Questions From Readers
● Paul said that one Christian brother should not go to court against another Christian brother, but should take the case to mature ones of the congregation for decision. But what if one is defrauding another so as to bring extreme hardship upon the victim, yet the offender will not abide by the decision of the congregational representatives?—G. S., United States.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Does any one of you that has a case against the other dare to go to court before unrighteous men, and not before the holy ones? Or do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you unfit to try very trivial matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? Why, then, not things of this life? If, then, you do have matters of this life to be tried, is it the men looked down upon in the congregation that you put in as judges? I am speaking to move you to shame. Is it true that there is not one wise man among you that will be able to judge between his brothers, but brother goes to court with brother, and that before unbelievers? Really, then, it means altogether a defeat for you that you are having lawsuits with one another. Why do you not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded? To the contrary, you wrong and defraud, and your brothers at that.”—1 Cor. 6:1-8, NW.
If Christian brothers are in a controversy over financial matters that are of such serious proportions that a lawsuit might be considered, they should take their difficulty to mature brothers of the congregation for a judgment between them rather than go to a worldly court and let the world see them squabbling over money matters. That would hurt the reputation of the Christian organization, publicly airing such matters and indicating to the world that the Christian spirit is not present. Rather than bring such reproach upon the organization, Paul argues that it would be better to be defrauded. If brothers are going to judge the world and angels, when associated with Christ Jesus in heaven, can they not judge trivial matters among themselves, without having to call in unbelievers, men looked down upon by the congregation, to settle their difficulties? To have to go out into the world and get such men to judge matters instead of settling it within the congregation would certainly be a mocking defeat for the congregation. Better to be defrauded than let that happen!
But suppose the case has been brought before the representatives of the congregation and one of the disputants has been definitely proved in the wrong, shown guilty of working an injurious fraud against a brother, and yet this guilty one will not accept the decision of the congregation and will not repay the amount taken? When the evidence is clear and convincing the congregation cannot ignore it, but must disfellowship the one who is a thief. In this connection Paul said a thief, among other offenders, would not inherit God’s kingdom; neither does he have any right to be in the Christian congregation on earth. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) So when the evidence is conclusive and the offender shows no repentance and no inclination to repay, he should be disfellowshiped.
Now the disfellowshiped thief is on the outside of the congregation. He is no longer a brother. He is no longer involved in Paul’s instructions at 1 Corinthians 6:1-6. For the wronged one still within the congregation to now take the defrauder to court would be no violation of Paul’s counsel, for it would not now be a case of brother going to court against brother, which is what Paul was forbidding. Whether the wronged one would want to, or whether it would be worth the time and trouble and expense of a court case for him to do so, is another matter and one that he must individually decide for himself. The congregation’s role in the matter ends with the disfellowshiping action.
The procedure of calling in mature brothers to render decisions when difficulties divide brothers as is here advised by Paul coincides with the counsel Jesus gave: “Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” (Matt. 18:15-17, NW) If the sin is serious and cannot be overlooked, try to settle it with the sinning brother first. If this is not successful, take two or three others. If this fails, call in the representatives of the congregation. If the sinning one, faced with proof of his guilt, shows no repentance for a very grievous trespass and rebels against the congregation’s decision, then he is disfellowshiped to become “as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” He is put out of the congregation. This is the logical end of the theocratic procedure launched when the congregation was called in to consider the case, both in the instruction given by Jesus and in that given by Paul.