Where Has a Generation of Psychology Based Family and Marriage Ministry Brought Us?

In the early 1970s, revival began to sweep a number of churches from different denominations in central Canada. Known as the Canadian revival, as the Holy Spirit swept through these churches, professed Christians were confessing their sins to God and man and entering into a fresh and revived relationship with God and with each other. Marriage and family reconciliation and renewal was a prominent effect of this revival. One teenager explained it this way: “When we saw our parents getting serious about right with God, we started getting with God ourselves.”

At about the same time, James Dobson started a new ministry called Focus on the Family. His commendable motive was, “Families are hurting.” The son of a Nazarene minister, he included a very definite focus on Biblical teaching and evangelical conversion, but also incorporated a number of aspects of secular psychology from his own background, most notably the self esteem teaching. Though for generations there had always been evangelicals who had degrees in psychology and psychiatry, since psychology itself had been part of the philosophy, religion or theology departments in many universities, the psychological perspective seemed to become a more prominent part of addressing marital and family issues than ever before, especially after the wide circulation of the film series “Focus on the Family” in the late 1970s to the early 1980s.

So, since the late 1970s, it’s seemed like when there are marital and family issues, the pastor, the Bible study leader and the Sunday school teacher have given way to the Christian psychologist – either through quotes, repetition / research  / plagiarism, or the use of media such as films and videos. Every day there are a number of programs on Christian radio stations with Christian counselors and psychologists that deal with Christian and family issues. So how effective have the Christian psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors been in dealing with family disintegration within the evangelical church? Anyone familiar with the occurrence of unreported abortions, unwed pregnancies, divorces and remarriages, affairs and parent/child discipline problems in most churches could say that there have been a number of individual success stories, but that by and large, the people who attend evangelical churches tend to be not very far behind the secular culture. The thing is that while families within our churches are still hurting, probably more of them are hurting now than a generation ago, and the explosion of psychologically oriented family and marriage ministries does not seem to have done that much to stem the tide.

Here’s where I think that we’ve lost something in our ministry to churches and families due to seeing the problems as having solutions that need to come from the psychologists. I think that we’ve lost the realization of what God himself can do by himself through the Holy Spirit in the lives of his people to produce family and marital reconciliation and tried to do more through a psychological orientation than the results overall would warrant. And I think that we’ve taken on far too many formulas based upon human insights – sometimes ultimately from secular sources that have a very different starting point than a Biblical understanding of the world and of God , mankind and sin —  and a direction based on human understanding, motivation and effort toward satisfaction in this life. So the emphasis seems to have shifted away from marital and family issues as being part of trust in and obedience to Christ as Lord, the disciplemaking ministry of the church, and the sanctifying ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Even more, this can take the form in marriages and families of a psychologically based legalism and judgmentalism. This is where spouses, potential spouses and family members make performance based demands and judgments based upon what he or (more likely) she found in the writings or teaching of a Christian psychologist. And often enough, the other person has never had a chance to hear or read, understand or evaluate according to scripture these expectations and judgments of his or her personal failings, and so may be being pressured and browbeaten to behavior which he or she has not subjected the scrutiny of scripture or even his or her own conscience before God. So, in this way the Christian psychology and counseling ‘industry’ may unwittingly be actually instigating further conflict in families and marriages that are already shaky. And those who may have come out of failed marriages may thus be left with a deep bitterness on how the other person has failed him or her based on their lack of performance up to the expectations from the Christian psychology and counseling industry rather than a humble scriptural examination of his or her own failures and responsibilities.

Just as much, this may also form the often unstated goal of a psychologically based personal perfectionism.  Much of the goal of the pop psychology from the 1970s onward seemed to be directed toward the goal of being happy, perfect and complete in this life (see the goals of the California based Human Potential Movement) and pathologizing people who weren’t. So, the tendency is to give people the impression if they weren’t happy, perfect and complete, emotionally expressive and secure by the definitions of the Human Potential Movement there is something wrong with them that can and should be fixed. And often enough, there may be the idea that if someone is going through a difficult time, or even vaguely bored or dissatisfied, that there’s a solution to be found through pop psychology. And certainly the covers of so many books in the field seem to promise exactly that. So, the first thing that needs to be considered critically, in the light of what scripture says about this fallen world and fallen human nature, is whether there is an explicitly stated or heavily implied goal or promise of human perfectibility or being able to achieve a personal utopia in one’s family or personal life through the psychological diagnoses and formulas.

