The Plague of Abuse
Abuse is a major plague affecting churches of all persuasion. It not only destroys peoples’ lives, the ripple effects for family, friends, and churches grow beyond our eye sight.
Thankfully, many people are addressing the problem of abuse. Here is a small sample of people writing about abuse in the church.
Dee Parson: http://thewartburgwatch.com
Amy Smith: http://watchkeep.blogspot.com
Julie Ann: https://spiritualsoundingboard.com
Others are writing and providing organized help for those abused, such as:
Boz Tchividjian: https://www.netgrace.org
And many of those who have been abused and continue to suffer from the church, such as:
Lori Anne Thompson: https://loriannethompson.com
Every person in the church would do well to read what each of these people write. To see the devastating effects of abuse. To grapple with the hidden costs of abuse. To realize that reintegration into a church can be threatening to say the least. To come to grips with how pervasive, soul destroying abuse can be.
The Heresy behind Abuse
Another layer of recognizing what is going on is to realize that many abusers and their defenders have used what seemingly provides a theological/Biblical basis for “handling abusers.” That is, a seeming “confession of sins” by abuser is offered (ala Matt. 18:15-20), then a quick absolution, and even quicker turn around to begin another ministry. As if that solves the problems.
It gets even worse. Many of them claim that the only solution is for the abused person to meet face-to-face with the abuser, so that forgiveness can happen. By such a practice, this ensures that the abuser does not face consequences because he (I am using male pronoun, because most often it is a man) is in the position of power, hence the abuse is multiplied. Little wonder that those abused refuse to be put into that position.
Added to this dilemma, such an approach short-circuits the role of the congregation in the process (18:17). And the witnesses are not to be advocates for the one who sinned (the abuser), rather as witnesses that the process of confronting the abuser with what has happened. But another disaster has entered the process. The abuser seemingly can suggest his own punishment, even determining if something is too difficult to endure.
That process almost sounds Biblical. But they are using Biblical words with a different meaning, and therefore twist it to support the abuser. In the process, words like “confession of sin,” “repentance,” “forgiveness of sins,” etc. are detached from their biblical context and meaning. Thus, if questioned the abuser/defender can claim that the process of Matthew 18:15-20 has been followed.
Sadly according to this misuse, a word like “restoration” automatically means as soon as forgiveness is declared, then the person can resume that same position or similar one in another church. That process does not reflect Biblical confession, absolution, or restoration. And that is the heresy.
Is heresy too strong a word to use in this context? I think not. Words of the church and by the Church have been torn from their Biblical context and meaning—coopted to support the abuser. Even church, pastor, authority, forgiveness, reconciliation have been twisted from what Jesus instituted for the Church. In the process these heretics are wanting Christianity as a whole to change in order to accept their perverted understanding of those words. And that is heresy.
In the 4th century at the Council of Nicea (AD 325) a bishop named Arius was trying to change a teaching regarding Christ. Interestingly the difference between orthodoxy (straight doctrine, hence praise) and heresy (false doctrine publicly defended as true doctrine) was one letter, the Greek letter iota (ι).
The council recognized the widely spread deception of Arius, and condemned the teaching. Heresy could not be tolerated. Even more, the use of words by Arius to promote and defend the heresy had to be challenged. The church would not be the true church if it allowed the false acquisition of Christian/Biblical words by heretics.
In the era of abuse of today, false teachers are using slipshod definitions and use of words like sin, confession, forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation to circumvent the Biblical process of dealing with public sin. That is, the abusers, their supporters, and all others connected with the abuse need to restudy those words, so that these words can be taken as originally intended and not as a means of sidestepping what happened.
This does NOT mean a one hour study session with quickly re-written new policy. Rather, it means taking a long (year or years?) serious look at all the Bible has to say about sin, confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. Do NOT jump immediately to “forgiveness of sin,” because that will derail the purpose of the study. Confronting sin has to include not only the specific sin, but the larger consequences of the sin, the affect on family, the church, other spiritual leaders, etc. Over the years I have heard pastors who have abused a member claim that “I have been out of ministry for six months; now I am ready to begin serving again.” The reality is that he probably has not even dealt with the sin in its entirety, nor with the affect on other people.
Notice, too, that in the Matthew 18:15-20 passage, the one guilty of sin, does not determine the forgiveness, nor the consequences, nor the restoration, if any. In other words, he has no role in that whole process, regardless of how “fit” he might demonstrate at the moment. His only role is to confess the sin. He is not to be applauded, nor “rescued to serve again.” Sin has much greater consequences than his inconvenience. The church determines steps forward, and restoration to a former position is certainly not automatic, nor to be demanded.
The Way Forward
It is encouraging to see people and churches take stands against abuse. But it is indeed sad that abuses have lived in a subculture that thrives on heresy. This is a call for all pastors, teachers, and Christians in general to seriously study the critical words in their Biblical context. Don’t settle for a shortcut that seems to cut off the abuser in the immediate situation, but may open to other abuse and other heresies.
I don’t have all the answers. Here is a suggestion for a beginning of this study, which gets to at least a couple items. Most critical I think is addressing the heresy that undergirds the abuse has to be identified, dealt with, and put away from the abuser, defenders, and the church. I would say a deep study of Galatians (what is the foundation of faith), Ephesians (what does it mean to be “in Christ” and in relation to one another), 2 Corinthians (how to deal with trouble in church), 1 John (what does Christ’s love mean for the Church, fierce love that Jesus demonstrated).
Study words such as sin, confession, forgiveness (in that order)
2 Samuel 12; Psalm 51
3-4 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.
5-6 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.
From Jesus’ instruction Matthew 18:15-20
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 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. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
May we as the Church root out this heresy and remove that as a foundation for abuse.