Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Should a Christian Sue a Christian?

I received an email inquiry from an attorney friend of mine asking the following questions:
Under what circumstances would it be  right or wrong for a Church to sue either a Christian or non-Christian (non-member in either case) for breach of a lease? Do you see any distinction between binding arbitration or a lawsuit in any event?

To which I replied,

Dear Friend,

Thanks for asking this knotty question, for it has made me think and study this morning on an issue about which I have long held an opinion, the scriptural rationale for which was not fresh on my mind. 
The primary basis of my opinion is the teaching of the Apostle Paul; the secondary basis, my lifetime observation of the "Christian" and the "Church." I'll begin with the secondary basis of my opinion.

Three things make me doubt the legitimacy of many if not most institutions and individuals who call themselves a "Church" or "Christian":
1. the absence of the Holy Spirit's influence in teaching the "Church" or the "Christian" intellectually about Truth and Wisdom, viz, most individual "churches" and "Christians" remain quite ignorant of foundational biblical Truth and, at the same time, remain quite vulnerable to error, both of which attest to the "church" or "Christian" being untaught by the Holy Spirit. My view of the Spirit's work in intellectual sanctification is that He progressively, measurably, and effectually leads true Christians and churches into a deeper and deeper understanding of Truth as well as into a lifestyle of decision-making that evidences ever deepening Wisdom. Rampant Arminianism and Dispensationalism, as well as neo-Pentecostalism, are "plain as the nose on your face" examples of rampant error and absent Wisdom in the "Church" and among "Christians." If a "Church" or a "Christian" remains untaught and even deceived about fundamental biblical Truth, then we must conclude either that 
  • the Holy Spirit is a weak teacher, a poor conveyer of Truth and Wisdom, which is an unacceptable conclusion and therefore necessitates only one other conclusion,
  • that neither the "church" nor the "Christian" is what they claim to be, evidenced by a lack of intellectual comprehension of biblical Truth and spiritual Wisdom;
2. the absence of a profound ethical influence upon the moral lives of those who call themselves a "Church" or a "Christian." The preeminent example of this is the ethical failure of the church and Christians in the sphere of sexual immorality outside the boundaries of holy matrimony and the rampant plague of divorce in the church and among Christians. Paul's admonishment of the Corinthians for those sins included the illegitimate nature of their sullied Eucharist; however, we must remember that even that egregious group of individuals, the Corinthians, were still called "church" and "Christian," which begs the question: Are "churches" and "Christians" today worse off than Corinth, to which I would answer nauseously: yes. Of course, other examples of immorality among contemporary churches and Christians can be cited as well, such as dishonesty; infidelity or lethargy in personal or professional matters; preoccupation with worldly interests (entertainment such as athletics and media); gossipy, empty, and vulgar speech (which is at least equally rampant among Christians as sexual impropriety), etc. And we should remember that it is the worst and most immature of first-century churches - Corinth - whom Paul had to instruct regarding lawsuits as well as something completely almost alien to the contemporary church: the church's responsibility to "judge others" in moral and even legal matters, which I will address in course. But the conclusion is the same as in point one: such pervasive immorality in the church and among Christians suggests one of two things:
  • the post-conversion moral influence of the Holy Spirit is pitifully weak among the Church and Christians, and thus Almighty God, through the the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, is having quite a difficult time struggling with carnality in the Church. This conclusion requires a minimalist, emasculate view of the Holy Spirit's work in moral sanctification and therefore is also an unacceptable conclusion; or, rather, 
  • the persistent, pervasive immorality in the "Church" and among "Christians" indicates a widespread absence of moral transformation wrought by the Holy Spirit. In other words, slavery to sin is proof that a "Church" or a "Christian" is not truly a slave to Christ (Romans 6:16).
3. the absence of the Holy Spirit's transformative power of the emotional or psychological inner life and demeanor of those who call themselves a "church" or a "Christian", viz, the scarcity of the Spirit's psycho-emotive graces such as gentleness, peacefulness, happiness (joy), patience, meekness, self-control, and especially "love" that replicates Divine Love, which is infinite, immutable, and everlasting. Again, this demands one of two conclusions, one unacceptable and, therefore, the second a compulsory conclusion:
  • the Holy Spirit is feeble in his administration of psycho-emotive graces, or
  • the meagerness of psycho-emotive graces among contemporary "Churches" and "Christians" attests to their illegitimacy and reprobation.
I apologize for such a long and perhaps unexpected response to your question thus far, but a valid answer to your question requires that we consider the meaning of "Church" and "Christian" as a qualifying context to address your larger concern of Christians/Churches suing other Christians and Churches.
Another and even more important context of Paul's discussion of "brother going to law with brother" is the theological and expository context in which Paul addresses the issue of Christians filing lawsuits against other Christians. Here, the chapter divisions in our Bibles mitigate against our understanding Paul's admonition to the Corinthians about legal fights between Christians. Paul's context is this: 
church discipline in relation to the incestuous man and other egregious sinners
to whom the Corinthians turned a blind eye in their communion service.
Typical of sinners within and without the church when their moral, doctrinal, or emotional integrity is called into question, is to take cowardly and deceitful refuge in Jesus' words, "Judge not," willfully ignorant of the fact that Jesus is teaching, not about judgment but rather about wrongful judgment, as the entirety of His quote reveals. His instructions are that the one who would judge should first be sure to remove whatever "log" may be in his own eye, thereby to see clearly that he may rightly, not wrongly, judge another. It would take Paul Bunyan to fix the Church's problem here; nonetheless, Jesus said, "first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5). Clearly, Jesus both condemns wrongful judgment and commends rightful judgment in this passage. But the circumstances at Corinth were even worse. They judged neither wrongly nor rightly; they judged not at all, and for that lack of judicial integrity, Paul rebukes them sharply, saying:
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?  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? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?  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?  I say this to your shame. (I Corinthians 1:1-5a).
As noted before, the Church today is broadly Corinthian in this matter, having abandoned their judicial authority and responsibility by their own lack of moral, doctrinal, and psycho-emotive integrity, as well as by failing to repent of this error and obey Christ and Paul, thus to purify themselves and recover their responsibility and integrity to exercise judicial authority, otherwise known as "church discipline." So, in answer to your questions - 
"Under what circumstances would it be right or wrong for a Church to sue either a Christian or non-Christian (non-member in either case) for breach of a lease? Do you see any distinction between binding arbitration or a lawsuit in any event?" - I offer the following:
1. There is no biblical prohibition against a church or a Christian suing an unbeliever;
2. Binding arbitration is less messy than church discipline and sometimes benefits from pre- or concurrent contractual agreements that disallow lawsuits and, instead, obligate the contracted parties to binding arbitration;
3. If the person says s/he is a "Christian," then you must ask yourself if the person with whom you are dealing is really a Christian? If so, s/he should have no reservations about obeying scripture to settle the grievance;
4. Is the "Church" with whom you are dealing truly a church or, if it is a "church," is it a Church like Corinth who has compromised its integrity or abandoned its authority to judge in such matters, that is to exercise discipline?

