The Coming Millenium

by Tom Wolpert on August 14, 2017

The Coming Millenium

Christian Optimism and the Law

 Non in legendo sed in intelligendo leges consistent. (The law consists, not in being read, but in being understood.)


In a pessimistic world, I have an alternative to present. God created this world – it is unreasonable to despair of it. This is not a political program, but a spiritual destination. It is a vision which now invokes law, both in its religious and secular aspect, but in a different way, to a different end than compulsion. My appeal is first to Christians; if successful, thereafter, common grace will do the rest. Because I believe in God, I believe this golden age will come to pass. Advancing an optimistic view of human relations must rely on the power of God; nothing less than a miracle is required. But miracles can happen slowly, and I believe this one will. As the Scriptures put it: “I believed, and therefore, I spoke.”

The Invitation

 Think about a city of great peace, of immeasurable joy, of prosperity, of common purpose and common affection.  This is a city of great beauty, completely new, but of great antiquity – a city of great men and women, of great salvation and safety. Think of a city of freedom and hope, of great innovation and great energy, of imagination, of great knowledge and great creativity, as dynamic and as unpredictable as the river flowing through it, as stable as a mountain. This is a city of impartial law and learning, of natural law established in thoughtful understanding and right conduct, a city of great justice, tempered with dignity and mercy.  Picture a city wise in judgment, but never judgmental.  Look on a city of eloquence and expression, intellect and spirit.  This is a city of high moral standards, but not moralistic.  I invite you to this city, engaging and communicative, outgoing and welcoming.  You will find a city full of people everywhere filled with joy, eager to do good.  It is a city where everyone, everywhere, holds the interior spiritual life we have toward God as important.

Think of a city of ideas and thought, a city of patriotism and service, a city of generosity and refuge, a vibrant city, a city of wisdom and foresight. Think of a city characterized by love, kindness, respect and compassion, each for the other. Here is a city of visionaries and poets, of thinkers and doers, of prophets, of healers and helpers, of artists, of builders and dreamers, of scholars and educators.  If you will, imagine a city of drama, and passion, a city of tree-lined boulevards and spacious parks, shimmering lakes and clear, pure fountains, of lush gardens and bright flowers, of good friends and busy city squares, of fresh food and sparkling companionship, of concerts and hauntingly lovely music, of shops and arts and lively conversations.

Think of a city of truth and honesty, of candor and sincerity, eternal in its principles, flexible in their application. Think of a city undivided in its goals, not at odds or at war with itself.  We may hope for and achieve a city without factions, and without violence or strife. Think of a city without ulterior motives or manipulations, where corruption can nowhere be found.  Think of a city where selfish ambition is checked, and service is honored. Think of a city where self-serving motives and self-dealing conduct are unknown.  Think of a city where selflessness is the norm, and deceitful motives are rejected. Think of a city of charity, of equity, where poverty is impossible. I describe a city without fear, without hatred, without want, without insult or provocation. Think of a city without evasion, without meanness or contempt, without cheating, but with fair and honest interchanges being the only rule and norm, characterized everywhere by mutual respect.

Think of a city of faith, with an unlimited future, beloved and blessed by God, exciting at night, breathtaking at dawn. This is a city set on a hill, shining a beacon, a city of bright lights and great energy, a model for the world.  Think of a city of mystery, whose springs are deep, founded on the creative power of God.  This is a city of spiritual renewal and growth.  This is not a city of riots and rebellions, of loud declarations of self-centered demands, nor of self-indulgence, but quiet acknowledgments of voluntarily-assumed responsibilities and personal self-control.  Think of a city patient with learners, compassionate with those on the good path, a restorer of those who have stumbled.  I point to a city of sincere empathy for those who have suffered, but never a city of self-pity.  Our road is to a city which is forgiving, but directing to that end where righteousness has a home.

This is what we were created for and no power exists to keep us from it.  It is a city of our world, in human time and human history, inhabited by people quite similar to you and me.  This city confidently advances its border and boundaries and never needs to retreat.  Its walls embrace those who enter in, for their comfort and security.  It may be visionary, but visions have power, and this city will come into being, nonetheless for being visionary. It is a city of idealism, but not a floating idealism as fragile as a soap bubble, but an idealism initiated, supported and reinforced by the Holy Scriptures. It is a city on which we may rely.

Such a city has been ordained by God, from before the first moment of creation.  Such a city is the product of God’s law and God’s love, rightly understood and applied. Non in legendo, sed intelligendo.  The path of the Law to this city imposes nothing other than the law of love and accountability to one another.  Its chief judges dispatch no swords for enforcement, but only inquiry, reason, logic, and the golden rule.  Its witnesses need no oaths to coax them to truthful testimony.  Since perjury is unknown, no written penalty for it exists. Conscience alone is the local magistrate, a conscience captive to Christ, Judge of the whole world.  It is a city ruled by the wisdom of Christ.  He rules on appeals presented in good faith by issuing His Word, communicated from a Court whose petitioners enter by means of the Holy Spirit.  The judgment that follows exerts its powers exclusively by a movement within the hearts of those affected.

It is a city of liberty, free to be entered at its open gates, exacting no admission fee except a sincere heart before God and Christ.  To understand this city with a right spirit, is to be at its gates.  To receive the vision of this city, is to take the first steps therein.  It is a city which will ultimately boast of its citizens in vast numbers, who will themselves comprise its riches and its treasures.  It is a city of life, flowing, running, springing life, whose King, Jesus, always spiritually present, was raised from the dead, once for all.  He is now and will be forever the author, the source and the power of life, spilling over everywhere, flowing into and through a city of permanence, whose growth never ceases and whose life never ends.  The witness of this city will run for ages, for a millennium, and perhaps a thousand of such millennia.  There is no limitation on the power of the Holy Spirit to enhance and lift higher the life of this city. Christ’s visible and physical return will be a coronation in a capital city where he has always been spiritually present, ruling in power, and his coronation ceremony will introduce men and angels into the same place and time in this, our world, ending one kind of timekeeping to begin another.  For those interested in a name for such a view, I would call it organic postmillennialism.  The Christian tree spreads both visibly, and invisibly, like branches and roots, inexorably, without ever ceasing its growth.  Vade mecum – Come with me! 


A Confession and an Opening Statement

I am a lawyer in a suburban community near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I do not hold elected public office or a position in any church.  The only power I have is that which anyone has, to persuade, but I use that power of persuasion to a hopeful and optimistic path now.  I argue for an eventual astonishing and ideal era of peace, prosperity, kindness and love, under the influence of our Sovereign God.  He has inspired us to think of such a millennium, and presented it in the Scriptures, because he wills it to be accomplished.  Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we repeat our faith in the coming Kingdom of God.  Jesus preached the coming Kingdom of God energetically and persistently.

This spiritual and religious argument, relying on Christ, on Christian thought, theology and language, is here applied to our present situation, for hope, for improvement, for the will to strive to something better.  Christian optimism starts here, or is to be found nowhere at all.  The daily news cycle has its own story to tell.  I present different uses of Christ’s law to point us to a better result, nearly immediately – for each of us individually, as well as collectively, for the Church, our community, this city, our nation.   The word law is italicized to emphasize the different ways it is used.  The law, in its variety of applications, is the fabric and facilitator of the proposals which follow. Generally, I do not mean a law of compulsion (as in, you better do this or not do that, or else), but rather tireless direction. In Christ, the law may be molded and shaped to many different good purposes, but guiding to one destination, the city to which is already described, starting with its first descriptions in the Bible.

