Voting to Apostatize: Unitarianism

Several hundred years ago, a heresy sat poised, ready to ignite. All it needed was the right match, and 18th century Christianity would be engulfed in flames. The match was found in a young pastor and his congregation just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, USA. The heresy, now called Unitarianism, still simmers and burns today all over the world, but especially where I live in New England.

The match was struck in 1753. Pastor Lemuel Briant had been asked by several elders to quit his pastorate at the First Congregational Church of Braintree, MA. Their reasons were more than justified. In the past year his wife had left him, taking their children away. In departing she had also leveled against him several public accusations of impropriety. But in spite of the family situation, Briant refused to resign. In addition to all that, the church elders demanded he retract a catechism he had given to the children of the church, one written by a man who explicitly denied the deity of Christ. The church’s elders felt it best for Briant to care for his family. They also feared for the spiritual health of the church’s children.

But Pastor Briant simply ignored the elders. Understandably upset, the elders called in several pastors from other churches for help. These pastors were the same men who had ordained Briant three years earlier. In a private meeting, he was again prevailed upon to immediately resign and go take care of his family. However, Briant again refused. Instead, he made his own demand. He insisted that he be given a church vote.1 If the congregation voted to keep him, he would stay, but if he was voted out, he would go.

Lemuel Briant had read the people well, for when the church came together to vote, they stuck with Briant. They completely rejected the recommendation of their own elders and the three pastors who had ordained him. According to original documents, the church retained Briant by an “overwhelming vote.”2 Today, this church is called the United First Parish Church of Quincy, and it is acknowledged as the first Unitarian Church in history. As such, it quickly abandoned all faith in the Eternal Son of God, the Trinity, and the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. In a word, they voted to apostatize.

The spread of Unitarianism

Buttressed with that success and the power of the vote, Unitarianism spread like wildfire in the early days of American democracy. The world was ripe for a more appealing religion that affirmed innate human goodness. Christian colleges such as Harvard, Yale and Tufts fueled the fire by training men in the doctrines of Unitarianism and smuggling them into trinitarian churches. Within a generation, scores of trinitarian churches in New England converted to Unitarianism through congregational votes. They never looked back, and today most New England towns have a look-a-like Unitarian church near the village green.

Such events are still happening today. Churches still vote for unqualified men to lead them, or, as mentioned in the previous article, to embrace sexual sin. In hindsight, voting doesn’t really provide safety. In fact, it can be the tool for spreading dangerous heresy. When it came time for that Boston congregation to choose their own path, they led themselves astray. They abandoned Christ and lost the gospel. Like Solomon’s foolish son Rehoboam, they “abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him” (1 Kings 12:8). And like Rehoboam, it is unlikely that any of the people of that congregation believed they were doing anything wrong. More likely, they felt euphoric after rejecting the counsel of the older men and forcefully displaying their independence.

Could it be that voting has the power to dull our spiritual senses to Christ’s position of Lord of the Church, and how He wants it governed?

Consider what one man wrote:

God’s will is objectively given through the vote of the local congregation. Whether it’s His will for discipline, for officers, for how money should be spent—it is done by the vote of the congregation. That’s God’s way.3

If church votes reveal God’s will, as that author maintains, then how do we explain churches using their votes to depart the Christian faith? That’s not God’s way! Thousands of churches have made votes that went against Scripture, and to this day still do. Voting can end up replacing the Bible as the real authority in our church because it appeals to our love of freedom and choice. We should know better, but it carries a kind of intoxicating power that dulls us to the power of the cross.

Robert’s Rules of Order

This is not to say that all voting is wrong. It is just wrong in a church that believes God’s guidance in Scripture is inspired and infallible. Apart from the church of Jesus Christ many secular and religious groups wisely make decisions through votes. For these groups, voting makes sense, as it does in the world’s democracies of the twenty-first century. These groups want to be governed by the voice of men, and would never look to the Bible for authoritative guidance. Typically, they use voting procedures as taught in Robert’s Rules of Order.4

Ironically, Henry M. Robert wrote his famous book in 1876 after witnessing a painful Baptist church meeting in New Bedford, Massachusetts. To offer assistance to future churches in the hopes of reducing church tensions, he studied the United States House of Representatives as a model for how orderly decisions could be obtained without trampling on the rights of the minority. He streamlined their parliamentarian procedures into basic motions, deliberations, divisions, and votes. His book, slightly modified over the years, is today the de facto authority for decision-making procedures for organizations of all kinds, including tens of thousands of churches.

In the United States, churches will even write into their constitutions a particular edition of this book, so as to avoid possible confusion over details of parliamentary procedure. Once defined in the constitution, the church binds itself to Robert’s Rules of Order as their sole authority for congregational decision-making, including discussion, dissent, and votes.5

This kind of thinking led one pastor to write the following:

At the end of the day, the thing that gets churches in trouble is not usually grossly unethical behavior but failure to follow good procedure. I recommend that EVERY church…have a parliamentarian from outside their organization go through their constitution and look for problems.6

His words pretty well express the passion some feel on this topic. But I wonder—is the thing that really gets us into trouble “failure to follow good procedure”? At the end of the day, is our best hope for unity with each other employing a Robert’s Rules professional who can whip us into parliamentary shape, lest we trample each other? Is the Bible so dysfunctional that we need the expertise of unbelievers to get along in the same Christian church?

As wonderful a man as I’m sure he was, Henry Robert did not examine Scripture to learn how Christ and His apostles gave inspired instructions on how churches should make decisions. Rather, Robert’s major goal in writing his book was to ensure that the voice of the minority should not be trampled on by the power of the majority, but be given a voice and power appropriate to their size in public meetings. This is certainly a laudable goal, because this is a real problem for people who are not led by the Spirit. However, God’s power for Christians begins with the cross of shame in this world and embraces the wisdom that is “from above” (James 3:17). The world needs

Thousands of church constitutions claim the Bible as their sole authority in all matters of faith and practice and yet bind themselves to one of the world’s practices that has no power to sanctify believers. Parliamentary procedure, which is totally foreign to God’s infallible and sufficient Word, instead possesses the power to divide them. I’ve seen people come to church meetings clutching their Robert’s Rules like swords in their scabbards, prepared for battle, while leaving their Bibles back in the car. Why would we want to hold open our Robert’s Rules in one hand while holding a closed Bible in the other? We open our meetings in prayer to God only to open the floor to ourselves. “Do we have a motion? OK, good. We have a motion. Do we have a second? Now we can debate.”

Distrust and Dissent

Parliamentary procedure, whether practiced in the United States government or in a Christian church, is a technique of decision-making designed to regulate those entrusted with authority. Its entire premise is predicated on the distrust of those in power. The principles and presuppositions of Robert’s Rules of Order are useful in the world because they recognize that men are sinful and prone to love power. However, they are diametrically opposed to apostolic teaching and with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This is why non-Christian religions such as Unitarianism practice voting as an integral part of their congregational decision making policies. They require voting power so that they can hold their leaders in check and retain self-determination in an atmosphere of mutual distrust.

