Donít Take Your Brother to Court!
Study No. 1
Amazing, isnít it? Some of the plainest of Bible scriptures are those that the Church of God violates with impunity!
"Simple" basic instructions are ignored, while "deep" spiritual truths are studiously proclaimed. Modern Pharisees "strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel" Matthew 23:24. The truth, however, is "all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge." Proverbs 8:9. Let us observe a simple truth all too many have forgotten.
I Corinthians 6:1-10 (Living Bible) states, "How is it that when you have something against another Christian, you Ďgo to lawí and ask a heathen court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other Christians to decide which of you is right? Donít you know that some day we Christians are going to judge and govern the world? So why canít you decide even these little things among yourselves? . . . Why then go to outside judges who are not even Christians? I am trying to make you ashamed. Isnít there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these arguments? But, instead, one Christian sues another and accuses his Christian brother in front of unbelievers. To have such lawsuits at all is a real defeat for you as Christians. Why not just accept mistreatment and leave it at that? It would be far more honoring to the Lord to let yourselves be cheated. But, instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong, cheating others, even your own brothers. Donít you know that those doing such things have no share in the Kingdom of God?"
How Matters Are To Be Handled In Godís Church
Conflicts do arise in and among Godís people. Some feel they are wronged by others. Some see gross sins being committed by others. The Bible tells us the way to resolve such matters.
I Corinthians 5:11-13 (Living Bible) states: " . . . you are not to keep company with anyone who claims to be a brother Christian but indulges in sexual sins, or is greedy, or is a swindler, or worships idols, or is a drunkard, or abusive. Donít even eat lunch with such a person. It isnít our job to judge outsiders. But it certainly is our job to judge and deal strongly with those who are members of the church, and who are sinning in these ways. God alone is the Judge of those on the outside. But you yourselves must deal with this man and put him out of your church."
When you see gross sins, even in the top leadership of the church, what are you to do? Take them to court? NO! Donít keep company with them! Put them out of your spiritual fellowship. In some cases, this may require separating yourself from an organization with corrupt leadership.
Do you feel wronged by a Christian brother? What should you do? Take him to court? NO! Go to him! If he wonít hear you, take a witness or two. If there is still no resolution, take the matter before the church, Matthew 18:15-20. Simple instructions, yet often they are violated!
How Simple Instructions Are Violated
Make no mistake about it, Biblical instructions are plain, but following them is difficult. Here are common ways Church of God brethren violate principles regulating church problems:
(1) Failing to face the facts. Truth can be most unpleasant. No one likes to be labeled "self righteous" in pointing out the gross sins of a Christian brother or minister. Besides, we have all sinned, havenít we? Thus, many will choose to ignore the fault, covering it up, rather than exposing and confronting the issue head-on in the Bible way. Actually, failing to face the facts, results in being "puffed up" in arrogant "self-righteousness."
The Corinthians were like many today. They knew that terrible evil was being committed by a church brother, yet did nothing. Paul admonished them to face the issue and disfellowship the wicked person, I Corinthians 5:1-13. Can we learn from this?
What if the minister is the wicked one? Separation is still the requirement. A minister must be blameless, at all times, I Timothy 3:2-7. Failing to meet the requirements disqualifies him from office. (See our article #26, "Ten Basic Qualifications of an Elder.")
"But," some will say, "doesnít the scripture say that love covers, so that we ought to forgive and forget?" Read Proverbs 10:12, as well as 28:13. Loves covers sins that are repented of. But, love also exposes and reproves sins that are hidden by the unrepentant, Ephesians 5:11. Truly, as the saying goes, "Wicked men succeed because righteous men do nothing."
(2) Failing to accept the repentant. Once the problem has been resolved, the wrong corrected, and the faults confessed and repented of, the base tendency is to refuse to let bygones be bygones and not to forgive and forget. Paul had to admonish the Corinthians for this unforgiving spirit, II Corinthians 2:6-11. This unforgiving attitude is a device of Satan to disrupt the church.
Someone in the church may have been suspected of adultery. Now, he always has to live with the stigma of suspicion, because someone accused him (gossip) and although nothing was ever proven, he is judged guilty. Such unjust judgment will result in being judged sternly by Almighty God, Matthew 7:1-5.
