John MacArthur’s church Elder & Professor of Biblical Counseling assumes that all Elders will shepherd well
John Street is an Elder at John MacArthur’s church and a professor of biblical counseling at The Master’s University and Seminary. In his sermon The Emotionally Abusive Marriage, he sets up a rigid dichotomy:
- Fearlessness = godliness.
- Protecting yourself = worldliness
(time mark 1:26:50) The effect God’s grace has in our lives is that of fearlessness. … The Bible wants you to be fearless, to stand for Christ graciously, lovingly, harmoniously, sympathetically — this is where you are most like Christ. … You main goal must be to glorify God, not just get out of a miserable marriage. … Your place there is to be a missionary in that marriage.
Street says (1:28:35): “The mentality of Christian women has radically changed over the past couple of hundred years.” To prove this claim he contrasts two examples: Sarah Edwards (whose husband was the famous preacher Jonathan Edwards), and Leslie Vernick. To listen to this section of Street’s sermon, click here. First he quotes Sarah Edwards thinking about her marriage to Jonathan Edwards:
(1:29:16) If he should turn to be cruel to me and should horsewhip me every day, I would so rest in God that it would not touch my heart or diminish my happiness. I could still go in the performance of all acts of duty to my husband and my happiness remain whole and undiminished.
Street then criticises Leslie Vernick for urging wives to set boundaries when husbands abuse them and their kids. He claims that Sarah Edwards’ approach was right because it focused on glorifying God, but Leslie Vernick’s approach is wrong because it focuses on protecting self.
Note: Sarah Edwards was speaking about a situation she did not actually have to face. Johnathan Edwards did not horsewhip his wife. Those words by Sarah Edwards were part of her account of the spiritual ecstasies she experienced during the Great Awakening in New England. Here is a screen shot of the passage from Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M Marsden, p 246.
[Note added by Reaching Out shortly after this post was Published: If you compare what John Street said at 1:29:16 in his sermon, when he quoted Sarah Edwards, you might notice a discrepancy between what John Street said and what George Marsden wrote in his book Johnathan Edwards: A Life (see Barb’s screen shot below). John Street said “be cruel” and George Marsden wrote “be most cruel”. The omission of the word “most” by John Street might or might not have been intentional, as he might have been using a different source for his Sarah Edwards’ quote.]
It hardly seems fair that John Street would contrast Sarah Edwards’ imaginings during her spiritual ecstasies with the everyday problems which an abused woman faces.
Street cherry-picked a portion of Sarah Edwards’ account. By doing so, he laid false guilt on recipients of abuse.
After setting up this rigid dichotomy that fearlessness is godliness, but protecting yourself is worldliness, Street then admits there is a biblical theology of escape.
Street has a biblical theology of escape, but it shackles the victim in a church where the leaders are bad shepherds.
Street cites some scriptures that support the theology of escape (1:31:10) but he cautions that it takes a lot of wisdom to discern when it is biblically permissible to escape. He insists that the victim must seek the counsel of the church leaders.
(1:33:10) This is why we call this the divorce dilemma. …
1) It is critical you make this decision along with the wisdom of the Elders of your church. They are there to help you, not make things more complicated….
2) Biblical divorce is only possible in two cases: unrepentant adultery and abandonment of an unbelieving spouse. Now, does emotional abandonment equal physical abandonment? That’s a big question. And we realise that is a slippery slope once you go down it. I believe that there are situations where it’s possible that a spouse has not necessarily left the physical house but has neglected their spousal responsibilities to provide and protect… But you have to be very careful and it take a lot of discernment if the divorce trigger is pulled on those issues. Your love of Christ must be your chief priority. Your desire to glorify Him has got to be your chief priority.
Street assumes that these days no church Elders will be bad shepherds. What a ludicrous assumption! Many passages in the Bible talk about how leaders can be bad shepherds. In his sermon, Street had actually mentioned (1:25:44) a passage where Jeremiah denounced the bad leaders of Ancient Israel. Street seems to be oblivious to his own lack of logic.
It is patently clear that bad church leaders exist today. A prime example is how Grace Community Church treated Eileen Gray. Furthermore, from all reports, there are many other women who have suffered similar abuse from John MacArthur’s organisations.
Street claims that a victim of abuse must not make the decision to divorce without consulting the church Elders. That claim cannot be supported from scripture. Hebrews 13:7 tells every believer to scrutinise and evaluate the pattern of conduct of church leaders. A believer need not obey or follow a church leader whose pattern of conduct is glaringly inconsistent with the whole counsel of the Word. I explain that argument in detail in my post What is the basis for saying Christians must obey church Elders?
Further Reading and Listening
Head of Counseling at John MacArthur’s School: Wife Should Endure Abuse Like Missionary Endures Persecution — The Roys Report, April 5, 2022.
John Street Praises Wife for Staying in Marriage Where She’s ‘Horsewhipped’ Every Day — 3 min clip from John Street’s sermon The Emotionally Abusive Marriage.