But seeing a church make decisions by parliamentary procedure is a remarkably strange way for individual Christians to learn submission to authority, or even godly decision-making. It is simply wrong to believe that God’s will for individual Christians is to follow Scripture when making decisions, but for church decisions His will is to employ parliamentary procedure. Hopefully, no one encourages individual Christians or Christian families to make decisions based on votes, majority rule, checks and balances, and so forth. As I’ll discuss below, we who have received God’s Word and Spirit have a better way: 100 percent church unity, attained through submission to Scripture.

No wonder so many churches experience a revolving door of leaders and members. We practice something so central to our church experience that is utterly foreign to the entire text of God’s inspired and sufficient revelation. How can something man-made inspire, nourish, and build the church of God? When the world’s ways lead the church, the sensitive souls of believers are tempted to all manner of sins toward each other.

As well, parliamentary procedure is designed to encourage and elicit dissent in a context of external order and decorum, not the inner reformation of the heart. Sooner or later, allowing a church environment of dissent and division will bear the fruit of jealousy and selfish ambition. James says, that “is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15). God’s church is never to provide a platform for even the tiniest bit of strife and division, nor to encourage any kind of “political process.” Strife and division breed church splits, and many an injured saint will tell you so. But sometimes that pain can be God’s megaphone, leading us to ask the right questions. One of those good questions is actually a straightforward one: “How, then, does the Bible teach us, as a church, to make decisions?”

One Hundred Percent Unanimity

Every church has one goal: to glorify our triune God. That includes honoring Him in how we make our decisions. One word stands above others in decision-making: unity. Unity reflects God’s glory in the church. Paul wrote,

[L]ive in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 15:5–6)

When Paul says that our one-voice unity glorifies God, he is not discussing how we sing together, but rather how we live together. And since living together in harmony requires making decisions that affect each other, we are obligated to make all of our decisions in a way that prevents God’s glory in Christ from being disgraced. We must make our congregational decisions in such a way that any disagreeable or discordant voice is roundly recognized as an affront on God, not us.

So, here’s a heads-up warning: God’s standards are not only earthly high, they’re heavenly high. In fact, they are so high that they are impossible for non-Christians to live by. God’s standard in congregation decision-making is perfection—one hundred percent unanimity in all things—and such a high standard can only be esteemed among a redeemed people who love Christ’s cross more than their own voice. His standard for every congregation is passed on to us through Paul:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10)

Even through this was written by Paul, he was nothing but the pencil. The opening words “by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” mean that it is Christ Himself, the Lord of the Church, speaking here in absolute resurrection authority.7 His words are not merely suggesting that we attain perfect unity in our decision-making. Quite the opposite. He is commanding it: “all of you agree…be united in the same mind and in the same judgment.” The Head of the Church and Lord of life is not asking us to merely strive for one hundred percent unanimity in our church decisions, but to live it. It’s an important distinction because to intentionally practice something that is satisfied with less than one hundred percent unanimity in His church is high-handed sin against this express command.

How high is Christ’s own standard? Any church is not in one hundred percent unity of mind and judgment at the end of their next meeting has violated the decree of the risen Lord. They may preach the right gospel, but they aren’t living by it. Church leaders who authorize practices that tempt and lead the sheep into direct violation of the words of Jesus Christ in 1 Cor. 1:10 must give an answer for this compromise in the day of His judgment. These are strong words, but the precious souls of Christ’s sheep require protection, not temptation. How can voting, which promotes different voices and expressions and decisions attain to the high standard our Lord has set for us of “one voice” unity?

Notes

1 Cf. W. S. Pattee, History of Old Braintree and Quincy (Quincy, MA: Green and Prescott, 1878), 221. Thanks to Dr. Sheldon Bennett, present minister of United First Parish Church (Unitarian Universalist) for his kind and generous assistance in the history of his church and Unitarian Universalist beliefs.

2 Clifford K. Shipton, New England Life in the 18th Century (Cambridge and Boston, 1951), 347. Cf. William P. Lunt, Two Discourses delivered September 29, 1839 on the occasion of The Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Gathering of the First Congregational Church, Quincy with an Appendix (Boston: James Monroe and Company, 1840), 132–34. As a testimony to the church’s influence in American history, two presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, lie in state in the basement of the church.

3 Colin Smith, “Where’s the ‘C’ in the Baptist Distinctives?,” accessed January 19, 2010, at http://www.baptistbulletin.org/?p=1155.

4 Henry M. Robert, Robert’s Rules of Order (New York: Morrow Quill, 1971), iii. Robert was an engineer whose expertise consisted of making seaports suited for large vessels.

5 For an example of the intrusion of Robert’s Rules, note the discussion on church discipline in Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 71, and its associated footnote.

6 Greg Gilbert, “I Move We Don’t Vote So Much,” April 3, 2008, The IX Marks Blog, Church Matters, http://www.9marks.org/blog/i-move-we-dont-vote-so-much (accessed February 24, 2009), emphasis original.

7 See also 1 Corinthians 5:4 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 for other uses of this authoritative statement.

[node:bio/ted-bigelow body]

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There are 40 Comments

JG's picture

Ted, I agree with much of where you are going on this. I was strongly influenced while in seminary by a book by Clay Nuttall, The Weeping Church (Regular Baptist Press, I think it is out of print now). Dr. Nuttall pleaded with churches to stop voting, and to seek consensus. He says accurately that when churches become political, things have gone far astray. Voting does not necessitate a political mindset, but it tends to encourage it.

Our church never votes. We never have a business meeting -- any congregational business is conducted during a regular worship service. Our "business" should be done unto the Lord as an act of worship, and I don't want people steeped in confrontational politics and business to put on their "business meeting hat". I won't get into the "how we do it" in this comment, but suffice to say that we try to reach consensus among the entire congregation, not necessarily as to what is the absolute best approach to a situation, but to where we have agreement that the approach we are taking is a good approach.

However, I'm not thrilled with this article, to be honest. We can all point to cultists who exercised absolute authority, and we could say, similarly to your statement, "In hindsight, refusal to vote doesn’t really provide safety." The fact that the adversary used a vote to further Unitarianism is an irrelevance. He has used all forms of church government to further evil. The only real safety is submission to the authority of Scriptures in word, deed, and heart.

I would also have to disagree with at least part of the closing section of the article, at least in the use of the word "unanimity". Biblical unity is not the same as unanimity. Romans 14 makes it pretty clear that believers are going to see things differently on various topics, yet they are to be united. Perhaps my disagreement here is semantics, but unanimity implies everyone thinking exactly the same thing.

If a missionary our church supports has a special need, we have to decide whether we are going to send him £0, £50, £500, or £1000. The Scripture doesn't answer that question for us, and within the Scriptural guidelines that should drive our decision, godly people can come up with widely differing amounts as to what is best.

