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  1. #1

    1 Corinthians 6 and Lawsuits

    With all of the activities involving the ARP and Erskine, the issue of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 has come up quite frequently. A plain and straightforward reading of the text seems to indicate the simple fact that believers should not be taking other believers to court.

    Of course, when sinners (even redeemed sinners) disagree with the word of God, all sorts of exegetical excuses arise to get around the "problem." On one Facebook site (a pro-Erskine, anti-ARP site), someone suggested this passage only applied to local congregations (i.e., a member of a local congregation shouldn't take another in the same congregation to court, but that did not preclude taking someone in another congregation to court).

    The Erskine Board did consider a lawsuit (one was filed by the chair of the Board, who is an ARP elder and in clear violation of his ordination vows), and although the executive committee of the Board did not agree with the actions of the Synod, they did not decide to pursue the legal route. One of the reasons, they gave is 1 Corinthians 6, so they at least think the text is plain enough.

    The Alumni Association, however went through with the lawsuit. On order to preserve a TRO already in affect from the original suit, three Erskine seminary faculty members apparently took over the suit until the AA could file their suit. One of those faculty members (a NT professor) has a paper on his exegesis of 1 Corinthians 6. You may find it here.

    I am curious to read responses to the paper.
    Tim Phillips
    Pastor, Midlane Park Presbyterian Church (ARP)
    Louisville, KY
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  2. #2
    I'll throw a couple of thoughts out there.

    His thesis is that 1 Cor. 6:1-8 only applies to trivial matters, not in cases where a Christian is seriously injured or defrauded by another Christian.

    First, it seems that for his reasoning to work, he has to conclude up front that a party has been defrauded in some nontrivial way. But that's the whole point of a trial, to determine that question. What happens if it turns out the plaintiff was wrong, and the court decides for the defendant? Then you've brought suit on a trivial, and indeed nonexistent, matter. Are you then retroactively guilty for violating 1 Cor. 6?

    Second, he claims that "defrauding a believer is never a trivial matter." This is his whole point: that if there is genuine defrauding involved, then the Christian can sue. But of course, Paul asks in v. 7, "why not rather be defrauded?" The author attempts to get around this question by claiming that it is not a command but a genuine question that does not "eliminate the possibility of righteous litigation." But he doesn't adequately explain why Paul is addressing "defrauding" at all. If the Apostle is talking about trivial lawsuits, why does he suddenly introduce "the weighty matter of genuine suffering and significant loss" that the author sees in the word "defraud"?

    Third, I think his reference to criminal cases is a bit misplaced, even though he doesn't make a significant issue out of it. (He mentions sexual abuse, among other things, almost in passing). I would just note that in those cases the government itself is the plaintiff, because they are seen as the offended party. The victim reports the crime and appears as a witness so the government can enforce its laws. It's not, strictly speaking, the victim seeking compensation from someone. I'm sure other distinctions can be drawn here.

    Same with his reference to deeds, sales, acquisitions, etc. Seeking legal counsel for permits, recordings, and other necessary filings is not the same as dragging someone into court and suing them for damages.
    Louis DiBiase
    Midlane park, ARPC
    Louisville, KY

  3. #3
    I have to admit to a pretty simple minded view: If a professing Christian has read and understands 1 Cor 6 and proceeds with a lawsuit against another professing Christian, he is saying one of two things. Either he is not a Christian or his opponent is not a Christian.

    I've had opportunity several times to counsel clients from this perspective. The starkness of the analysis sometimes leads to reconciliation of the parties, and sometimes it leads to me being fired.

    Of course, we can qualify the analysis a hundred ways. Maybe he is a Christian but he isn't acting like one, or, that's true enough for some types of issues, but this is important, etc. But Paul's directive, as mentioned by Louis, is very straightforward.
    R. Victor Bottomly
    Port Cities Reformed Baptist Church, Lewiston ID

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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    From the paper....

    The fundamental message of our passage is this: there are trivial matters which should be
    handled within the church, and that, without exception.
    On one hand, the paper is trying to consider all sorts of situations and apply biblical principle. On the other, it is being what we sometimes call "being too smart by half."

    An example of the latter is his premise above, which the author uses to dissect different kinds of cases, and from different points of view.

    I don't agree with this premise, which the author goes on from to form other nuanced views.

