The Right To Legislate

By W. W. Otey

On the mount God said: “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.” (Mark 9:7.) Just before he ascended to heaven to be crowned king, Jesus said: “All authority in heaven is given unto me ” (Matt. 28:18.) To the apostles he said: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.” (Matt. 10:40, 41.) God committed all legislative authority to Jesus. He in turn gave to the apostles who were guided by the Holy Spirit, full authority to speak in his name after he ascended to heaven. This side of the spoken and written word of those inspired by the Holy Spirit no man nor company of men have ever been empowered by God to speak with authority–to legislate–in the kingdom of Christ even in the least matters. As king, Christ is the only lawmaker in his kingdom — the church–, which is his spiritual body. In whatever measure men have in the past, or do now, assume the right to legislate in his kingdom –the church–even in seeming by small matters, in that measure are in rebellion against the authority of Christ, the king. When the last apostle died, legislative authority ended.

But not withstanding the fact that legislative authority ended with the death of the apostles, God has made ample provision for carrying on the work and worship of the church in an orderly manner. All the “law of the spirit of life” is fully written by inspiration. Men with proper qualifications were designated to have the oversight and leadership of the church, in carrying on the work of preaching the gospel and attending to the work and worship of the church. Every item necessary to the spread of the gospel and edification of the church was given by inspiration. The general principles were also given for carrying out the details of the work. The leaders were called evangelists, elders or overseers, and deacons, as servants in material matters. The qualifications of all these are plainly and definitely stated; their work described, and the general principles for the work to be done. But there is not the least semblance of authority given them or the entire church, to enact a single law– a rule of action. Their sole work consisted in administering the law of Christ and in carrying out his work. They were to be guided solely by the law that he as supreme king had enacted by the Holy Spirit as his agent, through the inspired apostles. The church is not a democracy, but a supreme monarchy. Christ, the king, is the only lawgiver. Christ commands; his subjects obey. He rules; citizens in his kingdom serve.

If believers in Christ had first learned and heeded this truth, no apostasy could ever have come. When we forget and begin to violate this truth, admitted by us in theory, in that decree we start another apostasy.

Citizens in a supreme monarchy have no vote. The vote is the sign and symbol; the fundamental principle, and chief instrument of a democracy–a self-governing organization. All laws are decreed, directly or indirectly by vote. Christ has “all authority,” and made the laws to govern his kingdom by decree, spoken and written by the Holy Spirit. In a civil democracy, voters elect representatives, who enact laws that govern the voters. In some instances laws are enacted by direct vote. Votes, wherever or for whatever cast, directly or indirectly, make laws–rules of action. These principles have long been accepted by “us” in theory. All admit the principle is scriptural, but some of “our” practices have seriously violated the scriptural principle by which we have bound ourselves in theory.

What Is a Vote?

“Act or power of expressing an opinion or choice, a suffrage.” The expression of an opinion or choice, for or against one or more of a number of ideas or propositions is a vote. A vote may be cast by printed ballot as it is done in civil elections In social organizations or in religious procedure, the vote may be made by written ballot; by standing, lifting the hand, or by voice. To mail or hand cards to church members to be signed and returned to express choice oh any proposition, as is very often done, and then declare that such procedure is not voting is a shameful subterfuge, and would be unworthy of decent politicians, to say nothing of those professing to be Christians.

The vote is the symbol of democracy; the instrument of legislating or enacting laws for

Self-government. Laws may be by decree of a supreme monarch who governs the citizens in his kingdom. Christ is a supreme monarch. A vote by citizens in his kingdom usurps his authority to the extent of the matters voted on. Till it is shown that Christ has not made ample provision to administer the affairs in his kingdom in an orderly manner, and that men must remedy the defect in his law to govern his subjects–till that is done, to vote in religious matters, is to that extent a usurpation of his power to rule. Doubtless some one will deny this statement, but no one is able to disprove it.

Citizens in a democracy elect representatives by majority vote who pass laws to govern the voters. Without the majority vote no democracy can be established. When established, it can exist and function only by the majority vote. To whatever extent a religious group decides matters by a majority vote; to that extent such a group becomes a democracy with legislative powers. In truth a vote makes a law to the extent and for the time the voters are governed by the principle voted on. If the vote is for choice of a preacher selected, that vote binds the voters so long as he serves. If elders or deacons are voted into office, the voters are bound by and obey that vote as long as those voted into office serve. These conclusions are self-evident.

It seems that the majority vote is justified saying: “The matters we vote on are not of much importance–just incidentals. We will never vote innovations into the church.” To that it is replied that the majority vote is in its very nature a fundamental innovation. Till someone produces either a command or approved example for the majority vote in the word of God, it will remain not only an innovation but the basic innovation by the instrument of which most other innovations are introduced into religious procedure Defenders of instrumental music in the worship appeal to Jewish practices under the law for their authority. Those among “us” who practice voting in the church do not have even that “shadow” of authority to plead in defense of their practice.