Should those who have given to church funds and are responsible to keep the church functioning financially have a say in such financial decisions? I think there is good Biblical warrant for saying they should have significant input in that decision. Should the best parliamentarian or the most influential speaker have more influence on that decision than someone else? No, that would certainly violate Scriptural principles.

In such situations, we much seek for unity without stressing unanimity. If I would like to see us send £500 but the consensus of the church is that we should send £300, I should for the sake of unity agree to the church consensus. That is not unanimity, but it is agreeing together.

Unity does not mean everyone has the same opinion. It does mean in honor preferring one another, and accepting that unanimity is not important or necessary for us to reach a happy and God-blessed agreement.

May the Lord bless you as you seek to serve Him.

MShep2's picture

The link for footnote #6 doesn't work. Use http://www.9marks.org/blog/i-move-we-dont-vote-so-much

I find myself much more in Greg Gilbert's "Vote only when absolutely necessary" camp than Ted's "Eliminate Voting Altogether" camp.

In the Unitarian example given above, it seems as if the die had already been struck regarding the direction of the church. Even if the elders had somehow not allowed the congregation to vote, the church was already on the road to apostasy. They could have only delayed it, not prevent it. To blame Unitarianism on voting is similar to blaming Islam on having a strong leader (I don't remember anything from history saying that Muhammed asked for a lot of votes among his "congregations." Sad )

MS
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Luke 17:10

Ted Bigelow's picture

Great points all the way through.

JG wrote:

However, I'm not thrilled with this article, to be honest. We can all point to cultists who exercised absolute authority, and we could say, similarly to your statement, "In hindsight, refusal to vote doesn’t really provide safety." The fact that the adversary used a vote to further Unitarianism is an irrelevance. He has used all forms of church government to further evil. The only real safety is submission to the authority of Scriptures in word, deed, and heart.

I hear you. The point of the Unitarianism history is to counter the idea the presupposition that voting is "God's way," or that it provides "safety in the multitude of counselors." However, I would strongly disagree with you on one point: "He has used all forms of church government to further evil." I don't think that's true of biblical eldership. Smile

Quote:
I would also have to disagree with at least part of the closing section of the article, at least in the use of the word "unanimity". Biblical unity is not the same as unanimity. Romans 14 makes it pretty clear that believers are going to see things differently on various topics, yet they are to be united. Perhaps my disagreement here is semantics, but unanimity implies everyone thinking exactly the same thing.

An illustration. A husband and wife can be in unanimity but yet disagree on a course of action. Yet, the husband leads, and the wife submits. He hears her out, but ultimately takes his God-ordained role. She hears him out, and ultimately submits to her God-ordained role. Thus, unanimity is gained as they submit to Scriptural principles, and thus "come to the same judgment." Unanimity is only to be held inviolable regarding biblical principles and doctrines, not personal preferences. On those we submit to each other (Phil. 2:3-4), thus upholding the unity of the body.

Shaynus's picture

JG wrote:

I would also have to disagree with at least part of the closing section of the article, at least in the use of the word "unanimity". Biblical unity is not the same as unanimity. Romans 14 makes it pretty clear that believers are going to see things differently on various topics, yet they are to be united. Perhaps my disagreement here is semantics, but unanimity implies everyone thinking exactly the same thing.

If a missionary our church supports has a special need, we have to decide whether we are going to send him £0, £50, £500, or £1000. The Scripture doesn't answer that question for us, and within the Scriptural guidelines that should drive our decision, godly people can come up with widely differing amounts as to what is best.

Should those who have given to church funds and are responsible to keep the church functioning financially have a say in such financial decisions? I think there is good Biblical warrant for saying they should have significant input in that decision. Should the best parliamentarian or the most influential speaker have more influence on that decision than someone else? No, that would certainly violate Scriptural principles.

In such situations, we much seek for unity without stressing unanimity. If I would like to see us send £500 but the consensus of the church is that we should send £300, I should for the sake of unity agree to the church consensus. That is not unanimity, but it is agreeing together.

Unity does not mean everyone has the same opinion. It does mean in honor preferring one another, and accepting that unanimity is not important or necessary for us to reach a happy and God-blessed agreement.

May the Lord bless you as you seek to serve Him.

Well said. To say that it is logically necessary that disunity = one person voting against something is seriously flawed. Once again Ted strings together assertions that seem to be related, but don't necessarily follow one another in practice.

Greg Gilbert mentioned above was once my own pastor. I attended and was a member of Capitol Hill Baptist for a number of years, where Greg used to be. Mark Dever was my pastor there as well, and I've sat through about a dozen business meetings of that church. It was extraordinarily united in meetings, yet we discussed and voted the budget. There is one interesting story that illustrates that voting against something does not mean disunity.

Capitol Hill Baptist allows women deacons (as strictly servants in non-teaching roles, not part of a deacon board ect. Think of the little old lady that organizes your pot luck. . . she's a deacon anyway...). There was one member who out of conscience voted against every male deacon who was single, and female deacon that came up. Every time, he was the only no vote out of probably 600 people. He was voting out of conscience because he disagreed with the practice from his understanding of the Bible. However, he didn't think it was a big enough deal to move to another church (it's tough in downtown DC to find anything close to a fundamental or even conservative church) so instead he voted his conscience, but abided by the decision of the congregation. One day at a meeting the pastor explained this brother's issue of conscience to the rest of the congregation and said he was glad his brother voted this way. He was almost at the point of tears praising God for unity and freedom of conscience. The vote expressed was in no way dissent of the kind that is forbidden in Scripture.

It's logically irresponsible to say that a no vote is always a manifestation of disunity. The unity occurs where though a member may disagree, he can still submit to authority after the vote is over. We are to submit to one another as well as to our elders. A member could totally sow disunity during a meeting or outside a meeting in all kinds of ways, voting or not. Procedure gives us a way to have agreed on rules of how to do that. For example, no personalities are to be attacked.

Almost all of the voting at Capitol Hill was unanimous. . . as in 99.9% of the time. I found voting to be more an expression of unity than an opportunity for disunity.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ted, I've got some counterarguments swimming around in my head, but I'm waiting to see if someone else will write them for me first.... and save me the trouble. Smile

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

In the Bible, you have example of congregations having to make a choice. The issue with unitarianism is that the church congregation made a foolish choice. I believe that having a constitution and by-laws is important but the most important part of the document is making sure that the church understands and states that the Bible is our rule of faith and practice. When the church body understands that the Bible is the rule for faith and practice, I believe that Pastor then has the authority to correct corruption in church voting.

For example, about 15 years ago, I was leading a business meeting in our church where the congregation was voting on a merge with another church. As the meeting began, it became clear to me that a few people had treated this decision as a political campaign instead of a an important decision. I listened to the politcking for a little bit and then based on the authority of God's Word, I spoke corrective words to the people who were not dealing with this properly. Things became more tense. I then, believing I was making my decision on the authority of God's Word, closed the meeting. I told the congregation that we don't make right decisions in the wrong kind of environment.

