Child abuse: I'm for grace!

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...each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”  - 1Corinthians 1:12, 13

So, apparently, the sin of some in the Corinthian church was saying "I am of Christ."

A year and a half ago, I was talking with a Presbyterian counselor who was counseling an older single man who had physically and sexually abused several young men under his authority. Despite this predator's pastor and several of his elders a decade ago knowing of the specifics of his abuse of one victim, they had allowed the man to keep his job on the staff of their Presbyterian church where he continued to have young men under his authority. When his corruption of his first victim ten years ago became known, his pastor and several of his elders had refused to ask other young men under this man's leadership if he had abused them, also; nor had they warned them.

Now, the church's pastor and elders were finally having their noses shoved into the sins they and their predecessors had worked hard to avoid. They were finding out their church staff worker had abused more than the one man who had been known. Two more victims had come forward and were calling the church's session to acknowledge their past failures and bring this ministry leader under discipline and I was hoping to get the counselor to help with that process.

In our initial conversation, this counselor said he was...

"probably closer to (the abuser) than anyone else." He was in a unique position to help bring the abuser to repentance, but sadly our conversation went nowhere. This counselor kept defending his friend and client, saying over and over that he was "for grace." That he believed in "a ministry of grace." That he wanted to "be redemptive" in his work. That everyone needed to "extend grace" to this man and not beat up on him.

But of course no one was beating up on his friend. Rather, godly church officers were working toward providing counsel and comfort to his clients' victims who had received no help or comfort from the church in the decade since their abuse. They were also working to bring this man under church discipline, thereby warning the public and protecting others from being added to his victims. Prior to the conversation there had been every reason to expect the counselor to be helpful. But after many statements on the order of "I'm for grace but you guys don't believe in grace," I objected: "Why are you speaking of grace as if it's opposed to the protection and healing of victims? Church discipline is grace."

What is more graceful than the love for sinners and the commitment to protect the sheep that leads elders to discipline a sexual predator? Public discipline of sexual crimes is grace to the other victims who have been hidden for many years and now might finally have the courage to come forward and receive comfort and healing. Too, his friend and client's discipline would be the grace of God to those it warned away from becoming another of his victims.

It was no use. This counselor couldn't stop faulting those involved in the work of cleaning up the tragedies left in the wake of his friend's abuse. As he saw it and kept saying, among those working with the abuser and his victims, he alone was committed to God's grace.

In the church today, this is the normal response to sin. Grace-centered preaching means the sermons have no searching of the conscience, no conviction of sin, and call no one to the faith of repentance. Grace-centered premarital counseling and wedding ceremonies mean the word 'obey' has been removed from the bride's vow in the wedding liturgy and the the homily is all about mutual submission. Grace-centered pastoral care means the elders refuse to note who's missing from corporate worship, who's not worshipping God with their tithes and offerings, who's viewing pornography, which unmarried couples are fornicating, which wives and husbands are committing adultery, which deacon is stealing from the offering plates he passes down the aisle each Lord's Day, who is coming to the Lord's Supper with a bitter and unforgiving spirit, which homes are ridden with incest, who smells like a brewery, who lies, who gossips, who is greedy and tries to justify it by making large gifts to the capital campaign; even who has killed their unborn children and who is starving their father to death in the nursing home.

Try to do the work of the eldership in a grace centered session meeting with elders who have read all the books and tweets put out by grace-centered celebrities and the elders respond, "I don't wanna know. Keep it to yourself, pastor—that's what we pay you for." Then this followup: "Why do we always have to be talking about sin? Can't we focus on the Gospel and talk just a little bit more about grace?"

It's hard for pastors and elders to be faithful in caring for predators and their victims knowing the Christian counselor or pastor of another church where the member under discipline goes for comfort will accuse you of being opposed to grace because you work to guard victims, both real and potential, from that predator.

When pastors, elders, and Christian counselors side with a predator, they always claim they are just as concerned to protect the victims as everyone else. It's never true. Listen to their words, but then watch their actions and it will almost always become evident they think siding with the predator is simply them believing in the grace of the Gospel while everyone else is operating in the flesh. They believe in Gospel-change. Why don't you? They believe the man or woman's repentance is sincere. Why don't you? They think the past rapes of children should be forgiven and forgotten. Why can't you?

Likely this was what the super-apostles of Corinth said when the Apostle Paul commanded their church, "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves!" (1Corinthians 5:13).

"Paul doesn't understand repentance and change. He doesn't understand the Gospel of God's grace to sinners. We're for grace. He's for law. We're for change. He's for the bondage of past sins being our expectation for the future. Paul lives in such a graceless and sad world. Where's Jesus? Where's victory in Jesus? Where's power of the Holy Spirit?"

These are the words they use to delude themselves and the repentant predators. It's so sad. Imagine the pressure this puts the repentant predator under never again to admit his or her temptations, victories, and sins as he fights one of the most tenaciously besetting sins known to man.

It's hard to be barraged with all the talk of cheap grace in the church today and have the faith to ask for help in fighting besetting sins. People who mean well will tell you to read this or that cheerful book of Gospel victory and to realize that to be "in Christ" means you are "seated in the heavenlies."

It's hard to warn house to house, day and night with tears, never holding back anything that the Lord tells us to say.

But what of Christ's little ones? Are we not to feed them? Are we not to clothe them, to visit them? To protect them?

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!