Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Boy Named "Sue"
Christians suing Christians, the latest shame in evangelicalism

Where the love of self and the love money traverse; and distrusting the sovereignty of God in one’s personal affairs is condoned.

There is a disturbing, growing trend emerging in evangelicalism today: Christians suing other Christians. The list of reasons is immense by those who erroneously rationalize an eisegetical justification for this unbiblical, self-protectionism, money driven practice: intellectual property rights; creative control; garnering past royalties; counteracting slander/malice/gossip; the loss of financial donors; etc. Some practice this with such alacrity and efficiency that they have made suing fellow Christians a spiritual gift.

What is grossly unfortunate is that this is being condoned and practiced under the guise of "protecting the Lord's work." Skubalon!

Ministries, churches, pastors, and Christian individuals that resort to lawsuits (or even the threat thereof) to settle disputes between genuine believers in Christ have lowered the biblical standard (and themselves) to the status of nothing more than worldly bottom-fishing clerical scavengers in order to guard their rights, name, reputation and financial supporters. IOW, potential damage to one’s own name or ministry and the possible loss of financial giving from ministry partners is all the reason some need to pull the trigger and act selfishly and unbiblically in the rebutting of false and malicious accusations by others against them within the marketplace. And this between professing believers in Jesus Christ.

Mind you, violating the ninth commandment against another is serious and no one is saying that a deaf ear should be turned to gossip, slander, or unfounded accusations that are being hurled at biblical ministries ad nausea, ad infinitum today. BUT, the manner and method used in how one responds and deals with those issues when wronged is the essential thing in question here.

At the outset, it’s good to remind ourselves, lest we forget, that it’s not about us beloved; it’s all about Him. It’s not about our interests; it’s about His glory. It’s not about our rights; it’s about obeying His Word. It’s not about our name or carefully cultivated reputations; it’s about the proclamation of His gospel.

This issue is simple and only one question is even necessary to explore:

are lawsuits a biblically sanctioned option for the righting of wrongs for believers of the Lord Jesus Christ to adopt?
The short answer… no. There is no scenario, beloved, that gives the Christian the right to champion their own rights and pursue a lawsuit against another believer in Christ for punitive or personal satisfaction through the legal process—absolutely none. To do so is to dishonor the Lord Jesus Christ, disobey His Word, distrust His sovereign will, and defame the work of God.

The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, deals with this issue precisely and authoritatively. He leaves no wiggle room for suing another to accommodate the self-obsessed pragmatics of today’s evangelicalism. And those that try to “dance with this text” should be ashamed, are in sin, and should be subject to church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20), and be called to repent of this lascivious practice.

Look with me at 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 to read how Paul addresses this issue of lawsuits and the potential fallacious and nefarious reasoning when it comes to litigation between believers in the Lord Jesus Christ:
1Cor. 6:1 ¶ Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? 1Cor. 6:2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 1Cor. 6:3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? 1Cor. 6:4 So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 1Cor. 6:5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 1Cor. 6:6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 1Cor. 6:7 ¶ Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 1Cor. 6:8 On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. (NASB)

Lawsuits for a Believer and Follower of Jesus Christ
are Unbiblical, Unholy and UnChristlike:


V1:
Paul prohibits lawsuits for a believer because it shifts the responsibility for these things away from the church to the courts. To do so is an act of treason against another. And this was being done in front of the unrighteous - the unbelieving Gentile magistrates and courts.

Historically, the Jews would not allow any of their causes to be brought before the Gentile courts. Their rule was this: “He that tries a cause before the judges of the Gentiles, and before their tribunals, although their judgments are as the judgments of the Israelites, so this is an ungodly man,” etc. Maimon. Hilch. Sanhedrim, chap. xxvi. § 7. They even looked on such an action as bad as profaning the name of God.


V2-V3:
Paul prohibits lawsuits for a believer because it raises the temporal over the eternal.

This profound statement is inescapable: saints will judge this world; saints will judge angels. If believers will have a role in those weighty matters, why would they in the more common matters of this life not adhere to what pleases the Lord and honors His Word?


V4:
Paul prohibits lawsuits for a believer because it raises the law courts of this world to a place of authority over matters within the church.

The apostle says that that was wholly wrong; that they ought by no means to go with their causes against their fellow Christians before heathen magistrates; that whoever had the right side of the question, and whatever might be the decision, the thing itself was unchristian and wrong; and that rather than dishonour the Christian faith by a trial or suit of any kind, they ought to be willing to take the wrong, and to suffer any personal and private injustice.

It serves to note, that in that day, the heathen magistrates were in general very corrupt. Many of them were men of abandoned character, of dissipated lives, men who were easily bribed, and men, therefore, in whose judgment Christians could repose little confidence. Paul reproves the Corinthians for going before them with their disputes when they could better settle them themselves.


