Gospel Life: Abuse

The scriptures have much to say about the subject of abuse, how the Gospel relates to abuse, and how we as Christians should respond to those who have been abused. In Luke 4, Jesus was in the Synagogue on the Sabbath day in Nazareth. He was asked to read from the prophet Isaiah. At the conclusion of the reading, Jesus announced that the scripture was fulfilled. Luke 4:18-19 gives us the purpose of Jesus coming to the earth. It reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised (or oppressed), to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” It is clear that when Jesus came, He had those who are abused in mind. Jesus came to free us from spiritual oppression and also relational oppression. In Brad Hambrick’s book, Becoming a church that cares well for the abused, he writes: “Spiritual oppression and captivity are conditions that all of us are born into, but we must not forget that these things are experienced by many at a relational level as well. The captive and oppressed, in our day, must include not only those who are in spiritual bondage to sin, but also those who live in fear of physical abuse in their homes or churches, those who are raped, those who are preyed upon as minors, and others like them.” The church has a moral obligation to care for the abused, the weak, and the vulnerable. We cannot turn a blind eye to abuse. To do so would be to deny the power of the Gospel. So, how is the church to respond to abusive situations? Let’s look at several principles concerning our response to abuse.
Grounded in the Gospel. The church’s response to abusive situations must be, just like everything else, grounded in the Gospel. In relation to abusive situations, the Gospel provides two basic things. (1) The Gospel provides forgiveness to the sinner through repentance. Perpetrators of abuse can be granted forgiveness by the grace of God. The church must understand that the Gospel is for all people, even those who have committed the most horrific acts. There is no person that is outside of the reach of God’s love and grace. There is no sin that is outside the realm of God’s forgiveness. There is no sin that sends a soul to hell. The ultimate penalty of sin, eternal separation from God in hell, is only experienced by those who reject Christ. Therefore, all sinful acts are forgivable and redeemable. As difficult as it may be, this is the message that must be shared with those who have been perpetrators of abuse. (2) The Gospel provides refuge for the abused. The Gospel brings comfort to the one who has suffered at the hands of an abuser. The Gospel provides a sense of self-worth to the abused. It brings both peace and justice. In light of the Gospel the church’s response to abuse should be to “first, remove the opportunity for further damage, and second, to address the sin that creates the damage.” This is the only way in which the church can minister to the abused. We cannot just simply provide comfort and counsel to the abused, we must deal with the perpetrator in a swift and firm manner and deal with the sin. Too often, we want to just ignore sin. Things get messy when you start addressing people’s sins. However, if sin is dealt with properly, both the sinner and the sufferer is shown the love of Christ.
Engaged with all seriousness. When an abusive situation is brought to light, the church must engage. We cannot sit idly by and allow a perpetrator the opportunity to prey on others. Every abuse claim must be taken seriously. You may say, ‘what about false accusations?’ Here is the thing, false accusations are rare and when it does occur, the truth always prevails. We must never simply dismiss accusations of abuse. We must deal with each situation in a proper manner. The church is to be a safe place. It is to be a place of refuge. How can we be a place of grace if we allow someone to prey on the vulnerable and get away with abuse? Grace is not ignoring sin. Exercising love and grace means that we take sin seriously and we deal with it so that it does not bring more harm to those committing sin and to those who suffer because of someone else’s sin. Look at 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Paul had some strong words in regard to how the church should respond to those who are practicing immoral activity. When an accusation of abuse is brought up there are several things that must be done immediately. (1) The accused must not be allowed at church until the issue is resolved. This is for the protection of both the accuser, others, and the accused. (2) The authorities must be notified. Read Romans 13:1-7. Human government is ordained by God to execute judgement on criminals and to protect the community. It should be noted that we should not run to the authorities with every issue, however, when it is believed that criminal activity has occurred, we have an obligation to report it. (3) Counsel and protection should be arranged for the accuser. Someone who has been abused has endured the most horrific form of suffering. It is something that will scar them for life. Proper and professional Biblical-based counseling is needed in order to bring peace to the abused. If the accuser is in danger of experiencing further abuse, arrangements must be made for their protection all within the boundaries of the law. (4) An open-line of communication (unless denied by authorities) should be established with the accused in order to provide an opportunity for truth to prevail and repentance to occur. Remember, the church must be grounded in the Gospel and must give opportunity for the sinner to repent. It is not an easy thing at all, however, the church cannot ignore the hurting and the abused, we must be engaged.
Practice Prevention. Preventative measures are not going to stop all abuse, however; it certainly does provide protection for our families. When it comes to practicing prevention there are several things to consider. (1) Preach the Gospel. Only the Gospel can change lives. When the church faithfully preaches the Gospel and shares the love of Jesus with its community, lives are changed and holiness reigns. The greatest antidote for any sin or relational issue is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (2) Be on guard. Every church must have protective measures in place to limit the possibility of perpetrators preying on the church. Those protective measures include: having a written child protection policy, having regular background checks on all those who work with children, proper training for all workers, etc. You can never do too much to protect the vulnerable.
A message to the abused. If you have suffered abuse of any kind, it is important that you know that God loves you. He knows what you have gone through and He is on your side. You are created in the image of God and your value is measureless and you have a purpose. If you have been abused, I encourage you to tell somebody. Go to a trusted friend, your pastor, or to the authorities and let them know what has happened to you. For your own safety, and for the safety of others, you cannot allow your abuser to get away with what he or she has done to you. You need to tell somebody. Also, remember, there is nothing to be ashamed of and there is nothing that you did to cause the abuse. It is not your fault. Finally, understand that there is hope. Seek the help you need to guide you through your suffering and look to Jesus to give you peace and to restore your joy.

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