Why we sued another believer 15

A commentator at this post asked an important question today that I thought warranted a more substantial answer than just a reply in the comments because I assume it’s one that many other readers may have had themselves.

No matter what happened between you and Perry Noble (whom I have no relationship with or affinity for), do not your actions constitute a direct violation of the teaching of I Cor. 6:1-8?

For background, here’s the text to which he refers:

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 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? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 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, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Before I get to my answer, let’s put a couple of other passages on the table as well so we can let Scripture provide its own context. The first is Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The third is from Matthew 5:23-26:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Based on the scenarios described in Matthew 18, I see a hierarchy of desirable dispute resolution between Christians.

  1. Resolve the dispute privately.
  2. Resolve the dispute with a small group of three or four (the disputants plus the witnesses). It appears that the witnesses are also judges, because they end up having to something to say that can either be listened to or ignored.
  3. Resolve the dispute more publicly in front of the church. At this point, it appears that this is more an exercise of reproof and discipline than immediate reconciliation.
  4. Settle the dispute as if the person were not a believer.

Because all of Scripture is inspired by a single author, Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians must remain consistent with Jesus’ teaching, so it’s not a new rule that cancels out Matthew 18. We need to determine what step the Corinthians were failing at. It appears that the Corinthians were going from failed attempts at private resolution directly to public resolution, bypassing the small group and the church. I think Paul is giving us more detail about how the second, small-group step is supposed to work.

Paul’s argument is that as Christians we are being prepared to rule the angels in Heaven, so we ought to be able to exercise godly wisdom in judging comparatively trivial earthly matters. Paul was upset that the Corinthian believers were bypassing the judgment of the saints in the church and submitting their affairs to ungodly secular judges. The problem was not necessarily that they were disputing with each other (we see from both Matthew passages that such disputes will arise), but that they were looking to the wrong judges.

Some interpret Paul’s rhetorical questions at the end (Why not rather suffer wrong?) to mean that we should just take it on the chin and never sue fellow Christians for any reason. It’s not an unreasonable interpretation, but I don’t think he means it to institute a blanket ban for three reasons:

  1. It would contradict Matthew 5. Although this advice is written to the defendant, we can infer that the plaintiff if also a believer because it comes immediately after Jesus mentioned a dispute with a brother. Because the settlement between the brothers is financial, this appears to be a civil dispute before a court over some loss of property.
  2. It would contradict Old Testament property rights. The Old Testament moral law clearly establishes the obligation of an offender to restore property to a victim, often in multiples of the original loss. I don’t see that Paul is telling the Corinthians that this moral law is void if the offender is an obstinate Christian.
  3. It wouldn’t contradict an intra-church small-group settlement. If we put Paul’s advice inside the context of either step two or three from Matthew 18, we see that he’s telling the disputing parties to trust the outcome of godly mediation. A godly judge is probably not going to assess a case the same way as an ungodly one, so one or both parties may be at a disadvantage by staying within the church. Paul would rather Christians be willing to take the risk of losing their good case inside the church, and so be wronged or defrauded, than to go outside its walls.

In other words, it’s better to lose your case inside the church than win it outside. Notice that Paul sees the benefit in such an arrangement as primarily flowing to the judges, who get to practice Heavenly activities, than to the people being judged.

(If you want to see what happens when Christians assume they have blanket legal immunity from other Christians, look at the mess with Sovereign Grace Ministries.)

If it’s not possible to get a churchly judge, we can move on to step four from Matthew 18. Paul says this is a shame because there’s better judgment to be had inside God’s house. He doesn’t forbid it, though, surely understanding that the more desirable process requires the consent of both parties, and we see in Matthew 18 that this doesn’t always happen.

At this point, according to Matthew 18, we are allowed to treat the opposing party as if they were not believers, which also suggests that a Corinthians don’t-sue-believers rule no longer applies.

Our intent was not to sue NewSpring or its leaders, however it was my judgment as a husband and father that my family had suffered losses at the hands of NewSpring that warranted restitution. We had preferred to do it quietly and privately, though that option was taken out of our hands by NewSpring’s refusal to meet followed by its attempts to shame us for trying the private route.

We wish it hadn’t worked out this way, but we think that, given that NewSpring didn’t want to meet with us, we did right by both Matthew and Corinthians.

15 thoughts on “Why we sued another believer

  1. Pingback: Christian blogs and the courts | Bene Diction Blogs On

  2. JT Jan 29, 2013 6:19 am

    I think your interpretation of scripture on the rules governing lawsuits is mostly correct.

