness by Professor Gritters can be squared with teaching that divorce is never permissible, nor is remarriage after divorce. Even if the denomination teaches divorce is permissible for adultery (which I do not know if they teach or not), this still does not address the cases of abuse as grounds for divorce.

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23 Comments

  1. JKR

    THANK YOU so much for this reminder! Of course, we Christians know this to be 100% true (or should) no thanks to those who teach “forgiveness for the abuser at all costs no matter what!” and we often lose sight of it too whenever we’re in the middle of the crazy-making storm. Personally, I’ve been struggling with this very thing with the holidays fast approaching. Thanks again for all you do.

    Grace & Peace,
    JKR

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    • Yes, the pressure is on during holidays to “forgive and forget”. Even and usually when there is no repentance

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      • Paula Berlet

        That is a great point that at certain times of the year, holidays, or birthdays, the abused can be tired of fighting, and gives in to the abuser to “forgive” as if nothing ever happened. Besides Christ being dishonored, the abused becomes more confused, doubting their conscience more, and trying to make sense of this deepening instability. To explain, as we forgive the abuser over and over, we lose our sense of right and wrong and keeps us imprisoned in a fake reality.

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    • Paula

      Yes, this is a sobering reminder to the reality of forgiving without repentance. It may be because we think it is easier to forgive than wait for true repentance, a continual turning away from sin towards righteousness and humility and Christ. A good example, as explained by Dr. Sproul, is Joseph. He had compassion on his brothers, but he couldn’t forgive them for what they didn’t acknowledge or admit to. Joseph said that “you meant it for evil,” but “God meant it for good.” The words that Joseph said that ” you meant it for evil” was Joseph calling them out on their sin and acknowledging the righteousness of Christ, “God meant it for good” As a victim of verbal and neglectful abuse, I hadn’t realized that I acted as if nothing happened because the abuser NEVER truly repented. It became exhausting and humiliating to try and get repentance from the abuser, or to try and get an honest emotion from the abuser.

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  2. ginny

    What about we forgive others if we want God’s forgiveness?

    • There are many posts here on the subject if you search under “forgiveness.” Forgiveness is defined by God. He never forgives anyone who is not repentant. Therefore we are not to do so either.

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      • Z

        Pastor, I wish I could “like” your response here 1000 times! I’ve now absorbed this Scriptural truth 100% after a lifetime of suffering so badly due to the false teachings about “mandatory forgiveness”! Without any repentance.

        What additional decades of abuses I suffered because of that self-serving false and damaging teaching perpetrated by “Christians” who were, in my case, a church elder and an ordained Christian minister who…wait for it…were ALSO allies and enablers (close family members) of my abusers!! Lifelong witnesses to the abuses. And gaslighters to me and others because I knew and spoke the truth about the known abuses.

        My spirit told me it was wrong to keep allowing my abusers access to me. But the guilting and fake teaching caused me to err on the side of risking my own safety and mental health and putting OTHERS who were always harming me above myself and to abandon myself via constant forgiveness with zero repentance or remorse.

        God is Love. And👆🏽HE DOES NOT FORGIVE THE UNREPENTANT HABITUAL SINNER. How is it we are so often falsely told WE are to be MORE “LOVING” than God and MORE “FORGIVING” than He Who IS Love? So harmful to teach victims of abuse such an unsafe false doctrine.

        God bless you for revealing this truth to me and others long ago and backing it up with Scriptures. That was pivotal to my breaking the abuse cycle for good. With the abusers AND their allies. And feeling peace about it. Priceless! Thank you!

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        • Notlongnow

          The people who teach and push this false doctrine must think they are holier than God Himself. How else do you explain it?

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          • Whenever a church refuses to permit divorce for abuse – for willful unrepentant violation of the marriage covenant – and when they demand that a victim must have their permission to divorce – what you have is a white washed tomb of pharisees. Not a church.

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    • Paula

      We cannot do what is above God’s holiness, justice, and righteousness, otherwise, we discount the work of Christ and the power of the gospel.

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  3. Agree!

    Much needed article – excellent points! Thank you – with the holidays here I have been wrestling with this topic, your timing in this post is perfect. In conjunction with the article’s points is if you don’t forgive the unrepentant, repeated offender/abuser, etc. somehow you are then their scapegoat! Worse, they flip it around and accuse you of not knowing Christ!

    What a truly refreshing, straight up article – thank you again!

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  4. Notlongnow

    This is one of the false doctrines (forgive without repentance from the sinner and also a false view of what forgiveness actually is) that I hate the most. Because it is so rampant in the churches that it’s held up their as one of their main tenets, and does do much damage. It’s a form of emotional abuse to shove this false forgiveness onto someone who has been sinned against, pressuring them to ‘forgive’ a completely unrepentant person, while conveniently giving the high and mighty one pushing this onto someone an air of religious superiority. After all, they ‘forgive’ everyone. (You’ll find they very much don’t practise what they preach).

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  5. SJH

    Sorry for what you did and will make every effort to not repeat the sin? Yes, forgiven.

    Sorry you got caught and with no plans to stop sinning? Nope…and God is coming for you.

