This past Sunday, we had the privilege of holding the vote of affirmation for our Lay-Pastors. I was very pleased to see how our church family overwhelmingly supported all of these men; a majority of them even received a near perfect percentage of votes. Being part of a congregational church and having this privilege to take part in such matters of governance and polity is both a beautiful gift and a sacred responsibility. God has shown us, particularly through the book of Acts, that every member in each local, autonomous church bears the weight of following Scripture and the Holy Spirit as we affirm leaders, grant and guard membership, and support the biblical function of the body.
As I have reflected on these realities, I wanted to speak specifically this week about how we exercise our privilege to “vote.” Please understand that I am not addressing this issue because we have any problem in this area here at Morningview. On the contrary, there is an incredible sense of peace and unity in our congregation that has been amply visible in how we have handled major changes and business matters with near perfect harmony and solidarity. I just wanted to use this forum to further shape our understanding of how we are to practice this vital practice of congregational stewardship.
To begin, we must be careful to distinguish the idea of “voting” in the church from “voting” in terms of a political democracy. In a political democracy, we vote by weighing a lot of different variables – our own philosophy of government, our perspective on moral and social issues, what we see as strengths and weaknesses of candidates and issues, etc. As Christians, our faith should certainly provide the primary foundation that shapes our criteria for voting in a secular democracy, but other criteria can be considered because our government is ultimately not a spiritual institution.
In the church, there is one standard that supersedes and determines our perspectives: Scripture. Where Scripture gives us clear guidelines, we are responsible to submit our wills and opinions to God’s revelation and to vote accordingly. Where there is not a clear guideline, we are expected to use biblical wisdom and sound scriptural reasoning to arrive at decisions that give God the most glory, further the mission of the church, and honor the authority of ordained leadership.
Practically, this means that weighing applicable Scriptures, praying for wisdom, and following biblical leadership should principally guide us when we vote. But in the modern church, this is not always the case. Many people in congregational churches vote according to preferences that are wholly detached from Scripture, like how someone looks, or how you don’t like their personality. Some vote purely according to tradition (“That’s how we’ve always done it before”) or emotional attachments. Some even vote out of spite. I know a woman who felt it was her duty to always vote contrary to the majority simply because she felt that no church vote should ever be unanimous.
I want to be careful to say that a person should never violate Scripture or their conscience just to vote with the crowd. If someone has a biblical reason to oppose a motion or election, they most certainly should do so. Yet such a stand should never divide us or diminish our love and respect for one another. We can’t get everyone to agree on everything, and attempting to do so would grind our ministry to a screeching halt. However, we can be unified in all major matters as we seek the best course of action according to Scripture and the leadership of God’s Spirit.
In specific regards to handling opposition to a vote or candidate, each of us should always be prepared to lovingly explain our reasons for opposition. If you have a biblical reason to vote against a particular deacon or lay-pastor or teacher, then you are bound by God to follow Matthew 18 and approach that person in love. If you have a biblical concern with another matter of business, go and speak personally with someone in leadership. If it is a serious or sensitive issue that you need help and support in pursuing, then approach one of the pastors with the matter. We will do everything in our power to assist and guide. Finally, if you don’t have a biblical reason to vote against a motion or candidate, then you should be voting “yes.”
Scripture is our basis for life – our personal lives and our church life. I pray we would all be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us as we participate in the business of the church.