So, following are the ways in which I think that the psychological orientation falls short of what God has done through two millennia by the Word of God through the Holy Spirit.


The psychological orientation lacks the authority of scripture as the basis of change.

The basis of the psychological orientation comes down to research which came from fallible human beings. It may have been done according to the scientific method, but it still required fallible human beings to understand, interpret and pass on the results of this research. But sometimes it does come from other sources such as the southern California Human Potential movement or even Buddhism (Psychology Today magazine has featured the Dalai Lama on its cover before, for instance).

The danger is that this may wander into the error that Paul warned against in Colossians 2:8: “Watch out that no one makes a captive of you through philosophy and empty deceit according to the traditions of other people, according to the basic ideas of the world, and not according to Christ.”  Rather, the authority for the believer is the Word of God, and it is sufficient to make a believer complete in godliness without any support from psychology and psychiatry: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).


The psychological orientation lacks the overriding motive of love to Christ as the emotional impetus to change.

Too much of what I’ve heard from psychologically based teaching does not rise above mere human selfishness as a motive to change. The goal too often does not seem to rise above the desire for me to feel good and for me to get what I want out of my life, marriage and family. There is too little mentioned on the scriptural motive to do all this stuff out of love for Christ for the glory of God: “The person who has my commands and keeps the is the one who loves me; and the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will manifest myself to him . . . If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. The person who does not love me will not keep my words, and the word you heard is not mine but that of the Father who sent me . . . In this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples” (John 14:21, 23-24, 15:8).


The psychological orientation lacks the personal responsibility to Jesus Christ as Lord as the reason for personal responsibility to change.

Again, the tendency of much teaching from the psychological orientation is to furnish material for resentment and blame-shifting in personal relationships. Often, when it hits the natural stubbornness of human nature, the recipient does not apply it to himself or herself, but to others – the focus is not to what I need to do but what someone else needs to do or needed to do. And so, this becomes often enough, picking at the speck in another’s eye: “Why do you say to your brother, ‘Let me pick out the speck in your eye, and, look, there is a plank in your own eye? Hypocrite, first pull out the plank in your own eye, and then you will see clearly to pull out the speck in the eye of your brother” (Matthew 7:4-5).

Ultimately, though, the personal responsibility is rather to Jesus Christ personally, and this will mean taking not a ‘you first’ but a ‘me now’ where there are matters that someone needs to address: “But we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ , so that each one of us may receive for the deeds done while in the body, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:10).


The psychological orientation lacks the power of the Holy Spirit as the purifying power for change.

Ultimately, the psychological orientation relies upon the power of the fallen human nature to change. This means that it falls into the self effort / human performance trap of Galatians 3:3: “When you began with the Spirit are you now to be made complete by the flesh [the direction and power of fallen human nature]?”: Rather, the need is to find and live in the power of the Spirit of God to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ in our thoughts, motives, intentions, words and deeds: “But we all, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18).

Advertisements

Something Unfashionable From an Unfashionable Old Evangelist . . .

“Listen, if I heard shrieks and cries coming from a house and I ran in there and I found a great big broad shouldered whiskey soaked Joe weasel, dragging his wife about by the hair, and over here, two children are unconscious from his blows and kicks and another one screaming in terror, do you think I would apologize for being there? No! I’d knock 7 kinds of pork out of that old hog.” —Billy Sunday

I recalled having read this quote many years ago, and it brought to mind that the memory that verbal and physical abuse of others was at one time more soundly confronted in the pulpits of churches and in evangelistic campaigns as a terrible sin. Certainly Billy Sunday is more a figure of caricature to the few believers nowadays who remember his name; his blunt preaching and physical dramatics tend to be the kind of thing that many preachers now may try to avoid. His personal war on alcohol seems quaint nowadays, but in context, it was also a war on family violence and verbal abuse as well. There’s also a well documented connection of family violence and abuse to alcohol abuse and alcoholism  in modern times, so Billy Sunday wasn’t all wrong in what he was seeing and what he was confronting, however unfashionable his style and emphasis may be now.

