Skip to comments.Abusers in the Christian Church: The 5 Stages of Biblical Repentance
Posted on 04/28/2014 6:19:05 AM PDT by Gamecock
One of the strangest and most deplorable phenomena I’ve ever encountered in the Christian church is the tendency of many believers to take the side of the abuser in domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault cases, particularly if the abuser is a pastor or leader in the church. I have personally witnessed the gross mishandling of sexual abuse, child abuse, rape, and domestic violence situations by ministers, ministerial teams, and congregations as a whole.
The ongoing scandals involving Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard have brought this issue grotesquely into the limelight, and many Christians are flocking to defend the abusers, while smearing their victims as liars and even seductresses, as if these women somehow asked to be assaulted or harassed. You may ask, How could a Christian ever dream of defending an abuser? That makes no sense! And you’re right. The following are the two main arguments I have personally heard from multiple conservative Christians in favor of abusers:
Abuser Defense #1: King David Did It
The believer reasons,”Only the Lord can judge the heart, and King David committed adultery and murder and God forgave him, so who are we to judge?”
This argument risks comparing an unrepentant predator to a repentant David. It also completely ignores the chaos which ensued even after David repented and God forgave him. For the sin of adultery and murder, God sent Nathan the Prophet to David, who said:
This is what the Lord says: Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel. Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.’ 2 Kings 12:11-14
Even after God’s forgiveness, there was still an incredibly heavy penalty for sin. God didn’t wink at David’s sin. God didn’t give David a Get Out Of Jail Free Card. Later, we read the horrific story of Absalom, David’s own son, who sleeps with David’s wives in broad daylight, as Nathan the Prophet foretold: … they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his fathers concubines in the sight of all Israel. 2 Samuel 16:22
Absalom later and dies violently in battle, much to David’s sorrow. It is obvious upon reading this story in context and in its entirety and many others like it throughout the Old and
New Testaments that even after genuine repentance there are terrible consequences to sin. Some are clearly defined punishments from God, while others are simple matters of cause and effect.
Abuser Defense #2: I’m a Sinner Too, So I Shouldn’t Judge
The believer, upon hearing the horrific story of a pastor molesting a child, or a Sunday School teacher beating his wife, shrugs their shoulders and says something theologically vague like, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
I’m not sure which bothers me more about the latter statement: A) The fact that the speaker is implying that they have perverse predatory proclivities too, but that God is keeping them in check, or, B) That they’re taking a wonderful old quote about suffering and martyrdom completely out of context and misapplying it (Google John Bradford), exposing their ignorance of both theology and church history. Ignoring Issue B as being this author’s pet peeve, let’s focus on Issue A:
But you’re forgetting one teensy little thing: SANCTIFICATION!
What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the
image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. – Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 35.
We are the Holy Spirit’s work-in-progress. We are regenerated and have embarked on a process of spiritual growth and renewal. We should, as we continue to be sanctified by God, grow more and more abhorrent of sin and Christlike in our thoughts, words, and deeds. This doesn’t mean we’re not going to sin anymore, or that we won’t be capable of some pretty nasty transgressions. It means that we’ll be enabled by grace to acknowledge and grieve over sin, repent of sin, make humble restitution for sin, actively strive to avoid repeating that sin, and glorify God for his redemptive work in our hearts.
