ULC and the courts – a back and forth between pastors.

Recently there has been a public debate ongoing on Facebook in regards to the ULC lawsuit against the MNS leadership.  Rev. Mark Surburg wrote publicly confronting Rev. David Kind about his exegesis of 1 Cor. 6.  Rev. Kind has posted a reply. Both are found below.  All I can say about this is that ULC has tried every avenue available for open discourse with the MN South District, only to be ignored.  This whole situation has brought a great shame to the LCMS.  I continue to support ULC and its lawsuit.  Caesar may be the only one who can sort this out.

Rev. Surburg encourages ULC to bear their cross and allow the sale.  However ULC has actually embraced a larger cross, the lawsuit and now the public criticism of the church.  Why do they do it?  For themselves?  No, for the Gospel.  That alone is worth suffering such criticism for.  Save ULC.

 

Here is Rev. Surburg’s critique of the Apology of ULC (link to FB page):

Evading the Text: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 and the University Lutheran Chapel Lawsuit

by Mark Surburg on Monday, May 14, 2012 at 8:03am ·

 It has been with great sorrow that I have observed the actions taken by the Minnesota South District against University Lutheran Chapel.  Few things that I have seen happen in the Church have troubled me more than these events.  ULC and her pastor are in my daily prayers and in the Prayer of the Church at my congregation.

Yet at the same time I was greatly troubled when ULC and Pastor Kind filed suit against the district.  My concern has grown as I have seen numerous Lutheran pastors and laypeople support and celebrate this action.  My particular concern focuses upon the manner in which Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 6:1-11 forbid Christians from taking other Christian to court.  This concern grows out of my own study in the area of the Pauline epistles at the STM and doctoral level.

Pastor Kind has presented his Apology before the Church.  The treatment of 1 Cor. 6:1-11 in the eight page document runs just a little over a page.  There are no citations of any commentaries or scholarly literature. This brief and superficial treatment is quite surprising, especially because by placing the treatment of 1 Cor 6 first in the Apology Pastor Kind indicates that he recognizes the challenge it will pose to ULC’s action in the minds of many.

Pastor Kind argues that for Paul “it is preferable to have matters of conflict within the church settled before one’s fellow Christians.  He also indicates that is a failure when the Church is unable to settle such a matter and Christians must take their case to the secular courts.  But this does not mean that it is necessarily sinful for Christians to bring a disputed matter before the courts” (pg. 2). For Kind, the abuse of the poor and weak by the powerful and influential provides the interpretive framework in which Paul’s words are to be understood.[1] The key verse for his interpretation is 6:8 as he comments, “The Apostle here is chastising those who are using the courts to take advantage of their fellow Christian which is indicated when he says to them: ‘you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!’” (pg. 2).  Kind concludes with regard to 1 Cor 6:1-11: “These words are not directed at those who are defending their interests rightly having first sought to have these matters discussed and settled within the Church” (pg. 2).

Kind’s interpretation does not withstand examination for two reasons.  First, the interpretation must ignore the clear and repeated theme of this section in which Paul tells the Corinthians that as saints in Christ’s Church they are to take care of disputes within the Church and they are not to take them before the unrighteous unbelievers of the pagan world.  Second, the interpretation fails to take into account the pagan Greco-Roman context in which the Corinthians live. In view of this, it is not surprising that Kind’s position is an idiosyncratic interpretation which is absent from commentaries (not even as an interpretive option to be considered and then rejected).

As we consider the first problem, it is helpful to note the manner in which 1 Cor 6:1-11 is framed by the inclusio of 6:1-2 and 6:9-11.  In 6:1-2 Paul chastises the Corinthians for taking lawsuits before “unrighteous ones” and not before “the saints” (6:1).[2]  When Paul draws the section to a close, he returns to the “unrighteous”/“saints” dichotomy.   In 6:9-10 Paul says that the “unrighteous ones” won’t inherit the kingdom of God and then goes on to list a series of sinful behaviors, many of which are common features of pagan practice. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they used to be among these unrighteous ones, but now (through baptism) they have been made holy and made righteous (6:11).  Note how the verbs that conclude 6:11 chiastically mirror that statement about unrighteous ones and saints in 6:1.