I’m not a prohibitionist on drinking alcohol, and I’m not advocating a return to  prohibitionist preaching or preaching on total abstinence. I’m totally unconvinced by the linguistic and historical arguments of some that wine in the Bible was actually grape juice. Rather, I’m showing that the avoidance of one unfashionable and probably unBiblical emphasis in preaching may have also meant neglecting another very Biblical emphasis in preaching for a very long time.

JESUS AND THE ABUSED: HIS SYMPATHY

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus understands suffering. The course of his trial and crucifixion shows that he knows by personal experience the depths of physical and verbal abuse by other human beings. Though he is the almighty Son of God, the reality of his human nature means that it was not any less painful for him. His pain and suffering not only paid the price for the sin of the world, though; his suffering also provides perfect insight into the nature, endurance and purpose of suffering.

Death by crucifixion was especially feared and disdained because death came only at the end of an extended process that was not only physically painful but also the ultimate violation of a person’s humanity and identity. This is why the crucifixion could be called the ultimate abuse. Because he endured all that without a single sinful thought or word, Jesus demonstrates to the believer the godly way to understand, accept and transcend his own suffering, since he is the ultimate example of a totally innocent person who suffered.

Those who have undergone abuse in some way — physical, verbal and emotional, even sexual — often have a hard time facing, understanding and transcending their experience of abuse. The believer in Christ, though, has someone who understands and has experienced the ultimate abuse himself, and can stand beside and help the believer to understand his or her experience, through his own experience on the cross. Moreover, the Lord Jesus can give more than the understanding of that experience; he can give perfect sympathy, comfort, a new life and meaning to that suffering which will mean good for others out of what may have seemed pointless pain.

Considering one’s suffering may be extremely difficult. Sometimes the memories can be very deeply buried, and even when the memories can more easily come to mind, they may provoke reactions such as denial which hinder the process of proper understanding and conquest. Sometimes well meaning fellow believers influenced by teachings on “healing of memories” or “healing of emotions” will take one through semi mystical or magical sessions of visualization or prayer aimed at emotional relief, and indeed there is some temporary relief, but the deep underlying patterns are not altered. Consideration of one’s suffering in the light of the suffering of Jesus, though, may enable one to face honestly and openly what one has suffered from others. It also would provide something more than mere emottional relief, but definite answers on the proper reactions to suffering as well as the sympathy of someone who has also suffered.

Scripture definitely enjoins consideration of one’s suffering alongside that of Jesus: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). Indeed, this may be one more reason why the gospels go into the account of Jesus’s suffering in more detail than any other period of his earthly life, so that suffering believers can find his sympathy and understanding of their suffering. This consideration of the suffering of Jesus with one’s own suffering, though, is not unwarranted psychologizing of scripture; it is an application of the scriptural pattern of the comparison of the sufferings of Jesus with those of his people.

The Lord Jesus has given the believer the promise of his spiritual companionship: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21). Before you begin the process of understanding your suffering by understanding his suffering first, reaffirm to the Lord your love for him and your commitment to demonstrate this through obedience to him. Ask him, as your best and closest friend, to be with you in this time, to speak to you through his Word, to guide, strengthen and comfort you as you share together in this time of special trust and spiritual intimacy. Jesus knows your experience, not just because he knows all things (John 20:17), but through his personal human experience in the time of his betrayal, trial, and crucifixion.


  • The suffering of Jesus came through the betrayal of a trusted friend:

The betrayal of the trust Jesus had placed in a friend led to his suffering. See Matthew 26:47-50, Mark 14:43-46, Luke 22:47-48, John 18:2-9. Judas Iscariot had lived with Jesus for three years as one of the trusted Twelve. Even during the Last Supper, when Jesus offered him a special morsel, it was an offer of lasting friendship and a silent appeal for him not to betray him. But when the betrayal came it was even through an act of false friendship — a kiss. Jesus thus knows what it is like to have been betrayed.

