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Committed to Care

Statement on Abuse and Biblical Counseling

Affirmations & Denials


Scripture speaks more clearly about the effects of sin on humanity, the beauty of redemption, and the certainty of hope despite adverse situations, than any other resource. God, through His Word, has provided sufficient wisdom about abuse; more than what worldly systems can offer. Past failures in how we have responded to abuse should not force us to look to worldly wisdom in order to build a comprehensive approach to the evils of abuse, but rather encourage our humility and reorient us back to the enduring sufficiency of God’s Word to provide wisdom relative to the complexities presented by the sin of abuse. It is important to keep in mind that gathering facts and accurately interpreting data is challenging in cases of abuse. Our confidence rests in the sufficiency of Scripture and the promise that our Lord’s perfect justice will one day prevail (Isaiah 30:18, Psalm 9:7-8, Psalm 146:7-9, Colossians 3:25).

The literature on abuse in the biblical counseling movement is maturing. As we grow and learn together, we want to ensure that the continuous expansion of these resources, as well as our counsel for the victims and perpetrators of abuse, follows a biblical framework representing the heart and wisdom of God. In cases of abuse, we should seek to provide biblical parameters derived from the whole counsel of God. We want to avoid temptation to cling to one portion of truth to the unintentional exclusion of other relevant truths taught in Scripture in order to apply it appropriately to the tragic and often dangerous situations of abuse.

God’s providential unveiling of the prevalence of abuse has provided the church with an opportunity to seek answers to this pervasive problem. The failures of individuals and churches, including ACBC counselors, regarding the complex issues of abuse demand that we grow in biblical wisdom and application for the sake of Christ’s name

and the good of those affected by such evils. Regrettably, in some cases of abuse, responders have demonstrated an inadequate posture offering a mixture of insufficient counsel from the world and misapplied counsel from God’s Word. The origins of abuse are a result of the Fall, therefore we must be driven to Scripture as our source for answers to this problem. As individuals and churches, we must respond with humility and repentance in so far as any have been guilty of mishandling abuse situations.

The multifaceted nature and variability that accompanies each unique story of abuse demands that we minister the depths of God’s wisdom to the broken and oppressed with humility, clarity, confidence, and gentleness. This document is an attempt to acknowledge the volatility of abuse cases yet provide unwavering biblical wisdom to guide Christians, so they are not paralyzed when faced with the deepest of evils encountered in abuse cases. The goal is for ACBC certified counselors to stand firm upon the enduring doctrines of Scripture for proper action which confronts abusers and protects the abused consistent with the character of our God in his redemptive and restorative work. Our counsel is shaped by two truths about His character: God is the one who protects and cares for those who are reviled and misused, and He judges justly and will act in vengeance towards those who revile, oppress, and misuse others. God has ordained the church in general as means of demonstrating His care and protection to those who suffer unjustly by the hand of another. Therefore, in hopes of serving the church of the living God, protecting those affected by the sin of abuse, and equipping our certified counselors to minister with effectiveness, competency, compassion, and biblical wisdom we offer the following affirmations and denials.

  • On God

    Whereas, God’s sovereign and perfect will is not limited by any human motive or act and is often beyond human comprehension; and,

    Whereas, God’s love is expressed, among other ways, in His desire to see all sinners come to a saving knowledge of the truth; and,  

    Whereas, God’s concern for the defenseless and oppressed and His hatred of violence are prominent themes of the Scriptures and demonstrate both the reality of evil and suffering in the world, but also confirm God’s role as protector and ultimate judge of the wicked; and, 

    Whereas, God has sanctifying purposes for all the suffering of His people and He promises to overcome evil for their good and His glory; and,

    Whereas, obedience to God is required to grow in sanctification and the pursuit of holiness, it does not preclude the seeking of help from church and civil authority; and,

    Whereas, God is the only true hope, light, comfort, and refuge in the midst of the most extreme suffering and darkness; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that God hates the mistreatment of others for selfish gain, which includes acts of abuse and oppression. God is concerned with unjust circumstances, and the Scripture testifies that God’s intervention in matters of human suffering and sin is primarily aimed at heart transformation for all involved and the fruit that results from that change, which brings God the greatest glory. God alone judges justly and vindicates Himself against the wicked. He is fully trustworthy and the only true refuge for the oppressed. God, as the definition and essence of love, willingly extends mercy, grace, and reconciliation through His Son to all sinners, whether they be victims of oppression or oppressors themselves. Regardless of the nature or extremity of abusive situations, God never wastes the suffering of His people. He desires to redeem past sufferings and sins in order to conform those involved into the image of His son, Jesus Christ, which is our greatest good. We affirm that biblical resistance to sinful oppression is pleasing to the Lord. The body of Christ, as God’s hands and feet, should provide a place of refuge and care for those oppressed and endangered. In His kindness, God redeems our suffering and sanctifies us through the trials so that suffering need not be wasted.

    WE DENY that God is distant and detached from those who face abuse and injustice; we deny that wicked human acts alter, deter, or diminish the all-good and righteous will of God; we deny that God requires individuals to remain in life-threatening situations for sanctification; and we deny that God always promises and purposes to provide relief from trials or suffering in this age. 

    SCRIPTURE: Genesis 50:20; Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 9:9, 12b; Psalm 11:5; Psalm 72:4; Proverbs 22:3; Proverbs 27:12; Isaiah 26:3-5; Isaiah 55:8-9, 11; Lamentations 3:37; Romans 8:28-29, 32; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:11b; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 5:10.

  • On the Work of Christ

    Whereas, Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, and all things were made by Him, for Him, through Him, and upheld in Him; and,  

    Whereas, Jesus Christ was a man of sorrows, despised and rejected, well acquainted with grief, and suffered in His sinless service to God for the sake of sinners; and,

    Whereas, Jesus Christ came to save all types of sinners, including the oppressed and those who oppress others; and,

    Whereas, Jesus Christ serves as the great high priest who can sympathize with human weakness and suffering; and,

    Whereas, Jesus Christ is our perfect example of how to suffer faithfully, who, when suffering at the hands of sinful people, trusted the Father’s righteous judgment; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ could propitiation be made on behalf of sinners to God. True change can only begin once a dead heart is made new in Christ. The oppressed and oppressors remain under the Lordship of Christ and both should be brought to Jesus first and frequently by their counselors as the ultimate source of spiritual help and healing. Christ’s response to his own humiliation and unjust treatment by others teaches believers to consider their motivations, attitudes, and actions as they seek to glorify God in their suffering. During His life on earth, Christ showed compassion for the oppressed and continues his advocacy for believers at God’s right hand in heaven. As head of the church, Christ desires for His body to continue His ministry of reconciliation for the oppressed and oppressors where possible. As judge of mankind, Christ represents perfect justice, wisdom and righteousness for the oppressed and oppressors. At all times, Christ is the refuge for the oppressed and as His earthly representative, the church is a tangible expression of his compassion and protection. We affirm that the hope found in Christ is the only hope that will not put us to shame. In His humanity, Christ is the example of manhood as a loving, gentle shepherd for leadership in the home and church.

    WE DENY that suffering is beyond the scope of God’s redemptive plan or Christ’s redemptive work; we deny that Christ’s work is immaterial or disconnected from the hardships that the abused face; we deny that following Christ’s example means one must continue in suffering from current abuse without loving confrontation of the sin of the abuser; and we deny that repentant oppressors are by default excluded from Christ’s forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation due to the nature of their past sin as oppressors. 

    SCRIPTURE: Psalm 46; Isaiah 56; John 5:30; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:30; Philippians 2:2-5; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 1 Peter 4:12-14; Revelation 20:12.

  • On the Holy Spirit

    Whereas, the Holy Spirit is God; and,

    Whereas, the Holy Spirit is the all-wise counselor and comforter; and,

    Whereas, the Holy Spirit is the permanent seal of redemption over the redeemed, never abandoning or forsaking them; and,

    Whereas, the indwelling Holy Spirit provides both admonition and correction in response to sinful disobedience and rebellion, as well as comfort and peace in response to God-honoring faith in, and obedience to, the promises of His Word; and,

    Whereas, the Holy Spirit enlivens those who were spiritually dead, enlightens the eyes of those who were spiritually blind, and softens the heart that was once hardened in sin; and,

    Whereas, the Holy Spirit is the One who comes alongside as a helper to aid saints in their personal sanctification and enables them to entrust and submit their whole person to the Father; and,

    Whereas, the Holy Spirit reminds believers of the Word of God, and uses it as an effective and powerful instrument of both nourishment (instruction) and pruning (discipline), in an effort to produce Kingdom fruit; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that the Holy Spirit comforts those who face adversity by bringing the eternal truths and promises of God to bear on the hearts of the weak and oppressed. The new heart is one of the most precious and powerful resources available to suffering and struggling saints. The Holy Spirit is the very presence of God that never abandons nor forsakes the children of God, despite the severity of the circumstances surrounding them. The Spirit of God speaks to believers through the Scriptures, never contradicting the principles, precepts, and commands found in His Word.

    WE DENY that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force; we deny that the Holy Spirit’s purpose or work is to diminish personal responsibility, cultivate self-esteem, or eliminate difficulties in the lives of believers; and we deny that sufferers should lean on personal subjective experiences or rely on their own understanding alone, in determining how to respond to challenging circumstances.

    SCRIPTURE: Proverbs 3:5-6; John 14-17; Romans 8:11-17; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:18. 