The vision starts and ends with Jesus Christ, who has saved us from our sins.  Although this vision of Christ’s City should flow from faith into the world, it cannot be made into a secular, generic substitute.  I did not acquire this vision on my own; it is expressed in the Scriptures and later developed by theologians whose writing I have read and been influenced by, and moved by.  My prayer is that this vision proceeds under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Being a lawyer, there are certain forms of address which are familiar and comfortable to me, so consider this as opening argument made to you, the jury.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, thank you for hearing me out.  I acknowledge my inadequacy to this task.  I also acknowledge that the service you provide by being my audience is invaluable. My purpose is to describe, advance, defend and declare the coming millenium of God, intended ultimately for all people, everywhere – a world joyful, peaceful, loving and charitable. It is described in Chapters 20-22 of the Book of Revelation and elsewhere in Scripture, especially the Book of Isaiah.  I argue for unshakeable optimism in this end and outcome.  I propose a direction and use of law to reach this promised millenium.  If you see this City of God as I hope you will, there will be no choice but to journey there with a joyful heart.  We will not be dissuaded by shortcomings – either ours, or those of others.  If you know where you are going and why, the catcalls and negativity of the cynics of this world have little importance.

My Argument for Unapologetic, Steel-Plated Optimism

This is a doctrine of optimism.  It is intended for us, ordinary people.  It does not rely on having a personal sunny disposition.  It is the same doctrine on good days and bad days.  It does not rely on favorable outcomes in one’s personal life, or good news or favorable results in the national or world political sphere. Tragedies in the world or in one’s personal life call for kind and sympathetic responses from Christians, but not for any change to this doctrine.

This optimism, ordained by God, does not rely on the good nature or intentions of any church, nation, organization, society, government or person.  It is not chained down by history or a recital of past evils, bad news, tragedies or wrongdoings. It does not rely on secular elections, opinion polls, trend lines, or head counts taken among various population groups, in various churches, or in the nation as a whole.  This optimism is indifferent to the 24-hour news cycle.  This optimism undermines and overwhelms a culture of unbelief which we are absorbing daily as a result of a steady diet of negative or combative news.  This optimism may regroup from time to time, but it never retreats.  Eggshell optimism is no optimism at all.  This optimism is not drawn into angry, insulting exchanges, but always seeks to understand even where there is disagreement, to be respectful, to pray for one’s adversary.  This optimism never hates, but always invites.

This optimism stands on faith in the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, and on observations of fact about which there can be no reasonable dispute. It relies on the nature and intentions of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, risen from the dead. Once understood, there can never be a reason to abandon such an outlook; no other choice but optimism is possible. In Christ all authority on heaven and earth has been invested, now, presently, at the moment you are reading this, extending to the end of the age.  Those are the grounds for optimism. This optimism looks to an outcome of justice, prosperity, brotherhood and hope in human existence which is fantastically favorable, a millennium of light, goodness, peace, grace, unity and joy in this, our world, coming down from heaven.  This Jerusalem-from-above, this joy, this age of human kindness and prosperity, is for us, given by our gracious God, prior to the physical, visible return of Christ and the Final Judgment.  Those are the grounds for this optimism.

The unlimited sovereignty, immeasurable power, and unchanging ordinances of God, expressed in His Word, are the pillars of this optimism. Optimism is more than a feeling, an outlook or even an end state: it is a path and a destination, in and with our Lord, Jesus Christ.  This optimism is more certain, more unyielding and more powerful, than any steel ever could be.  Stars falling from the sky will not deter this optimism.  It reflects the unalterable decree of God and the immeasurable love of Christ.  Bad news and negativity crumble in the face of such optimism.

I treasure this optimism and will not yield it.  I look to this millennium of light, goodness and peace. I start and travel this path and ask you to do the same.  The Holy Spirit is an infinite, unlimited source of energy for our journey.

As Jesus once said, under very different circumstances, but with the same ultimate end in view, “Arise!  Let us go!” (Mk. 14:42.) His decree has been given.  His circumstances did not change his purpose, his love, or his destination.  Jesus was an optimist.  To obey God will be pleasure for our souls.  Arise, friend! Let us go! The millennium, a golden age, not only awaits, but insist

1. Jesus, the Supreme Judge and his Plenary Jurisdiction

 Who is our judge?  All arguments from lawyers implicitly start from this point.  Before an attorney advances any position, counsel has to get to the right courtroom; and to know who the judge is.  Implicitly, the jurisdiction of the court and the judge over the parties and the subject matter is always at issue.  If we are to understand the law, in a different way to a different end, this is our point of departure.  We will not reach our destination by abandoning the faith, wandering off, intellectually undisciplined.  The penalty for disregarding the map is that you don’t get out of the woods.

Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

Acts 17:29-31.  So explained the Apostle Paul to the Athenians, identifying Jesus as the one and only human judge, appointed by God, to deliver justice to the world.

My arguments here are spiritual arguments, intended to persuade an unknown and unnumbered group – whoever is willing to listen.  The subject matter is the peace and pleasure of a better society, growing continually better.  The application of Christian optimism to achieve this would immediately begin making a better society – directing us to a city of peace.  Given the current status of domestic and international affairs, there is an immediate ‘case or controversy’ –  one does not have to wait until the return of Christ to desire a better world.  The hostility and tensions active in our nation and world today give rise to ‘injuries in fact.’  There is a ‘causal connection’ between the friction, hatred and division that are prevalent and pervasive, and the injuries we, people everywhere, are suffering.

If enough people are persuaded to the optimistic Christian faith advanced here, such harms may be reduced – injuries will be ‘redressed by a favorable decision’ – even starting down a more optimistic road will lead to a more peaceful society.  The essential elements for jurisdiction are met, a spiritual jurisdiction which we both wait on, and act on.  If we cannot obtain unity and peace everywhere, it will be of real benefit to receive and achieve some unity and peace, somewhere. Jesus began his ministry with the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” A decision for peace is not a nullity; and many such decisions may have a decisive effect.  But unlike the world, Christians do not sever their decisions or conduct from the authority of God.

Unlimited Atonement, Unlimited Jurisdiction

The underlying theological premise of Christian optimism is that the Great Commission will be fulfilled, and the nations will be at last made joyful disciples of a loving God.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus; that is a present fact as well as a future fact.  Jesus, in his humanity atoned for the sins of every single person in the world, past, present or future.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. Romans 5:18.

The atonement which Jesus accomplished at the cross is the basis for his universal spiritual and judicial authority over every person. Never once in the Gospels does he surrender his authority, never once does he impose his authority by compulsion.  In his humanity, as well as in his divinity, Jesus has universal jurisdiction over all people, nations, languages, and tribes.  His jurisdiction and his atonement are plenary: coextensive, inseparable, universal and unlimited.  With respect to both the scope of his atonement, and the scope of his jurisdiction, one could not be limited, without limiting the other.

Nec erit alia lex Romae, alia Athenis, alia nunc, alia posthac, sed omnes gentes et omni tempori una lex, sempiterna et immutabilis continebit.- Cicero

 There will not be one law at Rome, another at Athens, one law now, another later, but for all peoples and for all time there will be one eternal and unchanging law.

