An Alternative Society in Corinth

My dad owned a successful business in the city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil. He employed a fellow church member to run the operation. He found out after some time that this trusted friend was guilty of a serious case of embezzlement. He had incriminating proof, but decided not to litigate. Instead, he chose an alternative path to resolve this disastrous situation. He called on the elders of the local church. The guilty brother was himself an elder. I remember the day when the elders showed up at our house. I remember the intense nature of the meeting. The situation was so serious that even the Conference president got involved. While the end result was not fully satisfactory for my dad, he spared the church (and himself) a great deal of heartache by choosing an alternative path to resolve the dispute—that of the church. 

The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) movement began in the United States in the 1970s. Given the painful and costly nature of litigation, the ADR provided an alternative way to resolve disputes.  It was created in response to a number of factors, including: (1) The overburdening of the courts: The number of cases filed in court was increasing rapidly, and the courts were struggling to keep up. (2) The high cost of litigation: Court proceedings can be very expensive, both for the parties involved and for the taxpayers who fund the courts. (3) The adversarial nature of the court system: The court system is designed to resolve disputes by determining who is right and who is wrong. This can be a stressful and time-consuming process, and it can often lead to results that are not satisfactory to either party.

ADR methods offer a number of advantages over traditional court proceedings. They are: (1) Voluntary: Parties to a dispute must agree to participate in ADR. This means that they are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome since they have played a role in shaping it. (2) Confidential: ADR proceedings are generally confidential, which can be important for businesses and individuals who want to protect their privacy. (3) Flexible: ADR methods can be tailored to the specific needs of the parties involved. For example, mediation can be used to resolve a wide range of disputes, from family law matters to business disputes. (4) Expeditious: ADR methods are generally faster than traditional court proceedings. This is because they do not require the parties to go through the lengthy discovery process and trial.

The ADR movement has grown rapidly in recent decades. ADR methods are now used to resolve a wide range of disputes, including family law disputes, business disputes, employment disputes, and consumer disputes. ADR is also being used to resolve disputes in the public sector, such as disputes between government agencies and disputes between the government and citizens. The ADR movement has had a number of positive impacts on the legal system. It has helped to reduce the burden on the courts, make justice more accessible to people, and promote more creative and efficient ways to resolve disputes.

Humans have been in conflict ever since sin entered God’s good world. The post-fall biblical narrative launches with Cain killing his brother Abel (Gen 4:1-8). Within a few generations, conflict was so intense that Scripture portrays the world as being “full of violence” (Gen 6:11). And though the earliest followers of Jesus achieved remarkable success in taking the Gospel to the world, Luke recounts several instances of conflict that threatened to divide the church (Acts 6:1-4; 11:1-18; 15:1-21; 21:17-26). Paul, understanding the complexities of human relationships, wrote to the Christians in Rome, “If it is possible, as far as depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (12:18). The implication is obvious—the achievement of peace is a worthwhile goal, but will not always be possible. Jesus gave wise instructions for disciples dealing with conflict (Matt 18:15-20).

Writing to the Corinthians, Paul appeals for unity among Jesus’ followers (1:10). God’s people in Corinth were in crisis, with believers litigating against other believers (6:1-6). Paul lamented, “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you” (vs 7).  He envisioned the church as a people capable of conducting their own internal judicial process. That is why, in the previous chapter, he challenged them to hold one of their own members accountable by pronouncing judgment on his sexually immoral behavior (5:1-13). If the church is capable of rightly and impartially handling disputes among its own members, a Corinthian judicial court becomes obsolete for Jesus’ followers. 

One could say that Paul envisioned God’s people as an alternative society in Corinth. Not that earthly courts are entirely obsolete. There are times when they serve the purpose of meeting justice. However, litigation is always costly and painful for everyone involved. That is why the ADR movement promotes the use of non-judicial methods to resolve disputes. ADR methods include mediation, arbitration, and negotiation. They are generally less formal, less expensive, and faster than traditional court proceedings.

The church in Corinth, not unlike the ADR, was to have its own alternative to resolving disputes. It is unrealistic to expect the church to experience no conflict. The problem is not so much the fact that disagreements exist, as the way they are handled by Christians. Sometimes, a Christian might even cause financial damage to a fellow believer. But there’s nothing more embarrassing for the church than for Christians to litigate against fellow Christians. If the church is truly God’s people, wouldn’t there “be one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between brothers…?” (6:5).  

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