Two doctrines: one will set you free, the other will enslave you

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

For this Sunday’s post, we have adapted a comment made by Persistentwidow (link).
Read, learn, and be free.

In my opinion, I see two differing doctrines propelling how Christian books/programs deal with abuse. The first is a belief that abused Christians need to tough it out and continue to live with an abuser. This is a work that the abused offers to God by suffering and allowing the family to suffer in the hope that the abuser may someday stop harming his family and convert. There is no end to the amount of books, advice, counseling sessions, or expense with the emphasis being on what the abused is doing to trigger the abuse. These sources consider abusers to be Christians despite acting in ways that prove they are not. Because followers of this perspective claim that God hates divorce and society will degenerate because of it, they do not allow divorce for abuse. Or they may give lip service to it, but in practice they pressure victims not to divorce. This legalistic focus is on preserving the “marriage” despite the abuse; the focus is not necessarily on the well-being of people suffering because of it. Needless to say, that is not our perspective here at ACFJ, rather, we work to warn people of how dangerous that perspective is.

The other perspective is clearly articulated in both Barb and Jeff’s books and this blog. In an abusive marriage, the problem is with the abuser who has broken the marriage covenant through abuse. He should be held accountable for his own sinful actions and the victim may divorce and remarry. The focus is on God redeeming his people, not on human works of suffering (asceticism) to please God:

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations — “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:18-23)

Christian abuse resources and church positions fall into these two independent categories. One category believes that abuse is grounds for divorce; the other believes that abuse isn’t grounds for divorce.

Although those in the second category may not diminish the plight of the victim, they likely push for the victim to effect change in her abuser, and that makes things worse by stringing victims along with no end in sight. We disagree with their tactics and theology. We believe that the only way to end abuse is to remove oneself from it and we don’t consider divorce for abuse to be a sin. In fact, we maintain that filing the paperwork is just an acknowledgement of the already destroyed marriage covenant, the destroyer being the abuser.

The bottom line is that one view is based on Works, the other Grace. The type of counselor/teacher one seeks in this matter is dependent upon what one’s view of Christianity is. So if one is looking for laws to follow, go to a legalistic teacher. If one is looking for Grace, go to a teacher who understands the Gospel.

Why sift through the teachings of those with a theological agenda that we don’t agree with, when there are many trustworthy sources in our Resources tab at the top of the page?


. . . the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. (Is. 27:12)

33 thoughts on “Two doctrines: one will set you free, the other will enslave you”

  1. This is absolutely true!! Being a “living martyr” for 45 years was my whole identity and I felt more righteous because of patiently enduring abuse. I am now free and my whole identity is in the righteousness of Christ!!!

  2. ASCETICISM, Wow, this is the false doctrine the evil one has used for the the past 35 years for me to accept the life long abuse from my wife. I so clearly remember my acceptance of “suffering for Christ, her and my family, laying my life down for my wife.” This was the Christ honoring action I would take, The Lord would work thru my obedience and He would be glorified. What asceticism actually yielded was a total blindness to abuse and a denial of the damaging effects it has brought to my very being and to my sons.
    Your blog, sermons and anything else I’m able to read connected to this ministry has become my daily help. The fog is beginning to lift, I’m now preparing for the next step I need to make in this process, Gal 5:1
    Many thanks for your faithful commitment to Christ and His love for His people.

  3. Jesus came to set the captives free.
    He himself read these words in the temple.

    “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
    Because the Lord has anointed Me
    To preach good tidings to the poor;
    He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
    To proclaim liberty to the captives,
    And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;”

  4. In divorcing my abusive spouse, I searched the scriptures to see if it is ok to remarry and nowhere did I find that. The scriptures were clear on that you can leave / divorce an abusive spouse but consistently said if you marry a divorced person, you are committing adultery. Which, if you think about it is the second and last abuse since the abuser not only makes it impossible to stay, but consigns you to a life alone if being in a union is important to you. So, please tell me where in scripture it says you can remarry when your (ex) spouse is still alive?

