A Cry For Justice

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

How Would John the Baptist Deal With an Abuser in the Church?

Today I was thinking about John the Baptist. The Lord Jesus said that John was the greatest of the prophets. John is a very interesting Bible personality because he was the last of the Old Testament prophets, coming on the scene to end a 400 year silence from heaven. Was John a man filled with the Holy Spirit? Was he a man commissioned by God to declare God’s Word? Totally! Absolutely! His ministry was even prophesied of centuries before:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isa 40:1-3)

Alright then, here is my question: How would John the Baptist deal with an abuser who hides in the church, claiming to be a Christian? This is a very pertinent question. Why? Because I maintain that many professing Christians today have a completely distorted idea of what a true pastor looks like and of how he deals with these things. In fact, so distorted is our thinking on these matters that often genuine ministers and genuine methods are rejected as being….well….you know the typical adjectives: “harsh,” “unmerciful,” “unloving,” “unkind,” “un-Christian.” This type of thinking would even, if it could get away with it, tell the Lord Jesus Himself that He seemed rather “un-….well….un-….uh….you know…un-Christian!” No, wait…I mean…that can’t be….Christ is the definition of Christian! But then, I just think maybe He could have handled it differently.  No, no…that  can’t be either. He was perfect. Oh shoot, I don’t know what I mean! But I just think there must be a better way than the way you are doing it. I don’t like what you are doing.”

So how would John the Baptist handle an abuser in the church parading as a Christian? We don’t have to speculate. We know with certainty. He did deal with abusers and the accounts are recorded right in God’s Word for us. Go get ’em John!

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Mat 3:1-8)

And if that’s not enough for you, here he is in action again:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. (Mat 14:1-11)

John the Baptist was a pastor I could gladly have sat under. It wouldn’t have been easy for anyone in his church because John had a way of, well, stirring things up. People would tell him, “John, can’t you just maybe leave this one alone?” But John’s answer was, “no, I can’t. And I won’t. Not even if it costs me my head.” Which it did.

Abusers dressed in Christian garb would never have been comfy in John’s church. Oh man, he could see them a mile off. “You! You!  I see you! I know what you are doing! Repent, and I mean really repent and show us your repentance by your works. Yeah, you! I’m talking about you! You better run, I’m telling you! Because Christ is coming and He already is winnowing out the chaff for the fire, and that’s YOU if you don’t repent!”

And it didn’t matter how much power and influence an abuser had, John was on them. You could be a king like Herod – no matter. If you were mocking God by mocking His law, you were going to be hearing from John. “It is not lawful for you to have her!” Come on John, that’s not very tactful. This guy is the king. Can’t you just back off a bit and lighten up? Nope. Not gonna happen. John did not fear man. Oh sometimes his faith was challenged, like the time he had to send word to Jesus and ask if the kingdom of heaven had really come or not:

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Mat 11:2-11)

John was a human being. Who wouldn’t have some doubts or be a bit confused if they are sitting in a jail cell for doing what they had been sure was God’s will? Notice that our Lord not only did not get on John’s case for asking these questions, but He commended him! He comforted and encouraged him. He validated John.

This is what we need. We need an army of John the Baptists! We need pastors who are fashioned in this guy’s mold. We need Christians who are impelled by the very same Spirit (and in fact, if you aren’t impelled by that Spirit, you aren’t a Christian!). We need to shake off this namby-pamby notion of seeing wicked, evil abusers who are parading as Christians as poor, misguided, hurt folks who just need to be loved and embraced and affirmed in their “faith” and then surely they will see the error of their ways and the movie will end happily ever after. That’s the movies. It isn’t reality and it isn’t anything John the Baptist would approve of.

The Lord Jesus Christ affirmed John the Baptist as a true minister of God. That means that Christ affirmed John’s scathing rebuke of the viper Pharisees. It means He affirmed John’s bold confrontation of Herod’s sin. It means that the Son of God saw John’s execution as a blessed death of one of His own, not as the result of a foolish act of tactlessness.

