The History and Benefits of Christian Justice
Why is there so much unresolved conflict in a culture where 95% of people believe in God, 80% self-identify as Christians, and 60% affirm the Trinity? When so many people profess faith in Christ, why do only 5% read the Bible regularly, attend church each week and give regularly? Why do so many self-professed believers show zeal for God but then, when asked to resolve conflicts according to Christian principles, show that their zeal is not based on knowledge(Romans 10:2)? Why do so many Christian's turn to secular courts that do not submit to God's sovereignty and righteousness but instead establish a righteousness of their own (Romans 10:3)?
The righteousness guiding many American believers is what sociologist Christian Smith calls moralistic therapeutic deism ("MTD"). This commitment to morals, healing, and God seems laudable. Unfortunately, MTD gives only abstract affirmations of covenants and typically turns a blind eye to behaviors that undermine marriage covenants, church membership covenants, and even governmental covenants (e.g., constitutions) designed to protect life, liberty and property. For example, secular family laws reward divorcing spouses for breaching marriage covenants, secular courts assess damages against religious bodies that use church discipline to maintain peace and purity, and elected officials routinely vote against Scriptural principles undergirding the Declaration of Independence and state constitutions.
How should Christians reaffirm Biblical standards and restore respect for Christ-centered justice (peacemaking)? Since before the time of Moses, God's standards of righteousness sought to protect the 3 primary institutions of family, church, and government. These covenant communities have maintained trusting relationships and peace through an authority structure based on Biblical peacemaking. In the family, the parents hold authority (see, e.g., Proverbs 23:13–14). In the church, the elders hold authority (see, e.g., Matthew 16:19). In the government, leaders are given authority from God (see, e.g., Romans 13:4). The government fosters religious liberty so that family and church authorities can maintain peace based on principles rooted in the character of God.
Through Moses, God revealed 10 Commandments to guide believers in maintaining healthy relationships in covenant communities. Across the centuries, God has opened our eyes to see the wonders of His law (Psalm 119:18). When we delight in God's law (as in Psalm 119) and meditate on God's law (Psalm 119:15, 23, 27, 48, 78, 97, 99, 148), we come to know the Lawgiver. When we follow God's law, we partake in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). If we love Jesus, we keep His commands. (John 14:15). Whoever has Christ's commands and keeps them is the one who loves Him. The one who loves Christ will be loved by the Father, and Christ will love them and show Himself to them." (John 14:21)
Across the centuries, religious bodies have sought to honor God by applying His law to resolve all types of conflicts within the covenant community. Around 1500 BC, Moses established the Sanhedren (see, e.g., Numbers 11:16-25). Judicial authority was later given to prophets (Isaiah 8:19-20), priests and local elders (Neh. 2:16; 5:7) and a high court (2 Chr. 19:8-11). In New Testament times, the Sanhedrin, under the leadership of the High Priest, executed justice (Matt. 26:59; Mark 15:1; John 11:47; Acts 5:27, Mark 14:55). Eventually a Presbyterian "council of elders" formed to execute justice. (Luke 22:66; Acts 22:5; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50). These councils evolved into the Irish courts (1217), Scottish Synod Courts (1225), English church courts (1240), Lower Ecclesiastical Courts in England (1336), Monastic cloister courts (1450), English church probate courts (1513), English Reformation Church Courts (1520-1570), British Church Courts (1570-1640), the Westminster Assembly (1642-1647), and the Anglican church courts (1787-1860).
The religious themes evident in the ancient European and Mideastern laws continue to reappear in more modern writings about arbitration. The Puritan and early Anglican law was practiced in Massachusetts churches during colonial times. The Dutch applied their understanding of dispute resolution in New York and neighboring areas after the settlement of New Amsterdam in the 1600s. Latin cultures kept alive certain features of mediation from medieval Italy and Spain as the Spanish frontier moved westward and encouraged the settlement of Spanish missions. This movement of law from Europe and Asia eventually led to the firm establishment of common law based on Biblical precedent in much of the Americas. [i]
Since 1860, growing pluralism and commercialism have undermined the authority and principles of religious courts. According to Harvard Law Professor Harold Berman, "the law is becoming more fragmented, more subjective, geared more to expediency and less to morality, concerned more with immediate consequences and less with consistency or continuity."[ii] Roger Cramton could have been referring to almost any American law school when he wrote, "[i]t is from the ordinary religion of legal education that our students are exposed to moral relativism, pragmatism, amoral institutionalism, cynicism, individualism, and an unfounded faith in reason."[iii] In 1982, Francis Schaeffer lamented that law had made "titanic shifts" away from its Christian roots. [iv]
Instead of relying on justice administered by Godly church officials, most Christians now turn to secular court procedures that are fraught with long delays, high costs, and unpredictable outcomes. Given how secular authority has increasingly supplanted Christian legal authority, it is no wonder that most American Christians routinely enter into marriage covenants, business contracts, and other agreements that give authority to judges who are not allowed to display the Ten Commandments. Too few Christians have qualms about violating 1 Corinthians 6:7: "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already."
Biblical peacemaking offers hope to churches, families and governments struggling with defeat. Building on 3500 years of Judeo-Christian judicial teachings, Christian Conciliation Services (www.ChristianConciliation.Services) and Christian Conciliation Services (www.ChristianConciliation.Services/RC) teach how Christians can overcome the failures of secular courts by renewing respect for the law of God, the authority of Christ and His church, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. These organizations exist to provide proven and practical solutions to the 60% of Americans who believe in the Trinity while also giving renewed hope to any person seeking to do justice with the love of God (Micah 6:8)