  • On Scripture

    Whereas, as our Creator, God has authority to establish and define absolute truth; and, 

    Whereas, God has chosen to speak to man in human words that are recorded as Holy Scripture; and,  

    Whereas, Scripture is man’s source of absolute truth and is sufficient for life and godliness; and,

    Whereas, Scripture is an inexhaustible fountain of wisdom and that Christians must repeatedly return to the Word when faced with tragedy and injustice; and,

    Whereas, Scripture cannot contradict itself and considering the whole counsel of God is therefore necessary in order to understand the deep complexities of sin and suffering; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that Scripture is sufficient to develop a comprehensive approach in ministering to the oppressed and oppressors. God’s Word does not necessitate additional information from secular sources that fundamentally misunderstand sin, suffering, and human nature. Holy Scripture is the most dynamic resource replete with sufficient hope, comfort, principles, and wisdom to help both the counselor and counselee accurately assess abuse and provide thorough solutions. Scripture condemns the sinful use of others, especially misuses of authority, which diminishes and degrades another image bearer for selfish gain.(1) Human experience and observations never supersede biblical authority or sufficiency but may be used to illustrate biblical truth, promote study of Scripture, reveal where Christians have neglected biblical care and counseling, and refine broad biblical principles. 

    WE DENY that the accurate interpretation and wise application of Scripture can be harmful in the cases of abuse; we deny that human experience may be used as a means of establishing truth; we deny that eisegesis (reading into the biblical text what is not there), is a valid means of interpreting God’s Word and man’s problems; we deny that sufficiency of scripture means there is nothing descriptive to consider from nonbiblical sources; and we deny that secular abuse frameworks such as the Duluth Model, Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), or counseling models such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), or similar ideologies,  are to be utilized as a necessary complement to Scripture or considered as biblically-informed tools to build frameworks for assessing, demonstrating, and addressing abuse.

    SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 4; Deuteronomy 6; Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 19:7-11; Psalm 119; Matthew 4:4; John 15:5-8; John 17:17; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11-12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; 2 Peter 1:3-4, 20-21; 1 John 5:13.  

    (1)For a more information, please see the Framework and Key Guidelines for Handling Abuse Cases

  • On Human Nature, Sin, and Suffering

    Whereas, God created mankind in two complementary sexes of male and female who are equal in dignity and worth as image bearers; and,

    Whereas, the fall of mankind into sin was an actual event, original sin is a reality, and all of mankind is depraved and sinful by nature; and,

    Whereas, the seed of sin is in every heart and that human beings are capable of horrific sin and,

    Whereas, the natural results of sin lead to suffering in every human heart and life; and,

    Whereas, all of mankind is in need of salvation from the enslavement of sin and the eternal punishment for unrepentant sin; and, 

    Whereas, God offers salvation to mankind exclusively through repentance of sin and saving faith in the person of Jesus Christ alone; and

    Whereas, the love of Jesus Christ within all believers is to be a controlling influence for their responses in love towards others; and,

    Whereas, it is possible to rejoice in suffering, knowing that God has sanctifying purposes for all the suffering of His people and He promises to overcome evil for their good and His glory; and,

    Whereas all humans are made to be worshippers of the true God but because of sin now have a default toward false worship of self which includes worship of things like pleasure, power, and control; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that all people are culpable for their sin and accountable for their response to the gospel. An abuser’s sin patterns need to be biblically assessed, defined, and confronted. The power of the gospel of Jesus Christ gives genuine hope for repentance for the vilest sinners. As biblical principles are applied to the heart, abusers can be set free from these deeply rooted desires, sin patterns, shaping influences, and false worship. Lasting change happens through the biblical means of personal confession of sin, repentance, personal discipline, obedience, and the faithful “one another” ministry of the local church. Idolatry, in all of its manifestations, is at the heart of abuse. A truly repentant abuser will consistently bear fruit in keeping with repentance and this evidence is necessary before considering reconciliation and reunification with those he or she formerly abusively oppressed.(2) Pride, selfishness, control, and jealousy are the primary root issues and such acts of abuse are symptoms of a heart enslaved to the god of self, rather than the God of Scripture. As believers we are commanded to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who abuse us. We affirm that it is loving and caring to expose the sin of abuse. The biblical counseling process should include encouraging and assisting the abused victim to seek safety and protection, by faith, from future abuse. The situation may require the counselor to report criminal activity to civil authorities and notifying church authorities of sinful behavior for appropriate discipline. 

    WE DENY that the abused must simply endure their suffering and forgo protection from the abuser; we deny deterministic perspectives that reinforce a pattern of victimization; we deny that an abuser’s disordered thinking and behavior is determined, not merely influenced, by outside factors such as poor parenting, familial sin patterns, trauma, biology, or any other circumstance; and we deny that it is impossible for abusers to change because of their personality or deeply rooted sinful patterns or that they are beyond reach of the gospel. 

    SCRIPTURES: Psalm 10; Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 22; Proverbs 24:11-12; Matthew 3:8; Luke 6: 27-28, 35, 45; Romans 3:23; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; 2 Corinthians 7:10-11; Galatians 5:16; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:17-32; Ephesians 5:8-9, 19-21; Colossians 1:24; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Hebrews 3:3; James 1:2-4; 1 John 4:20.

    (2)See the section on repentance within the Framework and Key Guidelines for Handling Abuse Cases.
  • On Marriage

    Whereas, God is the author of marriage and it is defined by Him in its roles and purposes—the principal purpose being that of a living parable of Christ in loving headship and the church in joyful submission, which culminates in Christ’s return to claim His bride; and,

    Whereas, God’s original design for marriage was corrupted in the fall, and continues to be so through sin, but redeemed through the work of Christ by the power of the Spirit through faith and repentance of spouses toward each other; and,

    Whereas, God accomplishes His goal of bringing glory to Himself through the Son in the sanctification of spouses in marriage and thus promises to use even the sin of another for the sanctifying good of those who remain steadfast; and

    Whereas, God is Lord of marriage and Lord of all married people and thus has the right to call people to honor Him in their relationships and that no trauma can ever negate His Lordship, all parties are to come before His throne seeking to please Him; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that marriage exists and functions under the authority of its Author as a covenant relationship between God, a husband (adult, consenting, biological male) and a wife (adult, consenting, biological female) for a lifetime. The relationship between Christ and His church, with Christ as a sacrificial and loving Head, and the church as a submissive and respectful bride, is God’s ordained model for husbands and wives. God has ordained this model of marriage to portray the good news of the gospel. Marriage is the means God has ordained for the creation of family units, and for the sanctification of its participants. It cannot be recreated in man’s own image or according to his likeness and it does not evolve in relation to human culture and society over time.

    WE DENY that marriage is a human institution that exists merely for human intents and purposes; we deny that it can be constituted contrary to God’s design in the roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives; we deny that it can be established between two men or two women or between an adult and a child; we deny that it is only a contractual relationship; we deny that husbands or wives have the right to misuse or abuse their mates for their own benefit or pleasure; we deny that it is informed as to nature and purpose by its cultural or historical contexts; and we deny that it can be dissolved for reasons not permitted by Scripture. 

    SCRIPTURES: Genesis 2:18-25; Genesis 3; Isaiah 57:15; Matthew 3:13-17; Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9; Matthew 28:19; John 4:24; John 5:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 1:16; 1 Peter 4:12-19; Revelation 19:6-10.

  • On Authority

    Whereas, God is the only sovereign authority and He delegates authority to human institutions, giving them specific roles and responsibilities to maintain social order according to His holy will; and, 

    Whereas, He is righteously angered with the misuse of authority and will judge those who abuse their power and neglect their responsibilities; and,

    Whereas, institutions ordained by God are designed to be good, wise, and necessary for order and protection, yet in some instances such authority may be sinfully expressed through passivity or tyranny; and,

    Whereas, all people are called to submit to some level of authority, whether it be parents, husbands, elders, or governments; and,

     Whereas, God made men and women ontologically equal and yet has also delegated different roles prior to the fall of man.

    Whereas, God-ordained institutions should be evaluated and, where necessary, wisely reformed by the standards of Scripture; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that those who use authority sinfully will give an account to God. We affirm that delegated authorities in church, government, and family are to be obeyed “in the Lord,” in so far as they are consistent with Scripture. Disobedience to earthly authority is in order to obey God rather than man. We affirm that church leadership will give an account to God for the stewardship of authority and duty to shepherd both the abused and abuser under their care. We affirm the necessity of reporting abuse to civil authorities as an act of obedience to God’s ordained methods of justice. We affirm that the church must confront and correct abusive members, calling them to repentance through biblical means of discipline. We affirm the church’s responsibility to care for and protect the oppressed in gentleness and humility, and to confront sin with biblical resolve. Some churches, pastors, and counselors have compounded the harm of abuse by being negligent and mishandling the Word. We affirm that men in positions of spiritual authority who abuse those under their care deny the gospel by living for themselves instead of Christ and His church. We affirm that the church must faithfully uphold the beauty of God’s design for marriage. We also affirm the church should seek to reconcile and restore families through the gospel, but this is not always possible due to sinful responses and a lack of biblical repentance. We affirm that a major priority of the church should be to help sinners be reconciled to God first and foremost before pursuing the process of restoring the marriage and family.   

    WE DENY that authority—whether in the family, church, or society—is inherently abusive and unjust; we deny that the source of individual instances of abuse is systemic and abuse can only be addressed through dismantling the institutions in which imbalances of power exist; we deny that institutional reforms should be prioritized over individual change; we deny that seeking clarification from those who report such abuse dismisses the legitimacy of the disclosure; and we deny that Scripture is inadequate for confronting abuse and secular wisdom is necessary to identify the causes of abuse. 

    SCRIPTURE: Exodus 20:12; Matthew 28:18; Acts 5:29; Romans 13:1-2; Hebrews 13:17; Ephesians 6:1-4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Titus 3:1; James 4:7; 1 Peter 2:13-14. 

