Justice in the Church

One of the fascinating things we see in the New Testament is Paul’s confidence in the local church as a place where justice can be done.

“When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So, you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues? But instead, one believer[b] sues another—right in front of unbelievers!”[1]

This is fascinating. The first place where people should start to receive and experience justice is in the church.  This happens first of all because as we have seen entry to the church is through the Gospel, membership of this new community comes through faith in Christ. This means that:

  1. God receives the justice that is due to him through Christ’s work on the Cross and a rebel sinner stops seeking his shame and dishonour and begins to love, serve, glorify and honour him.
  2. We receive the justice that He gives through grace, we are justified in and through Christ. This is the justice we receive not that we deserve.

It also means that we are New Creations meaning that the full sense of the Imago Dei is restored in us as we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  Christians therefore should love, value and respect one another.

Justice in the church will first of all mean that people are not excluded, treated harshly or patronised on the one hand because they are perceived as weaker or of less importance. Nor should others receive special favours or position because they are seen as being of greater value.

This is the point being made throughout 1 Corinthians.  The church in Corinth was divided by class and by faction.  Those who were wealthy were given first access to communal meals and those who were weak in their faith were crushed by unthinking selfish pursuit of freedom by those who considered themselves strong. Finally, those who were self-confident and loud were able to drown out the quieter and less confident with their noisy tongues and prophecies.

I suspect, though this may be speculation, that one of the underlying reasons as to why the man who slept with his dad’s wife escaped justice was because he fitted into the right faction or class.

Meanwhile because of rivalry and power struggles, church members were using the outside law courts to gain an advantage over their brothers in the church.  It was not meant to be like that.

Our changed relationship with God and our new identity in Christ is meant to drastically change our relationship to each other.

“Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.[d] Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.”[2]

Justice in the Church will mean:

–          That when someone has sinned and needs to be challenged, rebuked and disciplined that they will be and that they will not be able to use position, status or connections to avoid being challenged

–          That church members as part of the body will all be able to play their part in hearing God’s voice sharing wisdom and discerning together as decisions are made.

–          That there will be no place for racism

–          That people will not be excluded because they don’t have the right clothes, appearance, accent or education.

–          That every member will be encouraged to use their gifts fully in the service of God’s glory.

The aim is that as an alternative community, the church will provide a place where people begin to experience what true, loving justice is like. This means it will be a safe haven for the vulnerable and an example to the wider community of what is possible when God’s ways are followed.

[1] 1 Corinthians 6:1-6.

[2] Romans 12:3b-5.