This epigrammatic statement of the Roman lawyer and politician Cicero summarizes succinctly the basis of natural law. The Apostle Paul invokes it in his letter to the Romans, comparing Gentiles who do not have the Law of Moses with Jews who do have the Law of Moses:

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.  Romans 2:14-15

Generally, discussions over natural law look to its present application in situations where existing civil law is contrary to a higher law, to what is self-evidently right.  See, for example, the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written by Martin Luther King. He appealed to, and applied both the present and aspirational aspects of natural law.  I have an aspirational purpose in mind for the law, one interweaved with the hope and determination of a millennial world, a golden age – and one does not reach golden ages or a millennial world, except by the voluntary movements of the heart.  Jesus, who atoned for everyone, who rules everyone, calls everyone, and exerts his moral sway everywhere, has always and continues to direct us to this end, the final consummation of natural law.  The decree of God, immeasurable in holiness, immeasurable in power, indeed comes about – a city of peace ordained by God, not with a sword, but with love, the Holy Spirit, conscience, trust, fidelity to God’s Word, and accountability.

There will not be one law at Athens, another at Rome, one now, another hereafter, but one law for all peoples, at all timesThe “one law” is not static, but dynamic.  It is not an orphan law, but Christ’s law.  It does not rest in the mere absence of conflict, but moves progressively higher under the impetus of the Spirit. It does not exist to inflict punishments, but holds out a promise for a life which no rational human being would refuse, a life of love and peace, in a city of joy. There we may dwell with God.  The ‘one law’ has intellectual content – it is not possible to separate this ‘one law’ from the New Testament, and it is not possible to cherry-pick one’s way through the New Testament, finding some parts to have moral authority (but not all), and invoke the moral authority of this one law.   In the absence of commonly-acknowledged moral authority, we are left to nothing more than politics – and little need be said about the limitations and shortcomings of politics.  The end of politics is compulsory law – the monopoly on the use of force enjoyed by the state.  That is the point from which we depart to find the Holy City.

This path is ultimately for all people.  From the greatest to the least, all will be converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ – so directs the Great Commission.  This will happen from the inside of the heart out, and from, generally speaking, the bottom of society up.  The nations will at last be joyful disciples of our Lord Jesus, because all their citizens will be first.  The universal jurisdiction of Jesus, our Judge will be acknowledged, and the increase of his kingdom will see no end.  The Great Commission will be joyfully, ecstatically, triumphantly, lovingly fulfilled. We are called as individuals and as a community, and we will arrive as a community in the act of living our ordinary lives, in the acts of daily living.  The millennium, the city of joy, could not be a personal possession; it is for all mankind, not completed until everyone is a disciple of the heart, a disciple of the conscience, a disciple of the Spirit. Circumcision [the sign of the Law in Jewish life] is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.  Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2:29-30.  Christians go first in faith (the secrets of the Kingdom are given to you), the rest catch up by example.  As a practical next step, Christians need to be more able to resolve our disputes.  But before we talk about Christian dispute resolution, some examples of Jesus’ use of the law are appropriate to present, as well as some canons of construction (judicial guidelines for interpreting the New Testament, for purposes of dispute resolution).

Jesus Shaped the Law to Meet the Needs and Direct the Efforts of People He Met

Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well.  She had had five husbands, and was living with a man who was not her husband.  It is likely she had a history of sporadic prostitution.  She was never going to be able to meet the requirements of the Jewish Law.  For reasons of her circumstances, her history and gender, her ethnic group and its traditions, obedience to the Law of Moses was for her, a bridge beyond any calculable distance.  She would have interpreted Jesus making allusions or references to the Jewish Law as simply of way of condemning or distancing her.  Jesus did not impose on her a religious burden of the Law she could not bear, nor employ the Law to create a chasm between them, over which she could not travel.  Rather, Jesus told her “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  Jesus’ example, in which he invokes the Jewish Law only in the most spiritual way with respect to the woman at the well, is instructive to our use of the law.  The law is to build and call people to faith, not create unnecessary barriers.

The rich young ruler who met Jesus was not similarly situated.  For the rich young ruler, trained in the Law of Moses from his youth upward, obedience to the Law was customary.  The Law was his friend, his society’s possession.  After hearing a recitation of some of the commandments from Jesus, the young man said to Jesus, “All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?”  The rich young man wasn’t truly asking a question; he wished to be congratulated by Jesus for his piety.  Jesus did not direct him to continue the spiritually arid observances in the Law that he had long since mastered.  Jesus set him a spiritual challenge of no small proportion, and one that has no direct analogy in the Jewish Law.  “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  Spiritual growth, following Christ, rejecting complacency, are purposes of the law which the Christian community recognizes.  

If we are going to be wise in our use of the law, for dispute resolution, and invoke the New Testament as part of that law, interweaved with ordinary civil law, we will be equally judicious in its application, for the larger purposes of the community, as well as the purposes that the individuals have in their dispute.  It is never ‘just about two people fighting’ (although that has to be resolved in an impartial way) – it is also about the Christian community and the local church, and Christ himself, operating through the consciences of everyone involved.  Dispute resolution involves the respective counselors or advocates for the parties disputing, witnesses, the parties’ supporters and families, the dispute resolver, and those who may be observing the resolution of the dispute within the local church.  Others may be interested,  including those external to the local community who may observe (especially if a written record of the dispute resolution is made)  for purposes of establishing a type of Christian ‘common law.’  We will put our own Christian house in order because we want to move higher;  improving on the operation of the current, civil legal system is an obvious place to begin.

Canons of Construction

 Theologians and pastors interpret the Bible for spiritual purposes.  If we are interested in interweaving and interpreting the New Testament into our ordinary dispute resolution proceedings, because we are Christians and look to a higher standard than civil law, we ought to have some guidance from the legal community how this is to be done.  This guidance, how to interpret statutes and written documents of an authoritative nature, is referred to as a Canon (meaning guideline or rule) of Construction (that is construing or interpreting written laws).  Appropriately guided, Christian resolution of disputes will be substantially faster, more fair and much less expensive than ordinary civil litigation.

Interpreting the Bible has led to long-lasting theological differences.  Dispute resolution does not need to reach those historic points of division or separation, but disagreeing about the New Testament is like disagreeing about the interpretation of the Constitution – commonplace and apparently unavoidable.  Ground rules make sense to help everyone understand the process and to enhance the trust which is necessary for the process to work.  The underlying purpose is not only to win a dispute, but to continue the journey of a community to the City of God.  Since we are Christians, I will treat the New Testament as authoritative, and the Old Testament as persuasive.

The plain meaning rule.   When the words of the New Testament are clear, they ought to be given their plain and ordinary meaning.  The New Testament has language which is easy to understand (“Be perfect”) but quite difficult or impossible to achieve, and some parts, like certain passages in Revelation, which are symbolic.  But we can start by reading in a modern translation that attempts accuracy in translation. Doing an ‘end run’ around the plain meaning of the words of Scripture is likely to create friction and animosity, and not genuinely resolve any dispute.  Often people will disagree vigorously about what the plain meaning is, or whether or not it is truly ‘plain.’  Just reciting the plain meaning rule does not resolve every dispute, either in the context we are applying it, or among theologians and different groups of Christians.  But a plain reading of the New Testament is the point of beginning.

The interpretation ought to be reasonable.  By that I mean that people can live it in their ordinary lives.  Reasonable minds differ frequently about the interpretation of the Bible.  But this effort is not trying to resolve difficult far-reaching theological propositions which conflict with each other; we are trying to resolve serious intra-personal conflict.  Is the interpretation or adjudication being urged something that reasonable people can achieve, living the lives that Christians do all over the world?

