Biblical Basis for Church Litigation

In I Corinthians 6:1 we read, “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?”  The Apostle Paul is reproving the Corinthians for carrying their disputes before unbelieving judges, as if there is none in the church qualified to pass judgment.  It is better to settle a dispute by choosing arbiters out of the church, so that disgrace is not brought upon the gospel before ungodly judges.

May not the magistrate be our judge in a law-suit?  Did not the Apostle Paul write to the Roman Christians, “for there is not power but of God:  the powers that be are ordained of God”?  God has ordained the magistrate so that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies.

Are not the court and the judge ordained for the protection of the property of the church of Christ?  Indeed it is, for in Article 28 of our Church Order we read, “The Consistory shall take care, that the Churches for the possession of their property, and the peace and order of their meetings can claim the protection of the Authorities”.  Our churches have the right to buy property and to build in order to serve God unmolested.  The government with its various laws provides for the incorporation of a church group, so that the church as a corporate body may seek the protection of civil authorities.  If an evil force or group from without should molest us in our worship, try to destroy our property, or take it from s, we surely may bring a law-suit against them in the court.  However, we know that in the day of anti-Christ, we shall be molested in worship, our property taken from us, and the church will not have protection through the court.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Church of Corinth in I Corinthians 6:7, “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another:  Surely the Apostle Paul does not condemn a law-suit as being wrong where there is good cause to appear before the magistrate, for he himself, when falsely accused by the Jews, appealed to Caesar.  Queen Esther made an appeal to King Ahasuerus to save her people.  In so doing she went to the highest at that time, and her people were saved.  Nehemiah appealed to King Artaxerxes for the restoration of the temple at Jerusalem.  The temple and walls were destroyed by wicked men and were laid waste.  It pleased the king so grant the request of Nehemiah to give money and materials to rebuild the temple.

If heretical doctrine is preached and one group separates from the other within the church, and both insist on holding the property, who shall decide?  Incorporation entitles us to the protection of the magistrate, but does not bind us to use as Scripture teaches it is honorable to both groups if there is one able to settle the dispute peaceably without the court.

Often a court case causes division, hatred, and backbiting among the brethren, families, and friends.  It also gives opportunity for the world to ridicule the church of Christ.

If the faithful in the church are in danger of losing their possessions to the unfaithful, may they go to the law?  Surely God has not appointed the court of justice only for the world.  Psalm 94: 1 & 2, “O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.  Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth; render a reward to the proud.”  Christ, in Matthew 5:40, tell us, “And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also”.  Therefore, it is honorable to settle without the court, but Christians are not prohibited from engaging in law-suits.  We must bear injuries patiently if our possessions are taken from us unjustly knowing that we have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.