V5-6:
Paul prohibits lawsuits for a believer against his neighbor because it reveals a serious lack of wisdom againt the leadership of a local church and its members; and damages a testimony before unbelievers.

“I say this to your shame”
Paul says. I declare that which is a reproach to you, that your matters of dispute are carried before heathen tribunals. This is a strong indictment beloved! Failure to embrace the reproach of another as part of our own sanctification by God's sovereign hand, demand our own rights, and parade another professing Christian to the lawcourts of this world in the settling of our disputes is to act unChristlike. It is He who took the reproaches and revilements of men for us in His once for all sacrifice for sin on the cross. He "entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:23). If the Master could submit to such injustices, how much more should the servant be compelled to do so?

Paul’s stinging rebuke is plain—is there is not a single member so wise, intelligent, and prudent, that his fellow believers may have confidence in him, and refer their causes to him? Can this be the case in a church that boasts so much of its heavenly wisdom, that prides itself so much in the handling of God's Word, and in number and qualifications of its intelligent members that no one among you can apply the truths of Scripture and resolve conflict biblically to the glory of God? Are you that blind, self-consumed, and distrusting in God and His sovereign will that you must resort to taking disputes among Christians to the nonbelievers?

The apostle says that that was wholly wrong; that they ought by no means to go with their causes against their fellow Christians before heathen magistrates; that whoever had the right side of the question, and whatever might be the decision, the thing itself was unchristian and wrong; and that rather than dishonour religion by a trial or suit of this kind, they ought to be willing to take wrong, and to suffer any personal and private injustice.

The greater evil is done to the cause of Christ by the fact of Christians appearing before a heathen tribunal with their disputes, than could result to either party from the injury done by the other.

V7-8: What’s the solution? ”Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (Defrauded here most likely goes to injury of property and goods; wronged here goes more to ones character or person). Together, they are probably designed to refer to all kinds of injury and injustice. And the apostle means to say, that they had better submit to any kind of injustice than carry the cause against a Christian brother before a heathen tribunal. IOW, why do you not allow yourself to be wronged, rather than to dishonour the cause of Christ by your lawsuits? Even if the offending party was a nonbeliever, why would any Christian elevate their own concerns over and against the salvation of another? Why wouldn't we submit to the injustices of a nonbeliever in order to demonstrate Christ to them and proclaim His gospel of sola fide and repentance from sin with the divine hope that the Lord would grant saving faith and godly sorrow to the offending party and bring them to regeneration in Christ? At the bedrock of it all, it is a preoccupation with our own selfish concerns and financial restitution that prohibits us from doing so.

One commentator insightfully reasons they should do this:
(1.) because the Christian faith requires its friends to be willing to suffer wrong patiently, Prov. 22:22; Matt. 5:39, 40; Rom. 12:17, 19; 1 Thess. 5:15.

(2.) because great injury results to the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ from such litigation. The private wrong which an individual would suffer, in perhaps all cases, would be a less evil on the whole than the public injury which is done to the cause of piety by the litigations and strife’s of Christian brethren before a civil court.

(3.) The differences among Christians could be adjusted among themselves, by a reference to their brethren. In ninety-nine cases of a hundred, the decision would be more likely to be just and satisfactory to all parties from an amicable reference, than from the decisions of a civil court. In the very few cases where it would be otherwise, it would be better for the individual to suffer, than for the cause of religion to suffer. Christians ought to love the cause of their Master more than their own individual interest. They ought to be more afraid that the cause of Jesus Christ would be injured than that they should be a few pounds poorer from the conduct of others, or than that they should individually suffer in their character from the injustice of others.
In conclusion:
I have been wronged by others before; defrauded; slandered; and the object of malicious gossip. But what is eternal cannot be burned up. But I had no right to wrong another by taking them to court though I had been wronged. I reserved, under God's grace, the right to be wronged and He defended me.

The doctrine taught here in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 is that Christians should by no means to go to law with each other before a heathen court in these kinds of matters; that they should be willing to endure and suffer any injury from a Christian brother or sister then rather to assume “their rights” and do harm to the cause of Christ and this before nonbelievers.

What we have all seen of late has violated this passage profoundly. Our interests mean very little beloved personally and ministerially compared to the cause and gospel of Jesus Christ.

May we all keep Jesus, His Word, His gospel and His glory in clear view and not our petty reputations and ministries.

10 comments:

Carla said...

Brother Steve,

not long ago I found myself in a most bizarre situation where another believer made numerous "veiled" insinuations that if he wanted to, he could "have my house" (and other little phrases that clearly indicated he was considering a lawsuit). The option to file a lawsuit against me (and another party, about whom this person made the same statements) was something that several other believers were publicly encouraging him to do. The reason for the veiled threats of a lawsuit? Doctrinal disagreements and my public posts (and the other party's as well) about them. That was it, that's all it took.

