Is Congregational Voting Biblical?

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Ted Bigelow's picture
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For most of us, voting is a common experience. Many vote for our government representatives and, if we are involved in civic groups, we may vote in them as well. Voting is a means by which we express self-determination. “We the people” have the privilege and duty to help choose our future directions.

Voting is also how most congregations make their most important decisions. In Episcopal-style churches, the congregation votes on large purchases and on who will serve in various leadership positions. In “representational” churches, such as Presbyterian and American Lutheran, the congregation vote on leadership appointments, large purchases, and other membership matters. Independent churches such as Congregational, Baptist, or Bible churches vote on budgets, leadership appointments, large purchases, committee appointments, doctrinal changes, and membership matters. Voting is a common practice in most congregations, granting members a voice in the church’s affairs and decision making.1

It is widely assumed that voting in church is biblical, or if not biblical, a matter of freedom. Many believe it provides safety for the congregation and is a good way to build consensus in the church. In fact, have you ever read anything to the contrary? I struggle to think of anything in print that calls into question a practice so commonplace in our churches. It’s not like anyone is debating the practice voting in our churches, or even our synods, assemblies, presbyteries, conventions, conferences, etc.

Just as we vote in church we also claim to follow the Bible. Our doctrinal statements and constitutions are up front about this. Most churches claim something similar to the following:

This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.2

But we all know it is one thing to claim that our church accepts the Bible as authoritative over “proclamation, faith and life,” and another to live it out. That excellent statement you just read comes from a Lutheran denomination that debated and voted at their 2009 convention to ordain openly homosexual men and women to the office of elder. That was a truly sad event. Claiming the Bible led them, they voted against the Bible.

My recent book, The Titus Mandate , examines the matter of voting in the light of Scripture, because neither Paul nor his protégé Titus led churches or appointed leaders with votes. The difference is surprising since this is how we who live 2,000 years later would have expected an apostle and his protégé to lead churches. So it’s worth repeating. Paul and Titus didn’t use votes in church. The reason is deftly simple. They were serving God’s redeemed people, not an agenda. Titus was on Crete as a shepherd with a heart of compassion for hassled and distressed sheep. He came to build the church, not coalitions.

So like the Lutheran statement says, we profess Scripture’s authority over our faith and practice. That being the case let’s take the opportunity in this chapter and the next to apply Scripture to the practice of church voting. It’s a major part of church practice and affects everybody, even those who don’t participate. I start with an awkward lunch I had once with an area pastor.

“We vote as often as Jesus and the apostles taught us to.”

Several years ago the pastor of a medium sized Baptist church (GARBC) and I got into a discussion about voting and its role in church. Like many Baptist churches, his holds firmly to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. Indeed, the very first declaration in their doctrinal statement is this: “We believe that the Holy Bible is…the only, absolute, infallible rule for all human conduct, creeds, and opinions.” That put us on the same page, theologically speaking.

While talking over coffee he shared they were going through some dark days with congregational infighting and distrust of the leadership. Within the past few weeks, he and the other elders had been out voted by the congregation at the annual meeting, and people were leaving.

He went on to explain that he and his fellow elders thought they had prepared themselves for a small amount of conflict at the meeting. They had their talking points down and believed they were ready to lead the congregation into a building project. However, the church meeting turned sour when budget issues and the building project were raised. Some members were upset about friends who had recently left the church with unresolved complaints about the leadership. My pastor friend had been chosen as the elder to address that issue, and he tried to explain the situation to everybody’s satisfaction. But instead his answers only led to more questions.

He was confronted with a Catch-22 situation: either give detailed answers to the church about private matters, or explain his unwillingness to share details and leave the voting members dissatisfied and possibly upset enough to vote down the budget. To his own regret, he admitted that he went too far trying to satisfy the people in the hopes of getting the vote passed. He felt he shared too much in explaining the problems of the people who had left and how the elders viewed it. His indiscretion also hurt the subsequent vote. The meeting ended with a series of votes defeating the proposals laid before the congregation by the elders. The pastor told me that people were now distancing themselves from the elders, that distrust was increasing, and folks were leaving.

Eventually I asked him how he felt the situation reflected the Bible’s teaching on church practice and voting. He fell silent. I suggested that votes aren’t really necessary in a healthy church, and can even bring disunity. He looked at me quizzically, because he believed they produced unity. It was then that I dropped what was, at least for him, a bomb. I told him that we don’t hold votes in our church. He again looked at me, completely taken back. He pushed back from the table, tilted his head to one side, and squinting his eyes looked at me with something close to disdain. He had never heard of a church that didn’t vote.

His reaction caught me off guard, so I explained our position this way: “We do church votes as often as Jesus and the apostles taught us to.” A wry smile crossed his face as he went through his mental concordance searching for every verse on church voting. He quickly admitted that neither Jesus nor His apostles ever taught Christians to vote, but claimed that voting in the church is a morally neutral practice. “Oh?” Given the agony his ministry was going through, now I was the one who pushed backed—tilting and squinting.

Taking the opportunity, I explained that there is only one reference to voting in the entire Bible, and that one reference is far from neutral. It is Paul’s vote that helped put Stephen, the first martyr, to death (Acts 26:10). His vote was murderous and resulted in the first martyrdom in church history. “If voting were morally neutral,” I asked him, “then why would Paul confess his vote as sinful?”

Of course there are such things as morally neutral practices, such as the time church should start on a Sunday morning, the color of the carpet, and a thousand other matters. Each local church is free to judge that for themselves. There is even a word for such neutral practices: adiaphora. But voting is not adiaphora since it allows for disunity in the body and can lead to apostasy.

I believe the church is built on the teachings of His apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20, 3:5), Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. Yet neither Christ nor a single apostle initiated a church vote, taught a church to vote, or encouraged a church vote. Not once, not ever. What shall we make of this? Were they stupid? Or worse, do we now know 2,000 years later a better way to make church decisions than our Lord and all of His apostles?

They certainly knew how to vote—all it takes is the raising of a hand. But they built every local church with godliness and unity. Under the pure and wise guidance of God they wrote inspired letters to churches that form the content of our faith. These teachings do, indeed, reflect what my friend’s Baptist church’s doctrinal statement says: “the only, absolute, infallible rule for all human conduct, creeds, and opinions.” If we believe that, and Scripture doesn’t teach us to vote, why do it? In fact, when apostles encountered churches that used practices like voting they revamped them so they would obey Scripture. This is the kind of thing that happened to Crete’s churches (Titus 1:5). Apostolic ministry to dysfunctional churches began at the level of polity, radically altering them from the top down in order to makes them healthy, unified, and safe.

My pastor friend didn’t stay much longer at that church. Sadly, things got progressively worse for all. The disunity eventually affected the leaders as well as the rest of the membership, and in sadness and distress, he moved far away to lead another church with the same voting polity.

Notes

1 For further information on church structure, see Frank S. Mead, Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 10th ed., (Nashville: Abingdon Press, revised 1995).

2 “Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” 19. Reference from online edition, current as of August 2009, (accessed November 11, 2009) at http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organiza….

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Joel Tetreau's picture
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A thought or two

I'm trying to finish a book on the topic of the Decision-Making (DM) Process of the Local NT church. I'm answering thee questions - The What, The Who and The How of ecclesiastical DM. I'm taking a chapter for each of the following: the role of the Senior Pastor (the NT call is the Pastor-Teacher), The role of the elders, The role of the deacons, The role of the congregation, the role of the Church Member. So a few quick observations here:

The NT gives several areas where the congregation has a part of decision-making. One can make a case that congregations took place in "placing out" (church discipline), "sending out" (missionaries/evangelists from their midst) as well as having a part in the identity of who executive leaders might be. There may be a few other kinds of decisions the Scriptures give congregations.

However......

There are some congregations who practice a form of congregationalism that undermine God's plan for qualified, male leadership. The Scriptures give us the pattern of a plurality of elders and deacons leading and serving the congregation in at least two sphere's. The elders lead th congregation in the spiritual sphere. The deacons serve the congregation in the physical or benevolent sphere. Here's the deal - the Scriptures limit the leadership of those two offices to qualified men. In too many churches, two groups that have no buisness undermining the leadership of these two offices....too often undermine God's pattern.....and they do that by using a twisted approach to congregationalism that actually misses what God had in mind. Here are the two groups:

1. Women
2. Men who are not qualified

Let me explain. First, the Scriptures are clear that women are not to serve in either a principle-teaching/theological capacity to the church in general or an executive leadership position. Our sisters in Christ are to not lead the home nor are they to lead the church (Notice 1 Corinthians 12-14). Paul explains that there is a headship principle that governs the approach here. For those who take the Scripture's teaching as is - you can't argue the point. In many "congregational" churches, a block of influencial women will undermine the leadership of elders or deacons by way of abusing paralamentary procedure (such as Robert's rules). In some cases these are older women that think that the Scriptures teachings to submit to the leadership and to not engage in gossip doesn't apply to them. Assemblies need to deal with these kind of disobedient women quicly and clearly. The problem is that too many leaders (pastor or deacons) are spinless and too many congregations have grown to have an unhealthy dependence on the dollars given by these kinds of "women." Frankly many of these gals need to be confronted with the spirit of Matthew 18 and if they continue to be disruptive or divisive should be dismissed from the church. Oh....by the way, too often some of these gals have spineless husbands who refuse to lead wife and family in the ways of righteousness.

Second, the Scriptures are also clear on the kind of men who are not to serve the congregation in leadership. These are men who are not "blameless." Some men in a congregation cannot serve in leadership only because they are new in the faith. No problem there. It is what it is....in time, "they'll grow." However, other brothers have been in the faith long enough but simply do not meet the Biblical qualifications the Scriptures demand (1 Tim 3). Often times these brothers have been succesful in the "secular leadership world" and so they are under the delusion that they could lead the congregation better that "Pastor Pete" or "Deacon Sam." They are clueless that they are clueless. So in some twisted "congregational churches" these two voting groups - women and/or unqualified men, will steal decisions God intended for the elders or deacons to decide and through the use of parlamentory procedure will do what they do.

I''m sure I'll want to say more on this topic - good post Ted!

Polity should be congregational based, elders lead, deacons served.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Baptist Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

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Appoint or Vote?

While I agree with much of the sentiment of this article, I think it is going too far to conclude that voting is wrong in a church. Certainly it is a problem in churches where they believe that the church is supposed to be a "democracy." Rather than make decisions based on God's Word and what is best and correct for the ministry, the "majority" rules. They choose leaders but then feel they need to vet every decision made by the people they claim to trust.

His points about women and unqualified men making decisions in a church are also very good. But, there also is a problem in many churches with unqualified leaders or dictatorial pastors who make unbiblical decisions and then demand to be followed since they are the "annointed by God" to carry the leadership of the church. While I know this is a short article, I would like to ask Ted how leaders are to be chosen in the first place? And, what is the church supposed to do with unqualified leaders (e.g."deacon for life") or those who fall into sin and refuse to step down?

Finally, I believe it is also wrong to say that there is no Scriptural support or precedent for voting. While I am not a Greek scholar, I do know that Greek word cheirotoneo, defined as "1) to vote by stretching out the hand 2) to create or appoint by vote: one to have charge of some office or duty 3) to elect, create, appoint" is found at least four times in New Testament in regards to decisions made by local churches.

  1. In Acts 14:23, "appointed" ("So when they had appointed elders in every church").
  2. In 2 Cor 8:19, "chosen" ("And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches") - in deciding who will carry the monetary gift to the church in Jerusalem.
  3. In the postscript to 2 Tim. 4:22, "ordained" ("The second epistle unto Timotheus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians")
  4. In the postscript to Titus 3:15, "ordained" ("It was written to Titus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Cretians")

MS
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Luke 17:10

Aaron Blumer's picture
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Some counterarguments

I do believe voting is over-used in many congregations, and probably more often not properly framed. That is, we forget that it's not about expressing the will of the people but rather a way of discerning the Lord's leading together.

That said, there are some problems with Ted's case (so far).
1. Ted says voting cannot be adiophora because "it allows for disunity in the body and can lead to apostasy."
This misunderstands both the nature of adiophora and the nature of unity. Disunity occurs whenever people have varying opinions. Though they may choose not to fight for their opinions, points of disagreement are points where they are not "of the same mind" (to use Paul's phrase). That being the case, absolutely everything "allows for disunity in the body," especially adiophora. This is what Romans 14 is all about. Learning to respect one another when strong differences of opinion exist.

2. Much is argued from silence here.
The idea that no record of voting exists doesn't prove it did not happen. But...

3. Vote-like methods of measuring consensus do have precedent in the NT
Though Ted claims neither Jesus nor the apostles ever taught voting, we do have situations where the will of the congregation had to be expressed: Acts 6, and 1 Cor. 5 come to mind. (Acts 6:5 "the saying pleased the whole multitude", 2Cor.2:6 "punishment...inflicted by the majority"). In situations where a majority must speak, there needs to be some mechanism to determine what the majority believes.

4. The article misidentifies the problem in the disunity case study.
The church conflict here was not the result of voting. Rather, we're closer to the real problem here:

...the church meeting turned sour when budget issues and the building project were raised. Some members were upset about friends who had recently left the church with unresolved complaints about the leadership.

