Condemned or Redeemed?

This past week, I was reminded anew how arrogantly self-righteous and legalistic church leaders can be in dealing with situations of abuse.

Persistent Widow, at A Cry for Justice, has been posting her story of escape from abuse and her church’s incredibly harsh and obtuse response.  Her story is truly heart-breaking.  Even more telling are the many comments by other abuse targets relating similar experiences at other churches.

A substantial number of church leaders operate under an unbiblical false belief that divorce for abuse is sin…and although divorce counts as sin somehow it doesn’t count for dissolving the marital union…that even after divorce the abuse target is somehow still joined in unholy matrimony to the abuser and still accountable to the marriage vows.

Some, such as John Piper and Voddie Baucham, hold what they proudly term a ‘permanence view’ of marriage, by which they mean marriage is permanent no matter what. By their judgment, no matter how egregiously a spouse may unrepentantly violate the sacred covenant vows the innocent partner is condemned to continue living in covenant relationship with their evil abuser.  If they should escape the marriage through divorce, they cannot be forgiven and accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven unless they first confess the sin of divorce and return to intimate relationship with their abuser.  By the pronouncement of these men and others with similar views, covenant is permanent, and there is no escape from a covenant with evil.

More commonly, others allow that divorce is ‘permitted’ for specific narrowly defined situations such as adultery or desertion, but is ‘forbidden’ for any other situation, such as abuse.

Frankly, these rigid legalistic approaches to scriptural interpretation have much more in common with Pharisaical theology than with the grace and truth presented by Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Deliverer.

In Matthew 7, Jesus begins a discourse in which He openly condemns false judges, making it clear that we will be judged by the same standard we use in judging other’s situations.

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

Jesus goes on to specifically warn against false teachers, saying we will know them by their fruits. They are not known by their brilliantly delivered arguments or oratorical skills, but rather by their fruits.  Do they demonstrate compassion, justice and mercy in how they advise others, or do they (like the Pharisees) hold people to unbearably difficult standards with no regard to their wellbeing?

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-16)

Finally, Jesus sums up the discourse with a dire warning that many who claim to know Christ will be turned away on that great and final day.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

In light of Christ’s words in this passage, I have a question for those who actively counsel victims of abuse to remain married to their abuser, telling them covenant is an indissoluble union no matter how egregiously the sacred vows have been violated.

What will be your plea or defense on that final day?

When Satan, the accuser, makes his case that you belong to him…that you are a subject of the kingdom of darkness…heir of Adam’s sin covenant which you have confirmed with your own sinful actions and attitudes…when Satan says that covenant is an indissoluble union using your own words and teachings as evidence…how will you plead?

I know my Redeemer! I know the covenants He has redeemed me from, causing them to be dissolved on my behalf.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

But you who claim there is no such thing as dissolution of covenant…that there is no escape from a relationship with evil…how will you plead? How will you escape the judgment?

Therefore thus says the Lord God,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,
A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

“I will make justice the measuring line
And righteousness the level;
Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies
And the waters will overflow the secret place.

“Your covenant with death will be canceled,
And your pact with Sheol will not stand;
When the overwhelming scourge passes through,
Then you become its trampling place. (Isaiah 28:16-18)

When you are judged by your own standard that covenant is indissoluble and a pact with evil can never be escaped…how will you escape the judgment? When the kingdom of darkness is cast into the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels, how will you escape sharing their fate, with your own testimony declaring your allegiance to that dark kingdom to be indissoluble?

If covenant is indissoluble, there can be no redemption. Without redemption, there is no escape from judgment. Click To Tweet

How will you escape judgment?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life ]


17 thoughts on “Condemned or Redeemed?

  1. What so angers me about this whole premise put forth by far too many so-called Christian churches and the So-called Christians within them, is that God’s hatred of divorce is the same as saying that God views divorce as sinful. Such crapola!

    God hates divorce because of the hardness of, at least, one heart that precipitates it. He hates divorces because that hardeness of heart ushers in relational, emotional, and spiritual demise. He hates it because of the destruction of spirit that is the end result; for each man, woman, and child involved.

