This is the concluding section of the final article dealing with our relationship to the State. In Part 1 a number of scriptural principles were outlined dealing with our relationship with each other and the law of the day. We now look at answering some of these important questions that face us today.

  1. Are we permitted to pursue financial compensation through legal means?
  2. Are we obligated to report crimes committed by brethren?
  3. Are we permitted to take out restraining orders?
  4. Are we permitted to defend ourselves from legal attacks?
  5. Are we permitted to take brothers and sisters to court to seek justice when we feel that the ecclesial decisions have failed to achieve justice?
  6. What should we do if our ecclesia is taken to court by a disaffected ex-member?
  7. To what extent can we contest custody battles for property and children in the case of marriage break-ups?
  8. What are our legal obligations in relation to brethren who are perpetrators of sexual abuse?

With all of these issues in mind we now come to examine some of the challenges we may face in a modern world regulated by volumes of legislation and legal process.

From the outset we must emphasise that Paul’s use of Roman law was for the defence of himself in proclaiming the Truth. He did not take advantage of these laws to bring his adversaries before the courts to seek some form of justice or vindication or, worse, punishment. He practised what he preached: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom 12:19).

Secondly, Paul’s condemnation of the Corinthian believers taking other brethren to court must sound a significant warning to any of us who seek some form of redress for wrong-doing through legal channels. The forum for resolution was within the ecclesia and under the guidance of spiritually wise brethren. Their godly experience based upon the equity and goodness of God as revealed in His Word is vastly superior to anything the courts can offer.

Thirdly, many of the matters reviewed in this article have complex legal aspects in today’s world. Sometimes there are no direct Bible commands concerning our actions in specific cases. There are however always Bible principles that will give us guidelines on how we should behave. When Scripture seems to be silent on specifics these principles will guide our conscience before God.

For example, some brothers and sisters feel uncomfortable with taking out different types of insurance and choose not to do so because they believe that this is evidence of lacking faith in God’s ability to provide. Others may see nothing wrong with insurance, believing that it is sensible vigilance and compatible with trusting in God.

In cases like this each person needs to be fully persuaded in his own mind. This article is designed to present some of the biblical issues that we need to think about in determining the best course of action to take. In the end we must exercise a good conscience before our God.

Dealing with the challenges

1. Receiving compensation through legal redress

A situation may arise where a brother may have a motor vehicle accident but the insurance company decides to take legal action in that brother’s name to recover damages. Another situation may arise when an accident occurs at work and compensation is available if a claim is lodged. Should the brother allow the insurance company to take legal action on his behalf? Should he exercise his entitlement to claim workers’ compensation benefits?

It is important to appreciate that the Law of Moses provided for restitution to the victims of crime and commanded compensation for accident victims. How surprisingly modern some of these concepts are! For example, in Exodus 21:18–19 we read this: “And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.”

The Law in effect provided compensation for medical expenses and loss of income. The perpetrator was commanded to make restitution and the victim was to graciously receive it. So the idea of receiving compensation for injury, determined by an independent decision maker, is not something unknown in God’s law.

Secular law mimics the Scriptures in that the objective of compensation is to restore the injured party into a position they would have enjoyed had the event not occurred. Many government schemes provide “social insurance”, which allows accident victims to be compensated for medical expenses and loss of income if they chose to claim.

In South Australia, for example, workers’ compensation is intrinsically an insurance process whereby an injured employee can lodge a claim with the insurer to cover injury at work. Whilst the injured employee may or may not choose to lodge a claim, the government in this country has made provisions for a form of “social insurance” to be made available for those who have been disadvantaged by accident. Lodging a claim rarely involves solicitors; and dare we remind each other as well, that if we make dishonest claims then this is tantamount to theft.

Similarly the Motor Accident Commission is South Australia’s Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurer and provides compensation to many victims of motor vehicle accidents. Compensation payments are funded by CTP insurance premiums paid by all SA motorists as part of their vehicle registration. Making claims against these government insurance funds is often more of an administrative process than a legal process.

Most motor vehicle and house insurance policies are straightforward contracts between an individual and an insurer whereby the insured agrees to pay a premium to cover different types of eventualities. Making claims is simply a procedural action rather than a lawsuit which is undertaken to personally seek retribution or obtain redress through personal litigation.

Often, however, there is a clause in a motor vehicle contract saying: “We have full discretion in the conduct, defence or settlement of any claim and to take any action in your name to recover any money paid by us.” Hence, when you take out a motor vehicle insurance policy you need to understand that this clause may be exercised by the insurance company to recover damages and accordingly you have to weigh up the implications behind this clause when you sign the contract.

Some may feel uncomfortable in pursuing compensation because to them it may imply a ‘way out’ of a particular trial which they consider to have been providentially placed there. Others may view it as a benefit of a government placed there by God to provide for the family and remove the financial burden associated with the accident. Whatever our viewpoint let us understand the weight of the Lord’s exhortation: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).