    1. Kim, Jeff wrote this post that may help you:

      A Discussion of Divorce and Remarriage

      Type “remarriage” in our search bar and other posts and articles will come up, too.

      I encourage you to read Barbara’s book, Not Under Bondage [Affiliate link], and Instone-Brewer’s book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church [Affiliate link]. Both of these can be found in our resources tab, and if you purchase them through our Amazon link a small portion comes back to support ACFJ operating expenses.

    2. Dealing with the same issue… though I know that God is not in the camp of “bondage”, I wish the “church” had a better understanding of how cruel it is to even suggest that someone who has been abused must somehow suffer further by living a life they were not called to or gifted to endure.

    3. Hi Kim, I endorse everything PW said in response to you, and I affirm that my book deals quite extensively with remarriage and it arguest that it is not a sin to remarry after having been through a biblical divorce (divorce on the grounds of abuse, adultery or simple desertion). It takes a lot more explaining than I could do in a blog comment. So I encourage you to get the book.

      1. Michelle, Again I suggest reading Barbara’s book, Not Under Bondage. You may order it from our resources tab or request that your local public library purchase a copy. I asked my public library to order one and recently I noticed that there were now two copies listed in the inventory file. I looked them up and they were well read and quite worn from use! My library now has multiple copies of Jeff’s book, too, although I only ordered one. So obviously the community has a need for the information in these books and others will benefit if you request these books be in your public library.

        You will find the scripture you request in Jeff and Barbara’s books, Instone-Brewers book, “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church”, and by searching the ACFJ site. There is too much to explain in just a comment on this post.

  5. Thank you for a concise presentation of freedom vs enslavement. It helps to continue the process of putting love in order.

  6. I was in a church that encouraged me to “submit better”, in some ways (while in no way condoning this theology) I am thankful that I did absolutely everything I could to be the best, most submissive wife and still endured abuse. I feel that it helped me see that the abuse truly was in no way my fault. It was an absolution of sorts.
    Now I’m in a new stage of small-town theology…
    I’m in a new, more progressive church in a different stage if life (finalized divorce, single parent) and though I have been encouraged to never ever return to my abuser, they feel that it would be sinful for me to date or consider re-marriage (though I would be forgiven and accepted by them).
    Ugh! I love my church but how can they say that the only acceptable way for me not to be single would be to reconcile yet simultaneously encourage me to stay away from abuse?
    Isn’t this the same bondage producing thinking that tells a wife to submit better?
    Any ideas on reconciling this?

    1. KingsDaughter, The dilemma you cite cannot be reconciled because it is illogical and based on erroneous, works based theology. I have found it fascinating that the subtle legalism in a theology becomes evident by the way that abuse, divorce, and remarriage is addressed by a church. Here is where a church’s “righteous” dictates and practical application do not meet and it becomes obvious that something is broken with the foundation that they have built on. This is the same wrong teaching Christ addressed in the Pharisses:

      “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” Matthew 23:4

      I have thought that this problem was a matter of lack of education on the part of these churches, authors, and counseling services, but now believe that their approach reflects their legalistic doctrines. If there is a problem on this issue, it is likely that there are other underlying issues of concern with that church. The best theological position addressing abuse that we have found comes from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and is titled “When Homes are Heartless”. Domestic Violence [Internet Archive link]

      I recommend printing out a copy and taking it to your pastor. If he will not agree with it, I think that there is nothing that you can say to change his position. At that point you may consider leaving that church altogether, but know that God will bless you as you seek his truth.

      Often God will take one thing away from us so that he might give us something better in return.

  7. We are doing a series of studies on dangerous doctrine. I think I will bring this one up. It could be interesting.

  8. This was awesome. This post states the positions of these 2 views so clearly. I was that legalistic thinker when I began coming out of the fog after 17 years. Even my sister said to me, “I never knew you to be legalistic. That’s not what God’s about with marriage.” I was trapped in asceticism thinking, too. (I never knew that word until this post, but somehow I got stuck in those thoughts!) I also had been on a quest to receive revelation on God’s Grace. “What does Grace look like?” I asked. So, as I sought the Lord and cried out to HIM each one of those legalistic thoughts that were keeping me in bondage was transformed in my mind by the LIVING SPIRIT of the WORD. Then, one day, about 2 years later, GRACE was staring me in the face. I sobbed thanking HIM for His Goodness, Mercy, FREEDOM, and another chance at life.

