Shall We Cast Lots? Identifying "Biblical Patterns"

(First published at SI, June 6, 2006)

Pitfalls in the Pursuit of Biblical Patterns

In Scripture, casting lots is routine. Some might even say it’s the normal way to decide a difficult question. The OT 1 contains 24 references to “cast lots,” “casting lots,” and “the lot fell.” Two of these are in Proverbs where lot-casting is highly recommended.

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Prov. 16:33).

Casting lots causes contentions to cease, and keeps the mighty apart (Prov. 18:18).

In addition, the Urim and Thummim (probably a form of lot-casting) have a prominent place in Mosaic Law. All in all, the OT is very pro-lot.

The NT seems to be in favor of the practice as well. Casting lots is mentioned there eight times, and one of them refers to the selection of an apostle to replace Judas (Acts 1:26). So if we have frequent favorable references to lot-casting across both Old and New Testaments, do we have a “biblical pattern”? Should we be casting lots in our churches rather than voting? After all, the Bible contains no direct command to vote on anything (some might argue that voting is the brainchild of humanistic philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his ilk).

Issues and Biblical Patterns

I’m not attempting to launch the Cult of the Cast Lot here, but if we shouldn’t cast lots in our churches, why not? The question is not merely academic. Though lot-casting is a non-issue, the process we use to weigh the biblical evidence for it is very similar to the one we must use in handling many hotly debated issues.

Should moms ever work outside the home? Should the children of believers ever attend government schools?2 Should sons and daughters find spouses by arrangement of their parents?3 Should we remove all age-grouped teaching from church life?4 Should churches observe the Lord’s Table every Sunday? Should they meet only in homes5 rather than in church buildings? Those who answer these questions in the affirmative usually make their case using some type of “biblical pattern” reasoning.6 The lot-casting question provides a good test case for examining what constitutes a binding (or “normative”) biblical pattern.

Common Problems with “Biblical Pattern” Interpretation

Sometimes a pattern of behavior in Scripture does reveal a blueprint for God’s people in any age. But we can easily concoct a “biblical pattern” where there actually isn’t one, even when our intent is to be faithful to what is written. Four errors are common in efforts to derive normative patterns from Scripture. We can test for these errors by applying four questions to our thinking.

1. Am I drawing unintended meaning from incidental details?

Biblical pattern reasoning usually relies heavily on narrative, the story and history portions of Scripture. But we often neglect important factors when we handle narrative. In the case of casting lots, the narrative evidence is widespread and clearly shows God using the lot to reveal His will. The lot determined land assignments in Canaan, identified Achan as the offender after the Ai fiasco, and enabled Jonah’s fellow travelers to expose him as a wayward prophet. Nehemiah used the lot to assign various priestly duties (Neh. 10:34). In Acts 1, even the apostles employed the lot.

But the narrative evidence for a normative pattern of casting lots is weak, just as the narrative evidence is weak for many other alleged biblical patterns. The reason is that history has a dual purpose in Scripture. First, it establishes a record of what actually happened. Second, it teaches us what to believe and to do (Rom. 15:4). But sometimes we confuse the two purposes. In the teaching category, a historical account (or fictional story, like a parable) usually has one point.7 This one main point is what the story is really about.

However, in the process of making that point, the narrator includes details that help us feel the reality of the events and take the message to heart. These details are not what the story is about, and the passage doesn’t usually teach anything important about those details.

For example, the fact that David selected five stones when engaging Goliath in combat may suggest important things to us about his attitude and intentions, but the story is not about using slings and doesn’t teach that we should face our foes with five weapons or five principles, etc. The story is about courageously fighting for what’s right, as God directs, and God’s faithfulness in controlling the outcome.

The same is true of the many stories that involve casting lots. In general, people were seeking direction from God in situations for which they had no other way to discern the truth. When the lot was used obediently, the action expressed commitment to do as God willed. The method used was not an emphasized feature of the story.

2. Am I assuming a particular evaluation of events in a story?

Not only does narrative contain incidental details, but sometimes it also records events without any evaluation from the writer. So we learn that Rahab lied to the authorities in Jericho, but we aren’t told whether that specific act was good or bad. And when Abraham dispatched Eliezer to choose a wife for Isaac, we aren’t told whether that was a good policy or if Abraham should have gone himself. We aren’t even told whether the social custom of parents arranging marriages was good or bad. What is clearly good in the story is God’s faithfulness in sustaining His promise to Abraham into the next generation and Eliezer’s commitment to faithful service.

Even the record in Acts 1 falls short of teaching that church leaders should cast lots to make major decisions. The record reveals that the choice was not a popularity contest, but Luke doesn’t comment one way or the other on the merits of seeking God’s will by means of the lot. (The fact that the apostles often made decisions other ways shows that we were not meant to see the lot in Acts 1 as a superior method.)

3. Am I confusing quantity with weight?

Years ago, a polemicist against the NIV painstakingly documented thousands of differences in wording between the NIV and the KJV. It was a tragic waste of time, not because his conclusions were wrong, but because the thousands of examples proved nothing more than what a dozen would have proved: the NIV and the KJV are different.

