Before Unbelievers

Before Unbelievers September 28, 2015

Members of the Corinthian church were filing suits against one another before the Roman courts, and Paul was livid. Saints will judge the world. Saints will judge angels. Since the saints are destined for that level of judicial authority, “are you not competent to constitute the smallest law court?” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). 

Is there, Paul asks, “not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?” (vv. 5-6). Is there not one Moses among the Corinthians, or even one man qualified as judge? (cf. Exodus 18; Deuteronomy 1). 

Paul urges that it is better to be defrauded and wronged than to take a brother to court: “It is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another” (v. 7). Paul urged the Corinthians to follow Jesus by suffering shame, rather than seeking vindication before unbelievers.

Many Christians today are resolved not to take a brother to a civil court, but try to solve disputes through arbitration or through church-courts. That is highly commendable.

Yet many Christians are perfectly content to take disputes with their brothers to the web, presenting them before the court of public opinion, before unbelievers.

What should we say about that? Does that come under the same Pauline strictures? The web, after all, is not only filled with unbelievers but is a notorious free-for-all. Civil courts have rules of evidence and mechanisms to confirm or refute allegations. The web has none of these controls, and taking a case to the web is like taking it to a court where everyone is judge, jury, and executioner. People who have no right to have an opinion get to express an opinion. Is that a good place for Christians to be wrangling with each other?

Is there a difference between public theological debate and public airing of grievances and complaints against a church or a pastor? Am I contradicting my own principle by blogging about this?

I understand the temptation to take it to the Court of Google. Resolving disputes through church channels is laborious, slow, unsatisfying. Church boards and courts make mistakes, and, as in civil courts, decisions often leave all parties frustrated and unhappy about the outcome. Many churches in the United States are nondenominational churches that don’t present any obvious way of resolving conflicts that are unresolved in a local church. 

We want vindication, and the web seems to provide the opportunity. That’s not really true, because web disputes are more inconclusive than any court case could be. No internet dispute is ever over. People just move on to inspect the next crash site.

That laborious, flawed, church-based way of resolution seems to be the method Paul lays out. We may do it badly, but God has entrusted the judgment of the world and angels to the saints, so we had better start getting some practice. 

The fundamental is: Is Jesus honored when Christians take one another to task before a watching world? 

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