JG's picture

Quote:
However, I would strongly disagree with you on one point: "He has used all forms of church government to further evil." I don't think that's true of biblical eldership.

Of course it is true. No matter how Biblically you structure your eldership, there is always the danger of the old sin nature getting the upper hand and someone misusing their authority. When that happens, that authority will be used for evil.
Quote:
An illustration. A husband and wife can be in unanimity but yet disagree on a course of action. Yet, the husband leads, and the wife submits. He hears her out, but ultimately takes his God-ordained role. She hears him out, and ultimately submits to her God-ordained role.

If you take a poll of your readers, I think you will find that most will believe you are describing unity, but not unanimity. Unanimity seems to be defined as "full agreement". You are describing unity in the case where there is a disagreement. Your use of "unanimity", however you mean it, is likely to imply something different from what you've described in this illustration to most of your readers. This is why I said the difference might only be semantics, yet that doesn't mean it is unimportant, when we are trying to communicate.

You are correct that unity flows out of submission to authority when there are differences. In your example, the wife submits to the husband's authority and there is unity. Where believers are convinced that the Scriptures teach congregational authority, those who are spiritual will, just like the wife in your example, be heard out by the congregation, but then will submit to the congregational decision. Where believers are convinced that the Scriptures teach elder rule, those who are spiritual will be heard out by the elder(s), but will then submit to the authority of the elders.

I'm not saying that polity doesn't matter, because I believe it matters very much. But a spiritual leadership and a spiritual congregation that is following the Scriptures as they best understand them on matters of polity are not going to go far wrong, and where spirituality is lacking, you're going to have trouble no matter what your polity.

Bob T.'s picture

Ted:

IMO your arguments against congregationalism and voting were pretty well dismantled by responders to your last article. Others have responded on the nature of your assertions and your kind of responses.

Now you come with another article that is based on bad history. According to the "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology," Walter A. Elwell editor:

Quote:
"Unitarianism came to New England as early as 1710 and by 1750 most of the Congregational ministers in and around Boston had ceased to regard the doctrine of the Trinity as an essential Christian belief." (p. 1126)

That has been my my understanding for some time and is backed by good historians.

The denial of Christ's Deity was a "Clergy" led apostasy and has been so in most churches and all denominations since. These so called ordained "Elders" took the lead all right - down the path of destruction.

Ted Bigelow's picture

JG wrote:
Quote:
However, I would strongly disagree with you on one point: "He has used all forms of church government to further evil." I don't think that's true of biblical eldership.

Of course it is true. No matter how Biblically you structure your eldership, there is always the danger of the old sin nature getting the upper hand and someone misusing their authority. When that happens, that authority will be used for evil.

Hey JG, what I'm saying is that the form isn't a problem as long as it is biblical eldership, and what you are saying is that the form doesn't matter as long as sinners are involved. We're both right to an extent. But God's Word has already anticipated your concern.

Biblical eldership is fundamentally predicated on only allowing men qualified by the 26 characteristics in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 into authority. They are only to enter authority by the authority of Scripture alone. And biblical eldership is the only form of church governance that does this. So we are dealing with something different than "we are all just sinners." We are dealing with a God-ordained arrangement in which He has already taken into account man's inherent sinfulness, and yet has given us the clear teaching of the level of godliness He requires before any man is allowed onto the elder team. God Himself entrusts such men - though sinners - with authority, and calls them His "stewards" (Titus 1:7). So then should we. And in anticipation of your concern about an elder's sin, He even gives instruction on how the elder team is to remove an elder who continues in sin (1 Tim. 5:20).

So the form isn't the problem in biblical eldership, because the right form of governance only allows men with God's specified degree of spiritual maturity authority in the church. It is when men are put into authority who don't possess all the standards God gave that we have problems.

What about when the elders do not deal faithfully with a sinning elder? The Lord has anticipated that, too. Scripture requires that qualified elders exist in a plurality (Acts 20:17, Phil 1:1, 1 Tim. 5:17, Titus 1:5, 1 Thess. 5:12-13, Hebrews 13:17). If the elder team fails to deal with one of the elders - a sinning elder - they are traitors to the very power that put them into eldership in the first place - conformity to Scripture. If they ignore 1 Tim. 5:20, they are ignoring God. Paul warns Timothy: "I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality" (v. 21). Both prejudice, and partiality are indeed problems of the fallen heart - even Timothy could fall into them. But God's solution in Scripture is not to put the elders under the will of the people, but under the pressure of Scripture - see v. 21. Paul doesn't charge Timothy before the Ephesian congregation, or their elders, but before the Father, the Son, and the elect angels. God has that much confidence in His Word. His pressure on getting men to conform to His word is spiritual, not political (votes).

For more info on this, see my book, The Titus Mandate, esp. ch. 8.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Bob T. wrote:
Ted:

IMO your arguments against congregationalism and voting were pretty well dismantled by responders to your last article. Others have responded on the nature of your assertions and your kind of responses.

Now you come with another article that is based on bad history. According to the "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology," Walter A. Elwell editor:

Quote:
"Unitarianism came to New England as early as 1710 and by 1750 most of the Congregational ministers in and around Boston had ceased to regard the doctrine of the Trinity as an essential Christian belief." (p. 1126)

That has been my my understanding for some time and is backed by good historians.

The denial of Christ's Deity was a "Clergy" led apostasy and has been so in most churches and all denominations since. These so called ordained "Elders" took the lead all right - down the path of destruction.

Men in congregational churches were denying the deity of Christ before the church in Quincy changed their official stance from Trinitarianism to Unitarianism. This has been true of church history (i.e., Socinianism, Arianism).

What changed in Quincy was the first official move away from Trinitarianism as expressed by the Unitarians themselves. You aren't arguing with my history but with the Unitarians and their own history. Check out my footnotes.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
Biblical eldership is fundamentally predicated on only allowing men qualified by the 26 characteristics in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 into authority. They are only to enter authority by the authority of Scripture alone.
So are all people who meet these 26 characteristics are automatically elders?

JG's picture

Either the Apostle John had failed to guide the church in setting up church polity properly, or sinful attitudes and actions meant that good polity was not enough.

I Peter 5 provides further evidence -- elders need to be warned. You agree with this, I am sure.

I see no evidence that the existence of Biblical warnings and instructions for elders guarantees that elders will always do right, or that if there are multiple elders, that those who are not doing right will take the necessary action.

There is no polity "silver bullet" that will always slay disunity and disobedience.

But please do not misunderstand me:

Quote:
Hey JG, what I'm saying is that the form isn't a problem as long as it is biblical eldership, and what you are saying is that the form doesn't matter as long as sinners are involved.

