Zeal Without Knowledge: Bible Interpretation that Leads to Mercilessness and Injustice

I have written on this subject and on the following Scriptures in other posts. But they have been on my mind again the last few weeks. I keep seeing them violated by Bible teachers, pastors, and counselors of a certain type. Recently I have seen this “zeal without knowledge” pattern in publications by writers of the NANC (nouthetic counseling) school. In their zealous handling of Scripture and in their desire to be absolutely “biblical,” unswayed by any input outside the Bible, they come to erroneous interpretations and make harmful applications. The same kind of hermeneutic (interpretive method) is rampant in other conservative Christian circles. This approach to God’s Word creates the very thing such folks say they don’t want to create: man-made traditions that trump the Word of God. Read these Scriptures, and then I will try to explain more clearly what I mean.

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,‘ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:1-8

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Matthew 23:23

Wooden literalism demands a specific proof verse for everything. And it proposes specific proof verses as a basis for a very literal, unbending application. Wooden literalism leads to applications that make no sense at all in real life and that are devoid of mercy. It takes one verse and derives from it an all-inclusive, broad principle which is divorced from the larger context of Scripture that, if considered, would reveal things like the mercy of God. This school of Bible teachers just will not listen unless you can give them chapter and verse. Oh, and that chapter and verse MUST use the exact, literal words on the subject you are discussing.

This approach to interpreting Scripture and applying it to real life is also characterized by an underlying legalism or works-righteousness. One of their underlying assumptions is that if we are to please God and be “perfected” in his sight, our marriage must be preserved at any cost. This is a fundamental plank in these teachers’ agenda, and it is the product of their flawed hermeneutic. The formula, in their eyes, goes like this: Jesus said marriage is forever. Jesus said let no man separate what God has joined together. Jesus said no divorce except for adultery. Boom! That’s it. That’s the rule that governs all cases. Therefore, no matter what kind of terrible abuse a victim might be suffering, Jesus did not use the “abuse” word. No divorce for abuse. You say that makes no sense? Well, my child, God’s ways are higher than your ways. And so it goes.

Let me give an example taken from a small book on abuse, written by a pastor who I believe truly desires to help people. And yet, his method of approaching Scripture leads him to merciless conclusions. Never once, not even by indirect allusion, is divorce mentioned in this booklet. Yet it is the elephant in the room as the abuse victim reads what this pastor has to say. [I say again, the acid test of whether someone is really going to stand with the victim and against her abuser is whether or not they grant that abuse is indeed a biblical grounds for divorce].

Ok then, listen to this excerpt and think about how what this pastor writes is a product of a fundamental, stiff handling of Scripture that leads him to embrace the assumption that there is no divorce for abuse:

God may use your suffering to bring glory to himself. Peter writes that our endurance through suffering proves the genuineness of God’s work in us, which will result in ‘praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’… We who follow him should not be surprised when we suffer…but instead should realize that all who follow Christ will suffer (2 Tim 3:12). Many preachers, missionaries, and ordinary believers have glorified Christ as they were tortured and killed for the sake of the gospel. Rather than being angry with God over our suffering, we should submit to his sovereign will and count it a privilege to suffer for his Name’s sake (Philippians 1:29; Acts 5:41). The faith of other believers will be strengthened and God will be glorified when, in the midst of your suffering, you declare with Job, ‘Though he slay me, I will hope in him’ (Job 13:15). I have known victims of abuse who glorify God by their ongoing joyful trust in him.

Now, once again (after you get your heart rate back under control), think about how in the world a Christian pastor could be led to such a conclusion. I mean, what he is saying to the abuse victim is that she should be willing to stay in the “marriage” and if it be God’s will, be killed by her abuser and ride off into glory land as an eminent martyr. What is totally confusing is that in a couple of places earlier in the booklet, the author alludes to the fact that perhaps in some cases a victim may need to get to safety. But here in his conclusion we see what he really thinks. The marriage must be preserved at all costs, and that means at ALL costs.

Mercy and Justice, Mr. Pastor. That’s what God desires. Yet you have done what the Pharisees did. You demand sacrifice, and disregard the weightier matters of God’s Word.

You Have the Right to Choose Your Relationships – and the Right to Reject Others

1Co 5:11 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.

Tit 3:10-11 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, (11) knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

You all know the pattern. You come to see the toxicity of a relationship, be it an abuser spouse or some reviler. Often these kinds of people come at us in the most intimate settings – such as marriage or family. And you see it and you choose to separate from them. What happens? What happens especially in church settings or in family settings? YOU become the culprit. YOU are the one to blame. Why? Because YOU won’t reconcile. You won’t “forgive.” You are stubborn. Some pastors and churches will even throw you under the bus and out the door for taking such a stand.

I have seen and experienced this many times myself. Why won’t Jeff forgive? Why won’t Jeff join in the family again? Why won’t Jeff…stop being such a pain? Plug your own name in those sentences.

The Lord has given us the right to choose our relationships. To choose our friends. In fact, as you can see in the verses above (and there are many more), God commands us not to have relationships with certain kinds of individuals. But selfish people who aren’t interested in obeying the Lord simply want us to “forgive and forget” so that their own comfy world isn’t rocked.

God does not tell us that we are to separate from wicked people UNLESS they are a sibling or spouse or parent or child. In fact, take careful note in the 1 Cor 5 passage that He tells us to ESPECIALLY separate from a wicked person who claims to be a fellow Christian. And in Matthew 10 He tells us that He came into this world to separate – to bring a sword rather than peace. So that our enemies will be people in our own household! That is what the gospel effects in a sinful world.

