More on Christians Suing Christians

A few months back I wrote in my blog (and have since preached in a sermon and taught in a study on biblical peacemaking) that it is wrong for a Christian to sue another Christian, or to sue a group of Christians (as in the case of a ministry or a corporation).  Recently I was told by one person I respect, and had reported to me the opinion of another person I also respect, that I was mistaken. In some cases, they indicated, the Bible would allow such a lawsuit, and both men spoke to a current legal action in our community as a prime example. The thought expressed was that, in order to pursue his legal rights against a Christian institution that had defrauded him, the one bringing the suit had no choice.  One cited the fact that a committee of the person’s peers had found in his favor, and gave him the confirmation of fellow Christians that he was right.

What should we make of this? Are there ways around the text of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, which says,

1 Corinthians 6:1-8 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?  2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?  3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!  4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?  5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers,  6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?  7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?  8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud–even your own brothers!

Some commentators suggest the possibility of legal action at the end of a church disciplinary process. For example, if a believer, aligned with a local church, abandons his family, but continues to show up at the house and physically abuse his wife and children, the church may discipline him out of the fellowship. The wife is free to treat him as an unbeliever—including taking permanent legal steps to protect herself and her children (not to mention immediate emergency steps even as the church may be in process of acting). At such a point, the church rules that the person’s sin has forced the church and its members to treat him as an unbeliever, and Christians are not forbidden from using legal action against an unbeliever if necessary. I think that this may be a proper understanding of the relationship between discipline and possible legal consequences. [If, for example, there are biblical grounds for divorce, then it would be best for it to be pursued after the church first disciplined the sinning member so that he or she fell into the “to be treated as an unbeliever” category]

Now, in the case referenced to me, a group of “saints” was called together—by the institution and those with vested authority—as a panel to hear what happened and give a recommendation. They found in favor of the person aggrieved; however, their recommendation was just that—a recommendation. That recommendation was passed back to those with vested authority, including the institution’s board (another group of “saints”) which holds the final authority in the matter. They did not accept the recommendation of the panel, and ruled against the aggrieved party.  It may not be the best grievance procedure, but it is what it is.

The panel’s validation of the offense to the aggrieved party does not justify a lawsuit. 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 does not tell us that circumstances trump principle, and, as far as I can read, does not say that if a believer or group of believers endorses one party as having been truly offended by another, that also trumps the clear meaning of the passage.

Some have tried to argue that the panel represents “the church” in a discipline scenario as found in Matthew 18. This is faulty on any number of fronts, not the least of which is that the panel had no real authority in the matter, where the church is the final authority in matters of discipline.

Frankly, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 is pretty “open and shut.” Believers should not take other believers to secular courts for justice. When they do, they harm the body of Christ, our testimony before the world, and stand in opposition to the expressed will of God. If another believer has sinned against or wronged us, and we cannot agree to reconciliation within Christian circles, we should choose to be wronged rather than go to court.

As far as disputes between an employer and employee, the places where Christians have always looked for guidance (aside from the prohibition on lawsuits) are the instructions to slaves and masters in Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 6, James 5, and 1 Peter 2. All of these passages teach the following:

·        Servants are to obey masters, even evil ones, and serve them as if they are serving Jesus Christ

·        Masters are to treat servants well, knowing they give account to God

·        God will judge both unfaithful servants and unscrupulous masters

Based on these passages and the 1 Corinthians 6 passage, a Christian employee may seek his Christian employer’s consideration or reconsideration of a situation, but the employer is the authority and his decision must either be graciously submitted to, or else the Christian may choose to depart from his place of employment. Attempts to “nuance” the issue by appealing to the existence of a contract, workplace rules, etc., does not negate the biblical prohibition of lawsuits. Even if a Christian employer acts wickedly, the options are the same, unless the church can render a disciplinary judgment. For that to happen, both would have to be under the jurisdiction of a church or a group of churches acting in concert.

Is there a better choice in this current circumstance? I would suggest a good option is still available. The aggrieved party and the institution could seek the services of a Christian mediating body such as Peacemaker Ministries and its Christian Conciliation Services. Both parties could seek to bring together mature Christian leaders from a number of churches and ministries whom each would consider impartial. Issues of legality and morality can be weighed by godly people in light of the Scriptures. They would agree to let this body hear the case and submit to their recommendation as binding. The aggrieved party would drop its lawsuit, and permit any previous decisions to be reviewed by the mediator/arbitrator. I would urge both sides of this legal dispute to seek such mediation or arbitration without delay, and to inform the larger body of Christ of their willingness to do so. This would bring positive pressure on those who endorse the lawsuit to consider higher biblical pursuits, and would give the rest of us some sort of hope that believers can take seriously the command to act biblically.