I don't think I said form doesn't matter. Smile In fact, I think I said it imatters very much. Biblical polity certainly provides extra protection against error, disunity, and disobedience creeping in. But the only real protection is a heart for God in both leadership and congregation, guided by Scripture. Those who are endeavouring to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace will be enabled to do so by God's Spirit whether their polity is perfect or not. Those who do not have that commitment will not succeed, even if the polity was right from day one.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Larry wrote:
Quote:
Biblical eldership is fundamentally predicated on only allowing men qualified by the 26 characteristics in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 into authority. They are only to enter authority by the authority of Scripture alone.
So are all people who meet these 26 characteristics are automatically elders?

They must also earnestly desire it (1 Tim. 3:1). Then God says, "let them serve" 1 Tim. 3:10. That's an imperative.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
They must also earnestly desire it (1 Tim. 3:1). Then God says, "let them serve" 1 Tim. 3:10. That's an imperative.
Thanks Ted. I had assumed that desire was one of the 26 qualifications.

Aside from the fact that 1 Tim 3:10 is deacons and not elders, who decides if they meet the qualifications? And again, does everyone who meets these qualifications automatically become an elder?

Ted Bigelow's picture

JG wrote:
Either the Apostle John had failed to guide the church in setting up church polity properly, or sinful attitudes and actions meant that good polity was not enough.

Quote:
Biblical polity certainly provides extra protection against error, disunity, and disobedience creeping in. But the only real protection is a heart for God in both leadership and congregation, guided by Scripture.

One's polity and the kind of people who get into leadership are attached at the hip. If a church uses votes, then it gets the kind of leaders votes produce. I wouldn't want to say that no matter what kind of polity you have, you will get the same kind of men, as if the method of leader appointment were equal. On Crete Paul commanded Titus to only appoint a certain kind of man - one who met God's perfectly expressed requirements. And I see that as a pattern we should follow.

I deal with 3 John extensively in my book as an example of an eldership church gone where all the elders are disqualified, and John's amazing solution to the crisis. It wasn't to change polity, but to change men. Quite cool.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Larry wrote:
Aside from the fact that 1 Tim 3:10 is deacons and not elders, who decides if they meet the qualifications? And again, does everyone who meets these qualifications automatically become an elder?

Both congregation and elders. The congregation and the elders are intimately involved in the testing. Only if there is no credible evidence of failure (or pattern of immaturity) in any 1 of the 26 requirements can a man be credibly appointed into office.

I describe the process in the book, but essentially, all the congregation is equipped to evaluate every potential elder by asking them to learn the 26 qualifications and judge the man. (We always hand out a document with the 26 qualifications and a description of what each means) If they have any concerns we tell them God wants them to either go to him, or to any present elder. Their knowledge is vital to protecting the church. If one has a concern, and it is legit, then the man is not qualified by Scripture and can't be appointed. The elders oversee the testing process, and there is more that goes into it than I just described. But that's the congregational involvement side.

Is there automatic eldership? No. There needs to be recognition formally by the elders and the body Smile

Bob T.'s picture

Ted, you stated:

Quote:
Buttressed with that success and the power of the vote, Unitarianism spread like wildfire in the early days of American democracy.

First, the Unitarians and Universalists consider the Kings Chapel in Boston as the first Unitarian church in America. It is part of their official history.

Second, you use this vote at this church as that which started the spread of Unitarianism. It simply did not. Most all churches that voted to change their book of common prayer or doctrine did so because the elders or Clergy initiated the action. The problem was an unregenerate Clergy trained by unregenerate school faculty, and an eventual unregenerate congregation.

Third, the vote of the congregation in Puritan churches was brought about by the influence of the Plymouth Pilgrims who had congregational rule in Scrooby England. The later coming Puritans were up in the air as to how to conduct church rule now that they were out of the Anglican church. A Wide spread sickness brought the Physician, Dr. Fuller to the Puritans from the Pilgrims. He is said to have been influential in causing them to look at the congregational rule. They did so based on scripture.

Fourth, The rising of apostasy this was the result of dead and wrong headed Reformed theology of the English Puritan kind. They had a Gospel of grace works and assurance based upon performance which was putting forth works that eventually became a means of salvation. They eventually initiated the half way covenant that brought the unregenerate into the churches. This evolved to salvation apart form simple grace and based upon performance. The unregenerate then eventually rejected the Trinity and Deity of Christ. None of this was because of the vote but rather because Puritan theology brought about the unregenerate churches. The people were taught this bad theology by the elders. To somehow blame liberal theology on the congregational vote is ridiculous. The Anglican church and Presbyterian churches all devolved to liberalism. The great awakenings would collapse the Puritan umbrella in culture and bring simple grace and vitality to gospel and rapidly increasing Baptists and Methodists. Churches that voted were multiplying with the hearing of the Gospel.

The Congregation or assembly is the clear "pillar and ground of the truth" not the elders. Paul had already spoken of elders and their qualifications in First Timothy but stated that the entire assembly is the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15-16).

Shaynus's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Once defined in the constitution, the church binds itself to Robert’s Rules of Order as their sole authority for congregational decision-making, including discussion, dissent, and votes.

Ted seems to be making the argument that if elders use things like constitutions and procedural rules (including voting) that they are inserting an authority over scripture. The argument goes something like.

P1: The Bible says elders are to rule and be in authority.
P2: Parliamentary authority is over elders.
Therefore
Parliamentary authority is not biblical.

This isn't necessarily the case, at least not as strongly as the point you're making. As a trained parliamentarian myself, the introduction of a parliamentary authority into a constitution normally puts it in a layer of authority or in parli-pro geek speak "precedence." Additionally, one can't make the claim that this layer of authority has in some way trumped the elders' God-given authority. This is because the elders have actually led the congregation in agreeing to a constitution and rules. If they themselves put their actions under the scrutiny and daylight of previously agreed upon rules, then in fact there is no new layer of authority.

This is really important to understand about congregationalism. Authority is layered, delegated, and agreed to before hand. I quote from my own constitution.

"The current edition of The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure governs this body in all parliamentary situations that are not provided for in the law, the constitution, or adopted rules. This body shall endeavor to maintain the unity of the Spirit throughout all members meetings."

So the Standard Code (much better than Robert for churches by the way) in this case is in effect only. . .

1. In parliamentary situations.
2. When three things do not provide an answer.
a. The law.
b. The Constitution.
c. Adopted Rules.

Here's another case Ted, where you over-generalize about all churches with procedural rules. The bigger question is what is in that constitution? What about the rules you've adopted for that meeting? Organizations can heavily tweak procedures in their constitutions and rules to have as much voting or not voting as they want. If elders think the Bible teaches that they have more power than Robert or Sturgis provide, then that's totally cool. Just write it down in a constitution and that constitution will trump anything in Sturgis if it's written properly.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Bob T. wrote:
Ted, you stated:

Quote:
Buttressed with that success and the power of the vote, Unitarianism spread like wildfire in the early days of American democracy.

First, the Unitarians and Universalists consider the Kings Chapel in Boston as the first Unitarian church in America. It is part of their official history.

