A gracEmail reader writes: “Suppose a case of sexual abuse occurs in the church. The law requires that such cases be reported, yet the Apostle Paul forbids believers taking legal action against each other (1 Cor. 6:1-8). What is the right thing to do?”
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First of all, you are not asked to take legal action, only to report criminal activity to the proper authority. Further, I believe that a closer reading of this passage will make plain that Paul is not issuing a blanket prohibition against Christians using the courts of the land, even in matters where all parties are believers. He is rather correcting the practice of some members of the Corinthian church, who were taking their internal disputes before pagan judges for resolution rather than resolving them with the help of wise and experienced fellow-Christians (v. 1, 5-6). These litigious Corinthians were not simply pursuing justice — they were using the courts to defraud one another and to do each other wrong (v. 8). Such conduct was shameful (v. 5), and it still would be today!
Those are not the circumstances many of us encounter. It is not uncommon in the United States, or in many other countries around the world, to find judges who themselves are Christian believers. Furthermore, the laws of many countries today are built on the foundation of a legal tradition which goes back through English law to Roman law, and beyond that to the Law of Moses which God gave at Sinai. We also need to note that one can use the legal system for its proper intended purpose without trying to turn it into a tool for fraud or unjust oppression. All those details distinguish between our common situations and the one which Paul addressed at Corinth.
Both Paul and Peter elsewhere teach that lawful government is God’s agent for maintaining an orderly society, and that Christians are to obey the law of the land as part of their service to God himself (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). The New Testament also recognizes that governments sometimes try to exalt themselves above God’s authority, at which point they become beastly agents of Satan and fall under God’s judgment (Rev. 13, 18). When the commands of earthly rulers conflict with God’s commands, those who serve Christ “must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). I do not believe the situation you describe presents such a conflict. I therefore encourage you to do what your law requires in reporting the criminal activity. That does not mean, of course, that the church cannot attempt to provide spiritual assistance to its member who has fallen into this particular crime and sin.