And so let me conclude with these questions. What kind of pastor is a true pastor appointed by Christ? What does such a man look like? What kind of pastor do you want? What kind of pastor does the mass of professing Christendom want? John was…weird. He was a shocking man. He even dressed in a wild way. And when he started to speak, sinners started to come to him in repentance. This man, they knew, was sent by the Lord. And woe to the wicked who tried to sneak in over a side wall. “You, I see you! Repent, you viper or you will perish when the Lord comes! And He is coming. He is coming now!”

I find this incredibly refreshing. How about you?

20 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Great post Pastor Crippen. Refreshing, YES!! A very stirring message. Just how many ‘John the Baptist’ preachers do we have who are willing to lay down their lives for the true Gospel?

  2. Nicola Muir

    AMEN!! Thanks for this Jeff, it’s so refreshing to read this. I have so often heard that people are ‘sorry for’ abusers and that they are praying for the family to be ‘reunited’ etc. As a recovering survivor of abuse and someone who has truly had their eyes opened to God’s view of abuse, my prayer is not that families will be ‘reunited’ with abusers. My first and lasting prayer is that the abused spouse and children will break free of the abuser (who, if claiming to be a ‘Christian’, has full knowledge of their abuse and their sinfulness and makes an informed, fully conscious choice to abuse, so often using Christianity to maximise the abuse and access to victims) and gain safety, protection, freedom, healing and full understanding far, far away from the one who harms them. The abuser has already been given the most generous opportunity to be united to their spouse and children and has chosen to utterly abuse that privilege. Safe separation from the abuse and abuser is the right way to go, just as God separates those from Him who, in full knowledge of His Truth, will not submit to Him. Hope this makes sense 🙂

    • Jeff Crippen

      Nicola – it all makes total sense!

    • rlbenne

      Amen!!!

    • Brenda R

      Nicole, It makes total sense.

  3. rlbenne

    Powerful!! I agree completely!!!

  4. No, John would have tried to “build bridges with” the guilty offender or said it was because this poor misguided soul didn’t get that Spiderman Robot for Christmas when he was nine, and everybody should overlook his sin on that basis and just “forgive him and go on”. Yeah, right!

  5. Marah

    I have to brag a little on my church on this subject. After my husband showed up at our church last weekend, I was concerned: he’s very charming and knows how to do the fake repentance thing *perfectly*

    But I got an email from one of the main pastors yesterday. One of the elders apparently met with my husband last week, and determined that he wasn’t taking adequate responsibility for his behaviors and (therefore) was only “half-heartedly” desiring reconciliation. They want to know if I’m wanting my husband to be dis-invited to our church.

    I was FLOORED! No one outside a very few of my closest friends and family has ever been able to see through him. He has always been able to convince everyone that he loves us desperately and will do anything for us. Pastors in the past have been completely taken in. I am just rejoicing and thanking God, even if I have some oddly conflicted feelings. While it’s a huge relief, and I am extremely glad, to finally know that our spiritual leaders get it, I’m also grieved. There’s absolutely no denying that it’s not just in my mind anymore. A good thing, but also very hard.

    • Wow Marah, I am very happy to hear that your church is showing such astuteness and proactively seeking to protect you like this.

    • and that your church is asking you what you want, what you prefer. They are not just telling you how to think or feel or behave: they are honouring you as a person of dignity who is free to make her own choices and have her own opinions. WOW, just WOW!

      • Ellie

        Marah, I just cheered out loud!

      • Marah

        I know I started crying ,mostly for joy and relief. I still almost can’t believe it. I’ve been promised “help” by other pastors and church leadership types at our old churches, and never got more than a bit of lip service. I’m so joyous!

    • Brenda R

      Marah, That is wonderful that your pastor “gets it”. I know it is hard to realize who your husband really is, but coming out of the fog and gaining strength knowing that you are in your right mind is a great thing.

