Is Congregational Voting Biblical?

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

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 Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

MShep2's picture

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
--------------------------------
Luke 17:10

Aaron Blumer's picture

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.

Steve Newman's picture

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.

Larry's picture

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.

MShep2's picture

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
--------------------------------
Luke 17:10

Susan R's picture

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?

Larry's picture

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.

Ed Vasicek's picture

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"

Jim's picture

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

Susan R's picture

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?

Larry's picture

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.

Larry's picture

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.

Mike Harding's picture

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

Charlie's picture

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

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

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

Paul J. Scharf's picture

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.

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Pastor Harold's picture

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

Susan R's picture

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.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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.

KevinM's picture

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.

Ted Bigelow's picture

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.

Larry's picture

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.

Susan R's picture

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.

Dan Miller's picture

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.

Barry L.'s picture

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.

dcbii's picture

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

Larry's picture

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."

Aaron Blumer's picture

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. Biggrin
(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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