(3) Harsh, over-critical judgment is another way Godís instructions are violated. In many circumstances, we tend to look down upon the spiritual condition of others, by exalting ourselves, e.g. Luke 18:9-17.
Some say, "WE are the only true believers. ALL others have fallen away." To these the Bible says, "Who art thou that judgest another manís servant?" (Romans 14:1-4).
This type of harsh judgment results in intolerance of anotherís different beliefs or actions. The opponent is looked upon as being intrinsically wrong, without a chance to prove otherwise.
Several years ago, I was vocal in objections to doctrinal changes in my church organization. I was called a "dissident" literally behind my back, and artfully engineered out of that church organization. Never was I formally confronted with a charge. Finally, I was put out of the organization for believing what the church had originally taught me!
(4) Going to the minister, not the individual. Matthew 18:15 is plain. Yet instead of going to oneís brother, many go straight to the minister! However, Leviticus 19:16 forbids such talebearing. And listening to, or receiving such rumors, is as bad as relating the tale. Leviticus 19:17 is a most difficult statute to perform. It says we are to rebuke our brother when he sins, and not allow him to continue in sin. Because if we donít expose the sin, we will bear his sins (see margin on verse 17). It is far easier to shirk our commanded responsibility and go to the minister, so he can expose the sin. But, this is not the Bible command!
In another organization, we grew to deeply love a fine Christian woman and her family in our local church. But it saddened us to know that this spiritual sister said openly, that she was the "eyes and ears" of the minister in order to inform him about our supposed aberrant behavior. The facts have shown that she did just as she claimed. She went to the minister time and again, and never once came to me. The final coup de grace came when the minister came to our house with a long list of charges against us, which he believed. I was framed, condemned, and judged guilty behind my back. If the minister would have believed Matthew 18:15, he would not have received the talebearerís report. Instead, he would have told her to come to me first.
"The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly," Proverbs 18:8.
(5) Not going to the minister, when he is wrong. Thousands today are infected with the "God will take care of it" syndrome. They know high church officials are guilty of gross sins and even crimes. Yet they continue to support "Godís Church," believing "God will take care of the problems in the church. He will correct the ministry, and remove them if they go astray."
This concept is totally contrary to the Bible. It is in diametric opposition to the record of church history. In the first century, A.D., God allowed evil men and seducers to gain control of the true church, force the true believers out, and create a "new" Babylonish style religion. Read Acts 20:28-31, Galatians 1:6, II Peter 2:1-3, II Thessalonians 2:1-12, etc. Note that the "falling away" would not be from an organization, but from the Truth. It happened then. Is it not happening likewise in our time?
Granted, respect must be shown for the pastors of Godís flock. I Timothy 5:1 says, "Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as father." This does not say to ignore his sins, but says to come to him in the right spirit, as to your father. You are not to receive accusations against an elder, without at least 2-3 witnesses. Those elders that sin are to be rebuked before all, verses 19-20. Their sins are not to be covered up like Watergate.
We are commanded to "Know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord," I Thessalonians 5:12. Too many today shirk that responsibility. They do not want to know the naked truth about their religious leaders. This scripture does not mean to continuously suspect, or to hold in a critical light, the proclaimers of Godís Word. It does mean to continuously check out the Bible, versus what is taught and practiced by the minister. This task requires diligence and hard work. We've all had our eyes closed too long. Letís stop being "dumb sheep."
If you go to an elder in the right attitude and spirit, one of two things will happen: (1) the problem will be rectified, i.e., either you or he will see the error, and change, or (2), it will result in a separation. It takes much more courage to go to a minister when you think he is wrong, then to go to a brother. But then I Thessalonians 5:12 is not a suggestion.
I was put into a unique situation that will illustrate the point. During my service in a staff position in a Sabbath-keeping organization, it became apparent through reliable sources that the leading minister was guilty of gross sins. I was required to attend a staff meeting in which this minister lambasted such rumors as false, and commanded all those who had doubts to come to him and ask about the real or alleged sins he was said to have committed. I did have doubts. So I felt compelled to go to the minister to see if the charges were true.