  • A. Definition of Abuse

    Whereas, current definitions of abuse include verb forms denoting mistreatment, misuse, or harm of physical objects (e.g., alcohol, drugs, people, animals) or immaterial concepts (e.g., power, emotions, finances); and,

    Whereas, current attributes of abuse apply to a broad spectrum of behaviors (e.g., single instance of mistreatment, repeated abuse), attitudes, and forms (e.g., emotional, economic, physical, animal, marital, domestic); and,

    Whereas, current Christian and secular definitions of abuse are ever broadening, resulting in confusion and making it possible to label nearly every sinful act as abuse; and,

    Whereas, a definition of abuse utilizing biblical principles, concepts, and language is therefore necessary to help the church appropriately consider the nature, causes, and impacts of abuse, in order to engage the abused and abuser with hope-filled solutions; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that abuse is the pattern of sinful, selfish mistreatment of another made in God’s image, whereby moral agency, freedom of conscience informed by God’s Word, and God-given human dignity is violated by harmful acts (physical, sexual, verbal) or schemes to perpetuate oppression and unbiblical control.(3) Using biblical terms and concepts including oppress, violate, defile, humiliate, deceive, weaken, scheme, bring low, self-interest, selfish ambition, and others to replace ambiguous psychological terms provides a biblical roadmap and solution for counsel. Using these biblical terms and concepts better depict the sinful depravity of abuse against the dignity and personal capacities of those created in God’s image. Expressions of abuse seek self-interest in the misuse and defilement of another person. Culpability before the Lord is not dependent upon awareness or intentionality of the abusive behavior. Acts of abuse can be sorted into three broad categories: inflicting physical and sexual harm, speaking reviling and corrupting words, and scheming to isolate from certain relationships and to restrict economic resources.(4) We affirm victims of abuse experience symptoms from these acts of abuse in a multitude of ways including emotional, spiritual, and physical distress that may compound over time, yet abuse is best identified by intentional sinful acts against another for the purpose of harm and control.

    WE DENY the use of broad and ambiguous definitions of abuse that make it possible to label nearly every sinful act as abuse; we deny that abuse should be defined only by its effects or individual perceptions of a particular experience; we deny that abuse should be applied to any and all instances where mistreatment, injustice, or discomfort is perceived to be present; and we deny that abuse is simplistic and should be categorized based solely on the effects of an experience separated from the wisdom of God provided in Holy Scripture. 

    SCRIPTURE: Exodus 3:9-10; Deuteronomy 26:6-8; Judges 19-20; 2 Samuel 14; Psalm 5:6; Psalm 7:14; Psalm 10; Psalm 35:4; Psalm 40:14; Psalm 70:2; Psalm 71:10; Isaiah 30:12-13, 19:20, 49:26; Matthew 20:25-28; Romans 14:15; Galatians 4:20; 2 Corinthians 13:10; Philippians 2; 2 Timothy 4:9-18; James 4:3. 

    (3)For a more detailed explanation of the three categories of abuse please see the Framework and Key Guidelines for Handling Abuse Cases.

    (4)For a more detailed explanation of the three categories of abuse please see the Abuse Framework and Suggested Guidelines for ACBC Counselors.

  • B. Nature of Abuse

    Whereas, God is a stronghold for the oppressed, the church should likewise be a refuge; and,

    Whereas, all Christians should be grieved by the sin of abuse and reflect God’s character to guard and protect the abused; and,

    Whereas, humans have sinfully responded by either minimizing abuse or inflating all sinful acts as abuse; and,

    Whereas, broad definitions of abuse lead to ambiguous solutions in addressing sinful acts of abuse; and,

    Whereas, most cases of abuse are perpetuated by men, yet men and women can be the abuser or the victim of abuse; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that acts of abuse are sin. God-ordained authorities exist for the good of the family, church, and social order. We affirm that the framework of power imbalances is inadequate to biblically understand the full nature and dynamics of abuse. Authority and power are not the cause of abuse, but sinful desires of the heart are the cause of abusive attitudes and behaviors. Stewards granted authority by God bear a heavy responsibility and will incur a stricter judgment in how they treat those under their care. The sinful desires of the heart are much more complex than worldly models can either discern or perceive. Demands for respect, the pursuit of selfish pleasure, fear of man, desire for control, and self-worship are all attitudes of the heart that lure and entice someone to abuse others. Abuse occurs when selfish ambition, born from sinful desires, leads to acts that are a stumbling block which can often violate the conscience and minimize the value or dignity of another image bearer.

    WE DENY that the answer to abuse is to dismantle God-ordained authority structures in the family, church, and government; we deny that abuse can be reduced to “power imbalances” and is inherent to hierarchies; that the individual perception should be the principal threshold of what is considered abuse; we deny that conflict between those in authority and those under their authority should always be considered abuse; and that the Bible commands unconditional allegiance to earthly authorities. 

    SCRIPTURE: Psalm 9:9; Psalm 72:4; Jeremiah 6; Jeremiah 8; Ezekiel 34:2-4; Mark 12:40; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 5:21-33; Ephesians 6:4; Hebrews 13:17; James 1; James 4; James 3:13-18; 1 Peter 5:1-4.

  • C. Cause of Abuse

    Whereas, the immediate effects of the Fall resulted in violence, decay, death, broken relationships, blame-shifting, manipulation, deception, selfish gain, fear; and,

    Whereas, some circumstances can be observed as common among genuine abuse cases, the presence of these circumstances is not determinative of abuse since acts of abuse are always conceived from and flow from a sinful and wicked heart; and,

    Whereas, humility is required in evaluating abuse situations because the seed of every sin is in every heart; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that abuse is manifested outwardly, but also recognize that the source of abuse is from the inner man. All acts of violence are an expression of a violent heart. Violence, in all its forms, was an immediate result of the Fall. We affirm that there can be various organic and social factors that influence a person to the sin of abuse, but such factors can never be considered the cause for sin. Abuse is a choice to pursue sinful desires of the flesh and abusers are, therefore, morally and judicially culpable for their acts of abuse against others. Abusers can repent of their sin, be forgiven by the God of mercies, and change through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

    WE DENY that the sin of oppression and abuse can only grow and worsen; we deny that pride leading to abuse, often described in psychological terms as narcissism, involves a genetic or hereditary disposition or is a direct result of neglect and past abuse; we deny that victims must remain at the mercy of their abuser; we deny the secular and deterministic frameworks that portray that victims can only respond by feeling, thinking, and doing the will of their abuser; and we deny that God is helpless to transform abusers so that they no longer worship themselves, but Him wholeheartedly. 

    SCRIPTURE: Genesis 4:8,23; Genesis 6:11-13; Genesis 12:12-13; Genesis 26:6-7; Proverbs 4:23; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Ezekiel 36:26; Matthew 15:18; Matthew 16:24; Mark 7:21-23; 1 Corinthains 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:15-18; Colossians 3:5-7; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:14-15.

  • D. Current Models of Abuse

    Whereas, current abuse models and analytical tools are developed to promote the secular  philosophical perspectives from which they arise and thus are not philosophically neutral; and,

    Whereas, a Christian’s primary identity is in Christ and believers are to live for His glory through suffering, current abuse models portray victimhood as an individual’s primary identity; and,

    Whereas, biblical counselors should only employ philosophies and methodologies that emerge from the Scripture.

    Whereas, Scripture is sufficient to address all cases of abuse, ministering in these situations requires counselors to be full of the fear and knowledge of God, display proven character and maturity, and have spiritual discernment; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM that Christians, the body of Christ, and biblical counselors should reject abuse models and counseling methods with unbiblical origins and framework. Even though these models may be based upon some accurate observations, the interpretation of all data should be exclusively biblical. The Duluth Model, which is rooted in feminism and social Marxist theory, promotes an unbiblical view of abuse and authority. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) is an unnecessary and unbiblical tool to identify abuse. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is an unbiblical substitute for the biblical method of heart change through salvation and sanctification which produces changed thinking and glorifies God rather than man. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is not scientifically validated and violates biblical precepts to take thoughts captive and to protect minds from forces of evil while distorting one’s recall of events, thus causing confusion and fear. Exposure therapy violates God’s heart for sufferers.  He does not expose his children to unnecessary suffering and in fact meets them in their distresses and promises to strengthen and deliver them from it.  It is in the Lord that hope is found, irrespective of the situation. 

    WE DENY that secular abuse models are necessary for addressing abuse in the family, church and society; we deny gender biased models and language that indiscriminately vilifies men and excuses women; we deny that models founded on critical theory and focused on dismantling biblical headship truly identify, diagnose, or explain the evil in an abuser’s heart and point to the solution of this evil; we deny that Scripture does not provide an adequate or comprehensive methodology for caring for the abused and addressing the evils of the abuser; we deny that the church benefits from adapting secular methods for preventing abuse.

    SCRIPTURE: Psalm 107:6; Psalm 1; Ephesians 1; Colossians 2:8; 1 Peter 2-3. 

  • On the Abused

    Whereas, a biblical anthropology depicts humans as body and soul; and,

    Whereas, both the inner and outer man can be harmed by abuse; and,

    Whereas, it is possible for our minds to be renewed by the Holy Spirit through Scripture and our bodies to be healed; and,

    Whereas, Christ is the ultimate source of help and the One to whom the abused should be encouraged to turn; and,

    Whereas, all trauma and abuse will be redeemed for God’s glory and the victim’s good; therefore:

    WE AFFIRM the abused are never responsible for their abuser’s sin. Victims are morally accountable for their responses and their pastors should compassionately, patiently, and actively shepherd them. We affirm that some have been oppressed and abused, but God’s faithfulness, and their position in Christ, is never altered, useless, powerless, or ineffective. Anyone experiencing threats to safety is encouraged to seek protection, by faith, from the abuser, including protection provided by governing and ecclesiastical authorities. We affirm that the abused may retain a lawyer to protect essential assets relating to provision for themselves and their children. Jesus Christ is always close to the abused, even when their hearts are broken. We are commanded to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and pray for protection and salvation from those who abuse us. We affirm that it is loving to expose the sin of abuse. While reconciliation is desirable, it is conditioned on biblical forgiveness and consistent bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, rather than worldly sorrow.