2. Reporting of crimes

A situation may arise when a brother defrauds another brother. Whilst the victim may forgive the offending brother should he report this crime to the police, knowing that it may lead to a conviction?

Apart from mandatory reporting on child abuse, reporting crimes like fraud to police is, in most states of Australia, not compulsory. Should you decide to report the crime, however, then the police will complete an incident report, ask you to provide a statement, and then you are bound to assist them with their investigations. If the police charge anyone then you will need to assist with the prosecution and may be required to attend court as a witness.

The question really comes down to this: is prosecution of a brother for a personal offense compatible with forgiveness? Paul taught: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:19–21). If this command is appropriate towards our enemies, how much more is it appropriate in relation to a brother? As Paul so wisely counselled: let God deal with the matter.

3. Restraining orders

What of the circumstances where a sister has an abusive husband who constantly threatens her, or worse, assaults her. Should she take out a restraining order to protect herself or should she resist not evil and turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39)?

This raises the larger question about what to do when we face physical threats to our well-being.

We do have a number of scriptural examples which illustrate the behaviour of the godly when confronted with physical danger:

  • Athaliah attacked the royal seed but the king’s daughter stole Joash away and hid him from the violence (2 Kings 11:1–2).
  • Arioch was about to slay the wise men of Babylon and Daniel challenged that decree with wisdom and counsel (Dan 2:13–15).
  • The Lord counselled flight when faced with persecution: “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another” (Matt 10:23, Acts 8:1–3).
  • Paul was faced with torture to reveal the truth of what he was saying. He countered with the defence that he was a citizen entitled to the due process of protection: “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:24–25).

So hiding, fleeing, wisely challenging or enlisting lawful channels of protection are legitimate means of defending ourselves against physical attack.

How then do we reconcile this with the words of our Lord in Matthew 5:39: “Resist [Grk: ‘stand against, oppose’] not evil”? The context assists us with the answer. In verse 38 the Lord is speaking about the practice of the Jews who took the “eye for an eye” principle outside the courtroom and applied it to daily life. They were justifying personal vendettas and initiating acts of private revenge against all who hurt them. The Lord warned against this streak of spiteful vengeance.

He illustrated what he meant by describing a believer’s reaction to evil in three examples:

  • personal insults (Matt 5:39 – a right-handed man would use the back of his hand to smite the right cheek as a
  • mark of personal contempt)
  • personal law suits (Matt 5:40)
  • requests or orders from authorities enlisting our time and resources in forwarding their cause (Matt 5:41).

Our response to all of this is to be generous and non-retaliatory when we are faced with insults, legal exaction and those who wish to exercise official compulsion. The people of God are not free to exact their dues or maintain an ‘eye for an eye’ approach in these instances.

In relation to the restraining order, we have seen that Paul used the protection afforded by Roman law to ensure that he did not needlessly suffer when he was faced with scourging (Acts 22:24–25). It could be argued that a similar provision is available under modern law to protect the innocent from similar kinds of abusive and illegal violence.

4. Defence from legal attacks

We may be accused of a serious crime (eg breach of contract) but we consider ourselves to be innocent. Are we permitted to engage a legal representative and defend ourselves in court?

The Lord mentions two cases of being sued. The first is in Matthew 5:25–26: “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” In this case the believer is at fault and Jesus encourages us to pay up or face the full consequences of the law.

The second is in Matthew 5:40 which we have just quoted: “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.” Here is a case where someone threatens us or successfully sues us for our coat and they win the case. Jesus exhorts us not to resist the outcome when it goes against us. Indeed we should give them more than we are sued for!

Now in each of these cases there is nothing specifically mentioned about the process of how we should defend ourselves. In reality the courts will often insist that you be represented because of the complexity of court procedures and administration. The issue becomes then a responsibility to give accurate instructions to the legal representative to prevent him/her from presenting an argument that would be inconsistent with our principles. To use a skilful third party to win a case by less than honest means does not divest us of our moral responsibilities towards God.

A better way (indeed the Master’s way) would be to weigh up our perceived concept of injustice with the principle outlined by Paul when he exhorted us to rather suffer ourselves to be defrauded (1 Cor 6:7).

5. Taking brothers and sisters to court

We have seen from 1 Corinthians 6:1–8 that Paul could not condone any circumstance for believers going to law against each other before the unbelievers. To him the forum for resolution was through the judgment of the ecclesia which must take into account the spiritual welfare of all members without compromising any legal requirements the government sees fit to impose.

So it may be argued: ‘If I can’t take a brother to court, can I take an unbeliever to court?’

In clause 35 of “Doctrines to Be Rejected” we have the following: “That we are at liberty to serve in the army, or as police constables, take part in politics, or recover debts by legal coercion.” This last clause is derived from the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:38–43.

6. Disaffected members suing the ecclesia

Our ecclesia may withdraw fellowship from an individual and that individual may turn around and sue the ecclesia for defamation of character or for our breach of their human rights; and seek damages. Are we permitted to defend ourselves? Should we engage outside legal counsel to present the case?