And continues here:

He was confronted with a Catch-22 situation: either give detailed answers to the church about private matters, or explain his unwillingness to share details and leave the voting members dissatisfied and possibly upset enough to vote down the budget. To his own regret, he admitted that he went too far trying to satisfy the people in the hopes of getting the vote passed.

The case can be made that a pending vote created some pressure here. But what if the meeting had been about some other kind of business? Unless they were going to use a "just do as we say" approach to governing the church, the "members upset about friends who had recently left" would continue to be upset and find some venue to talk about it.
Trying to silence the congregation does not create unity. Voting at least allows the body to express itself in an orderly fashion. I'd suggest that in this scenario, the vote on the building project should have been tabled since it was pretty clear that a deep disunity problem already existed.

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The will of the congregation and the will of God

As with the other comments above, I have issues with saying "voting and congregational vote is the problem". Consider the following questions from the example above:
1. What if the plan the pastoral staff was advocating wasn't the will of God for the church?
2. The pastor said he had prepared for "a small amount of conflict" at the meeting. If he knew there was potential for conflict, why didn't he try and get to those people before the meeting and head off the issues? In my experience as a pastor, waiting until the meeting to address people's concerns is generally a bad idea. Early conflict, early resolution!
3. How well were the plans communicated to the congregation? Did they have all the info needed beforehand?
4. Why was the timing such as it was? If they knew there was potential for conflict, why wasn't there more preparation done before to try to have more unity or to allow dissenters to get out their frustrations and leave?
As much as we despise the "don't mess with God's anointed" view of the leaders, isn't what this pastor and deacons were doing very similar? It seems to be another way to circumvent the congregation and what might be the will of God as expressed through them. There are assumptions made without congregational vote that are dangerous. Many times we have found that bringing issues before the congregation provides solutions that would not have otherwise been known. If a leader does not trust his congregation and assumes "they must not be spiritual" (I got that sense from the article), then maybe the pastor and the church are not a good match. I would be bold enough to say that in the case mentioned above that the pastor ought to leave, as they did in this case.

Jason's picture
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Was going to post, but Aaron

Was going to post, but Aaron Blumer said everything I was thinking and more.

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Quote:It is Paul’s vote that

Quote:
It is Paul’s vote that helped put Stephen, the first martyr, to death (Acts 26:10). His vote was murderous and resulted in the first martyrdom in church history. “If voting were morally neutral,” I asked him, “then why would Paul confess his vote as sinful?”
Um, because he voted to kill a man. The problem wasn't the act of voting. It is what the vote was to accomplish that was sinful. In addition, it wasn't in a church context, but in a political context, probably of the Sanhedrin. So there is really no connection of this event to church polity.

But, that's not the only reference to voting in the Bible.

Acts 6:1-6 clearly implies voting. In fact, the clarity of that text means that "implies" may be way too weak of a word to describe what happened there. The congregation (You) was to select from among them (3000+) seven men. That means a group of 3000+ were to somehow select only 7. How do you do that without some sort of vote? Some sort of distinguishing act by a large group? The apostles specifically did not appoint them. There were no elders. It was a vote of some sort.

Matthew 18 and 1 Cor 5 both have clear implications of a vote being the act of a congregation (not a person) to put someone out of the church. Anytime a group of people does something, there is a vote of some sort, however implicit or explicit that vote may be. Even elder boards are run by votes, even if they require everyone to vote the same way (unanimity). So you don't escape the problem there.

And it is necessary to note in 1 Cor 5 and Matt 18 and 2 Cor 2:6-8 that it is the congregation (the church) that puts them out (or reaffirms their love), not the leadership, the elders, or even the apostles.

The case that is sometimes made is that elder boards are safe votes because they are spiritually mature men. In fact, as I already mentioned, many elder run churches requiring unanimity, which means everyone has to vote the same. And this, I think, leads to the heart of the problem which minimizes the biblical mission. This view exacerbates the clergy-laity distinction, a distinction which is not found in Scripture with respect to understanding and applying the Word of God. This view essentially (or explicitly at times) says, "There are spiritual people among us who are equipped by the Spirit for decision making, and there are the rest of you (most of you) who just need to sit back and accept that we speak for God in this congregation."

IMO, it would be better for elders to take disciple-making seriously so that the body is equipped, growing, spiritually mature, and therefore exercising their God-given responsibilities to be a part of the body of Christ.

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Larry wrote: ..... IMO, it

Larry wrote:
.....

IMO, it would be better for elders to take disciple-making seriously so that the body is equipped, growing, spiritually mature, and therefore exercising their God-given responsibilities to be a part of the body of Christ.

Great point, Larry.

MS
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Luke 17:10

Susan R's picture
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Vote=Decision making power=Authority?

My questions about voting have always revolved around the idea that every vote has the power to alter the course of a church's direction, and therefore shouldn't the prerequisites or qualifications that apply to elders and bishops apply to those who vote? IOW, why do young people have a church vote at 18 years old, or single/divorced women, or people who attend sporadically, or have the spiritual discernment of a rutabaga...? Did Biblical 'voting' involve the entire congregation, or just the elders?

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Quote:IOW, why do young

Quote:
IOW, why do young people have a church vote at 18 years old, or single/divorced women, or people who attend sporadically, or have the spiritual discernment of a rutabaga...?
Not sure why you pick these groups, but an 18 year old can have spiritual maturity as can a single or divorced woman if Christians are making disciples. If they are simply running organizations, they may not be increasing the spiritual maturity of their members.

In our church, people who don't attend regularly don't get to vote or speak at a congregational meeting, and people with the "spiritual discernment of a rutabaga" generally don't show up anyway. Assuming that a church is carrying out its mission of making disciples and is practicing biblical church discipline, there will probably be few of these types that are part of your congregation. Spiritually growing people are generally the result of disciple making.

Quote:
Did Biblical 'voting' involve the entire congregation, or just the elders?
The only evidence for votes in the NT is the congregation in the passages I give above. The NT, to my recollection, never speaks of an elder board, or of the interaction between elders. As you can see above, Ted makes little attempt to connect his argument to Scripture in this article.

His biblical references amount to Acts 26:10 which I would argue he misuses, Eph 2:20 and 3:5 which I would argue have to do with the foundation of the church not its operation, and an unexplained reference to Titus 1:5 (it is not clear what he is trying to argue from there).

Ted's statement that Yet neither Christ nor a single apostle initiated a church vote, taught a church to vote, or encouraged a church vote. Not once, not ever is simply inaccurate as I and others have already shown from Matthew, Acts, and 1 and 2 Corinthians. Somehow, in those passages, the will of the congregation is made known. Assuming Ted's argument doesn't hang on a narrow definition of "vote" such as filling out some secret ballot or punching a chad, it is hard to imagine how the will of the congregation would be made known apart from some sort of vote to ascertain consensus.

So I realize in a short article such as Ted has written, it is hard to make much of a case. IMO (and perhaps no one else shares my opinion) we would be better served seeing less experiential arguments (like what happened in a church meeting) and more exegetical interaction with the story of the text. The truth is that we could point to elder run churches that are just as troubled (or more troubled) than congregational run churches. And in the end, the experience in a particular locale depends on leadership quite often.

It would be interesting to know how Ted's church selects deacons and how they practice church discipline. Those are the two explicit cases of Scripture which seem to require congregational action. How does he accomplish this congregational action in his church?

Ted and I differ on this and that's certainly fine.

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Unity, Ownership, Freedom, Western Culture Adaption

Quote:
It is widely assumed that voting in church is biblical, or if not biblical, a matter of freedom. Many believe it provides safety for the congregation and is a good way to build consensus in the church. In fact, have you ever read anything to the contrary? I struggle to think of anything in print that calls into question a practice so commonplace in our churches.

What about Rick Warren? I listened to his tapes in the early 90's repeatedly. Although I never bought his compete philosophy, I still argue that Warren was right about a number of things. I do not know if it made it to print, but Rick Warren clearly states that voting is bad; he says it brings disunity and makes for winners and losers. And he says this repeatedly.

But, since I had his notes from his seminar I attended (and since it was the same as the tapes and the same as the book, Purpose Driven Church), I never did buy the book. Yet my experience with Seeker-Sensitive churches is that they do not vote.

We vote rarely (in my view, as an accommodation to Western culture), but our officers are affirmed (no competition but members approve or disapprove) and if we spend more than an average week's offering on a given project, the members also have to approve. So we minimize voting, but we still do it. Since the Bible does not forbid it, we are in the realm of wisdom and freedom. Still, I would argue, that wisdom says voting is bad for unity. But it is good for creating a sense of ownership, another big need.

How important do you think a sense of ownership is? Is it important for the church to be "us," or is it okay for the church to be "them," as implied in the statement, "the church today needs to do....?" I try to encourage people to look in the mirror and say, "the church needs to do...."

"The Midrash Detective"

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It would be nice to vote "less"

It would be nice to vote "less"

Examples:

  • Inactive members. After X months of inactivity, let the leadership team (elders / deacons) remove from membership and simply inform the body (say at an annual meeting)

Big things vote on:

  • Church discipline (other than inactivity)
  • Budget
  • Call of pastors
  • Election of officers (elders / deacons)
  • Purchase and sale of property

Others ... not so much

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Groups

Larry wrote:
Quote:
IOW, why do young people have a church vote at 18 years old, or single/divorced women, or people who attend sporadically, or have the spiritual discernment of a rutabaga...?
Not sure why you pick these groups, but an 18 year old can have spiritual maturity as can a single or divorced woman if Christians are making disciples. If they are simply running organizations, they may not be increasing the spiritual maturity of their members.

In our church, people who don't attend regularly don't get to vote or speak at a congregational meeting, and people with the "spiritual discernment of a rutabaga" generally don't show up anyway. Assuming that a church is carrying out its mission of making disciples and is practicing biblical church discipline, there will probably be few of these types that are part of your congregation. Spiritually growing people are generally the result of disciple making.


I picked those groups because
a) Why wait until they are 18? Because that is the age of a legal adult in America? What if they are mature enough at 15? What if they are still dependents living at home at, say, 24 yo?
b) Women aren't to hold positions of authority in the church, hence why should they have the power to make decisions and alter the course of the church?
c) How many services must a person attend to be considered a 'faithful' member?
d) People with the spiritual discernment of a rutabaga often LOVE to exercise it in church business meetings, and are sometimes well-versed in faking spirituality.
e) In every congregation, there are milk-drinkers and meat-eaters- do spiritual babes also get a vote?

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Quote: Rick Warren clearly

Quote:
Rick Warren clearly states that voting is bad; he says it brings disunity and makes for winners and losers. And he says this repeatedly.
So if the disunity isn't expressed then it doesn't exist? I hardly think that is true. If people disagree, then they disagree whether or not they raise their hand, check a box, or speak up to express it. Lack of voting will not create unity. The only thing that creates unity is agreement to walk a particular direction, and submit individual will to the will of the body of Christ in a particular locale.

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Quote: a) Why wait until they

Quote:
a) Why wait until they are 18? Because that is the age of a legal adult in America? What if they are mature enough at 15? What if they are still dependents living at home at, say, 24 yo?
It's a wisdom issue. Some churches it is less or more.

Quote:
b) Women aren't to hold positions of authority in the church, hence why should they have the power to make decisions and alter the course of the church?
Most men aren't to hold positions of authority either; Only elders do. But the Bible clearly pictures the congregation making decisions. Acts 6 doesn't speak only to men; nor does Matt 18 or Corinthians.

Quote:
c) How many services must a person attend to be considered a 'faithful' member?
Here it is 13 out of 39 in a quarter (so basically once a week). Again, it's a wisdom issue. Allowances here are made for health, work, travel, etc. Allowances are not made for deserting the body. The reality is that the people who show up at congregational meetings are the "regulars." We have never had to invoke the "active membership" requirement because inactive members do not show up at congregational meetings even though we have an eligibility list.

Quote:
d) People with the spiritual discernment of a rutabaga often LOVE to exercise it in church business meetings, and are sometimes well-versed in faking spirituality.
Don't know about this, but it is usually fairly easy to expose faulty thinking. And if elders know the congregation, I would imagine it is much easier. I have never lost a vote. We don't vote on much. But before these issues I do enough thinking and talking with people to know what the objections and responses will be. So I lead carefully. If you refuse to talk to people and listen to them, you can create dissension in the body.

Quote:
e) In every congregation, there are milk-drinkers and meat-eaters- do spiritual babes also get a vote?
Only if they have the Spirit. Otherwise, no. This is why regenerate membership is necessary. If you allow the unsaved to be members, you will have problems. If you guard the membership of the body, you can carry out the examples and commands of Scripture with strong elder leadership.

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There is a basis for voting

There is a basis for voting members into a church, "added to the church," and voting disorderly brethren out (Matt 18 and 1 Cor 5). It is necessary to vote on major financial issues such as church budgets, land purchases, major projects. A handful of people simply does not have the right to spend millions of dollars of other peoples' money without some kind of approval. How is a church to accept a pastor without voting? Do six men secretly agree to it in a room and then next Sunday the new pastor shows up? The appointment by Paul and Timothy of elders may have been the arrangement of a vote or possibly a direct appointment. Paul, however, was an apostle and Timothy was Paul's apostolic representative. There are no apostles today!