Sometimes “biblical pattern” builders make the same mistake by thinking that a large number of examples adds weight to the claim that a normative pattern exists. But quantity and evidential weight are not the same thing. The frequency of references to casting lots proves only that doing so was routine. If the number of occurrences were doubled or tripled, we would still have no evidence of a normative biblical pattern, a blueprint that God expects us to follow today.

4. Am I reading the pattern back into Scripture rather than deriving the pattern from it?

We are all influenced by personal bias when interpreting the Bible. When we search for answers, there are always some answers we, at some level, hope to find or not to find. The art of building biblical patterns is especially vulnerable to this kind of unwitting distortion.

In the case of casting lots, there have been no church splits or denominations formed over the issue (to my knowledge). If the matter had that kind of history, many would turn to the references to lots in Proverbs and see conclusive proof of a normative biblical pattern. Absent some form of bias, however, we can easily see why the statements in Proverbs don’t establish such a pattern.

It’s widely recognized that Proverbs express principles that are broader than the details of ancient culture described in them. So proverbs commend casting lots but also commend just weights, a rod for the fool’s back, etc. The call to use just weights expresses the principle of honesty in business, and the rod for the fool reminds us that fools often need punitive discipline. Similarly, the proverbial praise for lot-casting teaches us that there is really no such thing as luck (Prov. 16:33) and that some form of unbiased arbitration is often the best way to resolve a dispute (Prov. 18:18). The method named in these proverbs is not the point.

Conclusion

Sometimes scattered biblical references to a practice prove nothing at all. Rarely, in other cases, they add up to only one reasonable interpretation. Most of the time, however, they suggest a handful of possible conclusions. The result is that, more often than not, a potential biblical pattern helps us form an opinion on a matter of conscience but falls short of establishing a biblical mandate. If we have no biblical pattern requiring us to cast lots, some of our other “biblical patterns” are probably imaginary as well.


Aaron Blumer, SI’s site publisher, is a native of lower Michigan and a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin, where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software development.

10147 reads

There are 31 Comments

ChrisC's picture

were lots ever used to solve general questions of practice for the children of God?

of the references to lots:

  • assigning guilt – scapegoat, jonah
  • dividing property – the promised land, jesus' clothes
  • assigning some task – temple duties, judges or a new apostle
ChrisC's picture

reading again and realizing that you may not be meaning for your example questions like "Should moms ever work outside the home?" to be solved with lots.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm actually not recommending the use of lots for anything. Rather, my aim was to use a "biblical pattern" that almost nobody embraces to expose faulty approaches to interpreting Scripture in other areas. In my experience, "biblical pattern" arguments are very weak, but they are all there is to support many positions people are most passionate about.
But if the pattern-making approach is valid for anti-dating, homeschooling, house-churching, tithing, anti-age-grouping (for Christian ed.), etc., it should be valid for casting lots as well.

Ed Vasicek's picture

I loved Aaron's article. It emphasizes the distinction between DESCRIPTION (what happened) and PRESCRIPTION (what Aaron calls "normative"). Sometimes, matters are not clear. We are nowhere told to imitate the social customs of the early church or the Jews, for example.

It gets even thicker when we try to distinguish particulars from principles (Is an action simply a sample of a category of actions?) Was Jesus command after he washed the feet of the disciples (John 13:14) descriptive of what he had done as a type of one of many such servant-like behaviors, or was it an ordinance (as some -- not I -- believe)?

The list of questions Aaron mentioned

Quote:
Should moms ever work outside the home? Should the children of believers ever attend government schools?2 Should sons and daughters find spouses by arrangement of their parents?3 Should we remove all age-grouped teaching from church life?4 Should churches observe the Lord’s Table every Sunday? Should they meet only in homes5 rather than in church buildings?
all have LESS Biblical directive than casting lots, the point of his article. His article is not really about casting lots.

Aaron was using casting lots as an example of a problem both in the realms of hermeneutics AND logic (I think we need to reinforce our understanding of logic -- how many sermons would be ruined if we simply distinguished truth from WHOLE truth -- the old undistributed middle problem?). If we knew how to think better, we could interpret more reasonably.

Yet the issue of casting lots is more biblically relevant than the other issues he mentioned (despite that fact that "casting lots" was simply his teaser to carry us into the realm of distinction between prescription and description) Casting lots deals not only what people DID, but there seems to be some prescription in the Proverbs passages. IMO, casting lots can still be a valid way to distinguish between two seeming equals. That is not the same as saying that it is the main way to distinguish, but it can be a way to break a tie or impass (even in church-related decisions).

But back to Aaron's intent. I remember a preacher telling us we had to get up early in the morning to pray because Jesus did. But Jesus did not REGULARLY do this. On another occasion, he prayed all night (yet no one seems to advocate that). But even if we did advocate praying all night, we are not really told to imitate Jesus' life, but His CHARACTER. We are to walk as He walked. But we are not the incarnate Son of God. We have no right to turn over tables.

I could go on a rampage on this one. Thanks, Aaron! You are right on. Thanks LOTS!

"The Midrash Detective"

Charlie's picture

But Aaron, if I approve of casting lots in certain situations, is your argument irrelevant to me?

