Posted by: James McDonald | May 5, 2009

Is it Lawful for a Christian to Sue a Christian?

Whether or not a Christian should ever sue another Christian can be a subject of passionate debate. The root cause of the dilemma is scandalous. The Church of God is called upon to rightly judge matters between Christians. But, often, the church is either unable or unwilling to get involved. Other times, because of our hardness of heart, we are not willing to count the church worthy “to judge the smallest matters (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).” Rather, we go hastily to court (Proverbs 25:8), ignoring Paul’s instruction:

“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” (1 Corinthians 6:1-2, NKJV)

First, we see in the Word of God that sin is at the root of all conflicts, inside and outside the church. We are born sinners; and the godliest of men will die sinners. It is only by God’s Grace that we are saved from our own wickedness. All of us are prone to sin; therefore, we are also likely to hurt one another.

The Bible tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked, that we are easily blinded by our own sin, and that “out of the heart proceeds evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies” (Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:19). Often, the consequence of this sinful condition is that we hurt and offend others; and likewise, that we are easily offended ourselves. Some offenses are petty; while others are seriously damaging and incessantly destructive.

Judeo Jurisprudence
Since the early days of the nation of Israel, God established systematic jurisprudence to help deal with the issues of sin and offenses. Exilic Israel had Moses as the final arbitrator of offenses. And, as we may remember, the needs of the people were too great for one man. Thus, Moses, at the counsel of his father-in-law, chose rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens to judge the people of Israel.

There seemed to even be an appellate system, where Moses could be called upon to judge the hard cases (Exodus 18). Furthermore, we see that the Judges were a legal voice in Israel. In fact, Samuel rode around as a circuit judge (1 Samuel 7:15-17).

In the New Testament, we find the theocracy of Israel slowly replaced with a secular government and court system. The Jews were allowed to maintain a Jewish court to handle many local matters; but, they were still under Roman authority. Jesus may have been referring to the civil court in Matthew 5, when He said:

“Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:25-26, NKJV)

Paul appealed to Roman justice in the Book of Acts. Jewish courts were abolished with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

A Desire for Restoration
However, the secular courts should not be the first vehicle of resolution for an offended Christian. Again, Jesus gave us directives for handling offenses in the church. In Matthew 18 we read:

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”

There are a number of important points here. First we see an attempt to handle the matter privately. Love isn’t eager to publicly flaunt the sins of others. “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.” (Proverbs 11:13, NKJV) This is why Jesus instructs an offended Christian to first go to his brother alone and plead with him to repent.

This shows that the goal of any type of action like this is not revenge, but reconciliation—to win one’s brother. In our call to love God and to love our neighbor, we are to be grieved over a brother who is offending God and bringing destruction upon his own head; therefore our efforts should reflect a desire to see him restored to a right relationship with God and with us. Not to see him destroyed. “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20, NKJV)

As Christ loved and sacrificed for us, we also should love our brother, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16, NKJV)

We are to forebear with one another and be longsuffering, so that repentance is encouraged (Romans 2:4); we are not to allow petty differences to separate a friendship or slander the name of Christ. Whenever possible, we should prefer to be cheated or suffer a wrong. We are to seek peace in Christ’s church. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18, NKJV) We are to live at peace with all men so far as we are able.

Peace, Peace! When there is No Peace
Yet, it is clear that there are times when “peace” between brothers is out of our hands—when peace is impossible because one party continues a pursuit to grievously harm the other. Is the offended party in bondage to the offender? What if the offender is not under any spiritual authority, or is not accountable to any church because he/she does not attend church or has been excommunicated? Is the offended party not able to seek relief from harm for himself or for his family? Matthew Henry had this to say about 1 Corinthians 6:

Brother went to law with brother, one member of the church with another. Here is at least an intimation that they went to law for trivial matters, things of little value; for the apostle blames them that they did not suffer wrong rather than go to law (v. 7), which must be understood of matters not very important.

In matters of great damage to ourselves or our families, we may use lawful means to right ourselves. We are not bound to sit down and suffer the injury tamely, without stirring for our own relief; but, in matters of small consequence, it is better to put up with the wrong. Christians should be of a forgiving temper. And it is more for their ease and honour to suffer small injuries and inconveniences than seem to be contentious.

Some take 1 Corinthians 6 to be a prohibition against any and all lawsuits between Christians. But we must note a few things from the text. First, as Matthew Henry pointed out, this epistle was written to a local congregation, addressing local issues. In a church body, members are bound together in a community, typically through a series of vows. These are people who know one another and are accountable to one another under some sort of church government.

There are elders who have been given to the church, gifted to the church, and charged to maintain peace. Consider Paul’s words to Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2. He came to them as a judge, yet appealed to the local elder to work with them to bring unity and peace to their situation.