One of the characteristics of much abuse is that it comes often through those whom we had felt some reason to trust — a family member, a spouse, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or some other friend or neighbor. Write down the names of those whom you trusted who brought suffering upon you.Ask the Lord to give you his strength to forgive each one completely, for the breach of trust first of all, and then each aspect of your suffering.

Note also that Judas acted under direct Satanic instigation (Luke 22:3, John 13:2, 27). What Judas’s real motive was in the betrayal of Jesus was is not revealed, but the fact that he accepted a bribe for the betrayal suggests that it was at least partially greed. As the treasurer of the group, Judas pilfered from their funds, and this secret sin of stealing seems to have been how Satan gained access to his heart. Often the abusive and instigators of abuse share this same characteristic, that their actions come through demonic instigation, especially if their attacks are directed against believers in Christ. Jesus knows what it means for us to face the fiercest attacks of the enemy through human agents.

Satan does not seem to gain access to the hearts of abusers through greed, though. He finds his foothold in the desires and emotions of the fallen human nature which scripture calls the flesh. There are two specific ways that this seems to come about:

1. Through anger: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). The abusive many times are holding in a great store of resentment. This seething anger may erupt in violence against the innocent or in response to mere annoyance and irritation.

2. Through a desire for power over another person: ” . . . if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts . . . Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, carnal, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14-16). Abusers often have such a desire to control their circumstances that they will resort to extremes of deceit and violence even in their own families. Moreover, this explains why an abusive person can seem almost supernaturally cunning: his human nature furnishes the footholds for demonic influence. Like Judas, an abusive person can suffer severe pangs of conscience after the suffering of their victims becomes clear (Matthew 27:3-4). In the case of Judas, the remorse was so great as to drive him to suicide (Matthew 27:5). Abusers can go through suicidal depressions as well, but they may also seek to escape their consciences through drugs, alcohol, or sexual immorality. This is why an abuser can go through tremendous psychological and physical degeneration, and can become a confirmed addict, if he or she is not one already.

Another way an abuser may try to deal with his conscience is by attempting a reconciliation with his victims. The apologies and attempts to make it up can sometimes give their victims that they really are going to change, and arouse their compassion in a desire to “help” a person with such remorse. Unfortunately these change rarely last longer than the emotions which spawned the apologies. Genuine change shows itself in a deep repentance.


  • His closest friends abandoned Jesus during his time of suffering:

See Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50. All the disciples fled, although Peter and John later came to trail the mob who had apprehended Jesus. This then led to Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus when he was confronted with the fact. All those who had said they would not abandon him and even that they would die for him failed when put to the test.

Often in situations of abuse there are those with genuine affection but no courage or strength to stand alongside the abused. Many times those who fail us are also believers in Christ as well. Jesus’s friends failed him, too. He forgave them and later restored them to useful places of ministry. Write down the names of those friends who failed you. Tell Jesus that you want to forgive them as he forgave the apostles for their abandonment, and ask him for his strength to do so. Ask him also to work it out that the relationship can be restored to stronger, more affectionate and more mutually helpful than it was before.


  • Jesus’s suffering came through injustice from the authorities:

See John 18:13-24, where Jesus, in his preliminary hearing before Annas, the “retired” but probably de facto, high priest, was struck illegally for an allegedly disrespecful answer to a question probably meant to induce him to incriminate himself. Jesus then pointed out the injustice of this treatment.

