A Cry For Justice

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

What Are the Biblical Character Qualities for the Office of Pastor/Elder?

With far too common frequency we receive letters and emails from abuse victims who have been ex-communicated from their churches because they have separated from or divorced their abusers. These victim / survivors have come to see that divorce is indeed permissible for abuse even though their pastors and elders and fellow church members insist that it is not. These enlightened victims understand that God does not require reconciliation in every situation and that genuine forgiveness does not necessarily include such reconciliation. In fact, Godly wisdom dictates against a resumption of relationship and trust in these kinds of cases. And yet, for walking in these truths with full freedom of conscience before the Lord, these oppressed people are further oppressed by their churches, even to the point of ex-communication.

I would like to speak to this travesty of justice (and mercy) in regard to two points:

  1. A reminder of just what biblical ex-communication is, and
  2. Two character qualities required in an elder or pastor that seem to be lacking these days in so many church leaders.

What is ex-communication? Is it a revocation of one’s membership in a local club of some kind? Is it an informing of an individual that they are no longer permitted to attend a particular church? It appears to me that these are the very kinds of things that church leaders have in their minds when they enact this “putting out of the church” step in church discipline.  Yet these answers are not the biblical answers to our question. These kinds of attitudes treat ex-communication far too lightly and as a result ex-communication is used in cases that it should not be. Listen to the Word of God:

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. (1 Co 5:1-5)

I have no doubt that the churches who are ex-communicating abuse victims because they leave or divorce their abusers would stammer and stutter if they were asked “so, it was your intent to hand this woman over to Satan for the destruction of her flesh, is that right?” Well….uh….    Notice the gross and rank nature of the man’s sin here in 1 Corinthians 5. Openly and shamelessly fornicating with (perhaps) his step-mother and bragging about it by coming to church with her! And notice carefully where the arrogance lies, according to Paul. It is with the church! With the pastors and elders who have not only refused to deal with this rank evil, but have arrogantly embraced it. Let’s see, that sounds a whole lot like what is happening in our churches in respect to the abuser. We boast about how merciful and gracious we are and point to the wicked man sitting in our midst as an example!

But, to the nature of ex-communication.  Listen again —

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 be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mat 18:17-20)

Once more we see the very sobering nature of ex-communication. The two or three witnesses (God’s rules of evidence) testify to the guilty person’s sin, it is announced to the church, and the church’s verdict is given Jesus’ own authority. The decision is bound in heaven. Among other things, this means that JESUS Himself has rejected the unrepentant person and not only fully concurs with the verdict but acts as the supreme court that validates the sentence. So ex-communication is not merely dismissal and exclusion from a local church. It is the New Testament equivalent of being put “outside the camp” and under the Lord’s own curse. As the decree is bound in heaven, it cannot be side-stepped by merely going down the road to another local church as if nothing had happened.  [One of  the frequent problems we experience in genuine, biblical exercise of church discipline in cases of notorious, open, evil sin is that the process of ex-communication, intended among other things to protect the church and to bring the guilty one to repentance, is short-circuited by churches who unquestioningly announce “everyone is welcome here”].

We have heard of pastors and elders telling an abuse victim “you cannot come to this church anymore because you will not reconcile with your husband.” But do we all understand that there is NO biblical basis for such an action? A divisive person is to be rejected after a first and second warning (Titus 3:10-11) and rank heretics are to be pronounced anathema (Galatians 1). People who claim to be Christians but who habitually live in wickedness, we are not to even eat with (1 Cor 5). But will anyone argue that an abuse victim who leaves her abuser and who refuses to be duped into reconciling with him fits any of these categories? I think that the answer is obvious, and I also believe that this is one of the reasons that half-measures of discipline are used by churches to send victims away.

