The Church Is Not the Civil Magistrate (1)
The Law of God in the Life of the Church (5)
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 1 Corinthians 6:5, 6
We’re examining some of the criteria which must guide contemporary believers in applying the Law of God to life in the Church today. We have said that the Church is not ancient Israel. Rather, as the new Israel, living in the age of grace and the Spirit, church leaders will need to reflect carefully on how the statutes and precepts of ancient Israel are to be obeyed in our own day. We do not keep the Law in order to earn our salvation, but to realize our salvation, prove our discipleship, and thus make progress in spreading the love of Jesus Christ to all men.
Just as the Church is not ancient Israel, so it is not the civil magistrate, either. The statutes and precepts of the civil law of Israel are still binding today—as Paul, James, and Jesus indicate. But they must be interpreted into the life of the new Israel, which, while it is built on the foundation of ancient Israel, faces altogether different historical and cultural contingencies.
The Law of God includes many penal guidelines for achieving justice and restoring order to a community. But the ultimate responsibility for ensuring justice in the civil arena lies with civil governments—local, state, and federal. The Church must not presume on the prerogatives of the state in seeking justice between its members.
Thus, where an infraction has been committed against the Law of God by a member of the Christian Church, believers must apply the principles of church discipline in seeking to restore justice. We shall have more to say about this in due course.
However, where church discipline fails to bring about a proper resolution of disputes, members should expect that the civil government may be invoked or appealed to for a just outcome. The civil courts, however, should be the final bar of appeal for believers in civil matters, not the first.
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In the Gates is a devotional series on the Law of God by Rev. T.M. Moore, editor of the Worldview Church. He serves as dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of twenty books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are The Ailbe Psalter and The Ground for Christian Ethics (Waxed Tablet).
Scripture quotations in this article are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (c) copyright 2001, 2007 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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