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.

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.

Comments

ULC and the courts – a back and forth between pastors. — 178 Comments

  1. It is facinating what the Fathers have written, but they don’t have the same authority as the Word of God and the Confessions. Thank you, Pastor Wilken, for your persistence in staying on topic.

    Is anyone here claiming Christians should sue one another as their first choice of action?

    Is anyone claiming it’s NOT a shame for a pastor to have no other recourse but a lawsuit in order to “help our neighbor to improve and protect his property” in situations where other Christians are trying to use the legal system to wrong and defraud the sheep?

  2. It is interesting to think about what has been said thus far. Pastor Kind wrote in his response: “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.”

    Pastor Wilken has written, ” Your reading of Paul isn’t supported by the consensus of historic Christian thought, for what that is worth.”

    Dr. Noland has said, that I am teaching and contending for the heresy of the Anabaptists.” He went on to say, “Pastor Surburg makes a good Mennonite in this matter, but not a good Lutheran.”

    Yet it turns out that the interpretation I am advocating ON THE BASIS OF THE SPECIFIC FEATURES IN THE TEXT is the same interpretation that several eminent church Fathers who are repeatedly quoted by the Confessions also hold – presumably because they saw THE SAME SPECIFIC FEATURES IN THE TEXT and interpreted them in light Paul’s pagan context just as I am doing. To continue this thought, I have looked at the citations of 1 Cor 6:1-11 in every volume of the Ante-Nicene and Nicen Fathers (ANF and NPNF 1 and 2) and I cannot find a single text that supports the interpretation of 1 Cor 6:1-11 that Pastor Kind advocates. Now obviously even though this is a huge amount of material, it is still only a small portion of early and medieval church material that exits. I don’ t doubt that someone in this period of the church’s history has interpreted it in this way. But it does seem odd that I had absolutely no trouble finding examples of the interpretation I advocate, but could not find any of the one Pastor Kind holds – the one he says that “all of the authors” in the early church held; the one Pastor Wilken says is “the consensus of historic Christian thought.”

    I have been thrown in with the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Anabaptists, and other heretical groups but it turns out that when it comes to the interpretation of 1 Cor 6:1-11 I am actually standing with Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine and Chrysostom. That’s pretty good company.

  3. First, I find Pr. Surburg’s assertion that our legal system is tending toward paganism, at the best definitely secular, is a compelling argument against lawsuits. We are tending towards paganism, yes, but I do not think we have arrived at that point. At the risk of a pun, the jury is still out on that. . Even so, 1 Corinthians 6: 1-8 says nothing about paganism. But the Apostle uses twice the word, “world”. The legal system is “of the world”, part of God’s governance of the world, but within the Church, the reign of God coming into the world, things are done differently because as we will hear this Sunday from the John 17b—19, the apostles, as their Lord, are sent into the world, but not of it.

    Second, Pr. Kind asks a pointed question in regards to the Apostle’s own question, “I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?” Pr. Kind asks can we find in the LCMS no own “wise enough” to settle this dispute? His rhetorical question begs the profoundly sad answer: No. Rev. Surburg refers to “LCMS, Inc.” I agree. In my colloquy interview I was asked, “How do you think the LCMS settles disputes?” And I quipped, “In the blogs”. But of course nothing is ever settled here. The Corinthian Church lacked so spiritual gift, had great religious fervor, but not wisdom to settle grievances and they were doing some other very worldly things. Paul is shaming them. This prompts this reflection: we know the legal system is of the world, but how much is the Church, “LCMS, Inc.” of the world? So much so a worldly tactic be done, selling church property without even a consultation with ULC (even worldlings will do that!), for a possible worldly campus ministry strategy giving lip service to Word and Sacrament. Is this not the problem with our church: how much of it is thralldom to the world and it’s glamour and omnicompetencies? G. K. Chesterton reflecting on our Lord’s Salt of earth verse, sharply concluded: “If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world.”

    Third, as I read and scan the responses in this blog, it seems that sounds as if the contention is the Apostle laid down a new canon law about lawsuits. This reminds me of one of Luther’s Invocavit sermons in which he preached you can not make liberty into a law and the making of one law leads to a thousand more. Is the Apostle legislating on lawsuits? “New rule: no lawsuits!” No, I do not think so. If Jesus is not the new Moses, then Paul is not. This reminds me of the misuse of Matthew 18 : 15-17, which at least in the ELCA congregations I have served, is the only Scripture that makes it into a church constitution and become a legal code, an ecclesial “Three strikes and you’re out!”. It’s not, it is the Lord’s way of His rule to live in His forgiveness, the entire eighteenth chapter. So are these verses. Yes, there are verses in which Paul is clearly reiterating a command to be followed in the Church, such as the Words of Institution and women keeping silent in the liturgical assembly, but I do not think here in 1 Corinthians 6.

