A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

We have compromised the gospel and filled pews with unregenerate people (advice for pastors Part 5, by Ps Jeff Crippen)

Galatians 1:6-11 ESV
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.  For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

Prevention is better than cure. This applies to abuse within the church as well as to our physical health. It is better for us to create an environment in our churches that is alien and hostile to evil. A place where righteousness and truth reign to a degree that evil just has to leave because it is exposed. The question is, why aren’t our churches such places? And apparently it is not exaggerating to say that they are not because victims of abuse come with the same stories over and over about how their abuser was able to hide, was able to gain allies, was able to be enabled within a local church. What has gone wrong?

I am not proposing a complete answer here. I suppose there are numbers of reasons for this sad state of affairs. But I am going to offer what I believe to be a very primary cause for evil’s comfort in our local churches, and it is this: that we have so compromised and changed the gospel of Christ that it is no longer the gospel. It has been gutted of power to save and is, instead, filling our pews with un-regenerate people who are quite confident that they are Christians.

What is this new “gospel” like? I cannot do better in explaining it than J.I. Packer did decades ago as he wrote this introduction to the Banner of Truth’s edition of John Owen’s, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ Read and grow wise:

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Owen Works, X:139:148) is a polemical piece, designed to show among other things, that the doctrine of universal redemption is unscriptural and destructive of the gospel. There are many, therefore, to whom it is not likely to be of interest. Those who see no need for doctrinal exactness and have no time for theological debates which show up divisions between so-called evangelicals may well regret its reappearance. Some may find the very sound of Owen’s thesis so shocking that they will refuse to read his book at all, so passionate a thing is prejudice, and so proud are we of our theological shibboleths. But it is hoped that this classic may find itself readers of a different spirit. There are signs today of a new upsurge of interest in the theology of the Bible: a new readiness to test traditions, to search the Scriptures and to think through the faith. It is to those who share this readiness that Owen’s treatise is now offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing evangelical Christendom today — the recovery of the gospel.

This last remark may cause some raising of eyebrows, but it seems to be warranted by the facts.

Here are the words of J. I. Packer in his introduction to a 1958 reprint of John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Banner of Truth: London)

There is no doubt that evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and or equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. Why?

We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man – to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction – and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was ‘helpful’, too – more so, indeed, than is the new – but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach people to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of ‘helpfulness’. Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for his sheep are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not ‘helpful’; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered: it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.) However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of his redeeming work as if he had make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence ‘at the door of our hearts’ for us to let them in.

It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe. But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. And it is at this point that Owen’s treatise on redemption can give us help.

What can a pastor do in order to render justice to abuse victims and deal rightly with abusers? He can embrace the real gospel of Jesus Christ and preach it with no compromise. In doing so, he will restore the place of real faith and repentance where counterfeits now reign. He will see the power of the Word of God do a holy threshing work in his church, sending wolves and chaff scurrying. He will see his church (though most certainly smaller in number) become a place where righteousness is hungered and thirsted after.

But it is going to cost. Following Christ always costs. At least for now.

Go to Part 4 of this series      Go to Part 6 of this series

Note: I do not endorse J.I. Packer’s more recent compromises of the gospel as evidenced by his endorsement of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together documents, signed by the late Charles Colson and others.

6 Comments

  1. Jenny

    When my ex husband and I first seperated, he had not attended our church for over a year. Despite this, he immediately made contact with our family minister, who was very new to the church at the time and did not know me personally. He painted a picture of an emotionally unstable wife with mental health issues. (ironically, it was my ex who at the time was suffering from paranoia and psychosis). This minister then made contact with me and spoke to the senior minister and other church members who knew both of us. Fortunately both ministers understood the dynamics of abuse and saw his attempt to pre-emptively discredit me for what it was. They spoke to him and advised him to go away on a break for a while, to examine his conscience and take a long hard look at himself and do some serious repenting. I told my ex that my conditions for reconciliation were for him to give up drinking (he was an alcoholic), for him to get psychiatric help for his paranoia and psychosis and for him to participate in a men’s behaviour change program. In addition, our family minister suggested and helped me draft a behavioural contract for him which they wanted him to sign and to meet us regularly to discuss how he was going with it to hold him accountable. It was not an onerous contract and contained things that most people would have no difficulty with – eg I will not hit my spouse. At first he refused to even look at it or consider it as he thought we were trying to control him. Then he wanted me to sign it too which although I was not the abusive one I had no issue with. He then hedged and refused to consider signing it or discussing the idea. At which point my church judged him to be an unbeliever. I am so grateful that I have been blessed with a wonderfully supportive church community, and one where the ministers understand abuse.

