Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 23, 1961
NUMBER 29, PAGE 2,10a

Majority Rule Or Elder Rule?

Wm. E. Wallace, Poteau, Oklahoma

2 Corinthians 8:18-19 is often used to support the theory that most, if not all, church business should be carried on according to majority rule. The passage reads: "And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; and not that only, but who was chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind." Now the brother who was to accompany Titus on this benevolent mission was chosen of churches. He was a prominent man, and a Christian who commanded respect. It should be noticed that his appointment did not come from A church, but from churches. The method in which the churches arranged to choose this individual would not in all probability be the way one church would or could use to choose one of its members for a mission. We cannot use an example of methods of cooperation among congregations as authority for procedure within one congregation. Congregations cooperate respecting the autonomy of each of the congregations involved. A congregation works with its members cooperating and respecting the authority of its elders. Congregations may cooperate, but each congregation must work under its own eldership, not the eldership of another congregation. In congregational cooperation the members must yield to the scriptural rule and oversight of the elders of their respective congregations.

Now the word "chosen" in 2 Cor. 8:19 comes from the Greek 'kiroteneo" which means to create or appoint by vote what one is to have charge of some office or duty. The only other place in the New Testament that the Greek word is found is in Acts 14:23: "And when they had ordained elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting they commended them to the Lord on whom they believed." On this J. W. McGarvey wrote: "The word here translated 'appointed' means primarily 'to stretch out the hand;' secondarily, `to appoint by a show of the hand;' and thirdly; `to appoint or elect without regard to the method: Whether it designates here an act of Paul or Barnabas, or one which they caused the people to do, is not made clear. The force of the word favors the former view, while the previous act of the twelve in requiring the multitude to choose the deacons (Acts 6:1-3) favors the latter."

To know for certain just what is the intended meaning in Acts 14:23 we need only to turn to Titus 1:5 and see what is back of the English translation "ordain" or "appoint." Titus 1:5 reads: "For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee." The Greek word "kathisteemi" which is translated ordain or appoint in this passage means to appoint one to administer an office, and wherever the Greek word is located in the New Testament it usually refers to an act done by a single person or thing. Thus it is, that Titus 1:5 teaches that elders are to be appointed to the office, not voted in. It would not be correct to say that the United States, a nation (singular), appoints a president, for the president is elected by the millions who make up the U. S. A. If elders were to be voted into office, such terms as elect, choice, ballot, vote, preference, preferential, et cetera, would have been used. Paul said, "Titus, you appoint elders." Appoint who? "If any man be blameless ...." The men to be appointed must of course meet the qualifications and when men qualify for the eldership they should be appointed to that office without resort to a vote of any kind. To advocate the voting of elders in is to lay aside all that Paul had to say about the requirements a man "must be" before he is to be recognized as an elder. Congregations should "look out" for qualified men, all of them who meet the qualifications and appoint them, all of them, to the office. This is made clear in Titus 1:6 where Paul instructed the young preacher to appoint "any" (or all) that meet the qualifications.

If we have elders in the congregations how are the affairs of the congregation to be handled? The Hebrew letter tells us to "Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves: for they watch after your souls ...." (Heb. 13:17) The elders who are to "feed the flock" with spiritual food are the ones who watch after your souls to see that they are nourished, spiritually. The elders oversee the church of God. (Acts 20:28) They feed the flock of God having taken the oversight not by constraint, but willingly: not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being Lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2-3) The elders are to rule, oversee, feed by and from correct attitudes; and church members are to submit themselves to their rule and obey them. That is what the scripture teaches and that is what ought to be done. If the elders will oversee as they ought, and members act as they ought, there will be no room for a majority rule vote on anything!

Now just how that brother in 2 Cor. 8:19 was chosen makes no difference. We see from Titus 1:3 the manner in which those elders in Acts 14:23 were appointed. The good brother in 2 Cor. 8:19 was chosen of churches cooperating, not by one church. How the elders of the separate congregations handled that thing, I do not know. This I do know: The members of the separate congregations were obligated to submit themselves to the decision of the elders if it was just and right. If elders will elder', and deacons deac', preachers preach and the other members obey the scripture also, there will be no need to take a vote on anything. If in the event the elders wish to poll the members to determine their preference as to time of services and such like, that is their business and I see no error in it. For the elders to call a meeting of the church to ascertain their opinions on matters is healthy. But to demand that they put every item of business up to a vote of the congregation, destroys the authority of the eldership and turns the church into a democracy, which it "ain't."

"Suppose," asks someone, "the elders are not overseeing as they should, or suppose they fail to live up to the qualifications?" The scripture itself answers these questions with words not easy to misunderstand: "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear." (1 Timothy 5:19-20) The procedure is made even plainer in Matthew 18:15-18. The instructions there apply to any situation in the church whether it involves elders or not.

There is a "more excellent way" to settle all congregational disturbances. That way is the scriptural way of applying the principle of brotherly love to every move made. If elders, deacons and members will walk in constant realization that God sees every act and knows every intent, church troubles will be decreased, minimized and settled. "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine." (1 Timothy 5:17)

Six objections to the majority rule system in congregations, selected from an old article by Foy E. Wallace, Jr., are listed here for your consideration. (1) Majority rule does not discriminate between experience and inexperience. It violates the New Testament principle that some by experience are more capable of discernment than others. (Hebrews 5:12-14) (2) Majority rule makes elders subject to the church instead of the church subject to the elders. (Heb. 13:17) (3) Majority rule is the parent of the ballot, or vote method, and becomes the occasion of politics, electioneering, instructing children "how to vote," all of which Jesuits in division of sentiment and is contrary to the New Testament injunction of 1 Cor. 1:10. (4) Majority rule encourages preachers to disregard and ignore the elders and cater to the wishes of the majority in the church. (5) Majority rule breeds anarchy in the church: leaves the church in a state of uncertainty, without permanent leadership. (6) The demand for majority rule always comes from an uninformed and unruly element in the church.