Why Do Baptists "Vote"?
On 22 July, members will be asked to affirm the leaders' recommendation of Lam Lup Meng and Ngo Thian Chye as elders and Samuel Beh as associate pastor. Pastor Ian explains to us what the leadership is asking us to affirm.
For those of us who were reached or raised in the Baptist tradition, it may come as a surprise that most churches do not vote on various decisions (calling a pastor, affirming elders, approving financials, etc.). Baptist churches have historically held to a model of church governance called, “congregational”, meaning that decision-making authority lies with the congregation, not the pastors or board of elders, and not some district governing body or ecclesiastical court. In the Baptist tradition, churches are autonomous, meaning, “Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord (emphasis mine).” (The Baptist Faith and Message, Southern Baptist Convention)
But is this biblical?
In actual fact, though there are several passages that seem to indicate a congregational approach to decision-making to some decisions (Acts 6:3-6; Acts 15:22; 2 Cor. 2:6) the Bible does not actually suggest that the preferred form of church governance is democracy. Calling Baptist churches “democratic” is actually a borrowed secular term used to describe what it looks like when church practices, what is perhaps the “most Baptist” of all denominational distinctiveness: Soul Competency.
Soul competency is the conviction that because of Calvary, every human soul is “competent” to seek God directly without any human mediator. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote of the direct Divine access all believers enjoy through the ministry of Jesus: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…” (1 Tim 2:5-6a).
The emphasis on soul competency underscores the necessity of personal spiritual experience that is dependent on the person of Jesus–which includes repentance and faith. But to paraphrase Dr Albert Mohler, it has also served as an acid that dissolves corporate authority and mutual theological accountability. In other words, when taken to the extreme, soul competency can make every church member his or her own religious authority… which is perhaps the reason why we Baptists are so famous for our disunity!
If, in our allegiance to soul competency, we do not adopt the attitude of Christ, who in John 5:30 said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me (emphasis mine).”, then we cannot possibly understand what is being asked of us when we are invited to consider a recommendation from our Congregational Leadership. And every time we gather to consider a recommendation we are at risk of doing little more than exposing our division.
So. On 22 July, immediately following our morning service, we will be asking our members to stay behind for a short congregational meeting. During this meeting we will be asked to affirm the following recommendations from our Spiritual Leaders:
- Affirm the recommendation that Lam Lup Meng and Ngo Thian Chye serve as elders and members of our English Congregational Leadership (ECL).
- Affirm the recommendation that Samuel Beh serve as an associate pastor and member of our English Congregational Leadership (ECL).
During that short meeting, we will not be asking you to vote your convictions.
- Instead, we are asking you to steward the voice of God and to respond in a way that indicates His will for His church.
We will also not be asking you to consider whether or not these men qualify as elders and pastors.
- The pastors and elders have observed and tested these men. We have already unanimously agreed that they are biblically qualified to serve.
Therefore, when we gather together on the 22nd, we will actually be asking you to prayerfully affirm that you sense this recommendation is of God. Or not.
Let me encourage each of us to create our own little Gethsemane this week. And let us commit daily to prepare our hearts for this meeting by praying with Jesus, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done!”
- Equip class: Church Matters (11 am–1230 pm; July 15, 22, and 29).
- Remember that we will have a short English Congregational Meeting immediately following our morning service on 22 July. Members, please be prepared to stay back so that we may respond to the recommendation of our leadership to affirm Lup Meng and Thian Chye as new elders (and members of the ECL) and Sam Beh as an associate pastor (and member of the ECL).
- If you have additional questions to which you would like our leadership to respond, please send your questions to: email@example.com before the 22 July.
- Deepest Condolences—
- To our former pastor, Peter Lin and family over the recent loss of Peter’s mother, who was called home to her Lord a week ago.
- To Pastor Bobby Lee, whose mother was called to her heavenly reward a week ago yesterday,
- And to our Sister June Kiew, whose mother was called to glory last Sunday.
- For each of these we ask for the daily strength of God’s presence and comfort, and that the joyful hope of a great reunion will persevere!