Christian Courts are Private Courts

Justice and Liberty for all, regardless of belief, are profoundly Christian concerns – in contrast to the Secular and Islamic focus on gathering power for the Right Sort…

(Party Members and Muslims, respectively)

and the disenfranchisement/humiliation/disposal of the Wrong Sort..

(that would be you and me).

But what makes the ideal Christian legal system?

With some heavy thinking, outlined below, Joel McDurmon shows that a private court system, without the backing of the State, would make the most idea system in most or all cases.


From McDurmon’s article, Courts of Law in a Free Society

The Christian Ideal: Private Courts

But state courts are neither the only nor even most desirable system given in Scripture. The second significant passage in regard to courts shows us a better way—private courts. And whereas the state court system exemplified by Moses is based on the pragmatic advice of a man along with piecemeal biblical principles, the private court system we shall see is directly revealed as the Christian ideal by the apostle Paul. Thus, this should be accepted and embraced by Christians as the most biblical method of resolving judicial disputes. Paul applies the Christian principle of private courts in 1 Corinthians 6:

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. 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? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! (1 Cor. 6:1–8).

What this shows is first, all believers are judges. We are called to be judges first and foremost of ourselves. All of Christian life is about making and obeying decisions that are faithful to our Lord—and this requires faithful judgment. Since civil government is instituted only to punish crime, then courts will only need to exist to the extent that people fail in the effort of faithful self-judgment first.

But, it is assumed that since we are still sinners even as Christians, and we live in the midst of a fallen world, that conflicts of judgment will abound both personally and interpersonally. Thus, courts will be necessary to decide such conflicts. Paul’s admonition here is to exalt Christian virtues of forgiveness, love, and self-sacrifice to the fore and thus limit the number of conflicts that 1) go to suit at all, 2) go to suit between believers, and 3) get heard before state courts. All should be held to an absolute minimum.

For cases that do arise, private courts are usually the best alternative. This means church courts, arbitration panels, mediation boards, and industry and professional courts. A society neglecting these outlets and the attitude of self-government will easily be paralyzed by endless litigation, massive bureaucracies, and countless administrative laws.1 Toward this aim, all contracts between Christians should include some form of private dispute settlement clause—Christian arbitration being a common one. These should seek to resolve all possible contract disputes privately, between Christian brethren, and eliminate state courts in all but the most extreme cases.

Private courts may sound like a utopian dream to many people today, simply because—as has been the case with so many of our topics—we have rarely been exposed even to the idea, let alone the practice, in our generations. But the truth is, private courts not only sound good in theory, they have existed widely in western Christian history, and they worked quite well.

Arbitration grew popular after the Civil War in the U. S. Judicial panels handled corporate and labor disputes and were widely accepted, despite the fact that they were completely voluntary and not legally binding up until 1925. It was only when some corporations determined to streamline the process that New York in 1920 enacted a State takeover of arbitration, backing all arbitration suits with the force of the State.2 Thus did the abuse of a few get answered by the loss of even the option of purely private courts. The U. S. government followed five years later by nationalizing the same principle. This has been revised several times since to give us the modern Federal Arbitration Act which overrides all arbitration cases and state laws pertaining to arbitration. But keep in mind, this was not the case before 1925, and it only came about largely due to the political clout of large corporations in whose favor a government takeover of the process fell.

The idea of private industry or private merchant courts has deep historical roots in the Middle Ages, and their system illustrates why state enforcement is often unnecessary. From the middle ages until the 1920s, merchants relied on private courts, and if necessary boycott and ostracism. Author William Wooldridge explains,

Merchants made their courts work simply by agreeing to abide by the results. The merchant who broke the understanding would not be sent to jail, to be sure, but neither would he long continue to be a merchant, for the compliance exacted by his fellows, and their power over his goods, proved if anything more effective than physical coercion. Take John of Homing, who made his living marketing wholesale quantities of fish. When John sold a lot of herring on the representation that it conformed to a three-barrel sample, but which, his fellow merchants found, was actually mixed with “sticklebacks and putrid herring,” he made good the deficiency on pain of economic ostracism.3

In other words, this was an honor system on steroids: break the code of honor, and you lost your livelihood. Once it was made known that a business ignored the decision of an arbitration panel, no one would wish to do further business with it.

And while it may be natural to think things were just so different in the Middle Ages than today, it was not so long ago that an industrialist like Owen D. Young, president and chairman of GE, spent a good portion of his time advocating for private arbitration. He advised the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and wrote several essays on the subject. He advised the Chamber “to support and develop the moral sanction upon which arbitration outside the law must depend.”4 Indeed, where the law is not in force, moral sanction is the necessary and very effective key. Young “concluded that the moral censure of other businessmen was a far more effective sanction than legal enforcement.”5 This was 1915. Today, with internet, various databases, and other powerful communications, nationwide ostracism would be even more powerful. It could be public, worldwide, within seconds of an arbitration panel’s decision.6

So we have seen then that a biblical view of the judiciary involves several principles, the most challenging ones being that judicial decisions be radically decentralized and privatized as far as possible. We have also discussed a couple of examples of how the United State was once a bit closer to these principles. These are just a small taste of vast literature on both the theory and practice of private courts, arbitration, etc. We do know that our society at least does have decent options in many cases, especially in private contracts and church courts. We also know that we once had options in this regard to an even greater degree than today. In the next section, we will discuss how our judicial systems have been hijacked and abused from very early on, and how this has manifested in the vast judicial tyranny we have today.

The oppressive, comprehensive, grindingly slow, and profoundly cruel “legal system” of today — which benefits no one but lawyers (esp. government prosecutors and corporate lawyers) and forever-unaccountable government officials — will fade away, with the morally (and soon enough, financially) bankrupt secular states that it serves.

Christians should get ready to replace it, starting now.

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