One final note: this should not be seen as taking a side on the merits of the claims made or defenses offered. My concern is the use of illegitimate means to achieve what may be believed to be moral ends.

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Published in: on September 25, 2008 at 1:10 pm  Comments (2)  

“The Power of Negative Thinking”

I don’t normally post links to articles here, but this short essay, The Power of Negative Thinking, by Barbara Ehrenreich, is a fascinating insight into the current fiscal crisis.  Ms. Ehrenreich has written some very insightful pieces in the past, and while I do not agree with her broadly painted caricature of Calvinism (obviously), she says some things that are very true about our culture’s particular ways of thinking and its contribution to our monetary chaos.

Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 11:43 am  Leave a Comment  

I don’t know if it matters, but…

I’ll be doing another segment on biblical peacemaking tonight–my schedule changed, and so I will press ahead.  Those who want to hear it can make plans, and those who don’t can do likewise!

Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 11:29 am  Leave a Comment  

God’s Love and Hatred for Sinners

“For God so loved the world…” (John 3)

God’s wrath rests on all who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1)

Does God love sinners who never trust Christ? Or to put it theologically, does God’s love truly extend to the non-elect (those not chosen by God for salvation)?

Most people here know I am considered “Calvinistic,” and that means I believe in God’s sovereignty in all things, including who is saved.  Some think being Calvinistic means you don’t believe that God loves those who are not elect.  Further, they believe that as a Calvinist you cannot say to an audience, “God loves you and offers salvation.”

Not true!  Here is a link to a recent posting at Pyromaniacs (a very interesting and sometimes a bit more “in your face” than I am) that I think says it well, and can also send you to other resources that discuss this question more thoroughly.  You will discover that no less a “Calvinist” than John Calvin believed in proclaiming God’s free offer of salvation to the world–and world means “all people” in that context.

Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 9:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Power Problems and Ministry

Well, while the power is coming on gradually throughout Cedarville, a number of people are still without, and the office has not had internet or email connection all week–so, sorry to all who have written us emails and we have not responded; we will try to catch up as soon as we get service back.

In the meantime, I am encouraged by so many having others over for meals, showers, etc.  Some of you have been proactive in going and helping neighbors, including those you haven’t met yet–keep up the good work.  Even as we learn how dependent we are on electricity, and the power of wind to disrupt our lives, we also can discover that every circumstance has it opportunities.  Let’s keep using them!

BTW, some have asked me about handouts from the midweek study–I’m going to try to post them either on the church website, or here.  So stay tuned.

Published in: on September 19, 2008 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mini Mid Week Series

For the next two weeks, I’ll be taking some time in our midweek prayer service to talk about (and lead us in praying about) the biblical concept of peacemaking–not in terms of global conflict, but in terms of personal relationships.   While I don’t normally do this kind of thing, I thought that it might be timely for us to consider how to be agents of reconciliation and how to avoid giving offense and dealing with it if we have offended someone.  So, join me if you are free for these next two weeks, Wednesday night at 6:45 p.m. in Moffat Hall

Published in: on September 4, 2008 at 2:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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“Thank You.”

These two simple words were on my mind as I drove to the Somers’ family home in western Illinois. Being a parsonage, the home not only belonged to the church Al has been serving for eight years, but it spoke of the vocation that had been his calling all of his adult life, and into which he was born during the ministry of his pastor/father.

I knew these two words were terribly inadequate for my task, since what I had to be grateful for and what Al had to do with it encompassed so much about my life that has been good. I also know how much I wanted to say these words now, because Al wouldn’t be here much longer.

Al and Judy were no strangers to adversity and illness. Ministry in hard places and times had been their lot for much of their service. In the midst of these circumstances, they still found many joys and friends along the way. Eight years ago, a diagnosis of incurable leukemia and a painful departure from a long term ministry was coupled with one of their best blessings—a call to serve a church that seemed ideally suited to grow under Al’s pastoral care. The leukemia was controlled, and care seemed to flow as much into Al and Judy’s lives from their congregation as did their care toward the flock.

