1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? 2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? 4 If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. 5 I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. 7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? 8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:1-11)
Note: I have left the Bible Presbyterian Church due to doctrinal disagreements, and there is no reason why I would side with the pastors of Calvary (Pandan) Bible Presbyterian Church. Nevertheless, it is a good reminder to every Christian that we ought to glorify God in whatever we do.
On 28 August 2006, page 3 of the Straits Times Home section published an article entitled Barred believer sues pastors for defamation. Apparently, due to a doctrinal disagreement which subsequently escalated beyond the Board of Elders of Calvary (Pandan) Bible Presbyerian Church, Mr Lim Seng Hoo has decided to take both Rev (Dr) Quek Suan Yew and Senior Pastor Rev (Dr) S H Tow to court.
It is, without a doubt, a very sad day for Christianity in Singapore. When a brother drags another brother before unbelievers in secular courts of law, the cause of Christ is blasphemed, and the name of our Saviour tarnished. Nevertheless, Lim defends his right to sue his own pastors.
In his online treatise, “The necessity for my legal suit,” Lim writes:
“The Apostle Paul in 1Cor 6:1 says, “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” At the same time, this same Apostle Paul was constrained to resort to the use of his civil rights both vis-à-vis civil (Act 16:37-39, 21:39 and 22:25-28) and religious authorities (Act 23:3, 25:10-12 and 28:17-19, etc) of his day. And in Rom 13:1-6, Paul maintained the need to observe the rules of law in civil society.”
Lim feels that his civil rights ought to be exercised in view of the defamatory remarks delivered by his pastors. As part of his Singaporean civil rights, Lim decides to sue his pastor S. H. Tow, whom he “regarded … as a father figure.” (See Barred believer sues pastors for defamation, ST, August 28 2006) But one wonders how many sons would actually sue his own father.
By giving the example of Paul, Lim attempts to manoeuvre around the passage of 1 Cor. 6:1-11. It appears that “this same Apostle Paul was constrained to resort to the use of his civil rights.” It is true that Scripture does not forbid the Christian from exercising his “civil rights” with regard to charges against him from the civil magistrates and unbelievers. But this has no relevance to the issue being discussed: should a Christian bring another Christian before the secular court of law? This is not a matter of a Christian versus the authorities, or a Christian versus the unbeliever, but a Christian versus another Christian.
In Act 16:37-39, 21:39 and 22:25-28, Paul exercised his legal privileges as a Roman citizen to obtain fair and unbiased treatment, as well as protection, from the Roman authorities. In Acts 23:3, Paul was speaking to Ananias the high priest, one who is not a believer. Acts 25:10-12 describes Paul’s conversation with Festus, who is, once again, an unbeliever. Here, Paul requested to be delivered to Caesar’s jurisdiction as a means of protection from his persecutors, the Jews - who are, of course, not believers. In Acts 28:17-19, Paul explained to the chief of the Jews why he had appealed to Caesar.
From all the examples mentioned by Lim, there is not a single instance whereby he can conclusively demonstrate that the Apostle Paul dragged a fellow Christian to the heathen courts of law.
In his online treatise, “The necessity for my legal suit,” Lim explains his side of the story, “On 3 Jul 05, Dr Khoo distributed 300 copies of an open letter against my “An Evidential Review” to his church, and also emailed his letter to other churches. He later on 10 Jul preached a VPP sermon at Calvary Pandan, which led to my Open Letter on 14 Jul, inviting him to a public academic debate, which many had implored of me, as being the best way to resolve the issue decisively, for the peace of all our churches. On 17 Jul, I hand distributed 60 copies of my open letter to English members (after also hearing that Rev Quek had attacked our Mandarin Pastor, Rev Tang Wai Kay, over the VPP issue). The subsequent conduct of Dr Tow and Rev Quek on 24 Jul was, however one looks at it, clearly disproportionate, vicious and unjustifiable.”
It appeared that Lim had decided to disseminate his views to members of his church apart from Session’s approval. This can easily be misconstrued as a subversive act. Any doctrinal disagreement ought to be settled in private with the church’s Session. It is not in accordance with proper Christian conduct or ecclesiastical procedure to publicly criticize the church’s doctrine without Session’s approval or sanction. It is, indeed, the duty of every church member to strive for peace within the church. This is also part of the member’s covenant with the church, which one has to sign when joining the church as a member.
Even if the Session decides upon a view which contradicts one’s conviction, the member has to acquiesce. The Board of Elders possesses ecclesiastical authority within the church to dictate issues pertaining to doctrine and practice. The pastor has the responsibility and the right to teach the view decided upon by the Board of Elders, and to protect the flock from variant views.
If the member is so convicted in his heart that the doctrine held by the church is heretical or unscriptural, he has every right to resign from church membership. The member is not required to remain in the church, much less initiate or propagate a doctrinal dispute within the church.
A Correct Exegesis?