Constantly voting on small things on a monthly basis is silly and unnecessary. A pastor has to be able to manage the church with help from other pastors and deacons. No accountability to the congregation, however, would be just as dangerous as having the congregation actually managing the church. Both are extreme. No matter what the system, if you don't have a plurlality of godly men in leadership, the system will fail.

I don't recommend teenagers and children having the right to vote. They are young, immature, untested in life, and are not considered adults culturally and legally. Full membership rights and responsibilities should only belong to adults. Dever, I believe, does not vote children or teens into membership for these reasons.

Pastor Mike Harding

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Household Voting?

I'm curious if anyone practices household voting? Each household gets one vote.

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Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

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Only men vote in the WELS

Charlie wrote:
I'm curious if anyone practices household voting? Each household gets one vote.

Charlie,

In the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which I was raised in -- and perhaps in other confessional Lutheran church bodies -- only over men over age 21 (in my home church; 18 in others) may attend the business meetings or vote.
The practice is based on 1 Cor. 14:34, 35.

The views I express are purely my own. However, I am happy to promote the great ministries with which I work: I minister for www.SermonAudio.com/Whitcomb. I do freelance writing for www.RegularBaptistPress.org. I speak through www.IMISOS.org.

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1st Biblical vote

10-2 against going into the Promise Land. Majority rules in a democracy. Who's idea was that???

Susan R's picture
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Spiritual babes

Larry wrote:

Susan R wrote:
e) In every congregation, there are milk-drinkers and meat-eaters- do spiritual babes also get a vote?
Only if they have the Spirit. Otherwise, no. This is why regenerate membership is necessary. If you allow the unsaved to be members, you will have problems. If you guard the membership of the body, you can carry out the examples and commands of Scripture with strong elder leadership.

Biblically, spiritual babes are immature in the faith but regenerate- I wasn't talking about the lost.

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Random thought...

Ok, two random thoughts.
One, I wonder where Ted is today. I'm sure he'll be dropping by as soon as he has opportunity... and will have a bit of catching up to do. I know the feeling.

Two... posted this on the SI facebook page a bit ago. There's a bit of discussion going on there also.

When I was a kid, a pastor nearly got ousted from a church I attended via the same process. Some folks who didn't like him got a bunch of long-inactive members to show up for a vote. I don't remember how, but he survived that particular crises. Eventually resigned though.
I think it's the extreme implementations of each polity that tend to give each a bad reputation to different groups. I suspect that where there are wise, godly leaders, the various polities tend to have roughly the same results... because the leaders are winning "the people" over to their vision anyway or, failing that, don't push their agenda. No point in dragging a church along kicking and screaming. They need to truly "buy" the idea, regardless of whether there are votes.

In the end, there's just no substitute for good people leading. It's wise to organize in a way that makes it more likely that good leaders will be chosen and in a way that makes misuse of power less attractive, but in the end, a power-hungry "wolf" (to use Paul's term in Acts 20) will find his way around almost any official decision making process.

Jim's got some great ideas. Why vote on removing every member that gets removed from the role? Establish a policy and automate it. Of course, that makes more sense in a large congregation. No need for that in the Boycevilles of the world. But Mark Dever has a very different approach. Each "inactive" member is handled as a serious case and, if I remember right, a potential disciplinary case. So they really go after folks who have gone off the radar--to try to reclaim them.
But I think the gist of Jim's point is solid: in many churches more voting goes on than is really necessary if the body is doing a decent job of choosing leaders.

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Carnality is a problem, no matter who's in charge

I'm guessing that Ted will give a more in-depth study of the NT texts, in subsequent posts? And those who affirm congregational voting could do the same, given the opportunity.

I'm more interested in how the elder rule idea is argued. No matter who is teaching it, they tend to start out with a personal narrative about the excesses of congregationalism...sad stories about unhealthy churches.

But there are more than enough parallel stories from the world of elder rule to remind us that carnality is not limited to congregational votes. [Insert personal narrative here! ] In a city where I used to minister, the elders of a certain church voted out their senior pastor because of "conflicting agendas" for the church. And my buddy, the youth pastor (and an elder), cast his vote against the senior pastor. Then the elders mailed a letter to all of the other evangelical churches in the city, explaining in detail why they had voted out their pastor (but not allowing the pastor any equal time to explain his side of the story).

Pick your system: congregational, episcopal, prebyterian...each can be disrupted by carnality. So I think the introductory arguments will eventually give way to a more substantive exploration of the text.

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Thou art not far from the kingdom

Joel Tetreau ]I'm trying to finish a book on the topic of the Decision-Making (DM) Process of the Local NT church. I'm answering thee questions - <i>The What,</i> <i>The Who </i>and <i>The How </i>of ecclesiastical DM. I'm taking a chapter for each of the following: the role of the Senior Pastor (the NT call is the Pastor-Teacher), The role of the elders, The role of the deacons, [quote]</p> <p>Hey Joel,</p> <p>Thou art not far, brother :). Are you sure you want to defend that the NT teaches 3 offices? That's the episcopal position. Eph. 4:11 doesn't teach offices, but gifts, eh?</p> <p>[quote wrote:
The NT gives several areas where the congregation has a part of decision-making. One can make a case that congregations took place in "placing out" (church discipline)

The congregation is to submit and respond to the established evidence of the witnesses, per the command of Jesus in Mat. 18:17. That response is not vote, but go and confront. By itself it "decides" nothing, but only recognizes impenitence as reflecting Christ's already made in heaven judgment (18:19).

Quote:
"sending out" (missionaries/evangelists from their midst) as well as having a part in the identity of who executive leaders might be. There may be a few other kinds of decisions the Scriptures give congregations.

Are you thinking Acts 13:1-3 please look up the referents to the particles like praying, sent, fasting. the Greek will tell you if it refers to the church (singular feminine) or masculine plural - the men named in 13:1.

@brothers - Just finishing my last day of 2 weeks of the most amazing ministry in my life in South Africa. I'll try to get back to you when I get into Malawi tomorrow. Assuming the internet works there.

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Quote: Biblically, spiritual

Quote:
Biblically, spiritual babes are immature in the faith but regenerate- I wasn't talking about the lost.
Right, and my point is that the Spirit works in immature people as well as in mature. There is, in the NT, no spiritual maturity test for being part of the congregation. There is only a regeneracy test.

To argue that the priesthood of the believers (which is what we are talking about here) is limited to spiritually mature people is not possible from Scripture, at least any where that I can see. I would be glad to entertain an argument but I don't know what it would be.

But even if we limit votes to spiritually mature people, what criteria do we use for that? Ted's (and others) define this as being elected to eldership. But I know of no practical way and no biblical instruction by which one would be qualified to be a part of the congregation other than a credible profession of faith illustrated by believer's baptism.

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@ Larry

I'm still hung up on the idea of a vote equaling a measure of authority/leadership. A vote determine whether a church collectively zigs or zags. So...we don't let spiritual babes teach a class, and teachers must meet several criteria, including things like background checks, but we'll let someone newly saved or spiritually immature cast a deciding vote simply because they show up and they haven't shot anyone lately? And I guess I'm also bothered by the idea that someone who is flying under the church's radar with major moral issues is going to have a hand in leading the church in a particular direction. Been there, seen that. Burnt the t-shirt.

To be clear, I'm not advocating any particular solution. I'm rather befuddled by the subject, and appreciate all of the perspectives offered here.

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Dittos, Aaron

Ted,
I put your book in my shopping cart. I'm interested to see if you have a more extended argument.

Your anecdote would seem to argue against your position, though. That church was had pretty significant problems. The congregation did not trust the leadership. In that situation, it is hard to imagine how things would have been better if a group of "ruling" elders would have pushed through their building project.

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Jim Peet wrote: It would be

Jim Peet wrote:
It would be nice to vote "less"

Examples:

  • Inactive members. After X months of inactivity, let the leadership team (elders / deacons) remove from membership and simply inform the body (say at an annual meeting)

Big things vote on:

  • Church discipline (other than inactivity)
  • Budget
  • Call of pastors
  • Election of officers (elders / deacons)
  • Purchase and sale of property

Others ... not so much

I agree with this except for Church discipline. I feel this is an elder responsibility that contains alot of sensitivities of details that shouldn't be "out there" to the congregation. This is a spiritual area in which the congregation needs to trust their elder group to be led by the Holy Spirit. If a member doesn't trust their elders in a spiritual matter, then they probably should not be a member.

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Church discipline votes

Barry L. wrote:

I agree with this except for Church discipline. I feel this is an elder responsibility that contains alot of sensitivities of details that shouldn't be "out there" to the congregation. This is a spiritual area in which the congregation needs to trust their elder group to be led by the Holy Spirit. If a member doesn't trust their elders in a spiritual matter, then they probably should not be a member.

So in your view, "tell it to the church" is essentially just a report on the actions of the elders as to whether the member is retained or not?

Dave Barnhart

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Question for Ted Bigelow

Hey Ted,

It would be helpful to see a chart in a grid expressing what folk in your church vote on

Thanks

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Susan R. wrote: I'm still

Susan R. wrote:
I'm still hung up on the idea of a vote equaling a measure of authority/leadership.
Here's the main thing, in my mind: The Bible declares that the church does several things (e.g., select deacons, remove someone from the church, readmit someone to the church). The Bible does not attribute this to part of the church (e.g., elders, men, etc.). In fact, Matthew 18 specifies that the two or three are not sufficient to remove someone. The church must have a say.

So, for instance, the fact that the Bible forbids women from having authority over men, and at the same time gives instruction for the church to do certain things together, means that the "vote" (however you characterize obtaining the congregation's consensus) is not a measure of authority that would violate any teaching on authority. So if a vote is a measure of authority, then it is certainly within the bounds of Scripture's teaching.

In another instance, one person teaching a class is not the same as one person voting in a congregation of others. The Bible never equates that and I don't think we have any reason to.

BarryL wrote:
I agree with this except for Church discipline. I feel this is an elder responsibility that contains alot of sensitivities of details that shouldn't be "out there" to the congregation.
If this is true, why does either Jesus or Paul limit the responsibility to the elders? Both place this in the realm of the "church."

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Honest....

In case anybody was wondering, I really didn't plan to post this when Ted would be out of the country so we'd be able to gang up on him. :D
(He may have mentioned his SA trip, but it didn't sink in... not unusual for me)

Anyway, the book does sound interesting. Dan Miller... maybe you'd be interested in writing a review for us?

I'm quite sympathetic to the general concept of "elder rule," since the term is almost always plural in the NT (and the OT concept is obviously plural). But, as Dever recently noted at ATC, small churches in rural settings can have a pretty hard time finding more than one qualified elder (one of the main qualifications being "desire," 1 Tim.3:1 - yes, I take "bishop" and "elder" to be the same thing).

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Plurality of Elders

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I'm quite sympathetic to the general concept of "elder rule," since the term is almost always plural in the NT (and the OT concept is obviously plural). But, as Dever recently noted at ATC, small churches in rural settings can have a pretty hard time finding more than one qualified elder

Aaron--Mark Dever was quick to point out that he does not practice "elder rule." His church has a plurality of elders, but congregational government.

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Early Church

They didn't make decisions like "What color carpet?" "What CD to put our stockpile in?" "Repaving the parking lot or building b-ball court?"

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Another perspective

Larry wrote:
Quote:
Rick Warren clearly states that voting is bad; he says it brings disunity and makes for winners and losers. And he says this repeatedly.
So if the disunity isn't expressed then it doesn't exist? I hardly think that is true. If people disagree, then they disagree whether or not they raise their hand, check a box, or speak up to express it. Lack of voting will not create unity. The only thing that creates unity is agreement to walk a particular direction, and submit individual will to the will of the body of Christ in a particular locale.

To the contrary, issues are avoided. For example, if the board of deaconesses picks the colors for all rooms, then matters are handled there and contained. Or if one person picks the color, matters are contained. If you vote, you have winners and losers and people will often vote to support their friends. How many churches have split over decorating decisions, as a simple case in point.

Think about it: why should someone who might be 6 months old in the Lord have the same vote as a spiritually mature man who sees the long term picture. That's crazy. Everyone's opinion should NOT count the same.

In our church, the members only vote:

--to confirm officers
--if a purchase is beyond their spending limit
--to hire a new pastor

Elders handle all discipline and ministry decisions beyond that.

"The Midrash Detective"

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everyone else is doing it

...so I too will share our voting style

The congregation votes every year to accept a budget proposed by the deacons and pastors (elders are pastors in our church--right now just one active elder but hoping to make that plural soon). It is not line item, but up or down vote. It has always been passed because they trust the deacon's leadership.
The congregation must vote to remove a member from the church
The congregation must vote to add a member to the church (I am not sure I always like this one b/c the NT seemed to be a little more automatic when it came to being a part of the church).
The congregation votes on any extra expense over a certain amount not within the budget.
The congregation approves the financial reports (that is more of a practice of openness, it is basically saying this is what it is, does everyone agree that this is what it is?-kind of a rubber stamp vote because how do you vote against a report--you can't change what it says?)
The congregation approves any changes to the Articles of Faith and By-laws.

