This was a response to a query on whether voting in a local church works…
Ascertaining the will of God
Ascertaining the will of God is an area many have wrestled with for a long time. Shelves (or is it megabytes these days) have been filled with such material. Sometimes it doesn’t look like we are any wiser.
I believe the texts you have cited have more to do with guidance and the will of God in terms of what we must do to lead godly lives – lives where God reigns as Lord and King – ie God wants us to have salvation – be His children. See for example verse 1 (blessed because transgression forgiven), verse 2 (blessed when God doesn’t hold us for our sins), verse 5 (acknowledgement of sin and God forgave) and verse 11 (we are righteous as a result and should rejoice). The context of Psalm 32 is therefore God’s instruction for salvation is promised.
I have copied the whole of Psalms 32 below to provide context.
Similarly Matthew 7 deals with the same subject matter. It’s part of the beatitudes which speak of being blessed in the sense which implies more than mere happiness but in a state of reconciliation with God. You will be glad I have not copied Matt 5 – 7, I’m sure it is accessible with just a few clicks of the mouse.
Therein I guess, lies the trickiness of seeking God’s will – the Bible is a book provided to instruct on God’s plan for salvation. The theme therefore is the Kingdom of God and our reconciliation with God in that Kingdom. How then do we seek instructions from a book like the Bible for decisions we have to make here on earth?
We all know God guides and He does so in all things, not just the “big” things. But how does He guide? Sometimes He speaks to us directly but for many of us that is a rarity in terms of what we are waiting to hear. He has spoken for example about how He will save us, how He will establish His Kingdom and how He wants us to be part of that Kingdom. But when I am contemplating between say, taking a job in Company A or Company B, how does He guide us? Does He still “speak” in the sense we often wish He does? How many of us wait till God “speaks” (in that sense) before we act?
This is not to say we don’t let God guide us. He does, and does so in all things.
I believe God guides us in many ways. When we use for example our minds to process information and analyse situations or circumstances is this not letting God guide us? Or are we uncomfortable with being logical and methodical and will only be comfortable that He guides only if the unnatural or illogical or abnormal or weird things happen? Are we not comfortable and secure that God has transformed our minds and hearts and souls so that when we think, feel and act according to our minds and circumstances we are still letting God guide us all the same? If I spend each day praying and reading His word and meditating on God’s word, does that not mean we are positioning ourselves in a way which will let us be guided by God even if we use our minds to process information and circumstances? Must a “voice” be audibly heard and logical thoughts and process be excluded before we can be certain we are being lead by God?
I am also confident that the way God had allowed me to say, spend my childhood in Malaysia, go to Uni in Sydney, work as a lawyer and have a wonderful family, in fact all facets of my life are God’s leading, designed for me to continue to make decisions which reflect God’s guidance. Every one of us have been lead by God in similar fashion and can safely make decisions knowing God leads even if we don’t audibly hear. It may be boringly logical and rationale but it is still being lead by God none the less.
I’ll quickly say that the law requires an organisation such as ICC to undertake a voting process. We need to demonstrate to the authorities that the decision has been put to the members to be voted on, before the integration can take place.
The law aside, is voting prohibited in the Scriptures?
There are absolute truths which must not be subject to voting. Personally for example, I believe the issue of homosexual clergy was wrongly voted by the Anglican church. It wasn’t an issue which should be subject to vote. This is an area where the majority doesn’t get to say what is right – God’s word does. If you look at the tenets of faith of major denominations (including orthodox streams other than evangelicals) you’d find many basic principles which must never ever be subject to vote. These are areas where dogmas count and God’s ways must prevail.
There will be issues and matters flowing directly from these basic principles which I further believe must also not be subject to vote as either the Scriptures have clearly taught on the issue or they are important to safeguard the basic principles.
There are nevertheless, processes and decisions which affect other areas of church life and in my mind, can be subject to vote. Imagine you have a congregation of 500 persons and the church is contemplating buying a property to (say) establish an evangelism hub/outpost. How does the church decide whether to buy or not to buy?
Revelation? Of course – one assumes church leadership already has that. The issue is simply whether to buy the property or to rent (say) or whether to buy property A or property B.
