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Domestic Violence: What's the Church to Do?

George C. Scipione

Imagine yourself watching a real life police show. In the first clip, police officers, responding to a 911 call, enter the small wood-frame home of Zach, 45, and Elizabeth, 40. He is slightly built and balding, and has a beer belly; she is frumpy, weary, and worried. Two boys, ten and eight, run around the small house in their underwear. Zach, an unemployed logger, spends his days watching sports on TV, drinking, and yelling at everyone. Elizabeth, who works part-time to help financially, fearfully tries to make everything perfect in order to avoid Zach's wrath. Five years ago, Zach threatened to beat the boys severely, and when Elizabeth intervened, he slapped, hit, kicked, and spit on her. Zach's remorse consisted of banging his head against the wall until he bled. He has never hit her since, and figures that making holes in the wall is better than hitting her. Tonight his drinking and threats, including throwing things, triggered her fear and she called 911. She is packing to go to a battered women's shelter.

Next you see Jim, a hardworking Navy NCO in his early twenties. He and his wife, Sheri, have two children—Peter, 5, and Michael, 6 months. After a particularly rough day, when his men had bad attitudes and his CO was critical of him, Jim tried to help Sheri, who was sick. He managed to get some food on the table and watch the boys. Jim's frustration mounted when Mikey would not stop crying—no matter what he tried. In anger, Jim shook Mikey like a rag doll. Mikey shrieked in pain as his head snapped back. Suddenly, Mikey stopped and didn't move. Frightened, his parents took him to the Naval hospital, but lied about the cause of the injury. The police have been called to arrest Jim. Mikey is now permanently brain-damaged and developmentally injured. Jim will go to military prison for a seven-year term for felony child abuse. Peter and Mikey are in foster care. Sheri lives alone.

Sam, 13, has a sister, Susan, 15. Their American dad married their mother after meeting her in Japan. She gave up her land, her family, and her job (as a Geisha girl), and followed him to the States. Dad is not a believer, but mom now is. He has left her and the children to pursue a younger woman. Mom and Susan often lock themselves in their rooms because they fear Sam. He runs with a gang, has been violent to them, constantly threatens them, and has spent time in juvenile hall. He despises all authority and brazenly brings drugs into the house. His parole officer is too busy to be directly involved with him, and there is no space in juvenile hall for him. The police are responding to a 911 call for help.

What do these three clips have in common? They portray domestic violence and family feuds, true. But also, these true but detail-altered cases are from Christian families in Bible-believing churches—including OP churches! What is one to do? More particularly, what can and should we and our church be doing?

Discovery

The church, locally, regionally, and nationally, needs to do at least three things: discover the problem(s), define the problem(s) biblically, and then develop and direct people towards God-glorifying solutions. We have our work cut out for us. We need to understand and apply God's instructions for being peacemakers in a violent and hostile world.

We need to discover the reality all around us. We must have biblical eyes to see. The church must be careful in this discovery process. On the one hand, we must not adopt worldly viewpoints and see "abuse" in every imperfect, fallen action. Today, many people view any exercise of authority as abusive by definition. But authority is not always abusive. God wields an awful lot of it and sometimes he delegates it to others. He certainly never abuses his authority. On the other hand, we should not think that every mention of abuse is part of a liberal conspiracy to get government social workers into every home or to get our children into lesbian-run day care centers.

Why must women in danger have nowhere to go but to a feminist shelter for battered women? Are the only alternatives to stay, to be hurt, or to die? Why must truly oppressed victims face a church that increasingly treats people humanistically rather than biblically? People, including church members, are sinners, capable of cruelty, violence, and lying to cover their sins. We Reformed Christians, above all others, should take total depravity seriously. Sinners sin. Should we be shocked? Grieved, yes; shocked, no.

Definition

We also must do the hard exegetical work to define the biblical view of domestic violence and how to deal with it. Again, extremes must be avoided. On the one hand, we cannot accept the world's victim mentality, which focuses on individual rights and entitlements. We are image bearers of God and responsible to him, not pawns in an evolutionary chess game. We not only are sinned against, but sin!