What is the purpose?  The Scripture is given for an underlying purpose, to lead us to worship and obey Christ.  There was no point in beating down the woman at the well with the Law of Moses, and Jesus conspicuously did not do that, rather he directed her upward spiritually.  The purpose of Christian dispute resolution is to resolve disputes that might otherwise be subject to civil lawsuits or be permanently disruptive to the common faith of people immediately involved; theological, social or political problems that would be beyond the power of a dispute resolver to adjudicate or referee are not in view here.  Ultimately, our purposes are the love of God and love for each other, which includes getting our differences resolved. The foundations of Christian jurisprudence are voluntary conduct (advocated by John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration), the appeal to conscience (exemplified by Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail) and trust.   Upon these foundations we may arrive at and build a City of Justice.

All the words count in the New Testament.  No part of the New Testament ‘drops out.’  All of it is inspired and all useful.  That doesn’t mean that all is applicable to each situation or of equal importance, but the integrity of Scripture requires that we never treat the New Testament as a document through which we ‘pick and choose.’  The Old Testament has a great deal to offer, for persuasive reasons, but ultimately, the Book of Hebrews (among other New Testament writings) tells us that the old things have passed away.

The consequences of any resolution or decision can be considered.  The Christian community is deeply concerned about where the parties are left in life, after the decision is rendered or the conflict is resolved.  Christian dispute resolution is not a game; people’s lives are affected.  We conduct ourselves in the presence of Christ Jesus and our own consciences, as we proceed in our faith with all the parties of the dispute still members of our community, before, during and after the dispute.

Other concerns: real world evidence and the assistance of counsel.  Among the most horrible events in American legal history were the Salem witch trials.  Considering spiritual values for dispute resolution opens up the field of inquiry broadly, which is what we want to achieve in a more flexible, faithful dispute resolution system.  But ‘spectral evidence’ (people claiming to see someone else’s spirit which purportedly ‘proved’ that person was a witch) was admitted at the Salem witch trials, and was used to murder innocent people by judicial decision.  Preposterous evidence has not been limited to the Salem witch trials; by way of example, day-care sex abuse hysteria cases have taken place in various locales around the country.  If the facts are in doubt, cross-examination is the best and often only remedy for dishonest, delusional, hysterical, coaxed, coached, or misinformed testimony or evidence.  Even in a Christian dispute resolution system, people must have the right to the assistance of counsel, and if the facts are in dispute, to the right of cross-examination against those giving adverse testimony.  Making a dispute resolution system fast, simple and cheap has obvious benefits; but the dispute resolver needs to be accountable to Christ, that the result is consistent with justice, fair play and due process.   The grace of God has provided us with hundreds of years of collective legal experience; we move forward by adding to it, not ignoring it.

Christian Dispute Resolution: The Specifics: Why It Can Be Much Better

 Christian principles may be invoked.  “Christian principles” is a broad term which has different dimensions in the minds of different people.  In its broadest use, it refers to whatever conduct, beliefs or views a particular person thinks are right.  There is another view prevalent in our civil society today, which may be characterized as ‘amorality for everyone, except to the extent that a civil or criminal wrong is provable in court.’  If adding to the civil law for spiritual purposes runs the risk of being excessively vague, adding nothing to the civil law is where we are today, which is a society with little moral direction, and not following the path to the joyous City of Jesus our Lord.  We want to see decision-making invoke the principles and the content of God’s Word, not to the exclusion of ordinary civil law, but as a guiding light to it.  As noted in the canons of construction referenced above, we apply the New Testament to our lives in the context of resolving disputes, so that the end result both resolves the dispute, and points everyone to the worship of Christ.

How this is done is in the hands of the dispute resolver. We do not want God’s Word invoked for purposes of dispute resolution in a way that becomes arbitrary in the hands of a select few who already have considerable power.  I do not recommend that the pastor of any particular church act as a dispute resolver; I do recommend that a legally-trained person who is a Christian act in that capacity. In civil government we separate the executive power from the judicial, and we should do so in the context of our Christian community.  An independent Christian judicial function would be of great benefit to the evangelical Christian Church, for the sake of justice, impartiality, stability of the Church, accountability, redress of wrongs otherwise beyond the reach of civil law or the governing documents of a church, a check on abuses, and a witness to the world that when we say we worship Christ, we mean it by actions that are protective of the genuine interests of the congregations.   Such an independent judicial function would be protective of pastors from unreasonable attacks, including unfair attacks from their own governing boards, and protective of the doctrine of salvation we have received, once for all, entrusted to the saints.

          Pastors. One application of this type of dispute resolution may involve the pastor of a church.  Accusations against pastors are easy, and ought to be carefully reviewed for seriousness, and for the ordinary requirements of legal ‘standing.’  But misbehavior by pastors can be enormously destructive, and in some situations, the governing board of elders is not in a position to intervene effectively. Disputes between pastors in the same church may be destructive (I have seen this first hand) and the governing board may be divided in its loyalties in such a way that they do not effectively resolve the dispute.  Whether the parties involved are willing to voluntarily accept such a dispute resolution approach is another problem, but if they refuse to participate, that may itself assist others in understanding the issues involved.  If the parties do agree to Christian dispute resolution, the process and result I am proposing is more than just an attempt to mediate (to get everyone to ‘kiss and make up’) – it entails taking evidence and rendering a written opinion which, in the context of a dispute involving a pastor, may or may not be made available to the congregation, in whole or in part.  Our goal is never to embarrass individuals, but always to move in the direction of the worship of God.  Depending on the context, transparency and accountability may assist that goal.

Accusations of sexual misconduct.  Accusations of sexual misconduct against minors must be referred to the appropriate police or criminal enforcement authorities, or children and youth services – in Pennsylvania a referral to one authority is likely to trigger automatically a referral to the other.   The consequences to a victim, the risks to further potential victims, the penalties which may be applied and the rights of the accused are all too serious to rely on a voluntary system of compliance – and in Pennsylvania, to fail to appropriately report such conduct or a reasonable suspicion of such conduct may be an independent criminal act.

Accusations of sexual misconduct involving adults, where assaultive or criminal conduct are not at issue, are appropriate for voluntary Christian resolution, if other less intrusive means of resolving the situation are not effective.  An example is the married pastor having an affair with a married congregant.  It certainly affects the parties, their spouses, their children, and the congregation as a whole.  Pastors treating the congregation as an available field for sexual adventure is more than a problem of individual morality.  Emotions run high in such situations, but our agenda and the end goal is still the City of God, for everyone involved.

Much broader range of disputes capable of submission to resolution

 There are many serious disputes, including disputes between Christians, that are incapable of being addressed by civil law.  I will give two examples that are frequently encountered in my practice of law.

Unfair treatment at the job.  People encounter unfair treatment at work, which often results in discipline, friction, demotion, unpleasant reassignment or termination.  Lay people, not legally trained, are generally under the impression that legal ‘harassment’ means whatever harasses them at work.  Legal harassment is very narrowly defined, and generally does not include what is commonly complained of – friction between a supervisor and subordinate employee.  Often people are astonished and dismayed when I tell them that ordinary unfair treatment at work, which may cost them their job, has no remedy whatsoever (apart from unemployment compensation) unless it was motivated by some of the special motivations such as race, religion, gender, age, etc., that are proscribed by law; proving that type of discriminatory motivation is exceptionally difficult, since the employer generally will have a host of non-discriminatory reasons to explain its conduct.  I explain that employment is ‘at-will’ in Pennsylvania, as it is most states, and that an employer can discharge an employee, subject to certain exceptions, for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason.

