1 Corinthians 5:11 – does it apply only if there’s common knowledge of the person’s sin? (Part 2)
What I said in Part 1 of this two-part series doesn’t imply there is no room for some kind of investigative process. But before I go further, this vital point needs to be made:
If there are allegations of criminal behavior, then the church must not be doing the investigation.
If the church takes it upon itself to investigate allegations of criminal conduct, it muddies the waters of the investigation. Because by the time the police get involved (if they do), the victim and suspects have already been interviewed by church leaders. This tips off the criminal that they are being exposed, so the criminal will go into damage control mode, threatening the victim, slandering the victim to the congregation, buttering up the community even more than he has already, so that he will have many allies if it goes to court. And if it goes to court the bad guy’s attorney is probably going to claim that the church implanted things into the victim’s story.
Is there any place for Matthew 18 overlapping with 1 Corinthians 5?
With respect to investigative inquiry that a church can do, the Matthew 18 model and the 1 Corinthians 5 model are not watertight compartments with no overlap or middle ground.
But let us remember the fundamentals: The immediate-expulsion protocol of 1 Cor 5 is for the six heinous sins listed in verse 11 when any of those six sins are found to be in a person who professes Christ. Therefore, Matthew 18 must be intended for lesser types of sins than those six sins. This makes common sense! Would we tell a victim of rape to go privately to her rapist first and admonish him, then take one or two witnesses to confront him again? That would gravely endanger the victim! And rape comes under two of the sins named in verse 11: sexual immorality, and swindling.
Church leaders who are wise about evil – who understand the mindset of abusers, and are astute at discerning wolves in sheep’s clothing – will be able to wisely carry out some kind of investigation and interviewing process to determine the truth of a disclosure of domestic abuse. Most victims would welcome that, if they found that their perspectives and voices were valued and heard! Many victims would appreciate such an investigative enquiry and evidence-gathering process IF the leaders were astute enough to recognise when the abuser is lying, putting up smoke screens and laying false trails.
When good leaders are equipped and astute enough to do an investigative-inquiry well, the result will be vindication for the victim — which will bring healing balm for her wounded soul!
Most of our readers have never had anything like vindication from their churches.
In a domestic abuse case, the shape and look of such an investigative inquiry would not be like a ritualistic code-book version of Matthew 18. It would likely be far more quick than the prolonged (torture-rack) version of Matthew 18 which many of our readers have experienced from churches.
A good investigation would cut the abuser off at the pass when he attempted to snow the leadership or recruit allies in the church.
Wise church leaders who ‘get it’ about abuse and have done the hard yards to learn about the mindset and tactics of abusers, could do this investigation and resolve it pretty quickly. The problem is usually that leaders take far too long, and they are unable to discern the abuser’s tactics of manipulation and deceit.
Furthermore, leaders could certainly do an investigation after the victim had left the abuser! There is no need to tie leaving the abuser (or having him put out of the family home by court-order) with an investigative-inquiry by the elders. The two things do not have to be linked, or contingent upon one another. The safety of the victim and children always comes first. And it is the victim’s choice whether she leaves or not.
The trouble is, there are so few good pastors and leaders who
- understand all the dynamics of domestic abuse
- are wide awake to the privilege which they enjoy by virtue of being male
- are wide awake to the widespread discrediting of women’s perspectives and experiences, particularly the experiences of women who have experienced abuse from their husbands.
Some church leaders are cowards
There are some churches which have (thank heavens) removed a perpetrator of domestic abuse from membership, but those churches have not made this public to the congregation. To me, that smacks of cowardice. And it leaves the victim still vulnerable, since many in the congregation may assume she was wrong to leave the marrriage and divorce her husband.
The abuser can put on his pity play to win these people to his side. And he will tell those people that his wife is crazy. Even if he is no longer a member he can still get in the ear of members of the congregation and sow lies about his victim’s character. So in this scenario, the victim’s reputation is not vindicated. Only if the church publicly announces the excommunication and the reasons for it, is the victim’s reputation fully vindicated.
Are we rejecting the gospel?
