Spiritual Abuse and the Church: Can a Church Bind Our Conscience?

Every Christian is free before God to be led by the Holy Spirit and the Scripture.  Each Christian has a conscience and the freedom to obey that conscience as he is directed by the Word of God.  This was Luther’s stand before Rome:

Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen. (Reply to the Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521)

As many domestic abuse victims can testify, local churches, pastors, sessions, and presbyteries far too often attempt to exercise authority over the believer’s conscience which God has not authorized them to do.  The most common example (for our purposes in this blog) of this excess is the church pronouncing that an abuse victim is not free to divorce her/his abuser.  Or to separate from the abuser.  Or dictating to victims that they must submit to everything their abuser says, how the victim should dress, the specifics of how she should relate to the abuser, and on and on the list goes.  The local church, pastors, elders, and other Christians do not possess the authority to dictate these matters of conscience.  They are issues which the victim has the right before God, in agreement with His Word, to determine personally.

This position is not radical nor is it unheard of.  It has been taught consistently by Reformed theologians through the centuries.  Here we will provide one such example.  Francis Turretin (1623-87, Geneva) wrote the Institutes of Elenctic Theology, which is essentially a very large systematic theology.  Turretin is very frequently quoted by people like R.C. Sproul and other leading theologians of our day.    Listen then as Turretin writes in his section on the doctrine of The Church (ecclesiology), and specifically about the authority of the church (he was, of course, opposing Rome’s unbiblical ideas of church authority):

31st Question:  Does a legislative power [in the church] properly so called, of enacting laws binding the conscience, belong to the church?  Or only an ordaining power, of sanctioning constitutions and canons for the sake of good order?  The former we deny; the latter we affirm against the Romanists.

They (the Romanists) by sinning in excess as on other points, make that power immense, maintaining that to the church belongs the power to make laws properly so called, which by themselves bind the conscience and cannot be violated without mortal sin and to which, therefore, obedience is due on account of the authority of those commanding.  However, we think that no proper lawmaking power was given to the church by which she can make laws directly and by themselves binding the conscience; but only an ordaining power which can form constitutions and canons for the preservation of peace and good order which on this account do not bind the conscience by themselves and directly, but only indirectly in case of scandal; that these are not laws enacted by a prince, but only an order by ministers; not of the essentials of Christ’s kingdom, but only of the external accidents and things indifferent…

Pastors have no right to make laws properly so called binding the conscience.  The reasons are first, because there is one lawgiver (James 4:12)…who has a right over the conscience and who can save and destroy, not only the body, but also the soul (Luke 12:5).  Pastors are mere commissioners and heralds, who have no right to make or change laws, but only the office of promulgating them and urging their observation…. in sacred affairs the authority of the command is from God alone, its promulgation (announcement) only is left to ministers.  The conscience has no one between itself and God by whom it may be known and judged.   As it is known to God alone, so it can be judged by him alone.   And second, it is not lawful to add to or to take anything from the divine law (Deut 4:2; 12:32).  If nothing could be added to the Mosaic Law, much less to the evangelical law of Christ.

We have heard account after account of abuse victims being directed by pastors and church leaders to obey the dictates of these leaders or face the condemnation of God.  “We declare that you have no right to divorce your abuser” is a declaration that adds to the law of God.  Many, many other directives, given with the supposed authority of God Himself and said to be binding upon the conscience of the abuse victim (and of others in the church as well) are common.  She is told how she must behave toward her abuser.

She is told what she can and cannot say to him.  She is directed in regard to overseeing her children.  And all of these dictates go against her own conscience, yet she yields to them because she desires to please the Lord.  In her confusion she does not realize that He is calling her to be free, to enact boundaries, to seek help from other sources…. and yet she remains in the bondage of these unauthorized commandments of man.

The fact is that the Word of God is what has authority to bind our conscience.  Nothing else.  When we, with sincerity of heart and after careful and prayerful study of the Scriptures, find ourselves free in conscience to take a particular course of action, then we have the freedom to do so.  If a pastor or church leader can, by the clear testimony of Scripture, demonstrate plainly to us that our decision is contrary to the Word of God, then that is another matter.  In such cases our conscience will concur and we will have peace.  But no human being can pronounce his own opinion as the Word of God.  This, only God can do.

And therefore I conclude that every church, every pastor, every church leader who insists that God forbids an abuse victim from divorcing her abuser is guilty of exceeding his authority and teaching as the Word of God the mere commandments of men.

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“She Just Wants to Take Him for all She Can” — Really?

As we know, abuse victims are regularly and roundly criticized (that’s putting it mildly) for leaving and/or filing for divorce from their abuser. One of the charges made against them is that “she just wants to take him for all she can in divorce court.” And, of course, abusers love to repeat this mantra, claiming that the courts are dominated by the feminists and men received gross injustice there.

That is a fantasy that originates with and is promoted by abusers. Let’s do a reality check.

Continue reading ““She Just Wants to Take Him for all She Can” — Really?”

America Celebrates Divorce from an Abuser on the 4th of July – Independence Day!

Here is the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. It is a divorce decree. It is the recognition of a breach of covenant. We celebrate this divorce in the United States every July 4th. The purpose of this post is to simply put forth this question: If it was right and good for the American Colonies to divorce the King of England for his many and repeated abuses, if most all Americans including pastors and church members celebrate this Independence Day as a glorious win for freedom, how is it that these same pastors and church members insist that an abuse victim in a marriage has no right to divorce their abuser?