    The question I am still waiting to hear answered is not why you sued a believer, but why you sued the wrong believers.

    You were clearly wronged by a group of harassers. But rather than take your harassers to court, you targeted others with bigger insurance policies. As far as I can tell, your argument is that the leadership of NewSpring may have read some of the fake tweets that Maxwell wrote under your name, and that Noble preached disrespectfully about critics.

    I am not privy to the court documents, and you are limited by your settlement in what you can write here, so maybe there is more to the story. But this blog is becoming less and less about discernment, and more and more about getting even with Noble.

  3. Whozep68 Jan 29, 2013 12:34 pm

    JT,

    Are you alright with people suing the Catholic Church for the cover-up of Molesting Priests? Or to a lesser extent a company being sued for the neglect of one employee that was improper trained or suffering from a faulty practice? JD’s point is that Maxwell was acting within the bounds of the Newspring Culture which was created at the top and passed down. Newspring failed to address these problems privately and in accord with Matthew 18 so JD acted. The burden is on you to prove that Newspring wasn’t responsible in anyway to contributing to Duncan’s harassment. Since they settled out of court, obviously they didn’t want to take their chance with jury.

    It is not about revenge. JD has not attacked Noble’s personhood in one bit. He has raised questions to Perry being “above reproach” as an elder/pastor of a church in sound doctrine and character suited for that role. That is what all of us should do with men set before us to lead His church.

  4. David Strickland Jan 30, 2013 5:00 am

    I don’t interpret it as “getting even” with Pastor P at all. Let’s not speculate about what may or may not have been said in the settlement. Let’s just look at Pastor P’s sermons over the last 4 years, paticularly while this incident was going on and immediately afterward. Common sense leads me to believe that Pastor P not only knew about what was happening, but got a great deal of amusement out of it. I base that opinion on things he said during his sermons in regards to critics. And it isnt just sermons. Listen to his “leadership” podcasts, particularly the ones titled “Ignoring the Jackass” and “The Evolution of Criticism”. Put all these things together and anyone with any amount of an attention span can see that notbing gets said about or involving Perry Noble that Perry Noble doesn’t read himself or find out about through his staff. I think it was only a year or so ago that NewSpring posted a job opening on it’s website for someone to handle online commentary surrounding Pastor P. Nothing goes on regarding NewSpring that Pastor P doesnt know about. That can be discerned by simply paying attention. No, I don’t see it as Dr. Duncan trying to get even. I see it as a headsup. A warning to those there now or those thinking about it or those with family involved there. Maybe you’ll be one of those who don’t get hurt by these people. But I’ve seen quite a few people who were in fire for this group for a long time. But then if became personal for them. And every one of them look back and ask themselves “why didn’t I see this coming?”. No one seems to be able to smell the smoke until they’re the ones burning.

  5. Glen Jan 31, 2013 12:53 am

    Methinks this explanation is a prime example of hermeneutic gymnastics. Others might go so far to call it scripture twisting. As a professor you well know that the most basic principle of biblical interpretation is when plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense. Using the text in Matt 18 to somehow “modify” the clear instruction about suing other believers in I Cor. 6 is a stretch….a long one. One deals with discipline of an erring member inside the church, the other, preserving our testimony as believers outside the church. You don’t have the right to exempt yourself from imperative in one text just because you believe you followed the instruction in another. That kind of logic is fallacious. Perhaps the best approach would be for you to directly answer the apostle Paul’s questions- “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” The plain understanding of these rhetorical questions is, as you suggest, that we should be willing to take it on the chin. So why weren’t you willing? Our Lord seems to establish this same principle in Matthew 5:39-40. The Wisdom Books also reinforce this approach in Prov. 20:22 and Ps. 37:1-9. The greatest revelation as to your motivations come in your second to last paragraph- “my family had suffered loses…that warranted restitution” (i.e. retaliation). My translation would be, “I couldn’t trust God enough to vindicate me and hold this pastor accountable and thus I have to take matters into my own hands to stick it to him myself even though the testimony of Christ is irreparably damaged.” It’s even more appalling that after receiving a financial settlement you are still crucifying him all over the Internet. It appears you have a personal vendetta that is driven by a spirit of pride. God hates that kind of stuff brother.