As the Westminster Shorter Catechism, A. 87 states, Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
Let’s unpack that. You’ve heard of the Five Stages of Grief? Well, here’s five stages of genuine repentance as demonstrated and described in Old and New Testament:
The 5 Stages of Biblical Repentance:
1. Sorrowful Recognition of Sin
Ezra and those with him are horrified and disgraced by sin:
When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice. Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed: ‘I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.’ Ezra 9:3-6
Job is so distraught by his sin that he despises himself:
’… I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know … therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’ Job 42:3&6
A sinful woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and costly perfume:
A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisees house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Luke 7:37-38
Peter weeps bitterly out of remorse for denying Christ:
The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times. And he went outside and wept bitterly. Luke 22:61-62
2. Admission of Guilt & Confession
Isaiah, upon seeing how holy God is, dramatically confessed his fallen nature:
’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’ Isaiah 6:5
Paul does not mince words when admitting his sin to God:
Lord … I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him. Acts 22:19-20
John explains that failure to admit guilt is a sign that our hearts are devoid of God’s sanctification:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10
3. Humble Acceptance of Sin’s Punishment & Consequences:
Ezra declares Israel deserving of God’s wrath and punishment:
What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant … Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence. Ezra 9:13&15
King David affirms God’s right to judge him after Nathan confronts him with his sin:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Psalm 51:3-4
The Psalmist thanks God for chastening him, yet sparing his life:
The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. Psalm 118:18-19
4. A Desire to Reconcile & Make Restitution:
King Hezekiah seeks reconciliation and restitution by sacrificing sin offerings:
Early the next morning King Hezekiah gathered the city officials together and went up to the temple of the Lord. They brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven male lambs, and seven male goats as a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary and for Judah. The king commanded the priests, the descendants of Aaron, to offer these on the altar of the Lord. 2 Chronicles 29:20-21
Jesus requires reconciliation between believers:
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24
Zacchaeus pays back all he has stolen and then some:
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’ Luke 19:8-10
5. Regeneration & The Glorification of God:
Jonah promises to change his ways and glorifies God from the belly of the fish:
Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from Gods love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, Salvation comes from the Lord. Jonah 2:8-9
King David promises to use his own sin as an example to bring others to repentance:
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Psalm 51:13-14
Paul says we were created and predestined to do good works:
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions it is by grace you have been saved For we are Gods handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:3-5 & 10
John explains that a repentant sinner may sin, but will not persist in sin:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7
What Then Should We Do With Abusers?
If an abuser does not exhibit these Biblical traits common to those who, by the grace of God, truly repent, then it is wise to question the authenticity of their repentance, and whether God’s sanctification is actively working in their hearts. Surely, repentance is a process, but it is one that must be completed in order to fulfill the requirements exemplified and defined by God’s Word.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:1, 7&8
Based on clear New Testament requirements (such as those in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) and basic common sense, it should be glaringly obvious that a leader in today’s church who is discovered to be living in or guilty of unrepentant sin or abuse, should not be allowed to continue in a position of power or authority. This is true for four practical and moral reasons:
For the sake of the victim, we must take a clear stance against abuse, acknowledge that they were grievously wronged, and not hold them guilty or responsible for
Jesus said, ’If anyone causes one of these little ones those who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’ Matthew 18:5-7
Christ is very clear about His wrath towards those who cause His little ones to stumble. Not only has the abuser caused little ones to stumble, but by allowing even repentant abusers to carry on in positions of authority and trust within the church, we risk putting them in a position where the abuser is liable to stumble again, and what does that say of the church?
’From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace, they saw when there is no peace. Jeremiah 6:13-14
Just showing a picture of Vin Diesel should be considered abusive. You need to repent.
So what's going on with Bill Gothard?
I am familiar with his stuff but have not heard of him in quite a while.
IMO, if someone is not truly repentant over sin but rather continues in it and justifies practicing it and continuing in it, I have to wonder if they're even saved.
Evidence of the kind of change that saving faith works in someone is absent. It's not hard to conclude that they're not, even if they have the right lingo.
I am familiar with some of the past info regarding Gothard which is mentioned in this book: http://www.amazon.com/Matter-Basic-Principles-Don-Veinot-ebook/dp/B005PR4UKY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398696068&sr=8-1&keywords=bill+gothard, but haven’t heard anything recently.
This problem is part and parcel with the apostate church’s “easy forgivism.” They forgive the gravest sin without forcing the offender to repent or be excommunicated. It’s not doing the offender any favors to allow them to remain in their pride. Christ desires humble servants, not prideful ones.
Church discipline can never occur with this unbiblical “easy forgivism” in place. Once they repent, we have a DUTY to forgive, but not until then (See Luke 17:3).
God doesn’t forgive our sins and save our souls unless we repent, and if we’re backsliding God will keep right on chastising us until we repent. “Easy forgivism” just allows abusers to keep right on abusing.
Once they repent, we have a DUTY to forgive, but not until then
And even then it not be appropriate for them to participate in certain parts of church life. For example a repentant child abuser should never be allowed to participate IN ANY child ministries.
This piece abused the term abuser and abuse so as to poison the well and abuse good process. Innuendo and rumer-mongering are also sins of personal abuse. Gossip and defamation are abuse. If the author is truly concerned for the kingdom of Christ, I would counsel grieving over the fall of broken men, and the self righteous indignation of the who want to score points at their expense. But, if the author is concerned with destroying the church, then pieces like this are effective to that end.