    Fourth, this lawsuit is not a trivial matter, about property alone. If it were we would not be having this blog. We know something else has fueled the sale of ULC, but no civil law court of the age (saecula) can ever settle the zeitgeist. Only Jesus Christ has: “I have overcome the world”.

    Conclusion: The sale of ULC was worldly. Taking the Southern Minnesota district to court is a worldly action. Worldly + Worldly = Gospel. The math does not add up. My concern to Pr. Kind and ULC, even if you win the lawsuit, can you just go back to life and ministry as usual? The Gospel here in 1 Corinthians 6 is we have been made righteous through faith, from the life of sin through washing of baptism, justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. What is the sign of His Gospel: we will be wronged and defrauded. It is easy to say a thousand miles away to Pr. Kind and ULC: “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” The Apostle knew of what he spoke! In my own small way, I have suffered wrong in my last ELCA parish. In this small town, I still see the people who were complicit in asking me to leave because of positions on the Word of God and the ELCA. I have not enjoyed some of the verses from 1 John, about loving God and hating your brother. There are so many verses about returning no man evil for evil, turn the other cheek, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you…this is the way of faithful Church in the world, all the while the Church preaching the Word in the world. It’s hard. I know. It is cross-bearing. Maybe it is more important to be hated for the Gospel and that is pure promise The Apostle’s segue way to his next topic is his quotation, “All things are lawful”. Yes, I think lawsuits are lawful for the Christian. But will it be helpful?

  4. Pastor Surburg,

    You wrote:

    I have been thrown in with the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Anabaptists, and other heretical groups but it turns out that when it comes to the interpretation of 1 Cor 6:1-11 I am actually standing with Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine and Chrysostom. That’s pretty good company.

    Unfortunately, it isn’t company shared by the Lutheran confessors. In particular:

    Therefore private redress is prohibited not by advice, but by a command, Matt. 5:39; Rom. 12:19. Public redress, which is made through the office of the magistrate, is not advised against, but is commanded, and is a work of God, according to Paul, Rom. 13:1 sqq. Now the different kinds of public redress are legal decisions… (Apology XVI, 60)

    [We] reject and condemn them, one and all, as wrong and heretical, and contrary to the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles, and to our Christian Augsburg Confession, well grounded in God’s Word. Namely, for instance, the erroneous, heretical doctrines of the Anabaptists, which are to be tolerated and allowed neither in the Church, nor in the commonwealth, nor in domestic life, when they teach: …10. That a Christian cannot without injury to conscience use the office of the magistracy in matters that may occur [when the matter so demands] against the wicked, neither can its subjects appeal to its power. (SD, XXII, 8, 9, 19)

    I hope that you will reconsider your present trajectory. I’m sure you are aware that you can mine the Church Fathers for opinions contrary to the Lutheran Confessions many, many points. But where will that get you?

  5. Personally, I think that this has been an excellent discussion. All possible issues have been thoroughly aired. Maybe it is time to put this one to bed. Tomorrow is Sunday. Let us pray for wisdom and humility and faithfulness, and for ULC.

  6. @Todd Wilken #3

    Pastor Wilken,

    Thank you for your concern. Fear not, I know exactly where I am going. I am not a heretic now and will not be a heretic then.

    I find your statement puzzling, “I’m sure you are aware that you can mine the Church Fathers for opinions contrary to the Lutheran Confessions many, many points. But where will that get you?” What I am doing is asking questions about the history of interpretation. You have written, “”Your reading of Paul isn’t supported by the consensus of historic Christian thought, for what that is worth.” I am interested in how other Christians have read the text of all eras and I have demonstrated that notable fathers (and exegetes at that such as Chrysostom) read it in the same way that I suggest. Based on the evidence presented, will you concede now that your categorical statement is not correct and needs to be qualified?

    I am curious though. Since you seem to hold the position that the Confessions already tell us everything we need to know about a given topic, what is the point of studying Scripture? Is there no possibility that our knowledge of the text will advance through new lexical and cultural investigation and evidence? There are times I get the uncomfortable feeling that norma normans and norma normata may not be standing in their correct relation. So as you express concern for me, I express concern for you.

