Is a Christian Absolutely Forbidden to Sue Their Church Leaders?

(1 Corinthians 6:1-7  ESV)  (1) When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?  (2) Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?  (3) Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!  (4) So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?  (5) I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers,  (6) but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?  (7) To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?

A pastor and his Elders know full well that a man in their church has raped his 12 year old daughter, and has been doing so for years. In violation of criminal law, they refused to report this crime to the police and instead covered it up, “counseling” the monster’s wife to keep it confidential and let them handle it. Their way of “handling it” was largely to take some “Band-Aid” measures, then ignore it and permit it to happen again. So let me ask our readers this question:

When the Lord gave us the instruction in 1 Corinthians 6 about not suing a brother in civil courts, did He intend for this instruction to be an absolute, all-encompassing prohibition in every case? In other words, is the mother in the above (real-life) example forbidden by the Lord to sue her pastor and Elders in civil court?

Let me open the floor for comments by stating my opinion: I do not think it is intended to be an absolute prohibition. I say that because the Apostle Paul speaks of going to court against a “brother”. A fellow Christian. But how are we to presume that church leaders who commit so gross an injustice and evidence a total lack of hunger for righteousness to be Christians? The thing is inconceivable to me. And think about verse 7. Are we to believe that Paul means absolutely “Why not suffer the girl to continue to be raped by her father rather than to go to civil court to seek remedy and justice?” I can’t buy that. This Scripture is not the “get out of jail free” card that is so often used to protect the wicked. I believe that if there is “no one wise enough to settle a dispute” in our church, then we must go to another authority to deal with it. Furthermore, are we not “going to court with a brother” when we report a professing Christian who has raped a child or abused his wife? Does 1 Corinthians 6 forbid us from reporting such crimes to the police? Of course not!

So, there it is — I suggest it is well past the time for abuse victims who have been illegally dealt with by their church leaders to take them to court. All of us are bound by the laws of the land, both criminal and civil.

[March 31, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to March 31, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to March 31, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to March 31, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (March 31, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

10 thoughts on “Is a Christian Absolutely Forbidden to Sue Their Church Leaders?”

  1. I have been listening to the Psalms, and it occurred to me that the New Testament does not make sense without the Old Testament. I was talking with my community group leader, and I was telling him there was no justice in the New Testament, it was all in the Old Testament. He seemed pretty offended by this, but I think it is at least party true. In the Old Testament God demands justice, repeatedly, and punishes the unjust. To me the New Testament attacks the idea that people should demand justice to the letter of the law without regard to social harmony or the greater good. That doesn’t mean justice is discarded, only tempered, and with the goal of producing positive change rather than punishment.

    1. Jim – the consistent standard that binds the Old Testament and New Testament in perfect agreement is the character and attributes of God. God never changes. He is always the same. Old and New Testaments are in perfect agreement, and that would include the demands of the justice of God. The change that has happened in the New Testament is Christ’s atoning work on the cross and His perfect obedience to the Law of God. Otherwise, without this righteousness established by Him and imputed to His people through faith, the very same, unbending, holy justice would condemn us, and rightly so. You are right however in noting that the New Testament separated from the Old Testament will not make sense, and the other way round as well. As it has been said, the New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed, and the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.

  2. Here is the problem.

    1 Corinthians 6:5

    (5) I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? (KJV)

    When the believer has no one who is wise and capable of judging wisely, he cannot be expected to be bound by unwise and incapable judgments. How many examples could we find to demonstrate that in Scripture? In such cases my opinion is that the believer is free to pursue justice wherever he or she may trust that it can be found.

    1. Thanks, Larry, yes. I have known of numbers of cases of gross injustice, if not criminality, in which the culprits ran to 1 Corinthians 6 and convinced the wronged party that God forbids them from going to court. I am sure what Paul had in mind was the normal “business squabbles” that arise between Christians and which can — or should — be settled within the church. I have also seen wicked men hold this over their wife and telling her that God forbids her from divorcing him because that would be going to court before unbelievers. I know of a case in which a pastor and Elders knowingly permitted a predator adult male to get his hooks into a minor girl (the predator was a church member / ministry leader) and did nothing more about it that telling him in “the spirit of Eli” — “now, son, why do you do these things?” They violated criminal law in their failure to report this to the justice system.

  3. Just because one holds an office in the church, he is not automatically endued with godly wisdom. In fact, those who do labor before God in this way must continually implore Him for godly judgment and a right understanding of true justice. The more certain he is that he is right, the more likely it is that he is wrong.

