Well-known pastor John Piper recently offered a statement clarifying his thoughts on a wife's submission to an abusive husband.
Piper, who preaches at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, had been criticized earlier for only mentioning the church and not law enforcement as recourse for protection.
In a blog post this week, Piper clarified, "A Christian woman should not feel that the only help available to her is the police. That would be a biblical failure of her church. But recourse to civil authorities may be the right thing for an abused wife to do."
The Reformed theologian explained that a husband who physically abuses his wife is breaking both God's moral law and state civil law.
"God himself has put law enforcement officers in place for the protection of the innocent. 'If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer' (Romans 13:4)," Piper cited. "A wife's submission to the authority of civil law, for Christ's sake, may, therefore, overrule her submission to a husband's demand that she endure his injuries.
"This legitimate recourse to civil protection may be done in a spirit that does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband, for a wife may take this recourse with a heavy and humble heart that longs for her husband's repentance and the restoration of his nurturing leadership."
Piper was first asked about a wife's submission to an abusive husband in 2009. In his videotaped response, the longtime pastor asserted that a person's higher allegiance is to Christ – above his or her spouse.
In that response, he also advised that the wife seek help from the church and have the husband disciplined by church leadership.
"She should have a safe place in a body of Christ where she goes and then the people in the church deal with him. The church is really crucial here to step in, be her strength, say to him 'you can't do this.' ... Let the leaders step in and help you navigate the difficulties."
He received criticisms for his answer, he said, for not pointing to law enforcement as another form of help.
In his updated response, Piper wrote that every Christian is called to submit to various authorities so a wife's submission is put into the wider context of submission to Jesus, civil authorities, each other and the church.
"This means that the rightness or wrongness of any act of submission is discerned by taking into account all the relevant relationships," he stated. "We are all responsible to Jesus first, and then, under him, to various other persons and offices. Discerning the path of love and obedience when two or more of these submissive relationships collide is a call to humble, Bible-saturated, spiritual wisdom."
He also stressed that while churches are called to mercy, they should not harbor someone whose abuse would be punishable by civil law.
"[T]here are times when mercy to one demands justice for another," he stated. "This is often the case with criminal abuse. Moreover, there are many ways to show mercy toward a guilty person who must pay fines or go to jail. We are seldom in a position where the choice is simply mercy or no mercy."
While a church may be able to bring the abusive spouse to repentance and reconciliation, there may also be cases where a church determines that civil authorities must be notified.
"In either case, no Christian woman (or man) should have to face abuse alone," he highlighted.
In a plea to churches, Piper called for a culture where the men will not tolerate the abuse of any of its women.