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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Violence Against Women and Church Discipline

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The United Nations designates yesterday, November 25, as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. A number of friends have written comments on the matter. 

How should a church respond to the case of a husband abusing his wife, or man his daughter? Decisively and quickly

A church should start by helping to remove a woman from a place where she will be harmed. Elders may choose to assist a woman find different accomodations merely if there is a threat of violence. If a woman has actually been assaulted, they should involve the police. Crimes against the body fall within the jurisdiction of the state (Rom. 13:1-7), and Christians can thank God that we live in a time when the state actually takes interest in such matters.

As in other cases of clear and unrepentant sin, abuse can and often should be grounds for excommunication from the church. Rather than simply explain this, I thought it might be helpful to offer a sample of the kind of church discipline letter our church will send. (This particular letter does not refer to an actual situation.) No doubt, a letter like the following presumes that the elders have already been working with the individual, and for one reason or another they determine that the man's profession of faith is no longer credible by virtue of his actions.

Dear ----,

Greetings on behalf of ------ Church. 

The purpose of this letter is to inform you that last night, at the church's members meeting, the assembled congregation formally voted to remove you from the rolls as an act of discipline for violating your marital vows through acts of abuse toward your wife.  As you know, the Scriptures call husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25-33), and Christ does not abuse his church.  He protects and cherishes it. When a husband instead abuses his wife, he lies horribly about the character of God and the gospel of Christ.

----, by this letter we want to demonstrate our love for you by warning you of the seriousness of your sin and of your need to repent.   We understand that only God can evaluate the human heart, but we must tell you that the decisions you have made are not consistent with how the Bible describes a Christian.  Consequently, as a church, we can no longer with confidence call you our brother in Christ. 

However, we long to be able to do so!  Please know that you are always welcome to attend the services of our church.  We would be delighted to have you here, and should you desire to repent, we would love to see you restored to full fellowship with us in the gospel. If there is any way we can help you pursue that repentance, including helping you to discern what repentance would look like, we are only too ready.  ------, we love you, and even though it would be easier to do nothing, we hope that our actions will be seen by you as evidence of our love and concern for you, and of our love for the honor of Christ supremely.

May the Lord bless you with a sincere faith, a good conscience and a servant’s heart.  Know that we long to welcome you back here. 

On behalf of CHBC, I am

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