But in our day, when so many people are not accountable to a local church, or when offenses take place between professing Christians who attend different churches, perhaps who even live in different States, what is an offended Christian to do? In the age of the Internet, when individuals can claim to be anyone at all, and can do great damage to Christians and to the Church as a whole, where is accountability to be found? If all efforts to reconcile within the church fail, the civil magistrate is assuredly a biblical option.

Ruth A.M. Ross, in her article, When Can Christians Sue?, writes:

Before proceeding to discuss other pre-conditions to litigation, it should be emphasized that some may call themselves Christians but may not qualify as a “believer” or “one among you” in accordance with 1 Corinthians 6. This may be because they have been removed from fellowship through internal church discipline, or because they refuse to come under church or appropriate spiritual authority. Such an offender may not qualify as a “believer” within the context of this passage which warns against going to court against such a person.

We must remember that the civil magistrate is given to the church by God Himself. Consider Romans 13:1-4, where the Apostle Paul says,

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

If a professing Christian practices evil, and is not under local church accountability, the civil magistrate can certainly be called in to help bring peace. This magistrate is God’s minister and is to render just judgment.

From the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1:

“God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.” (Rom. 13:1–4, 1 Pet. 2:13–14).

And finally, the last portion of Paragraph 3:

“It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretence of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance.” (Rom. 13:4, 1 Tim. 2:2) [emphasis mine]

Note, the magistrate serves all the people; those inside the church, as well as those outside the church; and there are times when it is difficult to know the difference. It seems clear that when someone who claims Christ continues to sin against another believer, and is either under church discipline or unwilling to submit to the authority or judgment of a local church, he/she must be viewed as “outside the church,” even if he is in fact a believer.

In addition, when the church, to her shame, is unwilling to judge such matters (1 Corinthians 6), significant conflict may be rightly judged by the civil magistrate acting as God’s minister (Romans 13:4).

This is a prime example of why we should all strive to live in peace with one another and for churches to honor and support the good judgments of sister churches. Appealing to the civil magistrate for relief from unwarranted attack or sinful treatment should be a last resort; but, it is a lawful, and at times godly, resort.

It is, of course, a matter of great prayer and heartache when a Christian must take a professing Christian to court. But, if all other means of redress are exhausted and the issue is of a significant nature, the civil magistrate is the means God has given to bring peace.

Further Resources:

“Let such persons then understand that judicial proceedings are lawful to him who makes a right use of them; and the right use, both for the pursuer and for the defender, is for the latter to sist himself on the day appointed, and, without bitterness, urge what he can in his defense, but only with the desire of justly maintaining his right; and for the pursuer, when undeservedly attacked in his life or fortunes, to throw himself upon the protection of the magistrate, state his complaint, and demand what is just and good; while, far from any wish to hurt or take vengeance—far from bitterness or hatred —far from the Armour of strife, he is rather disposed to yield and suffer somewhat than to cherish hostile feelings towards his opponent.

On the contrary, when minds are filled with malevolence, corrupted by envy, burning with anger, breathing revenge, or, in fine, so inflamed by the heat of the contest, that they, in some measure, lay aside charity, the whole pleading, even of the justest cause, cannot but be impious. For it ought to be an axiom among all Christians, that no plea, however equitable, can be rightly conducted by any one who does not feel as kindly towards his opponent as if the matter in dispute were amicably transacted and arranged.

Some one, perhaps, may here break in and say, that such moderation in judicial proceedings is so far from being seen, that an instance of it would be a kind of prodigy. I confess that in these times it is rare to meet with an example of an honest litigant; but the thing itself, untainted by the accession of evil, ceases not to be good and pure. When we hear that the assistance of the magistrate is a sacred gift from God, we ought the more carefully to beware of polluting it by our fault.” – John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.

“Paul does not here condemn those who from necessity have a cause before unbelieving judges, as when a person is summoned to a court; but those who, of their own accord, bring their brethren into this situation, and harass them, as it were, through means of unbelievers, while it is in their power to employ another remedy.” – John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians


Responses

  1. Speaking as a lawyer, I think this is an excellent discussion of an important topic. The fundamental issue for me is, just because someone claims to be a believer, doesn’t mean that he or she is one in truth. Certainly we should exhaust every opportunity to appeal to that brother or sister, including the prospect of allowing respected elders to decide the dispute. And I’ve actually written a church arbitration clause (both for people in the same church, and people at different churches) for inclusion within contracts between believers, and I’m happy to provide it for free to anyone who e-mails me.

    That said, if the professing believer refuses to deal with the situation, and refuses intervention of elders (even that person’s own elder, along with an elder of the aggrieved party’s church, possibly along with a third person chosen by mutual agreement of the two elders), I think it’s fair to question the sincerity of the supposed believer’s profession of faith. Refusal to submit to authority, and a lack of desire for reconciliation, are major red flags. If the supposed believer is unchurched, all the more reason to be concerned for that person’s salvation, per Hebrews 10:24-25.

