Majority Versus Elder Rule

by James R. Cope
in The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 5, March 1952.

To Bible students and faithful Christians majority vote and rule in the church of Christ are as foreign to the Bible's teaching on church government as Russia is foreign to a democracy. Majority vote always means an open division in the body of Christ, and the history of its employment is the best proof of this axiom. A well known preacher has well said, "To make announcement one Sunday that elders and deacons will be elected by majority vote next Sunday is equivalent to putting a banner in front of the church building with these words: "This church will split next Sunday.'"

Perhaps not always but in many instances before elders are "put in" by majority vote there has preceded the action a "putting out" by the same process. We are not dealing with the way in which elders are "put in" or "put out" on the part of the congregation but we hope to show some things wrong in the way majority action is frequently carried out.

That elders are made by the Holy Spirit is clear from Acts 20:28. The Holy Spirit's qualifications for these officers are set forth in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. When men filling the office of elders harmonize with God's teaching in their work and rule, God is ruling through them in that ruling He has designed what they should do. When disciples of Christ disregard God's rule concerning rulers they rebel not only against God's rule and rulers, but at the same time and in the same act rebel against God (Jude 11; Numbers 16).

The foregoing being true, any wholesale removal of elders by the majority vote coupled with no regard for other laws of God in dealing with an offending brother, constitutes rebellion on the part of those leading and participating in such action, and the guilty parties, by declaring, "we will not that these men should rule over us" in the very nature of the case, compose not the church but a faction. True enough the elders cannot rightly rule over the faction (I Peter. 5:1-3); nevertheless they are still elders according to God's plan and purpose.

  1. God's Rule Ignored: Unless I Timothy 5:20 applies directly without regard to Matthew 18:15-17, the latter passage is God's rule for dealing with a sinning brother and of necessity applies to dealing with an unfit elder as much as any other brother. If not, there must be some other passage telling how the action must be carried out. Too many times the Bible order is reversed. Instead of a private meeting first, next with "two or three", and then "tell it to the church" as the Scriptures teach, before any of the elders are aware they find themselves the victims of mob action. The preacher with a group of his ardent personal followers calls a meeting. Some fellow with more zeal and temper than knowledge and judgment takes charge, tells the group how rotten the elders are, calls for a vote to kick them out and, pronto, the elders are ejected Maybe the elders are present, maybe they are not. In any event, so far as the voting group is concerned, they are OUT. Granting that the group had "ought against" the elders and their grievance is just, the brethren are wrong in doing what they did. If they are right they are wrong. God's Word is flagrantly disregarded and violated and the divine plan for proceedings against a brother even when just, is trampled under foot by the assembly.
  2. God's Rulers Disregarded: In such a meeting as described above, the preacher usually does the ruling rather than being ruled though he may not occupy the chair. It is further evident that the whole affair smells of dirty politics and wire pulling, the entire procedure being cut and dried before the elders are consulted. (Maybe we should say insulted, for they know not that they are to be prosecuted or dismissed till the time arrives or perhaps learn of it later).
  3. Rebellion And Faction: Under conditions thus described there is only one possible conclusion. The leaders and sympathizers in such a wholesale removal disregard God's Word and are in rebellion against God's Law and constitute a faction though nominally in the church. The numerical strength of the group has nothing whatever to do with the principle involved and regardless of numbers they are as much out of harmony with God's Will as were Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in their rebellion against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16) or Absalom in his rebellion against David (II Samuel 15).

God's rulers must be honored and obeyed (Hebrews 13:7,17; I Timothy 5:17-19). To fail to respect God's elders and to be chronically complaining against them to others, without following God's plan in dealing with them, is to sin against God and receive the grievous consequences God will mete out to all

Too many times a preacher decides that the same elders who had authority to "hire" him do not have authority to "fire" him, especially when he learns that is what they are about to do; so rather than quietly step out and leave the church at peace, he starts a counter movement, wrapping many gullible church members about him and, playing upon their sympathy as one being martyred, he forms a faction and splits the church.