Other churches, let’s say ones that hold to the “permanence view” of marriage – no divorce for any reason at all and no remarriage as long as the spouse is still alive – practice their PV doctrine in their own circle and tell people they discipline for divorcing for ANY reason that “well, you can go down the road and find another church that will allow you to be there, but you can’t be here because we don’t cotton to what you did” are also taking a non-biblical view of church discipline. Either the ex-communication is biblical, is endorsed by Jesus Himself, and is therefore binding upon ALL true churches, or it is not. You can’t pronounce someone anathema or say they are handed over to Satan only in your own local church, yet advise them to seek fellowship in some other church.

Alright then, now to the second point I wanted to discuss and which is the basis for the title of this article. This concerns the biblical character qualities for the office of pastor and elder.  Here they are:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Ti 3:1-7)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you — if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Tit 1:5-9)

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Pe 5:1-3)

It is apparent to me that something is very wrong in many if not most of our local churches. You can’t study this subject of abuse and talk with scores of abuse victims who are genuine Christians and hear the stories one after the other about how they were treated and even ex-communicated by their churches when they sought help in dealing with their abuser and not eventually come to realize that something is very, very wrong with the leaders of many churches. As I have looked over the three passages quoted above, I have concluded that the dealing of injustice to victims is a sure sign of an absence of at least three character qualities that are indispensable for the pastor / elder.  These are:

  1. Not arrogant
  2. Not seeking shameful gain
  3. Not domineering

These are all very much related. And the tie that binds these three together is PRIDE. We are not seeing Godly humility and a servant’s heart in the leaders of churches that shamefully treat abuse victims, but quite the opposite. Any single one of these three negative qualities disqualifies a man for service as pastor/elder and in fact will necessarily result in such an officer dealing out injustice to the weak and oppressed. An arrogant, gain-seeking, domineering man is not going to deal out the mercy and compassion and justice of Jesus Christ.

I must conclude that any pastor or elder who insists that divorce for abuse IS definitely and without question sinful and un-biblical is arrogant.  Why?  Because so many Christians all through church history have held a different position on the biblical grounds for divorce. For any of us to rise up and announce that we are so certain WE are right, even to the point of being willing to hand a person over to Satan and place them under the condemnation of the Lord himself, is rank arrogance. Can you see that? I hope so.

In regard to shameful gain-seeking, a pastor or elder motivated by a lust for material gain or for self-acclaim because of his office is never going to stand with the weak and oppressed. It is too costly. And cost is not what such a person has in mind. It is far more profitable to stand with the abuser in so many of these cases because that is where the power and money and assets are.

And finally, this business of domineering or lording it over the flock. This is the Diotrephes of 3 John. It is a love to be first. It is an abuser who has obtained office in the church. The lover of power and control. Such a person issues decrees and pronouncements and demands that all bow the knee to what he says. He is one who “talks down” to the people of Christ and exalts himself above them. Domineering is arrogance in action.

In contrast, the Lord Jesus sets the example of how He expects His flock to be shepherded. It is a laying down of one’s life. It is loving and serving the bride of Christ. It is standing with the weak and opposing the wicked. It is dying to oneself and walking in the footsteps of the Chief Shepherd.

Today I received a refreshing report of a pastor who IS eminently qualified for his office. He announced to his church that he has been ignorant of the nature of abuse, that he has mis-handled some of these cases in the past, and that he has resolved to set himself to correcting these deficiencies. Now there is a true shepherd of Christ’s people.

22 Comments

  1. As I See It Only

    I would call the ex-communication of an abuse victim an Abomination (as in Daniel, Matthew, and Mark). To those who have the eyes to see it as such, the next words of Jesus come to mind: ‘Get out!’ Judgment is coming. Although my experience was ‘only’ a forced resignation of membership, I can empathize with those who have suffered the added spiritual abuse of ex-communication. That is murder. Godly pastors and elders would never participate in or condone such spiritual assassination. May each church wake up before the Judge passes His just judgment!

  2. Katy

    Amen!

  3. Lisa

    Thank You Jeff for giving me hope! Blessings

  4. Wendell G

    Excellent Jeff!

    One of the problems we have, especially in the American church is that we are such a consumer driven society, and that extends to churches. We consume and consume, hanging on every word of our favorite teacher, yet never really understand what being part of the Church is.

