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.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


The Core problem in Corinth, by Pr. Klemet Preus — 4 Comments

  1. A similar problem exists with the post-modern day televangelists. They will lead one to believe that they can “get rich with Jesus”. People who don’t have much financially are out of the loop, supposedly. There theories the you can get rich by donating big money to their “ministries” is unscriptual and offensive. In truth, they want people to donate large sums of money to maintain the evangelists lavish lifestyles. They may not use the legal system, but they use spiritual blackmail to acheive their goals.

  2. Pastor Preus,
    Good post. You wrote, “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.”

    To add insult to injury the powers that be at the lavender palace (the “haves”) were not using their own personal funds to do this. They were “haves” by virtue of their offices within the synod. They were using offerings given to the church by poor and rich alike. Even some of Pastor Wilken’s , Jeff Schwarz’s, and Harry Madsen’s offerings that found their way to the palace were being used to pay lawyers who in turn were threatening and opposing them.

  3. Now that’s a circus stunt I haven’t seen in church yet, the Diving Service. Maybe that’s next at the Alley!

  4. Boaz – my father always said, “Darn keyboard” when typos showed up. Maybe Pr. Preus has the same type of keyboard?

    However – Jefferson Hills will probably be the first for a “Diving” service. They are looking for a permanent home and are using a “model” that employs a multi-use facility. They had been trying to buy a local theater and rent it back to the theater company for revenue so it could become more self-sustaining. Maybe they will take this idea and buy a swimming pool or old YMCA?

    Paul in O’Fallon

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