Suing a Church, REALLY?
by: Dr. Allen Domelle
Every pastor is always cognizant of the fact that one day his church may get sued. In a day when ambulance-chaser attorneys are very willing to represent clients who sue a church, pastors have to make sure they are extra careful with how their ministry is run. Every pastor knows that the Devil is more than willing to use one mishap to encourage someone to sue the church and cause them to face litigation for months, and sometimes years. Satan knows that this litigation will take focus and energy away from what the church is supposed to do; reach the world for Jesus Christ.
What is unexpected is for a church to be sued or threatened litigation by respected Christians. What surprises me is how well-known “Christian” leaders are not afraid to break the glass ceiling and actually file lawsuits against a church, or have their attorney send letters that threaten the church of litigation if they don’t do what the individual wants them to do. Whatever happened to the fear of God? I’m amazed that in recent years some of my pastor friends have had to deal with litigation because of preachers suing their church.
Never in my lifetime would I have imagined churches being sued or threatened with a lawsuit, especially by people who know better. There used to be a time in America when nobody would do anything against a church. Yet, somehow we have come to a low point in Christianity where people have stooped to the spiritual level of the church at Corinth. The church of Corinth was guilty of court litigation against fellow church members because they felt they had been defrauded. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:6, “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?” I can only imagine that the Apostle Paul was just as shocked about Christians suing each other as I am.
Let me make this clear; it is just as evil to sue or threaten litigation as it is to attack or change the KJB, play rock music in church, live a sodomite lifestyle, or commit adultery. It is just as wrong for a Christian to sue or threaten litigation against a church or fellow Christian as it is never to run one bus or lead one person to Jesus Christ. Your Christian credentials are out the window if you would even consider suing a church.
Look at what type of people God lumps together with those who would sue a church. 1 Corinthians 6:8-10 says, “Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. 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, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, those who sue or threaten litigation against a church or fellow Christian are no different from those in the list above.
One may ask, is it ever okay to sue or threaten litigation? What are my recourses if I feel I have been wronged by a pastor or church? Let’s look at the Scriptures to answer these questions.
1. Christians are never to take a brother to law.
1 Corinthians 6:5-7 says, “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? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another…” It is very clear from this passage that God never approves of Christians going to court with each other. To interpret this passage of Scripture differently is simply ludicrous.
Consider how damaging a lawsuit is to the name of Christ. Every time a church is sued, the news media is quick to report it. There is no way that suing a brother or church will help the cause of Christ. Someone who sues a church or brother or threatens litigation is simply revealing their selfishness and lack of love for the cause of Christ.
2. Threatening litigation is as if you have already sued the church.
God shows what He thinks about the thought of sin in Matthew 5:28. He says, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” God says that a man who looks on a woman to lust is just as guilty as the one who committed the act of adultery.
This principle doesn’t just apply to adultery; it applies to any sin. Therefore, if an individual threatens litigation against a Christian brother or church, God deems that person to have already gone to law before the unbelievers. In other words, God holds the person who threatens litigation as accountable as the person who actually filed a lawsuit against a brother or church.
3. Take your grievances to the individual and afterward to the church.
When you are wronged by a Christian brother, God gives procedures you are to take to settle your differences. Matthew 18:15-17 shows that if you feel you are wronged, you are to go first to the individual then you are to take two or three witnesses with you to settle your difference. If that doesn’t work, you are to take it to the church to get it settled. Nowhere does God give the Christian permission to take a brother to law.
4. Be willing to be wronged.
Ultimately, if you can’t settle your grievances, you must be willing to be defrauded for the sake of Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:7 says, “Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” It doesn’t matter what you lose or how much you have been wronged; God clearly defines that you must be willing to be “defrauded” so the matter doesn’t go to law and hurt the cause of Christ.
5. Let the LORD be the avenger.
Romans 12:19 reminds us, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Whenever a Christian takes a brother or church to law, they are saying the LORD can’t take care of the situation properly. My friend, the LORD can take care of the situation much better than any earthly judge.
6. Don’t take it into your hands to spread your grievance.
Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.” So you didn’t get your way, it is not your responsibility to spread your grievance for everyone to know. Instead, you are to do good to those who have hurt you. You can say you are taking the high road, but you are not if you are spreading your side of the story in hopes that you can shame or bully the supposed offender to do what you want them to do.
This is a novel idea. I wonder how often our situation could have been settled had we gone to the LORD in prayer. The latter part of Matthew 5:44 says, “…pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” You must remember that the LORD can work on the heart. God can do a greater work if you will let Him deal with the situation.
8. Keep doing right; the LORD will reward you.
Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” When others do wrong, you must keep on doing right. Certainly, the wrong you have endured may not be easy to take, but if you continue doing right, the LORD will reward you “in due season.”
9. Avoid fellowship with a brother who has sued a church or threatened the church with litigation.
Matthew 18:17 concludes, “…if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” When you know someone has taken a brother or church to law, or you know a brother has threatened litigation against the church, your responsibility is to separate from them. Separate from that person, if for any reason, so that you can go forward and serve the LORD without letting the situation bog you down. You will find that separating from the individual will free your mind from the desires of revenge.
My friend, suing a church is a direct contradiction of Scriptures. It doesn’t matter what the reason may be, it is always wrong. Just because others have chosen to disobey the Scriptures doesn’t make it right when you have been wronged. Listen, we have all been wronged, but for the sake of Christ, it is better to be defrauded than to go to law and make a mockery of the name of Christ.