    I do know how to draw everything together and answer your very legitimate questions. But like Dr. Noland as he set up his last post needed time, so I need time to write it up. There are services tomorrow morning and then our congregation is hosting a service and dinner celebrating the ministry of two circuit pastors who are retiring this summer. Vice President Mueller and President Scharr will be here so there is much going on. But after that I have a chance to answer your questions.

    In Christ,

    Mark Surburg

  7. Pastor Surburg,

    You wrote:

    Based on the evidence presented, will you concede now that your categorical statement is not correct and needs to be qualified?

    Yes, I will concede that you can find notable theologians in the last 2,000 years who agree with your opinion, that a Christian cannot appeal to the civil courts.

    That doesn’t change the fact that the Lutheran Confessions explicitly reject that opinion as “wrong and heretical, and contrary to the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles, and to our Christian Augsburg Confession” (SD, XXII, 8, 9, 19)

    That is to say, your disagreement on this point isn’t with me, but with the Confessions themselves.

    You also wrote:

    …you seem to hold the position that the Confessions already tell us everything we need to know about a given topic…

    I don’t hold that position. Obviously, there are many subjects the Confessions do not address. But they do address this subject, and do so explicitly.

    You also wrote:

    Is there no possibility that our knowledge of the text will advance through new lexical and cultural investigation and evidence?

    Are you suggesting that there is a “possibility that our knowledge of the text will advance through new lexical and cultural investigation and evidence” leading us to reject what the Confessions explicitly say? That would be concerning indeed.

    TW

  8. Pastor Surburg,

    I commend to your study a document I am certain you are aware of, “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles,” found here; especially section VI on Confessional Subscription, in particular this paragraph:

    We recognize that the Confessions must be read and studied in terms of the historical situations in which they were written, but we reject the view that our confessional subscription means only that we regard the Confessions as a historically correct response to the problems encountered by the church when the Confessions were written.

  9. Thank you all for the good discussion, it looks as though we may be shifting gears to how one should consider the Confessions.

    I have a couple questions for you Pastor Surburg:

    1. What evidence do you have that the courts of our country are inherently pagan?

    2. Can a Christian take a pagan to court, or should he suffer that cross as well?

    3. Can a Christian serve as a lawyer or judge given the nature of pagan courts?

    I just think a lot of your argumentation has tended to think of the courts as some form of tainted order or something. Our courts, the ones that God gave to us every day render sound judgments in accordance with the laws of our land (written by men given their authority by God). The crazy judgments you see in the news are rare occasions. The vast majority of cases are decided based upon law and sound reasoning.

    Maybe this whole discussion has shown us one thing – the LCMS is divided to the point of not being able to fix itself. I think the numerous appeals to Synod, to the MNS Board and even Conventions have shown that each District is a kingdom to itself and each DP has almost pope-like status. Who did Luther appeal to in such a situation?

  10. Pastor Joshua Scheer :
    Thank you all for the good discussion, it looks as though we may be shifting gears to how one should consider the Confessions.

    Pr. Scheer,

    From my perspective, this discussion has been about how we regard the Confessions from the very beginning.

    TW

  11. Dear Lutheran friends,

    I began this discussion a week ago in order to address an exegetical error. A week of intense discussion has followed and I have found it to be very fruitful. Now the time has come for me to draw my thoughts together before moving on to other areas of work

    As we deal with the Scriptures and theology we need to arrive at the right answers, but we also need to arrive at them in the right way. So let me first give the answers to the questions that a number of people (in particular Pastor Wilken and Dr. Noland) have posed. First, in answer to the question about whether a Christian (or specifically a member of the LCMS) may bring a lawsuit against another Christian (or LCMS member) in civil court the answer, as the Book of Concord indicates, is yes. Second, and therefore, the answer to the question about whether Pastor Kind and ULC are sinning by bringing a complaint against the MN South District board in civil court is no. The answers given by all those involved in this discussion are the same. However, the way we arrive at those answers is different: one correctly interprets 1 Cor 6:1-11 based on the features of the text, and one does not.

    Both sides recognize that Paul tells the Corinthians they are to settle their disputes in the Church and not take them to pagan courts. Both sides recognize that if the Book of Concord’s statements about Christians using the courts are true, there must be an explanation that shows why 1 Cor 6:1-11 doesn’t in fact absolutely forbid use of the courts. 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.” He then adds, “But this does not mean that it is necessarily sinful for Christians to bring a disputed matter before the courts” (pg. 2). His explanation for why the action is not sinful is that, “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). Pastor Kind says that if Corinthians first try to have a dispute settled within the Church, they are then permitted to take it to the pagan courts.
    In his response to my initial piece, Pastor Kind provided a different (though related) interpretation. There he wrote, “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.” Here the motivation is what determines whether that action is permitted by 1 Cor 6:1-11 or not.