    God is, has always been, and will always be about RELATIONSHIP; His relationship to His creation, most especially, mankind. Divorce is not the sin in marital discord, it is the ultimate result of the complete breakdown of the
    relationship. And this breakdown only nedds ONE person to make it inevitable.

    If God, Himself, in all His Glory and Omnipotence cannot, will not make a person choose rightly, what makes the local church believe that a spiritually broken, physically battered, emotionally bereft spouse can make their abusive spouse choose righteousness, or make their relationship prosper in the barren wasteland of their marital desert? That church puts itself and its views and requirements above The Great I Am!

    • Yes! I agree 100%, CeeKay!

      Not even God, Himself, will violate human free will to force an abuser to repent. Why would anyone place that responsibility on an abused spouse? It’s crazy…and very unbiblical.

      And I expect God is also angered by the twisting of His Word to mean something opposite of what He said. Malachi 2 is a very clear pronouncement condemning treachery against a covenant partner…condemning abusers. Yet, people have plucked three words from one verse in the chapter and rearrainged them to form the popular phrase “God hates divorce” used to enslave victims of abuse to their abusers…the exact opposite of what God was saying through Malachi in this passage.

      God hates treachery! God loves redemption! And biblical redemption always includes just divorce…the just dissolution of a covenant by which someone or something belonging to God is held in bondage.

      Thank you CeeKay, for this strong exhortation!
      joe recently posted…Condemned or Redeemed?My Profile

  2. I’ve read through The Persistent Widow’s series, and I think there’s one sentence that sums up the church’s behaviour beautifully…it’s in part 5, and taken from the Peacemaker Ministries Marriage and Family Conflicts Q&A page –

    “If your pastor is inexperienced in dealing with domestic violence, encourage him to read the CCEF booklet on Domestic Abuse”.

    Yep. Read a pamphlet, and you’re qualified.

    This is emblematic of one of the most egregious failings in the church, the thought that pastoral (or elder) ‘status’, implying a knowledge of Scripture and doctrine, confers expertise in all things, requiring only the application of the appropriate verse.

    Opening a ‘mediation’ session with the story of Jesus raising Lazarus? Seriously? I can see the intention, but it’s a kind of heavy-handed pressure that mediation…which is NOT indicated in abuse, cases, as TPW pointed out…simply doesn’t need.

    And the statement by the CEO of Peacemaker Ministries, that he’s unconvinced that divorce is necessary in cases of abuse, is simply beyond the pale. A “sacrificial and loving spirit” offered to an abuser is simply an invitation for more, and more severe abuse.

    This is what drives people away from Christianity. Not necessarily from Christ…but they see Christ, as it were, being divorced by the church as it turns back to the arms of the Pharisees. Legalism and an intolerance for criticism of church authorities – because they are ‘anointed’ – has become the norm in many evangelical churches. (Interestingly, the Catholic church has been backing away from this position)

    Another issue that plays in this case, and in the evolution of doctrine as a whole, is the use of some really weird logic.

    Case in point – I watched a popular TV pastor speaking with a guest (with whom he had co-authored a book) on the subject of same-sex marriage.

    The guest said that marriage was designed by God to bring life, and by definition could only be between a man and a woman, and that a marriage that did not bring life brought death by default.

    Uh…only in a binary world. And my wife could not HAVE children at all when we married. Are we therefore bringing ‘death’?

    That sort of thing, a kind of zero-tolerance interpretation of Scripture…my way is right, and you’re going to hell if you don’t agree…in completely antithetical to Jesus’ teachings, to the Gospel message, and is inconsistent with the epistles of the New Testament.

    And yet, it’s exactly what The Persistent Widow faced through her ordeal. It’s what so many churches hold today…I guess because it’s easier that having to think.

    Shameful. The whole thing’s a slap in the face to Jesus.
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser recently posted…Open-Heart Marriage {Five Minute Friday}My Profile

    • Andrew, I ccompletely agree!

      What the Persistent Widow faced is a travesty and an affront to Christ and the Christian faith.

      When Christian leaders perceive the Christian faith as more about the legalistic keeping of external rules than about love, grace, justice, mercy, redemption and deliverance, something has gone dreadfully wrong.

