The Reformed on Congregational Voting


I continue to be troubled with what I perceive as a return to Romanism amongst some non-denominational mega-church leaders where the brotherhood of the congregation is nullified by an exclusive elder lorship over the congregation. At some point in the future, I plan to take these folks on directly, but in the mean time, I plan to do a little research on the historic Protestant position.

Belgic Confession, 1561

For example, the following is Article 31 of the Belgic Confession, written in 1561 by Dutch Reformed theologian Guido de Bres . Notice, in particular, the bolded wording (my emphasis)…

ARTICLE 31 – THE OFFICERS OF THE CHURCH

We believe that ministers of God’s Word, elders, and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the church, with prayer and in good order, as stipulated by the Word of God.1 Therefore everyone shall take care not to intrude by improper means. He shall wait for the time that he is called by God so that he may have sure testimony and thus be certain that his call comes from the Lord.2 Ministers of the Word, in whatever place they are, have equal power and authority, for they are all servants of Jesus Christ,3 the only universal Bishop and the only Head of the church.4 In order that this holy ordinance of God may not be violated or rejected, we declare that everyone must hold the ministers of the Word and the elders of the church in special esteem because of their work,5 and as much as possible be at peace with them without grumbling or arguing.

1. Acts 1:2324; Acts 6:2. 3.

2. Acts 13:2; 1 Cor 12:28; 1 Tim 4:14; 1 Tim 5:22; Heb 5:4.

3. 2 Cor 5:20; 1 Pet 5:1-4.

4. Mat 23:8-10; Eph 1:22, Eph 5:23.

5. 1 Thes 5:1213; 1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17.

Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559

Of course, how can we consider the classic Reformed theologian without taking a peek at what Reformed Scholar and Reformer John Calvin had to say. Calvin addressed the election of church officers in Book 4, Chapter 3, Paragraph 15 of His Institutes:

The next question is, Whether a minister should be chosen by the whole Church, or only by colleagues and elders, who have the charge of discipline; or whether they may be appointed by the authority of one individual? Those who attribute this right to one individual quote the words of Paul to Titus “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city” (Tit. 1:5); and also to Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man” (l Tim. 5:22). But they are mistaken if they suppose that Timothy so reigned at Ephesus, and Titus in Crete, as to dispose of all things at their own pleasure. They only presided by previously giving good and salutary counsels to the people, not by doing alone whatever pleased them, while all others were excluded. Lest this should seem to be a fiction of mine, I will make it plain by a similar example. Luke relates that Barnabas and Paul ordained elders throughout the churches, but he at the same time marks the plan or mode when he says that it was done by suffrage. The words are, Χειροτονήσαντες πρεσβυτέρους κατ᾽ εκκλησίαν (Acts 14:23). They therefore selected two; but the whole body, as was the custom of the Greeks in elections, declared by a show of hands which of the two they wished to have. Thus it is not uncommon for Roman historians to say, that the consul who held the comitia elected the new magistrates, for no other reason but because he received the suffrages, and presided over the people at the election. Certainly it is not credible that Paul conceded more to Timothy and Titus than he assumed to himself. Now we see that his custom was to appoint bishops by the suffrages of the people. We must therefore interpret the above passages, so as not to infringe on the common right and liberty of the Church. Rightly, therefore, does Cyprian contend for it as of divine authority, that the priest be chosen in presence of the people, before the eyes of all, and be approved as worthy and fit by public judgment and testimony, (Cyprian, Lib. 1 Ep. 3). Indeed, we see that by the command of the Lord, the practice in electing the Levitical priests was to bring them forward in view of the people before consecration. Nor is Matthias enrolled among the number of the apostles, nor are the seven deacons elected in any other way, than at the sight and approval of the people (Acts 6:2). “Those examples,” says Cyprian, “show that the ordination of a priest behoved not to take place, unless under the consciousness of the people assisting, so that ordination was just and legitimate which was vouched by the testimony of all.” We see, then, that ministers are legitimately called according to the word of God, when those who may have seemed fit are elected on the consent and approbation of the people. Other pastors, however, ought to preside over the election, lest any error should be committed by the general body either through levity, or bad passion, or tumult.

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