    This reading of 1 Cor 6:1-11 cannot do justice to the textual features in this section or the pagan context in which the Corinthians lived. As I have indicated in my first piece, the inclusio of 6:1-2 and 6:9-11 frames this section. In 6:1-2 Paul chastises the Corinthians for taking lawsuits before “unrighteous ones” and not before “the saints” (6:1). 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. Paul’s entire treatment emphasizes the contrast between the saints (6:2; 6:11)/brothers (6:5-6)/justified (6:11) and the unrighteous (6:1, 9)/the world (6:2)/those who have no standing or are disdained in the Church (6:4)/unbelievers (6:6)/those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (6:10). Christians are to deal with their problems within the Church, and 6:7 indicates that it is better to be wronged than completely turn the relation between Church and world upside down by setting the Church’s matters before the judgment of the world and bringing the Gospel into disrepute. The antagonistic pagan world provides the reason why Christians are not to set the matters of the Church before the judgment of the world.

    Pastor Kind rightly points out the broader context of division and the strife between the powerful and wealthy and the weak and poor (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-34). For Pastor 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. 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). As Kind suggests, 6:8 certainly indicates that the powerful are using the courts to harm the weak was a part of the situation that Paul was addressing. 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. What other textual features in 6:1-8 (where Paul is actually talking about the situation) indicate that the problem is one of the rich/powerful taking advantage of the poor/weak? The answer is that there aren’t any. Instead, within 6:1-11 the specific textual features focus repeatedly on the dichotomy between saints/brothers and the unrighteous/world/unbelievers (see again the description in the previous paragraph).

    For Paul, the problem with going to the courts is that they are part of a pagan world. Therefore, Christians need to settle disputes within the Church (6:5). Where this is not possible, Christians should allow themselves to be wronged and suffer loss (6:7) rather than take the matter to the pagan courts. Both versions of Kind’s interpretation fail because in Paul’s reasoning it doesn’t matter whether you have first taken the matter to the Church or whether your motivation is to protect and defend you neighbor. Either way, you will have Christians setting themselves before the judgments of a pagan world and this is unacceptable.

    Both Pastor Kind and Pastor Wilken have attempted to refute this interpretation by arguing that it runs counter to the consensus of the Church about this verse. However, I have demonstrated that this assertion is incorrect. In fact, within the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers series you will not find a single example of a church Father advocating Kind’s interpretation. Yet you will find that Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom and the Apostolic Constitutions all read it in the manner that I advocate. This is the way that modern commentators also read it. I don’t think it is surprising that these groups of commentators share in this interpretation. Both groups are very aware of the Corinthian pagan setting. The Church Fathers are because they are writing before end of the fourth century and they live at time when paganism was till very much part of society. Modern commentators are because they are focused on interpreting Paul within his first century A.D. setting and research has abundantly demonstrated the pervasive presence of paganism.

    Paul really does forbid the Christians from taking their disputes to the courts of the first century A.D. world. Why then do the Lutheran Confessions say that Christians may take one another to court and what is the justification for this? The simple answer to this question is that the Confessors live in a very different world than Paul. The invents involving Constantine and Theosodius in the fourth century created the world of Christendom that the Confessors lived in during the sixteenth century. This dramatic change is illustrated by the fact that in 1520 Luther could write a tract whose title begins with the words, “To the Christian Nobility.” It was not possible for Paul and the Christians of his day to do this.

    When reading early, medieval and reformation exegesis, one soon realizes that with great frequency Christians in these eras read the biblical text in the “present tense” – they read it as if the texts were addressing them and their situation directly. It is not hard to show that Luther does this in the area of the left hand rule and lawsuits and also with respect to 1 Cor 6:1-11

    For example, in his 1523 treatise “Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed” speaks about “Christians” and “non-Christians.” So on the one hand he recognizes that the plea can be made “that all are baptized and Christian” (LW 45:91). However, for Luther this doesn’t change the fact that “Christians are always a minority in the midst of non-Christians” (45:92). As he says a little earlier, “the world and the masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name. Christians are few and far between (as the saying is)” (45:91). And in the most striking statement of all he says, “Then you will realize that all those who avenge themselves or go to law and wrangle in the courts over the property and honor are nothing but heathen masquerading under the name of Christians” (45:102).

    Note that Luther explicitly acknowledges that he lives in a world where everyone is baptized and bears the name “Christian.” Within this reality of sixteenth century Christendom, Luther makes the distinction between people who are “Christian” in name and people who are really Christian because faith in Christ prompts them to live in Christ-like ways. Even though all are baptized and called “Christian,” Luther can call them “non-Christians” because they don’t actually live the faith. He can even call them “heathen.”