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

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

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Charlie wrote:
But Aaron, if I approve of casting lots in certain situations, is your argument irrelevant to me?

Personally I think the underlying premise is what is relevant. IOW, it isn't that there is no Biblical support for any of the above ideas/activities, but that these things are often lifted from the Bible and applied as essential standards or doctrines for today. So if a church believes they should cast lots to make a particular decision, there is no reason for them not to- but if they were to teach that voting is unBiblical, that is a cat of a different stripe. Ditto the other examples Aaron gave- I think that the woman's primary role as being in the home, home education, and parental authority are all supportable by Scripture- but it's a far cry from teaching that if your wife works or you don't homeschool you are committing sin.

Also- if church leadership is going to adopt a principle such as patriarchy a la Vision Forum, but yet they would think you were crazy for suggesting they cast lots to seek God's will, then they are IMO picking and choosing what OT practices they want to apply and which ones they want to ignore, because there is just as much basis for casting lots as there is for fathers to choose their daughter's future spouse.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie wrote:
But Aaron, if I approve of casting lots in certain situations, is your argument irrelevant to me?

Well, the argument doesn't work quite as well... but doesn't fail utterly I think.
My gist is that if we make a case based on a "biblical pattern" for several of these other things, we'd really have to cast lots regularly as well to be consistent. But it doesn't necessarily mean that if you believe in casting lots (or some equivalent) in certain situations, all the other alleged "biblical patterns" are valid as well. As Ed pointed out, there is more data in favor of lots than these other things that some passionately defend using pattern logic.

I also did concede a kind of casting of lots in the article--as in arbitration to settle a dispute. Not the same thing, but I took the point of the Proverbs to be that you can avoid an ugly fight by getting someone/something uninvolved to decide for you. (They do call it arbitration, after all, so I don't think it's too big of leap to make that application).
Anyway, the lot example was meant to expose some problems in the interpretive process when we're hastily asserting that we've got a biblical blueprint for something.

(And yes, I agree w/Susan's summary also)

Charlie's picture

Aaron, I think I agree with one point of the article, that things that happen in historical accounts are not necessarily prescriptions. However, I'm having trouble retracing the steps that brought you there or understanding the actual structure of your argument. First, let me point out that your argument reduced to its essential features is a non sequitur:

1. Using lots are a biblical pattern
2. We don't use lots
3. We must not be supposed to follow all biblical-era patterns

This is not any different, really, than this:

1. Calling homsexuality sin is a biblical pattern
2. We don't call homesexuality sin
3. We must not be supposed to follow all biblical-era patterns

This seems odd to me, because it seems that you are reasoning back from an accepted or non-accepted practice to the biblical account. Morevoer, at times you seem to be saying that since the lot, being a biblical pattern, is not normative, then other biblical patterns with less justification than the lot aren't normative either - this is a standard argument from the greater to the lesser. But at other times you seem to be saying that casting lots is not a genuine biblical pattern. If granted, this would controvert your first point. Since you do concede some correct applications of the lot, this also seems to undermine your argument. In any case, I think the argument is irrelevant to your target, since none of the issues you mention in that one paragraph (under Issues and Biblical Patterns) argue their positions from incidental details or even repeated patterns in the biblical text. All of them argue point to certain historical details that represent theological paradigms, which then applied, yield their position. Now, I'm not saying that I agree with them, but the same approach is used to argue for believer's baptism. Several times faith explicitly precedes baptism in the NT accounts, which leads Baptists to generalize a definition for the sign and its relation to the covenant, which then becomes a prescription for their practice.

My big problem, though, is that you never defend your second premise, that we shouldn't use lots.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

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

Dick Dayton's picture

The late Colin Smith, who taught at BBC in PA then at Piedmont, made a good point about this. Here is a brief summary of what he said. In the OT times, they cast lots, under the confidence that God would sovereignly make this random process come out according to His perfect will. The mind of man did not enter into the process. An example would be in Acts 1, where Peter led the disciples to choose a person to replace Judas. In NT times, each believer is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, and God reveals His will by the vote of the congregation. When we come to a church business meeting, it is not to represent a point of view (As in our representative government system) but to determine the will of God. When Paul and Barnabas assisted in the "appointinig of elders," the word means "raised hand vote." It is not that Paul and Barnabas acted as high church officials, but that they helped the churches in this decision making. Thus, the particular practice of casting lots would not seem to be for today in the church.
As to the "causing contention to cease," in this church age it would indicate a responsiblity to graciously accept the decison of the body to be the Lord's direction, and to cheerfully support it.
As was mentioned in some of the above posts, we must also discern between detailed practices that pertained to a particular people in a point in historical time and Biblical principles that will apply to all believers over extended periods of time. True Biblical principles should transcend both time and culture.
Your section "Issues And Biblical Patterns" brings up a number of things. On the working moms, we need to ask, what does it mean to be "keepers at home" ? THis is certainly a Bibllical mandate, but how we flesh this out is not as cut and dried as we might like. Aaron, you brought up a number of other issues that are really on the forefront. Far too often in discussions of these topics, people seem to assume that "they are the people, and wisdom will die with them." We tend to assume that our personal slant must certainly be correct, and that those who disagree with us must have interpreted the passage wrongly. The older I become, the more I am confident in the grace and the Word of God, and the less confident I am about some of my preconceptions. I am reminded of the words attributed to John Newton toward the end of his life. "I know that I am a great sinner, and that I have a great Savior"
Aaron, thanks for making us think.