Whether there is congregational rule or not, the leaders (Pastors/elders in the doctrine and spiritual matters and deacons in the mundane) must be trusted and dependable.
For all those mundane things, the deacons and deaconess' (the deacon's wives in our situation) take care of them. decorations, kitchen, furnishings, building, finances, etc. They are authorized by the pastors and approved through the budget to spend and make decisions in each necessary field.
The ministry issues are decided upon and led by the elders.

On another note, I found what excess voting could do by seeing my own heart become a problem in one meeting. Before I was a pastor, I was in a church that was buying a new piano. They brought in two new pianos and spent an entire evening having the piano players travel from piano to piano playing various songs. Throughout the evening, the piano players and musicians would make comments here and there. At the end of the night, they had a secret ballot to vote for piano a or b. Without any intention, I found myself, (who is not a musician BTW) internally dividing from my brothers. "I began to want to argue for the piano that I thought was best, even though before the meeting started, I could have cared less. That democratic format encouraged disunity and led to believers taking sides on such a silly issue. I remember thinking to myself toward the end "What is wrong with you, who cares?" but for some reason, I cared. I learned something about church and business meetings early on in the ministry from that evening.

I liked what Kevin Bauder said at a conference held at our church. He said that while all members (in good standing was implied) receive just one vote, not all members have an equal voice. He explained that he meant, in a spiritually minded congregation, good members will give more weight to leaders and the spiritually mature. Enough so that if the spiritually mature are opposed to the new believer, he should re-think his position.

my two cents

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Quote:To the contrary,

Quote:
To the contrary, issues are avoided. For example, if the board of deaconesses picks the colors for all rooms, then matters are handled there and contained. Or if one person picks the color, matters are contained. If you vote, you have winners and losers and people will often vote to support their friends. How many churches have split over decorating decisions, as a simple case in point.

Think about it: why should someone who might be 6 months old in the Lord have the same vote as a spiritually mature man who sees the long term picture. That's crazy. Everyone's opinion should NOT count the same.

In our church, the members only vote:

--to confirm officers
--if a purchase is beyond their spending limit
--to hire a new pastor

Elders handle all discipline and ministry decisions beyond that.

Ed, I notice a lack of Bible here. Isn't that a significant omission on your part? I think it is.

Here's my response:

Why in the world would a church be voting on colors for all the rooms? Anyone who does that deserves what they get.

On what biblical basis do you say that a six month old should not have the same vote as a spiritually mature man? I don't see those distinctions made in Scripture and you didn't give any Scripture to support them. The Bible commands/examples are about "church," not parts of the church. In Acts 6, all believers were less than six months old and the apostles were spiritually mature, and yet the apostles gave the six month old believers authority to do something instead of the apostles appointing them. You would seem to be saying the apostles should not have done that.

Do you allow six month old believers to confirm officers? Purchase beyond the spending limit? Hire a new pastor? At what point is someone qualified to vote and what biblical basis do you use to establish that?

You say elders handle all discipline. Yet the Bible says the church is to do that. Jesus had a word for "elders" and instead used the word for church. When Paul writes to Corinth, he tells the church, not the elders, that they should have done something. When Paul writes to the church to restore the man, he doesn't write to elders, but to the church.

On the contrary when Paul gave instructions about protecting the flock, he did not write to the church but to the elders (Acts 20; Pastoral Epistles).

So the point is that the Bible does make a distinction between elders and the church. It simply does not seem to do it the way that you say we should.

On another point, failing to vote doesn't create unity. It simply masks it. If people don't like a color on the wall, not having a vote on it won't change that. They still won't like the color on the wall. If they don't like the budget, they won't like it more because they didn't get to vote on it. It may cause dissension and dissatisfaction because they will feel shut out.

And I would think if the pastor is doing the job of teaching and making disciples, they will be able to handle it.

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Susan R wrote:My questions

Quote:
e) In every congregation, there are milk-drinkers and meat-eaters- do spiritual babes also get a vote?

I think you're breaking the body into categories that are not part of God's presentation of the body. God speaks very differently of the body. He speaks of members. He talks about lovely members and not so lovely members. And he couldn't be more emphatic in stating that every member is part of the body and none should say to the other "I have no need of you."

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Barry L. wrote: I agree with

Barry L. wrote:
I agree with this except for Church discipline. I feel this is an elder responsibility that contains alot of sensitivities of details that shouldn't be "out there" to the congregation. This is a spiritual area in which the congregation needs to trust their elder group to be led by the Holy Spirit. If a member doesn't trust their elders in a spiritual matter, then they probably should not be a member.

This is a dangerous proposition... very dangerous.

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Pastor Harold wrote: 10-2

Pastor Harold wrote:
10-2 against going into the Promise Land. Majority rules in a democracy. Who's idea was that???

This is not parallel in the least. This argument would suggest that America should not be a democracy.

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A question for Ted

I agree with Ted very thoroughly in many areas. I this one I do not, and of course good brothers are bound to differ. Ted, can you cite a verse in the Bible which tells how existing churches are to choose their elders? Acts 14:23 does not work. It explains tersely how two missionaries (who were moving on, and are never themselves called "elders") got elders established in new churches. So if there is no Bible verse which says that elders are to choose elders, how is this process any more biblical than a congregation voting for elders? But perhaps you can show passages that directly state that elders are to choose elders.

Jeff Brown

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No Church Government Fixes It All

Larry said:

Quote:
Ed, I notice a lack of Bible here. Isn't that a significant omission on your part? I think it is.

We are in the realm of the extra- biblical. That is the entire point. That is not necessarily bad: much of what our churches do is neither condemned nor commanded in Scripture, and that was true in the early church as well.

What we try to do is to draw Biblical principles. The Biblical principle of I Timothy 3 is that the church is to be led by spiritually mature godly men. Yet the western world is pretty much run by representative governments and voting on issues. Thus voting is a western adaption. So how do we balance it?

No system works if it is filled with ungodly, narrow, unscriptural, or grouchy leaders. Just about any system works if godliness prevails over a congregation. The issue is not what works, but what does God demand. And, as we can see, when it comes to the issue of voting, we cannot even come close to agreeing.

All it takes is one nasty, narrow, or outspoken person --- as a member or on a board --- to make church life miserable. That nasty person may want attention, may live in fear of change, or may be bitter about past changes. Wherever that person or group of persons collect -- on boards or congregations -- they can make government issues unpleasant.

"The Midrash Detective"

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@ MSHEP

@Mshep

Quote:
While I agree with much of the sentiment of this article, I think it is going too far to conclude that voting is wrong in a church.

Hi Mshep. Thanks for your response. You need to feel sorry for me brother. As I write this I am in Malawi, Africa and the breezes are coming in off the plain – its about 80 here and gorgeous…. Huge billowing clouds in the distance rise up to 30,000 feet, and the air smells sweet. Birds are singing. OK, enough trying to make you jealous ;)
I do see how you agree with the spirit of my article, but not the content. But my content agrees with your statement, “Rather than make decisions based on God's Word and what is best and correct for the ministry, the "majority" rules.” That’s all I’m arguing for, Mshep.

Quote:
But, there also is a problem in many churches with unqualified leaders or dictatorial pastors who make unbiblical decisions and then demand to be followed since they are the "annointed by God" to carry the leadership of the church. While I know this is a short article, I would like to ask Ted how leaders are to be chosen in the first place? And, what is the church supposed to do with unqualified leaders (e.g."deacon for life") or those who fall into sin and refuse to step down?

As you know, there were dictatorial eldersi n the 1st Century, and Scripture teaches how to deal with them – and its not by instituting church voting! See 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Timothy 5:19-20, and the book of 3 John. Also you might read my book, The Titus Mandate, chapter 8 (you can actually get much of on Amazon search).
Quote:
Finally, I believe it is also wrong to say that there is no Scriptural support or precedent for voting. While I am not a Greek scholar, I do know that Greek word cheirotoneo, defined as "1) to vote by stretching out the hand 2) to create or appoint by vote: one to have charge of some office or duty 3) to elect, create, appoint" is found at least four times in New Testament in regards to decisions made by local churches.
1. In Acts 14:23, "appointed" ("So when they had appointed elders in every church").
2. In 2 Cor 8:19, "chosen" ("And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches") - in deciding who will carry the monetary gift to the church in Jerusalem.
3. In the postscript to 2 Tim. 4:22, "ordained" ("The second epistle unto Timotheus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians")
4. In the postscript to Titus 3:15, "ordained" ("It was written to Titus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Cretians")

Oops – only 2x in the NT, brother – #3 and 4 were added later onto some NT manuscripts by somebody. The emandation you cite in Titus 3:15 actually contradicts Titus 3:12, where Titus is told to leave Crete when either Artemas or Tychicus replaces him. If Titus was to leave soon for Greece (Nicopolis), in what sense could he have been replaced quickly by other men and have been an archbishop(a position unattested in the NT, btw)? As for the 1st two instances you cite above. Each of these passages are fully treated in my book, chapter 12 and 13. For instance, look up Acts 14:23 – you don’t really suppose Barnabas and Saul raised hands just between the two of them? Awkward and silly.

My book addresses the biblical appointment methodology of elders, chapter 4. It is completely based on Titus 1:5-9, in which Titus is given all the instruction he needed on how to do it according to apostolic pattern. It id a pattern that endure to today. And of course, it has nothing to do with votes.

Blessings - Ted

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Quote:We are in the realm of

Thanks, Ed. May I respond here?

Quote:
We are in the realm of the extra- biblical.
But are we?

Consider one of the points you made: Elders handle all discipline.

The Bible places discipline is the realm of "the church" (Matt 18:17; 1 Cor 5). So when you place it in the realm of "the elders," I don't see how you are not contradicting directly what the Bible says? I don't mean that accusatorily. I just don't understand how ekklesia gets turned into presbuteroi. Jesus could have used presbuteros, but he didn't. Paul could have directed his comments to the presbuteroi; he certainly had no problem doing that in other places. But here, in the issue of discipline, he did not.

Deacons are also explicitly given to the congregation to choose (which implies some sort of voting). Now we can debate what else that authority might apply to, but these two are specific.

I do agree that much of it is wisdom, as I expressed earlier. As a wisdom matter, I wouldn't vote on church colors, my office hours, or who's going to be the janitor, or the like. But I don't think we are completely in the realm of "extra-biblical."

Quote:
What we try to do is to draw Biblical principles. The Biblical principle of I Timothy 3 is that the church is to be led by spiritually mature godly men. Yet the western world is pretty much run by representative governments and voting on issues. Thus voting is a western adaption. So how do we balance it?
If some sort of voting was in the NT (as Acts 6 seems to make clear, and other passages suggest), then is it really a western adaptation? I don't think so.

I don't think we should confuse congregational authority with leadership. We don't even do that in our western contexts. No one thinks that they are leading the country because they cast a vote for president. So that analogy breaks down. The vote is for someone else to lead, and the Bible gives qualifications for who that should be.

Quote:
The issue is not what works, but what does God demand.
I agree with this.

Quote:
All it takes is one nasty, narrow, or outspoken person --- as a member or on a board --- to make church life miserable.
So which is better: If that one person is on a board of four or a congregation of 100? Isn't it obvious that it would be better to have that one person be 1% instead of 25%?

To me, and perhaps only to me, the issue of congregational authority is clear in the NT. The exact mechanism of the voting or consensus is not clear, but whatever the case was, it was not elder rule as conceived of today.

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@Aaron

Hi Aaron, thanks so much for your in depth and thoughtful interaction here, brother. In my response I hope to give you a decent explanation that contrasts with your thoughts which are so well expressed here.

Quote:
I do believe voting is over-used in many congregations, and probably more often not properly framed. That is, we forget that it's not about expressing the will of the people but rather a way of discerning the Lord's leading together.

Back it up with Scripture, Aaron. Back up that voting is “a way of discerning the Lord’s leading.”
Quote:
there are some problems with Ted's case (so far).
1. Ted says voting cannot be adiophora because "it allows for disunity in the body and can lead to apostasy."
This misunderstands both the nature of adiophora and the nature of unity. Disunity occurs whenever people have varying opinions. Though they may choose not to fight for their opinions, points of disagreement are points where they are not "of the same mind" (to use Paul's phrase). That being the case, absolutely everything "allows for disunity in the body," especially adiophora. This is what Romans 14 is all about. Learning to respect one another when strong differences of opinion exist.

Bro, - voting has to cause disunity among Christians because it is not the revealed will of God - which is to govern all our decision making (Mat. 4:4) - and its function is to give formal recognition to one or more perspectives that must of necessity not be the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit. Such arrogance offends the sovereign Lord. Who are we to give our opinion and vote on that which He wishes to do?”
Quote:

2. Much is argued from silence here.
The idea that no record of voting exists doesn't prove it did not happen. But...

Whether it happened or not is moot, bro. What is relevant is did Jesus Christ, or His chosen apostles, teach us to do it? The answer is “no,” and so it is you who argue from silence, not me.
Quote:
3. Vote-like methods of measuring consensus do have precedent in the NT
Though Ted claims neither Jesus nor the apostles ever taught voting, we do have situations where the will of the congregation had to be expressed: Acts 6, and 1 Cor. 5 come to mind. (Acts 6:5 "the saying pleased the whole multitude", 2Cor.2:6 "punishment...inflicted by the majority"). In situations where a majority must speak, there needs to be some mechanism to determine what the majority believes.