The frame of the text emphasizes the contrast between Christians as the saints and the unrighteous ones of the world (cf. 6:2).  This is the very contrast that the rest of the section emphasizes. In 6:2-3 Paul hammers home the irony of the fact that the saints in Corinth are taking each other before the unrighteous of the world in the pagan courts.  He does this by reminding them (note that both questions are introduced by the Greek negative particle ouk that assumes a positive answer) that in the eschatological future the saints will judge the world and even angels – and if this is true, how much more should they be able to handle the small matters of this world? 1 Cor 6:2-3 the apostle underscores the eschatological perspective that is to inform all of Christian life in the present.[3]

In 6:4 he points out that when they have cases they are setting them before those who are despised  in the church and then goes on to shame them in 6:5 by emphatically asking the question which assumes a positive answer regarding the presence of a Christian wise enough to decide disputes between brothers.  Instead Christian (“brother”) goes to court against Christian, and this take place before unbelievers (6:6).  The introduction of the term “brother” explicitly brings the Christian community into view, and Paul follows it up by using the contrasting term “unbelievers.”[4] As in the rest of the section, the focus remains firmly fixed on the Church as opposed to the world.  Everything Paul has said in 6:1-6 (and this will continue in 6:9-11) has indicated the separation of the Church from the world and the superiority of the Church in relation to the world.  Paul says in 6:7 that the mere existence of these lawsuits is already a defeat for the Christians. Bringing them before the world (the unrighteous 6:1, 6:9; unbelievers 6:6) is all the worse.  Wouldn’t it be better to be wronged and defrauded, rather than act in a way that puts the world in charge and denies the superiority of the Church (cf. 6:2)?

How are Christians to deal with situations where other Christians are trying to use the legal system to wrong and defraud them?  Paul says that they are to allow themselves to be wronged rather than allow themselves to be drawn into a legal process that occurs before a pagan world and harms the witness of the Gospel.  Is this practical or fair?  Thiselton answers the question well when he writes: “Is Paul’s expectation fair or reasonable?  It is no more ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ than the divine grace which has eclipsed justice in Christ’s giving up of his person and his ‘rights’ on the cross, indicating in turn God’s surrender of his ‘right’ to pronounce a negative verdict on humankind without transcending justice in costly, generous mercy.”[5]  Paul’s instructions call those who are in Christ to live like Christ.  As Peter tells us, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

Paul’s words are a hard saying.  There is the temptation to use many justifications to get around them, even theological ones such as the idea that a pastor is looking out for the welfare of the congregation or that the continuance of the Means of Grace in that place is at stake.  But we do well to listen to Fee’s caution:

“This is obviously still a very difficult word for believers, who not only do not generally think and live within the NT’s eschatological categories, but whose values tend to place such a high priority on property that a number of hermeneutical ploys have been established to get around the plain sense of the text. There are simply too many of us with vested interests in the present age for us to have any desire to hear it applied to the contemporary church.”[6]

Rather than living in Christ and allowing themselves to be wronged, Paul says that the Corinthians seek to use the courts to wrong and defraud fellow Christians (6:8).  As Kind suggests, 6:8 certainly includes the reality that the powerful are using the courts to harm the weak. But, everything Paul has said about the topic of using the courts up to this point indicates that the problem is about more than just the fact that the Christians are using the courts to take advantage of fellow Christians.   Instead, Paul’s entire treatment emphasizes the contrast between the saints/brothers and the unrighteous/world/unbelievers.  Christians are to deal with their problems within the Church, and 6:7 suggests that it is better to be wronged than completely turn the relation between Church and world upside down.

