Thursday, March 3, 2016

Should Church of God Members Sue Other Members or Fellowships?

One of the long standing doctrines of the Church of God, based on the Bible, is that we do not file lawsuits against each other.

This is based on what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:1-10: "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!

"Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God."

Let's go through this a bit.

Paul first of all rebukes the Corinthians for going to this world's courts to settle disputes between brethren instead of going to the Church for judgment. They were placing more faith and trust in this world's judges than in converted brethren and elders to give them justice. But that is wrong. It is the Church that has God's truth, God's Holy Spirit, and God's authority to judge between brethren.

Christ gave authority to settle disputes to the Church. "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:15-18).

It is evident in this that when He says, "tell it to the church", he is talking about the leadership, for the telling it to the church is followed by, "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven", and it is the leadership that has the authority to make binding decisions (Matthew 16:18-19, 1 Corinthians 12:28).

Notice Ephesians 4:11-16: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love".

Do these positions of apostle, evangelist, and pastor carry decision making authority? Of course. There could be no organization without authority to make decisions. And those decisions should be obeyed. Paul recognized both his own authority and the authority of evangelists and pastors, as his letters to Titus and Timothy show and even his first letter to the Corinthians shows. He gave the Corinthians a binding decision to put out a sinner. He gave Titus and Timothy particular commands to do certain things and to appoint elders.

"Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17-18).

I won't rehearse here all of God's teaching in the Old Testament, in the examples of Israel in the wilderness, of what God thinks of rebellion against His government, and the examples of those who rebelled against Moses, not only of Korah but also Miriam and Aaron who spoke against Moses. I will quote this one passage. "Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously" (Deuteronomy 17:12-13).

And notice that this authority particularly applies to doctrine, for one of the purposes of the offices in the Church, according to Ephesians 4:11-16 which I quoted earlier, is to make sure the brethren are not tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.

This authority also applies to putting people out for sin until they come to repentance (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). And it applies to putting people out for causing division to protect the rest of the flock (Romans 16:17, Titus 3:10).

Going back to Paul's teaching against brethren suing brethren in the Church in 1 Corinthians 6:1-10, notice that Paul rebukes the Corinthians for appointing those least esteemed by the Church to judge, that is, this world's courts. Why are they least esteemed? They are not converted. They have not repented. They do not know God and His truth. They are part of this world's system led and deceived by Satan. The court system that exists in the United States, for example, is the very court system that rules that women have the right to murder their unborn children and that men can sexually unite with men and women with women and call it same-sex "marriage". Does it make sense for converted members of the Church to go to these people to resolve disputes with others members?

If the courts of this world do not have the discernment to know that it is wrong for a mother to have her child murdered in her womb by having its limbs torn apart with a vacuum pump or forceps or killed with the injection of a salt solution, or if they do not understand that marriage is between a man and a woman, how could they possibly have the wisdom to resolve matters according to God's law in the Church of God?

And as Paul points out, we in the Church are being trained to judge the world. To the degree we are converted and have grown, we are vastly more qualified to render judgments than courts in Satan's world.

But it doesn't stop there.

For some might say, "Yes, but this principle is based on having a single authority in the Church of God that really follows Christ, and in the absence of such authority, members must go to the courts".

But keep reading. After rebuking the Corinthians for choosing this world's courts instead of the Church to resolve disputes, Paul goes on to say, "Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?" (1 Corinthians 6:7).

Did you get that?

Paul switches gears here.

First he rebukes them for choosing this world's courts rather than the Church.

But then he rebukes them for not letting themselves be wronged. We are not talking about going to the Church for judgment in that case. We are talking about letting ourselves be wronged, not seeking judgment against our brother at all. This applies even if and when there is no central authority, faithful to Christ, in the Church to render judgments.

In other words, even if there is no one in the Church trusted to make a right decision, it is better to accept the wrong than to sue our brethren in this world's courts.