Almost invariably, I next get questions along the lines of: ‘You mean they can just do that?’  ‘You mean there’s nothing I can do?’  ‘They can just get away with that?’  My answer is ‘Yes, they can do it, if they have a valid, non-discriminatory reason to offer, even if they are wrong, unfair, or mistaken.’   Often, I add words like: ‘Everything you yourself have just described is intrapersonal conflict, which happened not because of some secret motivation of your employer having to do with race or gender or age.  You yourself don’t believe that.  It’s because you and so-and-so don’t get along and that causes you stress which is a medical problem and you want so-and-so transferred, (or because the employer has given you too much work and not enough time or resources), (or because the business is downsizing and relocating some employees but not others), (or because it wasn’t your fault that you were often sick or late), (or because you said something you thought was a joke that offended so-and-so who complained to HR), (or because you thought the rules about coming a few minutes late were relaxed for everyone and you didn’t have to call in), (or because you couldn’t find childcare), (or because the machine broke and maintenance wasn’t your responsibility), (or because sales were down and they diverted your major clients), (or you just had one angry outburst), etc.  The explanations are many, but the consequences of a lost job can be enormous and devastating.

In a Christian dispute resolution context, some of that (but surely not all) might be addressed between an employee and employer who were willing to resolve the dispute for the sake of being fair and good conscience toward Christ. At least, the employee could ask the underlying questions of the employer that undergirds all those employee explanations above: ‘Is it really fair, the way you are treating me?  Is it really fair, for me to lose my job after _____ years?’  Fundamental, broad questions of fair conduct in the context of employment are at least possible.  The end result might be the same, or it might not, but at least the employee would get to make the argument that terminated employees want desperately to make: ‘I worked here faithfully for ____ years.  I’ve worked extra hours and put in extra effort, and done everything I was asked.  The results of losing my job are catastrophic, for me and my family.  I really didn’t do X, or I really did do Y, or I really didn’t know Z.  Can’t you reconsider?’

Those trained in the law might ask in reading this, what is different between what is being suggested, and common-law binding arbitration?  First, New Testament reasoning is available and applicable; I don’t know what a civil court would do upon being presented with a petition to enforce a common-law arbitration award, in which the arbitrator’s opinion was replete with New Testament reasoning, but it is certainly not predictable.  Second, this is still a Christian and voluntary process, and voluntary compliance has huge advantages in terms of time and expense, compared to the compulsory methods of ordinary civil law.  The Christian dispute resolver’s opinion and resolution might involve a complex interaction between the parties, contingent on outside events (e.g., whether the business is doing well enough to continue the employment), that would be impossible to frame into an ordinary court order enforcing a common-law arbitration award.  The remedy presented in Christian dispute resolution assumes that the parties are still part of the same Christian family going forward, whereas the civil law assumes that the parties were strangers to each other prior to the employment relationship, and will be strangers to one another after the resolution of the employment dispute.

Unfair conduct in elder care settings.  The variations of this are many, so I’ll provide an example first.  A very elderly father is living with one of two sisters.  He is not senile, does not have dementia, his intellectual capabilities are intact.  But he is very elderly, and simply wants peace.  He isn’t ready for a fight with anyone.  He lives in his own home, and one of the sisters (call her A.) has moved into this home with her husband.  A. takes care of him, but also commandeers his time, the home and the activities of her father.  The other sister (call her B.) loves her father and wants to spend time with him, visit him, call him on the telephone, take him to doctor’s appointments and outside activities, etc.  Sister A. forbids all this.  Sister A. usually will not allow Sister B. into the father’s home, will not accept calls from Sister B., etc.  Sister A. is not entirely consistent with this regime – sister A. simply makes sure that sister B.’s visits have plenty of emotional friction and confrontational overhead for everyone to discourage them. This revolves around long-standing conflicts, from the time they were young, between A. and B.  If the father had a strong enough personality for conflict, he could rectify this; after all, sufficiently motivated, he could have A. and her husband forcibly removed from his home.  But he’s not ready for a confrontation with sister A.  Sister B. is devastated and heartbroken.  She asks what her legal remedies are.

The answer is that there are no practical civil remedies at law.  A ruling from a court of ‘undue influence’ or some variant thereof, depends on elements that require a finding of a weakened intellect on the part of the father, which generally relies on medical testimony related to his cognitive abilities.   A favorable ruling from a court would also rely on a finding that sister A. suppressed all contact between sister B. and the father; which isn’t quite true.  Moreover, such litigation, if pursued seriously, could run up legal fees and charges in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $100,000 –  in other words, costs totally prohibitive for ordinary people.

Resolving disputes like this are notoriously difficult.  But the driving question of Sister B. cannot be ignored: “Is it fair?”  Because it is a family dispute, because it has no strong legal basis for a civil action at law, because it is likely to be difficult to mediate where the animosity between the sisters is of such long duration, there is a shoulder-shrugging response from the world at large: ˜what can you do? Sometimes life is not fair.  Perhaps the father will see what is going on in such a way as to decisively change it.’  Since we are Christians, of course the first remedy to apply is prayer.  But because we are in a faith community, with a path to follow to Christ’s Court of Justice, we do more than shrug our shoulders and add the matter to our prayer lists.

More strenuous methods are required than mere mediation.  The testimony in a system of Christian dispute resolution does not need to rely on medical evidence of dementia (which doesn’t exist), or an absolute prohibition against contact (which doesn’t exist).  The question to be directed to A., by a cross-examiner, could focus on issues of ‘fairness.’  And A. could respond, whether by arguing that her current conduct is acceptable, or by asserting her past sense of injustices or slights, which might reach back many years.  B. could be questioned as to her conduct and attitudes.  A. might be resentful that B. is in so much better financial circumstances, and B’s ability to shower gifts on the father would overshadow any efforts A. could make.  We would not have to blush at the word ‘fair’ in a family setting, shrug our shoulders and treat the word as if it were so vague, so subjective, so dependent on one’s viewpoint, that it could never be enforced in a civil court.  As noted above, the resolution would of necessity involve voluntary compliance; and might have to be adjusted repeatedly as the father’s condition continued to weaken with advancing age.  But, in a Christian dispute resolution system, we would never laugh at the word ‘fair’ and despair of ever capturing it in a written opinion.  If Christian conscience does not operate here, wherever would it operate?

A system of Christian dispute resolution reaches for a greater scope than normal civil litigation.  No system of dispute resolution can resolve every aspect of human life deemed unfair.  What is presented here involves the time and efforts of a number of people, as any civil litigation would – involving multiple people in any dispute demands that the dispute be substantial and not likely to resolve on its own. But Christian dispute resolution is not limited by forms of action which are available at civil law or what is called equity.  Technically speaking, there is no place in Christian dispute resolution for a defendant’s motion to dismiss a plaintiff’s claim, grounded on an objection that a particular plaintiff claim ‘fails to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted.’  There are no predetermined ’causes of action’ in the court of conscience before Christ – anything significantly and substantially unfair, which can be remedied by dispute resolution, constitutes a ’cause of action.’  There cab be no objections based on a lack of personal jurisdiction; Christ has jurisdiction over everyone.  The subject matter is anything that disturbs the people of God.  That broadens the field of potential claims enormously (one can almost hear the warning bells chiming about ‘opening the floodgates of litigation’); but the person being asked to resolve the dispute could certainly respond ‘that type of dispute is not substantial enough to involve an entire community.’