Those passages are discussed extensively in my book, chapters 12 and 13. Acts 6 shows a congregation selecting men with a pre-set number, gender, and qualification list. The apostles words define the selection process. In 1 Cor 5 the church is putting a man out in response to Scripture, not in response to vote. Their choice was not whetehr to dismiss the immoral man or not – they had to or else they were disobeying Christ (v. 13). Their only choice was obey or disobey, so in effect, they determined nothing. Regarding 2 Cor. 2:6, the majority inflicts a “punishment” – a verbal reproof. The word is epitimao, and its noun and verbal forms are used 30 times in Scripture, always describing a verbal reproof. This verbal reproof of the majority comes to an impenitent church member in submission to Jesus’ command to the church in Mat. 18:17.

Quote:
4. The article misidentifies the problem in the disunity case study.
The church conflict here was not the result of voting. Rather, we're closer to the real problem here:
...the church meeting turned sour when budget issues and the building project were raised. Some members were upset about friends who had recently left the church with unresolved complaints about the leadership.
And continues here:
He was confronted with a Catch-22 situation: either give detailed answers to the church about private matters, or explain his unwillingness to share details and leave the voting members dissatisfied and possibly upset enough to vote down the budget. To his own regret, he admitted that he went too far trying to satisfy the people in the hopes of getting the vote passed.
The case can be made that a pending vote created some pressure here. But what if the meeting had been about some other kind of business? Unless they were going to use a "just do as we say" approach to governing the church, the "members upset about friends who had recently left" would continue to be upset and find some venue to talk about it.

You are quite right – the vote did not cause the disunity. But it exacerbated it.

Quote:
Trying to silence the congregation does not create unity. Voting at least allows the body to express itself in an orderly fashion. I'd suggest that in this scenario, the vote on the building project should have been tabled since it was pretty clear that a deep disunity problem already existed.

Jesus doesn’t want congregations to be silenced. He wants them extra vocal – so long as they express His mind and will as revealed in Scripture. For apart from that, what have any of us to contribute? And Aaron, in the NT, “the body” does not express itself. The Head does.

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Acts 14:23

Ted B wrote:
As for the 1st two instances you cite above. Each of these passages are fully treated in my book, chapter 12 and 13. For instance, look up Acts 14:23 – you don’t really suppose Barnabas and Saul raised hands just between the two of them? Awkward and silly.

Jean Calvin's Commentary on Acts
Had ordained by election. The Greek word χειροτονειν doth signify to decree, or ordain a thing, by lifting up the hands, as they used to do in the assemblies of the people. Notwithstanding, the ecclesiastical writers do often use the word χειροτονεια, in another sense; to wit, for their [the ] solemn rite of ordaining, which is called in Scripture laying on of hands. Furthermore, by this manner of speech is very excellently expressed the right way to ordain pastors. Paul and Barnabas are said to choose elders. Do they this alone by their private office? Nay, rather they suffer the matter to be decided by the consent of them all. Therefore, in ordaining pastors the people had their free election, but lest there should any tumult arise, Paul and Barnabas sit as chief moderators. Thus must the decree of the council of Laodicea be understood, which forbiddeth that the people have liberty granted them to elect.

Also, see this thread from the Old SharperIron: http://20.sharperiron.org/showpost.php?p=144487&postcount=13
(Especially this post: http://20.sharperiron.org/showpost.php?p=144487&postcount=13 )

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IMO

Larry said:

Quote:
The Bible places discipline is the realm of "the church" (Matt 18:17; 1 Cor 5). So when you place it in the realm of "the elders,"

Well, Larry, I see where you are coming from. You are of the belief that the term, "the church" only and always refers to the entire body (congregation), and only the local church.

I believe that the word "church" is not as consistently used as you might. Some times, for example, it refers to the "universal church" made up of all believers. Imagine the havoc of church discipline if it had to be voted on by all the members of the universal church. So (if you believe in the universal church), you must admit that the word "church" does not always refer to a specific congregation.

Many of us would argue that the context can narrow down the definition of the word "church." When the Bible wants to specify the entire congregation, it is capable of doing so: Acts 5:11, Acts 11:26, Acts 15:22, Romans 16:23, and 1 Corinthians 14:23. If the "church" always meant the "whole church," as you take it to mean in Matt. 18, the Scriptures would not bother to specify "whole" otherwise. So sometimes the church must mean less than the whole church. That does not eliminate the possibility that Christ meant the whole church when he merely said, "church," but it allows for the possibility of referring to something other than the whole church. Do you follow me? If so, explain what I said to me -- I confused myself. Smile

Most commentators understand the Matt. 18 passage as referring to the elders. Otherwise, we would expect to see this: "confront the brother, bring 2 or 3 with you, if that doesn't work, then the elders, and if that doesn't work then the whole church." We would expect the elders to at least be an intermediary stage, would we not? But this is not what we see.

In addition, it is one thing for the church to affirm what the elders have decided, another thing to take a show of hands and a count. Do you have any Scripturally warrant for taking a count or a show of hands? It seems to me that the early believers were more prone to cast lots than do that, Acts 2:21-26.

I do think that the elders have spiritual oversight in matters, including discipline. I think the elders need to present to the members "we have disciplined so and so." But I do not think they should ask for a vote. They should announce it as a done deal, and the church should then rally around the elders' decision. If the elders are doing wrong, however, it is time for new elders.

PS-- If Baptist churches vote by hand, are they allowed to raise their hands? Smile

"The Midrash Detective"

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Ed, the casting of lots was

Ed, the casting of lots was in Acts chapter 1, not chapter 2...which is important because it was before the beginning of the church.

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"Church" = "the Elders"?

Say Ed, maybe you could establish this point somehow. Could you give your exegetical basis for the statement that he ekklesia in Matt 18:17 means hoi presbyteroi?

I also am not convinced that most commentators say this. Perhaps you could back that up.

Jeff Brown

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@ Steve

Hi Steve, thanks for your thoughtful response. Here’s a thought or two for you…

Quote:

As with the other comments above, I have issues with saying "voting and congregational vote is the problem". Consider the following questions from the example above:
1. What if the plan the pastoral staff was advocating wasn't the will of God for the church?

You are right. It wasn’t God’s sovereign will, for it did not come to pass. The same is true of voting in church. It isn't God's revealed will in Scripture, and we are unwise to do it.

Quote:
2. The pastor said he had prepared for "a small amount of conflict" at the meeting. If he knew there was potential for conflict, why didn't he try and get to those people before the meeting and head off the issues? In my experience as a pastor, waiting until the meeting to address people's concerns is generally a bad idea. Early conflict, early resolution!

If I remember, he was pensive about the situation, and realized it defied a quick resolution. But my memory is fuzzy on that one.
Quote:
3. How well were the plans communicated to the congregation? Did they have all the info needed beforehand?

The elders had diagrams and drawings up in the church, and it was being “talked up” by them.
Quote:
4. Why was the timing such as it was? If they knew there was potential for conflict, why wasn't there more preparation done before to try to have more unity or to allow dissenters to get out their frustrations and leave?

I don’t know.
Thanks for your input.

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@Larry

Hi Larry,
Thanks for your thoughtful interaction, and especially, thoughtful use of Scripture. I’ve written in brief on Acts 6, 1 Cor. 5, and 2 Cor. 2:6 in my response to Aaron above. I give detailed answers in the book.

Quote:
The problem wasn't the act of voting. It is what the vote was to accomplish that was sinful. In addition, it wasn't in a church context, but in a political context, probably of the Sanhedrin. So there is really no connection of this event to church polity.

You are correct. Voting is not sinful itself, it just depends on the context. In Acts 26 (Saul’s murderous vote), it expressed sin. In our government, it expresses participation. In our churches, it expresses presumptuousness. God never tells us to do it, no apostle tells us to do it… and yet we do it. And then we find Bible references to support the act. And as I argue, we take them out of context to make them say something they don’t.

Acts 6:1-6 clearly implies voting. In fact, the clarity of that text means that "implies" may be way too weak of a word to describe what happened there. The congregation (You) was to select from among them (3000+) seven men. [quote]<br /> You need to read the limitations in 6:3. </p> <p>That means a group of 3000+ were to somehow select only 7. How do you do that without some sort of vote?<br /> Luke says they “chose,” not voted. A choice can be done many ways. </p> <p>[quote wrote:
The apostles specifically did not appoint them.
Bro, see Acts 6:6.
Quote:
This view essentially (or explicitly at times) says, "There are spiritual people among us who are equipped by the Spirit for decision making, and there are the rest of you (most of you) who just need to sit back and accept that we speak for God in this congregation."

Yuck, sounds like men who fail just about all the qualifications God demands of elders in Scripture. A biblical church wants only God’s voice in Scripture, not men’s voices, whether the elders, or the congregation, right?

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@Susan

Susan R wrote:
My questions about voting have always revolved around the idea that every vote has the power to alter the course of a church's direction, and therefore shouldn't the prerequisites or qualifications that apply to elders and bishops apply to those who vote? IOW, why do young people have a church vote at 18 years old, or single/divorced women, or people who attend sporadically, or have the spiritual discernment of a rutabaga...? Did Biblical 'voting' involve the entire congregation, or just the elders?

Great questions, Susan. Hmmm. "Biblical voting." Its an oxymoron, since the Bible doesn't teach it. But like Joel, thou art not far from the kingdom ;)

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Ted Bigelow][quote wrote:As

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Steve wrote:

As with the other comments above, I have issues with saying "voting and congregational vote is the problem". Consider the following questions from the example above:
1. What if the plan the pastoral staff was advocating wasn't the will of God for the church?

You are right. It wasn’t God’s sovereign will, for it did not come to pass. The same is true of voting in church. It isn't God's revealed will in Scripture, and we are unwise to do it.
Ted, I don't understand your logic at all. I don't think you're addressing Steve's point, either. You immediately shift from God's sovereign (decretive) will to His revealed will.

What Steve is saying is that you can't decide if what congregation did was wrong simply because there was a bad outcome. You could say the same thing about any elder-rule decision. What if the elders decide the church should no longer preach from the Bible but rather from Quran? You wouldn't say, "See, elder-rule is bad!"

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@Larry

Quote:
The only evidence for votes in the NT is the congregation in the passages I give above.
Larry, you are reading voting into these passages. They teach voting as much as they teach the use of lots in decision-making, which is to say, they don't.

Quote:
The NT, to my recollection, never speaks of an elder board, or of the interaction between elders.
Check out 1 Tim. 4:14, and then read Acts 21:18-25.

Quote:
As you can see above, Ted makes little attempt to connect his argument to Scripture in this article.

Maybe Aaron will let me write some more?

Quote:
His biblical references amount to Acts 26:10 which I would argue he misuses, Eph 2:20 and 3:5 which I would argue have to do with the foundation of the church not its operation,
Larry, these verses teach that all things whatsoever that relate to the church, whether doctrinally, or practically, rest on the foundation of the NT apostles and prophets. The apostles (and NT prophets) taught churches how to act as churches. There are a lot of letters in the NT written by them to authoritatively teach churches how to act as churches.

Quote:
Assuming Ted's argument doesn't hang on a narrow definition of "vote" such as filling out some secret ballot or punching a chad, it is hard to imagine how the will of the congregation would be made known apart from some sort of vote to ascertain consensus.

It doesn't. And Larry, the Lord is not interested in something you call "the will of the congregation." He is interested in His will alone, and that we obey it, not compete with it by trying to figure out our own (Luke 17:10).

[quote]It would be interesting to know how Ted's church selects deacons and how they practice church discipline. Those are the two explicit cases of Scripture which seem to require congregational action. How does he accomplish this congregational action in his church?[quote]

The NT describes in sufficient and full detail how these are to be done, and I take the time in my book - in the early chapters, to detail it out.

Thanks again, Larry.

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@Ed

Hi Ed, greetings from Africa, my midrashic brother.

What about Rick Warren? I listened to his tapes in the early 90's repeatedly. Although I never bought his compete philosophy, I still argue that Warren was right about a number of things. I do not know if it made it to print, but Rick Warren clearly states that voting is bad; he says it brings disunity and makes for winners and losers. And he says this repeatedly. [quote]</p> <p>Ouch, guilt by association!</p> <p>[quote]We vote rarely (in my view, as an accommodation to Western culture), but our officers are affirmed (no competition but members approve or disapprove) and if we spend more than an average week's offering on a given project, the members also have to approve. So we minimize voting, but we still do it. Since the Bible does not forbid it, we are in the realm of wisdom and freedom. Still, I would argue, that wisdom says voting is bad for unity. But it is good for creating a sense of ownership, another big need. [quote]</p> <p>Why not do this instead of voting – “If anyone in the congregation has a biblical reason for why we shouldn’t go ahead and do XYZ, would you kindly help us see it?</p> <p>RE: leaders – they were never appointed by voting in the NT. So why is it a matter of freedom when the Scripture details how God does want it done – Titus 1:5-9….</p> <p>[quote wrote:
How important do you think a sense of ownership is? Is it important for the church to be "us," or is it okay for the church to be "them," as implied in the statement, "the church today needs to do....?" I try to encourage people to look in the mirror and say, "the church needs to do...."