In advocating that abusers who profess Christianity be put out of the church, we have never said that expulsion must always be permanent. If an excommunicated person is later on genuinely converted to Christ, born again and indwelt by the Spirit, they will repent of their former wickedness and become changed. We would see this in their behaviour longterm, even while they are under pressure and stress.
If the story in 2 Corinthians does refer to the incestuous man from 1 Corithians (which we only infer, we have no proof) then that man did truly become regenerate and was re-admitted into the church.
However, in my observation, genuine repentance and reformation from sexual immorality or drunkenness is more common than genuine repentance and reformation from spousal abuse.
Domestic abusers are guilty of many if not all of the six sins listed in 1 Cor 5:11
Sexual immorality – frequently by porn addiction and / or serial adultery. And those abusers who do not use porn or commit adultery may still sexually abuse their wives by coercively controlling them to submit to sex they don’t want and punishing them if they refuse to submit. And sometimes they also sexually abuse the children.
Greed – often in countless ways, many of which result in financial abuse of the victim.
Idolatry – the abuser expects his partner to worship him and put him before God. And churches and abusers also spiritually abuse the victims by claiming that God prioritises the institution of marriage over the wellbeing and safety individuals within it. This is nothing less that the idolatry of marriage.
Reviling – verbal abuse, abusive speech and slander
Drunkard – some abusers greatly misuse alcohol or other substances. Some are squeaky clean in that regard.
Swindler – the Greek word translated as ‘swindling’ denotes snatching, taking by force, predation, rape, plundering, subsisting on live prey. Examples that happen in domestic abuse:
- courting a woman while claiming to be a Christian, when he isn’t one
- fraudulently putting on a nice mask during the courtship to entice her into marriage, only to take it off later once he’s got her trapped
- all the extortion which he does during the marriage in countless ways
- abusers lie, deceive, use threats and standover tactics to get what they want
- they use their victims to get their sexual needs without having to negotiate
- they incrementally rob and shred (steal) the dignity and personhood of their victims
- the skilled male abuser takes over the mind of the target woman so she can’t listen to her instincts (see our Don Hennessy Digest).
Therefore, most abusers are guilty of several of these six sins. And it is not uncommon for an abuser to be guilty of all six. Habitually. Intentionally. By choice. Despite remonstrations and admonishments from godly people.
Consequences of the false doctrine that says “it must be public knowledge”
It is wrong to say that verse 11 applies only when there is public knowledge of the individual’s sin, only when it is well known in the congregation.
To show you that it’s wrong, let us push that argument to its full consequences. It leads to this ridiculously unfair end-point: If an abuser has kept his sins hidden so they are not known to the general congregation, then the church must not excommunicate him rapidly when his victim discloses her plight and seeks help.
People who take this line are saying that the church must do Matthew 18 instead, with a view to the repentance and restoration of the sinner. Their teaching leaves them wide open to being snowed by the abuser because most people are unable to recognise and resist the subtle invitations which abusers give out to enlist allies and the tactics they use to massage the perspectives of bystanders. This leaves many victims who disclose their plight in a very dangerous position because most pastors are very poor at detecting wolves in sheep’s clothing. And it is not taught in seminaries, so we can’t altogether blame them!
Abusers are very clever at keeping their sins behind closed doors and out of common knowledge. The way things stand, if this ‘it must be common knowledge’ doctrine is maintained and the abuser is not put out pronto when the victim discloses, victims will continue to suffer — and the church will continue to be under God’s judgement.
Most churches are taking the presumption of innocence way too far with abusers, and victims are too often disbelieved and discredited. If that were not so, we wouldn’t have a big family of survivors at this blog who lament and support each other in their recovery.
And if once in a blue moon an allegedly abusive man is put out, and it turns out that he wasn’t an abuser, well guess what? God is quite able to bring that to rights…and if the man is a genuinely regenerate believer God will help him stand.
After all, that is the line these bad leaders usually give to victims: if you are mistreated, just suffer it … God will take care of you. Why not apply it to the abusers for a change? There’s a lot less chance you will be misapplying it!
Posts in the 1 Corinthians 5:11 series
Part 2: Is this post.
Further reading for pastors who want to learn: