[Note: This joint statement was developed by Christ Church and Trinity Reformed Church and adopted by both sessions recently.]
A Joint Statement on Scandalous Sins in the Church
Because we live in a fallen world, the presence of sin is inescapable. And the Christian Church is not immune to the disastrous effects of Adam’s sin, including particularly egregious sins of abuse and violence to the young, the weak, and the vulnerable. Christians may have abuse in their past either as victims or perpetrators, or both, and because the Christian Church is God’s community of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation in this world, we must seek the maturity of grace, justice, and wisdom needed to deal carefully with individuals who have sinned in this way or who have been sinned against.
First, and foremost, we confess that Jesus Christ came to destroy every work of the Devil, and to make all things new through the sinless life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. This includes the forgiveness and restoration of those who commit rape, pedophilia, incest, sodomy, fraud, various forms of abuse and battery, and psychopathy of every stripe and flavor, as well as restoration for the victims of these sins and crimes. While some individuals may battle with sin and the effects of sin throughout their lives, there is no one so twisted by sin that he/she is outside the reach of the blood of Christ and the power of His comforting Spirit. We therefore proclaim the forgiveness of every sin to every sinner, and we proclaim the peace of God to every victim of every kind of sin. There is no sin so heinous that it cannot be forgiven, and there is no hurt so deep that it cannot be healed. On the one hand, Scripture requires bold confrontation of abusers’ sin and gracious protection of those sinned against; on the other hand, we deny that this means victims of sins and crimes do not need to deal with their own sins or that abusers need no grace or defense. And since the gospel overcomes the greatest enmity that exists between God and sinful man, we confess that a necessary fruit of the gospel is the eventual overthrow of all enmity between all people and the ultimate reconciliation of all enemies, including abusers and victims. But this is only possible through the substitutionary blood of the only innocent victim, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, we confess that the proclamation of forgiveness is not to be an excuse for laziness, cowardice, or folly. Because of the nature of certain sins, it is necessary for appropriate accountability and precautions to be taken in order to protect the weakest and most vulnerable members of the Church. It is particularly displeasing to Jesus when children are sinned against in the Church (Mk.10:14). Jesus says it would be better to be drowned in the sea than to cause one of His little ones to stumble or be offended (Mk. 9:42, Lk. 17:2). While every sin may be immediately forgiven, true repentance recognizes the lasting physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual trauma of certain forms of abuse and welcomes the long process of restoration. In other words, forgiveness should not be confused with trust or healing. Forgiveness is the beginning of the process, not the end of it.
And neither should the forgiveness of sins be confused with lawful adjudication of crimes. In other words, a man may repent of sexual abuse or financial fraud and the Church ought to immediately extend the grace of forgiveness in Christ while fully cooperating with legal proceedings against him for his crimes. With these principles in mind, we are committed to ministry practices that are biblically judicious and compassionate for life in the body of Christ, including background checks for employees and volunteers, reporting policies for suspected or alleged abuse, and training applicable to the various stations of ministry in the Church. Related to this, we are committed to making known all credible threats to the safety and welfare of our congregants, and to take steps to provide sanctuary for victims and true accountability for perpetrators to ensure the security of our people, including (as necessary) notification of law enforcement officials. While we insist that the responsibility for determining when and how matters are to be made known to other parties resides with the elders who are entrusted with the welfare of the flock of God (1 Pet. 5), we are committed to taking no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead to exposing them (Eph. 5:11). We are committed to true religion which is visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world (Js. 1:27).
Third, we deny that we are bound by the shifting definitions of modern psychology, the fluctuating protocols of cultural expectations, or the capricious demands of civil law codes. While the Scriptures require Christians to submit to lawful authorities and to honor all who hold public office (Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Pet. 2:13-17), in the end, we are bound by the Word of God and it is better to obey God than man (Acts 5:29). Therefore we reject the notion that certain sins are so severe that those who commit them can never walk free of them. Furthermore, we reject the idea that certain sins require the sinner to be separated from the rest of the body of Christ in perpetuity. Though unrepentant sinners must be cut off through lawful excommunication (Mt. 18:15-20), and it may be necessary to segregate perpetrators and victims in worship for a season (e.g. a “no contact” order), all repentant sinners must be ordinarily welcomed into the assembly of believers. We do not encourage cultures of fear, suspicion, and accusation in the Church. While we expect that general revelation and common grace will grant cultures some measure of light and understanding for ministering to sinners and those affected by their sins, we do not embrace the prevailing cultural winds uncritically. We view them with due caution and careful analysis. And finally, while civil authorities must be called and involved where crimes have been committed, we deny that the State has the authority to define crimes apart from the Word of God. While prudence dictates clear reporting protocols when violence, abuse, or fraud has occurred, we nevertheless confess that God has entrusted the keys of the Kingdom to the Church, not the State. And wherever the State encroaches beyond the bounds set by Scripture, Christians are not duty bound to the whims of godless legislation.
In conclusion, we confess that Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to set at liberty the captives, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Lk. 4:17-21). This can mean nothing less than the forgiveness of every sin, the healing of every hurt, and the restoration and reconciliation of every broken thing in this world. We commit ourselves to continued Bible study, prayer, and vigilance in our counseling and ministries in order to ensure that the wisdom, justice, and grace of God are fully brought to bear in our lives together.