    WE DENY that the only response for the abused is to endure suffering, seeking no protection or recourse; we deny that the victim is the cause of abuse; we deny that the body and mind will never be able to fully heal; we deny that abuse results in irreparable psychological damage that determines present behavior; we deny that once someone has been abused, their primary identity is as a victim or survivor. We deny such perspectives that see the abused as perpetual victims and dismiss the need for victims to address sin of their own heart.

    SCRIPTURES: Exodus 21:26-27; Job 42:5; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 40:17; Proverbs 22:3; Proverbs 23:3; Proverbs 27:12; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 43:2; Matthew 2:13, 21-23; Matthew 3:8; Matthew 11:16; Luke 4:18-19, 28-30; Luke 6:27-28; John 7:1; John 10:39; Romans 3:23; Romans 13; 2 Corinthians 11:22-23, 33;  Ephesians 1:17-18; Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 4:15-16.

    Framework & Guidelines

    The following document is intended to serve three purposes.(1) First, it is intended that this document be read in conjunction with ACBC’s Affirmations and Denials on Abuse in order to offer practical wisdom from the doctrinal focus of that document. Second, the Discerning Abuse Framework serves as an aid to define and categorize more clearly the sin of abuse. Current definitions of abuse are often too broad and ambiguous in providing biblical counselors a proper understanding of abuse and its harmful impacts. The framework is designed to help us identify abuse, both in the language and concept presented in the Bible, so that we may be helped to seek the heart of God toward the abused and abusers. Third, these guidelines are not intended to serve as strict policy. The nature of the complexities of abuse demand case wisdom for a myriad of details related to specific situations. We are therefore providing guidelines that maintain doctrinal fidelity and godly compassion in our approach to caring for the abused. 

    Counseling in an abuse situation is made complex for several reasons. First, abuse cases are protracted, messy entanglements of sin. The deep-seated patterns and effects of the abuse demand patience and wisdom to discern so that proper counsel, appropriate to the person, can be given. Second, reporting laws are different depending upon your location. Particular details of mandatory reporting for abuse varies from state to state, which may add to a counselor’s confusion and trepidation to engage. We recommend that all ACBC certified counselors know and understand your local reporting requirements for minors, adults, and special cases (e.g., adults with disability, elderly, etc.). ACBC standards of conduct demand that all counselors meet mandatory reporting requirements in cases of abuse.(2) A third reason that abuse cases are complex is that the counselor may not be aware of all pertinent information in real time. The abused may be timid to disclose details related to the abuse. While actions are required because of the sensitive and often volatile nature of abuse situations, counselors must be cautious not to make assumptions or neglect listening well to the details of the story. The counselor may only offer counsel based on knowledge theyhave in the moment. A fourth reason is that abuse cases often do not flow in a linear fashion.

    The multifaceted nature of abuse and counseling care does not typically follow a normal or easily identifiable pattern of discovery and remedy. For example, forgiveness and repentance are very difficult to quantify in cases of abuse. New information may be uncovered which may alter the direction and aim of counseling. For these reasons, and others, we acknowledge that biblical counseling in cases of abuse is complex and difficult, requiring godly wisdom, compassion, humility, and courage.

    Both the Discerning Abuse Framework and Key Guidelines below are an attempt to help ACBC certified counselors think through abuse in a way that honors the Lord Jesus, cares for the abused and mistreated, and biblically engages abusers. Steps and stages of a counseling process are simply not attainable in abuse cases, so we have provided guidelines which help the counselor to prepare for difficult situations while upholding their biblical responsibilities to care well and honor the Lord. Guidelines are not always linear either and are merely suggestive in helping counselors consider decisions or actions that will need to be made at different points in the counseling process. First, counselors need to be prepared for cases of abuse before they ever happen. Second, counselors should consider what to do when an allegation is made. Third, biblical counselors, as ministers of reconciliation, should aim to address the slower-paced process of counseling once the moments of crisis have passed. With that being said, not all cases of abuse will end in reconciliation. Cases in which there is unforgiveness or in which repentance is lacking—e.g., bitterness and selfish desires remain—reconciliation is not possible. But we do believe that our God can change the hearts of men and women to restore what has been broken by the ravages of sinful abuse. 

    This document will be refined as we grow to understand the sin of abuse and its effects, and as we better understand the sufficient Scripture which the Lord has provided to guide us for the care of wounded souls. 

    (1)This document is written for ACBC counselors and ministry leaders.

    (2)Free Mandatory Reporting seminars are offered by each state in the U.S.

    Discerning Abuse Framework

    The Discerning Abuse Framework is intended to provide a biblically-informed lens through which we can best define, understand, and categorize abuse and its effects. Thresholds regarding what constitutes abuse are often vague and confusing. The framework is arranged to capture, in principle, biblical words and concepts in order to identify acts and the effects of abuse. Effects, or symptoms, of abuse may vary in degree depending upon a variety of factors and are an unreliable and inconsistent threshold for labeling abuse. This framework is critical, since the way one defines a problem narrows the direction in which solutions are sought and found.
    Definition and Parameters for Abuse

    Abuse is the pattern of sinful, selfish mistreatment of another made in God’s image, whereby moral agency, freedom of conscience informed by God’s Word, and God-given human dignity is violated by harmful acts (physical, sexual, verbal) or schemes to perpetuate oppression and unbiblical control (Exodus 3:9-10Deuteronomy 26:6-8; Psalm 10; Isaiah 19:20Isaiah 30:12-13Isaiah 49:26Matthew 20:25-28). Acts of abuse are vile practices arising from selfish ambition and bitter jealousy, born from sinful desires in the heart (James 3:16). 

    • Physical abuse encompasses actions that harm the body including but not limited to beatings, sexual assault, physical or sexual coercion, sleep deprivation, starvation, or confinement.
    • Verbal abuse involves patterns of degrading and dehumanizing communication in all forms, including threats of violence to spouse or child, threats of continued abuse, threats of suicide and self-harm, lying, and manipulation. Spiritual manipulation may happen when misuses or misinterpretations of Scripture are enforced in order to be a stumbling block, oppress, or control another person.
    • Scheming includes intentional efforts and plotting by the abuser to inflict harm by threatening future abuse, continuing abusive behaviors, concealing past abuse, or hiding the scope of the abuse. Scheming against another can consist of limiting access to material assets, isolating from social relationships, and controlled monitoring of the individual. While scheming can take many forms, it is marked by evil intentions and using resources to inflict harm (Psalm 5:6Psalm 7:14Psalm 35:4Psalm 40:14Psalm 70:2Psalm 71:10). 
      • Restricting material assets in order to perpetuate abuse may include, but is not limited to, intentionally cutting off access to finances, neglecting familial fiduciary responsibilities, limiting ability to communicate and travel, and blackmailing. This obviously does not include the biblical stewardship of resources like budgeting. 
      • Restricting relational support in order to perpetuate abuse may include, but is not limited to, isolating the abused from family, church, friends, and other social connections and deceiving outsiders for the purpose of concealment. This does not include the clear biblical principle of leaving and cleaving.
      • Monitoring the abused in order to perpetuate abuse may include, but is not limited to, surveillance through cameras, cellphone activity, financial transactions, other technology, or co-conspirators.(3) This does not include the use of technology for safety or proper stewardship of such things as security cameras, cellphones, bank statements, etc. 
    (3)Consider Jonadab in 2 Samuel 13:3-6
    Categorizing Effects of Abuse

    While the terms emotional and spiritual abuse can describe genuine evil and real experiences, these are better thought of as effects of abuse listed above rather than distinct categories of abuse for four primary reasons: 

    • First, since each individual is impacted differently by their own experiences, the labels of spiritual and emotional abuse are inconsistent ways to measure abuse. Identifying objective acts of abuse enables more precise ministry of the Word of God to individuals in order to help them respond to those sinful acts in faith. 
    • Second, people may experience deeply abusive behavior without displaying severe emotional or spiritual distress. Likewise, people experience emotional and spiritual distress when intentional and severe harm has been done to them, but some may experience similar distress when there has been little to no harm. Therefore, measuring abuse by the effects of distress is an inconsistent threshold.
    • Third, emotional distress is a normal response to abuse and should not be viewed categorically as pathological. Distress and sorrow can be godly responses to suffering and being sinned against which mirror God’s posture towards sin.(4) These emotions should be expressed through lament before God rather than losing hope or considering these emotions as the problem itself. 
    • Fourth, abuse certainly influences the inner man of the abused, but abuse does not keep one from being obedient to God and joyful through the power of the Holy Spirit and His Word. Labeling emotional and spiritual symptoms as abuse rather than the effects of abuse concedes power to the abuser and dismisses the responsibility of the abused for their beliefs, thoughts, and emotions before God. An abuser can control the body, the words one hears, resources, and may attempt to deceive through twisting thoughts and beliefs, but he or she cannot control the responses and emotions of the victim. One important way to remove the harmful or demeaning manipulative control of the abuser over the victim is to restore the victim’s freedom of conscience before God. Acknowledging the moral responsibility of the victim before God restores human dignity (2 Corinthians 5:14-16).

    Along with the emotional and spiritual symptoms of abuse, biblical counselors must be ready to address physiological symptoms which may include anxiety attacks, post-traumatic stress, restless sleep, and more. These effects have a connection to and are perpetuated by the inner man of the abused. Emotional, spiritual, and physiological problems can potentially point counselors to an abusive situation, but they are best considered symptoms as opposed to distinct categories of abuse. Counselors must use discernment because these symptoms may or may not be related directly to abuse.

