If You Haven’t Read David Instone-Brewer’s book, You Really Should

Here are some powerful and refreshing words from David Instone-Brewer’s book on marriage and divorce in the church. This will make you want to get your hands on the book for sure. And by the way – ANY pastor or counselor or Christian who fancies that they are competent to counsel on this subject but who is still ignorant of what Instone-Brewer presents and proves here – is not competent to counsel at all. [The boldface highlighting is mine]-

We will see in later chapters that what defines a broken marriage is broken vows: the vows that marriage partners make to each other in God’s presence. We will find in chapter three that the Old Testament describes God’s relationship with Israel like a marriage that ended in divorce because cause of Israel’s adulteries. So God is a divorcee-and he hates it as much as any victim of divorce. A victim?

Yes, God is a victim of divorce, even though he actually carried it out; in the same way, many victims today are actually the ones who initiate proceedings to bring the marriage to an official end. They call in the lawyers to stop the mockery and pain of constant adultery or the anguish of abuse. But as we will see, the Bible does not regard the victim as the sinner. It is the person who is guilty of causing the marriage to break up whom Jesus addresses when he says, “Those whom God has joined, no one should separate.”

In other words, his warning is not to the person who finally tidies up the legal mess after the marriage has broken down but to those who would violate their marriage vows and, in so doing, cause the marriage to break up. Jesus says that divorce should never happen because when two people marry they are joined by God, who is a witness to the marriage vows and is there to bless the marriage. These vows should never be broken-especially especially since they are made before God. But of course people do break them, just as they break God’s other commands. Jesus never says that these vows are impossible to break-as if God ignores the reality of sin-but but he teaches that if a partner breaks the vows and is then repentant, we should forgive that person.

If the vows are continuously broken, without repentance, then the marriage will be left in shreds. Therefore although the breakup of a marriage is always due to sin, it is not the divorce vorce itself that is the sin; the sin is the breaking of the vows, which causes the divorce. In later chapters we will look at the biblical marriage vows closely We will learn that the Bible allows only the victim to initiate a divorce-that is, it allows them to decide when enough is enough and, if their partner remains unrepentant, to decide that the marriage is over.

Jesus’ main complaint was that the Jews had abandoned this principle. They allowed a man to divorce his wife even when she hadn’t broken her vows-that is, when he had no grounds for divorce. Paul similarly condemned a Greco-Roman groundless divorce. Later on in the book we will look at the Old Testament’s teaching on divorce and remarriage-which allowed divorce on the grounds of neglect or abuse-and discover that Jesus and Paul both affirmed this teaching.

David Instone-Brewer. Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities (p. 18-19). Kindle Edition.

(We have added Instone-Brewer’s book to the Resources tab on the top menu bar.  There  – and here – is an Amazon affiliate link if you are interested in purchasing the book.)

Marriage is Made for People, Not People for Marriage

The teaching of the church has compounded much of this hurt rather than alleviating it. Victims of continued abuse have been told they must stay married, and if they do get divorced, they have been told they cannot remarry until their former partner has died. And sometimes those who have divorced and remarried are told by their church that they must now divorce their new spouse because in God’s eyes they are still married to the person who abused or neglected them. Thus the church makes them a victim for a second time. (Instone-Brewer 2003, [Kindle] Location 1795)

One of our readers asked if we could post the following paragraphs from my book, A Cry for Justice*, pp202-4 as she found them so helpful.  So, here they are! Thanks to her for typing them up for us:

Continue reading “Marriage is Made for People, Not People for Marriage”

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.

*****

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?”