For many years “We” preached and debated against voting by denominations, in deciding who should be baptized and admitted into their fellowship. “But,” says one, “the Lord has settled the question of how to get into the church.” Did he fail also to settle the question as to how the work and worship should be carried on? Who so affirms?

Some one may ask, “How are we going to decide which preacher we shall employ; when we shall hold our meetings, and similar questions?” The Lord ordained that qualified men shall have the “oversight” of the work and worship. But these are not “dictators” nor arbitrary “bosses,” but shepherds of the flock; to guide the church in carrying out what the Lord has authorized to be done. It may be that arbitrary rulers and bosses have furnished the excuse for resorting to the majority vote. The writer is not unmindful, in his personal observation, that the temptation is strong under such cases to invoke the vote by an appeal to the membership. But a bad rule of individuals can’t be cured by invoking a far more dangerous unscriptural procedure. The “boos” will soon be pressed out by the proper protests. But when the vote is invoked, it becomes a generally approved policy, and where it has led in past centuries will be noted later in this writing.

The question: “Why invoke the majority,” is one of most serious moment. It is not boasting for the writer to state that his field of observation for years, and undoubted information coming from the most unquestioned sources, show that, in the vast majority of cases, the preacher has invoked the majority vote against the elders, who were, or were regarded, as arbitrary bosses. To the extent the vote becomes general in this regard, it will to that extent establish another kingdom of the clergy, so strongly opposed by those who were the leaders in the restoration a hundred years ago. Once again, it is frankly admitted that boss-rule of those appointed to the eldership, probably furnishes the excuse for first starting to invoke the vote. (A page could be filled here of the reliable instances of congregations being wrecked for years by the vote. This writing deals with the general principle, not its use.)

Ambitious men who desire to rule the church are the ones who most often introduce the vote.

If a congregation with scripturally qualified men appointed as overseers, or without any appointment at all, have a reasonable measure of the spirit of Christ, and desire nothing else but to please the Lord, and do that which is best for the edifying of the church, they can and always will manage all their affairs in peace. But if some are self-willed, contentious, carnally minded, and lacking the spirit of Christ, they will be in strife and division, b tiny and devouring one another, and all the voting that can be done cannot prevent it For such conditions in a membership can be cured, not by a resort to a humanly prescribed remedy–the vote– but by taking the Lord’s infallible remedy; sincere, bitter repentance.

That God never commanded or approved any practice that plainly violated a fundamental principle of the gospel, will be affirmed by every believer in the Bible. What bearing does the majority vote have on a plainly taught principle of the gospel?

Jesus prayed: “Neither for these alone do T pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word: that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be in us; that the world may believe that thou didst send me.” (John 17:20, 21.)

That God commands a unity among believers in Christ as close as the unity that exists between God and Jesus, and that division is accepted in theory by every preacher and writer in our large brotherhood, is unquestioned. And no one will affirm that God has commanded or approved any act or practice that plainly violates the law of unity. The majority vote violates God’s law of unity. A vote in the church either creates a divided sentiment or makes worse a divided sentiment already existing. No vote can be taken without proposing two or more questions on which to vote. If there is a divided sentiment, a vote makes it worse. If there is no divided sentiment one must be created, else there can be no vote. Who can take the responsibility of either making a divided sentiment worse, or of creating a divided sentiment in the church of the Lord?

Who among the many who manage church matters by majority vote will rise and explain why it is so great a sin for our religious neighbors to manage their affairs by majority on a large scale, and so righteous for us to thus manage out church affairs on a small scale? Can we see one hand lifted with an answer? “Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest cost practice the same thing.” (Rom. 2:1.)

The majority vote has never advanced a single item of truth, nor one single command of the Lord. It is safe to say that no vote has ever been taken by church people in favor of one truth or of a divine command. What God has given never has needed any human invention to establish it. Every time a vote in church matters is invoked, it is in support of something not taught in the word of God. To appeal to a vote serves only to settle some question in doubt, not by the word of God, but by human judgment. These are unquestioned facts. They cannot be brushed aside. The course of the church for future years is involved in these matters.

What has been the fruits of the majority vote, the right of self-government, from the first? The majority vote adopted the first creed; revised and perpetuated every creed down to this day. By it the church of Rome came into being, and by it the Pope was declared infallible. The majority vote created every Protestant denomination, placed their ecclesiastical heads over them, thus supplanting Christ. Human innovations from the beginning have been introduced and perpetuated by the majority vote. Take away the vote and every human creed would soon disband, cease to exist, and become disorganized confusion. The vote is the one vital instrument, without which denominations could never have been established, nor still exist.

The majority vote lifted the floodgate through which poured every innovation that led the majority of the churches of the Lord, in the past century, into the great apostasy that now makes up that unhappy people known as the Christian Church.

Let churches of Christ continue to appeal to the vote, not to settle matters that the Lord requires, but to settle untaught things by an appeal to human judgment–just as certain as the law of God, that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” and that “every seed shall produce after its kind,” will another apostasy be the harvest. It may be a generation, or even longer, but in the ripened harvest will be apostasy.

Truth Magazine VI: 11, pp.5-7
August 1962