Second, you use this vote at this church as that which started the spread of Unitarianism. It simply did not. Most all churches that voted to change their book of common prayer or doctrine did so because the elders or Clergy initiated the action. The problem was an unregenerate Clergy trained by unregenerate school faculty, and an eventual unregenerate congregation.

Third, the vote of the congregation in Puritan churches was brought about by the influence of the Plymouth Pilgrims who had congregational rule in Scrooby England. The later coming Puritans were up in the air as to how to conduct church rule now that they were out of the Anglican church. A Wide spread sickness brought the Physician, Dr. Fuller to the Puritans from the Pilgrims. He is said to have been influential in causing them to look at the congregational rule. They did so based on scripture.

Fourth, The rising of apostasy this was the result of dead and wrong headed Reformed theology of the English Puritan kind. They had a Gospel of grace works and assurance based upon performance which was putting forth works that eventually became a means of salvation. They eventually initiated the half way covenant that brought the unregenerate into the churches. This evolved to salvation apart form simple grace and based upon performance. The unregenerate then eventually rejected the Trinity and Deity of Christ. None of this was because of the vote but rather because Puritan theology brought about the unregenerate churches. The people were taught this bad theology by the elders. To somehow blame liberal theology on the congregational vote is ridiculous. The Anglican church and Presbyterian churches all devolved to liberalism. The great awakenings would collapse the Puritan umbrella in culture and bring simple grace and vitality to gospel and rapidly increasing Baptists and Methodists. Churches that voted were multiplying with the hearing of the Gospel.

The Congregation or assembly is the clear "pillar and ground of the truth" not the elders. Paul had already spoken of elders and their qualifications in First Timothy but stated that the entire assembly is the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15-16).

The Unitarians have debates among themselves over their history. Follow this link: http://www.ufpc.org/history/freedomfriendshipandfaith.htm and read the section, "The Spirit of Freedom."

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ted (article) wrote:
Churches still vote for unqualified men to lead them, or, as mentioned in the previous article, to embrace sexual sin. In hindsight, voting doesn’t really provide safety. In fact, it can be the tool for spreading dangerous heresy.

I don't think anybody is saying it's safe. It's only as good as the people participating and their faithfulness. But this problem exists whether or not there is a vote. That is, the people who believe false doctrine or approve of sexually immoral relationships do not do so because voting convinced them. They became convinced separately and the vote expressed what was there in their thinking.

Same with Unitarianism. A vote convinced no one to apostatize. The apostasy occurs in individual hearts, then expresses itself in the vote. If the mechanism of voting were not available, the hidden apostasy would still come out one way or another. Arguing that preventing voting would have prevented the apostasy is a bit like saying refusing an x-ray will prevent cancer.

The case of Unitarianism actually proves this. The man leading it was a pastor, an elder. Though a congregation voted, they did so under his leadership.

Ted (article) wrote:
This is not to say that all voting is wrong. It is just wrong in a church that believes God’s guidance in Scripture is inspired and infallible. Apart from the church of Jesus Christ many secular and religious groups wisely make decisions through votes. For these groups, voting makes sense, as it does in the world’s democracies of the twenty-first century.

It doesn't follow that if the Bible is the authority, people may not make decisions. As individuals, we all have to apply Scripture to the choices we face. In many cases the Bible does not decide for us because it doesn't speak directly to every situation. The same is true of multiple individuals in a group. If they are seeking to obey Scripture together, they have to find a way to decide together what they understand Scripture to be requiring of them.

On Robert's Rules...
Ted, your thoughts on this reveal the same core error that ran through your first installment, the idea that dissent is created by the process. But dissent exists regardless of whether people use Robert's Rules or vote. I have conceded that sometimes a trivial matter is brought before a congregation (or a committee) and the result is that strife is created where most people would not even have given the question any thought otherwise. That does happen. Usually, though, people have their opinions. The opinions don't go away by having no rules for discussing them in an orderly fashion...or by allowing no discussion at all.

We have the biblical principle: do everything decently and in order. Roberts Rules developed not as a way to create dissent but as a way for groups with diverse views to make decisions together in an orderly way.

Ted (article) wrote:
His words are not merely suggesting that we attain perfect unity in our decision-making. Quite the opposite. He is commanding it: “all of you agree"

It might be helpful to look closely (and comprehensively in NT) for what exactly we are to agree about. The unity of the faith is not "every person must have identical opinions about every matter."
Regardless of the decision making mechanism, unity only happens if those who disagree choose to accept the decision. This must happen whether it's a decision by vote or a decision by decree of the board of elders.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
I describe the process in the book, but essentially, all the congregation is equipped to evaluate every potential elder by asking them to learn the 26 qualifications and judge the man. (We always hand out a document with the 26 qualifications and a description of what each means) If they have any concerns we tell them God wants them to either go to him, or to any present elder. Their knowledge is vital to protecting the church. If one has a concern, and it is legit, then the man is not qualified by Scripture and can't be appointed.
Interesting. This is actually a good process. And I can't see how this is consistent with everything you have said so far.

You give the congregation (in fact one member of a congregation) authority in elder selection (and I think rightly so). The congregation (or even one person in the congregation) can object to an elder, and if the objection is legit, then he can't be appointed. And the legitimacy is determined by reaching some sort of consensus among some group of people (you say elders and congregation). That, by any measure, is a vote.

Furthermore, you apparently give this authority to everyone in the congregation, not simply to those of spiritual maturity.

I don't see how this is consistent with everything you have said so far.

And what about the case where a church member might know something that would disqualify a man and yet because of personal affection or friendship, they don't say it. You are giving them opportunity to disobey, right?

I think this shows that some of the arguments you make against congregational rule really aren't answered by your own system, at least as I understand it here.

Quote:
There needs to be recognition formally by the elders and the body
Again, you can call this what you want, but this sounds an awful lot like a vote. Claiming that people aren't raising hands or saying "Aye" or filling out a check box on paper isn't the issue. It is a statement of consensus by the elders and the body about the fitness of a man for office.

I think where your whole thing depends on a very narrow definition of "vote" that doesn't really take into account what a vote actually is, and how consensus works in a group of people.

That's my vote ...

Ted Bigelow's picture

Thanks for all the thoughts, Aaron. SI cuts off my responses at 7000 characters. Here’s my part 1 response:

Ted wrote:
Churches still vote for unqualified men to lead them, or, as mentioned in the previous article, to embrace sexual sin. In hindsight, voting doesn’t really provide safety. In fact, it can be the tool for spreading dangerous heresy.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I don't think anybody is saying it's safe. It's only as good as the people participating and their faithfulness.

I encourage you to read the article again. I quote two Christian leaders who not only think voting is safe, but it’s imperative. One believes it is “God’s way,” and the other believes that proper voting procedures are the most important thing in a church to stave off trouble. Actually, a lot of people say voting is safe. And what they mean is that is’s safer than the alternative – submitting to a small group of men who make leadership decisions for the church.