On the other hand, while we do not have a biblical primer or handbook on domestic violence, there are Mosaic laws that relate to violence in general, expounding and applying the sixth commandment. Some deal with particular abuses in the family. The "general equity" of these laws, statutes, and judgments cannot be ignored without sinking into a quagmire of relativistic sentimentality or a bog of personal biases. Passages such as Ex. 20:13; 21:1027; 22:2024; Lev. 19:1318, 3337; 20:15, 9; 24:1723; 25; Num. 5:531; 15:2231; 35; Deut. 12:2931; 13:611; 16:1817:20; 19; 21:19, 1521; 22:1329; 24:125:16 are more than covenantal museum pieces, ensconced in their Old Testament trophy case. There are many other passages, in both the Old and the New Testament, that direct our paths from violence to peace. Difficult work? Yes! Necessary? Yes! But if you and I do not do it, do not expect the church in general or the world to do the job for us.

Direction

Once discovery and definition are in process, the church needs to direct people. Primarily, the church needs faithful shepherds who are willing to get dirty and even hurt while feeding and wrestling with smelly sheep. If we do not have elders who are worthy of the Good Shepherd, the job will not get done. The work is tough, smelly, serious, solemn, and often dangerous. Elders must deal with the everyday issues that affect the sheep and then be ready to deal with the tough cases. If they don't, we should not be surprised when government agencies step into our family lives. Nor should we complain. (Part of the reason we have the cultural mess that we are in is that too many elders have abdicated their jobs.) Elders must live with the sheep to care for and direct them.

Shepherds should follow Christ's model as our mediator (see the Larger Catechism, 36, 42). Imitating his threefold office, they should prophetically proclaim God's will to people (LC, 43) from the pulpit and in Sunday school, VBS, special seminars, house visits, etc., teaching God's will for family life (LC, 12333). The sixth commandment must be taught (LC, 13436).

The elders should persist in priestly pleading with God for patience with his people (LC, 44). This involves prayer, fasting, counseling, discipleship, and peacemaking both between God and man and between man and man. They must bring sheep to repentance; biblical counseling is a must.

They should also provide kingly protection (LC, 45). Elders must not try to be Rambo. They are shepherds, not cowboys; kings under Christ, not Kung Fu masters. But they must protect. The elders must set up "cities of refuge" within the borders of the congregation—that is, safe houses, to protect both the victims and the perpetrators. People trained in biblical counseling and reconciliation should oversee the counseling and reconciliation process, including these live-in situations. Older couples could be mentors. This help is as necessary to the work of reconciliation as shepherding homes are to the pro-life movement.

Elders must trust God and use the process set forth in Matthew 18:1520. Especially in the tough, violent cases, they must be willing to employ the keys of the kingdom and not withhold this blessing. The sword of the Spirit applied in loving discipline is much more powerful than the state's literal sword. This is necessary so that 1 Corinthians 6:19 is not violated and God may honor their work. The elders need to have working positions or papers on the issues involved in domestic violence and how to apply them pastorally to all who are involved. In certain extreme instances, they need to render judgments as to the application of 1 Corinthians 7 to individual cases as possible grounds for divorce. They act as judges of God's people. This is serious indeed, but necessary.

Along with the elders, the deacons must see to the practical, physical concerns of the family members involved. If the church offers safe houses correctly, the state's foster-care system for the children may be avoided. The perpetrator may need a place to stay while reconciliation is being sought. In rare circumstances, there may be medical problems that contribute to the violence or result from it. The deacons may help to insure proper medical care. If the deacons can help financially, the family can be protected economically and in some cases legally. Also, temporary protection may create a need for transportation, as well as a need for shelter. The deacons should be familiar with the police and other government officials, so as to minimize jurisdictional turf wars.

Extension into the Community

The church, once it gets this all together, can extend this discovery, definition, and direction to the community at large as an evangelistic tool. We say there is power in the blood of the Lamb; if ever a needy group existed that needs this help, it is the family cursed with domestic violence. Battered wives and bitter husbands need good news, not self-help groups. They need knowledge of the risen Christ proclaimed with power, not professional dog-and-pony shows for self-satisfied yuppies. They need the hand of the reigning Christ, not some hip X-rated hero for Generation X. They need the light of the world. Let your church shine as light in darkness; let it salt a dying and decaying community. You can influence government officials and especially judges, who are supposed to be God's agents in matters of public violence.

Dear ones, may the Lord of Glory, the Prince of Peace, the ruling and reigning King Jesus, conquer all his and our enemies. Let's not ignore evil and stick our heads in the sand, or wring our hands and whine about our helplessness, leaving the hard work to the police and government agencies. Instead, let's do our job. Let's live completely consecrated lives, competently to Christ's honor and praise. Let men see your Spirit-produced good deeds and so glorify the Father in heaven.

