Last week I watched a segment on ABC’s 7.30 Report about domestic abuse in the church. [1]

While the reporting of some statistics by the ABC was not entirely accurate,[2] it seems there is still a level of domestic abuse in churches – including traditional, evangelical and Pentecostal ones  – and any abuse is inexcusable.

It was a sobering report and one that left me feeling sad and frustrated that abuse continues in some churches (and at the hands of some “Christians”) – often supported by an understanding of Scripture that contradicts the whole tenor of the Bible.  After all, “If you really keep the royal law stated in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing well.” [3]  Real love doesn’t abuse others, including one’s wife (or husband or partner or anyone else for that matter) in any way.

Using isolated Bible verses to justify verbal, physical, emotional or any other kind of abuse is unchristian.

One of the Bible verses used to rationalise domestic abuse is Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”  If you read these verses on their own, it seems pretty clear that wives are to submit to their husbands IN EVERYTHING.  It’s also clear how an abusive man could use this part of the Bible to justify his ill treatment.  However, if you read the verse before (Ephesians 5:21) it instructs husbands and wives to, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  In other words, mutual submission is appropriate in Christian relationships.  The Apostle makes this general statement about submission and then proceeds to show how wives and husbands are to work this out by submitting to one another in their marriage.  Husbands are to love their wives deeply, give their lives for them and care for them.  Ephesians 5 does not authorise violence of any kind.

The other chapter of the Bible that is used as an excuse for abuse is 1 Corinthians 11.  The Apostle Paul begins this chapter by once again speaking about headship, but a few verses in he makes a statement that would have been considered very controversial in the patriarchal society of the first century: “woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” [4]  Some people accuse Paul of being patriarchal and considering women as inferior to men, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Thomas Cahill writes, “Equality … is Paul’s subject: what he is doing here is taking the Genesis account of the Creation, which was the aboriginal Jewish locus classicus on the inequality of women, and turning it on its head by subtly reminding his readers that even the Messiah needed a mother.” [5]  1 Corinthians 11:11-12 is one of the first Biblical references affirming sexual equality, as well as one of the first in any literature up to Jesus’ time.

The bottom line is this: if you ever encounter someone who uses the Bible to justify abuse of any sort against another human being, rest assured that person is not understanding or using the Bible correctly.

It sickens me the number of times over the years I have heard of pastors, priests, or counsellors recommending that women in particular are to stay with husbands or partners who physically, verbally or emotionally abuse them.  As we’ve already seen, the Bible teaches that submission is to be mutual.  Love and respect don’t beat each other up! There is no room for abuse in any relationship, in any church or justified by any Scripture.

If you find yourself in an abusive relationship separation is advisable (at least a temporary one).  Reconciliation may be possible (with much support, prayer & counselling) but divorce may be unavoidable. [6] Whatever you do, don’t stay in a relationship where you are being abused in any way, and don’t allow others to suggest that you do!




[3] James 2:8; Cf. Romans 13:10

[4] 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

[5] Thomas Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Anchor Books, New York, 1999, p. 141


Social media was buzzing earlier this week over Mark Driscoll and his impending appearance at this year’s Hillsong Conference.  This was on the back of some protests, a petition with 3000 signatures and media reports about a controversial blog in which Mark refers to women as “penis houses.”

There is no shortage of material that outlines in detail the sins of Mark Driscoll.  In his books and sermons he appears to just go too far in trying to be funky and relevant to a new generation in order to reach them for Jesus.  He swears, uses crude humour and he encourages the people he trains to brew their own beer at home.

In one of his books, The Radical Reformission, he has a chapter titled ‘The Sin of Light Beer’ in where he makes the case that light beer came about to please feminists, and that good Christians should oppose feminism by drinking ‘good beer’.  On another occasion he taught women who had unbelieving husbands, “You need to go home and tell your husband that you’ve met Jesus and you’ve been studying the Bible, and that you’re convicted of a terrible sin in your life. And then you need to drop his trousers, and you need to serve your husband.” 