This point leads in turn to the second reason Kind’s interpretation fails.  The reason for the stark contrast that Paul draws between the Church and the world is that the Greco-Roman world is a pagan one.  As 1 Cor 8-10 demonstrates, paganism was woven into the fabric of Greco-Roman society. This is an aspect of the text that Kind fails to take into account.  For example he says that Paul “also indicates that it is a failure when the Church is unable or unwilling to settle such a matter and Christians must take their case to the secular courts.”  However this is an anachronistic description.  In Paul’s day, for a Christian, there was no such thing as a “secular court” any more than there were “secular civic events.” Paul will not allow Christians to forget the eschatological status they have in Christ.  He admonishes the Christians that as those who are saints (cf. 1:2); as those who will judge the world (6:2); and as those who will inherit the kingdom of God (6:9, 11), they are not to set themselves before the judgment of the unrighteous/unbelievers who will not (6:1, 6, 9-10).

The anachronism of a “secular court” that remains a viable (thought regrettable) option becomes evident in another way as well.  Kind argues that Paul’s words in 6:7 “are not directed at those who are defending their interests rightly having first sought to have these matters discussed and settled within the Church” (pg. 2).  On this reading, Paul thinks it is acceptable for Christians in this situation to go to the courts of the pagan world.  Yet all of the recent research on the Greco-Roman legal system (and in particular as it existed in the provinces) has emphasized that these courts were unjust. They were the setting where wealth, connections and rhetoric ruled the day instead of truth and impartiality.[7] Everything we know about this legal setting indicates it is the last place Paul would want Christians to go (and hence the scathing language of 6:1).

In his Apology, Kind argues that in 1 Cor 6:1-11 Paul is not speaking to “those who are defending their interests rightly having first sought to have these matter discussed and settled within the Church” (pg. 2) and that he is speaking “to the individual who is only concerned with defending his own personal rights and property.” The implication is that in Paul’s view the courts are potential option for those in the right; who have first sought redress in the Church; and who are dealing only with their personal rights and property.  Yet this is an idiosyncratic interpretation that I have not been able to find advanced by scholars in any of the commentaries I have been able to consult.[8]

It will be helpful to answer several questions that will surely be raised.  First, it is necessary to realize that 1 Cor 6:1-11 deals with Christian taking Christian to court and prohibits this.  The text is not dealing with Christians accused of a crime where they are free to face the accusation in order to speak the truth and declare the Gospel, such as Paul’ experience before the procurators Felix, Festus and then the Emperor.  Second, the text is not dealing with the situation where a non-Christian takes a Christian to court.[9]  This does not solve all the questions.  Paul wrote in a setting where the Christians in Corinth all shared in the same fellowship and were under the same pastoral care and discipline.  What are the implications of our setting in which Christians often do not share in the same fellowship and therefore it is not possible for disputes to be brought before the Church for resolution?

This context of Paul’s statements must be taken into account.  In the same way, I think it is also worth considering the extent to which the Book of Concord’s statements, as it is written in the midst of a society entrenched in “Christendom,” must also be taken into account.[10]  Using the courts in the sixteenth century did not involve the entrance into a pagan world, as it did in the first century.  If we ask which setting is most like the twenty-first century and its pluralistic post-Christian setting, it seems clear that it is Paul’s world.[11]  I will not deny the complexity of applying Paul’s teaching to the legal realities of our day.  But at the very least, I think we should take from 1 Cor 6:1-11 that Christians of the same fellowship should not take their issues outside the Church and sue one another (and certainly we should not find this action among much pastors and churches).  Paul’s words forbid this.  Instead, it is better to be wronged and defrauded (1 Cor 6:7) – to bear the cross God may lay upon us.  For all of us this is easy to write about, and hard to live.  Yet in this same letter Paul comforts us with words: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it”

(1 Cor 10:13 ).

[1] ‘St. Paul’s words about taking one another to court should be understood in light of this overarching issue in Corinth” (pg. 2).

[2] In calling these judges outside the Church “unrighteous,” “This provides a pointed indication of the absurdity of the position which Christians adopt when they not only recognize such people as judges, but even claim their services as such” (Hans Conzelmann, 1  Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians [trans. James W. Leitch; Philadelpha: Fortress Press, 1975], pg. 104).