The result was an explosion of vituperation and condemnation. The minister said that he was above the Biblical requirements of the ministry in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. I was suspended, and in short order, was packing my bags. It was a deep and traumatic experience. But unwittingly, I was following the Biblical way to resolve an issue. Or, I should say, the merciful Creator resolved the issue for me.
(6) Returning Evil for Evil. The worst way that the simple instructions for resolving issues in the church are violated is for one to return blow for blow. This can be done in many insidious ways of double-dealing to "get even" with someone else. The ultimate shame is when a brother takes another brother to court.
I Corinthians 6 is not an isolated incident. Brethren in the Church of God have taken each other to court down through the centuries of church history. They have taken Godís Holy Name and slung it into a pigpen.
Church of God versus Church of God
"By this," Jesus said, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" John 13:35. What a travesty, what a mockery, to see Sabbath-keeping brethren fighting before the whole world, in a heathen court!
And yet, this is our sorry record: Sabbatarian Baptists versus independents in the early 1800ís, Church of God versus Seventh Day Adventists in the 1860ís, Church of God (7th Day) Salem Group versus Stanberry Group in the 1930ís and 1940ís, Assembly of Yahweh groups fighting in court in the 1980ís. In discussing the various court suits between opposing factions of the Church of God (7th Day), one shocking fact must be noted: neither party to this day will admit it was wrong to take the other to court, not even the highest church leaders of either side. They will not admit that their whole action was wrong. I have read pages of testimony, pro and con, cheerfully supplied by the winning side.
Today is no different. The splits from the Worldwide Church of God since 1974 have resulted in a host of lawsuits. Not one of these parties will "rather take wrong" I Corinthians 6:7. Instead, they vigorously defend themselves with counter arguments, countersuits.
Too many members of such organizations are failing to face the facts. Such actions are evil. Those that do such things, or allow such things to continue with their tacit support, shall not inherit the Kingdom of God, I Corinthians 6:7-9.
Listen! Read Matthew 5:21-26 and 38-42. See if any of these organizations are willing to follow the simple instructions of the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, court fightings continue among the church because of lust for power, money, and control, James 4:1-5.
Who Is Your Brother?
One minister we know justified his lawsuit against another church in which he used to be a minister, on the grounds that the leadership of the former organization is corrupt. He has said publicly that "any minister that has done what he has done is not my brother." Thus, he feels justified in his lawsuit.
However, the lawsuit was not against this corrupt minister, but the opposing church organization. The plaintiff minister is really saying that virtually the whole church organization, that he was formerly a part of, has lost Godís Spirit and they are not spiritual brothers anymore. But they are still "physical brothers" as he states. This is doubletalk.
Let us not be guilty of such harsh judgment, Matthew 7:1. In the eyes of the world, there is no distinction between spiritual and physical church brethren. That is why Paul said in I Corinthians 6 not to take your brother to court. It casts a bad light on the whole church. Religious disputes do not belong in the courts. Notice that when the apostle Paul was on trial, he did not hire a battery of lawyers and launch a countersuit against the Pharisees who accused him. The party in the right should not fight back with a legal offense.
And who is your brother? Those who have been called and chosen to Godís true way of life, just as you have been called. If some have strayed from their original path, leave it to God to bring them back. Lend a hand if you can, but donít take your brethren to court! Romans 10:1-3, 16, 21. Romans 11:1, 7, 20, 23, 25 and Jude 18-23.
What To Do If You Are Sued
In this age of litigation, religious groups and people in general are going to court against each other in record numbers. I have been threatened with no less than three lawsuits from different Church of God ministers during recent years.
What should you do if you are sued by a church brother? Or what should a religious organization do if it is sued?
We have read the answer from Matthew 5. One should remember that the path is NOT depending upon a sharp, expensive lawyer and asking for donations for a legal fund. The LORD is my defense, Psalm 59:9, 17 and the whole chapter. Who is your defense?
This article may offend some. But nevertheless, it is the truth.
The lawsuits involving the Church of God today are a shame, a sickness of immense proportions. The fruit of Godís Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, NOT strife, court suits, and name calling. Can we come out of such things, fleeing such evil practices and those who commit them?
Jesus Christ loved His brethren, even as they were viciously screaming for His trial, conviction and death. Love your brethren, even if they are in sin and error.
Donít take your brother to court! W
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