by James MacDonald
What could possibly possess a Bible church to file a lawsuit against three outspoken critics of their ministry?
Harvest Bible Chapel has not strayed from its 30-year commitment to the unapologetic preaching of God’s Word, nor have we forgotten the explicit teaching of 1 Corinthians 6:1-9. We’d like to share our biblical rationale for reluctantly deciding to take our critics to court.
A Deeper Understanding of Scripture
Throughout church history, cultural happenings have forced a more carefully nuanced consideration of biblical application. In the first centuries, major areas of Christology were refined to combat error. In recent decades, the charismatic movement brought a more nuanced study of the scriptural teaching on spiritual gifts and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Many of us remember the near unanimous evangelical stance on divorce prior to the 1970s, when most churches held strictly to “no divorce, no remarriage.” Then with the rise in divorce rates and a few high visibility Christian leaders getting divorced, all were pushed back into the Scripture for a view that considered all biblical teaching on the subject.
In just a few years, the prevailing view changed to include “exception language” from the teaching of Jesus (Matt. 19:9) and Paul (1 Cor. 7:15). The Scriptures had not changed, but cultural trends had again caused a more careful study of all biblical passages on divorce, versus the more simplistic “the Lord God … hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16).
The perfection of God’s holy Word is best seen in the way all relevant passages work together to form a consistent unity. Reductionism is the logical fallacy of “making the main thing the only thing.” As Christians we can make this error by forcing one passage to speak with finality on a more broadly covered biblical subject.
In a culture that is far too litigious, Christ followers should be loath to go into civil court for any reason. 1 Corinthians 6:1-9 pleads for caution: “Can we not judge ourselves?” “This before unbelievers,” “Law suits among you means that you have been completely defeated,” “Why not rather be wronged?” and “This is shame to you.” It’s such a clear teaching—but not the totality of biblical teaching that some try to make it.
What if allowing “yourself to be wronged” is a greater wrong because of the many others that would be wronged? What if that matter is not a “trivial case,” as in 1 Corinthians 6? What if the brothers are from different churches, one of which refuses to bring significant detrimental behavior into line? What if the matter is demonstrably illegal and would bring immense suffering to your family?
1 Corinthians 6 deals with two brothers in a single church dealing with a trivial matter that should just be “let go.” That size teaching does not fit all situations, and it is somewhat reductionistic to try to make it so.
When The Elephant’s Debt began posting their criticism, we dug deeply into personal and organizational reflection. We have repeatedly tried to meet with them, and if the bloggers let their “reasonableness be known to all men” (Phil. 4:5) and simply sat down with us, they would learn of the positive changes that initially came from their critical approach. Ongoing appeals have yielded no fruit, though we remain open to meeting in person and ending the legal case.
In the meantime, by assuming the right to influence our church while refusing to listen to the authority of our church leaders, they forfeit the protection given to brothers in 1 Corinthians 6. According to Matthew 18:17 their refusing to “hear the church” requires that they be related to as non-believers, as “gentiles and tax collectors.”
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Source: Christianity Today