The well-known New Testament injunctions to forgive one another personal slights or trespasses are not ignored.  The prospects of successful pastoral counseling are not ignored.  But when a dispute passes beyond what personal forgiveness or pastoral counseling can be expected to achieve, we keep our own house in order by employing more extended and focused methods of dispute resolution.  We rely on the knowledge and experience we have gained in civil litigation; we apply it under the guidance of the New Testament, good conscience, and the interest of the local Christian community as a whole.  There is a familiar hypothetical given in the first year of law school – it involves a drowning man, and an Olympic swimmer who is standing on the shore and watching the man call for help as he sinks under the water.  The swimmer could easily rescue the man.  The law-school answer is that the Olympic swimmer has no legal duty to jump into the water and help the drowning man.  You cannot later sue the Olympian for failing to help – no civil cause of action exists against him; there is no ‘tort of human indifference.’  In a Christian dispute resolution system, we reverse this principle to reverse this result.

A broader range of remedies to apply to the broader range of disputes.  ‘Remedies’ as used by lawyers and judges is a somewhat specialized legal term, meaning whatever the plaintiff may want the court to do, and what the court is willing to order.  Without launching into an extended discussion about equitable pleading and practice, generally speaking, what courts are willing to do is limited by what they believe they can practically and effectively monitor.  A one-time judgment for money is easy enough, so are orders that prohibit a particular act (e.g., don’t picket within ten feet of that particular entrance; stop selling product Y until you change its appearance so it doesn’t look like competitor’s X).

But where the court issues an order (typically, because the plaintiff requested it) that mandates certain conduct, it becomes more difficult for the court to keep track of how its order is being complied with.  If the order relates around one-time conduct (e.g., answer the written questions of the other party on topic Z), then issuing such an order is practical for a court.  But courts don’t make orders mandating continuing love, kindness, understanding, etc.  Courts don’t even like to issue orders along the lines of: ‘contractor- do a better job building that house, talk more often to your customer, and make sure your finished product looks just like the architect’s drawings, except where the customer doesn’t care.’ Even in a Christian dispute resolution system, words like love and kindness mean different things to different people; both monitoring and enforcement, even in a voluntary sense, would be challenging.

Having identified some of the challenges, the goal of entertaining a broader range of remedies in a Christian dispute resolution setting is worthy.  A fundamental premise of Christian life is that we are now and will continue to be involved with each other, in and through Christ Jesus.  Almost every civil settlement of a lawsuit in the non-Christian context involves the concept of the parties ‘walking away from each other’ after they reach a settlement.  The language recited in settlement agreements is explicit and repetitive, to the effect: ‘after this settlement (often involving some passage of money), we have absolutely nothing to do with each other.’  If a judgment is rendered in an ordinary trial court, after the appeals are decided, the effect is the same: the parties are expected to keep their distance permanently, to be strangers to each other.  That is not acceptable for Christians.  Some distance and time may be advisable, but we never say to each other in a permanent way: ‘stranger, get lost.’ We are on the same road to the same Holy City.  We will meet there the same Savior.

Practically speaking then, the remedies available can involve continuing interactions between the parties (judiciously recommended though – the threshold for friction and exasperation is going to be low).  As the real world situation changes (e.g., the employer obtains or loses business contracts, the father’s health situation changes), the conduct of the parties may be malleable, not rigidly fixed in a one-time-and-forever court order or written settlement agreement. If it is impractical to ‘order’ love and kindness, the dispute resolver can at least order decent and civil communication between the parties, befitting people who confess Christ as Lord.  A written directive of cooperation in good faith, accommodating future uncertainties over the specifics to be followed, is not beyond the power or reasoning, expressed in a written opinion, of a Christian dispute resolver.  If needed and requested by the parties or the community, the jurisdiction of the resolver is not irrevocably terminated.  There is no ‘res judicata,’  except for a desirable finality to the conflict.  The only final judgment we will accept is peace expressing itself in love.

We are trying to craft a dispute resolution system that stops the parties from permanently facing each other down in a conflict posture.  The resolution of the dispute stops reprisals and retaliation, including the emotional retaliations that often poison the atmosphere after the heat of the conflict has ended. We want to direct all the people involved: parties, witnesses, friends and family, dispute resolver, counsel for the parties and their paralegals, observers from local churches, the congregation(s) as a whole, the board of church elders, the church administrative staff, the stenographer if there is one, the expert witnesses, jurors, if they were involved, everyone – in a common direction in obedience to God, and trust in God’s providence.  The written opinion of the dispute resolver is not only addressed to the parties, it is addressed to the community.  The opinion not only imposes duties on the parties, enforced by conscience, it imposes duties on the community, equally enforced by conscience.

That is where we will differ, so dramatically and so markedly, from the standards and conduct of the world.   However it is achieved, that is the spiritual grounding for the remedy to the dispute.  The resolution can be as varied, as conditional or contingent, as creative or dynamic, as narrow or as broad, as retroactive, prospective, extended or revisited, as the circumstances require.  The jurisdiction for such a remedy derives from Jesus himself.  The remedy extends not only to the parties, but to everyone else involved in any way, as conscience dictates.  The remedy to be issued effectuates peace through a resolution based on our mutual faith, and the peace and dignity of the church.  Human conflict is inevitable;  the stability and peace produced by such resolutions will be for the glory of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

A fraction of the cost of ordinary litigation.  It is no exaggeration to say that Christian dispute resolution would cost about one-tenth of ordinary civil litigation, and be completed about five times more quickly.  That is true, even if most of the rules and mechanisms of ordinary civil litigation were made available to the parties.  In order to understand why, it is necessary to explain what the word ‘discovery’ means in the context of civil litigation.  ‘Discovery’ means the rules and processes available to each party to ‘discover’ the other party’s case.  It proceeds typically first by means of written requests to produce documents directed to the other side (each side makes these requests), usually accompanied by written questions to the other side called ‘interrogatories’ (each side will submit these written interrogatories to their adversary).  Often there are several rounds of document production, and more than one set of interrogatories directed by one party’s counsel to the other.

These rounds of paper exchanges may be interrupted by motions to the court having jurisdiction, to compel the other side to produce more documents, answer more questions or answer them better, or supplement their first set of answers by making admissions, etc.  The motions presented by one side to the court are invariably resisted by the other side.  Each side prepares and presents its legal papers in court filings, and then time goes by (weeks or months) before the court decides.  After the decision, the discovery process resumes.

This process is just as catastrophic for efficiency and economy as it sounds.  Since we are now all in the habit of relying on our email correspondence, what was once touted as a paperless revolution has become an additional mountain of printouts of emails, to be produced (after expensive electronic search terms are quarreled over, and backup files are restored and searched), as part of the document exchange.  There is more paper than ever before, to be captured in the discovery process, for printing, exchanging, and disputing.

But the discovery process is far from over, after the dust settles on the initial written phase of discovery.  The documents are produced and the interrogatories are answered, and the electronic search requests conducted and hundreds (or thousands) of emails are printed and produced (with all their attachments), in order to provide exhibits and background information for the depositions.  The parties and witnesses have to be deposed; that is, answer questions in person directed from the other side’s attorney before a court reporter.  After the deposition, the court reporter makes a transcript of the questions and answers which is circulated to the attorneys.