Things started to go wrong back in 2007 when Mars Hill Church changed its bylaws that shifted leadership from 24 male elders to a much smaller group.  Mars Hill’s former Women’s ministry leader, Wendy Allsup says, “Mark gave power to a few men that he hand-picked rather than trusting the full council of elders that he felt was slowing him down.  Mark wanted to grow Mars Hill into a big tree, but in the process he chopped away the root system by dismissing those qualified leaders who were actually shepherding the church — because they raised legitimate questions.”

In 2008 the church cancelled everyone’s membership, saying one could only renew their membership if they said they had no problems with the elders.  At that point many people left the church.

Later it came to light that Mars Hill Church had paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.  In March 2014 Mark wrote the following apology to Mars Hill Church:

In August 2014, it was discovered that he wrote a blog-post patronising women in 2001 under a pseudonym.  His beliefs, written under the name William Wallace II, included the statements that have been highlighted by the media recently:

“The first thing to know about your penis is, that despite the way it may see, it is not your penis.  Ultimately, God created you and it is his penis. You are simply borrowing it for a while.  While His penis is on loan you must admit that it is sort of just hanging out there very lonely as if it needed a home, sort of like a man wondering (sic) the streets looking for a house to live in.  Knowing that His penis would need a home, God created a woman to be your wife and when you marry her and look down you will notice that your wife is shaped differently than you and makes a very nice home.”

Driscoll apologised and took a six-week leave of absence while the leadership of Mars Hill Church investigated the allegations being made against him.  The investigation revealed “patterns of persistent sin” by Senior Pastor Mark Driscoll, who was accused of bullying and intimidating behaviour in a complaint by 21 former church elders.  They accused him of creating a climate of fear through his verbally abusive language, lack of self-control and arrogant domineering attitude.  The church’s leadership tried to put a restoration process in place but Driscoll resigned in October 2014.

The response of the Mars Hill leaders was as follows: “Our intention was to do this while providing for his eventual restoration to leadership.  The Board of Elders in agreement with the Board of Overseers are grieved, deeply grieved, that any process like that was lost to us when Mark Driscoll resigned and left the church.”

So where to from here?

Firstly, the Christian church needs to take some responsibility for allowing the culture of churches like Mars Hill to flourish.  Over my 30 years as a pastor I’ve seen the fads come and go and I’ve watched some of God’s people come and go with them!  Wendy Allsup, put it this way, “Mars Hill was projected on to us as this new and exciting thing that God was doing, but God has been building his church for centuries.”  While I celebrate the things that the Spirit of God is doing through the church all around the world, we need to exercise discernment and we need to stop putting people on pedestals.  The only man that should ever be exalted is the Lord Jesus Christ. The rest of us would do well to live humbly.

Secondly, we need to be wary of any church that is a boys club and that doesn’t recognise the valuable contribution and gifts of women – including preaching, teaching and pastoral care.  For more on this subject please refer to my blog, “Women should be silent in the church?”

Thirdly, there is obviously a world of hurt still being experienced by many people as a result of Mark Driscoll’s leadership.  I’m am not privy to what has or has not been done or said to this point but I do know there are former Mars Hill Church elders and leaders who are open and willing to be reconciled with Mark.  No doubt there will need to be some honest conversations, lots of listening, empathy, compassion and forgiveness.  Much of the New Testament was written to respond to conflict of varying kinds.  There are some wonderful principles therein to help with the reconciliation process – and it is a process!

Finally, let’s not write Mark Driscoll off as a lost cause.  Yes he has made some very public and very serious mistakes but that doesn’t mean that the Christian church should alienate him for all time.  A casual reading of the Bible reveals how much God is interested in using faulty people – Moses was a murderer, David an adulterer, Peter was a hypocrite and Timothy was, for a season, timid and ashamed of the gospel and Paul.  Some in the Christian church may want to put Mark Driscoll on the scrap heap, but God doesn’t have one.

Consider these words that Paul wrote to the Galatian Church, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”

The Bible teaches, God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  Jesus will continue to build His church, the unstoppable Kingdom of God will continue to grow, and all the people who’ve been hurt – including Mark Driscoll – have a place in it!

