The Core problem in Corinth, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(This is part three in a series on lawsuits among Christians.)


In our discussion of I Corinthians 6 we must first understand its context. The entire book of First Corinthians was written by Paul to a congregation which was troubled by a type of classism. The rich were oppressing the poor in the general society and they brought this oppression against the poor into the church. This oppression was exemplified by the rich having sumptuous meals in connection with the Lord’s Supper and eating all the good food before the working class members of the church showed up. This bit of greed was scolded by Paul with the words, “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (I Cor. 11:22) The factions of Corinth are apparent also in the controversy over spiritual gifts where people’s physical greed became spiritual greed as they sought to lord it over others whose gifts were deemed less valuable (12-13). The rich and powerful in the congregation felt that the law of Christian love simply did not apply to them. So adultery was not wrong to them (5). They flaunted their freedom through eating certain foods though offensive to others or by using the Diving service to show off their own talents (12-14). The Corinthian church even thought they were above other congregations, above the word of God and above nature itself and as they actually allowed the women to speak in the assemblies (14).


Paul’s response was to admonish the church to seek her identity in the poverty and shame of the cross of Christ (1-2) and to value sacrificial love higher than any other virtue (13).    


In such a context it is not surprising that such self-centered, greedy, rich people would use whatever legal power they may have had to maintain their power and to put the poor in their proper place. Gregory Lockwood says:


Greed, one of the sins denounced in 5:11, seems to have been the main factor in the Corinthians lawsuits (cf. 6:7-8). Recent studies of the Roman Empire’s legal system have shown that most civil cases were brought by the wealthy against those of lesser means. Because of their social status, the well-to-do could usually count on the judges’ support against the “have nots.” It is likely, then, that the wealthier members of the congregation were still affected by this cultural tendency to self-serving litigiousness, and were exercising their legal clout at the expense of the poorer members. [1]


So the first criteria we should apply in evaluating whether or not a legal action is contrary to the will of God is to ask “Is someone trying to push some else around.” “Are the strong and rich, those with huge resources and deep pockets attempting to have their way just for the sake of having their way?”


Does such a criterion apply to the LCMS as it brought a legal action against Harry Madsen on December 2, 2008 in the form of a “Notice of Opposition” to Mr Madsen’s application for the Issues Etc. trademark?  


I believe that it does. The LCMS has massive resources apparently. Reportedly the line on the budget for legal expenses is in the neighborhood of a half a million dollars. Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz, on the other hand are scraping for every dollar. They do not have a $450,000 budget line for legal expenses. And Harry Madsen, the gentleman who applied for the domain name of “Issues etc.” which had lapsed in 1999, is just a sweet guy from the Chicago area. He is in his retirement and his wife has failing eyesight so he reads theology books to her for hours a day and they listen to the gospel whenever they can. What a blessing to this pious Christian couple that they can actually hear the word of God through Issues etc. Harry Madsen just wants to hear and help spread the gospel.


It really is a classic case of the “haves” attempting to overwhelm the “have nots” by applying a lot of money through the using the legal system in order to get their way.


But there’s more to this. It may be that the “threat” of legal action is not the only offense here.

[1] Lockwood 190.

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