[3] As Fee notes: “In light of these eschatological realities, matters of everyday life are trivial, and the pagan courts who concern themselves with such trivialities are themselves trivialized.  Such people have no standing at all with the people of  God.  The absurdity of the Corinthian position is that the saints will someday judge the very world before whom they are now appearing and asking for judgment.  Not only does such an action give the lie to who they are as the people of  God, but it is done in the presence of unbelievers, the very people to whom the church is to be God’s alternative” (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], pg. 230).

[4] Thiselton concludes that 6:6’s statement about “this before unbelievers” “marks the climatic, crowning affront of going to law before unbelievers.”  For by this action, “The bad becomes worse, and the worse becomes the worst possible scenario by placing the greed and its accompanying manipulative strategies in the public domain for all the world to behold.  Christian failures diminish the credibility of the gospel as it is; but to advertise the failures is utter folly and disaster” (Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 435).  As one reads these words, it is difficult not to think of the actions by the Minnesota South District that are made public outside the Church by ULC’s suit.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, pg. 437.

[6] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, pg. 238.

[7] See the summary of research in Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, pg. 419-421 and in Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), pgs. 162-164).

[8] Hans Conzelmann, 1  Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians; Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians; Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text; Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians; Charles H. Talbert, Reading Corinthians: A Literary and Theological Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (New York: Crossroad, 1987); R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Columbus: Wartburg, 1946).  Note that this list includes most of the recent major English language commentaries.  As anyone who has worked with Thiselton’s commentary will recognize, if he doesn’t include it in his discussion, it probably isn’t out there in the scholarly world.

[9] A fact recognized by Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 238 and Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 165.

[10] This is another major shortcoming of Kind’s Apology.  Just as he does not provide an exegesis of 1 Cor 6:1-11, he also does not provide an exegesis of the Book of Concord texts quoted.  It is one thing to cite and quote the confessional texts.   Yet what we need is an exegesis of these texts which unpacks the specific kind of sixteenth century legal settings and actions that are being described so that we can understand more clearly how those statements apply to the ULC legal action.

[11] This is especially true in a large urban setting with a major university, such as Minneapolis, MN.

 

 

Here is Rev. Kind’s response (link to FB page):

A Response to Rev. Mark Surburg’s “Evading the Text”

by David Kind on Monday, May 14, 2012 at 8:52pm ·

Rev. Surburg asserts that according to I Corinthians 6 Christians must only settle their disputes with in the Church, and can never rightly take other Christians to court, even when attempts to settle the dispute within the Church have failed. To make use of the secular courts, is according to Surburg’s interpretation of the text, a sin. Surburg claims that my treatment of I Corinthians 6 was brief and superficial, a claim to which I readily admit, as it was intended for a popular audience. He also claims that my exegesis of I Corinthians 6 is idiosyncratic, a charge with which I cannot agree. I am happy, however, to state that Surburg’s interpretation I Corinthians 6 is anything but idiosyncratic. Not only does he find this interpretation backed up by modern Biblical commentators like Anthony Thiselton and Gordon Fee, but by the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Anabaptists, and other heretical groups. It is, however, an interpretation that has always been rejected by the Lutheran Church.

I will admit to having very few modern commentaries on my shelves, but what I do have are hundreds of books by Luther, the Lutheran Reformers, and the Fathers of the Church (medieval and ancient). And while all of these authors agree that ordinarily Christians should not bring suit against other Christians in court, none of them (to the best of my knowledge) make the prohibition absolute. But let us give Rev. Surburg the benefit of the doubt and leave open the possibility that he has seen St. Paul’s words with greater clarity than have the Fathers and the Lutheran Reformers.

Surburg’s argument comes down to three basic assertions:

1. St. Paul teaches that Christians should never take other Christians to court, and that those doing so would be sinning.

2. The courts of St. Paul’s day and of our own are pagan in character. Therefore the Church must not make use of them.

3. The statements in the Lutheran Confessions regarding the Christian’s use of the courts likely do not apply to our day and age.

