I have become increasingly concerned as I have lamented the failure of ministries to protect their members from the sexual predators and perpetrators of domestic violence in our society that I may appear to be disillusioned with Christ’s church. Although I have grieved over the church’s failures, I have fought to keep from getting cynical over them by keeping focused upon Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. As I am fond of saying, “ God has His Ways and Means Committee, He means to have His way!” And He will, in spite of our failures or the failure of His church!
Because of this I have taken great pleasure in being able to give a couple of testimonies the past few months of churches who have aggressively attacked the epidemic of abuse in our society. I must confess to having even greater pleasure in this month’s article, for it involves my home church, Kempsville Presbyterian Church of Virginia Beach.
We have been deeply blessed with a new pastor this year, Pastor Nate Atwood. On July the 11th he preached a message titled The Sacred Assembly. Space constraints in this newsletter prevent me from addressing the sermon in its entirety, but one segment of it inspired great hope for victims and survivors of abuse in our church. Pastor Nate proclaimed that perpetrators of domestic violence would be subject to church discipline. Obviously this would only be effective when the perpetrator has a deep commitment to his church or to Christ, but abuse does occur in deeply religious families.
What is church discipline? It is outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, have gained a brother. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
What it boils down to is this; Pastor Nate will privately call perpetrators of domestic violence to repentance. At the same time all the resources of the church will be offered to the perpetrator and his family in order to break the cycle of abuse that has engulfed their lives.
If said call to repentance is ignored, it will be tendered again, this time by Pastor Nate and some of the elders. If this proves ineffective, it will be brought up before the entire church, and it will ultimately end with his excommunication if he refuses to get help to overcome this stronghold of abuse in his life.
I couldn’t believe my ears! I wanted to stand up and applaud!!!
The purpose of church discipline is not exposure, it’s restoration. It is humiliating to have your sin of abuse exposed. Our word humiliate comes from the word humble, and God gives grace to the humble (See I Peter 5:5). It requires God’s grace to overcome satanic strongholds of abuse in your life.
Pastor Nate shared on this theme in one of my workshops. As the women in attendance lamented that their churches would never take such a stance, the Spirit of the Lord rose up within me as I uttered a profound truth, “You cannot afford to be a part of a dysfunctional church if you are a part of a dysfunctional family!”