    Observe how the categories have been transposed to fit the sixteenth century setting. Living in a world where everyone is baptized and is a Christian, Luther distinguishes between Christians based on how they live the faith. For him, people who go to court in order to serve themselves are “heathen.” However, living in the pagan first century, for Paul in 1 Cor. 6:1-11 a “non-Christian” or a “heathen” is someone who worships Jupiter, Juno, Minerva and Artemis. It is the pagan who worships false gods who is described as “unrighteous (6:1, 9)/the world (6:2)/those who have no standing or are disdained in the Church (6:4)/unbelievers (6:6)/those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (6:10)” – not baptized Christians who aren’t living like Christians.

    The same thing appears when Luther is dealing with 1 Cor 6:1-11. In the 1520 “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate” Luther writes, “The secular [Roman law] – God help us – has become a wilderness! Though it is much better, wiser, and more honest that the spiritual law [canon law], which has nothing good about it except its name, nevertheless, there is far too much of it. Surely, wise rulers, side by side with Holy Scripture, would be law enough. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6 [:5-6], “It there no one among you who can judge his neighbor’s cause, that you must go to law before heathen courts?”

    Note that for Luther, Paul’s statement describes the fact that there should be wise Christian rulers in the world who along with Scripture are sufficient are deciding matters in society. For Paul, these words mean that there should be Christians in the Church to handle matters so that Christians don’t have to take things to the world. Luther speaks this way because it is self-evident that the rulers of the world are Christian (cf. the title, “To the Christian Nobility”) and so he can apply Paul’s words in a completely different way than Paul.

    The Confessors read the text as addressing them and the categories are transposed to fit their world. In doing so their reading of the text is in fact an accurate application of the text because they don’t have the very problem Paul is concerned about. This is not a matter of the Confessors considering their situation an exception to Paul’s prohibition (though this is in fact true). It is simply means they are reading the text according to the accepted method of their own time.

    The Lutheran Confessions are absolutely correct when they say that Christians can take Christians to court in civil matters. This is true because the reason Paul forbids it – the fact that it means Christians taking their disputes before the courts of a pagan world – no longer exists. The specific theological reason that Christians were not to do this in Paul’s day no longer existed and therefore the prohibition of the text did not apply anymore.

    Much of the discussion that has gone on about this topic has taken up the question of whether we live in a situation that is like that of Paul or the Confessors. It is important to recognize that this is the crucial question for applying this text and not other concerns that I will mention in a moment. While I believe there can be no doubt that our world continues to become more and more antagonistic to the Christian worldview, ultimately I am persuaded by my conversation with Pastor Kind and Pastor Wilken that our situation has more in common with the sixteenth century than the first century when we are considering this issue. I believe Pastor Kind makes an excellent point when he calls attention to the fact that there are many faithful Christians serving in every aspect of the legal system (and the fact that this is good and God pleasing is of course the very point being made by AC and Ap. XVI!). This alone indicates that it is not a simple matter of saying that to go to civil court means taking a matter before the “unrighteous” (1 Cor 6:1), “those despised in the Church” (6:4) or “unbelievers” (6:6). As a result of our discussion I strongly agree with Pastor Kind that the prohibition 1 Cor 6:1-11 does not apply to the matter of Christians taking Christians to civil court.

    Note however, that my agreement on the conclusion is grounded in a different understanding of 1 Cor 6:1-11. Pastor Kind believes that Paul himself felt it was acceptable for Christians to take matters to pagan courts if the proper circumstances were in place. He holds this interpretation in spite of the fact that there is not a single piece of textual evidence that says this. It is entirely an argument from silence. My affirmation is based on the textual features of 1 Cor 6:1-11 which repeatedly set forth the distinction between the Church and the pagan world. I agree with Pastor Kind’s position because the theological rationale that underpins Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 6:1-11 does not apply to our setting and therefore the text cannot be said to prohibit Christians today from using courts in civil matters with other Christians.

    I also want to comment on several other arguments that have been raised elsewhere about why 1 Cor 6:1-11 does not apply to the situation of Christians today in general and the situation involving ULC in particular. Some have said 1 Cor 6:1-11 is addressed to individual Christians and therefore does not apply to situation like ULC because it involves group entities. However, if Paul’s argument applies to individual Christians, it certainly applies to Christian groups as well. The apostle would have been just as opposed to a congregation at Corinth appealing to the emperor in a conflict with a congregation in Ephesus (the kind of action that occurred all the time between groups through the libellus; see Fergus Millar’s magisterial study “Emperor in the Roman World”). Both the case of individuals and that of groups would have involved Christians setting their disputes before the judgment of a pagan world – and Paul is absolutely opposed to this.

