Over the last few years, I have watched and read articles detailing concerns regarding a major ministry and its leaders. In what has become an electrically-charged situation, this particular organization has chosen to file a lawsuit against a group that has challenged them in areas of leadership, finances, etc.
The people involved all claim to be followers of Christ, and I am not in a position to dispute that. We know the Bible tells us that we must make known questionable behavior and/or teaching within the body of Christ. The issue often revolves around the proper way that is done.
Some ministries and churches have very dictatorial leaders who often bully their people through how they teach and what they say. Others teach an aberrant theology that is just off enough to cause questions to arise.
There is a place for public rebuke within the body of Christ. Paul did it with Peter in Galatians 2 because Peter was doing some things that did not line up with what Scripture said. At other times we know that we must attempt to deal with an offense done to us by going to the person first, and then following steps as laid out in Scripture (Mt. 18:15-20) if we cannot reconcile the situation.
I want to be clear. It is not my goal in this blog to get into the details of the situation mentioned above, but it did lead to a question that has been raised on other occasions – is it ever right to file a lawsuit against fellow believers?
There are different thoughts on this. I want to wade in on the issue by pointing out a couple of things before going further. First, many within the pages of Scripture were misrepresented, lied about, slandered, and treated poorly. From Jesus to Paul, Moses and the apostles.
There is no “one size fits all” response to these types of things. Jesus was accused of things publicly and yet often did not always respond, though at times, He did (Jn. 8:49). He knew what was said was not true. 1 Peter 2 also tells us that at times when He was verbally attacked, He trusted in His Father to take care of the situation. He chose not to respond in kind…at least not at every statement made against Him.
There were times that Paul did respond when his ministry was under attack because of the damage the false statements could cause (read through 1 and 2 Corinthians) and there were times he did not react (Philippians 1:15-18) but simply made a reference to something going on that was an attempt made by others to reflect poorly on him. Again, there is no manual on exactly “when and how” to respond. Each situation in Scripture seemed to bring a different response.
The ministry that filed a lawsuit against a group that they state has defamed and slandered them mentioned in a letter the reasons behind why they chose that course of action. In the letter, they referenced 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 which is the most well-known text dealing with lawsuits among believers. What made me decide to write this article was partially based on their explanation of 1 Cor. 6.
Let me briefly explain. According to the letter, the idea of not suing another Christian as commanded in 1 Cor. 6 had nothing to do with whether one was being slandered or falsely accused. This passage, according to the group suing, was a command to not sue a fellow believer over property or money, an issue that was in their opinion, the problem at Corinth.
According to the ministry noted, it was pointed out that not all dealings can be handled inside the church as was encouraged at Corinth because sometimes the individuals causing the issues are not under the umbrella of a church or ministry that is being “slandered.”
Thus, at times, there may be need for civil action. And though it is true that situations at Corinth may have been tied to things happening within the church there, and not necessarily applicable to us today, we need to be careful in arguing that forcefully.
In other words, Scripture does at times deal with cultural settings and particular situations. 1 Cor. 14 gives an example of what a possible church service at Corinth may have included. It was not intended for every church to follow exactly what is written in this chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul was speaking about spiritual gifts and the use and misuse of them at Corinth, and he speaks of how they can be used properly at times.
We can still learn principles from passages that obviously were dealing with a situation or circumstance in a particular setting. Remember that Paul and the writers of the Scriptures were at times having to address certain issues in a church or in the lives of individuals.
Principles, though, can be learned and some teachings are for all involved, not just a particular person or group that are clearly addressed by some of the writers (i.e., John warning about a church bully named Diotrephes in 3 John).
Back to our focus of this blog. Personally, I think it is a far stretch to state that 1 Cor. 6 can be defined so narrowly as Paul commanding the church to not go to court over just the issues of land or money. Why would these things not be considered a “civil matter” in the same vein as slander, etc.?
Part of the issue is over the use of the word “defraud” in 1 Cor. 6:7-8. Since its meaning can be tied to “robbing, acquiring by fraudulent means” something, or a variation on the crime of stealing, the argument is that this narrows down exactly what the sins were against a fellow believer that should not be taken to court – anything dealing with money or land.
There are many scholars though who see 1 Cor. 6 as dealing with any lawsuits, of any kind. The point – believers do not go to court, suing other believers. This is my view also. I do not think that Paul had in mind only two occasions to not go to civil court against other believers. What is taught here is an overreaching Scriptural principle.
We are not to take other Christians to court. Paul says to do so is to give those who are not followers of Christ an opportunity to shake their heads at believers. In fact, Paul says to do this very thing is to act in a way that is contrary to our faith (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
What if, though, the individuals doing the slandering, as in the case noted, do not go to the church or ministry being attacked? I want to share a few closing thoughts on how to deal with this. You may or may not agree, but I felt the need to discuss this issue because I believe that what we have noted at the beginning will be made more public soon. In fact, I have already read about it on at least one Christian news outlet.
Here are just some things to consider when handling slander (if it indeed is) when the people outside of a particular church or ministry are the ones doing this.
First, I would encourage people to contact the church leaders, if possible, where the individuals attend. Hopefully, if they are truly saved, they are in a church somewhere. That church leadership needs to be aware of the situation, so that they can talk with those who are accused of slandering. It is important to do our homework and get the facts.
Two, take the high road. This is not easy. Many reading this have been lied about and slandered to others. I think there are times we need to state the facts or our side of a situation, but even when we must do that to preserve the integrity of a ministry or someone’s reputation, we say what needs to be said and then leave it in the Lord’s hands (1 Peter 2:21-24).
Three, and this is hard, forgive those who have done this. I am to forgive as Christ has forgiven me (Eph. 4:32). I do not have to condone or agree, obviously, with what has happened, but I must forgive. If I am not careful, the slander will infect my attitude and I can become bitter and angry. Forgiveness frees us.
Four, check our motives. I know that the words that have been stated by this group being sued did damage the Christian ministry to a point with people choosing to not be a part of it. But is the motive for a lawsuit tied to the loss of income, the concern for God’s name and reputation (which He can take care of), or as a way of keeping people from having differing opinions on things? Motive matters. What would be my basis for suing someone? If a believer, I am not given the leeway to pursue that, at least I don’t believe I should.