As proof that a lot of people believe it is safe, just look at all the people in Christian and non-Christian and non-Christian churches who vote. They don’t practice it because they believe it is unsafe. Wink

Quote:
Arguing that preventing voting would have prevented the apostasy is a bit like saying refusing an x-ray will prevent cancer.

I’ve never argued that preventing voting prevents apostasy, nor do I in the article. Instead I said, Voting “is just wrong in a church that believes God’s guidance in Scripture is inspired and infallible,” and “Could it be that voting has the power to dull our spiritual senses to Christ’s position of Lord of the Church, and how He wants it governed?”

Ted (article) wrote:
This is not to say that all voting is wrong. It is just wrong in a church that believes God’s guidance in Scripture is inspired and infallible. Apart from the church of Jesus Christ many secular and religious groups wisely make decisions through votes. For these groups, voting makes sense, as it does in the world’s democracies of the twenty-first century.

Aaron (response) wrote:
It doesn't follow that if the Bible is the authority, people may not make decisions. As individuals, we all have to apply Scripture to the choices we face. In many cases the Bible does not decide for us because it doesn't speak directly to every situation. The same is true of multiple individuals in a group. If they are seeking to obey Scripture together, they have to find a way to decide together what they understand Scripture to be requiring of them.

I’ve also never argued that people don’t have to make church decisions, or that having a Bible prevents decisions. I’m not even sure where that comes from . What I argue is that voting and the procedures by which it occur are not found in Scripture, and is a deliberate choice on God’s part. Instead, God gives us a full treatment in Scripture on how churches are to make decisions which we are wise to submit to.

Aaron (response) wrote:

On Robert's Rules...
Ted, your thoughts on this reveal the same core error that ran through your first installment, the idea that dissent is created by the process. But dissent exists regardless of whether people use Robert's Rules or vote. I have conceded that sometimes a trivial matter is brought before a congregation (or a committee) and the result is that strife is created where most people would not even have given the question any thought otherwise. That does happen. Usually, though, people have their opinions. The opinions don't go away by having no rules for discussing them in an orderly fashion...or by allowing no discussion at all.

I’ve never argued that “dissent is created by the process.” What I do say in the article is “As well, parliamentary procedure is designed to encourage and elicit dissent in a context of external order and decorum, not the inner reformation of the heart. Sooner or later, allowing a church environment of dissent and division will bear the fruit of jealousy and selfish ambition. ”

Parliamentary procedure (PP) doesn’t create dissent – that exists in our hearts (James 4:1-3). But PP provides an environment that can elicit disunity and give it a prominent voice in the church. It simply isn't a part of God’s revealed wisdom.

Nor did I argue that “dissent is created by the process” in my first article. What I said was,

article from April 6 wrote:

I suggested [to the Baptist pastor ] 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.

Votes can bring disunity, but they don’t necessarily do so. But why have a dalliance with something that can bring disunity?

Ted Bigelow's picture

Quote:

We have the biblical principle: do everything decently and in order. Roberts Rules developed not as a way to create dissent but as a way for groups with diverse views to make decisions together in an orderly way.

What makes us think Robert’s Rules is a way to make church decisions in a “decent and orderly way” that pleases the Lord? The context of 1 Cor. 14:40 is worship.

When it comes to claiming that 1 Cor. 14:40 allows for parliamentary procedure, please show us that from Scripture. The Catholic argues that Canon law is church polity done ‘decently and in order.” The Orthodox church point to autocephalous arch-bishops as doing church polity in a “decent and orderly way.” The PCA and many confessional churches point to General Assemblies and Synods as doing church polity “decently and in order.” As a committed congregationalist, you argue parliamentary procedure is doing church polity in a “decent and orderly way.”

All I ask of you, and the Catholics, and Orthodox, and the confessional, is to prove it from Scripture.

If you aren’t able to do to do this, then your claim to finding parliamentary procedure a valid application of 1 Cor. 14:40 only has the authority all the other claims. That’s not good for a church that claims to believe the Scripture is the sole authority for life and practice.

As well, you are practicing the same method of congregational decision making as the Unitarian churches, which at least are up front about not believing in Scriptural authority. And I would argue that you do it for the same reasons as the Unitarians. You never read about PP in Scripture, but like them, believe it is best and safest for your church.

You are right – Robert’s Rule’s did not develop as a way to create dissent. Nor does my article claim anything like that. Instead I wrote, “Robert’s major goal in writing his book was to ensure that the voice of the minority should not be trampled on by the power of the majority, but be given a voice and power appropriate to their size in public meetings.”

Ted (article) wrote:
His words are not merely suggesting that we attain perfect unity in our decision-making. Quite the opposite. He is commanding it: “all of you agree"

It might be helpful to look closely (and comprehensively in NT) for what exactly we are to agree about. The unity of the faith is not "every person must have identical opinions about every matter."
Regardless of the decision making mechanism, unity only happens if those who disagree choose to accept the decision. This must happen whether it's a decision by vote or a decision by decree of the board of elders.[/quote]

Well put. When a decision is made by elders, though disagreeable to some members, yet they may honor Scripture (1 Thess. 5:12-13, 1 Tim. 5:17, 1 Pet. 5:5, Heb. 13:17). Voting offers them an official way to disagree with their elders, and even overrule them, thus breaking all those Scripture passages I just wrote down.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Larry wrote:
And the legitimacy is determined by reaching some sort of consensus among some group of people (you say elders and congregation). That, by any measure, is a vote.

The legitimacy isn't by vote, if that's what you mean. Its by factuality. Is it true? The elders investigate every charge of "not being above reproach" for factuality. If the matter is true, then they make the decision not to appoint the man into eldership.

Quote:
Furthermore, you apparently give this authority to everyone in the congregation, not simply to those of spiritual maturity.

The issue isn't one of maturity. Its one of factuality. Does the man meet the qualifications God gives, or not? A non-Christian can keep a man from becoming an elder - for if i heard that a a potential elder had swindled somebody outside the church, and determined it was true, that man is disqualified (greed). God gave to all people the open list of qualifications to read and measure men by. We ask all people to read it, and apply it. When they hold God's word, they then hold God's authority in the church - Scripture.

Quote:
And what about the case where a church member might know something that would disqualify a man and yet because of personal affection or friendship, they don't say it. You are giving them opportunity to disobey, right?

God gives them the responsibility to apply His word to the life of the church. They are accountable to Him to honor Him.

Larry wrote:
I don't see how this is consistent with everything you have said so far.

Larry, there a tens of thousands of churches that function this way, so its unlikely everybody is inconsistent. We are all just taking Scripture as it is written trying to live it out humbly and obediently. I'm sorry it appears inconsistent to you.

Many have read my book and not one has said there is anything inconsistent in it. But hey, maybe there needs to be a first Wink
I recommend you read it and see for yourself if it isn't more faithful (and consistent) to Scripture than congregationalism.