    In two other related arguments, some have said that because the Minnesota South District is an incorporated, legal entity, 1 Cor 6:1-11 does not apply to the situation. Others argue that this not a Church dispute, per se, but rather that it is this is in fact a property dispute and therefore a matter of the kingdom of the left, not the right. Both versions are based on technical legal and theological distinctions. However, they fail to take into account a basic fact: the names on the lawsuit on the one side are those of a pastor and a congregation and on the other side are those of pastors and Christian lay people. We are unable to escape the fact that Christians are suing Christians. Common sense demands that we are unable to see it any other way, and this is certainly the way the world which observes the spectacle will perceive it.

    Before concluding, I would like to address one other topic. This discussion has raised the issue of whether the Lutheran Confessions are clear and easy to understand. This question is no different from when we talk about the perspicuity of Scripture. Is the basic Gospel message of Scripture clear? The answer is yes. Are there many verses that are clear and easy to understand? The answer is yes. Are there texts that are very challenging to interpret and require significant background knowledge in lexical and grammatical issues as well as historical and cultural factors? The answer is also yes. The same can be said about the Lutheran Confessions. Is their basic message clear and are there many texts that are clear and easy to understand? The answer is yes. At the same time there are texts that require background knowledge in lexical and grammatical issues as well as historical and cultural factors.

    We take great risks when we just assume that we know what the Confessions are talking about because it seems clear in English. I believe that is certainly the case when it comes to AC and Ap XVI. What do legitimate ordinations civiles, iudicare res ex imperatoriis et aliis praesentibus legibus, politicis ordinationibus legitimis, and vindicta, mean and refer to in a sixteenth German setting? Simply asserting that they are clear does not make it so. Let us be sure we know what we are talking about on the basis of lexical and historical studies just as we do in the study of Scripture.

    I have said that my decision to initiate this discussion with my first Facebook note was prompted by my “Athens moment” (Acts 17:16). When the ULC lawsuit and Apology became public I intended to remain silent. However, when I saw the exegesis of 1 Cor 6:1-11 that Pastor Kind was using to justify his action, and when I saw the praise for this action continue to grow on the internet (described as “heroic,” “faithful,” etc. and likened to Luther at Worms) I felt compelled to speak. I was not able to sit by and watch an obviously faulty exegesis of 1 Cor 6:1-11 to be promoted in the Church. The legitimacy of that decision has been confirmed by examples like Pastor Wilken who has indicated he has not need to discuss the exegesis of this text because Pastor Kind has already proven the point.

    The second reason I have just mentioned has been equally important. I have concluded on the basis of my discussion with others that Pastor Kind and ULC’s action is not contrary to Scripture and is not sin. But that does not change the fact that it is an action that should cause lamentation and not rejoicing. To be absolutely clear so there can be no misunderstanding: I believe that that action by the Minnesota South District leadership is reprehensible and does not reflect the love of Christ. I have said this publicly on Facebook on numerous occasions in very strong terms.

    And that is why I was deeply saddened to see Pastor Kind and ULC stoop down and get in the mud with the MSD. Before they were pure and innocent as they prepared to faithfully bear the cross God was apparently going to allow to fall upon them. Now they have simply made themselves part of this whole sordid affair that will play out in public and harm the Gospel.

    Pauls’ words in 1 Cor 6:1-11 may not forbid the action as sin, but they clearly speak against the prudence of it in the strongest terms. Everything he says in 1 Cor 6:1-11 indicates that Christians should not take this route, even if strictly speaking, they can. His instruction is very clear: “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? (6:7). He counsels the way of the cross. Some have said that ULC is justified in this action because they did not receive due process in the Church. But the cross is never fair or just – that’s why it is a cross. A public lawsuit between ULC and the MSD harms the Gospel because of the public witness it gives and it ignores the basic instruction Paul gives that is rooted in our Lord’s own teaching. No amount of theologizing (distinctions between vengeance and redress) can get around this fact.

    I have nothing else to offer on this topic at this time, and to be honest after talking about it constantly for a week, I am ready to move on to other more pleasant areas of study. Perhaps when this sad chapter has ended and time has passed – when the issue of 1 Cor 6:1-11 does not burn so hot – there will be occasion to treat it again in way that raises issues and encourages people to think through them in a more careful and dispassionate way. Until that day, I will continue to keep Pastor Kind and ULC in my daily prayers.