    At the end of the day, believers ought to be marked by repentance and humility and a desire for reconciliation. For people who flee from that, out of pride (James 4:6), or isolation (Prov. 18:1), or being unruly (2 Thess. 3:6-15), or being a sluggard (all through the Proverbs), or whatever, they are in sin. And sin has consequences, particularly unrepentant sin.

    As you note, we should take every opportunity to exhaust our avenues with the offending brother, and to the extent we’re able to just let something go, praise the Lord for that forbearance. But if something is a fundamental matter of protection of one’s own family or church or other believers (Gal. 6:10), I think it’s totally appropriate to go to court in certain circumstances.

    I think I’m going to turn this reply of mine into another blog post of my own later tonight. Thanks for writing this great post!

  2. I see this as being between a rock and a hard place. If you try to work things out within the church, you’ll be criticized for getting personal or threatening people, and if you finally in frustration take it to court you’ll be accused of not acting in accordance with scripture.

    I think you make a very good case here for when the courts are needed. But I’m sorry that the case needs to be made at all.

  3. <<>>

    Hi Anne,

    The only thing I can say is “Amen, and amen.”

    Grace and peace,

  4. Mark 7:7 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ It is a sorry state of affairs when Matthew Henry’s words are used to set aside the Scriptures. The Bible does not anywhere indicate that this is a minor dispute. If one is a “brother” then His highest goal is to see Christ magnified and exalted. One such person taking another such person to court is already a defeat, because Christ is not exalted – He is publicly defamed. The triviality of the offense is in comparison to the weightiness of our offense against Christ – not our petty estimation of severity. Jesus’ radical teaching of “turning the other cheek” continues to offend today. John 13:17 “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

  5. I agree with Anne. It’s a shame the case needs to be made at all. But sin is still alive and well in the Church, and even Christians often fail to do the right thing.

    I have a question for you regarding how to deal with a believer who we’re able to treat as a brother or sister “in the church.” Obviously, this wouldn’t apply to an excommunicant or an unbeliever. In Matthew 18, after confronting someone privately for a perceived offense, and then seeking the help of “witnesses” to reason with a brother or sister and refusing to reconcile, we are to “take it to the church.” Who is the church in this case? And who is to be the one to tell the church?

    I’ve heard various interpretations, but I’m interested in your take on this. Which leads to another subject.

    Also, and I know you know what I’m talking about, I have seen a bit of vigilante-ism on certain blogs who claim they are trying to “hold accountable” other Christians by gossiping about them (as well as embellishing their “facts,” I might add).

    I’ve really been puzzled by this and tried to figure out what would possess Christians to act this way. I thought you might have some insight. Do you think they believe they are on some sort of mission from God? Are they viewing themselves as some sort of “Internet Church?” What’s going on? Do you think perhaps a general rejection of authority or hierarchy leads to this mentality?

  6. “One such person taking another such person to court is already a defeat, because Christ is not exalted – He is publicly defamed.”

    I agree, Don. Unfortunately, there are times when one must appeal to the civil courts because there is no way to engage the church courts for a fair judgment (either because of neglect or outright refusal).

    In addition, sometimes it may be necessary to appeal to the civil courts in an effort to STOP the offender from continuing to publicly defame other Christians (Christ’s own Body) – and thus Christ Himself.

    What if someone claiming Christ broke into your home and assaulted your family? Would you think it unlawful to press charges?

    In a way, there’s an element of pacifism to this sort of extreme position.

  7. “If the professing believer refuses to deal with the situation, and refuses intervention of elders (even that person’s own elder, along with an elder of the aggrieved party’s church, possibly along with a third person chosen by mutual agreement of the two elders), I think it’s fair to question the sincerity of the supposed believer’s profession of faith. Refusal to submit to authority, and a lack of desire for reconciliation, are major red flags…”

    “As you note, we should take every opportunity to exhaust our avenues with the offending brother, and to the extent we’re able to just let something go, praise the Lord for that forbearance. But if something is a fundamental matter of protection of one’s own family or church or other believers (Gal. 6:10), I think it’s totally appropriate to go to court in certain circumstances…”

    Thank you, Layman Pastor. I’ll look forward to your article! I found your comments very helpful.

  8. Dr. K.

    My position is extreme, but it is not my position – it is God’s. I have a concern in watching a Christianity which has somehow morphed from a Biblical “they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods” and “they rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer for His name’s sake” to what I see today. I fear the current weakened form of Christianity has inoculated the world from the real thing. Jesus was a radical, and so were His early disciples. But somewhere along the way there appears to be a shift from being “aliens and strangers” on this earth to a group of people who have forgotten that this life is only a vapor. We are not willing to risk personal hurt for the Lord who endured death for us.

    I think if we would live the sold-out lives for the Lord that His early followers had, we would find that He can take care of the details of our lives. If a sovereign God wills that I must endure the slander and libel of my brother (and believe me, He has willed it so!), far be it from me to try to use man’s courts to end this situation. Rather let me rejoice that I am counted worthy. Living a sold-out life begins with a resolve to obey His commands – one of which is the subject of this discussion.

