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Church Government Part 4: Democracy and the Church.

Barry is the founder and director of Expositors International Ministry and dean of Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

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Baptist Confessions and Voting

The theme of this series of articles has been to challenge our traditions in light of Scripture. In the previous article, I challenged the “business model/business meeting” as it has been used in the Church. In this article, I want to go one step further, and challenge the idea that democracy, and more specifically, voting, has a place in the New Testament Church. I will start with the two major Baptist Confessions of Faith.

The Baptist Faith and Message (Southern Baptist Convention)- Section VI.

"A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

The Second London Confession of Faith (1689)- Chapter 26, paragraph 9

"The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself;(16) and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein;(17) and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands.(18)"

Proofs: (16) Acts 14:23; (17) 1 Timothy 4:14; (18) Acts 6:3,5,6.

Both of these popular Baptist confessions affirm “common suffrage” or “democracy” as the means for choosing elders and deacons in the church. This raises many questions about the old “chicken and the egg” conundrum. Which came first, Churches or Elders? I will address this in a forthcoming article. For now, let us look to Scripture to see if the majority-rule by voting can be sustained. We will start by looking at the proof-texts taken from the “1689 Confession.”

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Proof Texts

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

The word is “appointed” (Χειροτονήσαντες- “having chosen them”). It is not “voted” or anything of the like. The question that concerns us in this text is who appointed elders? Did the congregation appoint elders? The only way to determine this is to follow the flow of the context, before verse 23.

Acts 14:1 “In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews…” The following verses identify the “they” as Paul (v.9) and Barnabus (v.12).

Acts 14:20-22 “But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Paul and Barnabas)

v.23 “When they (Paul and Barnabas) had appointed elders for them in every church...”

There is no mention of congregational involvement.

1 Timothy 4:14 “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.”

For the sake of argument, let us assume, as the “1689” does, that this passage has something to do with the appointment of Elders or Deacons. Nowhere in the entire chapter is a church congregation mentioned. It is very strange to me that someone would use this passage to argue for democracy. It is clear that whatever was conveyed by the “laying on of hands,” it was conveyed by the presbytery (Elders).

Acts 6:3,5,6

Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

This passage is about Deacons. Therefore, it would be wrong to say it applies to Elders. Secondly, there is no concept here of voting. It simply says the “statement found approval.” To say they “took a vote” would be to add to the text something that is not there. And finally, it was not the Congregation that took this upon themselves to do this. Rather, they were instructed by “the twelve” (the Disciples).

Conclusion

Voting is conspicuously absent in each case. What we see is a person holding an office of Biblical authority appointing Elders (Disciples, Apostles, those ordained by the Church to ministry, and other Elders). We find this throughout the New Testament accounts. The Apostle Paul delegates Titus and Timothy to appoint elders. He does not instruct them to campaign and hold elections in the Church.

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

If we in the church are acting without Biblical warrant then we are innovators. We are functioning extra-biblical and have become the authority. Confessions of Faith are very helpful but they are not authoritative. Confessions can be amended but the Scripture cannot. There is no mention of congregations calling or affirming pastors by majority vote. There is only and repeatedly examples of Elders being appointed. I recognize that this does raise questions as to how local Churches should function and I intend to address those concerns in forthcoming articles. But for now, I believe that it has been established that Elders are always appointed in the New Testament Churches and there is no evidence of voting.

Comments

Barry G Carpenter (author) from Mindanao, Philippines on October 24, 2020:

We do not need Timothy- we have the inspired Word of God written to Timothy. :)

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 22, 2020:

A very interesting concept and quite important to look into. I wish we had Timothy to help us.