    In Christ,

    Mark Surbug

  12. Now they have simply made themselves part of this whole sordid affair that will play out in public and harm the Gospel.

    The real harm to the Gospel will happen if the MNS BOD bulldozes the chapel.  It can never be replaced.   Thankfully, the lawsuit at least delayed eviction until the convention – 3 weeks from today.

  13. @John Rixe #13
    John – This is no longer true. The judge ruled against ULC in its efforts to obtain a permanent restraining order. MNS moved quickly back into eviction proceedings, and the hearing is June 1, which ULC will lose, and they will be given between 24 – 72 hours to vacate the property. ULC has certainly hoped to delay this action until the Convention, but it now looks extremely unlikely that they will succeed. And you are correct, the real harm to the Gospel will be when this building is bulldozed and the Holy Altar is removed, and that is pretty much how it looks at this point. https://www.facebook.com/defendulc

  14. @Mark Surburg #12

    Pastor Surburg,

    You wrote:

    The Confessors read the text as addressing them and the categories are transposed to fit their world. In doing so their reading of the text is in fact an accurate application of the text because they don’t have the very problem Paul is concerned about. This is not a matter of the Confessors considering their situation an exception to Paul’s prohibition (though this is in fact true). It is simply means they are reading the text according to the accepted method of their own time.

    The Lutheran Confessions are absolutely correct when they say that Christians can take Christians to court in civil matters. This is true because the reason Paul forbids it – the fact that it means Christians taking their disputes before the courts of a pagan world – no longer exists. The specific theological reason that Christians were not to do this in Paul’s day no longer existed and therefore the prohibition of the text did not apply anymore.

    How to you reconcile that our agreed-upon teaching in “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles”:

    We recognize that the Confessions must be read and studied in terms of the historical situations in which they were written, but we reject the view that our confessional subscription means only that we regard the Confessions as a historically correct response to the problems encountered by the church when the Confessions were written.

    ?

  15. @Mark Surburg #12

    Dear Pastor Surburg,

    Thank you for clarifying your position in page 2-comment 12, paragraphs 2 and 3.

    I therefore retract my previous comments about you holding to an Anabaptist (or Mennonite) position, because you have given evidence that, on further reflection, you don’t hold to such positions.

    This was my only concern. Whether MNS BoD actions were legal is something the courts will decide, if they continue the case. Concerning ULC, I have no doubt that they have been ethical. Whether ULC was willing to “give him your cloak also” (Matthew 5:40) is another question.

    For over twenty years now, I have noticed that in LCMS church conflicts, people urge the person who is on the “losing end” to “give him your cloak also,” but then still regard the person taking the cloak as a “good person,” as a “leader,” and continue to hold them in the highest regard. Jesus, however, puts the “cloak-taker” in the category of an “evil person.”(Matthew 5:39) In my mind, Matthew 5 has much more relevance to this particular case than I Corinthians 6.

    If you comment further on this topic, I would be interested on your application of Matthew 5:38-48 to the ULC vs. MNS BoD case, since you obviously have many exegetical skills.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  16. @Todd Wilken #15
    Pastor Wilken,

    I wholeheartedly affirm the wonderful statement by the CTCR. The matter here is simply one of determining what are “legitimate civil ordinances” (AC XVI.1; Ap. XVI.1) and “legitimate political ordinances” (Ap. XVI.2) (the same adjective is translated differently by Kolb-Wengert in the AC and Ap.; I am using Dr. Arand’s transation) – namely which laws and their use are in accordance with God’s will.

  17. Well, the time has arrived for me to exit this conversation permanently. It has been an interesting experience. Thank you for the stimulating interaction. May we all keep Pastor Kind and University Lutheran Chapel in our prayers.

    In Christ,

    Mark Surburg

    P.S. Pastor Ted Crandall, I didn’t want to leave without posting this one more time in your honor: 🙂

  18. @Martin R. Noland #16
    For over twenty years now, I have noticed that in LCMS church conflicts, people urge the person who is on the “losing end” to “give him your cloak also,” but then still regard the person taking the cloak as a “good person,” as a “leader,” and continue to hold them in the highest regard. Jesus, however, puts the “cloak-taker” in the category of an “evil person.”(Matthew 5:39)

    (Worth repeating)

  19. I appears that we have come full circle.

    Pr. Surburg reconciles his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 as Paul prohibiting Christians to use the civil courts, with the Lutheran Confessions’ explicit permission of Christians to use the civil courts by suggesting:

    they [were] reading the text according to the accepted method of their own time.

    and, therefore they concluded that

    the prohibition of the text did not apply anymore.

