I Corinthians 6:1-8 says, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? . . . Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”
First Corinthians 6 tells us that when two Christians have a legal dispute, they should be able to settle their argument without having to take their case before an unbelieving judge to arbitrate.
These civil cases are very different from criminal cases. A crime is considered to be a danger to society as a whole, and that means that a crime—or even a suspicion of a crime—is to be reported to the government authorities, according to Romans 13. The authorities (state or federal government, depending on the type and severity of the crime) will then proceed-—the authorities will investigate the crime and, if they find enough evidence, will themselves bring the case against the accused. (That’s why criminal cases are recorded as something like “The State vs. John Doe.”) It is not the victim’s responsibility to bring a criminal case, only to report the crime.
For example, if you knew that a leader in your church were driving drunk, you would be doing the right thing to call the police, because society as a whole would be endangered. You would not be doing the right thing to ignore it and keep it a secret “to protect the reputation of the church.” This kind of image-protection is highly unloving.
The same is true in the case of sexual crimes, which can cause far more damage to individuals and society than many people understand. Organizational leaders have often decided to handle these issues in-house, figuring that they, without any training, can conduct their own investigation, can know the right way to handle the situation. Often the handling is through a quick pseudo-reconciliation and an insistence that the victim is not to speak of it again.
This is wrong. For the sake of love for others—for the victims, for the church, for society as a whole, even for the offenders themselves—Romans 13 not only allows us but commands us to use the government God instituted to help in all criminal matters.