Many hours, at a minimum, are entailed in the deposition process as it is conducted; more hours were expended in preparing for it (all those emails and documents are reviewed and marked for use at the depositions). Depositions, scheduled sporadically over a period of months or occasionally years, can go on for one or more days. Even when the process is conducted efficiently by the standards of civil litigators, the entire process of depositions typically goes on for many months.  All this provides a new arena for conflict – motion practice before a court over disputed responses, dilatory conduct, evasion, and the glacier-like passage of time waiting for court decisions.  Typically, the process is extended as one or both sides makes requests to the court for continuances, since delay after delay is the norm.  If the matter involves personal injury, visits to ‘independent’ doctors must be arranged for ‘independent medical exams.’  If the matter involves something concerning construction for example, architects and engineers must be engaged as experts and write reports.  Generally the entire discovery process must be completed before experts are engaged to write their reports.  The admissibility and validity of the expert reports are frequently challenged in motions to the court before trial called ‘motions in limine.’

Most of the cost of civil litigation is this lengthy, time consuming process of discovery – fundamentally, exchanges of written information, testimony under oath, and expert opinions, because neither side trusts the other to be fully forthcoming about all the facts, and each side is concerned they will be victimized by an ‘ambush’ at trial.  Each side is vitally concerned (and so are their professional liability insurance carriers) that suddenly new or different evidence, testimony, documents, witnesses, allegations, facts, expert inferences and implications, are suddenly sprung out of nowhere by the other side, or hidden from sight permanently, and for which there was no time to prepare a response or rebuttal based on investigation or research.

In a sense, the enormous cost of civil litigation is traceable to a ‘tax’ on ‘mistrust.’  The two sides mistrust each other so thoroughly, so implacably, (and such mistrust is written into the rules of civil procedure that lawyers must follow) that nearly any expense will be borne, nearly any delay accepted, rather than to trust that the other side would accurately and voluntarily produce all of its relevant evidence and a digest of its relevant testimony when the case begin, and talk about it like normal adults.

Those experienced in the practice of law may complain that I am exaggerating the debacle of civil litigation; if so, I am not exaggerating by much.  As a dispute resolution system, the existing system of civil litigation entails such enormous cost and lengthy delays that ‘atrocious’  is too kind a word. This limits its practical availability to those fortunate enough to afford it; or it relies on a system of plaintiff contingency cases and insurance-company funded defense.  We simply accept it – everybody ‘knows’ civil litigation takes years.  An ordinary person is likely to be involved in substantial civil litigation only through an auto accident or a divorce.  The most significant civil litigation in this country is the class-action lawsuits involving teams of plaintiffs’ lawyers and enormous sums of money pitted against corporations defending with enormous sums of money and their teams of defense lawyers.  But that has nothing to do with resolving the disputes of ordinary people, so that we might live better and more peaceful lives. The idea that we would make a better world for ourselves by resolving our ordinary disputes in a simple, sensible way does not appear on anyone’s radar.

A Christian dispute resolution system implies and requires that the parties will quickly and voluntarily produce the documents and digests of testimony necessary to conduct a hearing.  The parties must trust each other at least that much, and they must trust the counselors or advocates who are acting for the parties.  The lawyers or advocates must trust each other and the dispute resolver.  The lawyers can sit down and talk to each other, candidly and openly, with their clients present, available to answer questions, documents in hand, and accomplish in a two or three hour meeting what otherwise would entail six to nine months (or longer!) of adversarial discovery.

If all that trust seems hopelessly ideal – well, the price tag for a more defensive and mistrustful ‘reality’ is massive; it is the price tag we have now.  No one expects the world of civil litigation is going to change on its own or quickly.  But I present a Christian dispute resolution system, for those whose faith has been enlivened by the Holy Spirit and whose consciences are captive to Christ.  The victory we have in Christ is directed to a life of peace, joy and love.  That victory requires trust – and this is the trust which separates us spiritually and ethically from a world which, for all its bitter wisdom, has no idea how to improve human relations in conflict resolution.  The world of civil litigation gushes money, time and emotional energy in trying to win such conflicts.  Christ calls us to do better, and trust in each other is the essential, irreplaceable element in doing better.

If important evidence or testimony were not disclosed voluntarily in advance, the obvious remedy for a Christian dispute resolver would be to suspend the hearing or interchanges on the matter, to allow the opposing party to get up to speed.  Part of the reason that ‘ambush’ at trial is so devastating is that a trial is ‘once and done.’  Finality has many benefits in civil adversarial proceedings, but one disadvantage is that if the advocates are not ready for every possible surprise in this never-to-be-repeated proceeding, they permanently and irrevocably endanger their client’s case.    Ordinary civil trials or proceedings generally will not be suspended to explore the new issue that could have been surfaced in the discovery process.  This flexibility in the Christian dispute resolution system harks back to the issue of trust between and among the parties and counselors, and their trust in the dispute resolver.  Ultimately, all this trust flows back to our trust in God, who in his sovereign and immeasurable power, directs, controls, superintends or permits the outcome of every interaction between human beings – and not even a sparrow falls, without our Father’s will.

Important civil litigation may be conducted, trusting one’s adversary to be fully forthcoming about facts, documents, and testimony, presented in one or more ordinary meetings of lawyers and clients, early on in the case with no further need for adversarial practices.  Such a process would draw forth a suspicious and sarcastic critique from much of the legal community.  But when the litigation is resolved at one-tenth the cost, in one-fifth the time, we may safely respond -‘What happened to the jeering?  Where did our critics go?’  Criticisms are more bearable if those criticizing Christians are studiously examining our methods, to see what they can extract.  We may give a witness to Christ our Lord, which exposes the drawbacks  of cynicism and mistrust in the civil litigation process, most notably the extraordinary cost and delay.   As disputes are quickly resolved, we may carry on our own journey to a city of light and peace.

No enforcement but conscience.  The conclusion to a process of Christian dispute resolution would be the written opinion or recommendation of the dispute resolver.  Quite possibly, the discussions and meetings prior to the hearing would lead to a settlement, but if not, the conclusion would be reached quickly.   One of the essential requirements of a system of justice is that it operates in a timely fashion.  Another advantage of the system proposed is that the opinion of the resolver would be issued within a reasonably short period of time after the events giving rise to the dispute.  Practicing lawyers like myself have spent hundreds of hours in the course of our careers, explaining to clients why ‘it takes so long.’  We could skip all those discourses, to everyone’s relief.

The fundamental pledge of everyone involved in the process is to accept the dispute resolver’s opinion.  No documents are signed, creating enforceable rights in a civil court for the enforcement of the opinion by means of a petition.  If conscience does not compel compliance, then a much deeper problem has surfaced than the dispute at issue.  Voluntary compliance is at the essence of why we Christians are different, and why and how we pursue a goal under the impetus of the Holy Spirit which is larger than the individuals involved.  Using secular, civil legal powers to compel another Christian to do the right thing, or turn over his property or money, is contrary to the mutual commitments we have made to each other and to God.  Compulsory legal enforcement turns a process characterized by trust into a process characterized by the desire to win.  The dispute resolver’s opinion ought to identify at some point, the larger purposes we have as well as the local and immediate concerns of the individuals.

