Church Polity

From the Archives – Did Americans Invent Church Voting?

There are legitimate questions for Christians to ask as they study their Bibles and become active in a church. Some questions are worth pursuing endlessly (questions about the character of Christ, for instance). Others have their limits, particularly when little or nothing is directly said in the Bible about them. As the discussion becomes long and drawn out, it also becomes, well, odd. We become either speculative or dogmatic without substance, since there is little in Scripture that substantiates our arguments. Whether Christians should vote, or did vote in the New Testament times is one of those types of questions. It is legitimate to ask, but limited in its worth. There is only one time in the Bible that Christians are directly said to have voted, where a proper Greek word for “vote” is used (2 Cor. 8:18-19).

Do not take me to mean that church order is unimportant. If you would look in my library at how many books I have on the subject, Church/Church Order, you would immediately understand that I do not take it lightly. There are several themes in the subject of Church Order which I am convinced are worthy of lengthy pursuit. One, for instance is church discipline. Another, the one I want to talk about, is group decision-making among Christians. Taking votes is one way of making a group decision. There are others. From a biblical perspective, the significant idea for churches is not vote-taking, but group decisions.

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A Short Biblical Case for Congregational Autonomy

Congregationalism is the idea that Christ has established local assemblies of believers and that He is directly Head over each. The idea has both internal and external application. Externally, congregationalism means there are no layers of ecclesiastical authority outside the local church between it and Christ. Internally, it means there is no individual or board between the congregation and Christ. Leaders serve the congregation.

History has proven that layers of control outside the local church are no guarantee against corruption, either in doctrine or practice. Roman Catholicism comes to mind. That’s why we had the Reformation.

But congregational government virtually guarantees that there will be sick congregations. Corinth and Laodicea come to mind. That’s why we have the epistles.

If both congregational and non-congregational structures are subject to error and failure, does it even matter what structure churches use? If we rely solely on results arguments — as we’re so fond of doing — maybe not.

But for Bible-believers, “What works best?” isn’t really the question, is it? The right question is “What do the Scriptures instruct us to do?” The results are God’s concern, not ours.

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