    The church has become so disconnected with the Church through splintering and forking (creating a new group because of stylistic or minor doctrinal differences), that what you describe is very easy to do. Don’t like the church you are in, or they kick you out? No worries, there is always another club that will take you in. Now, I am not trying to minimize differences due to serious doctrinal and spiritual problems, but most of what we see are more preferences than actual convictions.

    This is a tough thing to handle because there is no over-arching ecumenical structure over all churches, nor should there be. When men get involved in those kind of things, power tends to go to their heads (the pride issue you mentioned later) and those institutions become just as oppressive.

    I understand the idea that pastors want to protect their flock from error and sin, but too many times, they major on the minor issues, elevating doctrinal purity to idol status. They then forget that principles in Scripture are more important than law and that not everything is as it seems. They forget that in their zeal to follow the law, they are trampling on people, wounded people who need help and healing. Further, they are excommunicating a victim while leaving the one causing all the pain untouched and validated! They are excising a tiny mole while the cancer in the other limb is raging under the surface.

    Wouldn’t it be better for pastors, instead of looking for excuses to get an inconvenient person (aka, abused divorcee) out of their midst, they look at the more serious issues of WHY that divorce happened and deal with the perp with the same ferocity with which they are dealing with the victim? Yes, it would take discernment. It would take work to get to the bottom of the issues and find the truth, yet isn’t the life and heart of one who was so abused be worth saving rather than the arrogant abuser?

    I appreciate what you said about pastors/elders. I have known too many arrogant men, puffed up with pride and wanting nothing more than to stand up before a large congregation, showing off their oratory skills and collecting their fat paychecks off the backs of their congregation. I wonder how many of them would stick around if the church told them that they were only going to get paid enough to feed, house and clothe their families? How many are shepherds and how many are hirelings?

    How many of these “men of God” are willing to stay up all night at the bedside of a terminally ill person, ministering to them and their families? How many are really willing to listen, without preconceptions, to an abuse victim pleading for help from the church?

    Perhaps we should ordain people based not on what seminary they went too, but on things like faithfulness, wisdom and compassion. Perhaps we should not look so much at how good an orator they are, but at how good a carer they are.

    • Little Chrissy

      ¨Wouldn’t it be better for pastors, instead of looking for excuses to get an inconvenient person (aka, abused divorcee) out of their midst, they look at the more serious issues of WHY that divorce happened and deal with the perp with the same ferocity with which they are dealing with the victim? ¨

      Yes! Yes! YES! I actually witnessed an elder cry during a prayer he led about high divorce rates during the Sunday church service. (He wasn´t upset about the pain women endured until they decided to escape, jut the legal act of filing for divorce after they consulted with evil groups like our local abuse help group.) If they would investigate WHY this is happening and keep abusers out of the church, it wouldn´t be happening there in the first place.

      This would probably require a total turnover in leadership, though, as these men have refused to exercise proper discipline, even when abused women beg for the Matthew 18 model to be followed. I think they must know that their arguments don´t hold water, though, because they go to extreme lengths paint the abuse victim as ¨divisive¨ by insisting on discipline. I guess that is how they justify putting them out. Arrogant? Check. Domineering? Check.

      • Jeff Crippen

        LC – I don’t like to listen to people who cry (or yell) while praying, or generally even in preaching. I have known some who cry, for example, EVERY time they preach or pray (especially I mean praying in public, such as leading prayer in a worship service). I just think that most of the time it is show. Not denying the roll of genuine emotion in prayer or preaching by any means. I have just seen too many who can turn it on and off at a moment’s notice. I suppose this would be an interesting subject for a post and discussion sometime here: how abusers use counterfeit emotion as a tactic.