There are resources that can assist you in this process. The ones listed in the box below are available from OP or other Reformed men who are committed to biblical exegesis and practice. Make use of them!

Mr. Scipione, the associate pastor at Bayview OPC in Chula Vista, Calif., is the director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in San Diego.

Helping the Victims of Domestic Violence

Edward Welch

"The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." (Psalm 9:9)

Couples who sit peacefully in church pews may nevertheless be at war. Spouses can attack each other, defend ground, employ manipulative guerrilla tactics, and declare occasional truces. When war has been declared, there is sin on both sides, but when violence is involved, a strong man typically oppresses a woman. With God's grace, afflicted women often look to the church for help. When they do, what are some basic biblical parameters that should guide your ministry to them?

You hear the cries of the oppressed.

The victim must be heard. As an imitator of Christ, you begin by listening to the cry of the afflicted (Ps. 10:17). Granted, this is self-evident. There could be no other starting point. But there is a background that makes listening more profound than simply gathering data or taking a perfunctory first step.

First, our Lord encourages the cries of the oppressed. The sheer number of Psalms that call out for God's protection indicates that we serve a loving Lord who never tires of listening to and acting on the groanings of the needy. God is the righteous judge who hears every complaint of injustice and hates oppression, but he is more than a judge. He is also the One who in unfailing love comes close to his oppressed people. His listening occurs in a relationship between the weak one and the compassionate Hearer-Shepherd.

Remember that some victims of violence are reluctant to speak openly about it. They may fear that openness will lead to retaliation by the perpetrator. They may feel ashamed that they contributed to the war (though they are not responsible for the violence done to them). They may consider their problems unworthy of an elder's or a friend's attention. Or, they may feel ashamed that their husbands could dislike them even to the point of violence.

Some shepherds make the situation more difficult by moving quickly to the refrain, "Forgive and forget." In other words, as soon as the perpetrator asks for forgiveness, the responsibility now falls on the victim to forgive him and never to raise the subject again. But the idea of immediately forgetting sin is dubious teaching. Furthermore, if the primary biblical encouragement given to the victim is "Forgive and forget," she is left feeling as if she is now the perpetrator, since she cannot easily forgive and forget.

In light of these teachings and tendencies, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of hearing the afflicted woman. Help begins by listening, not as a detective who wants to solve a case quickly, but as a brother or sister who mourns with those who mourn.

Since biblical listening is coupled with action, you may determine, especially if the violence has been personal and dangerous, that listening means taking the victim to a doctor, calling the police, or providing a temporary safe place. If the home is potentially unsafe, it is wise to inform the perpetrator that his wife has revealed the violence and is being kept at an undisclosed safe place.

If the woman is confident that returning to her home will not lead to her physical harm, then listening should include a more systematic review of the violent, controlling patterns in the marriage. This information is most helpful when it is specific and written down. Then the perpetrator can be confronted according to the requirements of Matthew 18, and made to understand that the church leadership takes domestic violence very seriously and will act to protect his wife even as they seek to minister to him and hold him accountable.

You teach the oppressed to put their hope in God.

The victim must be encouraged in her faith. As in all suffering, she may think that God is indifferent and aloof, or that the perpetrator is all-powerful. Either way, affliction is always a time for God's people to know and rely on our God who hears. Furthermore, if a victim is ever to move toward a repentant perpetrator in love and to open herself to love and trust, she must be strengthened by a robust faith.

1. God does not forget (Ps. 10:12; 56:4). Personal trouble does not mean that God has forsaken his people. Rather, the Bible constantly shows that God responds to prayers for deliverance. While we cannot always observe this deliverance immediately, God will most assuredly deliver his people. The story of God's work in their lives is not over. Therefore, remind victims to keep their eyes open, watching for God's strong hand in their lives.

2. Jesus knows our sufferings. In his own body, he experienced violence at the hands of his own people. In fact, his experience surpasses our own because he suffered even to death. When we see this suffering, it can actually begin to lighten, or outweigh, a woman's grief.

For the woman who feels forsaken by God, the sufferings of Jesus can be a great comfort. It is a comfort that exceeds the sympathy and comfort extended by other women who have endured similar experiences. At a women's shelter, a victim of violence will be surrounded by people who understand, but in the throne room of God, she will be in the presence of One who understands perfectly, grieves deeply, and loves completely.