Isn't that clear?

This is just an application of a broader principle Jesus Christ taught, of not resisting evil done to us. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two" (Matthew 5:38-41).

I do not say that we should fail to protect ourselves from bodily harm or even spiritual harm by avoiding physically or spiritually dangerous situations. Women should avoid dangerous situations. Wives in the Church have a right to seek physical protection if their husbands beat them. We have a right to flee temptation, as God commands (1 Corinthians 6:18). We are not expected to give what we have no right to give because it is reserved for other purposes (Matthew 20:23). An application of this is that a man is not necessarily required to give thousands of dollars to whoever asks when he needs that money to take care of his obligations to his children, or to the Church, or whatever. We should anticipate problems and dangers and avoid them (Proverbs 22:3).

Nevertheless, there is a principle involved in Christ's teaching, that we avoid disputes, even if that involves our own suffering to a degree, and not escalate them. "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).

"If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:18-21).

And Paul applied this principle specifically to filing lawsuits against brethren in the Church of God. We are not to do that. Rather, we are to put our trust in God, following the example of Christ.

"For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth'; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Peter 2:21-25).

Notice, Christ committed Himself to God who judges righteously, and we should do the same. It is God who will obtain justice for us, not ourselves.

Some may consider filing a lawsuit not just against an individual member of the Church of God, but against an entire Church of God fellowship and leading ministers in the Church. If a member of the Church of God were to do this, seeking to obtain damages because he feels his reputation has been harmed, I wonder if he considers the consequences.

Who would he be hurting?

He would hurt the whole work of God's Church, the work of preaching the gospel to the world as a witness, the work of giving the Ezekiel warning to the nations of Israel, the work of making disciples of all nations, and the work of feeding the flock.

Lawyers are expensive, and a lawsuit can be costly for both parties no matter who wins. Tens of thousands of dollars, tithes and offerings made by the hard work and sacrifices of many brethren whose hearts are in the work, may be lost to the work just in lawyer fees, and if the case is won by the suing member, the damages can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. That is a lot of money down the drain, taken away from doing God's work.

How many people might not hear the gospel or the Ezekiel warning, who otherwise would have heard it, if such a lawsuit takes place? How many TV stations would not air the telecast, or how many magazine subscriptions would not be filled? How many brethren would be without a local Church of God congregation because the money is not there to employ a pastor? Just the legal fees could easily pay a pastor's salary for a year, or fund a TV broadcast on several small cities that do not currently have the broadcast, or pay for several thousand magazine subscriptions.

In short, how many people will be hurt who had nothing to do with the alleged wrong?

Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins. He suffered a humiliating death, put to death as a criminal was killed, but He did it because of His love for others. A member of the Church who believes the doctrines of the Church, but contemplating a lawsuit against the Church, should consider that his love for his neighbor and for other members of the Church of God should override his self-concern for his personal reputation or his desire for revenge or for money.

Consider the mind of Christ, which should be in us. What was He more concerned about, His personal suffering, or preaching the gospel? What did He love more, His neighbors, the people of this world, or His personal reputation?

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:5-9).

And when it comes to our relationship with the ministry and leadership of the Church, consider the example of David. He was persecuted unjustly by Saul, who sought to murder him, yet he did not strike back at Saul even when he had the power to do so. And David was a man after God's heart.

From time to time, the Church makes certain judgments to disfellowship someone, and often the person disfellowshipped may feel that his disfellowshipment was unjust. He may feel it is too hard for him to stay home for an extended period of time if he is told to do so.

But sometimes, to be faithful to God, we must learn to practice God's way of life even when we are alone with no local congregation to attend. In some ways, that is a greater test of our faithfulness than when we are blessed with a Church of God congregation we can attend. God may require that of us for a period of time.

Is that unreasonable?

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1).

"Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, you who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you; for I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him" (Isaiah 51:1-2).

