Should Adventists Go to Court Against Other Adventists?

Should Adventists Go to Court Against Other Adventists?

The above question is one that arises from time to time and as such demands an answer. Fortunately, the book, 101 Questions Adventists Ask by Dr. Bert B. Beach, retired director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and current PARL Director, Dr. John Graz, addresses the issue. Given this fact, I will share their view, which essentially is the official position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Looking at the Counsel of the Bible
The biblical counsel in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 6 clearly discourages members from going to court to solve their problems. Instead, it is recommended that church members resort “to use the procedures and authority of the church to reach a settlement.”  In fact, the Apostle Paul “uses rather strong language to denounce the practice of running to pagan courts to accuse fellow church members.”  Paul essentially says, “Christians should make every effort to safeguard the unity and honor of the church.”
 
Looking at the Counsel of Ellen White
Ellen G. White gives similar advice: “Lawsuits between brethren are a reproach to the cause of truth.  Christians who go to law with one another expose the church to the ridicule of her enemies…. By ignoring the authority of the church, they show contempt for God, who gave to the church its authority” (the Acts of the Apostles, p. 306).  However, “for this to work, those involved in disputes must accept the authority of the Church,” contend Beach and Graz.
 
When Members Refuse to Seek Counsel of the Church
In cases where a church member does not accept the decision of the Church or rejects the biblical ideal, then the biblical answer is clear: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault…but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more…. witnesses…And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglects to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man” (Matthew 18:15 – 17).
“In this case,” state Beach and Graz, “the logical option is civil litigation.  Having exhausted the biblical procedure, and the decision-making authority of the Church having been rejected, the opinion is to deal with such individuals as one would with any non-member.”
 
When Should We Go to the Courts of the Land?
Beach and Graz further observe, “some civil legal matters” can be “extremely complex, convoluted, and time consuming.” Accordingly, “some of these matters may go well beyond the capacity of normal church authority to deal with.”  On this matter, the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual states that there are “cases that are clearly within the jurisdiction of the civil courts and not within the authority of the church” (p. 165, 1995 edition). “In such cases, there may be little choice – call it a necessary evil if you wish – but to call upon the expertise of the legal profession to gain an equitable solution, including the adjudication before a secular tribunal.”  Examples of such cases may include, “insurance claims, custody for minor children, boundaries and ownership of real property, and product liability.”  “In any case,” add Beach and Graz, “it is hard to see how in such intricate, often quite impersonal issues the Church could be ‘exposed to ridicule’ by Adventists appearing in court on opposite sides, when their Adventism would in all likelihood not be a public issue at all.”  For the Church “to get involved with a lack of competence, and no adequate process for just settlement, could risk exposing the Church to ‘ridicule’.”  Furthermore, “some of these legal matters are so drawn-out and at risk for moving to center stage, that the Church must ‘constantly be on guard against turning from its gospel mission and taking up the duties of a civil magistrate’” (Church Manual, p. 165).
Ideally, every Seventh-day Adventist should, as far as possible, live at peace with one another, but unfortunately that does not always work. Nevertheless, let’s encourage each other to make all efforts to pursue peace, goodwill and unity.