    Again, lets fix our eyes on Jesus who is not only our Savior, but also our example. Falsely accused, He did not defend Himself in the courts of law. “1 Pet 2:23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…”

    I fully acknowledge the difficulty of the false brother. But let us not forget that any real brother will stand alongside us before the judgment seat of Christ, and every knee will bow. We get caught up in the here and now – but God will judge righteously, and all will accept His judgment.

    -Don

    • Don, I agree with you. I would not sue another believer just because they called me names, swore at me, or spoke evil of me, even one who I might consider privately to be a false brother. God has used such things to develop some Christlike character in me. There is a LOT of room for growth in my life and some nasty comments from others have been one of the means He has used to make me mature. I have had to learn to ignore a lot of things and just let people think and say what they want about me. It’s a free country, after all. That has been hard for me, but as they say in Spanish, “la boca es para hablar.” We need to take most of what people say about us with a grain of salt and not try to defend ourselves, no matter how hard that may be. People talk. No big deal.

      Of course, if a professing believer were beating or abusing his or her spouse or children, then civil authorities need to be brought in as well as church authorities. If a professing believer is threatening another Christian, the civil authorities may need to be brought in. If a professing believer is stealing from another believer, and does not want to submit to church autorities, then civil authorities may need to be brought in.

      Civil authorities are also God’s ministers, after all.

      I personally would not sue another Christian over what they have said about me. I have boundaries, though, involving email accounts, my blogs, and telephones. Also, I have learned to just stay away from people whose main purpose in life seems to be that of the destruction of others.

      Serious study and analysis of certain beliefs is one thing. Destruction of the opposition is quite another matter.

      We should not be out to destroy one another, but rather to sharpen and correct one another in our understanding using the weapon of sweet Biblical persuasion and love. I hope I can learn my lessons well.

      Some just want to destroy. I don’t want to be one of those.

  9. Also, and I know you know what I’m talking about, I have seen a bit of vigilante-ism on certain blogs who claim they are trying to “hold accountable” other Christians by gossiping about them (as well as embellishing their “facts,” I might add). >>>>

    I think that they believe themselves to be on a mission from God. I think that they have developed a cultlike mentality. As in many other cults, the ends justify the means.

    If a mirror blog is set up, then that is good. If they swear at the enemy, then that is acceptable. If they make intimidating phone calls to one who refuses to bow the knee, then that is justified. If they mock and ridicule others, that is fine.

    No method of coercion, intimidation, name-calling, manipulation of “facts”, exaggeration, and so forth is off-limits. They are great defenders of the teaching that a Christian cannot sue another Christian, so they feel free to do and say pretty much whatever they please, expecting that their victims will be more Christian in their reactions than they themselves are. They do not tolerate any disagreement, any correction, or even any overtures for peace or friendship from the other side. It is all war, all the time.

    They are the countercult cult. They are very legalistic and judgmental in their own way, all the time speaking out against man-made rules and religion. Their cult believes itself to be promoting a kind of grace, but there is very little grace evidenced in their lives and no love for their enemies that I have ever seen.

    I have to think that there are real Christians somewhat involved with this who have no idea what their internet “friends” are up to. If they know, then they are complicit. If they don’t know, then they need to inform themselves.

    I got caught up in it for awhile. I say that to my shame. There must be others. They need to distance themselves from these internet bullies and see them for what they really are. I learned my lesson, almost too late, and definitely the hard way.

  10. Don, I respect your position, even if I disagree with it.

    Scripture clearly forbids lawsuits among two believers, but there is no prohibition of lawsuits against non-believers (or against companies or corporations, for that matter). Indeed, the interesting part about 1 Cor. 6 is that the passage very easily could have forbidden all lawsuits BY Christians, period. But it does not, it forbids only lawsuits AMONG Christians. In situations where something is neither commanded nor forbidden, Christian liberty applies.

    Of course, in the exercise of that liberty, we should rely on Scripture to guide us as to the wisest course, the most profitable course, but sometimes there are Scriptures that would apply to either side. These are often the hard choices, the ones where only after much searching of the Word, and prayer, and seeking of counsel, does a man make his decision which he will be accountable for before the Lord.

    What if a non-Christian harms a Christian to the extent that his entire family is threatened and at risk? 1 Tim 5:8 states, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is WORSE THAN an unbeliever (emphasis mine).” Is that not a relevant Scripture?

    I agree that the Lord can and does provide, but there is sometimes a thin line between trusting in the Lord, and presuming upon the Lord. We have a duty to exercise stewardship and diligence while we are here on the earth, and we are going to be held to account for how we do those things. And the Lord has provided the law as a minister of God for those who do good per Romans 13. Indeed, Paul himself resorted to the legal process on multiple occasions, never against other believers, but certainly in opposition to non-Christians.