In his actual trial before the Jewish ruling authorities, Jesus faced:

  • beatings and mockings before the trial and afterwards from the Jewish Temple guards
  • an trial held at an illegal time (before dawn)
  • the acceptance of false testimony by the authorities without any cross examination
  • condemnation to death upon a direct question from the high priest, who was to remain neutral as he presided

From his trial before the Jewish ruling council Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, for the confirmation of the death sentence. Here he faced:

  • further beating and mocking from Roman guards
  • further false accusations
  • the preference of a murderer to himself
  • three separate acquittals by the governor before the death sentence was imposed

Many times an abusive situation includes injustice from the civil and religious authorities, either in failure to enforce civil and spiritual sanctions or actual collusion with the abuser. Those who were to uphold the civil law and the Word of God do not always do so. This means that the victim of abuse often can have great difficulties in trust and cooperation with legitimate spiritual and civil authorities, even those who are genuinely trustworthy and ready to help, because the others have shown themselves untrustworthy, uncooperative or even hostile; in short, unjust.

Write down the times of injustice that you have experienced, and the names of those who were responsible. Tell Jesus that you forgive them, as you trust him for the strength to do so and to make it stick. Ask him also to enable you to have a scriptural view on the civil, spiritual and family authorities that God has established in this world, so that you will not be brought into sinful rebellion against the just and conscientious in reaction to the unjust, uncooperative and hostile. (Family authorities need to be included also, because sometimes abuse comes from them also, and general infiltration of an underlying attitude of rejection of authority can disrupt family life also.)


  • Jesus’s suffering meant intense physical pain and physical helplessness:

By the time Jesus had been sentenced to crucifixion, he had already endured beatings from the Jewish Temple guards, the guards of Herod Antipas, and the Roman guards of Pilate. There was normally also a preliminary whipping with a cat o’ nine tails (Matthew 27:26, John 19:1), after which Pilate still tried to have Jesus released. The purpose of the whipping was to weaken the condemned sufficiently that death would come more quickly on the cross.

After the whipping the actual crucifixion began (Matthew 27:33-35, Mark 15:22-24, Luke 23:33 John 19:17-18). Jesus was then fixed to the cross, in a place of utter physical helplessness, by large iron nails, as big and thick as a railroad spike, through his hands and his feet. His reaction was the prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”(Luke 23:34).

Those who have endured physical abuse not only have the painful awareness of the violence upon them but often a sense of shame at their physical powerlessness to retaliate. Jesus also knows what it means to have violent blows assail his body. He knows the sense of physical helplessness before those who are inflicting such pain upon him. His reaction was not retaliation, though, but forgiveness from the heart.


  • Jesus’s suffering included sexual shame:

Jesus was forcibly stripped of all his clothes and nailed to the cross entirely naked before the crowds of onlookers (Matthew 27:35, Mark 16:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24). The depictions of the crucifixion have usually left this out by portraying him with a loincloth, and the gospels respectfully do not dwell on this, because it was a well known part of crucifixion. This would have been a tremendous violation of Jesus’s modesty: a Jewish man would have felt an unspeakable shame at this exposure before the crowds.

Many times abuse also includes the violation of sexual modesty and sexual consent. Jesus has a sense of what you have felt in his own human experience, if you have been abused in this manner. Often this violation can lead to unscriptural and dysfunctional attitudes toward sex and marriage itself, as a reaction to the shame and revulsion of this experience. The sexually abused can become either unscripturally immoral or unscripturally inhibited. The solution will then be found in careful understanding and acceptance of the scriptural teaching on romantic love, sex and marriage as the path to sexual sanity.


  • Jesus’ suffering included intense verbal abuse:

Verbal abuse was a constant part of the suffering of Jesus. All that he knew to be true of himself was constantly held up to derision (See Matthew 27:38-43, Mark 15:27-32, Luke 23:35-38, for the verbal abuse that occure while he was on the cross itself). His emotional reaction to all the verbal abuse that he suffered is not recorded, but it is clear that he did not return one hostile or derisive word to all that was offered to him. Jesus knows how it feels to be treated with such disdain, ridicule, and scorn.

In modern America there is a children’s saying that is manifestly untrue:

“Stick and stones may break my bones,
But words will never hurt me!”

Sometimes those who suffer verbal abuse are heaped with an additional shame and derision for the pain that they suffer, as if it means that they are somehow weak people. There is such a thing as oversensitivity, but it often is more on the part of the verbally abusive than the victim. The verbally abusive often blame their victims in this way for the pain that they inflict, as part of the whole pattern of disdain for another human being that underlies their form of abuse.