As a result of that, it really caused me to examine several things. Namely, my own writings - to make sure I wasn't Biblically or legally out of line in any way. I wasn't, but one can never be too quick to ignore their own part in something like this.

It also caused me to examine what the Scriptures teach about this practice among believers. I had never really studied it out before, even though I knew it was commonly understood that Christians just do NOT sue other Christians. I had numerous discussions about this with my pastor, my husband, and other fellow believers and every single one of them said exactly the same thing that you have written here.

I am 100% convinced that such actions do in fact reveal just what you have stated:

To do so is to dishonor the Lord Jesus Christ, disobey His Word, distrust His sovereign will, and defame the work of God.

While this isn't an easy thing to do (accept the wrongs done to you, whether real or imagined), I believe it's the Biblical thing to do. No matter who you are or how famous or unknown you are.

At the same time, another aspect of this that we need to be very careful with, is that we (believers in general) don't conduct ourselves in a way that might be a stumbling block for others to be tempted TO file lawsuits against us. This is not to say that we shouldn't express our opinions over false teachings or illegal activity or whatever the issue happens to be - but it is to say that we should be highly cautious of the way we express those opinions. I think that makes a big difference in how it's received.

I know your posting guidelines frown on huge replies, and while I do have much more to say about this, I'll leave it with that, and just thank you for echoing what I also believe the Scriptures to teach on this issue.

Well done.

SDG,
Carla

4given said...

I have to say, Ligonier comes to mind here again. They have dropped the lawsuit and in their words: "Based on godly counsel we have received from churchmen and others, the decision was reached not to pursue a conclusion to this matter through the legal system.

Having withdrawn the complaint, we ask friends and fellow believers to pray that we will have wisdom as this matter comes to a peaceful end.

We are grieved by the entire matter, and we desire that God be glorified by the outcome of this decision."


What a great lesson for all of us to consider. May we pray earnestly for these brothers in Christ that truly God is glorified. I, for one, am thankful for their ministry and their willingness to humbly resolve the matter in this way. May Frank Vance seek to do the same.

None of us are without fault as Christians. We all make mistakes. For God to be glorified in our mistakes there must be humble and genuine repentance before God. That is why praying for one another is so crucial.

scripturesearcher said...

Steve, you have done all your many readers a great service with this
reminder of what the scriptures teach.

But the greed and unbelief of many professing Christians (and not only lawyers) make this one of the
great scandals of our time.

Terry Rayburn said...

Steve,

Well-presented, brother.

Is it not a matter of priorities? That is, seeking first "me" vs. seeking first the Kingdom of God?

Blessings,
Terry

4given said...

A dear friend gave me the number to the court to check and see if the case has really been dismissed. It has not yet. I wrote this back to her in response: "I guess I just want to think the best of Ligonier and this is breaking my heart. It was RC Sproul's "Holiness of God: Isaiah 6" that the Lord used to draw me to Himself. I have always had this conviction that no matter how highly I esteem people in ministry, we are all fallible, make mistakes and must be held accountable. I cannot imagine them making this announcement and then not following through with it. I do not understand. The young man on the phone that i talked to said that they have received phone calls from all of the country. I do not want to be an idiot that just dismisses this. I pray fervently that they follow through immediately. That they do so in such a way that God is glorified. I can't really comprehend what made them do this in the first place except again to say that we all make mistakes. It was embarrassing quite frankly. And the world is watching and this is giving them opportunity to mock the Lord and His people."

Joel said...

There is no scenario, beloved, that gives the Christian the right to champion their own rights and pursue a lawsuit against another believer in Christ for punitive or personal satisfaction through the legal process—absolutely none.

Would you extend that to include sex-abuse suits like the Catholic Church has been plagued with? Similar things have happened in Protestant churches.

voiceofthesheep said...

4given,
I have talked with someone high up in the Ligonier organization who has told me that the process for dropping the suit has indeed been initiated.

I am confident that Ligonier would not do such a thing as announce they are dropping a legal action only to continue to pursue it at the same time. But I too am anxiously awaiting for it to be formally over...and I have been contacting the court as well to hear that very thing.

Let's pray this ends ASAP so that Ligonier can get back to doing what it has done so well over the years...being used of God to bring people like you and me into a better understanding of who God really is.

4given said...

Thank you voiceofthesheep.

You wrote: Let's pray this ends ASAP so that Ligonier can get back to doing what it has done so well over the years...being used of God to bring people like you and me into a better understanding of who God really is.

Yes... Amen.

4given said...

The court has declared that Ligonier vs. Frank Vance has officially been withdrawn.

Bryan Riley said...

You can't serve both Mammon and God. Clearly the scriptures teach that Christians suing Christians is wrong. I don't see any way around it. And, a Christian business owner shouldn't go outside the spirit of this by saying his or her business isn't a Christian. Good post.