    (4)Consider Lamentations, Psalm 25:16-17; Psalm 119:136; Psalm 77

    Key Guidelines for Handling Abuse Cases

    These guidelines do not represent strict policies; instead, they are intended to aid counselors to consider critical decisions at moments when abuse allegations have been made. Since each case of abuse is unique in fact, situation, and context, providing an inflexible methodology would be detrimental in attempting to replace much-needed discernment with the particulars of any abuse case. Case wisdom is necessary due to the variability in these types of cases. However, what follows is an attempt to offer considerations of wisdom at different junctures of the counseling process which aims at the honor of Christ, the protection and care of the abused, and biblical change for abusers.

    I. Preliminary Matters
    • I. Preliminary Matters: Guidelines in this section are considered preemptive concerns that should be considered in preparation for addressing allegations of abuse that arise.
      • a. Be reminded of ACBC’s Standard of Conduct, especially section III. Commitment to Care.
      • b. Research your local laws and statutes related to mandatory reporting for abuse cases and incorporate these within key counseling and organizational documents.
        • i. Include limits of confidentiality which address mandatory reporting within your church or ministry counseling consent forms and documents.
        • ii. Include clear policy and procedural statements within your church constitution and by-laws, or your ministry organizational documents(5). If your counseling ministry is under the authority of a local church, you should consider polity and leadership structure within the church. Questions to consider may include:
          • 1. How do counselors and church leadership report abuse to civil authorities?
          • 2. Does mandatory reporting reflect the local requirements?
          • 3. Are any cautions given by local authorities to consider before reporting? What cautions should you be aware of when considering abuse reporting?
          • 4. How do you report abuse to church and/or ministry leadership?(6)
          • 5. To whom would you report in church and/or ministry leadership?
          • 6. Does the membership understand and affirm the process?
          • 7. What constitutes biblical confidentiality in these cases?
        • iii. Enlist the help of a legal professional to review your counseling documents, forms, and organizational policy and procedural documents to ensure appropriate and clear language.(7)
      • c. Commit to care for the abused and to engage the abuser.(8) Churches and their leadership need to provide protection for the abused and should seek to hold the abuser accountable based on scriptural mandates to minister to sufferers and sinners. Suggestions may include:
        • i. Develop a safety plan with the victim.
        • ii. Considering physical safety, create a short confidential list of homes within the church or other places of safety to shelter those in a crisis situation.
        • iii. Write and maintain a clear care plan for the abused that includes a care team to help meet practical needs. Care team members should be mature believers that have gone through additional vetting and preparation by church leadership. This can include background checks among other evaluations.
        • iv. Establish and maintain a working relationship with local law enforcement. Remember, it is their job to investigate potential criminality. If there is a suspicion or credible allegation of a crime, counselors should call local law enforcement consistent with mandatory reporting requirements (Romans 13:1-5).
        • v. The church still has a responsibility to minister to the victims even while a criminal investigation is ongoing.
        • vi. Plan for confronting and ministering to the abuser, which may include, but is not limited to, calls to repentance through the church discipline process according to Matthew 18.
        • vii. In obedience to Scripture, church leaders responsible for shepherding bear the responsibility to engage the sin of the abuser—being careful not to jeopardize the physical safety of the abused. It is encouraged and preferable to have the consent and knowledge of the victim before confronting an abuser so that a safety plan is in place.
        • viii. In cases where the counselor disagrees with the pastors/elders, under the provision of the informed consent, the counselor should speak with the pastors/elders regarding any disagreements in order to seek a biblical solution. The authority of the counselor is limited, and the pastors/elders are responsible to the abused and the Lord for their stewardship of care. Counselors are responsible to submit to the guidance and oversight of the pastors/elders unless they are directed to sin against the counselee by inducing harm or neglect.

    (5)See T. Dale Johnson, Jr. and Edward Wilde, eds., Legal Issues in Biblical Counseling: Direction and Help for Churches and Counselors (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2022).

    (6)Although confidentiality is often one aspect of the counseling process and counselors intend to guard the information received from a counselee, there are a number of situations, like abuse, when it may be necessary or prudent (as determined in counselor’s sole discretion) for the counselor to share information with others.

    (7)Johnson and Wilde, Legal Issues in Biblical Counseling

    (8)While these guidelines use gender-specific language when appropriate (such as the treatment of a husband’s authority), these documents recognize that either men and women can perpetuate abuse against their spouses and children.