  9. The Holy Spirit illuminatined the scripture ‘For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ (Galatians 5:1) a few years before I came out of the fog of denying abuse. Very relevant scripture for anyone suffering from oppression. We are free in Christ indeed ! ‘

  10. Amen! When Jesus sacrificed Himself for the sins of all, it ended the idea of an ongoing sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. WE are not the sacrificial Lamb, HE is. The church is wrong to use Romans 12:1,2 (present yourselves as a living sacrifice) and other scriptures to support the misguided idea of “sacrifice”. The believers are NOT called to save but to preach the Truth. It is God’s job to save. When we “sacrifice”, it is to HIM, not to an abusive, self-absorbed, pious, narcissistic Pharisee.
    Furthermore, it does not honor Him to offer ourselves as a sacrifice to an abuser, when we are called to tell the truth, to expose lies, and avoid abusers:

    Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naive. Romans 16:17,18.

    We are NEVER called to deceive but to proclaim truth, so that the captives are set free–by the truth.
    The church has erected an idol unto to itself, thus it becomes what it worships: an idol.
    This is NOT what God intended.

  11. Are there other verses for justifying divorce or separation in an abusive marriage? My church holds to the first that one should stay regardless.

    1. What some may not be considering is that your own children are watching you take and accept the abuse by your spouce.
      This was never Gods plan.
      This abuse is shaping the childrens ideas and concepts of what married life is.
      Life with an abuser offers no teaching of mutual love, respect, and support of each others ideas, intrests and opinions.
      No, it is my way or the highway.
      Power and control.
      This is not the example you want to set for your children to follow.
      Would you want your sons to follow the pattern of similarly exercising power over their wives someday to get what they want?
      And your daughter to seek a man who will be controlling over her so she will have to appease him by cowering to his whims and tirades as if this somehow brings glory to God?
      If this is accepted as “the normal” in your family, than that is the plan of the evil one to continue the destructive cycle of generational abuse.
      But you can stop it by knowing it is wrong and changing the direction things are going in.
      Abuse within a family setting does not just destroy the target spouses identity by making her the false sacrificial lamb.
      Abuse phychologically prepares by example, the children to accept it, or become future perpetuators , when they themselves ultimatly engage in a martial relationship.
      You will never change an abusive person just by tolerating the abuse.
      On the contrary, tolerating will only pacify it and allow it to continue.
      The abuser broke the marriage covenant when he or she decided to control you through their abusive tactics.
      You can make the change to end it, because “only you” see abuse as the destructive force that it is in a family setting.

      1. StandsForTruth, Well said. I have yet to see any concern for the children at all from the Nouthetic counselors, just the goal of marriage restoration, and this marriage restoration is perpetuating the generational curse of abuse in the church.

        I believe that in church bodies that use Nouthetic counseling the actual rate of abuse may be higher than in the general population at large. Why? Because abuse is condoned and covered with the church’s blessing as long as divorce doesn’t happen. All the while divorce may be the key to setting the captives of that family free.

        I also think that such doctrine attracts abusers who know that they can expect the church to force the victim to submit to abuse. Previously I had thought that the youth group would be a good place for teens to meet a potential spouse, but in churches of the legalistic no-divorce-for-abuse doctrine, that may be the worst place to look for a date. These groups must be full of kids living in and learning from abuse and perpetuating the cycle unhindered.

    2. Hi vlee,

      Barbara’s book, Not Under Bondage [Affiliate link], is an excellent place to start. Also, the blog has many posts that address your question. You can find them by doing a search in the side menu search bar. Typing in “divorce” or “separation” will get you started. Also we have tags for “divorce” and “separation” on the top menu bar.