Let us first take a closer look at the text of I Corinthians 6. In verse 1, St. Paul writes: ““Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” The issue at stake in this verse is going to law before the unrighteous. The word St. Paul uses for “go to law” is krinesthai. According to R.C.H. Lenski (the most modern commentary on I Corinthians that I happen to own), krinesthai is in the middle voice, and means “to go to law in one’s own behalf”. And that is what St. Paul is forbidding here, going to court only for the sake of one’s own interests. In such a case, the Christian should not go to court before unbelievers against the fellow Christian, but should suffer the injustice. Nowhere in the entire 1 Corinthians passage does St. Paul address the issue of using the courts to defend the rights and property of others. This fits with the rest of what St. Paul says to the Corinthians when he admonishes them in verses 7 and 8: “Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!” Here again, according to Lenski, both verbs in verse 7 are in the middle voice, indicating a personal consequence that ought to be allowed, not necessarily a consequence that one should passively allow another to suffer.  In verse 8, the verb is active, but the action again is personal, on behalf of one’s own interests. “You yourselves do wrong and you defraud…”

But what about the rest of the passage? As Rev. Surburg points out, St. Paul makes a big deal about taking matters of dispute before the unrighteous and the unbelieving, who are nothing in the eyes of the Church when compared to the saints. The saints ought to be able and willing to properly mediate a dispute in their midst so that the dispute will not need to be taken to the pagan courts. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” Does this expectation of the apostle for the Church, and especially for her leaders (likely the bishop and presbyters in Paul’s context), mean that Christians are absolutely forbidden to turn to the secular courts when the wise men of the Church refuse to judge or mediate the situation within the fellowship? St. Paul does not indicate this when the matter is one of protecting or defending one’s neighbor. And if they are left with no option but to watch the neighbor suffer or to go to court on behalf of the neighbor is the shame of their own making, or a result of the failure of the larger Church to do their duty of adjudicating and of exercising Christian discipline against the guilty party in the disputed matter where there is no repentance? Clearly the shame is that of the community that has counted itself by its lack of action, or wrong actions, unworthy to judge worldly matters.

Surburg makes much of the interpretive framework of saints versus pagans, which as can clearly be seen in this passage, is surely is one aspect of Paul’s letter. But it is not the only aspect. As stated in my Apologia, there is also the issue of the powerful and wealthy oppressing the weak and poor. Surburg does a disservice to the text by completely ignoring this additional “interpretive framework”, which gives us a better picture of the sorts of lawsuits against which St. Paul was speaking. Contrary to what is often the practice of professional exegetes, one must never interpret any passage of Scripture without looking into the broader context of the passage, the book and indeed of the entire corpus of Holy Scripture. Surburg in his critique has looked no further than I Corinthians 6:1-11.

This is not to say that saint versus pagan is not one of Paul’s themes. It is. And as Surburg says, “The Greco-Roman world is a pagan one,” and “All of the recent research on the Greco-Roman legal system (and in particular as it existed in the provinces) has emphasized that these courts ere unjest. they were the settings where wealth, connections and rhetoric ruled the day instead of truth and impartiality.” What Surburg writes is backed up both by the modern commentators and by the Church Fathers.

But the courts of our day are not the courts of St. Paul’s day. While far from perfect, our judicial system is concerned with issues of truth and impartiality. Most judges are interested also in protecting the integrity of the court and of the law itself. Why? Because the law and the courts of our day, whether penned or manned by believers or unbelievers (and there are certainly both writing law and serving in the judiciary), are deeply influenced by the Christian culture that underlies Western civilization. While society seems to be growing more pagan, the structure of the judicial system at the basic level of the courtroom has been relatively resistant and somewhat insulated to this relatively recent trend. Of course there are activists judges who push the envelope of what the law will allow and who even promote anti-Christian rulings, but for the most part our courts are far closer to the courts of the 16th century than to those of the 1st.

