This past Sunday I was privileged to sit in on a church business meeting where they were considering a couple of serious questions involving both staff and finances. The moderator stated at the beginning that he had carefully read the by-laws and understood that one of the decisions would require a two-thirds majority in order to pass.
The moderator then asked, “Is a two-thirds majority enough? Shouldn’t God’s people be ‘of one mind’?” It’s a great question. (The motion requiring the super-majority was voted on by ballot and was approved 21 to 4. A clear decision but not unanimous, which is what the moderator would’ve preferred. )
Is majority rule the Biblical model for how a church should make decisions?
Church history records “congregation voting” in the London Baptist Confession of Faith from 1689 where it indicates that elders “. . . be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage (vote) of the church itself” (chapter 26, article 9). So churches have been voting for at least 320 years but that’s less than 16% of the time since the resurrection. Does that make it right or best?
How does Philippians 1:27-30 relate to church governance? Paul writes, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”
Being of one mind seems to be early church model for decision making in the household of faith. That idea was previously illustrated in Acts 6 when leaders were chosen for food distribution. The account points to consensus, not a vote, when the proposal “pleased the whole group.” Acts 6:5
I used to think that voting was how they determined the consensus in Acts 6 but the passage doesn’t indicate that. Rather, the Bible seems to be conspicuously silent on the issue of majority rule except for some severe cases where it went badly. For instance, when the Israelites demanded a king and God directed Samuel to honor their wishes but also issue a warning that kings would eventually bring about their own destruction.
Voting wasn’t part of the cultures of either the Old or New Testaments; although Scripture gives plenty of instructions about a multitude of other subjects. Is it possible that voting is more a tradition that comes from a Greek/Western mindset and not from the Word of God?
What do you think about this? Is voting the best way to make decisions in the church?