BROTHER BEEBE: - Will you please answer in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES the following queries, as far as you know, in regard to receiving members into the church, and making choice of a pastor; is it done by unanimous vote, or some other way? In our rules of decorum, the 11th article reads thus:
“All business shall be done by a majority of members present, except the choice of a pastor, and receiving of members, which shall be done by unanimity.”
And in making choice of a pastor, the above rule was altered thus:
“By motion and second, the church agrees to add the following: Nevertheless, to prevent the church from being imposed upon by the minority, the objector shall make known his or their objections, and the church shall consider such objections, and a two-third vote of the church shall rule in all such cases.”
Which is right, or are both?
REPLY. Unanimity in faith and in practice is enjoined upon the members of the church of God, and where a perfect conformity to the divine rule is strictly observed, there will be no majority and minority, no dissensions, disagreements or confusion. When the gospel church was organized at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, none were admitted to fellowship and membership but such as “gladly received the word,” as preached at that time and place by the inspired apostles; such, and only such were baptized and added to the church, and continued steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. “And they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house.” Here we have the perfect order of the house of God, and it is a fearful thing for any church or body of disciples to depart from this pattern. Our right to be regarded as the church of Christ, or disciples of the Lord Jesus, can only be demonstrated, so far as we conform to this perfect pattern. Under no pretense are the disciples of the Redeemer at liberty to add to or diminish from the faith, order or practice of the primitive church. We can adopt no articles of faith or rules of decorum which the apostles have not laid down in the New Testament, without thereby, so far, rejecting the rules and laws to which our heavenly King has affixed his immutable seal. A written summary of what we understand these laws and rules to be, may be of use to distinguish the true church from those who only claim the name, while they reject the essential and indispensable characteristics, but never to supercede or take the place of the New Testament as our only rule of faith and order. In setting forth the peculiar marks by which the church of Christ shall be distinguished to the end of the world, the inspired apostles have given unanimity as one of the most prominent. “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Eph. 4:1-6. As but one body, quickened by but one spirit, in but one hope, called to but one vocation, and having the same one hope of our common calling, in allegiance to but one Lord, professing and possessing the same faith, and recognizing but one baptism; how important it is that all the members of this one body should be of one, and but one mind. How can the body travel if there be not harmony in the members? Can the hands, and eyes, and ears, as members, travel on, and leave the arms and feet behind? There should be no schism in the body, the members must act in concert, and all be governed by one mind. A majority of members cannot go one way, and a minority in an opposite direction, without dividing the body. If one or more of the members has become weak, or lame, so as to be unable to act vigorously with the body, then all the other members will sympathize with the suffering members, and bear their infirmities. But if the halting of a member be from want of a mind and disposition to walk in unison with the body, then it becomes an offence to the body, and if by faithful admonition and wholesome discipline it cannot be healed, then it should be cut off. ”Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee.” “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee,” &c. Matt. 18:8,9. But in all this we must act cautiously, and in christian faithfulness. “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” Heb. 12:12,13. When from weakness and feebleness any of the members are faint and languid, the strong should bear their infirmities, for such is the law of Christ. But; “mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ.” Rom. 16:17,18.
While a due respect should be paid to the judgment of every member of the church of God, no uninspired member should assume infallibility, nor cherish a dictatorial position. No brother should be made an offender for a word, nor should heresy be tolerated for a moment. A church to be in a healthy and prosperous state should all be of one mind. The apostle exhorts thus: “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” Rom. 12:16. “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” II Cor. 13:11. “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Phil. 1:27. “Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example.” Phil. 3:16,17. “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” Phil. 4:1-2. “Finally, be ye all of one mind.” I Pet. 3:8. “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.” I Pet. 4:1. How earnestly the apostles urge the necessity of unanimity among the children of God, and with equal force depreciates divisions and contentions. “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” I Cor. 1:9,10.
In all these admonitions to unity we find no rule for majorities and minorities. Where the saints are all of one mind and one spirit, and perfectly joined in one judgment, how can there be any division?
To avoid a conflict of sentiment in the church, let the warning voice of the apostle be heard, “Let no man be wise in his own conceit,” and when the judgment of the church is to be ascertained by a vote, let every one vote honestly according to the conviction of his mind, and at the same time let him be as ready to candidly consider the opinion of those who understand the matter differently, as he is to have his own position duly considered, and let the reason of every vote given be subject to the decision of the whole church. Then in the reception of candidates for baptism and membership, if the greater portion of the church express their satisfaction, and one or more object, let the church judge whether the objection be valid or not. So also in the selection of a pastor, or on any other subject. An objection may sometimes arise from a personal prejudice, or from some incorrect view of the subject, the church as a body should judge of this, and the objector should submit to her decision.
We have an example in the primitive church, a very grave question was submitted to the church at Jerusalem by a sister church at Antioch, and the subject being new to the greater portion of them, there was much disputing, those of the Pharisees, which believed, held that it was needful to circumcise Gentile converts, and to command them to keep the law of Moses; but they submitted their reasons to the decision of the church, and after having listened to Peter, and Barnabas, and Paul and James, the whole church became perfectly unanimous in their final decision. Whereas, if the vote had been taken by yeas and nays, without a full investigation, the church would have been divided, and the dispute at the commencement of the meeting might have continued to this day. We learn also from this example that we should never decide on anything pertaining the faith or order of the church of God, until we have heard and duly considered what the apostles have said upon the subject, and what the apostles then said upon that subject pleased the whole church, and averted a division, so now our only safety is in strictly adhering to what God speaks to us by his holy apostles.
September 15, 1870.
Elder Gilbert Beebe