The Scriptures recognize the real pain that scorn, mocking, and insults inflict upon a person. In the Psalms the effects are often described:

1. Emotionally: shame, heartbreak, loneliness and discouragement:

“You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.”
(Psalm 69:19-20, a Messianic Psalm)

2. Physically: loss of energy, loss of appetite, loss of weight, insomnia: Psalm 31:10, 102:4-9

3. Shyness:

“I said, ‘ . . . I will put a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked are in my presence'”
But when I was silent and still,
not even saying anything good,
my anguish increased.
(Psalm 39:1).

Shyness has been called a reactive sin; it is a pattern of learned silence and lack of assertion in response to the stifling verbal abuse of others. It can be termed a sin inasmuch as it masks resentment and hinders Christlike love and assertive righteousness.

Chronically shy people are often those who have been in an atmosphere of constant ridicule and verbal hostility. Shyness is neither a lasting nor uncommon characteristic; almost everyone is shy at some point in their adolescent or adult lives, and most do grow out of it, though it may be suspected that the most severely verbally and emotionally abused remain the most shy througout their adult lives. Unfortunately, some of the shy become verbally abusive themselves because they have never learned to express themselves courteously and respectfully to others

Often the chronically shy have been treated in such a way that they have little experience in receiving and giving positive, upbuilding communication such as in Ephesians 4:15 ( “. . . speaking the truth in love . . . “) and 4:29. There is a real ministry of the body of Christian modelling and encouraging Christlike assertion and loving communication from the shy.

One of the reasons why the verbal abuse could not have affected Jesus deeply was that it was contrary to the truth about himself that he knew from the Word of God. Likewise you can find strength against verbal abuse in what the Word of God says about you. Write down some of the ways in which you have been verbally abused. Contrast what God’s Word says to be true of you in Christ to the denigration you have received from others. Read through the book of Ephesians and write down what God says that you are in Christ.


  • Jesus had to make arrangements for the care of his family members because of his suffering:

During his suffering Jesus took care to entrust his family responsibility as the eldest son to someone else when he assigned the care of his mother to the apostle John (John 19: 26-27). He knew that he would no longer be able to carry out his human family responsibilities any longer; first, because of his suffering and imminent death, but later because of his resurrection and ascension. He knows what that physical separation from family feels like.

Sometimes an abusive situation requires separation from family members for one reason or another. Write down those from whom you have been separated. Commit each one to the care of God first of all. Write down what measures you can take to ask others in the body of Christ to care for them.


  • Jesus experienced the ultimate loneliness during his suffering:

Jesus faced the abandonment or helplessness of all his friends in the course of his trial and crucifixion, and finally even God the Father seemed far away: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). Thus Jesus knows how it feels not to have a sense of the presence of God in the moment of deepest suffering.

Jesus’s sense of separation from God the Father was due to his bearing the wrath of God for the sins of the world, but even so he knew that he was not truly abandoned by the Father. As he anticipated his suffering the next day, he told the apostles, “You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32). In his last breaths, in his expression of trust in the Father despite this sense of separation, he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). This demonstrates that the feelings of separation or abandonment may not reflect a true breach of fellowship with God.

Many believers have testified to an unusual sense of the presence of God during suffering; others have also said that they have felt abandoned by God during that time. Sometimes believers develop a bitterness against God because of this sense of emotional abandonment. The truth is that God is there and that he cares regardless of the emotional sense of his presence during that time of suffering. ” . . . God has said,

‘Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

(Hebrews 13:5)

The reality of God’s presence and care cannot be restricted to a human emotional phenomenon nor to the vicissitudes of human circumstances, but comes from the declaration of his Word of his care and presence regardless of human emotion or circumstances. Realize that God was there during the time of your deepest suffering, and that he cared when you experienced your most difficult pain. Thank him for that, and for the truth that he will always be there for you in the present and the future, because he has promised just that.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Church Detox Installment 4: Deal Forthrightly with the Hidden Abuse in the Modern Church

Over the years, I’ve become convinced that there is hidden violence and abuse among the men and women who attend our churches. Often we begin to hear about what takes place in counselling rooms, divorce proceedings, and sometimes even murder investigations. After September 11, as I was reading my Bible, what God actually had to say about violence and abuse seemed to leap out at me more. I was also surprised at how little I had heard about the sinfulness of verbal, emotional and physical abuse in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church over the many years I’ve been a part of the church. I also became ashamed of how many sermons I myself had preached that had not mentioned these kinds of sins. Here are the thoughts that came to me on what seem to be the scriptural responsibilities of the church to deal with this often hidden behavior.