If the answer to questions three and four is yes, then your recourse is to follow the Matthew 18 Principle which is as follows:
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." (Matthew 18:15-17)
In the above case, one would hope that steps one or two work, and that the matter would be resolved before the third step, excommunication - "if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector" - that is, at stage three the church would have abandoned (excommunicated) the unrepentant offender, and so the offended could sue within the civil court and thus treat the offender "as you would a pagan or a tax collector." This is analogous to Paul's teaching on the unbelieving renegade spouse (I Corinthians 7) who deserts the believer; the offended has no spousal responsibility not to divorce or, in the case of a lawsuit, the offended has no brotherly responsibility not to sue because the offender has now been adjudged by the church to be "a pagan or a tax collector."

If your answer to question three is no, then sue.

If your answer to question four is no, then sue.

The problem is even more complicated if the offender and the offended belong to two different churches. In that case, neither church would have disciplinary authority over both the offended and the offender; therefore, your avenues of recourse would be as follows:
  • the offended should inform the offender's church of the grievance and ask them to commit to the Matthew 18 process; if they refuse, then,
  • I see no recourse but to ignore the impotent church and seek redress in civil court.
To summarize, real Christians and legitimate churches should cooperate biblically in legal disputes even if it leads to church discipline including excommunication; however, the contemporary church's abandonment of its judicial authority indicates that the probable outcome of your or your client's grievance will be to sue in civil court.

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