New Testament Royal Priesthood: Legal The New Testament hierarchy also has courts, meaning there is a judicial side to the pastoral life of the Church. Problems cannot always be resolved at a strictly pastoral level even though all problems are supposed to be worked out within the larger pastoral process. The courts of the Church as we see in Acts 15, allow for much personal give and take. They are not to be filled necessarily with an adversarial spirit for after all, in the Church we are not to be adversaries; we are one body. So, even though we are discussing a legal process, we should not forget that the purpose is to restore the offending party at every step of the way in the legal processes of the Church. The pastoral should not be lost sight of as the legal provides for a more objective approach to a dispute, particularly a wayward brother or sister in Christ. The process may make the legal look like it is not part of the pastoral, but in reality it is. This is the difference between the Church and the Civil realm. The latter, the State, does not have a pastoral function but a purely judicial one. The former, the Church, should always have a pastoral intent even if the scene becomes as it did in Acts 15, one of courts and debates. Our Lord’s own words about the restoration of a brother or sister reflect the pastoral that grows into the legal, while not losing perspective on the overall pastoral call of the Church. This background stands behind Acts 15 and we should carefully consider it first. Jesus says, If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:15-20). – page 30 – Captains and Courts Notice the pastoral context of this legal process. A person goes privately to the individual who is in sin, the allegedly guilty party. Then, he takes witnesses along to confirm that a second step is being taken. Here is where the legal aspects begin to enter. Witnesses are pat of the objectifying procedures that we saw in the court system of the Old Testament. But the purpose is not to condemn. It is to restore. Only when the offending party refuses to hear the witness does the next step begin, which is to tell the Church. How is a personal matter taken before the Church? We see in Acts 15. Personal disputes were taken via the officers of the Church, beginning with the pastors of the local parishes. Once again, we see that the legal never leaves the pastoral framework of the Church. As a problem is aired before the pastor, he can make a ruling that could turn the allegedly guilty person away from the accused sin. Sometimes this happens. At other times it does not. The accused person may deny the particular sin of which he (she) is charged. In this situation, where the accused denies being guilty, a dispute arises. The pastor is forced to conduct a legal proceeding. A person is innocent until proven guilty. He is protected in the New Testament even more so than he was in the Old Testament because there is greater redemption. In the Old Testament, everyone in the land was innocent until proven guilty because the land was under the sacrifices. In the New Testament, everyone in the Church is innocent until proven guilty because they are officially declared right with God through he legal covenant act of baptism that represents the finished cleansing work of Christ. Yet, the pastor is called to be a reconciler among men and sometimes must resort to the legal mechanisms of the New Testament to move toward some kind of reconciliation. When an accused person denies guilt, other offenses are compounded unless all parties involved are able to suffer the defraud (1 Corinthians 6:7-11). Sometimes this is the more prudent course of action. Many times, however, this is not wise, especially where there has been perceived sin. Rather than allow people to leave the Church and to go to the secular magistrate, the Church is commanded by the Apostle Paul to convene a jury from within the local parish. The Apostle says, Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you – page 31 – New Testament Royal Priesthood: Legal unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before brethren? (1 Corinthians 6:1-6) Thus, we see the pastoral role of witnesses and juries in the New Testament court system, as we did in the Old Testament. These legal features are even more pronounced, being explicitly called for by the Apostle Paul. Even when a dispute comes to this level, the concern is to resolve the dispute in the Church so that the witness of God’s people is not hurt before the unbelieving world. The restoration of the accused brother (sister) is still in sight but this other pastoral aspect is added. Once again, pastoral should be reflected at every stage of a court process of the Church, even to the point of being concerned about the pastoral witness to the world. But what happens if a person is found guilty at the local level and he (she) believes that some impropriety occurred in the proceedings? Is there any further recourse? Acts 15 explains that there is. In the case of Acts 15, an appeals system is put into effect. The issue concerned those who began to teach that circumcision, referred to in summary form as the law, was necessary for salvation. The dispute over circumcision started at the local parish level and could not be resolved, proving that some problems are bigger than any single parish can handle. It went to the next level, to a larger geographic area. It was discussed but not able to be worked out. It then went to the geographic center of the Church, Jerusalem, where the Apostles and Elders of the Church gathered to hear the problem. We are told a little more about the details in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. But when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabus was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you being a Jew, live in the manner of the Gentiles and not as the Jews, – page 32 – Captains and Courts why do you compel the Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. . .” (Galatians 2:11-16) We learn from the events leading up to and inclusive of the Jerusalem Council the need for an appeals system. We have acted out before us on these pages the importance for everyone to be accountable, even influential personalities. We find out that personalities can divide the Church, unless there is a way to bring the entire Church together and subordinate the personalities. The strength of the Biblical system is in its ability to submit all personalities to the Church which represents Christ, being called the Body of Christ. When personalities dominate, the message is, “The Church is not really the Body of Christ because individuals within are bigger than the Church, so big that they cannot effectively be disciplined or even checked and balanced.” A few years ago, an evangelical denomination in America experienced the fall of its leading evangelist. They disciplined him and told him to go off the air. He eventually defied them because his personality was bigger than the Church and this particular body did not have any mechanisms of control. They had a kind of weak court system but they didn’t have captains, or bishops, to whom personal accountability was expected. A true system of captains and courts prevents run away personalities. Yet, at no time did the appeals and legal processes move out of pastoral concern. In the case of Peter and Paul, personalities were not destroyed. Their ministries were not lost. The pastoral and judicial working together prevented this. Paul talked directly under controlled circumstances to Peter. Eventually, Peter changed and was restored from the errors of his way. More importantly, his great ministry was salvaged. Thus, the appeals system protected the man, the ministry, and most of all the Church’s witness to the world. Thus, the Church’s court system in Acts 15 became the pastoral mechanism necessary to restore individuals as well as order to the Church. It had its roots in the court system of the Old Testament, to which it is similar: multiple witnesses, juries, and appellate courts. At the same time, it is more pastoral and much more extensive because the Church is international. It provided greater reconciliation to a greater crisis. No Old Testament dispute can even begin to approach the Acts 15 disagreement in either the nature of the difference, or in the success of the solution. Most of all, conflict between Peter and Paul demonstrated the fullness of the coming of the Holy Spirit in History who manifested His presence in the unity – page 33 – New Testament Royal Priesthood: Legal and symmetry of the Church, our next point to consider regarding New Testament Church polity.