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William D. Bontrager

SHEPHERDS FOR PEACE

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326

970-259-3384

wdb@frontier.net

HOW THEN DO WE RESPOND?

This is the last in a series seeking to look at the life of the Christian vs the State. We have considered matters of human rights and religious liberties. We now look at

the Church under attack!

Every day brings a law suit against a church, leading Christian figure, or ministry. But, Christ told us to expect persecution (Jn. 17:18-20).

The question is: How will we respond to such attacks?

I am going to offer some general propositions which I feel are applicable and then look at and comment upon some recent and cases.

Proposition #1 is that how we act when attacked does not depend upon whether we are an individual or a corporation. I doubt God sees our corporations and organizations. He just keeps looking for one of His people, called by His name, to act as He commands, in faith, at any instant in time.

Proposition #2 is that how we act when attacked does not depend upon the attacker being a person, organization, or government, and our actions do not depend upon whether the attacker is a Christian or direct agent of Satan. We are told to be light and salt; we are told to love our neighbor as our self; we are told to love those who persecute us; and we are told that we are ambassadors for Christ, ministers of reconciliation.

Proposition #3 is that conflict is neutral. It becomes either good or bad -- for us, our opponents, and all who see us -- to the extent that we bring it under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Proposition #4 is that the normal result of litigation conducted outside of God's rules is a defeat for us (I Cor. 6:7), may wrong others (I Cor. 6:8), may imprison us (Matt. 5:25-26), and may consume us (Gal. 5:15).

Proposition #5 is that when we are in conflict, we need spiritual counsel (generally by several counselors who are physically present with us at the same time) from outside our own organization for we have logs in our eyes and ears which impede our knowing truth.

Proposition #6 is that when a claim is launched against us, we must seek the claimant out and try to speak with them. We must do this, not our attorney. We may speak with our attorney as a part of counting the cost, before we go to the other party, but go to them we must before starting any legal defense (Matt. 5:22-24 and Matt. 18:12-15). We cannot simply turn all matters over to our attorney and allow our attorney to do what God would never allow us to do.

Proposition #7 is that we may never use the law or Constitution as a shield for our actions, words, or inactions. When asked what we did, we must answer, allowing our "Yes" to be our "Yes" and our "No" to be our "No." We must be "ready to make a defense to every one who asks us to give an account of the hope which is within us, yet with gentleness and patience." (I Pet. 3:15)

Proposition #8 is based on the last portion of that verse: we may not demean or degrade our opponent, or cause them pain and anguish by attacking or counter-attacking, them. If the only way we can "win" is to bite and devour them, then we must suffer the wrong and be defrauded (I Cor. 6:7), "entrusting ourselves to Him Who judges righteously" (I Pet. 2:23).

Now, some recent cases.

A pro-choice-in-abortion group sued the I.R.S. to revoke the tax exempt status of two Catholic organizations. The claim was that the Catholics were engaged in political activity and lobbying in the area of pro-life in violation of the law granting them tax-exemption. To prove their case, the pro-choice group got a court order for the Catholics to turn over records of expenditures and minutes of meetings where the decisions were made concerning expenditures. The Catholics refused, on the basis of legal and constitutional theories. The judge held them in contempt of court and fined them $50,000 per day until the records would be produced. Ultimately, this decision was reversed on the grounds that a tax payer did not have "standing" to sue about someone else violating tax law; only the IRS could sue.

I have a problem with the method of defense. The defense chose to use the law of man as a shield of protection rather than trust in God. Such form of defense is a poor witness to the world. (See I Pet. 3:15, Matt. 5:37, and Rom. 13:1-7.) In comparison, look at how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego responded when they were attacked. They did not complain that the law or the king were unrighteous or un-constitutional. They respected the authority throughout (Rom. 13:1-7). And they walked free through the fire of the attack.

Yes, we may use the Constitution and laws in defense -- but only after giving account, only after responding to the questions asked. We are not to place our defense or our trust upon man, his ways, his laws, his systems -- only upon God.

The second case I want to look at is where a lady in Oklahoma sued the church saying the following: "The pastor told the congregation I was an adulteress, which is true, but which he had no right to say for it invades my privacy." Here the church could appear and answer all questions put to it, for the woman has uncovered her own sin. The church can say what it did, why it did it and how it did it -- reading the Word of God into the court record for Its Own witness. However, the church could not attack her or point out other of her sins. It cannot degrade or demean. (In comparison, in another case the church filed a counter-claim for damages against the lady and her attorney for bringing the suit. I believe that was wrong. If the attorney, or the lady, violated the law by suing, you report the matter to the appropriate law enforcement organization and allow them to determine the matter. In that way, the law and not the church is the combatant.)

Another very difficult to discuss is Nally v Grace Community Church and John McArthur. This case has been called a case of "clergy mal-practice". Briefly, the facts are that in 1979 a young adult committed suicide. Later, his parents blamed individuals and the church for the death. The church sought to resolve the matter without litigation (Matt. 5:23-26), but could not do so. The parents filed suit.