I agree that we have a duty to forgive in that case but not necessarily to restore him to his position of leadership. I'm not familiar with the Gothard situation but with Doug Phillips, there are other less-publicized controversies which suggest that all the smoke has a fire in the middle of it. The fact that Phillips stepped down as elder in his church while admitting to a serious sin but he was allowed to remain as the head of a Christian organization, Vision Forum, for almost nine months really troubles me. Doug Phillips and the board knew that he was disqualified from holding such a position.
I disagree. Imagine yourself the powerless victim of abuse by a pastor -- a child, or a woman with children whose husband has abandoned the family and is struggling, desperate not to lose the church that is her only source of refuge -- and reread the article with that in mind.
The article is not talking about the mere suggestion of abuse, but the reality of proven instances, and how church communities often turn against the victim, re-victimizing them, rather than call the abuser to account.
Several problems with your line of reasoning.
First off, churches do not and cannot forgive sin. Only God can do that. So it's not the churches responsibility to take that action.
Second, nobody can force someone to repent. Maybe you can force them to go through the actions, but repentance comes from within, not without.
Third, ex-communication from a fellowship is meaningless unless someone believes that salvation comes through church membership. Since churches can't save anyone, ex-communicating them has no effect on their salvation.
Fourth, it's the job of the Holy Spirit to humble people, not us.
Easy forgivism just allows abusers to keep right on abusing.
No it doesn't. Forgiveness is easy. If we have to earn it, it's not forgiveness but a debt paid off.
There are still the issues of reconciliation and accountability, which are often still necessary even after forgiveness is granted.
Has there been a trial (either ecclesial or civil) with witnesses and proper process or just the jury of public perception? I am not aware of any such process running its course. Perhaps in the rush to judgement we could just keep repeating that the seriousness of the the charges trumps our commitment to judicial process.
Likewise we ought be slow to label someone as victim as we are to throw around the term abuser. In the Doug Phillips case there is much not known that may or may not justify the term victim. In fact there is an unanswered question whether the woman involved is the seductress and guilty of adultery with a man she knew was married. In Old testament jurisprudence that could be a capitol offense. That does not excuse the actions of Doug Phillips but it does change the perception of prejudicial terms like abuser and victim. Justice and deliberative process do not feed the feminist rage like the meme that men, especially patriarchal men, are evil beings who oppress poor helpless weak women who of course have no moral agency because men won't let them be strong, independent matriarchs.
Your whole "imagine" statement is a cavil and not a material fact. Your imagination is but a phobia exploited by many to destroy families and create prejudice against the very men that would defend and provide for the family.
Sounds like you are bringing a lot of preconceived baggage to the article that was a clear exposition of Biblical teaching on the subject, and not a trial transcript or tabloid fodder about those individuals, who were mentioned only in passing to introduce the topic. One wonders why anyone would take it so personally.
I will take your ad hominem response as prima facie that you cannot defend with scripture or reason your initial embrace of slanders and further that the you concede that this type of gossipy rumor mongering should be given no quarter in the church of Jesus Christ.
Whether Doug Phillips was the pursued or the pursuer, the victim label seems appropriate. Clearly if Doug Phillips seduced her, then she is a victim.
However, even if she were the seductress she might still be called a victim. If she was foolish enough to seduce a married man, doesn't DP still have some responsibility to try and correct her? Consider that DP was much older and presumably more mature (both emotionally and spiritually), her pastor, her employer, and a long-time family friend - each would impose on him the duty to try and correct her erroneous ways. None give him the right to take advantage of her and by doing so, he made her a victim. If she was a seductress, she needed help and DP violated her trust on several levels by not providing it. At a minimum, he should have stayed away from her if he couldn't provide this help.
Again, taking everything very, very personally. Save the nostril flaring for someone who buys whatever smoke screen you’re selling. I’m not in the market for high dudgeon.
You talk sense! Good post.
If she’s having problems, it would be better for a woman to address them than a man.
And if a man is needed to address them, he most certainly should not be doing it alone.
I would agree with both of your points. However, someone like Doug Phillips who claimed to be a pastor would often do this type of counseling. The wise ones take great precautions to protect against occurrences like this.
If Doug Phillips was being seduced, it seems that he had two responsibilities: 1) get the confused young girl some help and 2) don't take advantage of her. By not doing these two things, he failed her, his wife, his family, his congregation, his followers, the patriarchy movement, his Vision Forum employees and customers - he left a lot of wreckage in his wake. Sins of Christian leaders are often like that.