On Going To Law Against A Brother

By Joe Polk

In brother Hoyt Houchen’s recent article answering a question regarding 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, I saw some things that bothered me. A reader wanted to know if it is wrong to take legal action against brethren who have defrauded them.

In his response, brother Houchen first looked at the original wording of the text. He noted that the expression “go to law” was translated from the Greek word krinesthai, a word that originates from krino, meaning “to judge.” This was supposed to support his premise that we are not sure that the text even refers to legal action.

That really is incidental to me. The jist of the matter is that the Corinthians should not let the unbelievers “judge” their disputes – court or no court!

Brother Houchen went on to supply another argument. He noted that our court system, being a product of our government, is a blessing of God (Rom. 13:1-7). The institution is not unrighteous; therefore, he goes on to say that the issue is “who” judges, not “what. ” In other words he is saying that courts are not under consideration.

Brother Houchen, back up and look carefully at what you said. You said that the judicial institution is not “unrighteous.” That is neither here, nor there. First of all, people are righteous and unrighteous, not institutions. That is evident to both of us. No one can affirm that just because the institution is under the domain of God that it is then made up of the righteous! It is safe to say that the vast majority of those who make up the legal system of this country are unrighteous in God’s eyes. Yea, how many Christians do we know who are judges? I’d guess that one hand will suffice that count.

It seems evident to me that when there are unbelievers doing the judging, we had better settle matters ourselves. Anyone who would affirm that because God set up our government then it is righteous and those within it cannot be considered in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 is stretching the Scriptures into more than God intended.

Another argument that brother Houchen brought up dealt with the duties of the church and judicial system. It was contended that the church wasn’t to meddle in judicial affairs and that the judicial system wasn’t designed to handle church affairs. Are you saying, brother Houchen, that brethren who defraud brethren are no longer under church jurisdiction because they violate the “law of the land”? I urge you to note that if brethren cheating brethren were not under consideration in chapter 6, then Paul didn’t know it. He mentions that they were involved in cheating!

I have respect for brother Houchen and feel that he is a knowledgeable man. I’m afraid that there is, however, a trend among preachers today. This trend is calling us to “read” between the lines” to find truth, because the Word of God alone isn’t clear.” I urge all brethren to look to the Scriptures and read them objectively. I have nothing against word studies, contextual studies, and the like; but I feel that they are to clarify the letter, not change it.

Paul knew that the Corinthians were defrauding one another. Regardless of whether they went to “court” or not is incidental. They went before unbelievers’ That was the wrong! Whether we go to court before unbelievers or next door, the point is the same. Paul is giving them instruction on where to settle their problems! Are we to come along and say, “I wonder where they went before unbelievers?” The point is that they should have stayed within themselves!

If they were to settle disputes regarding cheating and the like, why aren’t we? I’m afraid that brother Houchen has gone the wrong way with this passage. Paul exhorted them where they should’ve taken the matters. Is he not telling us the same?

I exhort brother Houchen to consider these things carefully. I’m certain that he wishes to mislead no one. I trust that he will consider objectively and make a change if convinced from Scripture that he should. Should his understanding convince him that he is right, we are still brothers. Neither he nor I would divide or slander on such a matter. I can still rejoice in his work of love in the love of Christ.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 12, p. 367
June 16, 1988