We have seen earlier that Paul used the protection of Roman law to defend himself on matters relating to the Truth. Here, too, is a matter relating to the ecclesia of God. Whilst Paul represented himself, in some cases today representation in the courts can only effectively occur through a lawyer. Our imperfect knowledge of the legal proceedings and court etiquette may do more harm than good if we fail to take proper legal representation or advice. Once again, our decision must be appropriate for the defence of the Truth and not initiated for personal reasons.

7. Marriage break-ups and custody disputes

Sadly there are an increasing number of marriage break-ups in our community, frequently with one of the spouses leaving the Truth and seeking custody of the children in an attempt to remove them from the influence of the Truth altogether. This is often accompanied by one party seeking more than their fair share of the joint assets. Should the believing party contest the division of assets through the family court arrangements? Should the believing party fight for custody of the children? How far can we legally go in protecting our children from the influences of an ungodly spouse?

The Family Court of Australia has jurisdiction over all matrimonial causes and associated responsibilities. However, there are a number of avenues that could be explored before court battles may occur. For example, the court itself, before hearing the matter, will generally demand the estranged parties attempt resolution by mediation before proceeding. Another option is to engage an independent Arbitrator to hear the issues and make a determination on matters of assets (but may not make a determination with respect to child parenting). It should be understood that practical arrangements with respect to parenting and asset division can be agreed between the parties without recourse to the court process. The resulting agreement (‘consent orders’) may then be endorsed by the court, or in fact simply remain an understanding between the estranged parties. These three alternate processes are in fact far less adversarial than the court process and more in harmony with scriptural principles (accepting the sad fact that the parties cannot be reconciled, if that is still the case).

We would need to think of the Lord’s words in Luke 12:13–15 mentioned earlier and beware of covetousness in contesting the division of the family assets.

What can we do in relation to the children who are styled “Yahweh’s heritage” in Psalm 127:3? There are two points of view. One seeks to leave the matter in God’s hands and wait for Him to intervene through providence; the other seeks to work through the appointed legal channels praying that God’s providence will prevail through family court decisions.

The brother or sister remaining faithful to God may seek the child’s education at a Heritage College or seek equitable access to the child for Sunday meetings and this might be resisted by the adversarial spouse. If agreement cannot be reached in questions like this then the matter is referred to the Family Court and often costly legal expenses will be incurred. The Family Court will adjudicate and if any legal counsel is engaged their actions will be subject to the brother or sister’s instructions and these instructions should not be contrary to a scriptural conscience concerning personal vengeance.

Once again there are clear scriptural guidelines as to how we should maintain our integrity before God and, being aware of the alternatives available, one could prayerfully seek a less adversarial forum in which to resolve these issues. Such a procedure should include seeking God’s blessing on the spiritual well-being of any children involved.

8. Legal obligations in sexual abuse cases

In relation to this kind of abuse, most ecclesias in Australia have adopted, or are in the course of adopting, Child Protection policies. Child Protection laws vary from state to state and so it is difficult to generalise on the responsibilities that ecclesias have towards the government. One important aspect involves mandatory reporting. We have a duty of care toward the children in our care to report offending brethren to the appropriate government agency and we have to be prepared to take whatever course of action the government decides to do with this information. This reporting obligation, however, should not negate our duty of care from an ecclesial perspective (Matt 18:15–17, Gal 6:1–3). We need to follow the scriptural process of discipline and restoration of the perpetrator as well as give support and careful nurturing to the victim. This may even involve assistance from another ecclesia by taking in one of the parties.

A sister may have been the subject of abuse as a child and later on in life wants to resolve the vexatious issues that are a consequence of that abuse. Is the correct avenue the court system? Would bringing the perpetrator before the courts of the land be compatible with scriptural teaching?

We can never condone this kind of evil perpetrated against such a sister. Like Paul and the legal predicament caused by the runaway slave Onesimus, we have to consider two levels of responsibility – one spiritual and the other secular. We have seen from 1 Corinthians 6 that Paul does not countenance taking believers to court.

From a practical perspective, even if the courts could adjudicate equitably, the ecclesia still has an important part to play in restoring spirituality amongst any who have been wronged. This is often a life-time’s work.

A final word

So in this very complex world of ours we have to maintain a clear sense of integrity, spirituality and Christ-likeness in our dealings one with another and with the world. We need to overcome evil by doing good. Thoughts of retaliation, of getting even, and of outright vengeance must not form part of our response in any of our decisions.

We need to prayerfully balance the requirements of Scripture and extrapolate the precedents set before us in the Word of God to achieve the right balance in these matters.

And we must never neglect the overriding providence of God in all of these matters either. Trusting in His care, praying for His guidance and committing our lives to Him are crucial elements in maintaining our relationship with the court of heaven as well.

The example of the Master is ever before us.

“For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet 2:19–23).

He is the standard, the ideal that we need to emulate in all aspects of life. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48).