Then came the news of colon cancer, and the growing realization that it was not going to be overcome as the leukemia had been. Having been told his remaining time would be measured in days and not months, I began to lay plans to pay one final visit to someone who had shaped my life and ministry as much as anyone I have known. I got there just in time.

Al became my youth pastor when I was in 8th grade, and for two years he led our church’s youth ministry. It was one of those churches, that as I look back, put the “fun” in “fundamental,” and Al’s arrival was followed months later by one pastor’s departure, and the arrival of another who didn’t believe in youth pastors. Al soldiered on as best he could, and faithfully led our teens. More than that, he took a personal interest in me that included discipleship training. He was the first to challenge me toward regular Bible study and prayer, and show me ways both to do so and to benefit from the exercise. When the Lord moved him on, we stayed in touch through occasional letters (I was the more frequent writer, but to be fair, he did have a new church to serve). I never had another youth pastor like him, but the seeds he planted took root, and my sense of calling to ministry became clear.

Our correspondence continued through my college years, and took a new turn when one letter offered the possibility of coming to assist him in the church to which he had been called less than a year before. A visit to the church ensued, and my life’s direction changed much more than just geographically.

From the first day as Al’s assistant at First Baptist Church of San Bernardino, I was introduced to ministry through a true apprenticeship. I read Scripture for the first time in a funeral my first week on the job. The first person I baptized was Al—he made me get in the tank and practice on him so I wouldn’t lose anybody when the real thing came along. Back then he had three messages to prepare each week, so he usually asked me to do one. Perhaps his boldest move was to decide that we would preach through books together, with one of us taking a passage, then the other picking up the next week where the first left off. I was going to seminary at the time, and found that Al’s practical training was enriching my class work immeasurably. Few others came into Sermon Preparation class with the experience Al had provided me, and few had the chance to field test what they were learning in school in ministry that was given through Al’s generous investment in me.

What made this even more powerful was the way he and Judy welcomed me into their lives and family. Sunday dinner was always at their house, as well as at least one other meal each week. I got to be more than just a babysitter for their kids—they treated me like a beloved uncle, and I had the joy of entering into their lives—attending soccer games, having them stay at my place, and giving them rides everywhere. When my interest in my wife first developed and deepened, but my demonstrations of my affection were not moving fast enough to seal the deal, it was Judy who told me that I needed to sit with Kathy in church NOW. So I did. Of course, she clued Kathy in on this, to make sure there was room next to her in the pew!

Al married us, and he and Judy sang in the service. Their family continued to be a blessing to us, and when God called us away to my first senior pastorate, Al was instrumental in helping that process, too. As our ministry saw God’s blessing, I was conscious of the fact that much of what I did, I did because Al taught me how to do it. When I did a funeral and people remarked on its poignancy, I knew that it was because Al taught me how to make it personal. When a wedding couple rejoiced in the service they had, it was due in large part to Al’s training in how to put a wedding together

Until his pastorate at Checkrow, Al’s ministry had usually been in difficult environments. Yet he worked faithfully where God had placed him. After my departure from San Bernardino, Al repeated this apprenticing process in two more men’s lives. For a time, all three of us had more visible fruit in ministry than Al was experiencing. Yet all of us would have to confess that the fruit we saw was not just ours, but Al’s. His commitment to multiplying what God had done in him can be seen in thriving churches and ministries in California, the Midwest, and even overseas, who have never met him.

So I was able to arrive and speak one more time to this man who had given me so much. Judy, Steve, Elizabeth, and I sat around his bed and shared some precious memories and some laughter over the past. He was weak, but he was clear headed, and once again, he blessed me—literally, with a prayer committing me to continuing in God’s service. I prayed for him, too, thanking God through my tears for Al’s life of faithfulness, and asking God to welcome him home soon if a miracle healing was not in store. I told Al that I loved him and didn’t know how to say “thank you” for so much to one man in one moment. From a human perspective, he taught me about ministry, he was the reason I met my wife and have my family, and he showed me in practical terms how to walk with God.

I left, and the next day Al was no longer able to speak. He fell asleep Sunday night, August 31; and at 1:00 the next morning, Judy woke up and found that Al had left for Heaven.

I love Al and Judy Somers and their family, and my appreciation for his legacy of faithfulness will continue, in part through me. It is my prayer that I will be found to have been similarly faithful when I join him in the Savior’s presence.

Published in: on September 3, 2008 at 6:44 pm  Comments (1)