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  6. LB

    The Denomination that Professor Gritters is a member of does expect forgiveness if one ‘says’ they are sorry. You must forgive 70×7 times. They expect marriage to be lifelong, and divorce is only tolerated if there is ongoing, unrepentant adultery. Spousal Abuse, and sexual unfaithfulness must be and is expected to be forgiven and then, as an non-offending spouse you must never, bring it up again. You must ‘hide it behind your back’. Also this denomination believes in marriage for life, meaning if there is a divorce, the innocent party is not allowed to remarry or they are worthy of eternal death. The innocent party must wait patiently for the offending party to possibly repent and acts reconciliation are expected so the marriage can be saved. I am sorry there was an article with this Professor quoted, it is far from the reality of the practice inside denomination he is a part of. There is much more going on in this denomination right now, please research before quoting.

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    • LB- thank you. This does not surprise me. His article is very good, but as you say, what is the daily practice? I will try to email him and ask him about the points you make here. If he answers, I will publish what he says. Interesting, isn’t it, that so often when it comes to the issues like divorce, remarriage, abuse, etc., reason and logic and mercy go out the window.

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    • Email sent to him, asking for him to reply to your comment. If he does, I will let you all know.

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  7. Lynn

    Forgiveness without repentance is like putting the cart before the horse. You cannot follow God’s model of forgiveness, if you do not wait until the one who inflicted harm asks for forgiveness and demonstrates genuine repentance. If they never repent, then you don’t extend them forgiveness. You still you you’re part to heal from the harm they inflicted, but that doesn’t include or require your forgiveness of their sin against you. Forgiveness must be sought out by the perpetrator, not the victim.

    God doesn’t forgive those who remain unrepentant of their sin. They will be held liable for it at judgement day.

    In 1John 1:9 it says – if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. As we can see in scripture, the action starts with the one who sinned turning to God and confessing that sin. That confession, that turning away from sin and towards God is what activates God to extend his forgiveness. That is what we are to model. Not some pseudo-forgiveness that empowers the abuser and inflicts more pain on the abused.

    Any attempts to “forgive” an unrepentant person only inflicts more pain on the victim and empowers abusers. I know it did for me.

    Getting to the truth about forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation was life changing for me.

    Things I learned:
    1. Forgiveness must not be granted without genuine repentance on behalf of the harmer. It is not godly to extend forgiveness to unrepentant people. It enables their wicked behavior.
    2. Repentance must voluntarily come from the one inflicting harm, not the victim.
    3. Repentance must include voluntary restitution and a change of behavior as evidenced over time.
    4. Reconciliation is not required for victims to heal. Healing comes from doing the work, letting God walk with us as we process the pain we are suffering, and setting boundaries around ourselves to stop those who seek to inflict harm on us for their own validation and pleasure.
    5. Reconciliation can be a desired outcome but is not required during the forgiveness process. Some actions eliminate the possibility of reconciliation, even if genuine repentance is involved. I believe chronic abuse doesn’t require reconciliation because the amount of time required for the abuser to prove they are no longer abusive would be years, not days or months. Reconciliation would also tempt the abuser to fall back into old patterns by giving them access to the object of their obsession.
    6. God’s justice is more important than my revenge. It will be swift, perfect and eternal.

    While we celebrate the birth of Christ and reflect on the marvelous gift God gave us in his son, let’s dedicate ourselves to continuing to know and understand the scriptures so that we may rightly discern and apply his word in our lives.

    Grace and peace to you all.

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  8. “… the calling of the church to promote and defend marriage, the earthly symbol of the covenant between Christ and the Church.”

    I have come to see this as one of the great heresies within many modern-day churches.

    The eternal covenant between Christ and the Church is not dependent on any temporal marriage between two humans. Nor is the institution of marriage more important than the well-being of any human.

    This idolatrous view of the institution of marriage leads to so much poor theology and abuse.

    Thank you for continuing to point out these issues.

    Merry Christmas, Jeff!

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    • Z

      Yes, Joe! It’s the IDOLATRY of marriage and of family and honoring of parents-no matter how deeply damaging the evil ones in those relationships harm the innocent victims. Over and over and over.
      The “clan” of ex-family I grew up in are professing Christians. The ACCEPT and ENABLE the culture of abuse. Even witnessing brutal physical beatings of us children. DV was status quo. No biggie. But we children who witnessed it daily lives in terror. Of losing a parent or both parents to violent deaths. Of being left alone. Of being next to be violently abused. Is that what God wants for His true children? At the hands of evil children of satan? Total counterfeits?
      Just to preserve the IDOLS of marriage and parents and family? And do they believe that God does not treasure and want protection for His beloved true children FROM these busters who falsely call themselves “Christians”? It’s so warped. And it has caused SO much more damage than is already being done to victims. The “forgiveness”false doctrine also is an IDOL.
      This ALL enables and emboldens the abusers who hide behind Christian masks. And is so harmful. God only ever does what is good and right. God does not sanction this!

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  9. Blessed

    The Protestant Reformed churches are also FULL of spousal abuse that is hidden by all the church leaders, Gritter’s included, much of which is spoken of in depth on this forum- https://exprc.freeforums.net/ Not just spousal abuse either- child abuse too among many other things.

    I highly recommend reading. Thank you for your article Jeff.

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