So, why is that the mass of professing Christians and pastors flat our oppose all these commands of Christ? Why is it that they blame the victim when this separation occurs? I can tell you. Because most of them aren’t Christians at all. They are not born again. How do I know? Because Jesus says so:

Luk 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Mat 10:36-37 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (37) Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

So don’t wear this badge of blame and guilt that most people will put upon you when you separate from evil. You have the right and duty to choose your relationships. And to reject relationships. Even “blood” doesn’t trump this right (ie, “but they are your sister-brother-son-daughter-parent!”). In fact Jesus points directly to these familial relationships as the ones we can expect to see division at most often. The question is not “why won’t you reconcile with him/her?” but rather, “why are you still hanging around with that wicked person?”

Abuse and Divorce: This is the False Teaching Wayne Grudem and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Put Upon Victims for Years!

I published an article Monday about how Wayne Grudem’s recent “discovery” that abuse is grounds for divorce, was devoid of a confession of sin for all the false teaching he and his camp have put upon abuse victims. His “no divorce for abuse” command (wrapped up as “biblical”) has caused all kinds of additional oppression to victims and provided an arsenal of ammunition for abusers. So, where is Grudem’s grief? Where is his confession of the sin of distorting God’s Word? I have yet to see it.

This article is one that I published some time ago and it shows what Grudem and friends have been teaching all along until very recently. In fact, I would not be surprised at all if many pastors and counselors still adhere to this statement. Notice, as you read it, that these kind of people equivocate. That is, they use language that is deceptive. So that you have to see what they don’t say in order to get the clear picture of what they really are teaching.

Mary Kassian (www.girlsgonewise.com) wrote about the U.N. Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on her blog, November 25th.  She is to be commended for this.  However, in her article, she said that she had emailed Wayne Grudem (editor of the ESV Study Bible; Member of the board of directors for the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; Professor at Phoenix Seminary) and asked him what he would like to say in regard to this U.N. day.  This is what he replied with (and Kassian agrees with it):

I strongly deplore any abuse of wives by their husbands and I believe the Bible teaches clearly against it. When pastors learn about abuse occurring in a home in their congregation, they have an obligation before God to seek to bring an immediate end to it, through direct personal conversation with the abuser, support of the abused, professional counselling, through means such as church discipline, protective personal intervention in dangerous situations, using law enforcement and other legal pressures, extensive prayer, and, if necessary, legal separation. Pastors also need to encourage their church members and attenders to tell someone in church leadership if abuse is occurring, so that appropriate means can be brought to bring an immediate end to it. Nobody in a leadership role in CBMW thinks that abuse within a marriage is justified by the biblical teachings about husbands and wives.  [Wayne Grudem, Ph.D., Research Professor, Phoenix Seminary, and co-founder and past president of CBMW].

The bold-faced words are mine.  I bolded them because they tell us that Grudem still denies that abuse is grounds for divorce.  You see the very same position in the following statement on abuse that Kassian quotes from the CBMW:

Statement on Abuse

Adopted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at its meeting in Lisle, Illinois in November, 1994.

  • We understand abuse to mean the cruel use of power or authority to harm another person emotionally, physically, or sexually.
  • We are against all forms of physical, sexual and /or verbal abuse.
  • We believe that the biblical teaching on relationships between men and women does not support, but condemns abuse (Prov. 12:18; Eph. 5:25-29; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7-8; 1 Pet. 3:7; 5:3).
  • We believe that abuse is sin. It is destructive and evil. Abuse is the hallmark of the devil and is in direct opposition to the purpose of God. Abuse ought not to be tolerated in the Christian community.
  • We believe that the Christian community is responsible for the well-being of its members. It has a responsibility to lovingly confront abusers and to protect the abused.
  • We believe that both abusers and the abused are in need of emotional and spiritual healing.
  • We believe that God extends healing to those who earnestly seek him.
  • We are confident of the power of God’s healing love to restore relationships fractured by abuse, but we realize that repentance, forgiveness, wholeness, and reconciliation is a process. Both abusers and abused are in need of on-going counseling, support and accountability.
  • In instances where abusers are unrepentant and/or unwilling to make significant steps toward change, we believe that the Christian community must respond with firm discipline of the abuser and advocacy, support and protection of the abused.
  • We believe that by the power of God’s Spirit, the Christian community can be an instrument of God’s love and healing for those involved in abusive relationships and an example of wholeness in a fractured, broken world.

Notice once again the glaring absence of any affirmation that divorce is a biblical means of dealing with abuse.  Abuse victims/survivors will quickly understand that this statement dooms victims to a lifetime of working to “restore relationships”, to “involvement in a process of reconciliation,” of “ongoing counsel and support,” but divorce?  Forget it.  Remarriage?  Forget it.  Abusers love this sort of talk.  If the victim will just believe God and trust Him and keep doing all she can, God can bring her abuser to repentance and they can live happily ever after.  That is a fairy tale.  [Also notice that they tell the victims that they need counseling too.  For what?  PTSD?  That would be fine.  But I suspect this “counseling” is going to me more of the ilk of “you aren’t perfect either, you know.”]

As long as any theologian, author, or organization refuses to tell victims that they can divorce their abuser because the abuser has already treacherously divorced them by ongoing, hard-hearted violation of the marriage covenant, then my ears are deaf to everything else they have to say.  I refuse to use the ESV Study Bible for this reason.  Grudem’s notes in the back forbid divorce for abuse.

And by the way, what is this business of “legal separation”?  Where is the biblical case for that?  Is it not a limbo state of married but not married?  Doesn’t it sound a whole lot like one of those Pharisaical half-measures that inevitably are required when our interpretation of Scripture makes no sense?