    II. Allegations
    • II. Allegations: Guidelines in this section relate to the initial responses of the counselor upon receiving allegations of abuse. Counselors are responsible for what they know at the time of the allegation and should act according to their pastoral obligation and legal responsibilities for reporting as a practice of biblical care.
      • a. Firsthand Allegations – These are disclosures made directly to the counselor by the abused.
        • i. Take allegations seriously.
          • 1. We recommend that all ACBC certified counselors know and understand their local reporting requirements for minors, adults, and special cases (e.g., vulnerable adults). ACBC recommends all counselors to meet legal requirements and standards for reporting in cases of abuse.
          • 2. Elements of abuse are not easily disclosed by victims. Therefore, counselors should always listen carefully and take seriously what is being told them by a counselee. Wisdom dictates the necessity to gently verify objective claims made which may include seeking out other witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1). Pay careful attention to church’s confidentiality statements.
          • 3. Counselors endeavor to protect counselees from exposure to the harmful treatment of others.
        • ii. Document details relating to the allegation.
          • 1. Establish and document a timeline for the abuse, including when it began, the most recent incident, the people involved, and objective facts rather than opinions. This may include children, witnesses, or co-conspirators.
          • 2. Record necessary details of the abuse allegation even if there is not time to fully gather data.
        • iii. Consider the Discerning Abuse Framework as you hear allegations and gather further data.
        • iv. Gather data through key initial questions. These questions may be asked of the abused or may be a question for the counselor to consider and look into further.
          • 1. Care for the victim spiritually. This includes, but is not limited to, discerning improper guilt and shame the individual may be carrying, give the hope of Christ, provide assurances of God’s sovereignty and love, and clarify the need to obey the Lord even in times of suffering; including ways of escape.
          • 2. Is there an imminent physical threat?
          • 3. Has any prior reporting been made regarding this allegation?
          • 4. Does anyone else know about this allegation? Specifically, has anyone in the church been involved to date in any way?
          • 5. Are there any reports of prior instances of abuse? Were there any court findings in the prior reports of abuse?
          • 6. Are children, the elderly, or otherwise vulnerable individuals involved in any way in this instance of alleged abuse?
        • v. Consider the unique support structures and resources available to the abused. This includes safety, financial assets, supportive relationships, and current church affiliation.
        • vi. Assess the threat of immediate harm. This includes current physical abuse or threats of violence.
        • vii. Depending upon the immediacy of threats of physical harm and in addition to reporting if required, there are two options to consider that will determine whether other steps need to be taken before additional counseling and the course of that on-going counseling:
          • 1. If physical harm is imminent or a credible threat of harm, it is important to find a safe place, report to civil and ecclesiastical authorities, receive medical care (if necessary), see that basic needs are met, assess length of time for immediate care.
          • 2. If there is no immediate physical threat and the abused does not report feeling unsafe but instead desires to return home, then
            • a. Consult with ecclesiastical authorities
            • b. Plan regular follow up meetings in the near future with victim.
            • c. Consider the wisdom of confronting the abuser, in consult with the local church pastors/elders and victim.
      • b. Secondhand allegation – These are allegations made directly to the counselor by someone other than the abused.
        • i. Listen and gather information carefully and with discretion.
        • ii. Ask questions about the one making the secondhand allegation. This does not mean the counselor should engage in “criminal investigation” but rather engage in due diligence to verify the facts of the allegation. A few questions to consider:
          • 1. Did the witness see the abuse firsthand themselves and/or have corroborating witnesses? If so, then did this person report the abuse to proper legal authorities?
          • 2. Is the report credible? (i.e., is it from someone who would have reasonable knowledge about the events and individuals involved in the allegation) Your state may require reporting even with reasonable suspicion. After sorting reporting responsibility, and reporting if mandated, seek out and speak with alleged victim in order to verify the facts of the allegation. As a first option the second-hand reporter should request that the victim speak with the counselor. As a second option, the person reporting the allegation second-hand should go with the counselor to speak with the alleged victim (see the section on firsthand allegations for steps to consider).
          • 3. Who else did the reporter speak with about this allegation?
          • 4. Is the abused person aware that the reporter is sharing this allegation with you? If so, are they supportive of the reporter sharing this information? Is the victim willing to disclose the information?
          • 5. Could there be potential ulterior motives of the reporter?
        • iii. Consider necessary steps needing to be taken if the alleged victim does not corroborate the allegation made by the reporter. This could include facilitating a meeting between the reporter and alleged victim in order to gain further clarity about the situation, keeping documentation about these conversations and outlining the discrepancies, and informing pastoral leadership or other ministry staff.
        • iv. Consider the requirement and/or wisdom to report to various authorities, especially when children, the elderly, or other vulnerable people are involved (see the section on preliminary matters for steps to consider).
    III. Reporting and Informing
    • III. Reporting and Informing: Guidelines in this section relate to considerations that must be made when legally reporting an abusive situation.
      • a. When there is abuse (see Discerning Abuse Framework), it should be reported to law enforcement in accordance with your legal reporting requirements. Please remember that reporting requirements may differ depending on the location and the type of abuse (child, domestic violence, vulnerable adults, etc.). The church can help support this action step by preparing documentation if church discipline is needed (see the section on preliminary matters).
        • i. Documentation for Law Enforcement: It helps law enforcement to document the situation and if there are repeated reports, there is evidence should it go to legal proceedings. Based on meetings with local law enforcement as a preliminary measure, the church could provide a form or template to aid counselors and church leaders in documenting allegations.
        • ii. Documentation for Medical Records: If there is visual evidence of the abuse it needs be documented by law enforcement who should be called immediately for this purpose at 911 and Child Protective Services.
        • iii. Obtain Consent from Abuse Victims (when possible): While it is preferable to obtain consent from abuse victims, there are limits to confidentiality and it may be necessary to report criminal activity to civil authorities without the consent of the victim. Discernment must be used in all reporting cases, especially considering the physical safety of the victim. This discernment is guided by biblical principles, deferring to pastoral leadership when appropriate, and exercising spiritual and physical care for the alleged victim.
      • b. Involve victims of abuse, when appropriate, in decisions that need to be made as events unfold in an attempt to be considerate, gracious, and wise in shepherding.
        • i. Victims’ input is helpful in identifying patterns of rebellion or growth, but their permission is not required to advance Matthew 18.
      • c. Informing pastors/elders of the parties involved in the abuse allegations for appropriate biblical care.
    IV. Data Gathering and Assessment for Ongoing Counseling
    • IV. Data Gathering and Assessment for Ongoing Counseling: Guidelines in this section relate to the general counseling methodology in scenarios where allegations are made about abuse. This section is not required prior to reporting if it is a mandatory reporting situation.
      • a. Uphold biblical principles (Proverbs 18:13, 17) to hear both sides while acting on urgent priorities such as ensuring physical safety and reporting to law enforcement if necessary.
      • b. Gather pertinent information related to the allegation. Establish and document a timeline for the abuse, including when it began, and the most recent incident, and people involved.
      • c. Make assessment regarding allegations to determine biblical responsibilities to the parties involved.
      • d. Take into consideration any restraining orders, visitation restrictions, the results of an investigation, and any legal proceedings by civil authorities.
      • e. Seek the truth and determine if there is sin. If so, then consider the types of sin since that will determine the direction of counseling and care. Utilize the Discerning Abuse Framework to consider the categories and symptoms that are present in this particular case.
        • i. Biblical counselors should use biblical terminology to define and evaluate various problems.
        • ii. This stage is important in order to identify and categorize the problems rightly. If the problem is only defined using non-biblical categories, then solutions follow suit that will not be grounded in Scripture. To make the problem “supra-sin” is to require a “supra-Scriptural” solution.
        • iii. Secular tools like the Duluth Model, the ACE, and CBT are not compatible with biblical wisdom and push counselors and victims towards unbiblical ways of thinking about abuse. Even though people who employ these models may have some accurate observations, the categorization and interpretation of all data should be biblical in nature and counsel.
    V. Treatment of a Husband’s Authority and Responsibilities During a Period of Separation
    • V. Treatment of a husband’s authority and responsibilities during a period of separation.
      • a. Understanding there are theological differences related to separation and divorce, this section addresses the need to consider the question of the husband’s authority in the event of separation for the good and safety of the family.(9) The spiritual care and physical needs of the family in the husband’s absence should be a priority for the church and if possible, the extended family.
      • b. If a husband is considered an abuser by ecclesiastical authority separation may be warranted. Guided by pastoral wisdom many of the husband’s normal, biblical responsibilities and privileges may need to be set aside and “reserved” for a season. While he is still obligated to love and provide for his family, a consequence of his sin is the abdication of exercising his headship in financial and spiritual decisions for the home and of sexual intimacy with his wife.
        • i. This imparts tangible consequences and gives the husband time and space to focus on repentance with his counselor.
        • ii. While sin has devastating effects and consequences that cannot be alleviated in the short-term, these steps encourage the family to continue what is necessary for the home to function appropriately.
        • iii. Church leadership is to exercise oversight and case-specific wisdom here, seeking biblical wisdom and perhaps delegating the care and counsel of the family as deemed helpful overall. Where appropriate, it is recommended to work closely with adult children and/or the extended family.
      • c. Biblical insights for coming alongside the wife/mother can be gained from passages that address both single women and widows in the church.
        • i. 1 Timothy 5:1-16 on widows and “widows indeed”
          • 1. Scripture makes it clear that we are to provide compassionate care for women who have lost the support and care of their husbands (e.g., “widows” in Isaiah 1:17 and Psalm 94:6).
          • 2. The woman’s “household” is to assume a prominent role in meeting financial and material needs, to the best of their ability, similar to their responsibility to care for “dependent widows” in 1 Timothy 5:8, 16.
          • 3. The church is to take a prominent role in meeting financial and material needs when family is absent or cannot/refuses to meet her needs. In this sense, she is like the “widows indeed” in 1 Timothy 5.
      • d. Responsibilities that need to be addressed include:
        • i. Spiritual leadership in the home (regular prayer and time in the Word, church involvement, giving, etc.)
        • ii. Finances and material resources
          • 1. Especially in cases where finances have been severely controlled or constrained by the abusive husband, the wife may need help managing the basics of the family finances.
            • a. The husband should be expected to cooperate fully here as evidence of repentance, ensuring his wife has full cognizance of and access to all financial accounts.
          • 2. Church leadership should work with available family members potentially to help her manage finances and to meet financial and other material needs.
          • 3. Note there may be additional financial impacts as a result of the separation, such as rent for where the husband is living.
        • iii. Discipline and instruction of the children
          • 1. This includes modeling humility and trust in the Lord for the children during the trial.
          • 2. This includes encouraging the children to glorify God as they honor their father by showing respect when they are with him and praying for him regularly, for this is what God declares is “right” (Ephesians 6:1-2).
        • iv. Sexual relations and physical intimacy
          • 1. While a counselor does not have authority to command abstinence in these cases in order to avoid binding the conscience, however, strong consideration should be given toward a pause for sexual intimacy by mutual agreement for an unspecified amount of time. This will ensure that further sin is not perpetuated or condoned, and the focus remains on eradicating sinful behaviors. Case wisdom is important here to avoid using intimacy as a tool of manipulation and as a stumbling block to genuine repentance. In such cases, counselors ought to seek pastoral wisdom from their pastors/elders to guide such recommendations.
        • v. It is wise to avoid unusual or significant decisions that are not truly essential and/or time-sensitive, and thus can be put off for a season (e.g., purchasing a new vehicle, moving, sale of the house, etc.)
      • e. To help the wife/mother avoid being overwhelmed with too many new responsibilities while functioning like a single parent, church leadership may consider working with her to provide relief from some or all of her responsibilities in the church as well as counseling her about other responsibilities she may have within the community, school, etc. These actions should in no way be punitive in nature.
      • f. In addition to counseling the wife through the issue of abuse, a separate time should be set aside to have godly women and/or church leadership meet with and come alongside her in bearing her daily/weekly burdens of running the household.
        • i. Consider that she may be in a weakened, fainthearted state, making regular tasks and chores more difficult to keep up. Encouragement is the task of the counselor when the victim is fainthearted (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
        • ii. Identify areas where the church can serve her (i.e., babysitting, home repairs, free time outside the home).
    (9)Separation in this case includes but is not limited to legal separation.
    VI. Post-allegation Care for the Abused
    • VI. Post-allegation Care for the Abused
      • a. After addressing immediate concerns for safety, processing the initial allegations appropriately, and discerning that abuse has happened, counseling moves into the next stage of caring for the victim.