3. The Cross provides the timeless evidence of God's love for his people and his "toughness" with sin. Sin and suffering will always remain a mystery. Neither makes sense in a world that God created as good. Yet it is clear that God's love, demonstrated to us in Jesus, exceeds the boundaries of our imagination, and his justice leaves observers silenced. In a world where a woman cannot trust the one closest to her, the greatest blessing you can offer to her is the assurance of God's loving and watchful presence.

You teach the oppressed how to disarm the controlling, angry, or violent person.

The victim must know how to preempt and respond to ungodly anger. Whether or not the woman returns immediately to her home, she must learn to manifest "a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (2 Tim. 1:7). Too often her responses to violence fluctuate between timidity and revenge, revealing both the perpetrator's ongoing control and his dominance in her life. Instead of fluctuating between these two extremes, wives need to be led in a biblical course that is humble and powerful.

A key text is Romans 12:21, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." In the context of Romans 12, this passage suggests that radical freedom from perpetrators consists of loving the enemy more, not less. This moves us beyond the question What do I need from him? to How do I overcome with the love of Christ?

1. When in doubt, confess your sin to the perpetrator. There may be no more powerful response to the sin of others. Everyone knows how difficult it is to confess sin to another person, but to confess it to a perpetrator of violence seems utterly impossible. But a woman who is strong in the Lord does not stand on her own righteousness; rather, she stands on the righteousness of Christ and can therefore confess her own sin. This, of course, does not imply that her actions caused the violence or abuse. She simply confesses sin that God has exposed in her life.

2. "Then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matt. 7:5). For some women, confrontation may be harder than confession. It may be easier for them to assume they deserve sinful treatment than take a stand against sin. Or they may be afraid that confrontation will lead to divorce. But a way to love the perpetrator is to clearly portray his sin and its consequences. Minimizing or ignoring it can be spiritually deadly—for either party. Such confrontation should be done in the presence of another person.

3. Forgive quickly, but don't allow the perpetrator's request for forgiveness to be the end of the discussion. Reconciliation begins when the perpetrator asks for forgiveness. In situations where there has been an outbreak of violence, this violence uncovers a larger pattern of demandingness, control, and arrogance. Such patterns should never be swept aside with the words, "Will you forgive me?" The flesh and the devil thrive when hurts and sins are kept in the dark. Therefore, one way a wife can love is to let her husband know the consequences of his sin in her life. This is not done to hurt; it is done to heal.

4. Speak with gentleness and love. In a world where advanced technology is power, we often overlook the power of words. Words, however, can disarm angry people. It can be a great encouragement for women to know that "a gentle answer turns away wrath" (Prov. 15:1). Although the woman is not the cause of the violence, she nevertheless has power to subdue it with humility, gentleness, and love.

Domestic violence is as damaging to a marriage relationship as adultery. We should never minimize its impact on the victim. But, as with all suffering, we should also never minimize the grace of God to these victims. God reserves unique glimpses of himself for those who have been oppressed, and he gives power to shake off the twin enemies of timidity and rage.

Dr. Welch is a counselor at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in Glenside, Pa.

Helping the Perpetrators of Domestic Violence

Paul Tripp and David Powlison

"The grace of God ... has appeared.... It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives." (Titus 2:1112)

People who publicly sit together in church pews on Sunday morning are not thereby prevented from doing violence to each other once they are in private. Ministry to the violent—like ministry to anyone with immediately destructive sins—demands wide-awake, bold, knowledgeable intervention, full of grace and truth. The perpetrators of battery (like sexual predators) are criminal, as well as wicked and highly deceptive.

The perpetrators of domestic violence need grace—effectual grace, life-changing grace, real grace. As they become willing to stop and look at themselves in the mirror of truth, as they embrace the Messiah as he is in fact, they can and will genuinely change. Scripture says a great deal about the sins of anger and violence, and the ways of the Redeemer of sinners. What considerations ought to control your efforts to help such men (and, sometimes, women)?

Violent people have much in common with other people—both with those who would help them and with those they hurt.

We are all basically alike: see 1 Corinthians 10:1213. Interpersonal hostility comes in many forms—attitudinal, verbal, financial, physical, sexual. It comes with many degrees of intensity, from grumpiness and bickering to assault and murder. Every argument is, in principle, on a continuum with outbreaks of actual violence. So domestic violence is not different in kind from other typical sins.