And so the position of the Lutheran Confessions regarding the Christian’s proper use of the courts apply to our day just as they applied to the 16th century. To be sure there were more people in Luther’s day that were baptized, but only a cursory reading of Luther shows that he considered many, and perhaps most, of these people to be Christian in name only. Today there are less Christians in name, but I’d venture there are many, many, faithful Christians serving in the secular courts as judges, bailiffs, recorders, clerks, and lawyers. This being the case how could one claim that our courts are pagan? They are not pagan, they are secular. And so making use of the secular courts is not the same thing today as it was in the 1st century (going to law before the unbelievers and unrighteous in a system that was not interested in truth or justice).

If one were to take Rev. Surburg’s exegesis of I Corinthians 6 to its logical conclusion, and I’m not suggesting this is what he would do, one must not only eschew legal action among Christians in the secular courts, but the use of legal contracts among Christians, the vocation of Christian lawyers and judges, the employment of lawyers by our synod and districts, the use of public forums to discuss churchly issues (e.g. Facebook, blogs, webpages) all of which are open to judgment by the world, Christian social action (e.g. marching on Washington over the abortion issue), and a host of other interactions that Christians make with the secular world in which we live. As stated above, this position from simple start to absurd finish is explicitly rejected by the Formula of Concord and has never been the position of the Lutheran Church.

So lets apply all of the above to the ULC lawsuit. Is ULC pursuing only its own interests in taking the MNS District before a pagan court? The answer is an unequivocal no. Our courts are not pagan, and ULC is not defending its own interests only, but the interests of her students, future students, parents of students, and the donors who built the chapel and have supported it throughout these past 60 years, a group which especially includes the congregations of Minnesota. Paul’s admonition against taking a brother to court to pursue or to protect one’s own interests do not apply to this situation.

So what law must ULC follow in this? The law of not exposing a fellow Christian to the judgment of the world? Or the law of love for the fellow Christian who is being cheated and defrauded by his or her own synod? All laws regarding our life together can be summed up by Christ’s own answer about the great commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. This law of love does not undo or make obsolete the laws of the New Testament, but is the distillation of those laws. In this case the law of love requires those who have a vocation of protecting and serving others actually do that for them against the powers that would abuse them (Pastor protecting his flock, campus pastor and campus congregation protecting their students).

What of the shame brought upon the Church as a result of ULC’s actions? Our synod has failed to provide a venue for this issue to be resolved, and our district leadership has done everything in their power to keep the issue from being discussed openly or mediated. The shame here, as St. Paul indicates, is shame upon the synod’s leaders who have avoided and failed in their duties.

ULC, and I as her pastor, have done the right thing, out of love, for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of those under our care. We have, as stated in the Apology, exhausted the options open to us for dealing with this in the Church. While the need for ULC to go to court is shameful for the LC-MS, it is a faithful action on our part.

 

Here is Rev. Surburg’s response to Rev. Kind’s response (link to FB):

1 Cor. 6:-11 once again: A response to Pastor Kind

by Mark Surburg on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 12:50am ·

A beloved retired professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis used to refer to “spurious alternatives” when describing a theological position that forces a false either/or choice.  Unfortunately Pastor Kind’s response pushes a spurious alternative as he largely sets modern exegetical work in opposition to an esteem for the ancient, medieval and reformation church.  I am glad to say that like Pastor Kind, I too have hundreds of books about these portions of the Church’s history and have a great appreciation for the saints who have gone before us.  In fact right now I am in the process of finishing the first volume of Élie Griffe’s La Gaule chrétienne à l’époque romaine, and look forward to reading the next two that wait on my shelf.

However, I also have a great appreciation for the lexical and exegetical treasures that have continued to be produced.  I recognize that given our love of God’s Word, we will want to use the best available tools which may continue to offer greater insight and understanding.  It is a spurious alternative to set these in opposition to one another and I refuse to do so.

The heart of Pastor Kind’s response is that in 1 Cor 6:1-11 Paul is speaking against Christians who go to court in order to seek their own interests.  He writes, “And that is what St. Paul is forbidding here, going to court only for the sake of one’s own interests. In such a case, the Christian should not go to court before unbelievers against the fellow Christian, but should suffer the injustice. Nowhere in the entire 1 Corinthians passage does St. Paul address the issue of using the courts to defend the rights and property of others.”