      This was, in fact, Christ’s primary point in His many pronouncements against the scribes and Pharisees.
      joe recently posted…Condemned or Redeemed?My Profile

  3. I have read all of what PW has written so far and it is heartbreaking. I only went to a pastor once and was told that “we” just need to get him saved. Since, I do not have that ability and will not take another’s sins upon myself (having plenty of my own to deal with), it took a while but I finally divorced and let everyone else deal with it. I have had the “God Hates Divorce” cliché said frequently. I don’t even try to refute it, I just move on. If they have a problem with my marital status, it is not my problem. PW did everything that she thought was Biblically correct and wound up with zero help from her church and a large bill for counseling. What a ripoff.

    • “We just need to get him saved.”

      What a useless response to abuse…as though you were not already fully aware of your abusive husband’s need for the transforming power of Christ…and as though you and/or the pastor somehow had the power to make that happen…

      Brenda, I love your statement, “If they have a problem with my marital status, it is not my problem.”

      Exactly right! When we have God’s love, acceptance and approval, nobody else’s opinion really matters much.

      Blessings to you!
      joe recently posted…Condemned or Redeemed?My Profile

  4. Thanks,Joe, for your faithful view of a compassionate God. No one can outdo him in any good quality, yet so often we paint him to be more harsh and ridiculous than even we are capable of being. Thanks also for your consistent encouragement that we too emulate God in his compassion in the ways we treat each other. Blessings to you, brother.
    Lisa notes… recently posted…Why do you blog?My Profile

  5. I’ve also had the response of “getting the husband saved” … He knows the Scriptures very well and has ‘chosen’ to not be saved.
    “God hates divorce” … I’ve had it all thrown at me; no wonder I don’t feel that I can truly worship the Lord in the so-called ‘c’hurches that judge me for not entering in.

    • Yes…so many in the church have such a distorted view of marriage and divorce. They buy into the popular divorce mythology, then try to force every situation to fit their false paradigm.

      I am so sorry, HIH, for all you suffered. I am so thankful you are able to discern the difference between Christ’s love and the grossly erroneous teaching found too commonly in the church that bears His name.

      Praying for you this morning, that God will continue to encourage and lead you!
      joe recently posted…Condemned or Redeemed?My Profile

      • Thank you for praying, Joe. The Lord receives all the glory for leading me into discernment. For years I knew “something” was wrong within the marriage and how the ‘c’hurches were not there for me and obviously others. After countless years of seeking counseling via locally, abroad and finally the internet the Lord allowed me to “stumble” upon A CRY FOR JUSTICE blog. I read for several months and almost stopped because what they were saying was going against what was so engrained in me concerning the ‘permanence view’ of marriage. I hung on and eventually tearfully once again realized just how mentally and physically exhausted I was becoming in this battle.
        I’m still “here” as a roommate, however, the legal papers are being finalized. I must confess to being fearful as after a very long term marriage I am not used to making decisions and find myself still very tired and overwhelmed at the thoughts of ‘moving out’.
        I apologize for rambling. Thank you for your ministry in this blog – I became familiar with your writing via ACFJ.

        • Yes…all the glory belongs to God!

          He is so faithful in leading us through deliverance from poor teaching.

          I am so glad you found ACFJ (a wonderful ministry!) and persevered in reading their blog.

          I, too, once accepted the popular ‘divorce mythology’ as truth, based on what I had been taught as a child. It took experiencing divorce, myself, for God to lead me past those myths.

          Blessings to you, HIH!
          joe recently posted…Condemned or Redeemed?My Profile

  6. As usual, Joe, you’ve “wowed” me with your theological expertise and dividing of truth for us. I agree that it is wrong to hold people who are in abusive marriages to a covenant that was meant to protect and not confine or destroy. I think the Old Testament takes seriously the offenses of abuse and especially abuse that ends in death. There are strict Levitical rules for handling people like that in relation to their punishment for those sins. Why would we think these kinds of sins would be passed over as unimportant or as not justifying a separation from that kind of person, when a threat is present?