Dick Dayton

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
essential features is a non sequitur:
1. Using lots are a biblical pattern
2. We don't use lots
3. We must not be supposed to follow all biblical-era patterns

I think I'll have to concede that I haven't written very clearly here. Will have to add this piece to my "do over some day" list.

Actually didn't intend to convey the first premise. That is, what I meant to say is more like this...

1. By the criteria many use for pattern-making, casting lots would seem to be a binding pattern
2. Yet almost nobody views it as a binding pattern
3. It's inconsistent to claim you have a pattern for x, y, or z and yet not claim you have a pattern for casting lots.

A key distinction is, to barrow some terms from Ed, between descriptive patterns and prescriptive patterns. The former is not necessarily the latter because something can be described over and over and still not be intended to mean "God expects us to do this."
So... I'm needing some terms I don't have yet:
- "pattern," as in something happening over and over
- "pattern" as in blueprint, a model to follow, an intentional example to emulate.
(Maybe descriptive and prescriptive will do)

I do not believe we have a prescriptive pattern for casting lots. So I think I made such a persuasive case for casting lots here (without meaning to) that the rest of the logic gets lost in that unintended point.
Isn't writing fun? Live and learn.

Edit... @Dick. Thanks. I think this piece at least does prompt some thinking so I'll count it a success on that score, though my thesis seems to be muddled. I think also I should have omitted the Proverbs perhaps because, really, what they offer is not "descriptive" or narrative reporting that people did this or that. It's more prescriptive in nature, but also more specific about the situation that calls for the lot. What keeps the Proverbial statements from amounting to a mandate has more to do w/the nature of the genre: a Proverb is an extremely compact expression of how life works and not usually about the details of the historical setting.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Hi Aaron,

I know your intent is to discern the difference between precedence, example, and mandate. But I fear the choice of lots will not help clear the matter up. This is because the matter is actually fairly clear. If we slow down and study a little closer, perhaps we can see that Scripture isn't nearly so murky when it comes to making decisions.

You started your article: "In Scripture, casting lots is routine. Some might even say it’s the normal way to decide a difficult question." (Who?)

But a quick reading in a reputable Bible encyclopedia will show that, in the OT, the lot was only used in decisions effecting Israelite national decisions, not an individual Israelite's decisions. As I'll try to show in a bit, this is why lots were used in Acts 1. In the OT, the Israelites could be confident that their Sovereign Lord would superintend the result of “casting the lot.” They were used in the O.T. to select the scapegoat, determine guilt for “national sins” (i.e., Achan, Joshua 7), select the order of priests for the temple service, and quite importantly, the distribution of the Promised Land (Num. 26:55, Josh 18:10). They are never observed in individual decisions, as your article seems to imply (unless I misread you).

You then wrote: "The NT seems to be in favor of the practice as well. Casting lots is mentioned there eight times, and one of them refers to the selection of an apostle to replace Judas (Acts 1:26)." But actually, the casting of lots is only used 5 times, and 4 of those refer to the Roman soldiers gambling for Jesus' clothes. There are also 5 others uses of the word "lot" in a metaphorical use, such as "share," or "portion." Itis used this way in Acts 1:17.

Therefore, we Christians are only left with one reference to the practice of casting of lots in the NT that might apply to us (Acts 1), but it doesn't. I say this for two reasons.

First, the lot in Acts 1 was cast before the period of the church began at Pentecost. Peter refers to this Acts 2 event as "the beginning" in Acts 11:15. The apostles did not consider the beginning of the church as occuring in or before Acts 1, but at Pentecost, with the baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).

Second, it was necessary for a twelfth apostle to be appointed as an apostle to the Jews, as Jesus had made a specific promise: "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." There must be 12 apostles to fulfill that role. Matthias was recognized as this 12th apostle by both Luke (Acts 1:6, 6:2) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:5). For those who want Paul to be the 12th apostle, please read that last reference slowly. Judas was dead when Jesus appeared to "the twelve."

Therefore, the use of the lot in upper room group in Acts 1 is precisely in keeping with the OT precedence of it's use establishing important national decisions regarding Israel as is always seen in the OT.

So, to sum it up, neither the NT church, nor the NT believer, is to use lots.

But even apart from all that, neither is there any positive command for the beleiver to use the lot.

When teaching hermeneutics and its role in decision making, a simple rule seems prudent. If the practice isn't exemplified in Acts and positively commanded in the NT epistles, it can't be mandated as necessary to the church, or the individual beleiver.

So I agree with your points, but not how you got there! [URL=http://put_url_here ] Cool [/URL ]

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm thinking this might be the least clear article I've ever written Biggrin (At least I kind of hope so!)