This fact produces both confidence and humility in those who seek to help others. If you know how to deal with your own anger, you will have good things to offer others who struggle with it. I (DP) once counseled a couple who had had a gunfight in their home! My own repentance from irritability and a critical attitude helped me both to understand them and to proceed surefootedly. Those who counsel the violent should not suppose that they are the sinless coming to the sinful. We are finders of grace coming to those who need grace.

Similarly, you should expect to find two sinners embroiled with each other, not an irredeemable monster oppressing an innocent victim who needs no redemption. God will be at work in the lives of both people. So explore incidents of violence in detail. You will usually find places where both parties need Christ's grace to change.

Perhaps one party draws most of the attention because he acts with his fists. But, on closer inspection, the other party may skillfully and perversely wield her tongue in ways that goad him to violence. Outbursts of violence are usually extreme instances in more widespread, low-grade patterns of conflict. Look for the common sins that both parties share, not just the unique outbreaks of sin in one party. You want to help both people become more loving, wise, and peaceable.

These truths must be handled with great care by those who would minister. Remember that batterers distort them regularly. We are all tempted to anger, aren't we? Batterers will turn that into an excuse: they are "just one of the boys," and violence is not that serious. Aren't the victims of violence also sinners, whose sins are often intertwined with the batterer's sins? Batterers will turn that into an excuse and an accusation: fault really lies with their victims. You who would help must know the truth about anger and sin, but don't let the batterer twist that truth into lies.

You need to know what violent people are like, because they easily create a fog of confusion and evasion.

Sin is deceitful: see Jeremiah 17:9. Violent people neither know themselves nor let others know them. They are habitual liars and hiders, who often create elaborate patterns of deceit. They tend to conceal what they do; when that fails, they tend to downplay its seriousness; when that fails, they tend to shift the blame, portraying themselves as somehow aggrieved, innocent, and victimized; when that fails, they tend to wallow in despair and "repentance" to make people feel sorry for them. Bear in mind the following characteristic sins of violent people:

1. Undergirding the violent act is a pervasive selfishness: the violent person's pleasure, his agenda, his desires, his demands, and his cravings dominate much of his life. Counseling must not let the visible "marquee" sins divert attention from the foundational perversity of a lifestyle characterized by "ungodliness and worldly passions." Often the violent person's awareness of his sin is superficial; he may grieve over his sporadic violence, but rarely will he recognize his selfish lifestyle or the specific passions that drive him.

2. Expect to encounter intricate, subtle patterns of self-deceit. Violent people often feel sorry for themselves: "I'm really the victim, and my anger is just a reaction." They often express the self-righteous opinion that "I'm not really like that" or "I know I shouldn't do that, but ..." Often they exhibit a marked ability to adopt different patterns of behavior, living two lives in two worlds. For example, a man might hit his wife, and then, one hour later, shift gears and smoothly lead a Bible study.

3. Expect to encounter intricate patterns of winsome deceit towards others. Violent people (like sexual predators) are often gifted seducers. They win people, creating trust again in the very people they have mistreated and betrayed. They skillfully manipulate other people—the victim, the would-be helpers—into feeling guilty and responsible for what happened and for now making it better.

4. Expect to encounter self-deceived versions of confession and repentance. It is almost as if they could deceive God—though of course they really deceive only themselves and others. They may say the right words or seem to have the right feelings, but their "repentance" is often godless. It expresses remorse for smirching their self-image or their reputation in the eyes of neighbors. Such "repentance" actually serves the very same pride and fear of man that lead to the sins of secret violence. Violent people typically misuse grace or misunderstand it. Grace becomes "cheap," and repentance becomes "jumping through hoops" to assuage the conscience and get back into the good graces of other people. It can even become a tool of sin, a quick fix—sometimes calculating—that sweeps problems under the rug. Violent people may weep, pray, and pledge that it will never happen again, without any of the fundamental changes involved in genuine repentance and faith in Christ: that "change of mind" and "turning" that lead to a change of life.

5. They often intimidate and manipulate their victims. Violence is frightening. Violence is a tool of control. You will sometimes find it hard to get the facts even from the violated. The victim may seek to preserve the present moment's interlude of peace, or may fear that openness will lead to revenge (perhaps having been threatened that "if you tell, then ..."). The victim may find it highly embarrassing that the family has these problems, and may be reluctant to make the degree of evil known. All this adds up to the fact that you may have to overcome a "conspiracy" of silence in the family that serves to protect the evildoer.