  6. concernedparent Jan 31, 2013 10:06 am

    Glen: Dr. Duncan’s writings are representative of the thoughts of many of us who are disturbed by the divisive impact of NS on our community. Many of these people supporting Dr. Duncan’s efforts are the same people who will say it is highly likely that PN will eventually fall, and it will have nothing to do with what is said about him in blogs. Furthermore, everyone of us has a right to do what is morally and ethically right on behalf of ourselves and our families. This blog is not about crucifying or retaliation, this is about expecting integrity from an individual who claims to be a major religious leader in our community.

  7. David Strickland Jan 31, 2013 11:56 am

    Just a quick question to make sure I understand the argument correctly: are you guys saying that is it never biblically acceptable for a Christian to sue someone if that person also claims to be a Christian? If not, what circumstances would you deem worthy of being a biblically acceptable reason to sue another person claiming to be a Christian?

  8. Whozep68 Jan 31, 2013 1:48 pm

    @Glen

    So 1 Corinthians was addressed to whom? The Church gathered in Corinth under the elders of Corinth. Are James Duncan and Perry Noble under the same Elder board/authority structure? No. So 1 Corinthians need not apply.

    But by that same universal reasoning, can Perry Noble say he is obeying 1 Tim 5:19-20 – 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. However, it seems like he is avoiding verse 20.

  9. Father Downing Jan 31, 2013 3:52 pm

    SO…
    We hold the bloggers to some scriptural standard.

    We don’t dare hold pastors to a scriptural standard.

    Mind-boggling.

  10. chris Feb 12, 2013 11:53 pm

    Yes Father Downing,
    That is a mystery isn’t it?

  11. concernedparent Feb 14, 2013 1:33 pm

    Something for Perry Noble and his followers to consider:

    Matthew 6: 1 – 6
    1 “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
    2 “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
    3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
    4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
    5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
    6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

  12. Robert Schuette Feb 18, 2013 12:13 pm

    Why is it that it is the community of proclaimed Christian leaders that are attacking this church? Is it because of the exponential growth? Is it because it does not fit the current models of how a church should act as laid out by our modern day Pharisees and the Sadducees? Think about this for just a moment…..

    Was it not the established church that also crucified our Christ? Was it not also for very similar polical reasons? Before you jump all over that question, realize I certainly am NOT lifting up Perry Noble to a level beyond that of a man. I am just pointing out how the evil one can use us all to disrupt the gospel message.

    I personally fear for Perry Noble because of his success. Greater and perhaps more Godly men than he have fallen victim to such. (Just think about Moses.) I pray for Perry often that his success continues but does not lead to his harm. Whether you care for his sermons or his use of secular music or whatever – you are blind if you do not believe God is using him to spread His gospel. I am one that he has reached, and I know of many others that God has used him also to save. I ask you to rejoice in these salvaltions – not demean them.

    Please pray for Perry Noble, pray for New Spring Church and all of God’s churches that they grow and succeed in spreading the Good News of Christ our Lord.

    I have read all I care to on this subject. Long story short – I am convinced that the law suit was about pride, retaliation and financial gain. I have no idea how much $$ was wasted in this debaucle, but to me it was ALL wrong – starting with the original slander of this blog against the church, the recipricated slander back by misguided supporters of the church, and the eventual follow up extraction of money via a law suit. This reminds me all too much of how the godhatesfags.com crowd does its business.

  13. Father Downing Feb 18, 2013 3:25 pm

    I have trouble believing you’ve read this site at all if you think the problem is because of the rapid numerical growth. Second, no, it was not Church leaders who crucified Jesus. No, it was not for the same reasons that have been blogged about here.

    I assume that you fully support the criminal harassment of anyone who dares question anything done by Newpsring?

  14. concernedparent Feb 18, 2013 4:10 pm

    I agree with FD. Robert, you haven’t taken the time to understand the story and facts…the lawsuit was not about slander, it was about harassment…and the blog reflects the expectation that many community members have for NS and similar churches to act with honesty, be accountable, and preach the Gospel with integrity. This blog is definitely not about hate or persecution. Furthermore, if God is using PN to spread the gospel, then God also believes in speaking negatively about traditional churches and people who commit to actually studying the gospel in seminary school (calling them “jackasses”); bribing kids with pizza to to attend and bring their friends to church youth programs; and treating those who refuse to attend NS as not worthy of friendship or further relationship. God must also believe in regularly boasting about how many get “Saved” each week and attendance numbers at church that week. If God is truly speaking through PN, my faith in God is unfortunately diminished.

  15. Robert Feb 18, 2013 8:54 pm

    More than one were wronged by these events. I hope all move forward positively in their lives.

    I am curious about FDs response to me….

    Father D, who were the Sanhedrin, and who was Joseph Caiaphas?

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