What is most disturbing is Lim’s exegesis of 1 Cor. 6:1-9. He writes:
“A correct exegesis of 1Cor 6:1-9 would show why Paul himself appealed to his Roman civil rights at times. For a start, Paul did not assume that no redress should be given to the one wronged but rather assumed that the church would provide the redress. Thus he asks in verse 5, “Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge his brethren?” However, this prescription of wise judges was rejected by the pastors.”
Firstly, Lim has never shown how Paul had dragged a fellow Christian to the courts of law. The teachings of 1 Cor. 6:1-9 are aptly summarized by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, “Litigation of Christians in Heathen Courts Censured: Its Very Existence Betrays a Wrong Spirit: Better to Bear Wrong Now, and Hereafter the Doers of Wrong Shall Be Shut Out of Heaven.”
Warren Wiersbe elucidates further in his commentary on 1 Cor 6:1-8:
“It was probably the Gentiles (Greeks) in the church who were the guilty parties in this case, for the Greeks were very much wrapped up in courts and law. Each Greek city had its courts and councils, and it was not uncommon for a son to sue his own father! Of course, the basic problem was carnality (3:1–4); when Christians are immature and not growing, they cannot get along with one another. They lack the spiritual discernment to settle and solve personal problems. How tragic it is when a local church is torn asunder by lawsuits among the members! We are living in an era when lawsuits are the “going thing” and a quick way to try to make money. It seems that the purpose of the court is not justice but income. Paul is not condemning courts of law (see Rom. 13), for the government is instituted by God for our good. But matters between believers must not be exposed before unbelievers, and certainly an unsaved judge lacks the spiritual understanding to deal with spiritual matters (2:14–16). By dragging one another to court, the church members at Corinth were ruining the testimony of the church and disgracing the name of the Lord.”
Lim continues to explain why his exercise of “civil rights” is justified in what is allegedly not the “smallest matters”:
“Secondly in verse 1, Paul refers to “a matter” (singular). If it were just a simple matter of my being defrauded personally, once, why not rather accept wrong? And thirdly, verse 2 refers to the smallest matters, or matters of a primarily material nature, which a heavenly viewpoint would regard as having small importance (cp Lk 12:13-14). But here in our case, what if the “wrong” inflicted is to suppress my attempts to rectify failures in the stewardship of the Church finances, in which unfaithfulness is a most terrible thing?”
The Apostle Paul answers Lim’s question in verse 3, “Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?” According to Paul, the “things that pertain to this life” are also referred to as “the smallest matters.” Apparently, the meaning of the phrase “smallest things” is not to be decided upon arbitrarily, but is to be interpreted in context of Paul’s rebuke to the Corinthians.
“If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church (v.4).” It is obvious that Paul refers to the “things pertaining to this life,” in view of the eschatological judgment at the end of the age, as “the smallest things.” Lim’s grievances belong to the category of “things pertaining to this life.” As Jamieson, Fausset and Brown had rightly commented, “The weightiest of earthly questions at issue are infinitely small compared with those to be decided on the judgment-day.”
We recall that Lim is bringing a defamation suit against his pastors. But what has a defamation suit to do with church finances? Lim asks, “what if the “wrong” inflicted is to suppress my attempts to rectify failures in the stewardship of the Church finances, in which unfaithfulness is a most terrible thing?”
Again, Weirsbe provides an answer:
“How should Christians settle personal differences? They must first have the right spiritual values. How trivial these personal disputes become when compared to the great eternal matters we will decide in glory! The church is going to judge the world and the angels! This realization makes worldly disputes rather insignificant. Too many Christians have warped values; the things of this world (especially money) are more important to them than the glory and praise of God. Matters between Christians should be settled quietly according to the principles of Matt. 18:15–17 and 1 Cor. 6:5. If the two parties cannot reach an agreement, then they should invite some spiritual believers to meet with them and help decide. If the matter becomes known to the church (or outside the church), the members should appoint a group to examine the matter and give spiritual counsel. Far better that a Christian should lose money than lose his spiritual stature and bring shame to Christ’s name! We can find this same attitude in Matt. 5:38–42. Of course, the Christians in Corinth were so carnal that they lacked spiritual vision and wisdom, and thus their church was split into warring factions. “You are brethren!” Paul cried. “Show love for one another!’”
There is no necessity to sue the pastor for financial discrepancies. Lim writes, “I was finally duty bound to report to the Authorities, who have commenced investigations.” It seems to me that Lim has exercised his civil rights by reporting the monetary discrepancies to the authorities. Why, then, is the defamation suit necessary? Let the authorities do their work.
Lim claimed that he required the civil magistrates’ protection from his pastor’s incessant “verbal attacks.” He laments, “I however can say with the Apostle Paul that I have done nothing against my church or the customs of our Christian faith but am constrained to appeal to the civil courts for protection and not that I had anything to accuse my church of (Act 28:17-19).”
Paul required protection from the Jews who seek to murder him. Likewise, Lim required protection from the pastors who seek to verbally assassinate him. In view of such serious threats to his life, Lim seeks recourse from the authorities. Yes, I would agree that if his pastors wanted his life, he should get protection quickly. Wouldn’t you agree too?
Let us pray that the differences between the pastors and brother Lim will eventually be resolved in a scriptural manner.