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
The thing which Paul prohibited in 1 Corinthians 6 was civil litigation against fellow Christians. He wasn’t speaking about how we should deal with criminal offences i.e. where a Christian has committed a crime and another Christian is a witness or the injured party. This is an entirely different type of situation.
There is no reason, in principle, why a Christian should not report such a crime to the police or offer to be a witness. It is not what 1 Corinthians 6 is referring to. The first point to make is that a crime is entirely different from a civil dispute. In the eyes of the law, in the United Kingdom, all crime is committed against the Queen. It is against the State in other jurisdictions.
So, even the direct victim of a crime is technically only a witness. It is the Crown, or the State, which is actually pursuing the offender and which decides whether to prosecute. Realising that fact changes everything. The prosecuting authorities, whoever they may be, have all been put there by God so as to keep order and punish wrongdoing.
That is what God wants them to do, whether they, or those accused of crimes, are believers or not. If that is so, then it must follow that for a Christian to cooperate with the State in bringing a prosecution, is effectively to help God to pursue His objectives. That is one of the reasons why He appointed rulers and authorities in every nation:
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscienceRomans 13: 1-5 (ESV)
I emphasize all that this because I once heard of a situation where a family were put under pressure by a church leader not to go to the police when one of their own children was sexually molested by a 17 year old boy from another family in the church. They were told that it would not be right to involve the police in a “church matter”. Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 6 were then quoted in support of that argument. However, the church leader was wrong.
He had no right to counsel the parents of the victim in that way. They were free to go to the police. Indeed, arguably, they even had a duty to go, so as to protect other people’s children. At any rate, it was solely their decision, not the Pastor’s, as to whether or not to involve the police. It was a matter of conscience and depended on all the facts of the case and on the circumstances and personalities of the people concerned.
I once had to give evidence in a criminal prosecution against a fellow member of a church. The story began when I gave a job to a woman who went to a church of which I used to be a member. The job didn’t last long because she turned out to be lazy, dishonest and manipulative. So I got rid of her after only one month. She did not get through her probationary trial period.
To my surprise, some years later, I was contacted by the Benefits Agency. They questioned me about this lady and it turned out that she had been claiming unemployment benefits while working for me. In fact she denied to them that she had ever worked for me at all. She did the same with several other employers too. Therefore a number of managers from different companies were called as witnesses, together with me, to give evidence against her in a criminal trial.
Though I found it all very sad, I had no hesitation in signing a witness statement to testify against her. I also went to the trial, though she pleaded guilty at the last minute. Therefore I did not, in the end, need to give my evidence verbally. I believe it was my civic duty to give evidence for the prosecution. It would have been entirely wrong for me to fail to do so merely because she was a Christian, or claimed to be.
One important point to note is that I was not giving evidence for my own sake. If I had, then it would have been my own decision as to whether to do so. However, it was not my case at all. This was a prosecution by the state-appointed authorities, whom God had put in place to do justice. Christians are just as subject to their authority as anybody else is. Thus, we are all under the same duty to assist a prosecution by providing evidence, whether the accused is a Christian or not.
At any rate, we are free to do so. That said, one is not always obliged to go to the police to report every crime or offence that you believe may have been committed by a fellow believer. That would be to define the duty much too highly. It is a matter of conscience and requires wisdom, based on all the facts, to know whether to report a crime or not. The point is simply that one is not prevented from doing so by what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6.
By the way, I am speaking of the situation in a country, the United Kingdom, which has honest judges and a largely honest police force. I recognise that that is not the case in every country and that some people will need to bear in mind the quality and level of integrity of the police and legal system when deciding whether, and if so, to what extent, to go to them and/or cooperate with them. It may be futile, or even dangerous, to try to use any of those institutions.