    Pr. Surburg then says that Paul’s prohibition does apply to us today because the circumstances have changed yet again.

    Again, Pr. Surburg’s argument isn’t exegetical; it’s cultural and historical. The deciding factor in the question of whether or not Christians may use the civil courts is their subjective judgment of their particular current culture –whether it is sufficiently Christian or not.

  20. Latest update from ULC:

    “More bad news today – Despite our efforts to convince not to do so, the Minneapolis Planning Commission just approved Doran’s variance requests. They now have the go-ahead from the city for their proposed apartment monstrosity.”

    There is nothing to stop this now. Shame on MNS BOD for doing this wicked thing.

  21. @Todd Wilken #23
    Pastor Wilken, I wanted to let some time pass before pointing out that by failing to quote my words as a whole you have attributed the exact opposite position to me from what I actually hold. In addition, your second statement also attributes to me the exact opposite position of the one I clearly state in my summary statement.

    The full quotation about the Confessors’ position was:
    “The Confessors read the text as addressing them and the categories are transposed to fit their world. In doing so their reading of the text is in fact an accurate application of the text because they don’t have the very problem Paul is concerned about. This is not a matter of the Confessors considering their situation an exception to Paul’s prohibition (though this is in fact true). It is simply means they are reading the text according to the accepted method of their own time.” Please note that the words “This is not a matter of the Confessors considering their situation an exception to Paul’s prohibition” state the exact opposite point of when you supply “and, therefore they concluded that” to the quote. It is always best to allow the author to speak for himself in order to avoid such errors.

    You go on to say, “Pr. Surburg then says that Paul’s prohibition does apply to us today because the circumstances have changed yet again.” However, I explicitly say, “I agree with Pastor Kind’s position because the theological rationale that underpins Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 6:1-11 does not apply to our setting and therefore the text cannot be said to prohibit Christians today from using courts in civil matters with other Christians.” I am very clear in saying that Paul’s prohibition does NOT apply to us. As I say immediately in my second paragraph: “So let me first give the answers to the questions that a number of people (in particular Pastor Wilken and Dr. Noland) have posed. First, in answer to the question about whether a Christian (or specifically a member of the LCMS) may bring a lawsuit against another Christian (or LCMS member) in civil court the answer, as the Book of Concord indicates, is yes. Second, and therefore, the answer to the question about whether Pastor Kind and ULC are sinning by bringing a complaint against the MN South District board in civil court is no. The answers given by all those involved in this discussion are the same. However, the way we arrive at those answers is different: one correctly interprets 1 Cor 6:1-11 based on the features of the text, and one does not.”

    Obviously we disagree about both the interpretation and application of 1 Cor 6:1-11. However when you say, “Again, Pr. Surburg’s argument isn’t exegetical; it’s cultural and historical,” you are failing to recognize this crucial distinction. My dispute with Pastor Kind is first and foremost an exegetical one. He looks at the features of the text and concludes that Paul is telling the Corinthians that under certain situations it is permissible to take another Christian to the courts of the pagan world. I, along with notable ancient and modern commentators, look at the textual features and conclude he is telling them that it is not permissible. That is an exegetical dispute about what a first century author is saying in a first century text to first century readers.

    When we turn to how this text and its first century meaning APPLY to us, that is indeed a judgment that leans heavily on historical and cultural factors. However this is hardly surprising or unusual. I doubt that all the women in the congregation where you assist wear head coverings because of what Paul says in 1 Cor. 11. And yet Paul says in this same letter, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head” (1 Cor 11:4-6). And then he goes on to add, “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God” (11:13-16). It seems safe to say that while affirming the theology about the nature of the relation between man and woman, we don’t actually carry out Paul’s instructions for reasons that are grounded in historical and cultural factors. And this decision is one that is based on evaluating those factors as they relate to our own setting – the very thing with which you wish to take issue in my treatment of 1 Cor. 6:1-11.

    I wanted to provide this clarification so that the straight forward statements in the concluding statement can speak for themselves and not have the exact opposite meaning imposed on them.

    In Christ,

    Mark Surburg

  22. @Mark Surburg #25
    If you read Pastor Kind’s Apologia he actually says that it is ordinarily not permissible and that the church fathers make this point too. All of your quoting of the fathers just backs up what he originally said about the whole matter.

  23. Mrs. Kind, You have our prayers. May God shield ULC. May He sustain your faithful congregation in her Sanctuary. May He protect and build His Church. The Word of the Lord will never be silenced.

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