The Rights of a Congregation
Weldon E. Warnock
Paden City, West Virginia
E. L. Flannery wrote in his tract, Let Brotherly Love Continue, the following: "How long has it been since you have heard or read a sermon on, The Rights of a Congregation? Many churches not knowing their God-given rights, have come to believe that they have no voice, no rights, no considerations due them once they have appointed elders." Nothing could be farther from the truth than the belief that churches with elders have no rights. The church has rights and it is duty-bound to exercise them. Let us notice some of those rights.
Right to Choose Officers
The church has the right to choose its own officers. Acts, chapter 6, shows this beyond any doubt. The apostles told the Jerusalem church, "Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men . . . whom we may appoint over this business" (v. 3). The church did the selecting and the apostles appointed them.
Robert Milligan wrote concerning this matter in Acts 6, "And there were the Apostles, who knew all the members well, and their respective qualifications, and in whose judgment and impartiality the whole congregation had entire confidence. Surely to the eye of sense and finite reason, the shortest and best way to settle the whole matter would seem to be that the Apostles themselves should choose and appoint men to wait on the poor and the needy. But no; under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles thought very differently. . . . This was one example, then, when fairly and fully considered, should really be an end of the whole controversy touching the election of Church officers" (Scheme of Redemption, pages 345-6). J. W. McGarvey said, "We conclude that all church officers were selected by the congregation at large ... the only certain fact is that the people elected their officers" (The Eldership, page 73).
George DeHoff stated, "That forever (commenting on Acts 6:3, W.E.W.) sounds the death knell of any hope of any state headquarters, of any presiding elders or presiding preacher selecting any kind of officers in any congregation of the church but rather the New Testament teaches that the power to select officers is in the church itselfThe church selects its own functionaries for any purpose whatsoever.... It is not right for a preacher to come in and say, 'I'll select so and so for your officers and here they are ... It is not right for the elders of the church to get off in a huddle and say, 'We'll select so and so for an elder and put him in-there he is. It is not right for a handful of members of the church to get off in a corner and huddle and say, 'We'll pick out so and so and then tell the church.... The church must select its own officers" (Gospel Sermons, pages 270-1).
In his book, Scriptural Elders and Deacons, H. E. Phillips wrote, "In some places it has been known that the elders in office took full charge of selecting and appointing those who were to serve with them, or in appointing themselves to the work. Many objections may be offered to this method. To begin with there is no Bible teaching that shows any elder had charge of his own appointment to the office, or that he so acted to appoint another. This would prove to be an unwise procedure because it would tend to form a clique in the oversight. Elders may select some who are deficient in one or more qualifications simply because they could be more easily controlled.... the only example we have places the duty of selecting on the number of disciples (Acts 6:3). .. . Choosing other men to be elders or deacons does not fall in the class of elders' duty. It is neither their duty to decide when men should be appointed as elders, nor who shall be appointed" (page 246).
Right to Remove officers
The congregation that selects and appoints its elders and deacons also has the right to remove them from office if they become disqualified. Men can become immoral or inactive in duty while in office. When such becomes the case, the church may remove them. Yea, it must remove them!
Brother Flannery states, "The church the right, if reason or scripture demands it, to remove elders from their appointment. If their judgment, when guided by the Bible, enables them to properly decide who of their membership shall serve as elders, why should it be considered improper for the very same people with the very same Bible to be able to remove the eldership from any who neglect the work, or who become unqualified for that work? No organization on earth fails to provide legal means for the removal from office those officials who disqualify themselves by inability or in other ways" (Ibid. page 7).
Quoting brother DeHoff again, "The same power that can make a man an elder can unmake him.... The church that can select a man as an elder can remove him as an elder There is just as much scripture for 'firing' an elder as there is for 'firing' a preacher and we do that every time we get ready. . . . The next verse that says something about firing the preacher tells exactly how to fire an elder and I am amazed that anybody would run around talking about, If you are once an elder you are always an elder. That is not true" (Ibid. page 272).
Right to Be informed
Every congregation has the right to know what is going on. Many times, business meetings are conducted and the members that are not present are never informed of the transactions. Reports from preachers that the church is helping to support may be read by a few (elders, deacons, preacher), but the church is not told about it. Some elders never let the church know the financial condition of the church. No financial report is ever given. It is kept secret. This is wrong! The church has a right to know.
Information that relates to the congregation or concerns the congregation should be disclosed to the congregation. Sometimes a congregation is never told who the preacher is going to be until it is time for him to move to a place. The pulse of the church should be felt when hiring a preacher. After all, the church has to work with him. So, it should be given some consideration. The attitude, "It's none of the congregation's business," is a poor attitude.
The Bible teaches that the church was informed in New Testament times. When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after their first preaching tour, we read, "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27). The church at Jerusalem was in attendance at the Jerusalem conference because it concerned those disciples. Note Acts 15:4, 22.
Remember that the church is God's heritage. Although the elders have the authority to oversee, the deacons the authority to serve and the preacher the authority to preach the Word, the church has its God-given rights, too. Let's honor them!
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 45, pp. 11-13