Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 15, 1967
NUMBER 7, PAGE 2b-3,5b

The Reign Of Heaven

Bryan Vinson


In this same article on Order, Campbell devoted a section to the sub-topic of voting in the church. Attention is here directed to some of what he said on this. First, be it understood that the only reason I have for transcribing the above and this is to impress on the reader the distinction between matters which rightly come within the area of the duties of elders and those which he identifies as those to be determined by the congregation as a whole. "Some christians are opposed to voting in the church. They only vote against voting! They will give their voice; but say they will not vote. Now, upon a little reflection, it may, perhaps, appear to them that to vote and to give their voice, is identically one and the same thing. To express their mind or their wish on any question, is certainly to vote — whatever form of expression may be chosen, whether standing up, stretching forth the hand, or simply saying yes or not, aye or nay. But a question arises of some consequence — nay of great consequence — on what occasions and for what purposes are christians authorized to vote? They are not to vote on questions of faith, piety, or morality. Truth is not to be settled by a vote, nor is any divine institution, respecting the worship or morality of the christian church, to be decided by a majority. These are matters of revelation, of divine authority, and to be regulated by a 'thus saith the Lord' and not by a thus saith the majority! But in all matters not of faith, piety, or morality; in all matters of expediency, and sometimes in questions of fact pertaining to cases of discipline, there is no other way of deciding but by the vote of the brotherhood. There is no revelation that A, B, or C shall be chosen elders or deacons; that D, E, or F shall be sent on any given place at any given hour, or that this or that measure is to be adopted in reference to any particular duty arising out of the internal or external relations of the church. Such matters are to be decided by the vote of the whole community or not at all. ---A matter of greater importance occurs: must the church be always unanimous before it acts upon any question of fact or expediency? While it is possible to be of one faith and of one hope, however desirable it may be, it is not to be expected that a congregation will always be of one mind in all questions of discipline or expediency which may occur in their earthly pilgrimage. Some, however, will insist not only upon one opinion in matters of abstract speculation, but upon one mind in all matters of expediency. ----True, indeed, that where there is much love and great devotion to the will of the Lord, there will be the greatest approaches to unanimity, in all matters of great importance. The wisdom which comes from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be persuaded. Self-willedness is no ornament of christian character, and when each esteems his brother better than himself, there will not be much earnestness displayed in striving to carry our views of expediency over the judgment of others." Ibid. pages 511, 512.

The only design may I repeat, in citing this statement of the views of Campbell is to show that he related the work of elders as being in the area of teaching and enforcing the will of the Lord, as distinguished from matters of human judgment, without entering into the merits of his position on voting in the church. And be it borne in mind that he was an elder in the congregation at Bethany, Va. for many years. Evidently, he didn't feel about his duties as such, the way most brethren do today.

May I give you another quotation, and this time from a contemporary of ours. "The primitive church was universal in character, there was no hierarchy, no ecclesiastical machinery. The local church with elders, whose jurisprudence and jurisdiction were local only and never extended beyond congregational lines, was the only organization. No man was called master, there was no lordship save that of the Lord Jesus Christ. The rule of elders was, and is, under Christ, that of expostulation or teaching and enforcing the will of Christ. Submission to the elders as rulers was, and yet is, submission to the apostles' teaching." Certified Gospel, By Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Page 142, 1948 edition.

There isn't a thought I have expressed or a view I have advanced that is out of harmony with this statement by brother Wallace. I heartily subscribe to it, for it corroborates the contention I am making; namely that it is in matters of faith that their duties and functions are found to exist.

To me it is of relatively little importance whether a congregation acts in concert to decide all matters of human judgment and expediency in the life of a congregation, or that they select from among themselves brethren to see after these things. But to me it is a serious reflection on the elders that they have been lowered to that plane of functioning, and thereby largely letting go undone those high duties which I believe are identified with their responsibility; or otherwise someone is hired by them and supported by the church to do their work. I suspect that many have and do desire an office rather than a work, identifying with the former the possession of authority and the exercise of power, with a supposed prestige, that belongs to no position in the church save that of the head, our Lord.

Even within the very limited experiences and observations of myself I have seen many who aspired to an office, and who are incompetent to do the work as I have outlined in this writing. It required not the qualifications prescribed by Paul to function in matters of human judgment, but it does in matters of faith. A man with little or no spiritual maturity might have good judgment in those things where elders generally function, whereas a man might have poor judgment in the business and political worlds, and yet be eminently qualified to be a spiritual leader of God's heritage.