    I Cor. 6-8 is talking about the reputation of our Lord and, by derivation, His Body the Church. He is talking about the substance of litigation which is either getting money or getting someone else to behave right. We are not to seek material things ultimately as believers, and right behavior is defined by His revealed will, His Word. The rhetorical question the Apostle asks is...

    Is the church less qualified than the magistrate to resolved disputes, any disputes, between those who profess to be under the Lordship of Christ?

    Not to get off the post topic, but it is a more complicated situation when a corporation (entity) is involved because there are fiduciary duties to shareholders. There can be other duties due to the business entity, code of ethics of a profession, etc.

    As an outsider looking in, and not knowing much of the particulars of this case, it would seem to me to underscore the need for denominations to:

    1) charter their seminaries with "at will" employment contracts
    2) governed by a Christian code of conduct
    3) including a statement of belief
    4) some restriction of speech both during and immediately after employment,
    5) a clause to use Christian conciliation mediation as a first resort to resolve grievances.

    Having taught at the postsecondary level, I might balk at any pretense of restriction of speech. But in reality, there are restrictions, and have been almost everywhere.
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  5. #5
    I will not have time until tomorrow, but I will likely read and give a public response. Based on what has been said summarizing the paper, it appears that his view directly contradicts mine:

    Christ Church PCA
    Fred Greco
    Senior Pastor, Christ Church PCA (Katy, TX)
    Christ Church Blog

    "The heart is the main thing in true religion...It is the hinge and turning-point in the condition of man's soul. If the heart is alive to God and quickened by the Spirit, the man is a living Christian. If the heart is dead and has not the Spirit, the man is dead before God." (J.C. Ryle)

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by fredtgreco View Post
    I will not have time until tomorrow, but I will likely read and give a public response. Based on what has been said summarizing the paper, it appears that his view directly contradicts mine:

    Christ Church PCA
    I thought the same thing when I read it, Rev. Greco (that it directly contradicts your view). I was hoping you would see it and respond.
    Seth Stark
    Member, Grace Presbyterian Church (OPC), Springfield, IL (though I live in Decatur, IL)

    (Formerly Ruling Elder, Communion Presbyterian Church (ARP), Irvine, CA)
    M.A. Science and Religion, Biola University
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  7. #7
    I read the paper again because it bothered me so much. I don't want to go into a detailed critique, but internal contradictions and non-sequiters seem to abound.

    The general conclusion and confusion can be seen in the last paragraph. Trivial matters among Christians should never be brought to court and serious matters (like defrauding a brother) "may be met with Christian charity, yet intractably with the justice of God." (Emph. in original).

    But he doesn't answer the question, "may a Christian sue another Christian in a secular court for a non-trivial offense?" Instead, he leaves us hanging. Of course a serious wrong invites God's judgment. But the writer never makes the connection that God's judgment is properly implemented by going to secular court.

    The author also makes a rather facile leap from Paul's statement in verse 7, "why not rather be defrauded?" His interpretation of this seems to be that Paul was using hyperbole to suggest that maybe, if the believer can muster it, he should just forgive the wrongdoer. It is a good idea, but optional. The author seems to think that the "right" to take a believer to court is still available. Paul's question is rhetorical and "not, as popularly assumed, a command from the Apostle."

    The paper liberally quotes Calvin, especially his Commentary on 1 Cor. 6. It makes it sound like Calvin was all in favor of Christians filing lawsuits against Christians, as long as the matter was serious and the motives were pure. But, the author conveniently left out Calvin's comment on verse 1:

    But here it may be objected: “As it belongs to the office of the magistrate, and as it is peculiarly his province to administer justice to all, and to decide upon matters in dispute, why should not even unbelievers, who are in the office of magistrate, have this authority, and, if they have it, why are we prevented from maintaining our rights before their tribunals?” I answer, that 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. It is wrong, therefore, to institute of one’s own accord a law-suit against brethren before unbelieving judges. If, on the other hand, you are summoned to a court, there is no harm in appearing there and maintaining your cause.
    (Italic in original, bolding added).

    Calvin answered the question plainly. Dr. Hering evaded the question completely.
    Last edited by VictorBravo; 03-19-2010 at 03:36 PM.
    R. Victor Bottomly
    Port Cities Reformed Baptist Church, Lewiston ID

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