  • Set forth the scriptural teaching about violence and abuse in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church, and call for clear repentance. The most powerful prevention of violence and abuse among professing Christians is for hearts to be cleansed of violent and abusive tendencies through the power of Christ.

  • Make it clear that abuse is not restricted to physical violence but also includes verbal and emotional abuse (ridicule and scorn), the denigration aimed to control or crush the intended victim totally.

  • Make the church a safe place for repentant abusers, and an uncomfortable place for the stubbornly unrepentant.

  • Make clear the resources of the church which are available to help repentant abusers.

  • Deal with bullying of others in the programs for children and youth; abusive adults often start out as bullying children and adolescents.

  • Make the danger signs of a potentially or actually abusive person clear, and incorporate them in youth, college and singles teaching and premarital counselling. The church can prevent many potentially or actually abusive relationships by making it clear what constitutes this kind of person and relationship in the earliest stages.

  • Make it clear that a workplace or other family situation can be an abusive situation as well as a marital or dating relationship.

  • Avoid anything that blames the victims or targets of abuse for their situation. Not all are always 100% innocent, but it is true that many, if not most, do absolutely nothing to bring the abuse upon themselves. Rather, they most often are dealing with an angry, hateful and violent person.

  • Avoid giving the expectation that it is the will of God for a person to remain in an abusive situation. God hates violence as well as divorce.

  • Develop a church policy with the board of elders for church discipline of unrepentant abusers and for the restoration of repentant abusers.

  • Develop a denominational policy for church discipline of unrepentant abusers and for the restoration of repentant abusers among pastors and other church leaders. Titus 1:7 makes it clear that violence, quick temper and domineering, aggressive ways of dealing with others are a disqualification for a position which involves elder authority.

Here are the steps that I would set forth for someone as the way to become a Former Bully and Abuser.

  • Understand that you will stand before God and answer for every word and action in your life.
  • Understand that no religious activity, claims of good intentions or temporary shows of nice and charming behavior will ever make up for your destructive behavior or stubborn, violent and unrepentant heart.

  • Understand that the profession of Jesus Christ as Savior carries with it the obligation to follow Christ as Lord in thought, intention and deed.

  • Abandon any obsessions that you can control yourself and others by your own cleverness, cunning, deceit, strength or persistence or any permissions you have given yourself or rights you have claimed for yourself to control others by deceit and violence.

  • Abandon your longstanding grudges, wicked schemes and personal vendettas against those who have avoided, resisted or exposed your attempts at control and personal sabotage, and release others from your unreasonable expectations.

  • Abandon verbal abuse and manipulation, emotional abuse and manipulation, and physical violence as any way to achieve your ambitions and desires.

  • Take personal responsibility for the pain and destruction you have caused to others through your wicked schemes, verbal abuse and manipulation, emotional abuse and manipulation, and physical violence.

  • Demonstrate truthfulness and trustworthiness rather than demanding trust and making false claims of truthfulness and good intentions.

  • Look at yourself with a new and scriptural view of yourself as a sinner who has fallen short of the glory of God with no special privileges before God or man.

  • Take up a new way of Christlike humility and servanthood, and place no obstacles in the way of anyone else seeking to follow Christ.

  • Take up a new way of peacemaking rather than instigation.

  • Take up legitimate scriptural goals and ambitions.

  • Seek to fulfill your legitimate scriptural goals and ambitions through personal skill, diligence and effort with prayerful reliance on God.

“He who covers his sins shall not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them shall find forgiveness” (Proverbs 29:13).

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.