Furthermore, it is my considered judgment that had the congregations of the Lord's people always possessed this conception of the qualifications of elders, and their proper sphere of functioning; and had those who were selected for this work followed the apostolic directions in its performance, there would not have been the many departures which have characterized the history of the church. The impassioned appeal of Paul to the elders of Ephesus was provoked by the danger he foresaw and described as coming upon the church there. Hence, their response to his appeal was designed to forestall or defeat the defection anticipated. When one expresses a view divergent to the predominant and prevailing one on this subject he is subjected to the risk of being charged with not believing in elders. This is as groundless as the charge that one who opposes the churches supporting human institutions is opposed to orphans being cared for. I can only believe that which I am led to be the teaching of the scriptures on any subject. If I misunderstand their true meaning, then is my faith ill-founded and needs revising. But never can I honestly believe and intelligently conceive a thing to be true simply because someone else believes it, however respectable be the learning and nobility of that person.

Since Christ has all authority, He alone has lawmaking and law-giving powers. Where He has not spoken there is no law in His kingdom. Frequently Heb. 13:7, and 17 are cited as proof texts for the claimed authority of elders. They are not specifically mentioned in either verse. The only identifying language in them is "who have spoken unto you the word of God." That this includes elders, no one could disprove; that it has exclusive force as including only them cannot be proved. This reference to what they did, namely speak the word of God, gives the ground on which they are to be obeyed. For instance, Paul told Titus: "These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority." (2:15) The contention is made that in "obeying them that have the rule over you, and submit to them" there is specific and exclusive reference to elders; and, hence, whatever the elders say we are obligated to submit to them. This, truly, has been the fulcrum with which congregations have been lifted from apostolic moorings, and been cast forth on courses of digression. Paul in 1 Cor. 7 wrote on the subject of marriage, in which he set forth some things the Lord taught, some things he was teaching himself by revelation, and beyond this pronounced a judgment which was and beyond this pronounced a judgment which was purely human. This latter was that it was better for those under consideration in that connection not to marry at that time. But he immediately assured them that if any did they would not sin in so doing. How can anyone reflect on this and then believe any pronouncement of human judgment has any binding force of the qualify that in disregarding it one sins?

There is a very strong and broadly applicable rule announced by Paul to the Corinthians to the effect "let all things be done decently and in order." There is no place for the spirit of anarchy in the kingdom of Christ. A contentious person or element in a congregation would be violative of this passage, and never is one justified in being contentious for his preference in anything, but only are we obligated to contend earnestly for the faith. By whatever means decisions are made in the realm of human judgment, whether by the whole congregation or by those selected and delegated to make them, it is incumbent on all to acquiesce in those made to insure the peace and good order of the congregation. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Undue and injurious emphasis has been given, and interest employed, in matters that are essentially temporal and transient, earthly and material, as bearing on the fortunes and interests of the kingdom, rather than on those that give character, content and quality to it.

The assembling of the saints to worship isn't the work of the church, nor is the making of decisions in the area of human judgment the work of elders, I believe. The work of the church is essentially and distinctively the sustaining of the preaching of the gospel, and the building up in the most holy faith its members. This latter stands as the distinctive objective of those who are to watch over and after the children of God, to nurture them in truth and recover them from sin and error. This they should do as charged by the Lord. And running throughout all the interrelations of the children of God is the mutual affection and interest to be exercised in "submitting yourselves one to the other." We are to let the peace of God rule in our hearts whereunto he has called us in one body. It little profits us to constantly emphasize the truth that there is "but one body," and lose sight of the force of this statement. And, too, we are to follow after the things which make for peace, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

In conclusion, to engage frequently in reflection: on the future fortunes of the kingdom of heaven can be a most fruitful source of strength and comfort. To reflect on the triumphant consummation of His reign as effecting our bodies being raised from the tomb and in a moment being changed into immortal and incorruptible ones, with spiritual bodies to clothe our redeemed spirits in heaven where God shall be all and in all forevermore. This should invest us with the high resolve to live and do better as citizens of that kingdom, constantly striving to fit ourselves for that realm above.

Preceding and provoking the writing of this have been just such reflections as these, in the hope that we may all see ourselves in the kingdom in a clearer perspective of our present duties and our future fortunes, and those as related to these. Truly we all must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, casting all our cares on him, for he careth for us.