Again, my point was not to argue that casting lots is a normative pattern but to show that, using the logic many use to construct normative patterns, it would seem to be. However, the logic many use to construct these patterns is faulty, and would be similarly faulty if we construed the use of lots to be a binding pattern.

Maybe the last sentence in the article is the most important one...

Quote:
If we have no biblical pattern requiring us to cast lots, some of our other “biblical patterns” are probably imaginary as well.

However, in the case of lots, I do want to point out that Proverbs does not limit them to national decisions... and the reasoning that says "They were always used for national decisions not individual ones, ergo, it is not for the individual," is also not logic I would use because it argues from silence. The absence of individual use in descriptive narrative is not prohibition. So it fails to serve as a pattern either for or against the use of lots.
But, again, I'm not arguing here that Scripture mandates the use of lots. I'm arguing that it only seems to if you use the thought process that over-zealous pattern-makers use.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Thanks Aaron. I thought your article was clear. I hope you can see that by reading my first line of my above post. My thoughts only concenred your methodology, and your statements about the biblical evidence for the use of lots for the NT Christian being positive.

So, how far would you be willing to go in examining practices that are beleived to be biblical practices, but are without biblical foundation? Would Sharper Iron be willing to look at the issue of church voting? One of the brothers, earleir in the thread, compared the use of lots to church voting as a means by which God's will is supposedly discovered for a church. Actually, there is more evidence for lots in the NT than there is for church voting. Would Sharper Iron be willing receive an article on this topic, examinig its biblical fidelity?

Well, with regard to lots, we'll agree to disagree. I'll stick by the national use of lots alone being referred to in Pro. 16:33. Only when the lot was used according to prior revelation could an Isralite be assured that "its every decision is from the LORD." This pattern in the OT is 100% established, and Pro. 16:33, read in that light, makes sense. The LORD is Israel's faithful God, and the verse is an encouragement to use lots appropriately. But when read in an individual sense, Pro. 16:33 devolves into silliness. It would teach every time anyone throws lots in their lap, its decision "come from God." Wow, that would be dangerous.

Greg Long's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Actually, there is more evidence for lots in the NT than there is for church voting.
Wow, I don't agree with this statement, certainly not after Acts 2 and the beginning of the church.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
your statements about the biblical evidence for the use of lots for the NT Christian being positive.

I still don't think you're understanding me. The evidence of a binding pattern is positive only if you use a faulty hermeneutic.

As for Proverbs, yes we do disagree on that point, though I do not believe the Proverbs references teach the use of the lot specifically either. They are expressions of the principle of arbitration to settle disputes... as well as the principle that God is in control of the outcome. As for the latter, that's really not in dispute, is it? Ultimately, there is no such thing is chance. The question is whether God necessarily is communicating through the lot. It would indeed be presumptuous to think He is in any and every situation.

As for voting, separate topic entirely but the case for it, in my view, is purely practical. You do have congregational decision making in both Acts and the epistles (1 Cor. 5). The expedient of voting is an orderly way to measure the will of the congregation.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

What I TOTALLY get out of this thread is the idea that we cannot pick and choose at our convenience which Biblical principles we are going to apply as mandates and which ones are simply descriptive. I am weary of hearing teaching about betrothal but yet women working outside the home isn't touched on- why not? Why can the father who believes he is to choose a mate for his daughter also put that same daughter to work at the corner grocery because the family has fallen on hard times, pulling out the Bible to support the first choice with Scripture and then say ing"Mind your own business" about the second? If you employ the same kind of hermeneutic you would be compelled to come to the same conclusion about women having careers as you would the role of the father in choosing a spouse. Ditto clothing styles and home churches. There are some Biblical practices that have a time and place, but there are some topics about which I seldom see Scriptural balance and they tend to result in extreme lifestyles and cult-like churches.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Hi Greg and Aaron,

If you want to pursue this matter, I'm happy to, but we'll do it by the Book. What's "practical" by your definition may actually be harmful.

To show you this, and just to get things going, Aaron, in 1 Cor. 5, the only decision the congregation is to make is to obey the apostle Paul. The church is commanded, not to vote, but to put the man out (v. 13). For them to vote would have been to dismiss the command of v. 13 - what's to vote on when God commands you to do something? The idea of voting on whether to put the sinful man out or not would only be further evidence of their arrogance (c.f., v. 1).

So Aaron, let me bind you to a little hypothetical for a moment (in love). If you had been in Corinth and had led the church to vote on putting the man out, what would you have done with all those in the church who voted against putting the man out? All those members would have been guilty of publically disobeying the command of God in God-breathed Scripture, right? Wouldn't your obedience to Christ at that point require you and the church to faithfully follow the steps of confrontation for sin in Matthew 18? Hence, those who stubbornly remained impenitent for their sinful vote would themselves need to be put out of the Corinthian Church, right? But you are the one who tempted them into this act of rebellion by holding the vote in the first place. You tempted them into this disobedience by asking them to vote on an explicit command in Scripture.

What seems "practical" can actually be spiritually dangerous.

Hey Greg, feel free to disagree, brother, but check out "voting" or "vote" in your computer concordance. You'll find one instance, Acts26:10 - and it’s not exactly something that is being held up as worthy of our imitation.