      • b. Address any emotional, spiritual, and physiological effects (i.e., symptoms) of abuse. See the Discerning Abuse Framework for more about how to appropriately view symptoms of abuse as distinct from categories of abuse.
      • c. Provide a biblical understanding of the following:
        • i. Biblical understanding of suffering, including the holiness, goodness, and sovereignty of God in our suffering.
        • ii. Biblical understanding of guilt and shame
        • iii. Hope for transformation and healing (biblical sanctification)
        • iv. Identity in Christ
        • v. Biblical change, including renewing the mind and put off/put on.
        • vi. Biblical forgiveness
        • vii. Biblical repentance and reconciliation
        • viii. Biblical understanding of submission and authority (not hyper-headship).
        • ix. Loving one’s enemies
      • d. Differentiate approaches to care
        • i. In cases where the abused is a Christian and a member of your church.
          • 1. Be sure pastors/elders or key leaders responsible for care in the church are briefed on this situation.
          • 2. Consider ways to coordinate care in both material and spiritual ways (see the section on preliminary matters for more details).
          • 3. Check in with the abused often through structured sessions.
        • ii. In cases where the abused is a Christian and a member of another local church
          • 1. Be sure pastors/elders of the victim’s church are briefed on this situation and offer to work with them in the physical and spiritual care of the abused and abuser.
          • 2. Offer counseling to the victim while encouraging active worship and attendance at their local church.
    VII. Post-allegation Engaging the Alleged Abuser
    • VII. Post-allegation Engaging the Alleged Abuser
      • a. General Counseling Considerations
        • i. Data gathering and discernment of the heart
          • 1. Consider potential heart dispositions and their manifestations that could include the following: self-pleasure, self-pain and flagellation, self-prescription and medication, pharisaical attitudes, self-pity, punishing others, lust for power, desire for worship, people pleasing, misunderstanding of biblical roles and responsibilities within marriage, attempting to alleviate a guilty conscience.
          • 2. Reproof and admonition
          • 3. Hope for change
          • 4. Establishing a pattern of faithful obedience, trustworthiness, and spiritual growth.
          • 5. Humble submission to the Lordship of Christ.
          • 6. Demeanor and behavior should be transformed into Christlikeness as a gentle servant leader.
          • 7. Growth in patience and having the mind of Christ to prefer others.
      • b. Bearing fruit in Keeping with Repentance (Matthew 3:8; Matthew 7:17-20; Luke 3:7-14)
        • i. All sin is first against God and reconciliation must begin in the heart toward God.
        • ii. Reconciliation is possible if there is both genuine forgiveness and repentance. Biblical repentance is the focus of this section.
        • iii. Humility, confession, and genuine repentance (godly sorrow) are often misunderstood and confused with worldly sorrow.
        • iv. The fruit of repentance may take considerable time to be evidenced.
        • v. There is no tool that guarantees a genuine heart of repentance, church leaders and the abuse victim must consider biblical principles and evidences of genuine repentance from Scripture.
          • 1. Principles
            • a. All sin, including abuse, is first a sin against God.
            • b. Repentance is not simply a change in thinking, but a change in attitude bearing outward evidence of fruit from the heart into actions (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20; Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 2:3-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18; John 16:7-8).
            • c. One should not seek to conceal sin, but confess sin (Proverbs 28:13; Psalm 51).
            • d. Repentance is a putting off of the old man, renewing the mind, and putting on of the new man. (Ephesians 4:17-32)
            • e. Repentance is an acknowledgment of sin and seeks transparency to expose the unfruitful works of darkness wanting nothing to do with them (Ephesians 5:3-14; 1 John 1:8-10).
            • f. Repentance is not perfection, but distinct change of heart in the mind, will, and emotions that leads to change in specific behaviors.
            • g. Repentance is a change of the mind that is active in forsaking wickedness and pursuing righteousness (Matthew 5:6; Luke 9:23; Colossians 3:5).
            • h. Repentance is more than regret and sorrow. It will involve regret and sorrow, but it is much more than those two things alone. Repentance is a godly grief that is sorrowful over sin committed and the hurt caused by the sin. It is not a desire to simply remove the consequences of sin, which is worldly sorrow that does not lead to true change but leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).
            • i. Repentance does not necessarily avoid the consequences of sinful actions (Luke 23:39-43).
            • j. Repentance is necessary for true salvation and should be a consistent practice of all true believers.
            • k. God’s Word exposes sin and is the means, by the power of the Spirit, to make genuine change.
            • l. Repentance is a turning from the world and fleshly lust to God and his ways.
          • 2. Evidences
            • a. We must keep in mind that repentance is not perfection, but distinct change of heart in the mind, will, and emotions that leads to change in specific behaviors.
            • b. Bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8)
              • i. Poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3)
              • ii. Mourning over sin (Matthew 5:4)
              • iii. Meekness (Matthew 5:5)
              • iv. Hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6)
              • v. Merciful (Matthew 5:7)
              • vi. Purity of heart (Matthew 5:8)
              • vii. Peacemaker (Matthew 5:9)
              • viii. When reviled do not revile in return (Matthew 5:11; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:15).
                ix. Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:12-17) rather than fruit of flesh (Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-11)
                • 1. Love (Colossians 3:14), joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, compassionate heart
              • x. Attitude of thanksgiving (Colossians 3:15-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
              • xi. Putting sin to death (Romans 8:13; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:5)
            • c. Brokenness and contrition in heart (Psalm 51)
            • d. Humility and Fear of the Lord (Colossians 3):
              • i. Fear of the Lord (Proverbs 22:4), rather than a fear of consequences (Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 13:6)
              • ii. God opposes the proud (James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 5:5).
              • iii. Is there defensiveness? Are they teachable and open for correction?
              • iv. Is the person self-protective?
              • v. Primary concern is glory of God, not approval of man (Matthew 10:28).
              • vi. Primary concern is good of others not the good of self (Philippians 2:3-8).
            • e. Earnest
              • i. Are they seeking to build broken relationships or simply trying to get the situation back to the way it was?
            • f. Zeal
              • i. Is there a zeal to pursue righteousness? (Matthew 5:6)
              • ii. Is there zeal to kill the sin? (Colossians 3:5)
            • g. Avenging wrong
              • i. Desire to make right what has been done wrong (Luke 19:8-10)
              • ii. Should be a sense of, “I’ll do whatever it takes to make this right.” The excuses, minimizations, justifications, or blame-shifting of the person’s sin must be replaced with taking personal responsibility for their own sin.
    VIII. Considerations for Church Leaders (Elders, Pastors, Overseers)
    • VIII. Considerations for Church Leaders (Elders, Pastors, Overseers)(10)
      • a. Your leadership is needed in any crisis, especially in cases of abuse. Please do not delegate this responsibility to your counseling team alone. We glorify God as we confront evil and defend the vulnerable. Honor and allegiance to God and his glory includes the call to defend the defenseless.
        • i. Responsibilities
          • 1. The care of souls is a primary responsibility of “shepherds.”
          • 2. Pastors/elders have a divine calling to enter into the pain and help all involved see God and respond in a way that honors Him (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; Hebrews 13:17).
          • 3. Pastors/elders will give an account for oversight of souls and will give an account to God (Ezekiel 34:1-5).
          • 4. Pastors/elders are to emulate Christ’s tender care for the weak, meeting imminent needs (Matthew 12:20).
          • 5. Failing to care for the vulnerable is condemned by God (Proverbs 21:23; Proverbs 28:27; Matthew 25:31-46) and caring for the vulnerable is commended by him (Isaiah 58:6-10; Acts 2:32-35; Acts 4:44-45).
          • 6. Pastors/elders are not criminal investigators; however, it is the responsibility of shepherds to bring the Word of God to minister to the pain and suffering, providing hope and comfort.
          • 7. To lead, defend the truth, care for counselors, and protect the flock.
        • ii. Wisdom and discernment concerning allegations.
          • 1. Abuse allegations should be heard with grace and wisdom rather than antagonism or hostile interrogation. Take all allegations seriously with humility and compassion.
          • 2. There is wisdom in having a mature, godly, female in the room who may be an advocate for the victim when pastors/elders are seeking further information.
          • 3. Pastors/elders must be biblically responsible to acquire, discern, and act upon information obtained in order to respond in ways that are honoring to God and in likeness to Christ. (Act in accordance with the level of information you have and seek to keep gathering information).
            • a. Pastors/elders must discern when there is imminent danger.
            • b. Pastors/elders must know when to report to the appropriate abuse hotline.
            • c. In an effort to avoid future escalation, pastors/elders must consider the danger of further harm toward the abused once reporting occurs and act accordingly.
          • 4. Address imminent needs of the crisis (i.e., safety plan, housing needs, financial burdens, etc.)
          • 5. There has been much confusion between requirements to report allegations of abuse and the biblical responsibility of church leaders to withhold a charge against another without two witnesses.
            • a. Pastors/elders are not criminal investigators; therefore, proper legal reporting is required (make sure to understand your state requirements for reporting various kinds of abuse).
            • b. Legal reporting is appropriate and encouraged as obedience to God by honoring the governing authorities for proper protection of the abused and as proper punishment for evil doers.
            • c. Legal reporting, however, does not nullify the responsibility of the pastors/elders to engage in cases of abuse. Avoid the false dichotomy of abuse cases as either legal or spiritual. All cases have spiritual implications, which requires biblical oversight and care, and some cases may require legal involvement.
            • d. Legal reporting requirements do not necessitate prior adjudication by pastors/elders as to whether an individual is guilty of the accusation.
          • 6. Gently verify
            • a. Admittedly, this is a most crucial step in the process where many mistakes have been made.
            • b. Again, there is wisdom in having a mature, godly, female in the room who may be an advocate for the victim when pastors/elders are seeking further information.
            • c. The pastors/elders must proceed under the jurisdiction of the church to assess the allegations with spiritual wisdom and discernment, caring in the process for the individual making the disclosure and the individual accused. Hearing from both sides and considering proper corroboration is biblically required (Proverbs 18:13, 17).
            • d. Shepherds must be careful and gentle in this stage to take disclosure seriously while using wise discernment to verify the allegations in order to act biblically.
            • e. Pastors/elders must be wise and faithful stewards of the information entrusted to them.
          • 7. Pastors/elders must be willing to confront the sin of abusers and offer compassionate biblical care for the ones sinned against.
        • iii. Develop a Shepherding Plan
          • 1. Remain vigilant to define problems in biblical terms. The problems of abuse are created and manifested as a result of sin. Be aware of cultural and extra-biblical nomenclature to define abuse and its causes in order to avoid seeking solutions that fall short of a biblical response. Resist secularizing the situation in jargon which focuses upon non-Christian terminology and practice.
          • 2. There are conflicting statistics regarding false accusations, so all allegations must be taken seriously. However, biblically, due diligence is required in every case in order to either protect the abused or avoid false condemnation. Biblical discernment, humility, and compassion are critical to avoid any premature dismissal of allegations.(11)
            • a. Mistakes have been made in over reactions to false allegations.
            • b. Mistakes have been made in reaction to legitimate disclosures of abuse.
          • 3. A plan for restoration of individuals involved precedes a plan for restoring the marriage. This is not to neglect the goal of marital restoration, but recognizes forgiveness and repentance are individual responses which are necessary on an individual level toward God before biblical reconciliation and martial restoration is possible. (Consider Matthew 7 and Matthew 22:37-39).
          • 4. Reconciliation is a biblical goal. However, we must not neglect biblical wisdom regarding forgiveness and true repentance which bears fruit.
          • 5. The plan must seek to minister biblically to all involved. Maintain urgency to minister to the needs but avoid hasty responses so as not to neglect asking appropriate questions and listening to understand in order to provide the best spiritual counsel (Proverbs 18:13).
          • 6. Take time to meet with the abused and their counselor very early in the process. In order to understand the perspective of the abused, it is recommended to meet on a regular basis with the abused and their counselor.
          • 7. Consider the financial burdens, safety concerns, and housing needs. Coordinate responses between various church ministries attempting to meet the acute needs (i.e., housing, childcare, meals, etc.) of abuse cases.
          • 8. Considerations should be added to the plan when social services are involved.
          • 9. Children affected need particular and focused shepherding care. Pastors should care about the most vulnerable. Children who go through domestic violence are particularly vulnerable to negative views of marriage and are more vulnerable to LGBTQ+ and cohabitation.
          • 10. The abused may need help with legal authorities, lawyers, or the court system which can be tedious and exhausting.
        • iv. Support for the counselors
          • 1. The spiritual leadership of the church is vital, please do not delegate the responsibility of care solely to the counselor.
          • 2. Counselors need encouragement and shepherding care while ministering in cases of abuse.
          • 3. Counseling needs, especially in abuse cases, demand the strength of the body of Christ together, not simply the counseling ministry. God uses His church to be His earthly representative in caring for the vulnerable, just as Jesus did (Ephesians 1:22; 1 John 2:6; Matthew 15:21-28; Luke 4:38-39; Luke 7:11-15; Luke 8:43-48; Luke 13:11-13; Mark 13: 3-9; John 4:4-42; John 19:26-27).
          • 4. Counselors need prayer and support from their pastors throughout the process.