    In any event, I believe we’re in agreement that it is something that should never be done lightly, and that we should make every effort to be longsuffering and forgiving and sacrificial, wherever possible.

    But for those situations where some Christians determine, after much counsel, prayer and study, to proceed in certain limited cases? I will not condemn them. And neither will I condemn you for your stance. Again, I respect it, even if I disagree with its extent.

  11. Scripture clearly forbids lawsuits among two believers

    For the record, 1 Corinthians 6 was written to a local church where there should have been a common bond of church membership and common leaders to arbitrate matters. The text clearly uses the terms brother and brethren.

    I do not think the text prohibits all suits between professing Christians.

    Again, this is yet another reason why we should be members in good standing in local churches.

  12. It’s an interesting point, and one I hadn’t considered. My own understanding had been different, but then I haven’t done a word study or considered the Greek in that passage yet, so I’ll decline to comment right now since I can’t do so in an informed fashion. Thanks for raising the issue.

    Regardless, I don’t believe that I would be comfortable in my conscience to sue another believer (which is to say, someone I genuinely felt was a believer, rather than someone who I felt was a false brother). But then that’s a personal decision, and I don’t presume to apply my own conscience to everyone else.

  13. Layman Pastor,

    While I agree with you to some degree, I don’t think I would be willing to publicly conclude that someone who claimed Christ was an unbeliever – unless he/she was an excommunicant. While there may be plenty of evidence that their testimony is questionable, I wouldn’t be comfortable making that call.

    However, if a professing Christian, in conflict with another, is unwilling to submit to the judgment of their own church elders (if they even have a church), as well as the elders of the “opposition,” or an agreed upon Christian mediator (i.e. Peacemakers), I think the only reasonable recourse would be to seek the forced judgment that comes from the civil magistrate.

    Like Webfoot pointed out, there are those who take advantage of the meekness of others, expecting them to lay down and take it, and to never seek recourse through God-ordained courts. They expect and promote “Christians don’t, under any circumstance, sue those claiming Christ” (note that someone who claims Christ is not necessary a true Believer) so that they can continue unhindered in their sin.

    Also, and this is to Don, I noticed you didn’t answer Dr. K’s question. I was interested in your response. He asked:

    “What if someone claiming Christ broke into your home and assaulted your family? Would you think it unlawful to press charges?”

    I might add another scenario: What if someone claiming Christ publicly and relentlessly (and falsely) accused you of being a child molester – to the point that you could not keep a job or live in a neighborhood in peace?

    And what if this person claimed to be a Christian? And their church was either unknown to you, or they did not attend a church, or their church was unwilling to get involved; would you then view the civil courts as “God’s minister” for your aid and relief?

    It is easy to make such judgments when you are not the one being harmed. And it is easy (and convenient) for those doing the harming to cry “Christians don’t sue Christians.”

    • “Like Webfoot pointed out, there are those who take advantage of the meekness of others, expecting them to lay down and take it, and to never seek recourse through God-ordained courts. They expect and promote “Christians don’t, under any circumstance, sue those claiming Christ” (note that someone who claims Christ is not necessary a true Believer) so that they can continue unhindered in their sin.”

      I want to clarify, too, Kym, that I think a Christian who is being subjected to serious libel is being robbed. There is legal recourse and I don’t think that such a Christian would be sinning at all if they used all the means available to them to protect their lives and families and even ministries. In fact, it may be wrong to allow professing Christians to continue in such evil behavior without standing up to it and trying to make it stop.

      I think that Pastor McDonald’s post is good and thoughtful. What does a Christian do when they are attacked? Doesn’t the Bible give us the right to defend ourselves, our families, and our ministries? I have been places where the people’s right to self-defence have been severely restricted by oppressive governments. At the very least, it is un-American to say that a person has no right to defend their families, their persons, their homes, their churches, and their good names. I think it’s also unBiblical.

      Even Paul defended himself and his good name when brought before civil authorities. Can’t all Christians avail themselves of this basic right to self-defense? Some believers would rob us of that right. I don’t think it’s one we should yield, actually, unless we believe it is time for us to lay down and die physically or metaphorically.

    • Hello Kym, thanks for your post. I guess I’m more comfortable, personally, with figuring that a professing believer who has shown no fruit whatsoever, and/or a pattern of deep and/or unrepentant sin (such as the breaking and entering and assaulting person, or the determined slanderer, in your examples above), and/or a complete lack of desire for reconciliation, is no believer at all. As our Savior says in Matthew 7:13-23, “few” enter through the narrow gate, and there will be “many” who sincerely and earnestly think that they are Christians who will nevertheless hear the terrifying words, “Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”

      Again, however, I understand that not everyone feels the same way I do about this. Thanks for your comment.

