By Robin G. Jordan
This week on another website one of the moderators was advocating that churches with the resources engage in a campaign of nuisance litigation against dioceses that have taken them to court and seized their property. He was advocating taking this action even when there was no hope of regaining the lost property due to court rulings in the province or state. His rationale was that litigation was expensive and protracted litigation would greatly weaken the diocese’s ability to promote the liberal gospel of radical inclusion, pluralism, and universal salvation due to the drain upon its resources. Such a campaign might exhaust the diocese’s resources altogether; force it into debt and even bankruptcy.
The moderator in question did not appear to be taking into consideration that such litigation would also drain the resources of the churches adopting this strategy. His former diocese had seized the property of his own church after it voted to terminate its affiliation with the Episcopal Church and the diocese. Anger over the loss of the property and liberal successes in the courts in property cases, in particular in the Diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver, British Columbia, appeared to be coloring his thinking
Spending money needed to carry out the church’s mission on protracted litigation that can accomplish nothing but drain the resources of both sides, however, does not strike me to be a wise stewardship of the resources that God has given the church. While protracted litigation may cause the diocese to exhaust its resources, it will be a Pyrrhic victory since it will exhaust the church’s own resources or seriously deplete them.
Engaging in costly and fruitless litigation simply to inflict injury upon the diocese does not seem consistent with Jesus’ own teachings. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told the disciples and the multitude:
You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42 ESV)
He went on to tell them:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 ESV)
While it may be very human to desire vengeance, it is certainly not Christian to seek it, to take retaliatory measures against those we consider our enemies. To do so is a work of the flesh, according to Galatians 5:19-21. Those who practice the works of the flesh, Paul forewarns the Galatians, shall not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).
For God’s people to suffer while the wicked prosper is nothing new. Longsuffering Paul identifies in his Epistle to the Galatians as one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). Jesus did not promise his disciples that following him would be easy going and they would not face persecution.
A church that is engaging in costly and fruitless litigation is also going to have a hard time attracting new members. Newcomers will quickly sense that to the long-time members they are simply another giving unit that will help finance the church’s court battles with the diocese. In a time of economic uncertainty when some denominations like the Roman Catholic Church are closing or consolidating churches and parochial schools, channeling the resources of the church into such litigation makes no sense.
To my mind a better use of a church’s resources would be the planting of new churches and the establishment of new church campuses. If God has blessed a particular church with ample resources, it is for one purpose and one purpose alone—to fulfill the Great Commission.
Churches that have lost property to their former diocese need to put this painful and unpleasant experience behind them. They also need to reflect upon what God has taught them through this experience. He has shown them that a church is not a building but a people on a mission. He has shown them new ways of “doing church.” This may be the reason that he let the church lose the property in the first place. It needed to discover what it really means to be Christ’s Church. Buildings have a way of replacing mission as the primary focus of a church. Taking away a church’s building may be God’s way of helping a church to refocus on God’s priorities instead of its own. It would not be the first time God has used shock treatment to bring his people to their senses.
The loss of a building or building complex also may be a test of faith. God tries our faith in numerous ways. God wants us to obey and trust Him no matter what happens. In addition God uses such experiences to foster our growth as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Jesus told the disciples that they were the salt of the earth, not only giving savor to the world but also fertilizing and purifying it. Salt is not of much use if it forms a clump in the saltshaker and does not come out when the saltshaker is shaken. When this happens, God will give the saltshaker a good sharp rap, separating the grains of salt so that they will flow freely again—into the world.