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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Should We Stop 'Voting' On Disputable Matters?

es, I know that occasionally (rarely, I would argue) it is good for the church to officially approve something with a vote. But votes should come into play when we have all had plenty of time to build deeper relationships and develop greater consensus. If we know going in that we are divided on an important matter, why does it become so important to “pass” a “resolution”? After a resolution passes by a narrow majority, what is it exactly that we have just “resolved” to do? We still have to find ways to listen to and love each other. We still have to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in ever-changing contexts. We still have to respond to our leaders, and they to us, in specific circumstances yet to unfold. Will a 60-40 resolution help us do that?

Here’s what I think: majority votes are a good thing when a large body has to decide on a specific action to take (like appointing board members), or a specific policy to enact (like changing bylaws). But when stating our intentions or aspirations or beliefs as a church, especially when we are far from agreement, I think that forcing these matters to conform to majority votes does nothing to help us be the church God intends us to be. It only sets up a scenario where a large segment of the church will be left disappointed, and potentially wounded or disenfranchised. Is that what anyone wants as a result? - See more at: http://www.pvmchurch.org/kansas-city-adult-convention/my-personal-post-kansas-city-resolution#sthash.LNOceUW4.dpuf
Our Newest 'Testament'?
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Farewell.
Acts 15:23-29 (NIV)

Throughout history, Christians have tended to imitate their surrounding culture when it comes to how they govern themselves. Under monarchies, for example, churches relied on a hierarchy of popes, cardinals and archbishops to govern the church. In democracies there has been an increased focus on pastors, presiders and chairpersons religiously following Roberts Rules of Order when it comes to making decisions and resolving differences.

These may each have their place, but I'm impressed by fellow pastor Phil Kniss's reflections on the latter kind of process after he attended Mennonite Church USA's potentially divisive Assembly at Kansas City recently.

Here is a part of what he's posted on the Mennonite's opinion site this week:

Yes, sometimes it is good and necessary for the church to adopt something with a vote. But votes should occur only after we have had plenty of time to build deeper relationships and develop greater consensus. If we know we are currently divided on a significant matter, why does a “resolution” become all-important (to both sides)? When a resolution passes by a narrow margin, what exactly have we just “resolved” to do? We still need to listen to and love each other in our differences. We still need to discern the move of the Holy Spirit in ever-changing contexts. We still need to respond to our leaders, and they to us, in specific circumstances yet to unfold. Will a 60-40 resolution help us do that?  

Majority votes are helpful when a large body needs to decide to take a specific action or adopt a specific policy. But when we are stating our broad intentions or aspirations or beliefs as a church (especially when we are far from agreement) forcing a majority vote does nothing to help us be the church God intends us to be. It only sets up a scenario where a large segment of the church will be left disappointed, and potentially wounded or disenfranchised. Is that what anyone wants as a result?

Phil makes some great points. There is no precedent for "voting" in the Bible. Perhaps taking a straw poll to help us understand how people are leaning might sometimes be in order, but all the while we should recognize that members of any group represent many points along a continuum on most issues in ways that don't neatly fit into a Yes or No category.

So my preference would be to continue to affirm basic Christian beliefs from the simple "Jesus is Lord" of the early church to the multitudes of other statements like the Apostles Creed, the various confessions of the church throughout history, and our own statements of belief and practice going all the way back to Schleitheim and forward to the present. Meanwhile we keep all of our differences in belief and practice on the table, continuing to show forbearance regarding all "disputable matters" that are sure to surface over time (see Romans 14-15).

Wherever there are deviations from a norm, congregations, not conferences, need to take responsibility to address the problem following the steps Jesus outlines in Matthew18. Where differences persist within and among congregations and conferences we need to engage in prayerful discernment in the manner of Acts 15 until we finally reach a consensus.

And if that takes us a couple of lifetimes, so be it.

Meanwhile, we can be sure that everything will be clarified for us in the life to come, where I'm told all of God's people will be a part of one unified family.
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