The church leadership thinks it is a good idea to buy and it should opt for Property A. What next? The constitution and the law says since the property will cost in excess of x% of the annual income or net assets of the church the general members must approve the purchase. What does the church do then? Pray, of course. What next? Pray till all 500 are convinced it is the right decision? No seller will wait for you. The church will never buy that property and if we think that means it was God’s will that it does not buy the property, we are not being truthful because it is a case where to require all 500 to be comfortable is to load the decision and tilt it one way from the word “go”. It may well be all 500 can come to the same agreement very quickly but what do you think is the more likely outcome?
Voting can be a valid mechanism to ascertain the will of God – there is no scripture to say we must not vote. Surely we don’t say for example democracy is not godly because it relies on voting. I know this is a church we are talking about and I have already made the point that in a church only where absolute truths are at stake that we must not contemplate voting as a basis for deciding. Other than that I cannot find any scripture verses which say this is not biblical.
Countless other evangelical churches (both here and in other parts of the world) make a whole range of decisions based on votes. Who are we to say they are less godly (or more worldly) because of this?
Body of Christ
No one will argue against harmony, coordination and love. That is something all churches strive for. However, why can’t we achieve harmony, coordination and love by way of submission to each other’s wills and wishes? Which harmonious family achieves harmony without someone agreeing (submitting) to the common will or common good despite not agreeing to that course of action himself/herself?
It is a sign of a matured organisation that even when some disagree, they fall in line because it is what everyone else wants and the organisation as a whole is what matters, not individual preferences. If I may be so bold (I may be well off the mark theologically speaking), can I also say that Jesus appeared not to want to go ahead with the plan for salvation? In the Garden of Gethsemane the spectre of death on the cross borne by the Son of God and King of kings must have been so grotesque that we are told our Lord perspired as though he bled. His submission to the will of the Father however, ensured the salvation plan proceeded. This submission to the will of the collective is something I must learn more of. It is demonised by western culture which is so individualistic but it is so very scriptural.
I will be very candid and say I am at peace in that whatever the outcome, I am happy to go along. If the members decide not to proceed then so be it. We simply have to go back to the drawing board and seek God again. But please note I would have voted yes and yet be at harmony with everyone else as far as this decision is concerned. I only ask everyone to likewise keep an open mind. What I want counts but what the church as a whole wants, counts even more.
Yes we want to see harmony, coordination and love but that can only be achieved with submission by those whose wills are in the minority. Unity necessarily means some of us will have to bend our wills. Jesus did. I am prepared (indeed happy to) if that is what members want come voting time. We have to of course then consider charting the next phase all over again but that discussion is for another day.
Let me be very candid again and say part of the reason why communication and process for the integration has been short of ideal has to do with how much the leaders wrestled over the proposal when the idea was first floated. The leaders went through a long drawn process before it found itself ready to be accountable to members and recommend a course of action.
The Board has agreed to explore integration and has taken steps to facilitate this. The numerous meetings, meals, games etc have all been designed as part of the integration process.
At this stage, as a Board member, it is my recommendation that we proceed. That however is only my personal position. The choice is still with every individual member. It is again, a requirement of the law that each member of the church has the opportunity to make his or her voice heard.
I am also reminded of Joshua in his old days. Having asked the Israelites to remain faithful and serve God, he also asked that they choose whom they will serve (see Joshua 24:15). Was Joshua transferring responsibility – sort of handballing it off – to the Israelites? Individuals have always been accorded choice – we see this in many instances in the Bible.
Providing individuals with a vote – a choice – isn’t abdicating responsibility. It is recognition that you can only lead meaningfully if the wards follow submissively but willingly (I do not believe the two are mutually exclusive).
The responsibility of leaders is to identify a course of action or a path and say this is where we as leaders think we should all go. Its role is to provide that course/path and facilitate the choice. Leaders can counsel members to take a given course of action but as Joshua did, members have to be told that it is their choice. In this instance I happen to agree the law got it right in requiring members to make that choice. I don’t think it is leaders asking the flock where to go next, it is a case of leaders saying this is where we should go and according members the choice to follow.
1 Blessed is he
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the man
whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD “—
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
6 Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
while you may be found;
surely when the mighty waters rise,
they will not reach him.
7 You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the LORD’s unfailing love
surrounds the man who trusts in him.
11 Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!