There is the question as all Americans wave flags and watch the fireworks and celebrate freedom from tyranny. How is it that so many professing Christians will deny the same freedom to a fellow believer who is suffering a present and evil tyranny right in their midst? It is quite common for churches to wave the flag and celebrate on this day, yet at the very same time they oppress the oppressed by demanding they remain in bondage to a wicked abuser.  The common double standard.

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The Unanimous Declaration of the
Thirteen United States of America
In Congress, July 4, 1776

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

Call Evil Good: The Error of Couple Counseling for Abuse

Job 30:26 ESV  But when I hoped for good, evil came, and when I waited for light, darkness came.

Psalms 52:3-4 ESV You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.

Couple’s counseling (and I would add marriage “intensives” – a kind of focused retreat for a couple) is anathema when it comes to abuse. It goes wrong and works as a tool to further enable and empower the abuser. I won’t go into all of the reasons why this is the case, but it is true.

What I do want to discuss here is a very similar experience that I have had personally and which I have seen played out in the experience of others many times. It is the fallacy of calling evil, good, and good, evil. Here is how it works:

Continue reading “Call Evil Good: The Error of Couple Counseling for Abuse”

Want to Read a Letter from Wormwood?

I did not send the prophets, yet they ran;
I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.
(Jeremiah 23:21)

Here is still another example of the wicked, evil filth that victims of abuse are subjected to through the hands of their fellow “christians.” In this case the abuser is in a full-time ministry position. All the time he has been “serving the Lord,” he emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and sexually abused and tormented his wife. Ultimately she realized what was happening and left him. Later, she received the following letter from one of the abuser’s colleagues. Notice that this man is a false prophet, claiming to be announcing Jesus’ very words which were given to him to speak to her.

Continue reading “Want to Read a Letter from Wormwood?”

What Not to Do or Say When Helping a Domestic Abuse Victim in Economic Need

1Ti 5:5  She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day,

Lev 23:22  “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”

1Ti 6:17-18  As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  (18)  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,

Most all of us know that domestic abusers use economics as a weapon. They like to keep their victim in poverty so that they are easier to control, enslaved to the abuser. This is why very often abusers will sabotage their victim’s efforts to obtain employment or to keep a good job once they have it. It is quite alright, according the abuser’s double-standard handbook, for him to buy most anything he wants, but there is hell to pay if his victim spends a dollar.  Economic abuse, you see.

Now, this means that most victims of domestic abuse are poor. Legally they own half of what their spouse has, but getting hold of it is another thing. Abusers withhold payment for healthcare, for decent groceries to feed the children, for clothing and most any other necessity. So when we set out to help domestic abuse victims, we are going to be faced with the need to provide money and the necessities for her and the children.

Continue reading “What Not to Do or Say When Helping a Domestic Abuse Victim in Economic Need”

Keep Your Accusation Radar Up — It Detects Abusers

I have written on this subject before,  but it comes around in my mind once again. Here is a fact that will serve you well in helping identify and defend against an abuser:

Abusers are accusers. A normal, healthy, safe relationship is not characterized by accusations. If someone is regularly accusing you (often in subtle ways that are disguised as ‘suggestions’ or ‘questions’) then you are dealing with a person who is at minimum not safe nor healthy for you.

A Christian wants to do right. We pray that the Lord will show us even our hidden sins so that we can repent of them and be healed from ungodly ways of thinking. So if someone comes along and tells a Christian he or she has done wrong, or had a wrong motive, or evidences some pattern of misbehavior that is not pleasing to the Lord, we listen. It isn’t fun and it is even painful, but we strive toward humility. Yet….

We must beware. There are times we must NOT listen. How do you “feel” around a person? Safe? Generally encouraged? Accepted? Loved? If so, you probably want to hear what they have to say. Besides, from this kind of person the nature of their statement to us is not going to smack of accusation. It comes in a spirit of kindness. And it doesn’t come except rather rarely from these type of people. On the other hand, if you will pay attention to your feelings and senses and the spirit (or Spirit) in you, you will find that your feelings around a wicked person are quite different. You feel unsafe. Discouraged. Rejected. Unloved. You may have tried to suppress those “negative” feelings and even denied them to yourself because after all, Christians aren’t supposed to feel that way, right? And hey, there are tons of Christians, including ourselves, who just assume WE are the problem.

Well, it’s not necessarily right that Christians aren’t supposed to feel that way. Wicked people WILL make us feel unsafe. The Holy Spirit in us WILL stir us to caution — level yellow and up to level red if necessary. And you will also find that, if you begin to make note over time, that this kind of person in your life rather regularly, not rarely, accuses you.

Think it through. How many other people in your life accuse you regularly? I mean the people who love you. They just don’t do it. So what can we say? We say what we said again:

Abusers are accusers. A normal, healthy, safe relationship is not characterized by accusations. If someone is regularly accusing you (often in subtle ways that are disguised as ‘suggestions’ or ‘questions’) then you are dealing with a person who is at minimum not safe nor healthy for you.

Understand! BOY! This is hugely helpful and freeing! Accusations are not normal. A relationship characterized by accusations against you is not normal. People who are regularly questioning our motives, telling us what we have done wrong, telling us what we need to do better, are doing exactly what Jesus said the wicked do to the righteous:

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11)

See? That’s what the wicked do. Accuser! Begone! We see you for what you are! Your master has been thrown out of heaven. He can’t accuse the brethren anymore, and I’m not going to let you do it either!