In all these ways and more, domestic violence is a "secret" sin. You must be prepared to drag it into the light.

The violent need the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

Violent people need Christ: see Hebrews 3:1214. The drift of sin is always away from the living Christ. That is a problem of the heart that needs daily attention. Jesus, who died for sinners, is gracious, and grace is effectual.

1. Aim for a fundamental restructuring of heart and lifestyle. Cosmetic adjustments that make the person's behavior more socially acceptable are not enough. You must expose the heart issues that motivate violence: cravings for power, love, control, comfort, money, respect, pleasure. About what things is this person willful? The batterer's violence is not about his wife; it is about himself and the flagrant idolatries he brought into the marriage. Violent people play God and so act like the devil, rather than serving God. They must repent of the "vertical" sins that fuel the "horizontal" sins. Both the motives and the expressions of hostility must be laid bare: see James 3:512, 1416; 4:14, 6, 1112.

2. Aim to solve the minor versions of the major sins, as well as the major outbreaks. Judgmentalism, grumbling, irritability, bickering, and arguing usually precede violence and express identical themes of the heart. People who learn to repent of grumbling—and thus learn both gratitude and contentment in Christ—will rarely need to repent of assault and battery.

3. Give people the living Christ himself. Jesus is abundant in loving-kindness and terrible in wrath. Violent people need to know the love of Christ. They deserve the violence of God, but he has provided the Lamb of God. Jesus loved sinners, the ungodly, the wicked, the weak, the enemies of God. He died, that those who live might live no longer for themselves. God freely gives grace and wisdom from above: see James 1:5, 17; 3:17; 4:6, 10. Effectual, life-rearranging grace is available for all who need it. Violent people need to learn to fear the Lord of wrath. He is jealous and holy: see James 4:5, 12. A person committing an act of violence lives without the fear of the Lord. He acts and reacts as if there were no God. But in fact, "everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). To begin to live radically "in public" is to live without the secrecy that violence depends on.

4. Bring violent people to a God-centered repentance: see James 4:610. Internal changes come first. Compare their "repentance" to real repentance: see Psalms 50 and 51, which contrast godly and worldly sorrow. To know the Christ of the gospel is to rearrange heart and soul so that sin can no longer thrive. Settle for nothing less. Those who seek, find. Those who believe, receive the Holy Spirit. How do you know someone has truly repented? You will know. Time always tells genuineness from falsity. You will see fundamental changes in relationships, first with God and then with others.

5. Help repentant believers learn the practical, peaceable, loving alternatives to manipulation, shifting of blame, intimidation, and violence: see James 3:13, 1718. People can learn to listen, to ask questions, to ask for forgiveness, to take a time-out, to ask for help, to postpone decision-making, to give in tangible ways. Such actions flow from the wisdom that comes from above. Love can and will replace not only the moments of violence, but the pervasive lifestyle of selfishness and willfulness. You will see progress, not perfection. A person who has more and more "give" is a person with less and less room for hating and hitting.

6. Bring to bear the resources of the community of Christ: see James 5:1920 and Hebrews 3:1214. People repenting of violence need more than once-a-week, "formal" counseling. They need radical honesty, accountability, reminders, encouragement, models, daily exposure to the light of day, and prayers of intercession. I have never known an incident of domestic violence to occur in a public church service or while someone was talking on the phone to his pastor or small group leader! Help the perpetrators of such sins to come out of hiding and live in the open. Sin thrives in dark corners; righteousness thrives in the daylight. A person who has changed internally towards Christ will desire the humbling structures of accountability to Christ's people, in order to save him from himself.

How will you help those who are violent in private? Their souls must be rearranged to seek and know the Christ of the gospel. Without that fundamental, living relationship with Christ, you can't teach enough truth, you can't shine the light of insight brightly enough, you can't put up enough fences, you can't make enough plans, you can't invite enough commitment, you can't bring in enough people, you can't be enough like Christ. But when violent sinners embrace the love of Jesus Christ, these things—doctrine, insight of the heart, structure, plans, commitment, community, counsel—become channels and expressions of effectual grace.

Messrs. Tripp and Powlison are counselors at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation in Glenside, Pa..

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Reprinted from New Horizons, February 1997.

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