Bro, the church needs to look in the Scripture and see what God says about it what it should be. My opinion (or even yours) is worthless. Ownership actually is THE ISSUE. So, when you vote, who owns your church, Christ, or men? Since Christ doesn’t teach us to vote in church, we can only be presumptuous to claim we are doing His will, Or worse, we are acting arrogantly. What happens when they vote in a man into leadership who does not match up to the qualifications? Who owns it then? Not only have we acted presumptuously by voting on a matter God has not given us permission to vote, but we teach our congregation that even though God doesn’t say we should do it this way, we still do anyway. We teach them to look at their leaders as accountable to their voice in voting, not God’s voice in Scripture.

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It Shall Not Be So Among You...

Larry, et. al. -

Thank you for your effort to formulate a Biblical response to this challenging question. I appreciate your desire to correct the errors of those who wish to be lords over God's heritage (1 Pet 5:3, Matt 23:7-9). You rightly understand that the argument concerns the priesthood of the believer versus the mega-church governance models of Rick Warren and Willow Creek.

For those seeking an anti-dote against "back-door popery", AH Strong provides some helpful remarks about historic Baptist church governance in volume 3 of his Systematic Theology.

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matt 20:25-27) .

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@Mike

Hi Mike, thanks for weighing in.

Mike Harding wrote:
There is a basis for voting members into a church, "added to the church," and voting disorderly brethren out (Matt 18 and 1 Cor 5).

Mike, as I briefly explain to Aaron above, those verses don’t teach voting. For more info, it’s in the book. They simply don’t say what you claim, bro.

It is necessary to vote on major financial issues such as church budgets, land purchases, major projects. A handful of people simply does not have the right to spend millions of dollars of other peoples' money without some kind of approval. How is a church to accept a pastor without voting? Do six men secretly agree to it in a room and then next Sunday the new pastor shows up? The appointment by Paul and Timothy of elders may have been the arrangement of a vote or possibly a direct appointment. Paul, however, was an apostle and Timothy was Paul's apostolic representative. There are no apostles today! [quote]</p> <p>A thing is “right” or not based on Scripture, for God defines what is right or wrong. Since God doesn’t tell us to vote, but does instead teach us how the church is to be run in Scripture, who are we to claim we should do it another way (i.e., voting)?</p> <p>[quote]No accountability to the congregation, however, would be just as dangerous as having the congregation actually managing the church. [quote]</p> <p>I agree. However, the accountability votes provide to a church minimizes the accountability God wants them to have. The accountability God wants every congregation to have of their leaders is the full corpus of the Bible. Voting exchanges the priesthood of the believer for a political right. God wants every member of my church to have total authority over me by the use of Scripture, which is really His authority. I don’t want to minimize them! I want to maximize them for the glory of Christ and the advancement of the church.</p> <p>[quote wrote:
I don't recommend teenagers and children having the right to vote.

Good point. But God doesn’t recommend anybody vote in church.

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@Charlie

Charlie wrote:
I'm curious if anyone practices household voting? Each household gets one vote.

Hi Charlie - no doubt, some do. But not with Scriptural directive, or example.

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@Paul

Quote:
In the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which I was raised in -- and perhaps in other confessional Lutheran church bodies -- only over men over age 21 (in my home church; 18 in others) may attend the business meetings or vote.
The practice is based on 1 Cor. 14:34, 35.

Hi Paul,

Several years I spoke with the then president of WELS. He was very helpful, and very clear on their "male only" voting stance (as well as "closed communion). Women only started voting in churches in the later half of the 20th century, so the practice is quite recent in church history.

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@ Pastor Harold

Pastor Harold wrote:
10-2 against going into the Promise Land. Majority rules in a democracy. Who's idea was that???

Indeed, advocates of majority rule need to ask themselves, "how often in Scripture is the majority obeying God?"

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@ Aaron

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Ok, two random thoughts.
One, I wonder where Ted is today. I'm sure he'll be dropping by as soon as he has opportunity... and will have a bit of catching up to do. I know the feeling.

Just left 2 weeks in South Africa, and am in Malawi for ministry until next week. Glorious time here Smile

Quote:
I think it's the extreme implementations of each polity that tend to give each a bad reputation to different groups. I suspect that where there are wise, godly leaders, the various polities tend to have roughly the same results... because the leaders are winning "the people" over to their vision anyway or, failing that, don't push their agenda. No point in dragging a church along kicking and screaming. They need to truly "buy" the idea, regardless of whether there are votes.

Bro, the issue isn't what works, or not, but what God says, right. And He is so abundantly clear and singular on this matter.

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@ Larry

Larry wrote:
But even if we limit votes to spiritually mature people, what criteria do we use for that? Ted's (and others) define this as being elected to eldership. But I know of no practical way and no biblical instruction by which one would be qualified to be a part of the congregation other than a credible profession of faith illustrated by believer's baptism.

I don't advocate voting for elders since we have the word of God, but if there were a criteria for voting, it would be the elder qualifications, since they are God's "stewards" - Titus 1:7. But a steward is not a representative.

Men who meet people's qualifications and are elected are their representatives. But men who meet God's requirements are His stewards. And the two are not the same thing. Not by a mile. One is accountable to those who elect, the other is accountable to Him who qualifies.

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@Kevin

KevinM wrote:
I'm guessing that Ted will give a more in-depth study of the NT texts, in subsequent posts? And those who affirm congregational voting could do the same, given the opportunity.

I'm more interested in how the elder rule idea is argued.

The only way to argue rightly is to patiently and carefully exegete all relevant Scripture. When that is done, Scripture provides a homogeneous form of church government. It takes about 3 minutes to see. Go ahead and download the first chapter of my book at www.thetitusmandate.org.

Quote:
No matter who is teaching it, they tend to start out with a personal narrative about the excesses of congregationalism...sad stories about unhealthy churches.

Have you heard mine? Just kidding.

Quote:
But there are more than enough parallel stories from the world of elder rule to remind us that carnality is not limited to congregational votes. [Insert personal narrative here! ] In a city where I used to minister, the elders of a certain church voted out their senior pastor because of "conflicting agendas" for the church. And my buddy, the youth pastor (and an elder), cast his vote against the senior pastor. Then the elders mailed a letter to all of the other evangelical churches in the city, explaining in detail why they had voted out their pastor (but not allowing the pastor any equal time to explain his side of the story).

Hey, what did I say? Voting is a bad idea ;)

Quote:
Pick your system: congregational, episcopal, prebyterian...each can be disrupted by carnality. So I think the introductory arguments will eventually give way to a more substantive exploration of the text.

You left out biblical eldership, my brother, which is none of those three.

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@ Dan

Dan Miller wrote:
Ted,
I put your book in my shopping cart. I'm interested to see if you have a more extended argument.

Your anecdote would seem to argue against your position, though. That church was had pretty significant problems. The congregation did not trust the leadership. In that situation, it is hard to imagine how things would have been better if a group of "ruling" elders would have pushed through their building project.

Thanks, Dan. You will find a very lengthened discussion in the book.

Well, I wasn't advocating for the building project. Indeed, the church had major problems, which I trace back to an unscriptural polity that brings division. Elders "who push through" anything are likely "self-willed," and therefore unqualified to be called elders (Titus 1:7). Pity that congregation that doesn't follow Scripture, but wrongly elects such men into leadership.

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Logic

Jeff Brown wrote:
Say Ed, maybe you could establish this point somehow. Could you give your exegetical basis for the statement that he ekklesia in Matt 18:17 means hoi presbyteroi?

I also am not convinced that most commentators say this. Perhaps you could back that up.

It might be more accurate to say that most commentaries do not touch this issue. Here is Barnes:

Quote:
Verse 17. Tell it unto the Church. See Barnes "Matthew 16:18". The church may here mean the whole assembly of believers; or it may mean those who are authorized to try such cases--the representatives of the church, or those who act for them. In the Jewish synagogue there was a bench of elders, before whom trials of this kind were brought. It was to be brought to the church, in order that he might be admonished, entreated, and, if possible, reformed. This was, and is always to be, the first business in disciplining an offending brother.

Here is a quick quotation from Jay Adam's book, Handbook of Church Discipline

Quote:

Frequently in the Old Testament when God wished to speak to Israel as a whole, He summoned and addressed the elders who then conveyed His message to the people... This is probably the meaning of "tell it to the church": tell it to the church by telling it to the elders..." p. 69

The idea of I Timothy 5:19-21 seems to me to imply that since the elders are in charge of discipline in the church, they must be held to a high standard. Additionally, it is the job of the elders (or church leaders) to watch over the souls of church folks (Hebrews 13:17); since they will give account for those souls, it seems strange the decisions should be made by people who are not accountable. It is logical that leaders should lead.

I would argue that going THROUGH the elders and the elders leading is how this is brought to the church. Leaders are also deciders. That is implicit in the office. Asking one group to lead and another to decide is contradictory.

"The Midrash Detective"

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Ted - Please clarify

Ted Bigelow wrote:
@Mshep
Quote:
While I agree with much of the sentiment of this article, I think it is going too far to conclude that voting is wrong in a church.

Hi Mshep. Thanks for your response. You need to feel sorry for me brother. As I write this I am in Malawi, Africa and the breezes are coming in off the plain – its about 80 here and gorgeous…. Huge billowing clouds in the distance rise up to 30,000 feet, and the air smells sweet. Birds are singing. OK, enough trying to make you jealous ;)
I do see how you agree with the spirit of my article, but not the content. But my content agrees with your statement, “Rather than make decisions based on God's Word and what is best and correct for the ministry, the "majority" rules.” That’s all I’m arguing for, Mshep.

Right. I am a bit jealous. We are still waiting for the rainy season here in Liberia and the highs have been in the 90's all week - and the forecast is the same for the coming days: Fri - 93°, Sat - 93°, Sunday - 92°, Mon - 92°, Tues - 91° (wait! - do I see a cooling trend??!!). We were in a missions conference some years ago with some missionaries from the mountains of Cameroon. We thought, "Now why can't we live someplace like that?"

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Quote:
But, there also is a problem in many churches with unqualified leaders or dictatorial pastors who make unbiblical decisions and then demand to be followed since they are the "annointed by God" to carry the leadership of the church. While I know this is a short article, I would like to ask Ted how leaders are to be chosen in the first place? And, what is the church supposed to do with unqualified leaders (e.g."deacon for life") or those who fall into sin and refuse to step down?

As you know, there were dictatorial eldersi n the 1st Century, and Scripture teaches how to deal with them – and its not by instituting church voting! See 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Timothy 5:19-20, and the book of 3 John. Also you might read my book, The Titus Mandate, chapter 8 (you can actually get much of on Amazon search).
Quote:
Finally, I believe it is also wrong to say that there is no Scriptural support or precedent for voting. While I am not a Greek scholar, I do know that Greek word cheirotoneo, defined as "1) to vote by stretching out the hand 2) to create or appoint by vote: one to have charge of some office or duty 3) to elect, create, appoint" is found at least four times in New Testament in regards to decisions made by local churches.
1. In Acts 14:23, "appointed" ("So when they had appointed elders in every church").
2. In 2 Cor 8:19, "chosen" ("And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches") - in deciding who will carry the monetary gift to the church in Jerusalem.
3. In the postscript to 2 Tim. 4:22, "ordained" ("The second epistle unto Timotheus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians")
4. In the postscript to Titus 3:15, "ordained" ("It was written to Titus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Cretians")

Oops – only 2x in the NT, brother – #3 and 4 were added later onto some NT manuscripts by somebody. The emandation you cite in Titus 3:15 actually contradicts Titus 3:12, where Titus is told to leave Crete when either Artemas or Tychicus replaces him. If Titus was to leave soon for Greece (Nicopolis), in what sense could he have been replaced quickly by other men and have been an archbishop(a position unattested in the NT, btw)? As for the 1st two instances you cite above. Each of these passages are fully treated in my book, chapter 12 and 13. For instance, look up Acts 14:23 – you don’t really suppose Barnabas and Saul raised hands just between the two of them? Awkward and silly.

I agree that the statement "In the N.T." may not have been the best choice of words (although I have read there are some scholars who believe that we should look at these inscriptions as canonical). This is why I referred to them as "postscripts" meaning, not part of the quoted verse.

Ted Bigelow wrote:
My book addresses the biblical appointment methodology of elders, chapter 4. It is completely based on Titus 1:5-9, in which Titus is given all the instruction he needed on how to do it according to apostolic pattern. It id a pattern that endure to today. And of course, it has nothing to do with votes.

Blessings - Ted

I have read your article (above), your responses to others' arguments, and the first chapter of your book. While you make a good case for plural eldership, you seem to read a little too much between the lines in talking about merging churches, etc. I do not discount that interpretation as invalid, but if you are building your whole case on not voting in the church on this evidence, your case is weak.