Bob T.'s picture

It use to be that "Pastors" were people who were paid to preach on Sunday and Wednesday have long lunches with friends.

Now "Pastors" are people who are paid to preach on Sunday, make sure the small groups meet during the week, have long lunches with friends, and post on the internet.

Good job!

Jeff Brown's picture

Most of the questions I would have raised about Ted's article have already been brough forward and answered by Ted. I would like to go on record giving thanks for General Robert and his Rules of Order, however anyone wants to judge that book. As a young pastor, meeting with our church board once/month, I noticed that we were voting on everything. When we had a lot of little matters to handle, we would vote 12 times in one evening. After a couple of years, it all seemed kind of ridiculous to me. Sometimes the guy's faces were saying, "Well, ya gotta do what ya gotta do for Jesus." After intensely reading General Robert's book for other reasons, I found out that consensus decision is acceptable and oftentimes preferable procedure, even in parliments. So I brought up the idea at a board meeting. The group was split on using the concept, but I managed to convince them to give it a try. Eventually, we did most of our decision-making by consensus. That made our meetings more sensible and more harmonious. Ultimately they were willing to let me try the method in church business meetings. It had the same effect. We were more like a family talking together.

There are a lot of books for church leaders that are not catalogued in the Bible, but are helpful for those wanting to follow Christ nevertheless, like Gregory's Seven Laws of Learning. You won't find much Scripture in that book, but it sure is good stuff for preachers, S.S. teachers, etc., for knowing how to teach. And it is understandable to most everyone. We use dictionaries, grammars, and style manuals (when we need them) for writing church documents. Many of us use books on preaching, or even secular works on public speaking to help us deliver more effective sermons. I really think Robert's Rules of Order fits into the same category. For many churches in the US and Canada it is a help toward orderly, peaceful, group meetings.

Jeff Brown

Larry's picture

Moderator

Thanks Ted.

Quote:
Its by factuality. Is it true? The elders investigate every charge of "not being above reproach" for factuality. If the matter is true, then they make the decision not to appoint the man into eldership.
Yes but isn't consensus is reached about the factuality by some sort of survey of the elders? Even if everyone agrees, there is some investigation and consensus, right? I think I understand you correctly to say that each elder has to speak to the matter and then you tally up who says what. That, no matter which way you look at it, is a vote. And, again if I understand you correctly, one man has the power of veto over the others (thus overruling elders, right?). So if the elders are not unanimous (i.e., one says, "I think he is disqualified"), then things don't go forward. Again, no matter what word you use, that is a vote.

Quote:
God gave to all people the open list of qualifications to read and measure men by. We ask all people to read it, and apply it. When they hold God's word, they then hold God's authority in the church - Scripture.
Careful, 'cause that's congregationalism.

Quote:
Larry, there a tens of thousands of churches that function this way, so its unlikely everybody is inconsistent.
You don't think tens of thousands of church can be inconsistent? You have more faith in humanity than I do. And I don't think everyone is inconsistent because many of us don't do it this way Biggrin

Quote:
But Pastor Briant simply ignored the elders.
Here is one of the key problems. Earlier, I think you said that elders don't get overruled. But here they did. And this emphasizes the key point: Your system doesn't work unless you have good men who are qualified and humble. (Something you acknowledge.) And that makes it just like congregationalism. Congregationalism works because you have good men who are qualified and humble, and people who read the word and apply it (just as you describe here). So the problem is not the system (congregationalism vs. elder rule). The problem is people.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Larry, in sympathy with you, it really is hard to understand eldership when all you know is congregationalism. I invite you to visit my church, talk with our people, and see how it is done. Or, let me know where you live, and I’ll try to find an eldership church for you.

Quote:
Yes but isn't consensus is reached about the factuality by some sort of survey of the elders? Even if everyone agrees, there is some investigation and consensus, right? I think I understand you correctly to say that each elder has to speak to the matter and then you tally up who says what.

No, we don’t poll the elders. No, each elder doesn’t need to speak to the matter. That’s congregationalism, which assumes all people in a decision making capacity are responsible to weigh in on a decision. Its part of the presupposition that the more people in church who weigh in on a decision, then the closer you are to discovering God’s will. In eldership, the goal is to understand what God says on every situation and be faithful to it.

In distinction to congregationalism, eldership is based on submission.

First, eldership relies 100% upon submission to the word of God. All elders are to submit to the word of God. If God says something, we must obey it. If not, we must be dismissed from eldership, for we fail the very qualification that puts us in stewardship in the first place (Titus 1:(9).

So, for example, if the elders in my church all wanted to replace the preaching of the Word with drama, I know I need to stand firm against that and prevent that from happening – for God wants His word preached (2 Tim. 4:2), and it is the Word that sanctifies people, not drama (John 17:17). I must not let them move ahead, or intimidate me. God has given me authority in the church, through His word, to prevent that from happening. Since elders are to meet the 26 qualifications in Scripture, we all work together in unanimity, with each elder having the right of veto over all others.

2nd, submission to each other. Most decisions in the church are not doctrinal, but run-of-the-mill issues. People matters, ministry decisions – what time shall we do Good Friday service this year… etc. On these decisions Christ call the elders, as Christians, to submit to each others preferences, and to trust each other. So the other elders submit to my choice of when we start the Good Friday service because I oversee worship. I don’t need their consensus, and they prefer me on that matter, just as I prefer them in areas they oversee (Phil 2:3-4). Because we trust each other (all meet God’s standards and I owe them my trust because of it), we don’t need consensus.

Now, let me show you why that isn't true in congregationalism.

I wrote: "God gave to all people the open list of qualifications to read and measure men by. We ask all people to read it, and apply it. When they hold God's word, they then hold God's authority in the church - Scripture." To which you responded, “Careful, 'cause that's congregationalism.”

Consider my example above on drama and preaching. Let’s assume your church gets the idea that drama should replace preaching. So you explain to people why that isn't scriptural, but they aren’t moved. You even preach on it, but they still maintain that position, and it even grows in the church.

At the next congregational meeting one of the leaders brings the matter up of drama vs. preaching for vote at a meeting. You eloquently speak against it – and raise numerous scriptural objections – 2 Tim. 4:2 for starters. But then the vote comes, and lo and behold, your church votes for drama.

In that case, who is the ultimate authority, God’s word, or people’s votes? All your protests, and your single vote (if you had one) couldn’t stop the train. And even though you held Scripture, you were impotent to enforce it.

You see, congregationalism isn't based on upholding God’s authority in the church, but upholding the vote of the majority. It originated in a fallen context, and is used by fallen and unregenerated people all over the world. It is simply a polling mechanism to discover the vote of the majority of those present at a point in time. Poll them a week later and you might get a different vote. Congregationalism’s goal is not to discover what God says, and submit to it. Instead, its goal is to discover what a majority wants at a point in time, and submit to that. It is therefore fundamentally non-Christian.

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