    • Wow, Jenny what a wonderful story! You were blessed with those two pastors, and your own good sense about how to deal with an abusive spouse. Congratulations. I feel like chalking you in big letters at the top of my mental list of “cases where the church dealt with it properly”. The list doesn’t have many items on it at present, but I hope it grows longer as we continue to grapple with this stuff.

      Perhaps your ex found it harder than many abusers to enlist folk in the church because he had not been attending for over a year. He’d already lost some credibility by his non-attendance, whereas you HAD credibility at the church so they were more likely to back you and believe you. The victims whose husbands are regular attending, active church members find it harder to be believed.

      The way your ex tried to get you to sign the behaviour contract, and once he’d got you to sign, hedged about signing it himself and eventually just refused to sign. That is SO typical. I had a similar experience myself when trying to get a signed plan about who gets the child for the first half of the school holidays. Mine was a ‘trivial’ issue, yours was a major issue, but our abusers behaved just the same way. They push the victim to sign, but then drag their heels, waste everyone’s time, and eventually announce that they won’t sign it.

      Would you like to ask your pastors to get in touch with Jeff Crippen? I think he would be very encouraged to hear from some more men who ‘get it’. We already have a few such men commenting on the blog, but more would be wonderful. It is enormously encouraging to other survivors when they hear of pastors who ARE getting it right. It gives them hope.

      • Jenny

        Thank you Barbara. I will ask them to get in touch. I my case I was also very fortunate to have had DV specific counseling and education whilst I was in the relationship which is how I knew about the men’s behaviour change program. I think it is important for women to consider that it may not always be safe for them to leave the relationship. A DV professional can help you form safety plan and get out safely if you are thinking of leaving.

      • Very good, Jenny, thanks for emphasizing that. Most victims don’t consult domestic abuse support workers, but in many cases they would find it beneficial to do so. These workers are trained to help the victim develop a safety plan whether or not they are ever intending to leave the relationship. I always advise victims to seek support from secular DV workers if they can. [DV is shorthand for domestic violence, but it includes all the non-physical types of abuse as well.]

        There are so many ‘traps for young players’ that can be avoided if you have good counsel from people who know the local scene re what support is available, legal issues, ways to obtain protection, etc. etc. I also advise women that these DV workers are usually overworked so you have to persevere in asking for what you want. But don’t hesitate to do so. Just because these workers have other clients, doesn’t mean that you should put your needs in second place because those other clients also have needs.
        Compassionate and empathetic women tend to always be thinking of the needs of others. When you are suffering abuse, it helps to try to remember to give your own needs a bit of a higher priority. And the needs of your kids for long-term safety and an environment where there is less abuse.

  2. MuchBetter

    Thank you for finally bringing this all to light. I am deeply saddened to learn that I cannot rely on my pastor, as a man of God, to seek advice and help. After repeatedly taking back a man who nearly killed me, continuously abused me verbally as well as my children, I am happy to say I am finally free. I am proudly a born again Christian and I know and feel wholeheartedly that God in no way ever intended me to be a footstool to a very decieving and manipulating christian. Although I am still harrassed daily by me husband, I know I am not alone with my Saviour beside me. I have learned to love myself and to finally understand God’s plan for marriage. Thank you do much for your wonderful sermons. They help give me strength and an insight into the evil that really existed in my life.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Muchbetter – you are very welcome, and thank you for sharing with us. So great to hear of still another victim/survivor who has been helped and we are very, very happy that our sermons and blog articles have played a part in helping you get free. Christ is faithful to lead His people into truth and light, even if people who profess to be Christians make the way foggy. It really is a shame that you, like so many others, really cannot rely on their pastors for real help in getting justice and freedom and protection, but that is the sad case. We hope and pray that we are working to change that. Blessings on you in Christ.

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