      • Memphis Rayne

        For example, the MIW weeping during communion services, weeping for himself, why bother crying if nobody is not around to console you? Right? I think Jeff Crippen is right, and the post on Crocodile Tears would some that up. Lets face it alot of pastors let abuse slide past the radar, well I think they actually usher it in, but alot of pastors themselves are those cunnining manipulateve abusers…..Besides I have seen, the tears, they come at just the right moment, with just the right words ( they must have plucked out a nose hair, other wise how do you get tears without any facial expressions?) And a guy who crys???? How powerful, and moving that is?? I have seen so many people swoon over a pastors tears, especially if he is in front of an entire crowd, how godly he must be to do that?? Fake vulnerablility. Its labeled the “learn how to cry” sermon. Oh!!! Guess what? I am being totally serious now….I heard a sermon at this huge church/fellowship, where all the stepford pastors are farmed/cloned, and I saw the pastor cry, he paused, turned away for a few seconds, got a crackle in his voice….sniffle, sniffle…..THEN one year later I am in a small off shoot of that same church, and notice yet another young buck of a pastor, who walks and talks, same influctions in his tone etc……and guess fricken what?????!!! I hear the EXACT same sermon….and guess what else???? I see this dude cry like a baby!!! ( I think they pull it out when they sense their numbers are falling) and one more thing (because I had plenty of time in my own brain to think about these things while attending church with the MIW) How does a roll call of thirty some up and coming pastors, happen to fall in love with thirty some blonde haired, big bubbied, younger women? How does this occur? I mean was it a prerequistie? Did they just have these ladys on hand? Like a sign up sheet? Did they go to matchmaker.com? Did the guys know that if they went to the same pastorial school (the one that makes you walk and talk like said pastor) was it in their contract they would recieve a blonde?

        Okay Im thinking Im going to get in trouble for this one = / But it is ridiculous, just like the ridiculous fake tears.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Memphis- NIT. Not In Trouble. Well said

      • KingsDaughter

        You hear so often that “people just do not respect marriage anymore” maybe its not “marriage” that we need to learn how to honor but PEOPLE! If people were taught how and expected to honor eachother the divorce rates and the productivity within and from those marriages would be incredible! Just sayin…

        There’s a song on the radio about people not staying together anymore. A few months ago I would listen, could possibly have shouted a big “AMEN” and would have felt completely justified in buying a copy for a recent divorcee to listen and learn from. Today I can’t even listen to it!

        What a difference a day makes! For the opportunity to repent of this aweful self-righteous attitude, I am thankful! For the divorced women who I snarled my prideful nose up at, I am sorry, truly sorry!

        Now when I listen to that song I think, maybe the high divorce rate is not due to selfish discontented people giving up on their promises, but maybe just maybe it is high because people are not expected to actually treat their spouses with respect and dignity.

    • FREEtoGO

      “Perhaps we should ordain people based not on what seminary they went too, but on things like faithfulness, wisdom and compassion. Perhaps we should not look so much at how good an orator they are, but at how good a carer they are.”

      While reading this response I think about the conflict and even UPROAR that arose in Act chapter 6: 1-6. Widows were being neglected and overlooked. Hmmm sounds familiar doesn’t it? The matter was brought before the apostles. And the way the apostles handled it was incredible. The apostle’s standards were so high that only men of ”good and attested character and repute, full of the Holy Spirit” were assigned to minister to these widows. Amazingly, the apostles even ”laid their hands on them.” Very disturbing and extremely sad how low the 21st century church has fallen.

  5. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog and commented:
    Is it time for a massive leadership change in our churches?

    • Memphis Rayne

      Yup. its the marriage these people hide behind. They wouldnt treat a stranger like trash….but its okay to treat the supossed flesh of your flesh like filth behind closed doors.

      Not a marriage issue at all, the church loves to throw its arms up over the travesty of divorce, yet they are the ones causing it. They think God has put His stamp of approval on the word marriage no matter what it consists of, you cannot truly marry light to darkness. All the church has is the grey crap that abusers can blend into so they have a way to freely exist within marriage, and be justified.

