Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 8, 1963
NUMBER 6, PAGE 1,12a

Majority Rule And Matters Of Faith

Foy E. Wallace, Jr. — (Gospel Advocate, December 1, 1932)

Some brethren who advocate majority rule in voting in the church say that they do not believe in majority rule in "matters of faith," but in matters that are not of faith the vote of the majority should be the basis of determination.

But when is a thing a matter of faith, and when is it not? Who shall decide, and how, whether it is a principle of faith or a mere expedient? Shall we vote on what shall be voted on? Innovations are never considered matters of faith by those who introduce them. That is true of all innovations all the way down from the organ to voting on elders. Advocates of instrumental music in worship have always insisted that it is only an expedient, not a matter of faith. Shall the majority decide by vote whether the organ is a matter of faith or not, and then leave it to the will of the majority whether we shall have it or not? If elders can be deposed and elected by congregational voting, then what if a majority should decide to dispose of the eldership entirely and have no elders at all?

The eldership is itself a matter of faith, and everything the Bible says about them is against the majority rule contention. The divine arrangement requiring elders in every church is against the majority-rule idea. Why have elders, if the church is to be governed by a vote of its members? Only a chairman or an election board would be needed. The qualifications of elders as laid down in the New Testament is against the majority-rule idea. It would have those without qualification ruling by vote over those who have the qualifications. Then why have them? Their descriptive titles, the terms describing the office, or work, of elders, are against the majority-rule idea. They are called "elders" (men of age, experience), "bishops," "overseers," "shepherds," and "pastors." Majority-rule would have inexperience ruling over experience, the flock ruling the bishops, the sheep tending the shepherd and the people teaching their pastors. It reverses the entire system of New Testament church government. (Acts 20:28).

God's wisdom is seen in committing the welfare of the church to the elders of it. The New Testament does not teach congregational government. It is a government by the elders, whose duty in matters of faith is to enforce the teaching of the New Testament, and in matters not of faith their province is to determine the course of wisdom and expediency, with all sentiments and angles considered, and follow that course. Is it not reasonable that elders should know better what course to pursue in the affairs of the church than a majority of the members? If matters of faith shall be executed by the elders, surely they should be able to decide matters of less importance. But if it is contended that matters of faith are already decided by the New Testament, and matters which are not of faith should be decided by vote of a majority, then when do elders rule at all? Again, why have them?

Preachers sometimes say that if a respectable minority opposes them they will resign. But when has a preacher ever considered a minority that opposed him respectable? The preacher who takes a work upon the invitation of the elders of the church should submit to their counsel when the time comes to make a change. But when a preacher who advocates majority rule fails to hold the majority, his rule is to pull off a minority and start a factious congregation. Then what becomes of his majority-rule doctrine?

Majority-rule in matters of any kind in the church is wrong. The principle is wrong. The church is to be ruled by the wisdom, judgment, and discretion of the elders. Any other system will work havoc in any church.

A recapitulation of the evils of majority-rule is in order as a further warning to churches against this enemy to congregational peace and unity.

First: It does not discriminate between experience and inexperience nor regard knowledge as anything. It thus violates the New Testament principle that some by experience are more capable of discernment, possess more knowledge than others, and should teach, while others of less experience and knowledge should be taught. "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful (without experience) in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." (Heb. 5:12-14)

Second: It makes elders subject to the church instead of the church being subject to the elders and reverses the New Testament principle: "Obey them that have the rule over you,. and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." (Heb. 13:17)

Third: It is the parent of the ballot, or vote, method, and becomes the occasion of politics, electioneering, instructing children and young people "how to vote" all of which results in division of sentiment and is contrary to the New Testament injunction: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." (1 Cor. 1:10)

Fourth: It encourages preachers to disregard and ignore the elders and cater to the wishes of a majority in the church. Thus it has come to pass that any preacher of average ability and personality can work up a sentiment against the elders in almost any church and with his majority-rule doctrine divide the church, in flagrant violation of the New Testament command to "know (recognize) them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves." (1 Thess. 5:12,13) Some opposition to elders in Paul's day must have called forth this timely admonition.

Fifth: It breeds anarchy in the church, leaves the church in a state of uncertainty, without permanent leadership, and is against the New Testament admonition to the elders to "take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (bishops) to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28) Arguments against unqualified elders do not apply here, because the same contingency can and does exist, and is even more likely to exist, with the majority-rule. It is not the cure for the condition.

Sixth: The demand for the majority-rule always comes from an uniformed and unruly element in the church, not from pious, consecrated people who are contented to worship God in spirit and in truth, or from preachers who think that to be "the minister of the church" is to hold office of high authority and who do not respect the authority of elders over them. It is, indeed, strange that these preachers will recognize the authority of elders when the elders engage them, but refuse to recognize the authority of the same elders when it is thought best for them to leave. Such preachers take work with a church upon the authority of the elders, but insist on staying with the church by majority rule. Almost any preacher who is a "good mixer" can put it over with women, young people, and generally indifferent members whose interest has been revived to "take sides." And this is a perversion of everything the New Testament teaches on th duty of members of the church unto the elders. "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility." (1 Pet. 5:5)

Seventh: In short, the majority-rule heresy is entirely too political to be Scriptural. Politics in government is bad, but in religion it is sad.

(Gospel Advocate, December 1, 1932, pages 1280-1281)