Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christians in Court?

Calvin's Institutes (1559)
Book 4 of 4 - External Means by which God Invites Us into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein

Chapter 20 - Civil Government
14-21 - Public law and judicial procedures
17. Some say the magistrate is unnecessary for Christians since we may not go to court - 1 Cor 6. But God gave him to us - Rom 13:4; 1 Tim 2:2 - and he "may without impiety be called upon and also appealed to." But others have a "rage for litigation." "If one is permitted to go to law with a brother, one is not therewith allowed to hate him, or be seized with a mad desire to harm him, or hound him relentlessly."

18. Coming to court is okay if the intent is right: "to defend what is his by right... without bitterness," anger, vengeance, etc. This is virtually never the case, you say? That doesn't negate the fact that the magistrate is there to help in such disputes, and "we must more diligently guard against its becoming polluted by our fault."

19. To "strictly condemn all legal contentions" is to accuse Paul of fault in Acts 24:12; 16:37; 22:1, 25; 25:10-11. Vengeance is not allowed - Lev 19:18; Matt 5:39; Deut 32:35; Rom 12:17, 19. Going to court isn't getting revenge for ourselves, but getting the justice of God. "The magistrate's revenge is not man's but God's, which He extends and exercises... through the ministry of man for our good."

20. This doesn't conflict with Matt 5:39-40. We should rather endure double injury than strike back in retaliation. "We are not leading them away from this forbearance." But we can work to keep what is ours when others try to take it away unlawfully, remaining friendly and of goodwill to our adversaries. One bears with his adversaries with patience "to increase the number of good men - not to add himself to the number of the bad by a malice like theirs."

21. In 1 Cor 6:5-8, Paul condemns a selfish and litigious spirit, not all court disputes. "When any man sees that without loss of love he can defend his own property, the loss of which would be a heavy expense to him, he does not offend... if he has recourse to law.... love will give every man the best counsel."

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