All that being said, I do agree there are many problems with the "voting" model. I would be glad to hear your alternative. Please state simply how you believe elders should be chosen and how can they have accountability without input from the local body.

MS
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Luke 17:10

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Voting

Ted,

Would you say that John MacArthur's church is wrong to practice voting?

Cordially,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

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Quote: This view essentially

Quote:
This view essentially (or explicitly at times) says, "There are spiritual people among us who are equipped by the Spirit for decision making, and there are the rest of you (most of you) who just need to sit back and accept that we speak for God in this congregation."

Actually Larry it doesn't say that at all.

Shepherds don't let sheep vote to know what to do. They are in that position precisely to lead. Failure to lead is a failure of the position.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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Plurality and authority of

Plurality and authority of Elders

Acts 11:30
And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
(greek word for elder here is presbyteros – a ruling council)

Acts 14:23
When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23 and 16:4
And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue…When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them…The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter…Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, …and they sent this letter by them, "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings…Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.

Acts 20:17
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.

Acts 20:28
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Acts 21:18
And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

Philippians 1:1
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons

I Thess 5:12-13
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.

I Timothy 5:17
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

Titus 1:5
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you

James 5:14
Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord

1 Peter 5:1-2
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness

Hebrews 13:7
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

All of this demonstrates beyond question that the church is to have plural elders. Acts 14:23 is explicit in this regard.

Further, believers are told to do the following to the elders:
1. Appreciate
2. Highly esteem
3. Give double honor
4. Go to them when sick
5. Obey
6. Submit
Elders in turn are told to:
1. Be active in doctrinal disputes
2. Oversee
3. Shepherd
4. Labor
5. Give instruction
6. Rule well
7. Exercise oversight
The absence of any kind of vote is noted. Other rhetorical questions would be asked:
What sheep get to vote out the shepherd? What employees get to overthrown the manager?
No, elders are called to rule well. Passing it off to others is a failure to fulfill their task.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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It should be further noted

It should be further noted that neither Matt 18 nor 1 Cor 5 say anything about voting.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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@ Jim

Hi Jim!

Quote:

It would be nice to vote "less"
Examples:
o Inactive members. After X months of inactivity, let the leadership team (elders / deacons) remove from membership and simply inform the body (say at an annual meeting)
Big things vote on:
o Church discipline (other than inactivity)
o Budget
o Call of pastors
o Election of officers (elders / deacons)
o Purchase and sale of property
Others ... not so much
I agree with this except for Church discipline. I feel….

Sorry, my brother. I got to cut it off at that point.

I now know what you feel about the issue of voting. But since the church is God’s creation, I want to know what Christ “feels” about it. I hope you don’t want to build “Jim’s church.” I am sure you want to submit to Christ who is building His church, right? So our opinion on the matter has no value, right? Let’s study His gift of communication to us on the matter of decision making in the church, and then obey it. For when we do, we obey Him and live as those who belong to Him (Luke 17:10).

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@ Jim Peet

From Jim Peet:

Quote:
Hey Ted,
It would be helpful to see a chart in a grid expressing what folk in your church vote on
Thanks

We vote as often as Jesus and His apostles taught us to vote. Which is as often as they taught us to hit ourselves in the head with a hammer.

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@Aaron

Quote:
In case anybody was wondering, I really didn't plan to post this when Ted would be out of the country so we'd be able to gang up on him.

Thanks to all of you who are weighing in. I am your brother, if you love the word of God, and obey it (Mark 3:35). It is 6 AM in Malawi. The birds are outside, chirping away. I preach this morning and teach later on preaching. Ahh, what a blessed life my Lord has given me, and I am so unworthy.

Quote:
Anyway, the book does sound interesting. Dan Miller... maybe you'd be interested in writing a review for us?

I would be honored.
Quote:
I'm quite sympathetic to the general concept of "elder rule," since the term is almost always plural in the NT (and the OT concept is obviously plural). But, as Dever recently noted at ATC, small churches in rural settings can have a pretty hard time finding more than one qualified elder (one of the main qualifications being "desire," 1 Tim.3:1 - yes, I take "bishop" and "elder" to be the same thing).

Absolutely true, so here’s another reason to read the book. The Titus Mandate (Titus 1:5) doesn’t say to appoint elders in every church, but “in every town.” There is a reason for that difference, but I can’t get into here. I explain it in the first chapter of the book, which is available for free at the www.thetitusmandate.org site.

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@ Jeff

Quote:
I agree with Ted very thoroughly in many areas. I this one I do not, and of course good brothers are bound to differ. Ted, can you cite a verse in the Bible which tells how existing churches are to choose their elders? Acts 14:23 does not work. It explains tersely how two missionaries (who were moving on, and are never themselves called "elders") got elders established in new churches. So if there is no Bible verse which says that elders are to choose elders, how is this process any more biblical than a congregation voting for elders? But perhaps you can show passages that directly state that elders are to choose elders.

Thanks Jeff, hope you are doing well, brother.

Titus 1:5-9 teaches how Christ wants elders appointed, and is the scriptural pattern churches should use today. It dovetails in perfectly with 1 Tim. 5:21-25, and 1 Tim. 3:1-7.

I explain it in detail in the 4th chapter, bro. It’s quite simple, but also, quite humbling. You might also read chapter 8, on elder testing.

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@ Ed

Quote:
We are in the realm of the extra- biblical. That is the entire point. That is not necessarily bad: much of what our churches do is neither condemned nor commanded in Scripture, and that was true in the early church as well.

Ed, I’d like to disagree with you here, bro. Larry feels passages like Acts 6, 1 Cor. 5, 2 Cor 2:6 teach voting. I say they don’t, but that the NT does teach us how to make decisions as congregations in unity.

As I’m writing this, the rains just started here in Malawi. And I have Toto in my head, “I blessed the rains down in Africa.” As I write this the rains are deafening! Quite awesome.

Quote:
What we try to do is to draw Biblical principles. The Biblical principle of I Timothy 3 is that the church is to be led by spiritually mature godly men. Yet the western world is pretty much run by representative governments and voting on issues. Thus voting is a western adaption. So how do we balance it?

Ed, my bro, we don’t need to balance off God’s sufficient (complete) revelation. We just need to know it, and do it. Titus 1:5-9 teaches us, in compact language, the whole biblical process of appointing only qualified men in local church leadership.

Quote:
No system works if it is filled with ungodly, narrow, unscriptural, or grouchy leaders. Just about any system works if godliness prevails over a congregation. The issue is not what works, but what does God demand. And, as we can see, when it comes to the issue of voting, we cannot even come close to agreeing.

Right, so God calls us to unify around Scripture – all of us.

Quote:
All it takes is one nasty, narrow, or outspoken person --- as a member or on a board --- to make church life miserable. That nasty person may want attention, may live in fear of change, or may be bitter about past changes. Wherever that person or group of persons collect -- on boards or congregations -- they can make government issues unpleasant.

So true. And God even gives you instruction on how to deal with it in such a way that the whole church is sanctified – 1 Tim. 5:19-20. The language is compact, but sufficient for every such situation in God’s church. But that process in 1 Tim. 5:19-20 can only be obeyed in biblical eldership, without voting. No other form of church governance can obey it exactly as it is written because it is built on a foundation other than Scripture.

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@ Larry

Larry, my brother, allow me to snipe in here....

Quote:
Deacons are also explicitly given to the congregation to choose (which implies some sort of voting).

Where? If its explicit, let's see it. And since its explicit, please don't use Acts 6. There is no mention of deacons there, by which I mean to say, that God in infinite wisdom and as an act of His wisdom did not reveal deacons in Acts 6.

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does "push-through" always equal "self-willed"?

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Thanks, Dan. You will find a very lengthened discussion in the book.
It's in the mail.
Ted Bigelow wrote:
Well, I wasn't advocating for the building project. Indeed, the church had major problems, which I trace back to an unscriptural polity that brings division. Elders "who push through" anything are likely "self-willed," and therefore unqualified to be called elders (Titus 1:7). Pity that congregation that doesn't follow Scripture, but wrongly elects such men into leadership.
What I meant by "push through" was that the decision of the elders would happen even though the majority of the congregation was opposed to it.

Your objection to "push-through" as "self-willed" is confusing. Are you saying it is always wrong for the elders to decide and do something against the will of majority of the congregation?

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So what I've gained from

So what I've gained from Ted's post and his responses is...read his book. ;)

------------------------------
Pastor of Adult Ministries

Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Religion
Liberty University Online

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Wrongheaded Illustration to be Sure

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Pastor Harold wrote:
10-2 against going into the Promise Land. Majority rules in a democracy. Who's idea was that???

Indeed, advocates of majority rule need to ask themselves, "how often in Scripture is the majority obeying God?"

I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I missed the part where a vote was taken in Exodus.

Perhaps we should use wicked King Ahab as an example of what can happen when power drunken men seek to lord over God's heritage.

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Ted Bigelow wrote: Bro, the

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Bro, the issue isn't what works, or not, but what God says, right. And He is so abundantly clear and singular on this matter.

You claim that Scripture never alludes to voting and then turn around and say that what God says is "so abundantly clear and singular on this matter." By "this matter," I believe you refer to church polity in general. I find it difficult to take that type of a comment seriously after reading pages of back and forth here...

My biggest concern with your approach is the hermeneutic that runs throughout your article and comments. You seem to believe that Scriptural silence on a matter is equivelent to a positive statement on a matter. But it is not.

Is it not possible that God intended the church to apply the principles which are indeed "abundantly clear and singular" in culturally appropriate ways in areas in which Scripture is silent (that is not to concede that Scripture is silent on voting)? Is it not possible that it is not a black and white issue? That there is room for varying methods of decision making within the biblical framework of church polity and body life? Do we have a right to demand an "abundantly clear and singular" answer to every question we may choose to raise?

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ireny

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Quote:
Deacons are also explicitly given to the congregation to choose (which implies some sort of voting).
Where? If its explicit, let's see it. And since its explicit, please don't use Acts 6. There is no mention of deacons there, by which I mean to say, that God in infinite wisdom and as an act of His wisdom did not reveal deacons in Acts 6.

Ted, I want to challenge you that it might not be helpful to state things in this way.
Were those men in Acts 6 Deacons? Most people seem to think so. The Text doesn't use the word. But the description... And does it matter? They were certainly officers in the church of some sort.

Often the Text doesn't say something that we might wish it either said or denied. To attribute every omission to "God in infinite wisdom and as an act of His wisdom" is dangerous. Certainly God is infinitely wise. Certainly He inspired the authors of Scripture. But when you phrase it this way, it tends to remove the unknown from the unknown. So you'll tend to read "NO!" into a "No comment." Sometimes He, in His infinite wisdom wished to keep it unknown.

Also, your reference to God's wisdom tends to suggest that anyone who honestly thinks that Acts 6 refers to deacons (which I would think you realize is the majority (we could vote!) of scholars) - anyway, your appeal to God's wisdom suggests that these scholars somehow deny God's wisdom by seeing deacons. That's a little disrespectful to your colleagues and will add more heat than light, IMO. Better to warn them that there's a chance that deacons aren't intended.

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Probably too far behind....

I think I can't catch up at this point.
Looks like it's been a stimulating discussion though.

A couple random responses:
Susan's observations about milk Christians and meat Christians are valid, contra whoever it was that argued the point. Heb.5.14. We really do have varying levels of maturity, surely nobody's denying that. So if there is a way to increase the participation of the mature and decrease the participation of the immature, that certainly makes sense to me.

Ted wrote:
Back it up with Scripture, Aaron. Back up that voting is “a way of discerning the Lord’s leading.”

I mentioned two situations in Scripture where a consensus was measured in some way. In both of them the implication that this is the Lord's leading in the body. So we're talking about finding a mechanism. If it's not voting, how do you propose that this be done?

Ed's got a solid point--and Ted also to a degree--that voting can cause disunity.
If you take a simple decision and hand it to a committee, it'll take six months to reach the decision and half the members will be mad at the other half by the end. (Aaron's highly-unoriginal insights #13: Never give a job to a committee if an individual can do it!).

So churches have sometimes suffered needless disunity as a result of discussion of what could have been a simple decision--and isn't really an important one.
The question on that, to me, is how exactly is the disunity created in these cases? I've seen it happen. People get interested in a question, get all passionate about it and invested in it when--without discussion and voting--they would have hardly given it a moment's thought. So what's the real problem there?

Perhaps it's a problem of prior commitment to a process. That is, if the body as a whole has participated in deciding that matters of carpet color will be decided by the trustees or by committee X, then the chosen people make the decision and that's that. You'll have some immature types who will still resent it but you can tell them: the body decided the decision would be made this way.

If you have all this stuff decided all at once and spelled out in policies, then it's kind of a done deal forever thereafter.

In general, it seems prudent to me for congregationally governed churches to adopt policies/procedures that assign relatively minor decisions to leaders or small groups so disunity is not created by dumping trivial matters on the entire body to bounce around and vote on.
(Again, this is not really much of a factor in churches with less than 20 people showing up for business meetings!)