  6. Thank you, Jeff. I appreciate your time given to study and deliver the message. What I’ve noticed about some pastors/elders (and not surprising, their congregants who are following their footsteps) is coldness of heart towards those suffering. I’ve heard it preached, “Don’t be a victim, be a victor…” If a woman comes in for counsel regarding her abusive husband, and God forbid that she cries or shows anger during the session, she is considered weak and pathetic. “Rise up and be a victor…and you can do so by following these steps to get out of this ‘marriage estrangement’ mess you helped to create…and I seriously challenge you to consider the vows you have taken…” is just about what they communicate.

    Didn’t Jesus come to those who were sick and hurting? He didn’t come to those who thought they were well.

    Thankfully, I’ve run into some pastors/elders/congregants who actually are being like the Good Samaritan instead of just walking right on by. ..

  7. Anonymous

    Timely, compassionate and completely truthful. Well done! What a comfort to those of us who sought help by going to someone we should have been able to trust, (ie the pastor/elders of the Church) only to find abuse and sometimes abuse just as bad as the abuse we are/were living in. It is a horrific misuse of authority, but the bottom line is this. I have come to believe that any pastor/elder who excommunicates a true believer, simply because they can, have not only stepped over the boundaries that God Himself has set for them as shepherds/leaders in His flock, but I believe too, that God sees them as the people He talks about in John 16:1-4. There, Christ states that the time will come when the true believers will be excommunicated from the Church (put out of the synagogues) by those who believe THEY are the true Christians; only Jesus says they are not, because Christ says they do what they do, because they do not know Him nor the Father; and that the “c”hurch that does such things is indeed a false church and God has no use for them.

    So, for me, I am thankful to have been thrown away. Living with someone I finally had to admit had never truly loved me, and having to deal with these false leaders and their spiritual abuse of me, at the same time, were the most devastating things that ever happened to me, (next to having to bury my child) but having some evil person disguised as God’s own, trying to tear me away from God and saying they hold the power to do it, nearly killed me. Now I understand why I felt that way. Because as you say here, Ps. Crippen, they were murdering me spiritually. I felt it and thought I would die, but God. He had another plan and used their evil, to truly bring about good in my life. It caused me to flee the abuse and to truly allow God to set me free, from all of the evil, including those evil men, disguised as God’s.

    They were nothing but Pharisees, white-washed tombs, parading around in attire that they thought made them powerful and to be feared. But God has another plan for the godless and He was good enough to give all of us the warning in John 16:1-4, where He completes this passage by stating, “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” When I read these passages, I just felt such great comfort from my God, and I am so thankful, that He never throws away His own.

    I am also thankful, that Jesus never told us to go try to win the Pharisees of the world to Him. My battle has been a long uphill battle, and I am still struggling; but I know where my road leads me to, and He is all I have ever wanted or needed. I just got a little confused, living in fearful decades of abuse. But just as the sun rising burns off the fog of the early day, so too, this Son, has burned off my fog and lifted me to sunnier times, where I can see clearly now, or at least nearly clearly now.

    • just as the sun rising burns off the fog of the early day, so too, this Son, has burned off my fog and lifted me to sunnier times, where I can see clearly now, or at least nearly clearly now.

      These words would be great put into a song.

  8. granonine

    I am a Christian who is also a therapist in a Christian counseling office. I try to help the victims of domestic abuse who are already guilt-ridden; because they often have been told they may not divorce their husbands, they are even more conflicted. It’s an awful, ugly cycle and Satan is the only winner. Thank you for this article. May I reblog?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes. Definitely reblog. Welcome:)

  9. granonine

    Reblogged this on Study God's Word and commented:
    Reblogged from “A Cry For Justice.”

  10. I stayed in an abusive marriage for 12 years because of these fears. I finally came to understand that the God I know and love does not wish for any of his children to be in an abusive relationship. After God showed me that I do not deserve to be abused and left the marriage, my whole life turned around and God has blessed me tremendously.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Alright Anna!! Way to go.

Trackbacks

  1. Dangers of Hypocrisy and a Heart Quick to Pass Judgment | Jesus Carries Me
  2. Living Honorably | Quality of Life Ministries

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