  14. This is very interesting. I take it when you say “sue” you mean anything that a Christian would take someone to court for? I always assumed it meant, to sue someone for something – money, property, etc. I never put it in the same category as going to court/trial over something that one “Christian” did to another. I guess I think of sexual abuse and how I’ve heard many times that it should be dealt with in the church which is crazy to me! The offender should be prosecuted to the full extent of the [secular]law.

    Is this what you were talking about?

  15. “And it is easy (and convenient) for those doing the harming to cry ‘Christians don’t sue Christians.’”

    VERY good point! Kind of like a criminal being all for gun control! ;-)

    Sarah Mae – who is your question directed to?

    People sue for many different reasons, with many different motivations. Some reasons are more conducive to “suffering a wrong.” (disputes about property, a fender bender, minor business conflicts etc.)

    While other “wrongs” are highly personal, perpetual, and increase in their destructiveness as the years go by, sometimes affecting and harming more and more people if allowed to continue. These are the times when I think it’s not only allowable to appeal to the civil courts, it may even be a duty.

  16. Thanks for consideration to all. I would like to clarify a point. I have not said that it is prohibited for a Christian to go to law against an unbeliever. I don’t think it is often a Christlike thing to do, but it isn’t necessarily prohibited in the scriptures. I also make a distinction between suing my brother and the mandatory reporting of crimes such as child molestation. In the latter case, a Christian has a clear cut duty to protect the innocent by alerting the authorities to a situation. This is not taking my brother to law – it is simply alerting the law. And if the Christian happens to BE the one in authority, they would have the duty of taking the offending party to court, even if they are a so-called brother. In this case, this is not a Christian taking a brother to law, but the government bearing the sword that the Lord commands it to bear.

    This separation may seem artificial at first blush, but it is in the scripture in question. As much as it lies with us, we are to live peaceably with all men. Sometimes, it doesn’t lie with us and we get taken to court. In this case, it is our duty to rationally and without bitterness or aggression present the facts of the case. We are simply alerting the judge of the facts. We are not to worry about the outcome of the case (as if that is humanly possible) because we can rest in the sovereign Lord. We know that anything that happens to us is according to His will – and we do not wish to find ourselves fighting against God.

    I’ve been asked twice about the hypothetical situation of a violent home invasion. This is not the subject of 1 Cor 6. Check the context. “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? v.7.” Noticeably absent is “why not allow your family to suffer injury?”

    I believe that I do have a responsibility to physically protect my wife and children (and not myself). I have been commanded to turn my other cheek, but I was not instructed to turn my family’s other cheek! This is not about “going to law.” This is about dialing 911, and holding down the fort while I wait for the authorities to arrive. As I protect my family, I need to be careful to understand that this does not alleviate my responsibility to behave in a Christ-like fashion. The defensive use of force is warranted, but should be restricted to the minimum necessary for the situation. This is not a time to pull out my trusty AK-47 and execute the death penalty on a home invader for a minor or even a major felony.

    “Going to law” usually happens after the situation has actually closed. We, in “righteous indignation,” convince ourselves that it is our duty to “stop this from happening to someone else.” We are good at telling God why we need to modify His commands. Although it is often cloaked in self-righteousness, “going to law” almost always involves one of two things; our ideas of fairness and vengeance.

    When we take this vengeance in our own hands, we are clearly violating the scriptures. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord. Rom 12:19″ Before we insist on “fairness,” let us consider the words of the Lord in Matt 18. “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. v.35.”

    Does pressing charges sound like forgiving your brother from the heart?

    -Don

  17. While it is true that 1 Corinthians was written to address certain issues that had surfaced at Corinth, I fear it is a stretch to assume that these instructions must be maintained only within the “walls” of the local assembly The principle is larger than a local assembly. Why would the saints take the saints to law before the heathen and thus cause the enemies of the gospel to blaspheme?

    I don’t believe that Paul intends for this text to strictly forbid every utilization of civil courts. The context seems to indicate that these were disputes as opposed to criminal activity. If a church member kills another church member, it would appear obvious to me that the civil magistrate should be involved.

    What must not be ignored is that the saints of God are to be meek and peaceful. Be prepared, says Christ, if you are sued at law for your coat to hand over the cloke as well. The righteous man, according to the book of Proverbs does not say, “‘I will recompense evil’; Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.”

    In the book of Romans, we are, if at all possible, to live peaceably with all men, not avenging ourselves, but again, waiting on the Lord, who repays every man according to hid deeds.

    Peter appeals to the example of Christ, who willingly allowed himself to led a sheep to the slaughter. ” For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” Consider that example! The only time Christ opened his mouth is when God’s omnipotence was doubted, “You would have no power over me if it was not given you by the Father.”

    The believer should consider the name of Christ and the gospel as most precious. Far be it for us, in striving to settle the score in disputes, to drag the gospel through the slop before the eyes of the unbeliever. It would be better to settle differences “in house”, and if not, to be willing to allow ourselves to be defrauded before we make the gospel a spectacle before the eyes of all. True love of Christ is Christocentric- such affection turns our eyes off of self and onto Christ.

