Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
Jesus is Light. Jesus is Truth. Therefore, all that we do in His church must reflect those same qualities. Sadly, local churches most frequently permit darkness and deception to reign within them. And perhaps no greater example of this sin is in regard to how the church typically handles domestic abuse within its ranks.
In the church, unrepentant sin is to be exposed from the rooftops, in the hearing of the entire church. It is to be exposed and dealt with openly, so that those who profess Christ’s name yet cause that Name to be blasphemed by unbelievers are expelled from the body of Christ, and Christ’s Name thereby is once more honored.
If a pastor is going to deal biblically and righteously with an abuser who is a member of his church, that pastor must resolve to do so in openness and in truth. There can be no cover up, no minimization of the evil, no political maneuvering designed to save face or cover anyone’s tail end. The evil must be exposed for all to see, and the unrepentant evil one delivered over to the realm of darkness, outside the church, in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Frankly, coverup is rampant in the visible church.
Therefore, the pastor must be willing to do things and speak of things that most of his own congregation will find quite unpleasant. The nature of abuse must be exposed and taught. In a specific case within the local church, the specific sins of the specific abuser must be identified and revealed [when doing so does not pose a threat to the victim]. People will think this to be “impropriety.” They will recoil and object that their sensibilities have been offended. They often will sit in the pews and wish they each had three sets of hands so they could see no evil, hear no evil and put the other two over the preacher’s mouth so he cannot speak any evil.
But this must not be yielded to. The Lord brought the hidden silver stolen by Achan from Jericho right out into the open in front of the entire congregation of Israel. Achan thought he had it hidden very well within his own house, but God rooted it out. So must we. When there is deadly cancer in Christ’s body, killing the innocent, it must be exposed and removed.
The admission that such evil is present in our own church is humbling. It is humiliating to our pride to have to face up to the fact that something (abuse) that should not even be named among us has been practicing its vile acts right in our midst for a long while. This is one main reason that pastors and Christians run so quickly to minimization and denial and blaming when an abuse victim steps forward and comes to us for help. It is the same dynamic in many ways that we see in cases of rape. The victim is often blamed. If we can somehow attribute at least some of the blame to her, then in numbers of ways the thing is easier for us to take. She had it coming. She made the guy mad. She should have…. All of these lies make the monster out to be a little less monstrous and enable us to go on our merry way thinking that things are not so bad after all.
Many years ago when I was a deputy sheriff in Portland, Oregon, I was dispatched to what we called an “auto-ped.” In other words, a pedestrian had been struck by a car. I didn’t like those calls as they were most often fatal and typically rather gruesome. In this case an elderly lady had been struck and killed by a drunk cement truck driver as she crossed a busy street to her mailbox. Her mangled remains lay in the road and we had a real mess of traffic on our hands to deal with before someone else crashed due to the confusion and backed up traffic. [I remember seeing some object, rather unrecognizable, in the road when I first drove up. What is that? It was the victim. It didn’t even look like a human body]. While we were attending to the initial pressing needs, the usual crowd of “rubber-neckers” gathered to see what they could see. One man shouted out at us — “why don’t you cover her up with a blanket or something!” One of my associates very properly responded, “why don’t you move on! Nobody is forcing you to be here!”
Here is my point in this illustration. People don’t want to see unpleasantness. At least not for the right reasons. They may want to hear sordid details for some juicy gossip, but only when those details concern a complete stranger. Had that poor lady who was killed been a close friend of that man, there is no way he would have been there staring and wanting to see “the action.” When the unpleasantness of evil strikes too close to our home, we don’t want to hear about it. We immediately respond in denial.
And that is what abuse is. It is ugly, putrid, vile and demonic. And there it is, right in the pew next to us. “Throw a blanket over it! Cover it up so we don’t have to look at it!” This is the kind of thing the pastor will hear. And it is the kind of thing the pastor must never yield to. Evil within the body of Christ must be exposed in truth and in light. Justice for the victim must be exercised. The sin must be denounced for the evil that it is and the entire congregation must be educated as to its nature. The victim must be vindicated and protected. “This is what has happened among us! This is the ugly nature of what John Smith has done, and has been doing for years! This is what this lady has been enduring in silent suffering! In the Name of Jesus Christ we expose it and we remove it from among Christ’s church.”
One of the most wicked, abusive men I have ever known was a member of a local church in our area. How he could talk “Christian-ese.” He fancied himself a Bible teacher and could always find gullible followers. The last I heard of him he had been “commissioned” by a denomination to plant a new church! [The intentional carelessness of denominations and missions agencies in appointing candidates as pastors, church-planters, and missionaries is another scandal in the church that no one speaks much about].
I had occasion to speak with two pastors about this man. He had been in both of their churches and in fact was currently a board member in one of them and had been creating all kinds of strife and division. I told those pastors that this man in no way should be considered a Christian, let alone qualified to be on a church board! They didn’t agree. They said he was just a troubled man from a troubled background. I told them that Scripture instructs us to discipline and reject a divisive man, so why had they not done so in this case? They answered “well, your church may be able to handle confrontations like that, but our churches are just not strong enough and our people would probably leave if we did it.” That wicked man continues his evil as a church-planter to this very day! The newest and most baby Christian knows enough of Christ’s truth to be able to “handle” the open discipline of an evil, unrepentant man, and because every believer is taught by the Spirit of Christ to hunger and thirst for righteousness, such action will never cause them to stumble.
How do we deal with the abuser in our midst? We expose his evil in truth and light. And if we will not, let no pastor nor any local church congregation imagine that the Lord is on their side.