By Vance E. Trefethen
Observations: 1. Tom agrees Acts 6 and 15 both show a church deciding a matter of judgment (Q. 1). But Connie Adams (Guardian of Truth [3/3/94] p. 4) said, “In both instances divine revelation resolved the problem at hand.” 2. Tom agrees women were present in some business meetings in the NT (Q. 1). But Mike Willis (GOT [3/18/ 93], p. 185) said, “The desire of women to be present at these meetings” is “a usurpation of the authority God gave to men.” Bobby Holmes (GOT [12/2/93], p. 723) said, “The inclusion of women participants in business meetings thus violates her role given in 1 Timothy 2:12. . .” (ital. in orig.).
I commend his courage in breaking with GOT on these issues. Perhaps he will receive the blessings of Matthew 5:11, as I have.
Arguments: Tom’s responses are in italics, and mine follow in regular type.
Makes his pattern a test of fellowship. There is no “test of fellowship” to be found in my proposition or in anything I’ve written on this topic. Please don’t misrepresent me. Jesus decides fellowship in the universal church; local churches handle fellowship for themselves.
“Pattern should reflect a binding quality.” You can’t get much more binding than “that is the pattern churches should follow to the exclusion of all others” (1st Aff. 6 6).
He says Acts 15 is the only pattern in his book, but then adds other passages. (1) We aren’t debating the format of my book. (2) The quote was taken out of context. It was showing the sole example of how elders lead decision-making, not the cases where elders aren’t specifically mentioned (Acts 6, 1 Cor. 5, etc.), which are covered elsewhere in the book.
“Elders become mere figureheads with no authority to decide any matter.” (1) This confuses “authority” with “private decision-making in matters of judgment.” Titus was to “speak, exhort, and reprove with all authority” (Tit. 2:15). The evangelist doesn’t decide matters of judgment for the church (does he?). “Authority” doesn’t require secret decision-making, else the preacher is an “eviscerated” “mere figurehead.”
Do elders have authority to privately make decisions that bind the whole church? “The elders of the local church … are subject to Christ, the head of the church (Col. 1:18). Therefore, elders do not, and cannot enact or enforce any other laws than the laws of Christ which are revealed in the
Scriptures” (GOT [4/21/94], p. 244). Amen.
“Consensus is not found in the scriptures!” (1) The word isn’t in my proposition either! (2) The concept is taught in Acts 6:5; 15:22; 15:25; 1 Corinthians 1:10. (3) “Leadership” and “authority” don’t occur in the NT with regard to elders. Do elders have neither?
Including women leads to women overriding men, women preachers, etc. (1) If so, why does he teach that women may be included on some occasions, per Acts 6 and 15 (Q. 1)? Won’t the women in Tom’s meetings want to become preachers too? (2) Anyone “overriding” others (male or female) in matters of judgment violates 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:1-3; Acts 6:5 and Acts 15:22. (3) Abuses don’t disprove the practice. Baptism is often abused (sprinkling, infants), but it is still the right thing to do, if we avoid the abuses. (4) Some believe having women participating in mixed Bible classes is a dangerous step toward feminism. Should we forbid it?
“Elders have no oversight in consensus.” This confuses “oversight” with “private decision-making.” They have no “private decision-making” in the Bible pattern, but lots of “oversight.” I challenge for a lexicon defining “oversight” as “private decision-making without congregational involvement.”
Acts 6 the Apostles privately decided everything. (1) All the features he gave came after “the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them. . .” (Acts 6:2). Was it “private” (Tom) or did it include “the multitude” (Luke)? (2) My proposition says the pattern must “include (comprise as part of the whole) the whole church.” Since he says Acts 6 teaches the whole church is authorized to be included (Q. 1), he admits they were included. (3) Can elders decide whether men or women will serve as leaders over benevolence? Wow I teach it’s a matter of faith that men (not women) are leaders, but Tom says it’s a judgment for elders to make privately. Do elders today privately decide the qualifications of deacons? I don’t think he believes this argument. (4) Since the Apostles “called the multitude,” I submit that refusal to call the multitude violates the “traditions of the apostles.” I believe we should do it the way the Apostles did it. Tom says we don’t have to. That, in a nutshell, is the debate.
His pattern calls for decisions with no private meetings, but they had them in:
Galatians 2:2: “I laid before them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles but privately before them who were of repute. . .” Where’s the decision in a matter of judgment here? Paul’s gospel was divine inspiration, not congregational judgment.
Galatians 2:9: To get a private decision for the church, one must cut off Paul in mid-sentence: “James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship. . .” He stopped here, but read on: “. . . that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision” (Gal. 2:9). Who are “we” and “they”? Was the whole church commanded to go to the circumcision or the Gentiles? The “fellow-ship” was in preaching the gospel, with an agreement to go to different audiences but it says nothing about binding this evangelistic “decision” on the church. Galatians 2:9 will backfire on Tom. Only three men met with Paul and Barnabas in Galatians 2:9 out of at least 14 “apostles and elders” (12 apostles + at least 2 elders). Either a tiny minority (3/14) of elders or men make decisions for the church without the other elders or men: or Galatians 2:9 is not congregational decision-making, but private action by individuals. Which?
