20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen. 21 And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also. (1 John 4)
To begin with, a man’s actions mark him out. They characterise him, they qualify him and they prove his allegiances and his God. In the case of a Christian, love is what proves us. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).
If we love God at all, it is because He loved us first. It follows then that if we have God’s love in us we would automatically love God’s people over and above even our own unsaved family. Because our love FOR God is actually the love OF God himself. But how is love proven? It is very simple. God sacrificed himself to bring us again to himself, His love lead inevitably to the willingness to die in order to restore His people. So it follows that a loving Christian parent nurtures their child. A loving Christian sibling values, approves and respects their siblings. A loving Christian pastor protects, supports (materially and spiritually) and teaches his flock. A loving Christian marriage partner lays their lives down for the other. True love is both felt and seen and it involves actively caring for and fellowshipping with the other. Chronic abuse of other Christians proves not love but hate.
The conclusion I have come to is that even a true Christian can develop really bad habits, but they prove their genuine faith by responding to the love of God and repenting of their ways when they are confronted with their sin. Anyone who says he has no sin and that the person who accuses them must be the sinner is not an authentic born-again Christian. They have not the love of God within them, because they prove by their refusal to humble themselves and their hard-heartedness that they are lost. They need prayer, they need to hear the genuine gospel and they need to be born from above.
When Christian people you trust and love prove themselves untrustworthy and capable of betrayal, a Christian’s worldview is shaken. When that same Christian attempts to reason with the person who has betrayed them and finds that the betrayer does not want to either admit to or apologise for (or make fake apologies for) what they have done, the Christian becomes distressed and upset. When their betrayer then turns around and expects them to forgive them and forget what happened and pretend it never happened, the pain of this becomes too much to bear. Many questions swirl around a Christian’s head, not the least being ‘was the betrayer actually a Christian to begin with?’ . It is a fair question.
I would first of all suggest that we demarcate the differences between ‘offenses’ which the scriptures help us to deal with (Matthew 18 is a good example) and ‘abuse’ which is more about character disorder and chronic offense often not just with one person but with many. In the case of a church elder or leader who has abused many in the congregation and has refused time and time again to either acknowledge or repent of their sins against others and at the same time expects their congregation to remain silent about what happened and never even mention it to others, then you have all the elements of a reprobate. No Christian who loves God and God’s family will abuse in this way.
Some may have developed a carnal lifestyle because of lack of genuine teaching and a failure to mature and act out of ignorance. But all genuine believers, because of the presence of the conviction of the Holy Spirit are able to a) recognise sin and b) repent of it out of the understanding that sin separates and confession and forgiveness reconciles. It might take some discussion with mature believers who can help the offender recognise that their actions and beliefs are irreconcilable with scripture, but it is possible to bring people like this to their senses.
It’s those who steadfastly maintain, over time, that they are faultless in the face of not one but many accusations of abuse that we must call out, accuse of their sins in public and hope that they will eventually come to a place of crying out to God. It is a terrible thing but there are people who identify as Christians who will never cry out to God in repentance or even acknowledge to themselves that their actions are not just sinful but in many cases criminal. I am not just talking about rapists, child molesters and serial adulterers. There are many in churches today who repeatedly indulge sexual sins of all types. There are many in churches today who think it is their right to control and manipulate other Christians. There are many who cover over their sins, persuade others to cover for them and ensnare weak minded and immature believers. Chronic abusers are not just damaging themselves, they are damaging the body of Christ.
Jesus and Paul had a lot to say about the ‘weaker brother’. Paul even went so far as to say he would rather become a vegetarian if eating meat caused a weaker brother to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:13) This is a rather dramatic statement. Yet how many Christian leaders today have this level of humility, this level of self-sacrifice to their church members? Very few. But its not just church leaders who fail in this. Church members, ordinary Christians who run businesses or act as ‘counsellors’ or teach Sunday School or influence other church members in some way can be guilty of reprobate behaviour. In short they are hating their brothers and sisters by treating them as lesser beings or beings whose lives don’t even register. Hurting fellow Christians can take on the characteristics of kicking a dog or stepping on an insect. These people may believe that Jesus Christ is their Saviour, but how can these people claim to be loving others when they are acting like this?
This issue is not a delicate one. It is not enough to simply excuse the pastor because ‘it has nothing to do with me’. It is not enough to turn the other cheek when chronic abuse is happening. Scripture tells us that every fact should be verified by the witness of the two or three. If anyone is to bring an accusation against an elder there should be again a witness to the fact. In the case of Brisbane Christian Fellowship, the witnesses number two or three hundred at least, and I would suggest even two or three thousand by this date. The same applies to individuals who are not leaders. But what happens when that fact is established beyond reasonable doubt? The answer is not just to hope that it all goes away and never speak of it again. I propose that the answer is to keep speaking about it until the abuser repents and acknowledges that their actions have damaged lives. If it means that the accusations have to go public, then it is necessary.
Two thousand years ago, you could ‘take it to the church’ as Jesus mentions in Matthew 18 if the accused will not repent. In today’s culture, when it is the church who encourages and protects abusers, we take it to the wider Christian body. Even in the face of malicious charges of ‘just being bitter’, or ‘not dealing with it privately’ it is necessary to speak up, and keep speaking up. Why is this necessary? To annoy the abuser? NO, because of love.
How can ‘airing your dirty linen’ be a loving act? Because the pain of betrayal means that the betrayed need the offense, the sin of abuse to be brought out into the open in order that the deeds done in darkness will be brought to the light. Only then can the relationship hope to be mended, and only then can the abuser hope to be changed into Christlikeness. Most chronic abusers don’t want to deal with this. But it is their only hope. The reason they became chronic abusers in the first place is because their actions were not dealt with properly after the first time they offended in this way. They need restoration, renewal and transformation, and only God can do that for them.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1)
When the betrayer confesses, recognises the pain and destruction to the relationship and willingly concedes the need to repair the damage, there can once again be true fellowship. Christians who see no need to either confess or repent of sins against relationship do not value relationship. This is why it is neither helpful nor scriptural to insist that a woman who is being physically abused by her husband should ‘submit’. A woman in this situation needs help, and there needs to be distance between her and her husband and she needs to protect her children if necessary. The only way that marriage can mend is if the abuser changes, and that can be a wife or husband. The only way that they can change is if it is made abundantly clear that other christians around them will not tolerate them in their midst if they keep abusing.
A loving Christian does not deliberately offend others, does not abuse when confronted with their sins, does not incite abuse by others against the one they offended. Again, a chronic abuser who does all of these things does not have the right to be called an authentic Christian by the church. We MUST have, not a standard of behaviour, but a recognition that actions are determined by choices and choices by faith. Our love for God and His people will cause us to make every effort to bring the abuser to repentance even if it means turning them out of the church. If every Christian takes a zero tolerance approach to abuse in their own lives, we will all be doing each other a great favour. But love needs must be extended to those who abuse. And loving the abuser means making extremely painful decisions and being willing to follow through on them.