    I do like John Piper, although I don’t know as much about his beliefs and writings as I probably should. If what you are saying is true, then you’re asserting that John Piper believes in “falling from grace” by the act of divorcing one’s spouse for reasons not clearly defined in the scriptures, correct? That’s something I clearly do not believe! I believe that as a believer my standing in Christ is protected by His blood and not by my breaking of the covenant with Him or with my spouse. That, of course, does not give me license to sin, but it does remind me of His work and not my “works” or “sins” in this world.

    I also really like the way you’ve reminded us that God has broken our slavery and covenant with darkness. We have been freed from the hold Satan once had on our lives through the victory won by Christ as we trust in Him. Great thoughts, my friend!
    Beth recently posted…The Unplugged Spouse {WW Linkup}My Profile

    • On the topic of marriage and divorce, John Piper is very clear in his stance that divorce is always sin…no exceptions. No matter how egregiously the marriage vows have been violated…adultery, abandonment, physical violence, psychological warfare, torture, rape, murder, satanic worship…none of that matters in regard to Piper’s view of the permanence of marriage. He sees marriage as being for life, no matter what, no exceptions, no excuses, no innocent parties.

      From Piper’s perspective, someone who has divorced their spouse (or whose spouse has divorced them) and is living a chaste single life is living in sin. Not only does the divorce count as sin, but it also does not count to end the marriage. Piper sees them as still married and living in sin by living separately.

      In his book, “What Jesus Demands from the World,” in the chapter on divorce, Piper addresses the question “Is divorce the unforgivable sin?” with these words:

      “The only unforgivable sin is the sin we refuse to confess and forsake. We commit unforgivable sin when we cleave to a sin so long and so tenaciously that we can no longer confess it as sin and turn from it.”

      He then goes on to say, “Neither divorce nor remarriage is in itself the unforgivable sin…” “…The issue is, do they admit that what they did was sin? Do they renounce it? And do they do what they can in order to make it right if possible?”

      The clear implication is that, in Piper’s view, someone who has divorced an abusive spouse is living in sin and if they want that sin to be forgiven they must first confess it as sin and seek to reconcile with their abuser…”do what they can in order to make it right if possible”.

      However, even if reconcilation is not possible, and even if their former spouse has remarried, in Piper’s view they still cannot marry someone else, because they are still bound by the original marriage vows ‘until death.’

      Interestingly, if they quickly married someone else, they would get a sort of free pass. In Piper’s view, they would still have to confess that both the divorce and the second marriage were horrible sins, but they should remain in the second marriage rather than compound their sin by divorcing again. I guess it’s best to get all the sin out of the way quickly before confessing it???!!!

      How unforgivable sin figures into one’s status as ‘saved’ versus ‘unsaved’ is less clear to me in trying to understand Piper’s theology. He does not seem to make as clear a distinction as most Christians and uses common Christian terms in unusual ways, making it hard to pin down exactly what he means. As best I can understand (and it gives me a headache trying to understand) Piper sees the believer’s position in this life as a sort of probation status looking forward to a time of ‘future grace.’ He would probably not say unconfessed sin is a ‘fall from grace,’ but would probably say unconfessed sin is evidence of a lack of faith which would prevent the person from entering into that ‘future grace’…would prevent their entering Heaven.

      Although Piper never specifically states it this way, to me (and I think to most people who read his books on the topic of divorce) the logical conclusion and clear implication of Piper’s reasoning is that (as a general rule) divorced people do not go to Heaven.

      I am very glad that Piper’s opinion does not influence God’s heart of love and redemption!

      Thank you, Beth! I appreciate your thought-provoking comments and your encouragement.

  7. I grew up a child of divorce in the late 60s – and the church provided no path back to God, regardless of whether one parent walked out or not. It has been wonderful watching my mom’s relationship with God grow (starting at age 65) – learning God loved her, hadn’t cast her aside, too.

    • What a horrible consequence of divorce…on top of all the sorrow and pain inherent in the divorce process to also lose one’s church family and to believe one has lost forever their relationship wiith God.

      And what a glorious truth, to learn that God loves us!

      Thank you, BCM, for sharing this!
      joe recently posted…That DressMy Profile

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