  6. Sarah

    Nicola, I hear the mantra over and over that the victim should “get away” from the abuser but the courts are not in favor of this. Even divorced they practically want me to be married to the guy by way of constant communication and decision making and if we don’t agree we must go to joint counseling. Which from where I stand means I must give him whatever he wants because he doesn’t compromise ever. I still feel married to him in that he makes everything difficult. How the heck am I to get away from him when the courts are denying my rights to do so?

    • Nicola Muir

      Sarah, that is horrific. I feel desperately sorry for you that you are having to endure such a nightmare, enforced by a third party who has such power. I live in Scotland and in my own situation I had to flee, in an emergency, become homeless, report to police, leave everything my son and I ever owned (and we have never been able to retrieve again), live in hiding for a period of 18 months (until my abuser hunted us down), become financially destitute and I believe permanently financially ruined and we were only able to survive in this because of a HUGE amount of support from police, social services, a new church, my old church, my friends and my family. I lose count at about 100 people in the support network that we have had. I have no idea how the family / civil courts work in other countries but it is all by God’s divine providence that we have protective orders in place and no contact permitted between my abuser and my son, it was definitely not the water tight legal system, which has been a shambles and caused me immeasurably increased danger in many ways so many times. One thing that I knew about myself on the day that we fled and ever since was that I would not budge one single inch when it came to my son. I decided immediately that I would do everything and anything required to keep my son safe, although I had no idea at that point what that would entail. I wish I could give you more specific help for your own situation, and I desperately hope that the abuse that you are still enduring stops.

      • Nicola Muir

        …I completely forgot to mention Women’s Aid who have been a truly incredibly support to me. The biggest risk to us, outwith those posed directly by my abuser, has been the legal system, and it sounds like this is the thing that perpetuates your abuse also. I wish I could advise you in some way but I realise that I could be sitting here today in your shoes potentially had things gone differently for me.

  7. fiftyandfree

    I’d never thought of John the Baptist as a Pastor, but Jeff, you are right. He was a Pastor and a great one at that! This indeed was a very refreshing post to read. Thanks!!

  8. Brenda R

    Ps Jeff, After reading what you have to say about John, I have a deeper appreciation for him. Pastors like this are rare.

  9. “You brood of vipers!”
    If people used that language from the pulpit these days, they would be run out of town. And if they were celebrity preachers, they would be might be praised by the secular media for standing against corruption in the church.

    If he were alive today, John the Baptist could probably have had his Facebook page closed for being too offensive.

    I like the parallel passage in Luke 3:6-8

    He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”

    ‘crowds’. This guy was a preacher who drew big crowds. And what did he tell them?
    — give generously and you will receive ten-fold! the windows of heaven will be opened to you! ?
    — have faith and believe and your problems will be taken away ?
    — trust and obey and God will reward your faithfulness and your unbelieving spouse will come to faith in Christ and you will live happily ever after ?
    No, he told them they were a brood of vipers.

    In Matthew it specifies that John said this to the scribes and Pharisees, whereas Luke just tells us he said it to the crowds who came to hear him. There must have been a lot of scribes and Pharisees flocking after John the Baptist!

    “Ooh look fellas, here is a new gung-ho preacher who is at the cutting edge and if we partner with him some of the glory will rub off on us! An’ he can breakdance like the pros! Let’s get on his bandwagon! . . . . aargh! what’s that he called us? Vipers? Nah, that’s not us, we are too holy and we wash in the ritual purification cisterns every day; he must be talking about the great unwashed!”

    • Brenda R

      Good answer Barb to a good question. Why aren’t more pastors asking these kinds of questions? Early ministry told it like it was. They called sin what it is and told folks they were guilty of it. Now there is a lot of pussy footing around. You don’t want to hurt any wolves as they are putting on their sheeps suits. Instead lets victimize the victims. They are already easy to push over. We can accuse them of sin and they will have no problem believing it.

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