    (10)When “church leadership” is mentioned in the document we are referring to pastors/elders/overseers.

    (11)Journal of Family Violence, Volume 31: 1035-1037, 2016; Journal of Family Violence, Volume 37: 1391-1403, 2022.

    (12)Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Risk Behavior Survey: Data Summary and Trends Report. pgs. 71-75. Retrieved February 27, 2023.

    IX. Considerations for Facilitating Reconciliation and Restoration in Cases of Abuse
    • IX. Considerations for facilitating reconciliation and restoration in cases of abuse.
      As counselors, it is necessary to generate and give clear expectations for reconciliation.(13) Before reconciliation of the relationship or restoration of the marriage, the abused must be willing to forgive and repentance must be evidenced in the abuser for reconciliation to be possible. The biblical pattern is repentance, then reconciliation, and finally restoration. A particular timeline is case by case.
      • a. Avoid criteria for reconciliation that are ambiguous, formulaic, or easy to manipulate legalistically (e.g., giving an arbitrary timeline like 6 months). Also avoid provoking counselees by frequently moving the “goal posts” for what constitutes fruits of genuine repentance and safety.
      • b. Genuine repentance is central to reconciliation
        • i. Internally, repentance is a process in which there is to be a complete change of purpose, a turning from sin, a sincere godly sorrow over how the sin has affected your relationship with God and others, and a turning to God alone to pursue and sustain faithful obedience, regardless of the progress/outcome of the trial (Psalm 1:10; Acts 26:20; 2 Corinthians 7:9-11; Revelation 2:5; Revelation 3:19). Please see the section in this document labeled “Bearing Fruit in Keeping with Repentance.”
        • ii. Externally, this is manifested in confession without excuse or qualification; asking of forgiveness to God and others; prioritizing God’s glory through one’s personal turning from and forsaking sin and one’s eager pursuit of personal holiness above all other goals; and bearing the fruit of repentance.(14) (Psalm 51:12-13,15,17; Romans 6:11,14; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
          • 1. An earnest, aggressive pursuit of change
          • 2. Rather than expecting others to have trust and confidence in the abuser based on what they may say, trust and confidence is built by the bearing of outward spiritual fruit.
          • 3. A righteous hatred of one’s sin
          • 4. A growing fear of the Lord demonstrated by obedience to Christ.
          • 5. A strong, sustained desire to right all wrongs caused by one’s sin
          • 6. A full acceptance of any personal consequences of your sin, loving righteous justice no matter what it costs you personally
        • iii. Similarly, worldly sorrow bears fruit that exposes lack of genuine repentance, and thus has no redemptive capability (Psalm 32:3-4; 2 Corinthians 7:10).
          • 1. A quick fading from an aggressive pace
          • 2. A renewed interest in self-indulgence
          • 3. A hatred of the consequences; wanting to let bygones be bygones
          • 4. A priority of removing the consequences
          • 5. Fear of man
        • iv. Counseling homework should therefore reflect the various means the Holy Spirit uses to bring about and sustain repentance. Consider principles of Ephesians 4:25-32. Change is not when one simply ceases to commit the sinful acts, but when they begin to exhibit the character of Christ.
      • c. Individual pursuits for both the abuser and abused that promote and reflect repentance
        • i. Be faithful to sustain your hope in and humble dependance upon the Lord. (Micah 7:1, 2, 7-8; Hebrews 6:19-20; Joel 2:12-13).
        • ii. Sustain endurance throughout the process (Hebrews 12:1-2).
        • iii. Watch your heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:19; Luke 6:45).
        • iv. Do not isolate, but rather remain faithful to your church and church leadership (Proverbs 18:1; Galatians 6:1-2).
        • v. Guard against resentment and sinful anger and pursue kindness, tenderheartedness, and a spirit of forgiveness (Ephesians 4:30-31; James 1:9-10).
      • d. Specific pursuits for the abuser
        • i. Understand that inward repentance will be evident to the sinner before the fruits of repentance becomes evident and convincing to others.
        • ii. Build a progressive testimony of humility, patience, faithfulness, and trustworthiness (James 1:25; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Isaiah 50:10; Romans 5:1, 3-5) versus trying to control the narrative with their spouse, remembering that a gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1).
        • iii. Prioritize God’s glory and personal responsibility before God above all other agendas (Matthew 7:5; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 14:10-12).
        • iv. As the repentant begins to walk in the light, teach them to be patient if others are slow to rejoice in their change; resumed closeness with your spouse is a gift to be offered rather than a right to demand (James 1:17; 1 John 1:5-7).
      • e. Specific pursuits for the abused
        • i. Do not lean on your own subjective feelings over against the wisdom and imperatives of Scripture.
        • ii. As trustworthiness is demonstrated, in faith, give trust (Romans 12:1-2, 14-15; 2 Corinthians 2:7-8).
        • iii. Encourage even the smallest evidence of repentance in your spouse as they pursue new habits rather than simply focusing on how far short of complete change they may be. This is with the understanding that time will attest to the genuineness of the change as opposed to superficial change (i.e., cleaning the outside of the cup). We must remember that God grants repentance in a believer’s life (2 Timothy 2:25).
        • iv. In faith, handle any sinful fear. Do not lose sight of Christ’s love and care for you; when fear sinfully consumes you, it reveals that your love for Christ is weak. Love does not cast out your reason to fear, but it has the ability to cast sinful fear out of your life (1 John 4:18).
          v. Recognize your strength comes from the living God (Isaiah 40:27-31).
      • f. Apply biblical wisdom for when to reunite a couple who have been separated for the sake of safety and protection of the abused. Note that many of these should be incorporated into the counseling agenda well enough before considering any reunification so data/evidence can be collected.
      • i. Church leadership should not abdicate their shepherding responsibilities to the wife or to the counselor.
        • 1. Church leaders are responsible for their sheep and will ultimately give an answer to God for them.
        • 2. Church leadership is encouraged to seek wisdom and may even delegate counseling responsibilities to biblical counselors who are walking in the Spirit and skilled in handling abuse cases.
        • 3. Church leadership should seek regular updates from any counselors and provide shepherding and instruction for those counselors.
      • ii. Questions to consider before reuniting them together in the counseling room
        • 1. Has the counselor had time and opportunity to observe fruits of godly sorrow and repentance in the abuser?
        • 2. Is the victim seeing change and willing to reunite in counseling?
        • 3. Are there one or two other godly persons who can give a similar testimony (using biblical criteria)?
        • 4. In the past, if the abuser has used counseling to manipulate the abused and/or the counselor, do they readily acknowledge their manipulation as sinful, and have they demonstrated a forsaking of the sin?
        • 5. Keep in mind that if counseling together resumes, and a lack of godly sorrow and repentance is exposed, church leaders and counselors can quickly remove that privilege.
      • iii. Questions to consider before reuniting them together in the home
        • 1. Have you (the counselor) clearly established the actions of abuse from the past?
          • a. Do both the abused and abuser agree on the list of actions?
          • b. Is there a clear, mutual plan for both on how to handle old habits when they manifest themselves?
          • c. Have all former restrictions of resources been removed with a mutual understanding of how those resources will be handled going forward?
        • 2. Has the counselor had time and opportunity to see established evidence of godly sorrow, repentance, trustworthiness, humility, and patience in the abuser?
        • 3. Are there one or two other godly persons who can give a similar testimony (using biblical criteria)? How about extended family members?
        • 4. Have there been consistent interactions between the two (including some with you as an observer) that are completely absent of the warning signs and/or actions that have resulted in abuse in the past?
          • a. Do these interactions include discussion of issues that have been difficult in the past which have been handled with grace and an abundance of self-control?
        • 5. Does the abused spouse consider her/himself to be safe to reunite in the home?
          • a. If “yes,” are the criteria cited based on Scripture (instead of merely feelings, emotions, or outside pressures from others, finances, etc.)?
          • b. If “no,” consider how they arrive at their conclusion. If there is biblical support for the stated concern(s), investigate why it potentially disagrees with your answers to 2 and 3 above. If it is clear the concerns are based purely on feelings, fear, etc., it may still be wise to pause the process for a time while you work through this with them and/or develop a more gradual process that increases opportunity to demonstrate repentance, trustworthiness, and safety.
          • c. Church leaders may conclude in some cases that the victim’s options are either to reconcile or to remain single (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
        • 6. Do you (the counselor) have a plan that all seek to accept on how to closely monitor the initial days, weeks, months going forward?
        • 7. Is there a viable safety plan in place if threats of or sinful abuse were to occur again?

    (13)Many points here are appropriately adapted from Gembola, Michael Scott, After an Affair: Pursuing Restoration, 31-Day Devotionals for Life (ed. Deepak Reju), P&R Publishing (2018) as well as Lambert, Heath, Finally Free, Chapters 1-2.

    (14) “… as in the case of faith, repentance is viewed biblically from two different, but complementary angles: it is both the duty of man and ‘the gift of God.’ Man must indeed repent, but that responsibility does not negate the fact that God enables people to repent. Because of man’s hard-mindedness, divine enablements are necessary if there are to be proper human responses in the spiritual realm. This reality pertains not only to initial repentance but also to progressive ‘repentance’ (i.e., that renewal of mind which expresses itself in holy living).” (Zemek, Part III: Biblical Soteriology, 191)