Acts 15:6. (1) This is a decision about what Gentiles must do to be saved. Do elders today have the right to privately decide what the plan of salvation is? (2) The “multitude” was included in the context (Acts 15:12).
1 Corinthians 5 includes the whole church, but 1 Corinthians 6 shows private decisions for the church. (1) I’m glad we agree 1 Corinthians 5 involves the whole church. (2) 1 Corinthians 6 isn’t about “matters of congregational judgment.” It settles a matter while still a private dispute, like the first two steps of Matthew 18. (3) 1 Corinthians 6:5 also backfires. Yes, an elder could be the “one wise man” who settles a dispute privately between two saints. Then what? Does the church now change some collective action? Can one elder privately decide things for the whole church without involving the other elders? I don’t think he believes this.
Vance will learn some things are too scandalous to be done collectively. (1) More scandalous than fornication that’s not even named among the heathens (1 Cor. 5:1)? (2) Where in the NT will I “learn” this? (3) If it causes the weak to stumble, why did God command it?
“Yes, the whole church can be involved in discipline but under the leadership of the elders. Your pattern is not supported by Matthew 18.” The first sentence is my pattern for a church with elders, so the second is wrong. I’m glad we agree that Matthew 18 includes the whole church.
Vance musts see contradiction between “male leader-ship” and “decision-making women.” (1) If Tom could see the difference between “leadership” and “excluding every one from participating,” this debate would be over. If these were synonymous, elders could never include other men or the whole church. But Tom agrees they should, at least sometimes. (2) “Decision-making women” privately deciding things are just as wrong as men who do so. In the Bible, the whole church participates not women (or men) deciding things and forcing them on everyone.
Acts 11:27-30 shows private decisions by elders. (1) The decision is in 11:29. “And in proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined [arizo] to send money for (“unto,” “towards”) benevolence. If the elders who received it had decided to spend it on a new meeting tent, they would have betrayed the generosity of the donors. (2) Where in Acts 11 are the decisions made privately by elders? Don’t just say “it is inferred” show what phrase infers it and the specific decisions made, and show that they were made without including the whole church. Book, chapter, and verse, please. (3) Handling money doesn’t mean “privately deciding” things. Paul and Barnabas handled the money, but they didn’t privately decide anything, did they?
“In the absence of elders, male leadership prevails” (Answer to my Q. 2). Notice:
A. “Male leadership prevails” in the absence of elders (Q. 2).
B. A church with no elders included men and women in decision-making in the NT (Q. 1).
C. Therefore: including the whole church in decision-making doesn’t violate male leadership.
He must give up the arguments about feminism, women usurping authority, etc.
Answers to First Negative Questions: (1) Yes, and I’m willing to modify the negative remarks on “voting” I made in my book, in the interest of honesty and searching for truth. I found the scholarly quote on Acts 15:22 recently while preparing for this debate (is there any negative reply?). See also 2 Corinthians 8:19, where “chosen” means selected by a vote or show of hands (Thayer, p. 668; Strong, p. 77). “Voting,” as radical feminist Alexander Campbell (1835) said when he taught the whole church must be included, means any expression of opinion, whether raising the hand, saying “yes” or “no,” etc. Churches with secret decision-making have such voting all the time, among those allowed to participate. (2) Yes to both, provided the scriptures authorize it and the congregation has asked an “agency” to act on its behalf. (3) No. (4) They can’t. One group “overturning” another in matters of judgment is wrong, regardless of gender. (5) “Buying supplies” the whole church gathered and chose servants (diakoneo) to do that in Acts 6. “Financial information” was discussed in Acts 6 among the whole church, which is how they knew certain widows were needy. “Hearing complaints” see above on 1 Corinthians 6. “Investigating . . .” isn’t “private decision-making.” If you find out someone is sinning, you haven’t made a decision for the church. (6) If the leaders disagree with the multitude, there is no consensus yet.
Questions for Tom: (1) GOT [4/7/94], p. 206 criticized a “rump meeting” of a few men who privately decided to change a church bank account to prevent fraud by others, without including the rest of the men or women. What Scripture did they violate? (2) Where in the NT does “authority” refer to the right to privately decide matters of collective judgment? (3) When elders include the whole church in decision-making, do they lose “authority” or “oversight”? (4) Since women are authorized to attend meetings (1 A A. 1), by what authority could the men decide to exclude them? What other authorized activities may men prohibit women from doing?
Summary: We agree that all four cases I gave show the whole church included in matters of congregational judgment. Tom’s “exceptions” either deal with matters of faith, individual action, say nothing about private decisions by elders, or show the inclusion of the whole church. When-ever matters of collective judgment were handled in the NT, the whole church was included. Please join me in affirming that we should follow the Bible pattern.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 16, p. 18-20
August 18, 1994