ELDER RULE, MAJORITY RULE OR MOB RULE?
There are many ways by which God in His wisdom could have determined to rule the church. One of the very early controversies between the New Testament church and denominations developed over this very point. Some denominations say that the church is a democracy and that it must be ruled by majority vote. They even take a vote on their candidates for membership. The church, however, is not and never has been a democracy. It is a monarchy over which Christ rules as the supreme lawgiver.
FAITH AND OPINION
In matters of faith and doctrine Christ speaks to us through his word. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). No man has the right to rule in matters of faith. A group of elders or preachers could not decide that sprinkling is baptism-that question has already been settled by the word of God (Romans 6:3-4), and no man or group of men can change that.
In matters of judgment, however, Christ has specified that elders are to rule. Paul said, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.“ (1 Timothy 5:17). Therefore, elders have a responsibility to rule, but we have already seen that they cannot rule in matters of faith and doctrine. Consequently, they must rule in the realm of judgment and expediency.
The wisdom of the divine plan is clearly evident. Majority rule and mob rule fall far short of the elder rule which God has ordained.
FIRST, the elders are to be men of maturity and judgment. Their qualifications are set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. How much better for men of these qualities to decide on matters of judgment than for those unqualified to decide! (And, to be honest, some decisions are tougher than others).
SECOND, God ordained that there should be a plurality of elders in each congregation (Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5). It is better to have the obtained wisdom of several men than to have the sole guidance of one man, no matter how good or well intentioned he may be. When elders disagree among themselves regarding things of judgment, all should be willing to support the decision that is reached. It is right and good to disagree and discuss while reaching a decision, but once the decision is made, it should be regarded as the decision of the whole eldership.
THIRD, mob rule is a form of mass hysteria. This is the situation where some segment or faction endeavors to force a decision by pressure and intimidation. It is obvious that no well-reasoned decision could be made under such an emotional climate. Mob rule often generates into a partisan political spirit whereby various sides attempt to “line up” support for their viewpoint. God is certainly not pleased with such efforts. It is simple to see how that elder rule, as set forth in the scriptures, is vastly preferable to mob rule as sometimes engendered by men.
FOURTH, majority rule gives the same voice to every person in the church. The twelve-year-old child who is a member of the church would have the same vote as the seasoned saint who had been a member of the church for twenty, thirty or forty years. Families would tend to vote together. Some families might have five or six votes while others would have two or three. In true majority rule, every member of the church would have the same voice, whether man or woman, young or old. God did not intend for the church to be operated in any such fashion. Again, we see the wisdom of God in choosing elders to rule and govern.
OBEY AND SUBMIT
When elders make a decision on a matter of judgment, we have the responsibility to abide by that decision. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them, for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this was unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17).
Notice that we are commanded both to “obey” and to “submit.” There is a difference. A child might obey an order, but in a surly, resentful, and arrogant manner. He has obeyed (done the act), but has not submitted (yielded his will). In matters of judgment, we are both to obey and submit to the elders of the church. God has charged them with the responsibility of making the decisions, and he has charged us with the responsibility of abiding by them. Of course, we must first have men who possess the Bible qualifications and who are men of honor and integrity; but when men of that caliber lead, the church should follow.
Elders should be examples to the flock. They should not lord it over the heritage of God (1 Peter 5:2,3). They should strive to lead the flock, rather than to drive them. Members, on the other hand, should know the elders and esteem them highly in love for their work’s sake (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Paul said, “Be at peace among yourselves.”
It is disturbing to find members of the church, including some preachers, who show little or no respect for elders and their authority. GOD’S PLAN IS BEST. When it is followed, both by elders and the members, the church will prosper, grow and be at peace as God intended.
Alan E. Highers
GOSPEL ADVOCATE Jun 1 1972