Kind relies on Lenski’s interpretation of krinesthai in 6:1 and quotes him as saying, “krinesthai is in the middle voice, and means “to go to law in one’s own behalf.”  Unfortunately Lenski is not the most reliable resource.  It is now recognized that the specific force of the middle voice in classical Greek was becoming quite blurred in Koine Greek.  While at times it can still be felt, more often the difference between active and middle is a lexical one.  Hence while krivo means “to judge” (BDAG 567.2a) the middle means “to go to law” (BDAG 568.5a?).  As Thiselton points out, it is a word regularly used in forensic contexts and based on this understanding of the evolution of the middle, recent interpreters do not bring out the force of the middle (“to seek judgment at a court,” Thiselton, 424; see also Fee, 231).  Thus it presses the evidence to try to say that Paul opens the section by focusing on seeking one’s own advantage.

Presumably, one goes to court with the intention of winning. But this does not in and of itself mean that one is suing only for one’s own benefit.  Kind correctly recognizes the relation between the powerful and weak.  Within the patronage system it is entirely possible that a rich member could sue another member for the benefit or defense of his client (and in this case, fellow brother in Christ).  One would assume that most often those suing sought their own benefit, but considering the dynamic we see in our own congregations between members it is not at all hard to envision a patron suing in order to aid his client.

Kind quotes Lenski’s comments about 6:7-8 and he is on firmer ground here since the verbs adikesthe and apostereisthe are generally understood to be permissive passives (“let oneself be wronged”; “let oneself be defrauded”).  Here the focus does seem to fall on one’s personal advantage.

That point brings us to the crux of the matter. Kind argues that since the passage describes those who sue for their own benefit, it does not apply to the suit that he and University Lutheran Chapel have filed.  Kind frames this action entirely in terms of defending the neighbor.  He writes, “In this case the law of love requires those who have a vocation of protecting and serving others actually do that for them against the powers that would abuse them (Pastor protecting his flock, campus pastor and campus congregation protecting their students).”

I do not doubt that Pastor Kind and his congregation genuinely view themselves as doing this.  But is this really all that is happening in the suit?  Is it realistic and honest to say that unlike Paul’s setting, they are not going to court for their own interests?  Kind does in grant that they are seeking their own interests when he writes, “ULC is not defending its own interests only, but the interests of her students, future students, parents of students, and the donors who built the chapel and have supported it throughout these past 60 years, a group which especially includes the congregations of Minnesota.”

The careful addition of the word “only” does not remove the action  by ULC’s and Pastor Kind from the realm of self-interest. If ULC does not win, they lose their building and their ability to continue as a congregation is severely jeopardized.  Certainly it will entail tremendous hardships.  If Pastor Kind does not win, his own employment and pay check are jeopardized.  Unless the old Adam is not present in Pastor Kind and ULC, it is disingenuous to say that they are not suing for the sake of their own property and rights.  And thus his argument that 1 Cor 6:1-11 does not apply to what they are doing collapses.  Paul’s words in 6:7, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” address Pastor Kind and ULC just as much as they did the Corinthians of Paul’s day.

In his response Pastor Kind is unfair when he says “Surburg does a disservice to the text by completely ignoring” interpretive framework provided Corinthian context in which powerful and wealthy oppressing the weak and poor.  My comments on 7:8 indicate that I do take this into account (as one would expect from someone who wrote his STM thesis on 1 Cor. 11:17-34 and has published two Concordia Journal articles on different aspects of this text). I wrote, “As Kind suggests, 6:8 certainly includes the reality that the powerful are using the courts to harm the weak. But, everything Paul has said about the topic of using the courts up to this point indicates that the problem is about more than just the fact that the Christians are using the courts to take advantage of fellow Christians.” Yet as I indicate in that paragraph, within 6:1-11 the specific textual features do not emphasize this and instead focus on the dichotomy between saints/brothers and the unrighteous/world/unbelievers.  Therefore it is not ignoring the broader context to see it present, yet not the focus of this particular section.