KevinM... about Dever and elder rule. Thanks. I stand corrected. His model is indeed not "elder ruled," but "elder led."

NEXT WEEK:
Looks like we'll have something on this from Dr. Jeff Brown who did his PhD work on congregational polity.

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Voting

Good discussion. I would add, that using Ted's reasoning, the folks who forbid the use of musical instruments in the New Testament church must be correct. They are certainly correct that there is no specific precpet to use them, nor clear example of their being used. Am I correct to assume that Ted's church allows no instrumental accompanyment?

Cordially,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

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If you look at what the

If you look at what the elders are supposed to do in the role, and then note how no one ever voted in anything related to church practice in the NT, you can see that it isn't an argument from silence as GN Barkman and others say.

The problem is that the practice is so rooted in American democracy that it is just offensive to even think about getting rid of it.

Elders must rule, not as lords, but they still must rule.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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@James I think bringing in

@James

I think bringing in plurality is a bit of a red herring. We are not talking about plurality vs. singularity, and really not even talking about leadership. We are talking about foundational authority. Voting is not an act of leadership or an act of ruling. So that contrast is, IMO, misguided.

Quote:
The absence of any kind of vote is noted.
I would suggest that the absence of some key passages on your part is also noted. You say that no one ever voted on anything in the NT, but the only way you can maintain that is by ignoring that by some means the church in Matt 18 and 1 Cor5 and Acts 6 came to a consensus (or should have come to a consensus).

Quote:
Other rhetorical questions would be asked:
What sheep get to vote out the shepherd? What employees get to overthrown the manager?
These aren’t questions the Bible asks though, and they do not seem to be questions based on anything in the Bible. The apostles, in Acts 6, specifically gave the responsibility to choose servants to diakon- to the congregation.

Quote:
No, elders are called to rule well. Passing it off to others is a failure to fulfill their task.
I agree, and I think most would. But I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that an elder not rule well, or that he pass it off to others. I certainly am not.

Quote:
It should be further noted that neither Matt 18 nor 1 Cor 5 say anything about voting.
So how would the church do something apart from some sort of vote? Anytime you have a group of people you have to have some mechanism of expressing consensus, even among the elders. How do you achieve that consensus?

What do you do when one elder disagrees with another? One of them or both of them get overruled. So you have an elder who is supposed to lead/rule/etc, but cannot do so. So I don’t think you solve the problem by your method. You just confine to a smaller group of supposedly more spiritual men.

And of course we know that elders are always really spiritual and never sin, teach false doctrine, make wrong choices, lead to do wrong things, abuse children, and the like.

Of course I speak in jest, but the reality is that you don’t solve the problem

Congregational authority is not rooted in American democracy. It existed prior to American democracy and outside of American democracy.

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Congregationalism Preceeds American Democracy

James K wrote:
If you look at what the elders are supposed to do in the role, and then note how no one ever voted in anything related to church practice in the NT, you can see that it isn't an argument from silence as GN Barkman and others say.

The problem is that the practice is so rooted in American democracy that it is just offensive to even think about getting rid of it.

Elders must rule, not as lords, but they still must rule.

You'll note, of course, that Congregationalism precedes American democracy. In fact, I've read that the harmony produced by congregation-ally ruled churches were an encouragement to American democracy, rather than a result of it.

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Intentional Ambiguity?

Obviously there are teachings in the Bible that are crystal clear and unquestionable (though people will always try to twist them). There are also concepts in the Bible that are a bit more vague or even ambiguous (these stimulate a lot of great discussion on SI). I'm convinced that even the ambiguity in scripture is inspired. The difference in clarity helps us understand the difference in application of Biblical teachings.

No, I'm not saying that some scriptures are "more inspired" than others. I'm simply suggesting that in some areas the scripture intentionally allows for more flexibility in interpretation.

For example, while the qualifications of church leadership is made very clear, the exact structure of leadership is a little more vague. That doesn't mean that anything goes -- we should work at systematically studying all the relevant biblical data and staying as close to it as possible. However, I believe that some details of church polity, like how much of a role the congregation plays, are flexible, and can be adapted to different cultures. The way Cambodians view leadership is very different from an American approach to government.

While I certainly agree with the overall sentiment here that too much congregational authority can be a bad thing, I'm unwilling to be very dogmatic about church voting.

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Two or Three Witnesses

Without congregational rule, how does the church receive an accusation against an elder by two or three witnesses?

1 Tim 5:19-20 - "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear."

What are we to do in the event the elders bring heresy or gross immorality into our church? Nothing?

Also, how would a group of believers start a church? It would be effectively impossible to begin a church unless we had an apostle appoint the first elder, so that there would be someone to appoint other members and elders.

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Ted, Thanks for the gracious

Ted, Thanks for the gracious response. Here’s a quick one. I don't want to get tied up in a back and forth here on specific statements for the sake of time, so I won’t address everything, just a few key points.

Quote:
In our churches, it expresses presumptuousness. God never tells us to do it, no apostle tells us to do it… and yet we do it. And then we find Bible references to support the act. And as I argue, we take them out of context to make them say something they don’t.
I don’t think voting expresses presumptuousness at all. I think God told us that the congregation is to have authority. I think on certain issues it expresses submission to God’s word and affirms the work of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ.

Perhaps you are hung up on the word “vote.” By “vote” I think we only mean come to a consensus on the matter in front of us. You comment on Acts 6 that Luke says they “chose,” not voted. A choice can be done many ways. But at the end of the day a vote by any other name is still a vote. It is a “choice” made by a group of people. The congregation as a whole by some means set apart seven men. I don’t see any way you do that apart from some sort of congregational action.

I do not know how a group of people (either elders or the church) come to any consensus without some sort of vote of some type. Even if you go around the room and ask, "Do we agree on this?" it is a vote. It happens in elder’s meetings all the time. In 1 Cor 5 and Matt 18, there is a command for a group of people to do something. There has to be someway for that group to express it's will. That is a vote, no matter what you call it. The only way you avoid this is with a solo pastor who has complete control.

Quote:
Larry: The apostles specifically did not appoint them. Ted: Bro, see Acts 6:6.
And? Acts 6:6 does say anything about appointing or choosing. It says they laid hands on them. “They” (the congregation) brought them (the seven they had chosen; vv. 3, 5) to the apostles.

Quote:
A biblical church wants only God’s voice in Scripture, not men’s voices, whether the elders, or the congregation, right?
Or The Titus Mandate? Smile We all recognize that God has not spoken comprehensively about every single matter a church might face. And the church therefore must find some other way of seeking God’s face for his will. I believe that the Holy Spirit equips every single believer for this task. And appoints elders to lead them through this task.

Why should I, as a pastor, presume that God gives me special insight into his Word and Will? Pastoral gifting and calling does not deal with, IMO.

Quote:
And Larry, the Lord is not interested in something you call "the will of the congregation." He is interested in His will alone, and that we obey it, not compete with it by trying to figure out our own (Luke 17:10).
The Bible uses phrases like “seemed good to them,” and similar phrases that express my point in “the will of the church.” I do not set that against the will of God.

Quote:
The NT describes in sufficient and full detail how these are to be done, and I take the time in my book - in the early chapters, to detail it out.
I would love to see a quick description of how you choose elders and deacons here.

Someone has to choose them right? Presumably every qualified man is not an elder, so you select from among the qualified men. If more than one person is involved, it amounts to a vote.

James asks if the shepherd lets the sheep vote. The answer is yes, if we follow the pattern of Matt 18/1 Cor 5/Acts 6. But the mistake is thinking that a vote equals leading. It doesn't. As I point out, our own form of government is based on voting and no one thinks that the voters are leading. We choose leaders.

Ted, you talk about voting for deacons and Acts 6 and say there is no mention of deacons there. And that's true, unless you include vv. 1-2 in Acts 6. In vv. 1-2, diakon- is used twice to describe the function of these men in the body. Furthermore, the qualifications given for the men who who would "diakon-ing" in v. 3 would fit very well with the extended list in 1 Tim 3. While I know it is disputed (and perhaps because of the ramifications of congregational authority), it would be most strange if that was not a reference the first deacons, chosen by the congregation, at the behest of the teachers of the word, to serve the congregation in material things so that the teachers of the word can serve in spiritual things.

In other words, you have function of deacons (serving not leading) and the qualifications of deacons (Spirit filled, wise). It would be a most torturous case, IMO, for that to be something other than a deacon. And if those are not deacons, what are they? And where do we find any NT information about what a deacon is to do?

The word "representative" was used by Ted as an argument, that someone voted in was a representative while an elder was a steward. I disagree. I don't think elders are representatives of anyone but God. But I think the pattern of Scripture is congregational in authority.

Here's what I see (not having read Ted's book). There is an abundance of argument based on words (voting, representative, leading) and based on logic (sheep leading shepherd, voting equaling authority, spiritually immature people leading and having same vote as spiritually mature people), etc. But IMO, it doesn't really address the Scripture sufficiently.

Again, IMO, the case for congregational authority is clear in Scripture and nothing here has (again IMO) come close to a case against it.

Thanks again for the gracious exchange.

Jeff Brown's picture
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Thanks for the answer, Ed

Thanks for answering, Ed. I do not have access to a theological library in English. I will simply note from my own library: Alford, H.A.W. Meyer, JFB, A.B. Bruce (Expositors GNT), Lenski, Hendricksen, Carson (EBC), all interpret Matt. 18:17 as describing an action by the whole church. It is hard to find this passage in Calvin's Commentaries. Glasscock interprets ekklesia as any group of Christians. That, of course is a limited number of commentaries, but I would guess a larger sample would result in the same pattern, which would be that the overwhelming view among commentators is that the whole church (obviously in a locale) takes the action on the sinning brother. No doubt, a survey is recorded in a dissertation somewhere.

Thank you for explaining your reasoning for your interpretation by pointing to the responsibility of elders. I will not contradict the importance of their role in the church (and likely role in the process of discipline). My response is twofold: first, Jesus had not yet said a word to his disciples about elders when he gave the pattern for disciplining an erring brother. And no apostle later says a word about disciplining all erring brothers through the elders. Second, making ekklesia = presbyteroi does not work linguistically.

Both Emil Schürer History of the Jewish People 2:431 and Strack and Billerbeck Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch 1:787 point out that the practice of discipline carried out by the whole congregation is unique in ancient Judaism to Jesus and His followers and the Qumran community.

Only a strained exegesis will interpret Matthew 18:17 as anything other than action by the whole congregation. Of course, actually doing it is another matter. But I would recommend the simple obedience of this passage when the serious case takes place in your congregation. I say from experience that it works, works positively on the whole congregation, and though it is never easy, no elder ever has to give up one atom of his leadership to bring it to pass. In fact, I have always led the whole process. I know as well that many, many pastors can give the same testimony.

Jeff Brown

Ed Vasicek's picture
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More We Don't Know

Ted (a truly amazing brother) wrote:

Quote:
Ed, my bro, we don’t need to balance off God’s sufficient (complete) revelation. We just need to know it, and do it. Titus 1:5-9 teaches us, in compact language, the whole biblical process of appointing only qualified men in local church leadership.

I do not see it that way at all. We need to distinguish between DESCRIPTION and PRESCRIPTION. If we had a clear prescription "bring it to a vote," we would not be having this discussion. The point is that we are trying to develop a way to govern, etc., based upon what was described in Acts, which is quite partial and nowhere stated as description.

Do we have any verses that suggest we are to imitate the practices of the early church as a whole? I only see specific prescriptions for things like communion, preaching, etc., and qualifications for officers. But if y you compare what is commanded in Scripture with our constitutions and bylaws, a lot of that is culturally based or a result of the school of hard knocks.

Even if we learned from church history how the early church did things (what time they met, etc.), how can we defend the assumption that we are to imitate their practices, apart from those commanded?

"The Midrash Detective"

Ted Bigelow's picture
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@ Dan

Quote:
Jean Calvin's Commentary on Acts
Had ordained by election. The Greek word χειροτονειν doth signify to decree, or ordain a thing, by lifting up the hands, as they used to do in the assemblies of the people. Notwithstanding, the ecclesiastical writers do often use the word χειροτονεια, in another sense; to wit, for their [the ] solemn rite of ordaining, which is called in Scripture laying on of hands. Furthermore, by this manner of speech is very excellently expressed the right way to ordain pastors. Paul and Barnabas are said to choose elders. Do they this alone by their private office? Nay, rather they suffer the matter to be decided by the consent of them all. Therefore, in ordaining pastors the people had their free election, but lest there should any tumult arise, Paul and Barnabas sit as chief moderators. Thus must the decree of the council of Laodicea be understood, which forbiddeth that the people have liberty granted them to elect.

Thanks for the fine quote by John Calvin, the great theologian of the Holy Spirit. But on this matter he is wrong. The text of God plainly states that the elders in those churches were appointed only by Barnabas and Saul, not by “free election.” He read that into the text, and his reasons for doing so were historically conditioned – they were coming out of the RCC and the priests who controlled everything. However, I think he is right in understanding the word “cheirotoneo” as referring to, either metaphorically, or literally, the laying on of hands – not voting.

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