  4. And when they are done, they make them twice the sons of hell, as they are. These are false shepherds, who allow the raping of 12 year old children to go on, unreported to the civil authorities. I think some churches have moved into their own “rebellion territory” in this way. It seems there is such a twisting going on about godly authority. They want so badly to have complete control over their wives and children, that they end up permitting evil to prevail. They shout from the pulpit, “sovereignty and providence! no rebellion you wives and children” and tell the victims, even children, that God put them in this place, so they must bear with it and not complain. The children grow up thinking God must hate them, to do these things to them, and expect them to just take a long breath and bear down for the next blow. Why do these shepherds have to preach submission to the wife and children, so hard, and so often, if the husbands and pastoral leaders are doing everything so right? Don’t they know that godly women and children have no problem submitting to a godly man if he is leading them to Christ as he ought to be?

    A true shepherd of Christ, would have told this woman to divorce this ungodly man and then taken her and her children to a safe place, away from this monster; and the church itself would have turned him in to the civil authorities. Some of these shepherds are not godly men and this post proves not only are we dealing with ungodly men, but with men whose total depravity is showing and the men who are supposed to be protecting the flock, are absent. I guess they have gone home to make their own wives and children submit and serve them, fulfilling their every selfish, fleshly whim, when submission in God’s eyes is all about advancing His Kingdom, not theirs. I say Christ would prefer we sue them and then send the true shepherds to knock down their false church walls and bring healing and restoration to the wounded and devastated flock inside. Just a little angry here.

    [Paragraph break added to enhance readability. Editors.]

    1. A little anger is good!

      ….Godly women and children have no problem submitting to a godly man if he is leading them to Christ as he ought to be.

      That is dead on! It really is what I think being the head is all about, just as Christ is the man’s head. I mean, I can follow an employer whom I respect quite easily. I think that godly women (and maybe even many / most unsaved women?) would love to follow a husband who is providing the kind of servant leading that is a portrait of Christ.

  5. I should add to my comment above, that I absolutely believe in the sovereignty and providence of God, without doubt. But, instead of encouraging and demonstrating compassion to people in abusive situations, tenderly leading them to the safety of Christ’s care, they admonish them and scold them, for feeling they will break under the weight of it all. God has a higher purpose for many things that we cannot yet see. We must trust Him, but we also must rightly interpret His word in many of these areas. And, I agree, that many / most unsaved women, would gladly be loved by a man who loves God the way he ought to, laying down his life as Christ laid His down, and thereby loves his wife and leads her gently to this Lamb of God, her true tender Shepherd, AND he is glad to give her to Him, as he knows that she belongs to her Creator, not him. I also believe that many unsaved women would be won to Christ, by this great and tender love and leading of a godly husband. Oh, to be loved, truly loved.

  6. Professor Bruce Winter, a world class scholar of the epistles to the Corinthians, has written at length about the cultural background to this passage in Corinthians 6:1-7. He thinks that it most likely relates to the custom, prevalent in Corinth as well as much of the Roman empire, of one man taking another to court for slandering his reputation. It was one of the ways a man maintained or elevated his status, power, patronage, and privilege in that culture. It was closely related to the cult of oratory, where an orator would attempt to impress a town with his oratorical skills, and thus attract lots of students from the richer classes. The young men would be sent to learn oratory from the master, at his “academy of oratory”. There were benefits both ways. The master orator got paid well for teaching the students, and the town used the master to be their spokesman at Rome, to influence the Emperor and the Roman Senate so the town could accrue favors from Rome. You can imagine the wheels within wheels. Taking a person to court was one way of jockeying for position in this milieu of ambition and power.

    Pretty different from taking a person to court for an unpaid bill! Or reporting a crime to the police! And let’s remember, when I report a crime to the police, it’s the police who press charges, not me. Sure, I make a statement to the police, and am willing to affirm it in court, but I don’t lay the charge on the offender. The police, representing the authority of the government, do that.

    I think it’s only a matter of time before some victim of domestic abuse takes her church leaders to court for “complicity before the fact” in a crime of domestic violence. Then we might see conservative churches panic — and hopefully start to wake up!

    1. Many of the case histories we have learned about through this blog and from other victims qualify, in my amateur opinion, for a lawsuit. I don’t like to encourage people to sue a church — I am a pastor! Yes, we are a lawsuit-happy culture and that is another reason I am very hesitant to promote such an idea. But the total, gross and willful negligence that is going on in churches in dealing with victims who are in terrible trouble is scandalous. What other profession has such a gross lack of accountability? Virtually any person can hang out a shingle with “Reverend” stuck on the front of his / her name and away they go! But even those who have graduated from seminary don’t seem to do much better either and in some ways, perhaps worse. Counseling abuse victims and dealing with their abusers requires considerable expertise, and the very first quality necessary is the humility to admit that just perhaps I don’t have it yet.

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