By Mike Willis
I appreciate the good tone in which this discussion has occurred and commend brother Smelser’s material to brethren. While there are things in his material to which I have objected, I concur with him in objecting to rule by elders or business meetings that is lordly, tyrannical, and dictatorial. On this we are agreed. I have but a few final comments to make in drawing this discussion to a conclusion.
1. The discussion closes without brother Smelser providing a criterion to use in determining which decisions an eldership or business meeting has a right to make. While he asserts that some decisions can be made by elders and business meetings, he objects to all decisions being made there. This leaves us with the unanswered question, “Which decisions do elders or business meetings have the right to make?” After all these pages, the question remains unanswered.
Brother Smelser said they do not have the right to decide to use instrumental music. They cannot because they are not lawgivers; only one is lawgiver (Jas. 4:12). However, he also stated that elders/business meetings should not choose “who the servants are” (par. 11). Please take note of this. Brother Smelser is arguing that elders do not have the right to choose who will be the local preacher or which preacher they may choose to support in another locality. He asserts that these decisions belong to the congregation as a whole. That is why I called attention to the fact that this discussion is about how local congregational decisions are made.
2. The IBM and Congress illustrations. The IBM and Congress illustrations were given, not to show how its officers ruled but to illustrate representative government. Brother Smelser’s response was to cite the California initiatives. Did he not resort to “majority rule” in this response? In this response, decisions are made by majority rule, not by the elected representatives. This discussion is not about abusive elders but about how decisions are made in the local congregation.
3. Acts 15. Brother Smelser used the arguments of the Pharisees and the speeches of Paul, Peter, Barnabas, and James to show how members of a local congregation could take part in making local church decisions, even in the presence of elders. The subject matter on which these men made comment was not “to choose men . . . and to send” but to decide whether or not men had to be circumcised in order to be saved. This was a matter of revelation, not hu- man judgment. The text does not say that the local church members participated in that manner in the decision to send a letter and men with the conclusion reached at Jerusalem. That this seemed good to the whole church does not say that the “whole assembly” method of decision making was employed. Since brother Smelser says that the “whole church” sent, does that not imply that the women members and children members participated in the decision to send to the same extent as the men did? Whatever he can see that the men members did in the words “whole church,” he must conclude that the women members and children members did as well, for there is nothing in the phrase “whole church” that can be used to distinguish what the men did from what the women and children did. This discussion is about how local churches make their decisions.
4. “Assembly method” decision making. Brother Smelser asserted, “To find harmony here with insistence that separated men make all decisions alone, just cannot be done” (par. 17, first article). Anything that allows all decisions to be made by “separated men” does not harmonize with the Scripture, according to brother Smelser. Scripturally qualified elders cannot meet outside the full church assembly to make all of the decisions for the church, brother Smelser argues. They cannot choose church servants (such as local preachers or who the church will support in other locations). (There is a significant difference between an eldership receiving the congregation’s input before making a decision and in the congregation making the decision.) Some decisions have to be made in the assembly. Which decisions can elders or men’s business meetings make out- side the assembly? The question is crying for an answer? This discussion is about how local congregations make their decisions. My contention is that the words of Scripture authorize elders to make decisions for the church. They are “overseers” (Acts 20:28), they qualify themselves for their work by “ruling” their family so that they can “rule” the church (1 Tim. 3:5; 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17); they have oversight (1 Pet. 5:2). This separated group of men is divinely ordained of God to make decisions in the local church. To avoid “lording” it over the flock, they need to seek the input of those over whom they have oversight and rule. But, after receiving the congregation’s input, the responsibility for making decisions falls, not on the men of the congregation in general, not on the women and children, but upon the elders. This discussion is about how local congregations make their decisions.