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Abusers and Excusers

Scripture tells us how to deal with problems in Christian communities, but its mandates are rarely followed. The community has remained silent for centuries about abuse of power, not only by the illegitimate clergy class but also by many spouses. Yet the Christian community remains silent. As we can see in Mat. 23:8-12, Mark 10:35-45, and Luke 22:24-27, the command of Jesus is very clear: His followers must not pull rank over their brothers and sisters, and leaders must be role models and mentors rather than masters and rulers. While other chapters in this book give the details of how the Body of Christ is to function, this one focuses on finding ways to correct the failure to put those principles into practice.

Role Models

In Heb. 5:11-6:12, the writer expresses deep disappointment over the lack of spiritual growth and maturity in the Christian community. After a reasonable length of time they should have seen progress beyond the basics and become leaders, but this was not the case, especially for the former Hebrews to whom the letter was written. They were putting themselves back under the laws of Moses, which effectively put Jesus back on the cross. Yet this problem persists to our day, even among Gentiles (see the chapter on Hebrew Roots).

Yet not everyone is, or should be, a Christian leader, per James 3. In Heb. 13:7,16, and 17, believers are admonished to look first of all to those who brought them the Gospel and imitate their behavior. Then it advises that believers listen to their current leaders, not as masters but as examples, as those who have already demonstrated spiritual maturity and are held to a higher (not lower!) standard. This is likely due to their positions of influence, not authority. A leader or teacher must not be a novice or heretic, but a faithful guide and guardian against false teachings. Those who fail in this regard will face stronger consequences at the judgment. Every believer must give an account, but for leaders/teachers the judgment will be more strict.

The Standard and the Consequences

We’re told very clearly in passages such as 2 Tim. 3:16 and Luke 17:3-4 that sin (determined by scriptural standards) must be rebuked, and that forgiveness is only to be given to those who heed the rebuke and repent. The common excuse for why we can’t obey this command is that we too are all sinners. Yet as is clearly taught in 1 Cor. 5, the backslidden, immature, sin-enabling believers in Corinth were to publicly disfellowship one of their own, though all of them approved of the sin out of a twisted sense of inclusion and tolerance. This person was not merely struggling with sin, but openly wallowing in it; that’s the reason it had to be quickly and decisively rebuked before it spread like gangrene. A related passage is 2 Tim. 2:17, where false teachers were named and shamed in order to prevent the spread of their falsehood.

We have more specific standards for leaders in passages such as 1 Tim. 3:1-13, 5:1-2, and 17-21, Titus 1:5-9 and 2:1-8, and 1 Peter 5:1-6. Influencers (elders, guardians, attendants) are not to be appointed until they have demonstrated maturity in faith and practice. Fellow believers are to treat each other with dignity and compassion, yet not at the expense of holiness or truth. We shouldn’t be quick to condemn an elder, but neither should we excuse or protect them if they have taught falsehood or lived in sin. With double honor comes double shame; a guilty elder is to be publicly rebuked, without prejudice or excuse from a twisted desire for peace and unity. Victims must be protected. When these commands are disobeyed, we get false teachers and rampant abuse, such as seen in this example:

Voddie Baucham has stated that abused women have no recourse for divorce. Instead, their job is to submit better to their husbands that they might empower him [enable more abuse!] to be more Christ-like in his leadership, and that the body of Christ might be unified. Further, Baucham opposes the education of women, holding that for them to go to college is a sin in defiance of biblical teaching. Lastly, he holds that a woman is the property of her father until such a time as he can arrange a marriage for her, regardless of her own consent or will, and transfer her to her husband. In such a case, the virginity of that daughter is a prize which enforces the honor of her father, a prize which is transferred into the ownership of the man she will marry. This is troubling, [since] the number one way to perpetuate sexual and domestic abuse of women is to deny them education and the freedom of self-determination. The ideas Baucham represents are a bastardization of Scripture designed entirely to preserve male privilege and suppress women while masquerading as Christian. (source, emphases and [insertions] added)

This is overt slavery. But even when the abuse is non-physical, we cannot and dare not ignore the mandate of scripture to immediately protect the victims. On a daily basis, in churches and social media, believers are routinely abused twice; first by the abusers, then by the silence of others, often compounded when the victim is rebuked for rightly demanding accountability, or for not automatically forgiving the unrepentant abuser. Never do such people give the victim the same automatic forgiveness— though of course the victim has not sinned, since refusing to forgive the unrepentant is what scripture commands. They demand that the victim walk around bleeding without complaint, while the abuser continues with the full tacit support of the community, which prays not for the victim but for the abuser.

Do we even need to ask what the consequences will be for abusers and their excusers? If we fear God as the great Judge, those who have abused or enabled abuse should be very, very afraid.


We as the Christian community are tasked with dealing with problems and not only praying for people. We have Spirit-given gifts for a reason; we are the hands of Jesus in this world. If all we ever need to do is pray for abusers, there’d be no mandates in scripture for standards and disfellowships, rebukes and corrections— as if criminals should only be prayed for and never arrested, much less put on trial or convicted. If we wouldn’t want a society where we let criminals run free and just pray that they’ll stop, then of all people the Christian community should be an example to the world of how much we care for the oppressed. To fail is to have their blood on our hands.

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