In the context of arguing for religious freedom, John Locke, the British political philosopher, made a powerful argument for freedom of conscience in his Letter Concerning Toleration.  His political points were so salient and powerful that they bridge the gap into theological truth as well.  The use of force is inconsistent with genuine religious belief.  There are many reasons why force may or must be applied in this world – the ordinary activities of police forces for the protection of society and its weaker members, as well as the maintenance of international order and protection from tyranny, terrorism and invasion, are obvious examples.  But no one is compelled to love God in his heart, with a sword.  How could our Savior Jesus ever be pleased with that?  In this context, loving God means voluntarily accepting an outcome from the dispute resolver which is different than one would like, or expect.  Clearly, there will always be an element of any decision in which one side finds the result more acceptable than the other.  No one expects insincerity or a phony smile from the side which believes it ‘lost’ – we only respectfully request that the opinion or recommendation be complied with.

Clearly, such a dispute resolution process is much less expensive.  Recommending continuing duties between the parties as a result of the process would be possible where compliance is voluntary.  If the result of the process is an award of money from one party to the other, collecting such an award is more likely to take place in a routine and non-adversarial way if the parties voluntarily engaged, as Christians, in the dispute resolution procedure.  There would be no post-judgment practice, ‘execution practice,’ discovery in aid of execution, or sheriff’s sales, or the entry of judgments or liens, or defensive bankruptcy filings, at all.  There is no appeal to take or appeals court, unless the dispute resolver himself felt that the matter ought to be reviewed by more than one person; in which case, legally trained Christians could be identified to act as an appellate court (hopefully, this is unlikely and extraordinary).  The full panoply of civil process and practice is available as a guideline to legally trained Christians to the extent it is appropriate and necessary – but necessary means more than one side is unhappy with the result.  Christians acting in good faith will have a conscience, answerable first to Christ and will act on their conscience, in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the New Testament.   Our conduct from first to last is voluntary to demonstrate the love of God in action.

The Christian community  has an interest in such proceedings, and rejoices in a peaceful and speedy outcome.  The Christian community’s deeper and more profound purposes are met.  To the extent that the privacy concerns of the parties are considered and satisfied, the publication of the resolver’s opinion would be a helpful and constructive component to the development of a larger system of Christian jurisprudence.  We will be satisfied with nothing less than a city of justice, a holy city of love and peace, and steps to that end are taken in obedience to our Savior’s Great Commission.

The defense of individual rights of conscience and the purposes of the Christian community.  Individual rights, especially of conscience, are to be defended when challenged.  To the extent that a dispute arises among Christians which invokes their own conflict over individual rights, Christian dispute resolution should be available, subject to the principles already discussed.  The assertion of any right exists within a framework of law which has strong local elements comprising the legal framework – for example, the discussion is not identical in the United States, Canada, China and Mexico.  In any location. the defense of individual rights affirms basic human rights.  As Christians, we  affirm the basic human rights protected by the United States Constitution, our state constitutions (mine is Pennsylvania), the United Nations Declaration of Universal Rights and the Helsinki Accords – unless, however, our faith cannot be reconciled with an interpretation of one or more provisions of such documents, which is being forcibly and negatively compelled upon us by a civil or governmental authority.  Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail presented an eloquent discussion of some of the complex issues raised by the conflict of civil law and religious faith, or natural law, and requires discernment by Christians.  Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees over the interpretation of the Law often revolved around what constituted an application of mutually acknowledged law that was consistent with God’s love and overarching purposes (e.g., first be reconciled with your brother, then bring your gift to the Temple).

For the sake of brevity, I offer the following: We assert and defend human rights, subject to our understanding of the principles and the norms of the New Testament.  We take the inspired words of Holy Scripture at face value, as well as taken as a whole, using good judgment – what the law may require first is mercy, not sacrifice.  But the primary requirement: mercy, does give place to the second requirement: sacrifice – that is, obedience to a norm set down by God.  We assert our right to religious belief, freedom, witness and practice in every local and cultural setting.  Within the law, we assert our right to be free from government interference.  To the extent that an interpretation of some law or document of civil society, or any rule, is being applied against us as a method of compulsion, pressure or persecution (whether in the name of civil or criminal law, societal norm, governmental policy, human rights, administrative code or by any other nomenclature or theory), we should invoke a guiding principle derived from the typical provisions included in many documents of a contractual nature:

To the extent any provision [of the law or document in question] is prohibited to us by our faith as Christians, the law or document shall be considered amended to the smallest degree possible in order to make its provisions effective, to give maximum effect to the principle of lawful obedience by the Christian community, to the limits afforded us by our consciences before Christ.

Whether or not that guiding principle is satisfactory to the authority applying some interpretation against us is an open question, but we declare that we always intend lawful conduct.  We are law-keepers everywhere possible, and if another course of conduct is compelled upon us by conscience, followers of a higher law in derogation of local law only to the degree necessary to be obedient to Christ’s law.  We love our country and our countrymen – we are patriots everywhere, even where we differ over what that means.

Nevertheless, the assertion of individual rights is not the ultimate guiding principle of the Christian community.  The ultimate guiding principle is obedience to Jesus Christ, demonstrated in unforced love and loyalty.  Opinions and consciences differ sharply in this area, once generalities are passed and specific instances and applications are considered.  The purpose of the dispute resolution system being presented is not to solve large societal, political, ecclesiastical or theological problems, or advance solutions or opinions or engage in demonstrations intended for some larger public as a means of political pressure or publicity.  Such conduct is beyond the power of an individual dispute resolver’s recommendation, presented to a limited number of people directly involved for the resolution of an immediate dispute.  The requirement that the process be voluntary from beginning to end is even more important here – this is dispute resolution among Christians.  Even where the subject is necessarily controversial, we want the process of dispute resolution conducted in such a way that it answers to the norms and the explicit language of the New Testament.  The Apostle Peter’s declaration in Acts 5:29 is still ours as well: we must obey God rather than man.

A Restatement of the Declaration of Individual Rights found in the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence made a timeless and unforgettable statement of individual human rights. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We as Christians, intending and expecting a better world, concur and affirm, but add also: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the gift and calling of Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom we owe fidelity and obedience.  We exercise this fidelity and obedience in a Christian community, to which we owe the operation of our own conscience before Christ, and a candid accounting thereof.

Our unalienable rights do not exist in a vacuum; nor is the only limit on the extension of individual rights the decision of a civil court.  We reject the amorality implicit in a doctrine which asserts that anything which is not declared illegal by a civil or criminal court, is morally acceptable.  We reject the notion that the more laws are annulled, the more rights people have.  Self-government is the essence of the pilgrim journey we take.  We exist in a community which self-governs under the Lordship of Christ Jesus. We enter this community voluntarily and reside there voluntarily.  When we arrive at conflict, we resolve that conflict and make determinations of the extent of individual rights as compared to the rights of the self-governing community, in the context of God’s Word.  Even where we differ with each other vigorously, as believers in Jesus Christ, we owe one another an accounting of our conduct, an explanation of our conscience before Christ, and an opportunity to the other party to provide the same.  The citizens of the City of God get a ‘say’ because the Holy Spirit moves us together toward a goal.  No individual is entitled to camp down on his sins and say – ‘well, that’s the way I am.’  That may well be ‘the way you are’ but that’s not ‘the way you’ll stay’ – not if you are traveling with us to the City of God.  The journey may be long, but it never stalls.



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