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pastors' blog

Why Do We Vote?

Posted on February 24, 2010

Our congregation recently met to decide on the building project proposal.  In an amazing show of unity and enthusiasm, the church voted by over 96% to move forward with the expansion.

The vote also produced some interesting conversations.  A newer attendee to SSBC asked me, “Why do you vote?”  In other words, why did SSBC use congregational voting as a mechanism to make this decision to build?  As Baptists we take voting for granted.  But not all congregations operate in this manner.  Is congregational voting biblical, or is it a sanctified version of democracy or a baptized New England town meeting?

Before we ask how decisions are made in a local church, it might be helpful to consider who makes the decisions.  And as we look at the NT, we see church decisions being made primarily by two groups: the leaders and the congregation.

God has given leaders to lead the church.  Originally these leaders were the apostles.  But leadership of the local congregations quickly passed to groups of elders.  Elders are called to be shepherds of the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).  Shepherds guide a flock and make decisions.  Paul puts it even more plainly when speaks of “the elders who direct the affairs of the church” (1 Timothy 5:17).

However, we also find examples of the entire congregation making decisions.  When the apostles in the Jerusalem church were overwhelmed with the benevolence ministry to the widows, they told the believers, “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.  We will turn the responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4).  The text goes on to say, “This proposal pleased the whole group” (v 5).  Notice that the whole church not only decided on who would fill the roles, but they weighed in the apostles’ proposal itself.  They were “pleased!”

Or again, in matters of church discipline, Jesus commanded that an unrepentant member caught in sin ultimately be brought before the whole church: “And if he refused to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).  Jesus charges the local church with the weighty decision of disciplining a member.

So it appears NT churches were governed by what might be called an elder-led congregationalism.  While the details of this structure are not spelled out exhaustively, the basic principles are discernible: elders lead, and the congregation participates.  We saw this in our building project.  The elders led the body by recommending the building, and the congregation was pleased with the proposal.

Now back to our original question, “Why do we vote?”  Voting is simply a practical implementation of the congregational part of church decision-making.  A body of believers must somehow signal its will on a particular matter.  And filling out a ballot is one logical, clear and simple way of doing just that.  We vote as a way of living out God’s plan for the life and practice of his local congregation.

- Pastor Jeramie

578 Main Street, Hingham, MA 02043, (781) 749-2592

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