Looking at 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 … well, um, no turning back now …
If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!
There are a handful of sections of the Bible that are often twisted to do more harm than good – this is one of them. In fact, a whole ministry has devoted itself to the principle laid down in this verse – to settle conflicts between believers in a biblical manner or to keep it in the church as it were. The problem is that the church is not free from partiality. Verses such as ‘touch not the lord’s anointed’ (1 Chron. 16:22, Psalm 105:15) Tend to give any guilty pastors, elders, or deacons enough ability to shift the blame to the congregation. The problem is that sometimes the rule of law must prevail even when it means dealing with crime outside of church and inside of the courtrooms. I don’t think Paul is laying down a ban on lawsuits but I think he wants us to pick our battles – surely we can handle the little matters and disagreements, but there are time where even Christians must take Christians to court to resolve matters that the church is too partial to be capable of dealing with. After all, as citizens, we have rights that extend into every sphere of our lives. Just because we are Christians it doesn’t mean that we lose the protection of law that being a citizen affords us. I won’t suggest that Christians take these verses literally until the churches draw up the equivalent of a ‘bill of rights’ that affords protection for the members of the church, to draw up a list of duties and obligations of both the believer and the church and the limits of the power of the church over the believer. “Is this necessary?” You might ask – consider this account of a church that preferred to deal with everything in house, home schooling rather than sending kids to public schools, relying on each other for help in their areas of expertise rather than hiring outside parties, etc: http://www.washingtonian.com/2016/02/14/the-sex-scandal-that-devastated-a-suburban-megachurch-sovereign-grace-ministries/ only to discover that it’s leadership wasn’t really dealing with anything even though they referred to this very verse. The believed in a reconciliation process in keeping with Biblical principles and pressured believers to avoid going to court even when they had every reason to do so.
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
This is another harmful section because it’s a ‘clobber verse’ – one of the verses used to hit members of the LGBT community with the hard truth of Scripture. The fault here lies with my version – the New International Version not sufficiently explaining that Paul made up a word in this section and we have no idea what he meant by it; even our best scholars haven’t come up with a consensus. You can read about it more here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2015/08/clobbering-the-confusion-about-1-corinthians-69-10/
What really bothers me about Christianity’s witch-hunt stance against the LGBT community is the language and tone believers take. Like the House of UN-American Activities Committee, we forget the gospel message that Paul keeps on reminding us: “Christ and him crucified” It’s as if we’ve forgotten the events of that day …
Jesus was in the garden at night, Judas betrayed him. He was arrested and taken to stand before the Sanhedrin – the Jewish Court. This was Passover weekend and they were breaking all of the rules just to get rid of this inconvenient rabbi who was a threat to their power. They put him on trial for blasphemy, argued for his guilt, presented witnesses, and pronounced judgement. Then they passed him back and forth to the Romans. He was beaten, insulted, and mocked. He stood silently before Pilate as the crowd demanded that a known murderer be set free. He was marched down through the streets of the city and taken to the place where he was finally crucified.
So what do Christians do? We had our Westboro’s who represent the more outspoken opponents of the LGBT community who are well known for insulting and mocking them. We have our believers who try to witness to them at pride events, using the same clobber verses over and over again: Genesis 19:1-11, Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, Romans 1:26-28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 & 1 Timothy 1:9-10 much as a judge pronouncing the sentence of the guilty might sound; Read through them all and see if Paul’s message: “Christ and him crucified” rings true or the idea that Christ’s love and acceptance pales in comparison to God’s wrath against the clay pottery he designed to destroy (Roman 9:20-22)? Better yet – actually talk to members of the LGBT community, there are Christians among them who can give you their testimony about how many times they’ve heard about God’s wrath and how few times they’ve heard about Jesus love. The only ‘love’ they’ve heard a lot about from Christians is how much God would love to send them to Hell to burn in the lake of fire for eternity.
The odd thing is that Paul couldn’t have known that churches would use these verses in this way. Paul didn’t mean that believers should use them as proof that believers should never sue another believer for any reason whatsoever ever again. Were he here, odds were he would encourage it. Put it this way – believers are still sinners, sinners can break the law in more ways than just one. Paul would want us to submit to the authorities over us and report lawbreakers more than he would want us to cover-up the crime and aid and abet lawbreakers in our midst because they happen to be believers. Paul would have passionately argued that at the first sign of the aforementioned scandal that all of them do the right thing by reporting the crime. By suggesting that both the law-breaker and the victim seek professional counseling – the best kind there is even if it’s a secular counselor who doesn’t quote scripture as he or she explains how the victim is not at fault. And by allowing the law of the land to work as intended. Couldn’t it be said that Jesus went to court on everyone’s behalf? Don’t we often say that Satan is the accuser of brethren and Jesus is our defense attorney? I guess we only hate non-religious courts and permit religious courts to have unchecked power over believers because … they can do no wrong?
Paul’s main message is ‘Christ and him crucified‘ – he’d probably be annoyed to know that we’re so busy quoting random verses with the intent of proving how right we are that we’re going to heaven and those other people are going to burn in hell because they were created as objects of God’s hatred and wrath that we forget that the whole point of Christ being crucified was to save them from hell because God sees them as people He loves. By twisting scriptures this way, we fail to read the whole passage in context. We don’t know the nature of the lawsuits that were reported to Paul. We don’t know how many believers were suing each other, over what, what was gained by it, or anything really. We don’t know if non-believing Corinthians were as happy to sue one another as Americans, in general, are today. And yet here we are thinking we can use this passage to tell the victim that they mustn’t take their abuser to court, they mustn’t press charges over the laws that were broken, they mustn’t seek professional aid or non-Christian lawyers or counselors – but rather they ought to go through a process of reconciliation and forgiveness in precisely this manner and just get it over with and never speak of it again. Or else we use the clobber verse to tell people that God hates them. Paul never intended us to use these verses this way! But we do and that’s why we lose so many Christians and non-Christians alike; they see the manipulation and inconsistency between what we profess to believe and what we do and they want nothing to do with us and they don’t want to be associated with us and I don’t blame them.