What about disputes with fellow Christians?

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From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 14 – How to forgive people in practical terms – some advice on what to do and how to go about it

What we have been looking at has mainly been about disputes with unbelievers.  But what if the wrongdoer is a Christian, or claims to be?  Apostle Paul tells us not to bring law suits against fellow Christians but, instead, to seek to resolve matters via the local church.  Let’s look firstly at what Paul says:

1Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbour, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? 2Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?  4So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 5I say this to your shame Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 7Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another.  Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?

1 Corinthians 6:1-7 (NASB)

Apostle Paul is referring to situations withinthe very carnal church at Corinth.  Some church members at Corinth were taking each other to the world’s courts to deal with grievances, rather than resolving them internally within the local church.  Paul disapproves of this and urges them not to engage in litigation with fellow Christians. Such disputes should be resolved within the church.  That is the biblical way. 

It would be good for us if Christians did handle disputes that way.  However, the problem is that what we have come to know as church is very different from what used to happen in the first century.  See Book Eight for more detail on what a real biblical church is meant to be like.  It differed from what most churches do today in just about every conceivable way.

If we are to resolve disputes within a church, rather than via secular courts, it would require us firstly to have a proper, biblically structured church.  Then it would be well placed to do all of the things it is meant to do.  Sadly, we have very few biblical churches, i.e. of the type that existed in the book of Acts and for the first three centuries afterwards.

Regrettably, the man-made, traditional, hierarchical, clergy-orientated church structure which is in operation in most churches today prevents us even attempting to do things in the correct, biblical way.  The structure itself makes it all impossible.  Thus, whereas apostle Paul (and Jesus) envisaged such disputes being resolved within the local church, there are very few churches today which are set up in such a way as to make any of that possible, or which would even have the courage to attempt it. 

For most Christians today, the idea of taking a dispute to the local church for it to be resolved there is wholly unrealistic.  It would probably not be dealt with at all and, if it was even attempted, it would only be fudged or swept under the carpet.  In 99% of churches that I know of the leaders would be horrified if anybody did what Paul instructed us to do. 

Most leaders would do anything they could to avoid tackling such disputes and they would not permit you to bring a matter to the whole church.  Nevertheless, let’s look at what Jesus says about how we are meant to resolve conflict in the church:

15“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  16“But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17“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.

Matthew 18:15-17 (NASB)
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