In this case, the church, in defending the case, would be faced with two basic questions: (1) What did you do or say (or not do or not say) to the deceased; and (2) Why? To answer the first question causes no problem in light of Matt. 5:37. The second question would requires uncovering the sins of the dead man. It means talking about what troubled him. It may even mean talking about others of his family. It may cause further pain to those who grieve. It says to the world that one's reputation is less important than the Church's rights or property. "When reviled, He reviled not in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats but kept entrusting Himself to Him Who judges righteously and He Himself bore our sins in His Body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness for by His wounds we were healed." (I Pet. 2:23-24)

Maybe the parents would be healed of their anger, bitterness, pain, confusion, etc. if the church chose to bear the stripes. By choosing to suffer the wrong, we may lose the building, furnishings and accounts over which we see ourselves as stewards. But, first and foremost, we are to be stewards of our actions as ambassadors to the world for Jesus Christ and as ministers of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:17-20). We must never hold on to material things so as to defeat our witness.

Let us, as we face these situations, keep in mind that our church properties can be as much mammon as our personal wealth. Let us keep in mind that God does not think in terms of rights and property but of relationships, sacrifice, and bearing the burdens of others. Our example and model is Jesus Christ -- and He laid down all rights, position and properties, and died when He could have called ten thousand angels.

From what I see in the news media, and read in legal reports, I find the church, when attacked, far too often responding exactly as do the unbelievers -- without any regard for relationship, witness or impact upon others. Do we choose to respond to these attacks in the way of the world rather than the way of the Lord because of fear? Let me explain some things of the law, and then judge for yourself.

When the church receives the court papers, the papers say that the church has a limited number of days within which to appear and file an answer. If they fail to do so, they may be "defaulted". The lay person believes that "being defaulted" means that a judgment for millions of dollars will be entered against them. That is not always true. In all cases, before judgment can be entered, the plaintiffs must ask the judge for a judgment. The plaintiffs could die before that happens, or the Lord could call the elect home before then (Matt. 6:25-34). Before the judge grants judgment he must determine: (1) that the church was negligent in some manner; (2) that harm resulted; and (3) whether any monetary damages are appropriate.

Before the judge can find liability, he must find that: (1) there was a legal duty owed the plaintiff; (2) the duty was violated; and (3) the Constitution does not prohibit this type of case. The judge must decide these things even if no one defends.

The judge can require the plaintiff to present evidence proving liability and can decide that no wrong act was done, or that a wrong act was done but there was no duty owed, or that there was a wrong act and duty but the Constitution forbids judgment. Before the judge can award damages, plaintiffs must prove that they were damaged. In Nally, the judge could have decided that any wrong of the church died with the young adult man and the parents suffered no loss.

My point is this: God calls us to act according to His commands by taking one step down an unknown road, in faith that He is sovereign and working, being aware that we might die tonight before anything could possibly happen to us as a result of that one step. We fail to take the one step for fear that it will result in something horrible later.

A final case I want to consider involves a bankruptcy. I must confess that my knowledge on this case is more scanty than the others, and thus the analysis could be quite inadequate as to the actual facts.

A couple, members of a church, had a business which went into bankruptcy. This apparently also caused them to personally take bankruptcy. The Trustee in Bankruptcy sought to recover from the Church the tithes and offerings of the couple during the year prior to bankruptcy on the base that they were voidable transfers, given without adequate consideration. Such transfers are called "voidable preferences" and are not based upon any fraudulent or evil state of mind; it is a mere "thou shalt not do this" concept. Much money was spent fighting the case and, at an appellate level, the church won.

Should the church have fought, or simply turned over the money? I confess that my bias is to turn over the money lest the name of Christ be held up to scorn. However my issues and questions focus first on the acts of the couple and the church before the bankruptcy.

When this couple saw bankruptcy looming, did they "go to the law or to the saints"? (I Cor. 6:1-8) [See May we Sue? Shall We Sue? Whom May We Sue?] It seems to me that this is what God would require. At that time, the saints can help analyze "how did we get to this place". If there were patterns in sin in the lives of the couples, those patters need to be dealt with lest they continue on and reappear in some other guise at a later date. The saints are also best suited to help make decision on filing bankruptcy vs arranging a payoff of creditors. The saints are best in the position to help determine whether the saints should "bear the burden" and see to the satisfaction of the creditors even if the couple have no resources. Unfortunately, when I asked these questions of the church involved, no response was given.

Let us assume the couple did not come to the church but merely went to law. Once the church became aware of this, what did the church do? I believe it should have conducted the same inquiry, asked the same questions, and considered the same options -- plus one another: refund the preference.

My final concern is that the Court initially make a judgment that the church had failed to show that the couple received anything of value for their tithes and offerings. Such a judicial ruling should, I believe, cause us all pause, for we do give massive amounts to keep our religious institutions afloat.

I know that the way I look at things is, in part, born our of my own experiences of life. In November, 1981, facing a suit to remove me from the position of judge, and strip me of my license to practice law, I felt the Lord call me to fire my attorney and cease all defense, trusting only in Him. I did so. I found freedom in the fire, and became free to minister as I was no longer spending all of my time, energy, emotions, and finances defending myself. I still have a license, am well fed, sheltered and alive.

But I do not demand that others accept my view; I merely hope they can consider with an open mind the totality of Scripture when in conflict.

But, most importantly, I know God, in the End of Time, WINS!