Sep 10, 2006

Where Are the Ecclesiastical Courts?

Some Christians are up in arms about Ligonier Ministries suing Frank Vance, a fellow believer, and rightly so, as it is plainly against Scriptural teaching. But my question is: where do they go? Where are the ecclesiastical courts of which a Christian can avail himself? If Christians are to judge one another, who are they, and where are they?

Oh, there is some semblance of provision within denominations for "courts," per se, but they are extremely limited in their scope, and I'm not so sure how truly unbiased the "upper echelon" in a denomination truly is. Why, for example, did all those sexually abused altar boys wait until they were adults in their own right to take the abusive priests to court, and a worldly court at that? Where were their God-given advocates, their church "courts?"

We see that RC Sproul, the younger, for example, was defrocked by a Christian "court," but did it really mean anything? Did it really change anything? Were the judgments followed? Why did Doug Wilson feel he had the right to defy a Christian "court" and re-frock RC? Did the "court" truly have any meaningful authority?

What is the everyday Christian to do? God's Word clearly provides for Christians judging one another and amongst ourselves, but have we provided an acceptable alternative for carrying out God's plan for legal ethics and issues? Where are the wise men that God has established as judges for the church today? Would Christians really obey them? Where is their authority?

When Moses was worn out from adjudicating 3-4 million Israelites, his father-in-law, Jethro, came up with a brilliant plan: "You shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens... And so they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves. "

Rulers of thousands.
Rulers of hundreds.
Rulers of fifties.
Rulers of tens.

Where are these able men now? Where are those such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness (that's an interesing qualification, by the way! - God clearly foresees bribery in the justice system, doesn't He?), men who are able to adjudicate the SMALL matters, and men who are able to adjudicate the HARD cases? Where are they today?

I recently read a story about Constantine, in the 3rd - 4th century AD, bemoaning the ineffectiveness of his own courts and judges, but at the same time having a deep admiration for the judges of the Christian church. He then asked the Bishops to wear the judicial robes of that day, which were bright and colorful, out on the streets among the people, to denote that Constantine approved of the bishops as judges. Here we have a story of the church doing a better job in adjudicating than the world, as it should be.

But that was then. What do we have now? I recently checked out the Peacemakers website and found they have an allowance for being a go-between among differing parties. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but I don't think they have any legal authority, per se.

I know of several young, dedicated Christian men who are studying to be lawyers of the world. I wonder what they will do with their training?

I am a strong believer in NOT complaining about something unless I have an answer. If Ligonier Ministries cannot sue Frank Vance, under biblical authority, what should they do? First, we do have Matthew 18, of which apparently Frank Vance already has used every possible application, but has Ligonier Ministries availed themselves of Matthew 18 yet? Second, we have I Corinthians 6, where Paul says that if we can't get able men to judge, then "Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?" This is not always a viable answer, but it is Paul's answer when the church won't do its job and judge itself.

This is a call for the church to wake up and take over the judicial system, at least the judicial system that involves Christians. There is a need for judges of thousands, judges of hundreds, judges of fifties, and judges of tens, on a daily basis, in every town. Denominational ecclesiastical courts aren't cutting the mustard.

Where are the able men?


Lin said...

This is an incredible article you have written. It needs to be read by many. May I please link it from my blog?

It asks the question that must be asked. Where do we go? Where are the godly men we can trust?

My blog is

Lin said...

For some reason your blog address is not showing up?

Jen said...

The link to this article is The link to my blog is You are free to link to my blog and thank you for the compliment!

vancetribe said...


I hope that I'm not unwelcome here, but I know there are several other blogs where I would be unwelcome, and so I don't post there. I'm grateful for the labors of you and Mark in talking fairly and more importantly biblically about this issue. You and your husband appear not to be norm among Ligonier supporters that blog. Many of the blogs that support Ligonier have been very slanted in how they apply the Bible in this case. They're eager to hammer me with it (and usually quite inaccurately), but they're even more eager to cast it aside entirely when it comes to making biblical application of Ligonier's lawsuit. For all Ligonier's fine "Renewing Your Mind" teaching I have to wonder what went wrong with their supporters?

Since finding out that I was sued by Ligonier Ministries I've woken up each morning thinking, "Surely that was just a bad dream." But with the morning coffee I'm forced back into confronting reality. Yes, I've really been sued by a Christian ministry, and not just any Christian ministry that doesn't put such strong emphasis on "rightly dividing the Word."

Ligonier is a ministry that I'd held in high esteem for years. I'm Reformed and I cherish the Reformed faith. To be sued by one of the major Ministries in that movement has had me shaking my head in disbelief for several days. It just doesn't make any sense.

As you've already so well put it this is nothing less than Divorcing Orthodoxy From Orthopraxy. Didn't Jesus take on the Pharisees over that very thing?

It's interesting that you mentioned Peacemakers. Since Ligonier sued me I've had several folks make mention of them. In checking into Peacemakers I discovered that they probably would have been the best possible option for Ligonier to go to, and they're approach is entirely biblical, unlike their lawsuit which is entirely unbiblical. Had Ligonier contacted me and suggested Peacemakers it's very likely that I would have agreed to it. But Ligonier made no attempt to dialogue, negotiate or settle with me at all. As I've already stated this is clearly a SLAPP lawsuit. It doesn't get any more unbiblical than that.

You asked a good question about Peacemakers, "This is certainly a step in the right direction, but I don't think they have any legal authority, per se." Actually their approach, as I understand it, does have legal authority because it can be the same thing as "binding arbitration." That means both parties sign a contract agreeing in advance that they will agree to abide by the decision of the Peacemakers arbiters, and if anyone doesn't like the outcome they can't then sue in civil court. All civil courts do consider binding arbitration to be just that, binding.

Frank Vance

Anonymous said...

I recently completed law school, and have also felt God was placing this very idea in my heart. I have seen so much heartache, and believe the church needs to step up and step in. I just started reesearching this topic, both biblically and practically. Do you have any more information or resources on this topic?

Thank you for posting.
A.D. Sanderson

Jen said...

I asked a friend who is both a lawyer and is very interested in this subject and this is what he said:

Biblical church courts do exist -- just not in the vast majority of Baptist or other independent churches. The Book of Church Order of the OPC supplies great detail about its church court, and the PCA does this same in its own Book of Church Order. I would start by reading the links at this page: and go from there.

Me again. There is lots of good information at that link, but for obvious reasons, not everyone can go to an OPC church. This is an area of obvious neglect within the majority of churches today.