Christian rebuilding toward justice: Private courts, God’s law

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State justice occurs in the old Hamilton County courthouse, left, with the county jail, right. (Photo David Tulis)

State justice occurs in the old Hamilton County courthouse, left, with the county jail, right. Christian rebuilding of equity and justice will create a parallel private system in which God’s law will be the supreme law. (Photo David Tulis)

What can be done to return society to a biblical, free judicial system? In this section we will cover two main avenues to recovering a free society: the establishment of voluntary and private courts, and jury nullification. We will also discuss the commitment to Christian virtue necessary to make it work.

By Joel McDurmon / American Vision

In light of what has been said so far in reference to biblical courts, the most important thing we can do today is to attempt at all costs, as far as possible, as often as possible, to settle inter-personal disputes privately. What does this look like in practice?

For Christians, private settlement means first, forgiveness whenever possible. Secondarily, it means private Christian courts. This was Paul’s main argument to the Corinthians, as we reviewed before. Christians need to recover this doctrine and put it into action. In general, Christians should:

1) Appeal only to Christian “courts”

2) Allow only Christian judges or arbitrators to resolve disputes between Christians

3) Allow only biblical law as the standard of judgment in such cases

4) Provide only such remedies or restitution as biblical law allows

5) Provide some measure for finality of the decision

Christ alone

Let’s consider each of these five aspects. The first point is an application of the idea of sovereignty. Christians have one ultimate King and Judge, the Triune God. It is He who presides, ultimately, over all of life. Only courts that honor Him ultimately have validity. The universe is His courtroom, and no one has removed the Ten Commandments from this courtroom, nor will they. The point is intimately tied with the other four, but especially with point three—that of law.

Law in every society is ultimately religious in origin, and the source of law in any given society is that society’s God.1 Christians, as members of God’s holy society, the temple of God on earth (1 Pet. 2:5–10), must recognize the ultimate validity only of God’s law, and thus God-honoring courts. Courts judging according to some other legal standard are courts of some other god as well—no matter how much any constituent part or party of any case may say “so help me God.”

This has major implications. Christians must generally consider modern state courts to be mostly ungodly. However they may have been originally founded, they have long since abandoned, as we have seen, any formal recognition of Christian law and have instead embraced Holmes’ humanistic standard of evolutionary, relativistic law. Granted, some traces of Christian judicial heritage may remain, but traces only indicate past history, they do not legitimize the courts as still acceptably “Christian” today. We will address secular courts more in a moment. For now it is expedient just to acknowledge their apostasy and avoid them as much as possible.

Paul’s admonishment to the Corinthians here seems to have had some precedent in Jewish rabbinical law. The Mishnah—an early collection of ancient rabbinical deliberations which forms the basis for the later Talmud—contains a strikingly similar opinion: “A bill of divorce given under compulsion is valid if ordered by an Israelitish court, but if by a gentile court it is invalid.”2 The Jewish legal scholar George Horowitz refers to the phrase, “tribunals of idolators.” He quotes the Talmud, which is commentary upon the earlier statement of the Mishnah:

If it is impossible to adjust amicably, and the parties must go to law, they should resort to a bet-din [“house of judgment”] of Israel. It is forbidden to litigate before judges or tribunals of idolators even when their law is similar to Jewish law, and even when both parties agreed to submit their case before them and, even if they bound themselves thereto by kinyan [a binding agreement] or by instrument in writing. Such agreements are null and void.3

In other words, these Jews considered non-Jewish courts to be courts of idolatry: since they did not submit to biblical law, they must have submitted to a false god. It is important to see that Paul was applying a very similar mindset when instructing Christians in 1 Corinthians 6. As Christians, we dare not run to pagan courts—that would be idolatry—but rather should despise them as inferior to Christian law and Christian courts.

God’s law, God’s court must be made preeminent by Christians, who then must expand godliness outwardly into the state courts where it is lacking. Rushdoony explains,

When a state or its laws are godly, its courts are legitimate and can be used. The state then, despite its sins and shortcomings, is an aspect of the Kingdom of God. Present civil law is in process of becoming radically humanistic, but its framework is still to a large degree Biblical. It is the duty of Christians, not to withdraw from civil law (i.e., the law of the state), but to make it Biblical.4

Representing Christ

Closely related to the issue of sovereignty is the second aspect, representation of authority. Every court has representatives of its sovereignty—earthly incarnations of its authority—its judges. God’s court is no different—in fact, it is the original. Ideally, all civil judges’ oaths of office would include swearing allegiance to Jesus Christ and His Word—they would be His representatives—but this simply is not the case today. In a decentralized world, of course, we would have a much better chance of having at least local judges willing and ready to take such an oath, but we are not there yet. In the mean time, every judge represents the law of his court, and thus the source of that law. An idolatrous court is an idolatrous jurisdiction and should not be accepted as ultimate for the Christian. Rushdoony again explains,

A judge or court whose premise is other than the law of God is an untrustworthy administrator of justice. Justice is not impossible with such a man, but it is not to be expected.5

The moment a judge begins representing a law other than the law of God, that judge is representing a false law, and his court has assumed the position of a false god.

[I]f church or state, or any other agency, function as the creator of law, i.e., issuing laws without a transcendental basis, then they have made themselves into gods. Their right to command is then gone.6

In light of this, Christians should seek only Christians as arbiters of their disputes. Indeed, they should preferably seek Christians who have an understanding of Whom they represent as judges and the Word according to which they are to judge.

We want to submit only to judges who in turn submit to God and His Word. This is not to say, of course, that all Christian elders, arbitrators, and “judges” of all kinds, as opposed to all pagan judges, will always be perfectly just in their sentences.

But justice, honestly, and impartiality are to be expected from godly leaders, whereas such are unexpected of a judge who refuses to submit to the rule and law of God Almighty—who has compromised the deity to begin with. Christians should therefore seek out willing and able Christians to arbitrate and settle disputes among them.

The standard of Christ

We have already said enough about the third aspect—law. It takes center stage throughout the process and infuses each of the other aspects. The standard throughout is God and His sovereignty, God and His Word. Every court must submit to God’s Law, else the Christian cannot accept it as ultimately authoritative.

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  1. See R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (The Craig Press, 1973), 4ff.()
  2. Herbert Danby, The Mishnah (New York: Oxford University Press, 1933), 320. See Gittin 9.8.()
  3. Quoted in George Horowitz, The Spirit of Jewish Law ((New York: Central Book Company, 1963), 650.()
  4. R. J. Rushdoony, Law and Society: Volume 2 of the Institutes of Biblical Law (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982), 344.()
  5. R. J. Rushdoony, Law and Society: Volume 2 of the Institutes of Biblical Law, 345.()

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