Thursday, March 27, 2008

Christian vs. Christian

The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod at its 2007 regular convention maintained that "God has clearly stated in 1 Cor. 6 His intent that brothers and sisters in the faith not enter into lawsuits with one another." This draft raises an objection in order to consider whether or not such a statement does violence to the Holy Scriptures and stands contrary to the Lutheran Confessions, leading the synod to take a position which resembles pietistic, papistic, and Pharisaical errors, proscribing statutes which bind the consciences of godly men and women.

The Confessions by no means make a blanket condemnation that lawsuits among brothers and sisters in the faith contradict God’s Word. On the contrary, forbidding "judicial inquiry" is condemned:

"The spiritual kingdom does not change the civil government. . . . Public redress through a judge is not forbidden but expressly commanded, and it is a work of God accord to Paul (Rom.13:1) . . . . Lawful civil ordinances are God’s good creatures and divine ordinances in which a Christian may safely take part. (Augsburg Confession, Tappert 222-223)

And again,

"It is legitimate for Christians to use civil ordinances just as it is legitimate for them to use the air, light, food, and drink. For as this universe and the fixed movements of the stars are truly ordinances of God and are preserved by God, so lawful governments are ordinances of God and are preserved and defended by God against the devil." (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Tappert, p. 178)

Our Confessions expressly reject the position which states that . . .

. . . no Christian may with an inviolate conscience use an office of the government against wicked persons as occasion may arise, nor may a subject call upon the government for help." (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Tappert, p. 634)

or restated that

. . . no Christian, without violating his conscience, may use an office of the government against wicked people, and that subjects may not call upon the government to use the power that it possesses and that it has received from God for their protection and defense." (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Tappert, p. 499)

The position articulated in the Confessions is in keeping with Luther’s own thoughts on the matter:

“THUS YOU ARE NOT FORBIDDEN TO GO TO COURT and lodge a complaint against injustice or violence, just so long as you do not have a false heart, but one that remains as patient as it was before, one that is doing this only to maintain the right and to avoid the wrong, out of a genuine love for righteousness. Earlier I cited the example of the saintly Joseph. He lodged a complaint with his father against his brothers when they had done something wrong and had acquired a bad reputation for it. For this the Scriptures praise him. He was not prompted by an evil, talebearing, or quarrelsome heart, as they supposed in their hostility to him, but by a friendly and brotherly heart, interested only in their good, because he did not like to see them acquiring a bad reputation. Therefore this cannot be called vindictiveness or malice, but rather helpfulness, as well as distress over their recriminations” (AE 21:111, emphasis added)

And again, Luther describes three types of “private individuals with their own cases” who would make use of the court system. Luther warns against those who would use the courts to exact vengeance – and he also acknowledges those who are willing to suffer injustice for the sake of the Gospel in not going to court. But by no means does Luther say it is wrong to take another to court. He gives the example in the “third class” that there are those who . . .

“. . . demand back their own property or seek punishment to be meted out, not because they seek their own advantage, but through the punishment and restoration of their own things they seek the betterment of the one who has stolen or offended. They discern that the offender cannot be improved without punishment. These are called ‘zealots’ AND THE SCRIPTURES PRAISE THEM.” (Two Kinds of Righteousness, Vol. 31, Page 306, emphasis added).

1 Corinthians 6 is not, therefore, to be interpreted as a blanket condemnation against lawsuits. Even the recent Synodical resolution acknowledges exceptions to its bald statement that “God has clearly stated in 1 Cor. 6 His intent that brothers and sisters in the faith not enter into lawsuits with one another” when it allows for lawsuits in matters of property rights or contractual matters.

Topics for consideration:

1) Why does synod make exception in civil lawsuits for property rights and contract disputes? What is it about the nature of property rights and contract disputes that makes them different from other issues in which Christians (according to synodical documents and CTCR interpretations of 1 Corinthians 6:1-11) ought to prefer being wronged?

2) If the CTCR and the Synod maintain that the apostle Paul, inspired by the Lord, wrote that the saints should not use the secular courts in civil matters, what do they imagine would have been Paul’s position about a church body which constitutes and incorporates itself according to the laws of the land, as in the case of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod and the articles of incorporation according to the state of Missouri. Among other things, would it not rather have been better to pay taxes, to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, instead of having the Church incorporated under secular articles? And since the Synod has incorporated itself according to secular law, how can it be wrong if members of the synod seek clarification from those same courts in these matters — as was the case in the recent action taken against President Kieschnick, et al.?

3) When a church is sharply divided theologically, there are no bylaws or statutes which can bring peace and concord. Where there is no satisfactory forum to address theological differences and where there is the complaint that theological concerns are met with bureaucratic roadblocks, members of synod and synodical congregations seek other avenues for recourse, including judicial and political actions.

4) The matter at hand also touches indirectly upon the issue of members having access to an ecclesiastical court to judge theological matters. The confessions speak of a “double tyranny” when pope forbids judicial inquiry”

“Thus the pope exercises a double tyranny: he defends his errors with violence and murder, and he forbids judicial inquiry. The latter does more harm than any cruel act. For the church has been deprived of valid judicial process, it is not possible to remove ungodly teachings and impious forms of worship, and they destroy countless souls generation upon generation.” (The Power and Primacy of the Pope, Sect. 51)

In the “agreement to live and work together,” officers of Synod do violence to relationships when they, de jure or de facto, keep members of synod from seeking “judicial inquiry” through dispute resolution and overtures to district and synodical conventions. It is not wrong to discourage members of synod and Christians in general from making use of the secular courts, but it is an injustice when members of synod and Christians are also kept from having their complaints heard regarding the theology and practice of synodical officers.

5) What does this resolution from the LCMS convention imply about Lutherans who are lawyers? Are they engaged in an ungodly profession? If 1 Corinthians 6 were to be applied in the lives of all Christians as it is to members of synod as stated in the synodical resolution, then wouldn't it seem appropriate to have the same condition for membership in a congregation as this condition for membership in the synod?

6) Some opine that Paul’s ‘appeal to Caesar’ does not apply because his situation was a matter for the criminal courts not civil courts. Is there a distinction to be made in synod about going to court for criminal actions but not for civil matters? I have yet to hear from someone who is an expert in 1st Century Roman law, but was Paul guilty of a criminal offense? Or was he basing his defense on the fact that the case was not criminal but a “civil” dispute that manifested itself in a rather uncivil way between him and the Pharisees and Sadducees? Was our Lord Jesus Christ convicted and condemned because of a criminal offense, or a civil dispute? The Romans might well have deemed civil disturbance as a criminal offense, but was he actually arrested — or detained, as much for his protection as anything; see Acts 23:10.

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