  18. “‘Going to law’ almost always involves one of two things; our ideas of fairness and vengeance.”

    Can you document that? I would agree that there is much abuse, pride, and self righteousness surrounding many lawsuits today. But I know of other cases that are far from that model. People are simply seeking relief from crimes committed against them.

    And that’s another issue. Some things we call a civil offense in our country today are criminal offenses in most other countries. Here is a map that shows that most of the world views defamation as a criminal offense.

    In Wisconsin, drunk driving is a civil, rather than a criminal offense. Should a family whose child is paralyzed forever because of a man’s drunken spree not hold this man accountable because he claims Christ (but refuses to come under the accountability of a church)?

    And have you considered that sometimes an appeal to the courts could be a matter of someone seeking relief from continued attack? Not every case of “taking someone to court” is an issue of vengeance, or even fairness. Likewise, not every case is over something petty.

    There are times when it becomes necessary to seek aid from the court in order to get relief from the continued sinful assaults of others (like the case of slander that was discussed).

    You cannot judge the motives of others with such a sweeping statement. Many years back, I remember reading of a man who lost his job, almost lost his wife, and suffered incredible harm because of false allegations from a group of teenagers who claimed sexual abuse.

    He was never convicted of any crime, but it didn’t matter; he had lost his reputation.

    Many years later, several of the girls admitted to having conspired together and lying because they didn’t like this man.

    In my opinion, once the lies were confessed, God would be greatly glorified by this man’s complete and public forgiveness of these women (if he was a Christian). However, in the midst of the attack, it would have been very appropriate to seek relief from the slander that was going on in this town, whether through the church courts (if possible) or through the civil courts. Whatever God ordained in that situation.

    Our goal should be to see God glorified. And there are times when God uses the secular courts to do His work.

    “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:4, NKJV)

  19. “As much as it lies with us, we are to live peaceably with all men…”

    Amen. And there are times when God uses the civil courts as His instrument of peace.

  20. I would not disagree that sometimes God uses the civil courts as his instruments of peace. But somehow in this discussion, it seems that we have missed the scripture. “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?”

    When the devil first approached Eve, he asked a simple question – paraphrased here. “Did God REALLY SAY that you shouldn’t eat of this tree?” Let us always be cautious of our sinful tendency (please note – I am confessing both my own sin and the sins of my people) to try to question the authenticity or applicability of God’s commands. God REALLY DID say not to take our brother to law.

    Yes, sometimes God uses civil courts. But He told us not to – at least in the case of our brother. Yes, defamation is illegal in many countries (as is owning a Bible). That has exactly nothing to do with the discussion. Yes, we are all aware of times when Christians have suffered because of doing what is right. They have laid up treasures for themselves in heaven because in spite of the situation, they remained true to God and to what He told them to do.

    David is a great example of this. Saul subjected him to continual violent harassment, defamation, and even gave his wife to another man. Yet David, the man after God’s heart, refused to take matters into his own hands. God had already anointed him King, yet he did not bring this about by his own strength or his own cunning. He waited on the Lord.

    Taking our brother to court is seldom waiting on the Lord. May God give us the Grace to take Him at His word, and in simple childlike faith to obey.

  21. Where does mediation and arbitration fit into all this?

  22. Hi Lynn,

    Welcome to my blog!

    Mediation and arbitration are a related, but separate issue. In my experience, Christians who are part of a local church, and who are accountable to local leadership, are open to these options. But those who are not members of churches, either by choice or because of excommunication, tend to be uninterested in working through conflicts biblically.

    Also, with the advent of the Internet, some prefer the Cyber court of public opinion over a fair and thorough examination of the facts – especially if involving their own pastors could reveal their own poor behavior, or even reveal the fact that they have no pastor.

    In many ways, biblical confrontation and reconciliation (as detailed in Matthew 5, 18 and Philippians 4) would include a healthy dose of arbitration and mediation.

    Grace and peace,

  23. “While I agree with you to some degree, I don’t think I would be willing to publicly conclude that someone who claimed Christ was an unbeliever – unless he/she was an excommunicant. While there may be plenty of evidence that their testimony is questionable, I wouldn’t be comfortable making that call.

    “However, if a professing Christian, in conflict with another, is unwilling to submit to the judgment of their own church elders (if they even have a church), as well as the elders of the “opposition,” or an agreed upon Christian mediator (i.e. Peacemakers), I think the only reasonable recourse would be to seek the forced judgment that comes from the civil magistrate.”

    I agree with Kym here. If in the beginning of a conflict an individual shows they are willing to work things out through their own pastor, as well as an agreed upon mediator, I dont see the need for a “forced judgment” through the civil magistrate.