So, without any positive teaching on church voting, isn't it a topic we should consider? The NT teaches a far better way of shepherding the church of His redeemed.

Greg Long's picture

Ted, just one quick example. 2 Cor. 2:6-7: For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.

How do you suppose they determined the will of the "majority"?

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Jim's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
.... but check out "voting" or "vote" in your computer concordance. You'll find one instance, Acts26:10 - and it’s not exactly something that is being held up as worthy of our imitation.

So, without any positive teaching on church voting, isn't it a topic we should consider? The NT teaches a far better way of shepherding the church of His redeemed.

Acts 6:5, "And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch,"

ἐξελέξαντο ....

A multitude participated in a selection process! And it is "something that is being held up as worthy of our imitation."

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Choosing, selecting, and voting are not always synonymous. "Eklegomai" is the same word used for both Acts 6:5 and Luke 6:13- Jesus choosing the disciples- who were most definitely not 'voted' into that position. In Acts 15:22 the apostles and elders and the whole church agreed to send "chosen men" to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas... but I think we too often assume that "chosen" and "selected" means a secret ballot or "Raise your right hand if you're in agreement- those opposed please use the back door and don't let it hit you in the rear on the way out".

For example, we discuss things and make choices as a family, but we mostly agree to agree with Mr. Raber. Smile

I think arguing the veracity of voting/casting lots is taking this thread on quite the rabbit trail...

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ted... yeah, what Greg said. Don't have anything to add to that at the moment.

Susan... on "Picking and choosing"--I've got another one for the list: cremation. The argument I've heard against it is basically twofold
a. The pattern in Scripture among believers OT and NT is burial
b. Cremation came from the pagan East
And some add...
c. Christians have replaced cremation w/burial wherever they've encountered it for thousands of years... i.e., tradition.

Now b. and c. actually resonate with me more than a little.
But I don't think a. proves anything at all except that they didn't normally burn bodies. We're not told why or that we should follow their example, etc. There are many things they normally did like wear tunics, robes and sandals; fetch water from wells; shear sheep; tread grapes; eat in a half-lying position; use something stone for a pillow (OK, I'm not completely sure how common that one was, but there are lots of ancient Egyptian artifacts depicting stone headrests).

(All that said, I think I'd prefer to be buried just to buck the trend and thumb my nose at all those corpse-burning religions. Seems like a nice way to make a statement after all the other statements have been made.)

Edit: The thread kind of begs for rabbit trails--the article just mentions a bunch of topics in passing--so maybe a little tangent here and there is OK. For a while.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Dear Susan, Jim, Greg, and Aaron,

The fault for the rabbit trail is all mine. My only mea culpa is that I asked Aaron if Sharper Iron would consider another topic along the same lines as casting lots and its relationship to hermeneutics and practice. But then I baited him, so the fault is certainly mine.

Jim, I need to respond to Greg first. He questioned me on 2 Corinthians 2:6-7. Perhaps I can respond to Acts 6:5 at another time.

This is a blurb from my upcoming book, The Titus Mandate. I've shortened it a bit for the blog entry, but it is still about 900 words...

Greg:

On the suface, the use of the word “majority” in 2 Corinthians 2: 6 appears to support one of the key tenets of congregational polity: majority rule. As a result, “it seems quite clear that a church vote took place” (Akin, “The Single-Elder-Led Church,” in Perspectives on Church Government, p. 33). As is true in many churches, a majority vote is required to censure or dismiss impenitent members. This is what many believe happened to the man referred to in this verse: he was removed from the Corinthian church through a majority church vote.

But this is unfair to the text, for nothing is said about a majority vote. It would be just as fair to claim that a majority of the church closed a door in his face, issued a restraining order, or stayed away from his meat business. It’s all pure conjecture. The claim that a vote was taken only reads into the text what one hopes to prove.

Thankfully, there is no need for conjecture, for Paul tells us exactly what the majority did. They gave a “punishment” (v. 6). The word translated “punishment” occurs 30 times in the New Testament and always refers either to a strong spoken reproof or to a strong spoken warning (epitimia, “punishment, reproof”). This word never refers to a written reproof, group censure, and certainly not a vote. The meaning of “majority” then is quite simple. The majority of the congregation church gave the man a spoken reproof. This reproof accords perfectly with the Lord’s command in Luke 17:3: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”

Rebuking a brother is part of church discipline. Jesus taught that members of the same church should reprove each other if they refuse to heed the prior reproof of two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16–17). Jesus’ words, “if he refuses to listen even to the church” (v. 17) show this. When Jesus describes a person who “refuses to listen,” He is speaking of one who refuses to respond appropriately to a spoken reproof. Therefore, the “punishment by the majority” (2 Corinthians 2:6) was a set of spoken reproofs from the majority of the Corinthian congregation. This is consistent with the third stage of church discipline, which occurs prior to removing unrepentant members from the church.

But now, having received many reproofs from the majority, the man in 2 Corinthians 2:6 was sorrowing under the spiritual pain of the withdrawal of fellowship from the majority of the church (1 Corinthians 5:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15). They wanted to know from Paul if they should continue to withhold from him Christian fellowship, even though he was sorrowing for his sin (v. 7), or if they should restore him to full fellowship. Paul’s answer in verse 8 is to immediately restore him in love.