      Here are a couple posts to get you started:

      Biblical Divorce for Abuse explained in a nutshell

      The Bible DOES allow divorce for domestic abuse

      Abuse and Divorce: The Case Against the “Permanence View”

      The Bible virtually commands divorce for domestic abuse.

  12. Amen and amen. Divorcing an abuser is a gift from God. After all He came the set captives free. Trying to be a martyr is ridiculous and impossible — it sends a stench of self-righteousness nobody can bear.

    We need to wake up. Abuse is not okay, unbiblical, and is a motivating force behind Christ coming to earth. To Destroy the Work of the devil. Too often we in the church have been ‘sleeping on watch’ about the enemy because he clothes himself as a Believer. I know, I know so hard to see past the shiny bible and garbled scriptures. Sooo Jesus loves us so much He came to set us free soooo stay entangled and bound in an unsafe false covenant?? Nuts.

    [Eds: sreen name of commenter changed to protect commenter’s ID]

    1. Hi Isie
      I called you that after one of my great-aunts; I hope you don’t mind the name I chose. If you want it changed, please email TWBTC (see our About tab in the top menu).

      Welcome to the blog. 🙂 I encourage you to read our New Users Info page.

  13. The article states, “One category believes that abuse is grounds for divorce; the other believes that abuse isn’t grounds for divorce.”

    I contend that abuse IS divorce. The Old Testament certificate of divorce is not the actual divorce. It is a certification that divorce has already taken place, and is intended to liberate the wronged spouse. Today, in the West at least, a spouse who has been divorced-in-fact by their spouse’s acts or omissions is privileged to be able to apply to a court of competent jurisdiction for liberation from the guilty partner.

    It may be that what we call divorce proceedings end with the issuance of a decree of divorce, or maybe a decree of dissolution of marriage. However, if I understand Scripture correctly, it would be appropriate to think of such a decree as a decree of emancipation–emancipation of the spouse who has been, for all intents and purposes, put away.

    I submit that much confusion could be avoided if we disciplined ourselves to quit using the word divorce. This would force us to be careful to distinguish between that putting away our Lord does surely hate and that emancipation our Lord requires, and is in the business of effecting.

    Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
    to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
    (Isaiah 58:6 ESV)

    1. Amen! I love the word “emancipation”.
      Perhaps it leaves a more powerful impression on my heart because of the last two books I read. One was about the life of a POW of WWII. The other was historical fiction about slavery in the US in the 1800s.
      When I filed for legal divorce, I was declaring that I was setting myself free. When the legal process of divorce was finalized, I did believe that I was emancipated. Of course, I just used the divorce word twice, but emancipation is more correct for my new position in life.

  14. Wow. I relate to your stories in so many ways. Narcissistic abusive ex husband hiding in the PCA with other abusive phonies trying to make me come before them to change my thinking for God. Please. ….it’s about the ego of the pastor. They have no interest in supporting an abused woman. I left and will not return. Former friends treat me like I’m contagious because I left him. They harbor him and his mental illness. True friend outside the church know the truth and are happy for me.

  15. Oh…my…goodness.

    A bazillion light bulbs flickered to life!

    While I have read a great deal about Biblical divorce – mostly on ACFJ, but elsewhere as well – I never connected it to me.

    I never faced all the difficulties. My anti-x left (abandoned) me. And at the time, I was not attending “c”hurch. Due to circumstances in my life, I rarely opened my Bible.

    Deep, deep down, both consciously and subconsciously, I had always believed in marriage for life. The circumstances of my divorce being what they were, knowing many other divorced people, I never gave it a second thought…

    Tonight, in reading the post and the comments generated, a switch flipped.

    I really need to let this one sink in….sorry, I’m babbling….

    (…….I am now wordless…..)

    1. Adding on to my own comment….

      Now I have words.

      If I had initiated my divorce, I would have had Biblical grounds.

      If I chose to remarry, I would have Biblical grounds.

      Now my focus is different.

      It is not if I, but if God.

      That, too, has Biblical grounds.

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