The rest of Kind’s response deals with courts of our day in comparison to those in Paul’s. Within 6:1-11 Paul’s words do not focus on the fact that the courts of the Greco-Roman world were unjust (thought they often were).  Instead, he focuses on the manner in which they were part of the broader world which as a pagan one was set in opposition to the Church.

In my piece I wrote,  “As 1 Cor 8-10 demonstrates, paganism was woven into the fabric of Greco-Roman society. This is an aspect of the text that Kind fails to take into account,” and then go on to add, “In Paul’s day, for a Christian, there was no such thing as a ‘secular court’ any more than there were ‘secular civic events.’”  With this description I am not referring to the courts in and of themselves. Instead I am describing the fact that they were part of the broader pagan world. As Paul’s words indicate, a Christian was unable to view them as “secular” – that is, neutral in the religious evaluation.

Kind instead focuses on the character of the courts today in order to make the point that they are “concerned with issues of truth and impartiality.”  He argues this is so because they are “deeply influenced by the Christian culture that underlies Western civilization. While society seems to be growing more pagan, the structure of the judicial system at the basic level of the courtroom has been relatively resistant and somewhat insulated to this relatively recent trend. Of course there are activists judges who push the envelope of what the law will allow and who even promote anti-Christian rulings, but for the most part our courts are far closer to the courts of the 16th century than to those of the 1st.”  Kind’s statement seems to overlook the significant role that Roman law has played in forming our legal system. Roman law established  the legal concepts of civil rights, the legal personality of corporations, contractual obligations, real and personal property, private ownership, modes of proof for use in the courtroom, the legal force of a will. But if we are considering issues of truth and impartiality Kind’s assessment is probably true.

However, if we consider where the courts stand as part of the broader world in which we live we get a very different answer.  Kind seeks to down play the manner in which the courts take their place within a world that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. He writes, “While society seems to be growing more pagan, the structure of the judicial system at the basic level of the courtroom has been relatively resistant and somewhat insulated to this relatively recent trend.”  There are many who would say that while it is a “relatively recent trend” it has advanced at an astonishing speed and this has greatly influenced the courts.  Kind concedes, “Of course there are activists judges who push the envelope of what the law will allow and who even promote anti-Christian rulings.”  Again, there are many who would say that an activist judiciary advancing  the “gospel” of political correctness has become a hallmark of our judiciary.

Thus Kind misses the point when he asks, ‘…how could one claim that our courts are pagan?  They are not pagan, they are secular.”  I am not arguing that they are pagan in same way that the courts of the first century were part of a pagan world.  I entirely agree with him that they are “secular.”  But secular does not mean religiously neutral. They are part of a broader secular worldview that is antagonistic to Christianity.  I can say for sure that when my members talk about “the courts” that is exactly the way they perceive them. I would contend that daily there is ample evidence in the news to support this evaluation.  And so for Christians to take the disputes of the Church to the courts is to place them before a world that is indeed secular – it is a pluralist post-Christian one.  On this point – the very thing that concerns Paul – there can be no doubt that the courts of the twenty-first century have far more in common with Paul’s day than the sixteenth century.

Kind dismisses the notion that it may be necessary to interpret the Lutheran Confessions’ statements about the use of courts within their own context – the world of “Christendom” (and the same may be said about any Christian writer from the time of Theodosius and later).  But let me pose a question.  If the trends  that Kind describes as “relatively recent’ and from which “the basic level of the courtroom” have been “somewhat insulated” continue and even accelerate;  if  the number of “activists judges who push the envelope of what the law will allow and who even promote anti-Christian rulings” continues to grow; isn’t it conceivable that at some point Christians would have to arrive at the conclusion that they can’t in good conscience set the matters of the Church before the courts?  It is worth considering whether because of their setting in Christendom, the confessors were able to make assumptions about the use of the courts that Paul wasn’t. And it is also worth considering whether it is possible for the day to arrive (if it already hasn’t already – and here we clearly disagree) when Christians won’t be able to again.

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