This explains why the man was not called to any appropriate deeds of repentance by Paul in order to be restored to fellowship with the church. Rather, Paul told the church twice to forgive him (2 Corinthians 2:7, 10). Notice that not everybody in the Corinthian church went to confront this man as they should have according to Matthew 18:17, but only a “majority” went. There were still people in the Corinthian church who weren’t willing to obey Christ on this point, and as a result they weren’t able to forgive the man and enjoy reconciliation. In other words, this was a sorrowing and hurting man who had nothing left for which to ask forgiveness or repent. For this reason, it does not make sense to regard this individual as the immoral man of 1 Corinthians 5. That man did not personally sin against Paul as this man had (vv. 5, 10). Before being allowed back into the Corinthian church, the immoral man of 1 Corinthians 5 had to leave his father’s wife. He also had the responsibility to ask forgiveness of the church for his sin of hard-heartedness against them all. Sorrow alone would not have been enough for him to be restored into the church. It seems certain that this sorrowing man in 2 Corinthians 2 is not the immoral man of 1 Corinthians 5.

Now, if as some claim a church vote took place, then it was a horribly cruel act against him. Removing a man from the church who is sorrowing for his sin violates the love that Christians are to have for each other. Such removal would have dishonored Christ’s teaching in Matthew 18 and would have received strong reproof from Paul to the Corinthian church. But Paul did not reprove the church, and nothing in the text implies that the man was dismissed from the church, so Paul’s words assure the church that they can immediately comfort, forgive, and reaffirm their love for the man without any required deeds of repentance from him (2 Corinthians 2:7–8).

This explanation supports a simple reconstruction of the events behind 2 Corinthians 2:5–11. The Corinthian church was waiting for Paul to instruct them on how to treat this man who had sinned against both him and the church. The majority of the church rebuked him and, in spite of his sorrow (which had come about because of their reproof), they were still withholding fellowship from him. Paul gave his personal affirmation in this passage to immediately restore this grieving man to full fellowship, as he was still a part of the Corinthian church (Kent, A Heart Opened Wide, 46, Garland, 2 Corinthians, 130, Hodge, Second Corinthians, 35-36).

Greg Long's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
The meaning of “majority” then is quite simple. The majority of the congregation church gave the man a spoken reproof. This reproof accords perfectly with the Lord’s command in Luke 17:3: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him."
How, exactly, do you picture the church doing that, Ted? In unison? "All together, now, anyone who wants to censure our brother do so on the count of three..." Or was it one at a time? Was each person forced to give a censure? What if there were some who didn't think it necessary?

The bigger picture is that I believe congregationalism is shown all throughout the NT. And if the congregation is going to determine its will on a matter, it must have some way to do so. Certainly it could do so by trying to reach a consensus, and that's fine. But I see nothing wrong, and many things right, with voting on a matter. Voting (and congregationalism, for that matter) can be done poorly and in the flesh. But so can every other form of church governance.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Ted Bigelow's picture

Greg Long wrote:
Ted Bigelow wrote:
The meaning of “majority” then is quite simple. The majority of the congregation church gave the man a spoken reproof. This reproof accords perfectly with the Lord’s command in Luke 17:3: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him."
How, exactly, do you picture the church doing that, Ted? In unison? "All together, now, anyone who wants to censure our brother do so on the count of three..." Or was it one at a time? Was each person forced to give a censure? What if there were some who didn't think it necessary?

Hi Greg, thank you for your question, brother. I like your passion.

In my last post above, I wrote toward the end:

"Therefore, the “punishment by the majority” (2 Corinthians 2:6) was a set of spoken reproofs from the majority of the Corinthian congregation. This is consistent with the third stage of church discipline, which occurs prior to removing unrepentant members from the church."

Perhaps I should have expanded on this. In the NT, the Lord Jesus teaches how the congregation is to respond to Him in cases of unrepentant members in their church. In Matthew 18:17, our Lord says, "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." In that passage, the church is instructed to go to the unrepentant person, even as the first person did in v. 15, and as the witnesses do in v. 16. I could have been clearer in my words above; instead I simply said "a set of spoken reproofs." Jesus did not intend for the members of the church to stay in church and reprove the man from church, but to go seek him out as a lost sheep (see Matthew 18:10-14), to personally reprove him, and to call him back to fellowship with Christ and themselves.

The church vote frustrates the will of our Lord in this matter, hinders the Christians from obeying Christ's revealed will for them (i.e., to go to the offender), and tempts people to all kinds of behaviors that are fleshly. This is one reason why the apostles never taught or advocated church voting.

Greg Long's picture

Thank you for your interaction, Ted. I don't think we'll convince each other here in this forum. I did notice on your church's web site that you appreciate the ministry of 9Marks. I agree with much of what Dever has to say about church governance. I think he offers a biblical balance between elder leadership and congregationalism. In fact, I was just at his church two Sundays ago for a conference. We conference attenders witnessed the church voting to excommunicate a man from the fellowship in the spirit of and after the pattern of Mt. 18 and 1 Cor. 5.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Ted Bigelow wrote:
The church vote frustrates the will of our Lord in this matter, hinders the Christians from obeying Christ's revealed will for them (i.e., to go to the offender), and tempts people to all kinds of behaviors that are fleshly. This is one reason why the apostles never taught or advocated church voting.

