Battles won in court are not always battles won in Heaven. Court cases often leave the opponents enemies for life and the scars of conflict seldom disappear. When churches use the courts to settle their problems they should think long and prayerfully about what they are doing. They should consider what the result will be ten years down the road. There is such a thing as allowing God to fight the church's battles. The Early Church did it. It suffered terribly at the hands of its enemies ... but it triumphed in the end.
Careless seems the great Avenger! History's pages but record,
One death grapple in the darkness 'Twixt sins forces and the Word.
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne;
Yet that scaffold sways the future And beyond the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadows Keeping watch upon His own!
First Corinthians 6:1-8 presents three possible actions a believer can take when there is a dispute between brethren. The first is carnal. The second is legal. The third is Divine.
Much as it makes us squirm, we have to start with the premise that "to forgive is Divine"... and use as our model the Lord Jesus who made no effort to defend Himself... Who, when it came to anything that touched Him personally, allowed His enemies to "walk all over Him." "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7).
Jesus taught the second mile ... the turning of the other cheek ... the prayer for those who despitefully use us. The apostle Paul spoke of overcoming evil with good.
The believer has no mandate from God to initiate a lawsuit against anyone ... and certainly not against a believer. "Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law with one another. Why do ye not rather take wrong. Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? "
But, having said the above, there is justification for going to law to defend the rights of the church. Jesus made a whip and drove the money changers out of the temple.
Those in authority, both secular and ecclesiastical, are designated by God to rule and administer justice. There is a difference between:
DEFENDING PERSONAL RIGHTS - DEFENDING CHURCH RIGHTS
First Corinthians 6:1-10 was addressing those who were going to court to secure personal reasons. Paul rebuked them for having their matters judged by unbelievers. He directed them to take their personal problems to church. Then he urged them to respond to a higher law ... the law of love and forgiveness. He appealed to them to "take it on the chin" ... to demonstrate their Christlikeness by doing what Christ did. Christ never made any claim to "rights." He had given them all up when He emptied Himself to become our Savior. A believer who has yielded his "rights" to Christ has nothing to go to court about.
This does not mean that a believer cannot avail himself of the protection of the law. The "powers that be are ordained of God." "He is a minister of God to thee for good" (Romans 13:1-7). The believer is to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and implied in that statement is the right to Caesar's protection. The apostle Paul appealed to, and used, his Roman citizenship to secure police protection. He spoke in his own defense in court and appealed to Rome for trial, thus avoiding a plot against his life. However, he never resorted to violence or resisted authority for personal reasons.
But defending the rights of the church is something else. Jesus defended His Father's house. He used violence to do it. When it came to the house of God, Jesus showed a completely different attitude. He was militant and He was aggressive. Lest this be construed to justify "liberation theology" let it be said that Jesus opposed physical violence as a means to establish His kingdom. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He told Peter to put up his sword. He said that if His kingdom were of this world, then would His servants fight. And precisely because His kingdom was not of this world, he forbade his servants to fight. The advocates of "liberation theology" have given up on heaven. They hope to make this world their heaven. No wonder they fight!
What, then, justified Jesus' action in the Temple. Is it right to defend the church of God. The answer is "yes." The Temple was the center of worship ... the instrument through which God revealed Himself. It was in danger of "going secular," and Jesus took steps to preserve its reason for being.
The church, too, is justified in taking steps ... legal steps if necessary, to maintain reason for being. The church is the body of Christ. It must be pure. The church is the instrument through which God reveals Himself. It must not lose sight of its mandate to make God known. But in "going to law" the church must not spoil its testimony.
It is easy to manifest a bad spirit when battling for holiness and church rights. And, this is the hard part of Christian administration. How do you combat evil without being personally provoked. How do you go to law in the interests of the church without letting a spirit of vindictiveness and enmity creep in. Can a Christian policeman weep as he handcuffs a prisoner. Can a church leader convince the man he puts out of the church that he cares. The answer is "yes." Parents do it when they punish their children. Love will enable a church leader to carry out discipline with "malice toward none." It takes great grace, but it can be done ... and it must be done.
The tragedy of church disputes is the evil spirit of retaliation and spite that enters in ... even in the hearts of those who are "in the right." Harsh words and dastardly deeds are justified on the basis of "they started it." When this happens, nobody "wins" ... even when the jury decides in favor of the church. It is not victory if the building that is won is occupied by bitter believers!
Therefore, when deciding whether to take a matter to law, the church must make sure that:
1. It is not a personal matter.
2. It is done in a spirit of love.
3. It is good for the church.