It’s time for the church to face facts.  The fact that many people’s perception of the church is that it’s too sheltered, boring, unintelligent and out of touch with reality.

This perception has come because of an unnecessary and unbiblical separation of the church from the world.  The perception is that the church is like a club that only certain people – good people – can join. How wrong this is.

The church is also seen as being separate from the supernatural world and therefore lacking in spiritual vitality.  During many of my teenage years, I had a fascination with the spirit world but didn’t see any spiritual life in the church or those who called themselves Christian.

There is also a perception that the church doesn’t encourage curiosity and questions and that Christianity doesn’t make sense and is not relevant to life.  It’s like “come to Jesus and cut off your head!”  Strange when you consider John 1:1 which says, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos = logic), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I know we can’t understand everything about God, but the Christian message is the most logical and simple message; even a child can understand it!

The solution to this perception is a revolution where we engage with the world in the same way Jesus did – radical identification and radical difference.  Jesus radically identified with people – and not just the “good” people.  This was totally out of character for religious leaders of his day and the religious establishment was vicious to him as a result.  This didn’t stop Jesus from mixing and mingling with the up-and-out and the down-and-out because, as he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)  He realized there was no impact without contact.  The church is the salt of the earth, but to be truly effective, we need to get out of the shaker!

The flipside of this is a radical difference.  Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, but he was neither.  He was holy and blameless. He mixed with the people of the world but He didn’t compromise with the world.  We would do well to follow His example.

Mark Metzger summarizes this succinctly: “Being salt and light demands two things: we practice purity in the midst of a fallen world and yet we live in proximity to this fallen world.  If you don’t hold up both truths in tension, you invariably become useless and separated from the world God loves.  For example, if you only practice purity apart from proximity to the culture, you inevitably become pietistic, separatist, and conceited.  If you live in close proximity to the culture without also living in a holy manner, you become indistinguishable from fallen culture and useless in God’s Kingdom.” (Fine Tuning Tensions within Culture: The Art of being Salt and Light).

Jesus put it this way: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

Christians are accused of being too focused on getting converts and likened to telemarketers according to research conducted by David Kinnaman for the Barna Foundation.

While it horrifies me to think that Christians are seen to pester, in response to this criticism I would say, “Yes, I am out to convert people to Jesus because I believe He is the way and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him” (See John 14:6).

I believe people need to come to a point of personally accepting what Jesus Christ has done for them through His death and resurrection.  I believe that apart from Jesus people go to an eternity that is separated from God.  I believe that God’s will is for no one to perish but for everyone to come to repentance.  I believe God wants everyone to experience His abundant life now and eternal life forever.  On the basis of these beliefs, I share my faith in Jesus with others.  I tell people what He has done for me.  I tell them that He loves them too and wants the very best for them now and forever.

The problem, however, is the approach of some Christians to this task so that people feel targeted rather than befriended – a love with hooks.  In the book Unchristian, David Kinnaman says, “While we’re trying to convey the most important message in human history – that Jesus offers a new life through faith in him – something gets lost in translation … rather than being genuinely interested in people for their friendship, we often seem like spiritual headhunters.”

The solution to this perception is developing genuine relationships.  It is vitally important for Christians to demonstrate genuine interest and care towards others – love without hooks!  Listen to what the apostle Paul says about this: “Just as I myself strive to please [to accommodate myself to the opinions, desires, and interests of others, adapting myself to] all men in everything I do, not aiming at or considering my own profit and advantage, but that of the many in order that they may be saved.”  The word “please” literally means, “to seek to be agreeable.”  There is no room for obnoxious Bible-bashing in real Christianity!

Check out these words of wisdom:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15-16).  “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone … Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth…” – gentleness, respect, kindness.  Now that’s refreshing!

Being a real Christian means that you will develop genuine relationships with others whereby they may be influenced (over the process of time) and transformed by Jesus who lives in and through you!  But if people never embrace your faith – never stop embracing them, because real Christianity is genuine!