    Also, I noticed Layman Pastor posted his promised article on his blog HERE I think he has some interesting thoughts; though personally, I would still find it very difficult to say with any certainty that someone who claimed Christ was not a Christian – which is what his position would require.

    • “Also, I noticed Layman Pastor posted his promised article on his blog HERE I think he has some interesting thoughts; though personally, I would still find it very difficult to say with any certainty that someone who claimed Christ was not a Christian – which is what his position would require.”

      Oh, I agree, I think it would be completely impossible to discern that with certainty. After all, only the Lord will know someone’s heart.

      I do think we are called upon to use our discernment, however, in any number of matters, whether it comes to doctrine, or decisions of major importance, or the wisest course from Scripture even when there is neither prohibition nor command. In those cases, all we can do is our best as guided by the Spirit, prayer, wise counsel and the Word. And our human best will so often fall short, that is part of the challenge of this life.

      But falling short or not, at the end of the day, the decisions still generally need to be made. And a Christian will be accountable to the Lord for his or her stewardship over those decisions, resulting in perhaps a precious and heavenly reward, or perhaps the common stubble of wood or hay.

      If a person shows little or no fruit, and no desire for reconciliation, and no repentance, then my own conscience would likely be clear to proceed if the matter were dire enough. I do not claim or desire to make that decision for anyone else’s conscience, however.

      At the end of the day, I might be right, and I might be wrong. And yes, I might see that professing believer in Heaven one day, and I don’t doubt we would both look back at our mutual folly with regret… or at least we would, if we weren’t so busy being totally consumed with rejoicing in and worshipping our Savior.

      Sometimes as Christians we get it wrong. And it’s at those times when our gratitude to God for the free gift of grace that was given for absolutely no merit of our own, is all the more precious.

      Thanks for the link, and the discussion!

      • As I think about it a moment more, I suppose another way of putting it is in legal terms. What is the required standard of proof in order to act? Is it 100% certainty, when we both seem to agree that obtaining 100% certainty about anyone else’s heart is impossible? Is it beyond a reasonable doubt? Is it a preponderance of the evidence (i.e. just over 50%)?

        I believe we conduct a similar analysis when we decide whether to confront a believer for their sin, or evangelize them as an unbeliever. Or when a believer determines whether or not he or she could marry another person, since after all, we are only to marry other Christians. Or when we are dealing with key areas of trust that are founded on a common fellowship in Christ. Or even having fellowship with someone else at all. All of those decisions entail a determination of whether or not the other party is a Christian.

        Except in the marriage example, the stakes might be higher in a potential lawsuit, but I believe the fundamental, underlying question remains the same. Am I making any sense?

  24. Where does mediation and arbitration fit into all this?>>>>

    Lynn, I think that mediation and arbitration fit into this very well.

    However, who is going to mediate and who is going to arbitrate, especially when it is something that happens on the internet?

    That is the problem. In a church setting, that should be done. However, the internet is like the Wild West. It tends to be lawless.

    We live under the rule of law, though, so how can that apply to internet behavior? When do God’s ministers, both church and civil, need to be brough into a situation?

    I have set boundaries involving my telephone and my email inbox – as well as those of my husband and others in my “real” life. So far those have been respected. I can’t control everything that is said to me or about me. I have to ignore most of what is said to me or about me, as all of us have to do if we are on the internet at all. “Rather be wronged.”

    If the gossip jeopardized my family, then I don’t know what I’d do. Often those in ministry have no protection, since the Christian community tells them that they cannot defend themselves using the normal means. What are they to do? Just let themselves be destroyed? If they defend themselves, then they are told that they are not being spiritual enough.

    That is what often happens. I have seen this numerous times – pastors, their ministries, and their families being destroyed by slanderous, false accusations. Who is going to stand up to those whose goal is the destruction of specific pastors and their ministries?

    Will you, Lynn?

    This is good food for thought. There are no easy, pat answers.

  25. Layman Pastor,

    Yes, you make a lot of sense. You’ve given me much to think about – thank you!

  26. After more than a week of consideration, I would like to make one more response. First, I should apologize for the first verse I used, because it could have been construed to imply that I think people who disagree with me cannot belong to the Lord. I don’t think that way. What I meant to point out is that we cannot really worship God until we are willing understand and submit to who He is. The fact that God does not need our help is part of who He is. To me, it seems that much of what has been said on this page is that God needs our help to right the perceived wrongs He has allowed in the world. How big is God?

    >”In addition, sometimes it may be necessary to appeal to the civil courts in an effort to STOP the offender from continuing to publicly defame other Christians (Christ’s own Body) – and thus Christ Himself.”

    I don’t know all that is happening in your life just as you do not know what is happening in mine. But God does know. You do not need to defend Christ in a legislative way. He is a sovereign God that holds the King’s heart (and everyone else’s) in his hand, and can turn it like water. He can summon legions of angels at a moments notice. He tells us not to take our brothers to law. He asks us to trust and obey.

    -Don


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