There was a time, around the early 1950s, when the work that Mr. Armstrong was doing was new and there were not a lot of Church of God congregations. So ministers were sent on baptizing tours. They traveled the country, counseling and baptizing prospective members who heard the radio program, studied the literature, proved the truth in their own Bibles, and wrote in requesting to be baptized. So many all over the country were baptized long before there were enough members in a particular area or enough trained ministers and money to hire them to set up local congregations. So these newly baptized members had to wait, sometimes many years, until a local congregation was set up in their area. And during this time, they had to obey God and live a Christian life alone, without the support and the comfort of a local congregation in the Church of God.

But they did it. They made the sacrifice. And they sacrificed financially and supported the work of God with their tithes and offerings at that time. And since they were newly baptized, they did not have any prior experience with the Church, the memory of which could guide them. They were really alone, except for the literature and the broadcasts.

But it was because of their courage to stand alone and their sacrifice and faithfulness that the work grew, and we have the knowledge we have today because of their sacrifice.

If such men and women obeyed God alone for years without a local Church of God congregation, faithfully supporting the work of the Church so that we in our time can enjoy the truth that we have, should we not be willing to practice our faith alone without a local congregation for a period of time, if necessary?

If you have been disfellowshipped and told to stay home for a while, and if you do not understand the reasons, humble yourself before God. Put your trust in Him. Wait for Him. You may think you are not at fault, but if your attitude is right before God, He may reveal things to you that you need to change, and when you have made needed changes He can bring you back into the Church.

But don't strike back at the Church. Don't seek personal revenge. Don't try to hurt the work of preaching the gospel and giving the Ezekiel warning. Don't love your own self and your reputation more than the millions of your neighbors in this country who are about to suffer and die in the great tribulation, the greatest time of trouble in world history, and who need a warning. Be willing to sacrifice yourself so others can have the truth, just as others in past years have sacrificed themselves so you can have the truth today. That is God's way and the example that Jesus Christ has set for us to follow.

Satan is fully against God's gospel and truth. He fights it at every opportunity. He no doubt is glad any time lawsuits between brethren or lawsuits against any fellowship that preaches the gospel reduce the funds available for preaching the gospel to the world.

The job of the Church includes preaching the gospel. Satan, our enemy, tries to stop that preaching any way he can. Let's not be Satan's ally by causing funds to be diverted from preaching the gospel because of lawsuits. Let's not go to this world's courts, which are deceived and led by Satan in Satan's role of ruler of this world, for judgment. Let's not, in effect, accuse our brethren or our ministers before Satan's courts and ask Satan to give his judgment on how much money should be taken from preaching the gospel, which he hates.

Let's rather humble ourselves before God and trust God to work things out His way, not our way.

Here is a link to a post on a subject similar to the subject of this post:

"If You Hear Your Pastor Preach False Doctrine or Error, Does Matthew 18:15-18 Apply?", dated December 14, 2013, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:




tig1 said...

Thank you for this well timed article. Learning to be humble never ends for God's elect. Satan hates the message God's Church is taking to the world and will often use those in His church to hinder the work. May God help all of us to realize who the real enemy is. said...

Thank you tig1. Sorry about the delay in publishing your comment. I have not logged into my blog for a couple of days I just noticed your comment.

You are certainly right about Satan. Mr. Armstrong wrote of Satan's obsession with preventing the gospel message from going out, even from the time of Christ.

I think the preaching of the true gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel about the coming great tribulation is a vital prerequisite in God's plan to the return of Christ and the setting up of the Kingdom of God on this earth and the putting away of Satan. I think that is one reason why Satan wants to prevent that message from going out.

tig1 said...

Satan knows the Gospel and warning being preached has everything to do with his losing his ruler ship. However many of God's people seem to have lost that understanding. Since Jesus told us to pray for the Kingdom to come, our responsibility is to support His work, not through up road blocks like law suits against Jesus church. said...

I agree.