I see the sense in this- I've seen way too many church votes that were just popularity contests. It's hard not to vote someone in for a position/ministry that is family or friend. And I've seen teaching and ministry positions given to people as a training ground, and even as rehab- as if the pressure of ministry would help them get their heads on straight and force them to mature spiritually.

Newsflash- the congregation (including the children) is made up of sheep, NOT guinea pigs. But this also speaks to the spiritual immaturity of a congregation if they allow/vote in people who are not qualified to such positions of authority and influence.

I don't think this particular rabbit trail is unproductive, but this thread is of interest to me because it is an issue that has reared its big ugly head in my own life quite recently. So on some of the other examples- women having careers, betrothal/patriarchy, home education, age segregation, home churches, cremation... you could also add things like birth control and the use of the rod for corporal punishment to the stack- are they precedence, examples, or mandates? Betrothal/patriarchy is huge in homeschool circles, and the whole argument is based on OT practices, with a slight nod to 1 Cor. 7:36-38.

Personally, I don't have a problem with someone seeing a principle or practice in Scripture and saying "Hey- this is what I need in my life"- but that is a far cry from preaching that principle from the pulpit as a mandate and making it a matter of fellowship. For example, one of the reasons we home educate is verses like Psalm 1:1, Deut. 6:7, 1 Cor. 15:33, Heb. 5:14, Prov. 13:20, Eph. 6:4... but in spite of the combined weight of these verses, I couldn't tell someone they weren't 'right with God' for putting their child in a public school, even though I could not do so in good conscience, and I have friends who have their kids in public school that are doing just fine.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

If, after wading through the article and comments, it seems to me that the intent was not whether to argue for casting lots or not but using the issue of casting lots as a platform for a larger discussion on identifying biblical patterns and determining what is descriptive or prescriptive. Casting lots seems to be a good choice, here, because it can easily be misinterpreted and has been.

BTWIMO I do not view the casting of lots for the replacement of Judas, simply because of its historical record, as having divine license. That is another topic for another day and not meant as a comment on lots themselves, but just a side note that this method of choosing a replacement Apostle, while recorded in Scripture and while giving the appearance of satisfaction in the minds of Peter and those participating, is or was necessarily settled in the mind of God.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Part of the problem is that people are often not content with wisdom arguments. By 'wisdom argument' I mean making the case for a practice that basically says something like this:

1 We are called to pursue wisdom
2 This practice is not forbidden in Scripture
(2b the practice might even have lots of examples in narrative details)
3 The practice seems to effectively accomplish goals God has called us to

This is quite a bit different from a 'biblical mandate' argument:
1 This practice happens alot among the people of God
2 This practice is what the Bible teaches
(Often also... 3 The alternatives are unbiblical, 4 The alternatives have some kind of unsavory origin, 5 The alternatives have bad resutls, etc.)

But people are often not content with a wisdom argument. I'm not entirely sure why. I think one reason is that it sounds like "pragmatism." It isn't really (people use the P word very selectively I've noticed!) though, because we are called and obligated to employ good sense to solve problems we encounter in the pursuit of God's goals, especially when He has not revealed particular solutions.

Another reason people tend to reach for a biblical mandate case when they should be content w/a wisdom case is that it sounds more compelling. If you feel really really strongly about the practice, you want to enlist others in it and "the Bible teaches this" has alot more punch than "this seems to work well." ... and sounds so much more spiritual.

(Edit: There is a third reason that is kinder- often I think people are driven to reach for nonexistant biblical mandates out of a genuine desire to "be biblical" in everything they do. The problem there is how to properly "be biblical," and a failure to recognize that the use of practical wisdom is being biblical)

Ted Bigelow's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
BTWIMO I do not view the casting of lots for the replacement of Judas, simply because of its historical record, as having divine license. That is another topic for another day and not meant as a comment on lots themselves, but just a side note that this method of choosing a replacement Apostle, while recorded in Scripture and while giving the appearance of satisfaction in the minds of Peter and those participating, is or was necessarily settled in the mind of God.

Hi Alex,

One of the points I made in one of my posts was that Matthias is certainly the replacement apostle. "The twelve" is a technical term for Jesus' chosen ones for apostolic ministry by Luke in his gospel about 6 times, and he continues that use in Acts 1:26 and 6:2. Most important is Paul's own statment in 1 Cor. 15:5 - Jesus' post resurrection appearance to "the twelve." That twelve had to inclde Matthias. Thus, Paul accepted Matthias as one of the twelve when he wrote 1 Corinthians, about AD 55.

Blessings, brother.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

For the sake of avoiding detracting from the article I will only say that the verses you cited are all historical references and I do not find them sufficient to qualify as divine commentary regarding the validity of the method used for selecting Matthias or the actual Apostleship of Matthias. But I do understand your use and its intended support. Maybe another day for another thread.

Pages

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.