This debate initially appeared in Guardian of Truth magazine in 1994. It is reprinted here with the permission of the authors.
Proposition 1: The Scriptures teach that the pattern of decision-making in matters of congregational judgment must always include the whole church (including women) under male leadership in all local churches (both with and without elders).
My worst fears are being realized in that, as the debate advances, Vance is progressing deeper into error, affirming a position with dreadful consequences of feminine equality and denial of eldership oversight which some will accept. The negative requires that I answer his material yet not allow him to side-track me into debating other men or affirming a non-existent "GOT" position. I fear he confuses criticism of a public position with persecution (Matt. 5:11).
Observations. Congregational participation under male leadership is our practice in most assemblies and does not contradict elder oversight or allow women equal authority in decision-making. Vance grants women decision-making authority without admitting leadership. Conversely, he speaks of elders having leadership without making decisions. But decision-making is a form of leadership and elders who decide nothing are figureheads and not leaders.
Pattern comments: I do not misrepresent his test of fellowship since he advocates a "pattern" (his book, pp. 24, 26, etc.), and any alternative is "as foreign to the New Testament as is instrumental music" (p. 107, quoting Lynn Trapp). As with music, he has drawn a line. Acts 15 the sole pattern? My affirmative will show passages in addition to Acts 15.
Authority of Elders Comments: If evangelists are to "speak with all authority," but make no decisions, is this true of elders? No, evangelists and elders occupy separate functions and elders are specifically charged to "exercise the oversight" (1 Pet. 5:2). His reference to GT 4/21/94 is a misapplication. The author denied anyone the right to "enact or enforce any other laws than the laws of Christ." I agree. The church is not a democracy but a spiritual body with Christ as its head and the law of Christ is eldership oversight, not consensus! Though not in his proposition, consensus is taught repeatedly in his book and is the heart of this debate. Now he has gone beyond consensus and specifically endorsed church voting instead of eldership oversight. One person/one vote is a subversion of truth! Every voting person has an absolutely equal voice. Vance denies believing in feminism but a church vote knows no gender, acknowledges no maturity, and respects no submission. Voting changes female participation to female leadership and female majority gives women control of the church. He cannot give women the vote in one breath and deny them leadership with the next. Subjection does not exist in the ballot vox. Consensus might include persuasion but voting is raw majority rule, removes women from their subjection to men (1 Tim. 2:11-15), and the congregation from submission to elders (Heb. 13:7, 17). Once the principle of female leadership is introduced, the door cannot be shut. Others will allow co-teaching in Bible classes, women serving the table or preaching.
What A. Campbell said about voting is as irrevelant as what he said about the missionary society and wrong in both cases. The "casting lots" of Acts 1:6 decided nothing but indicated God's choice (1:24). Vance's quote on Acts 15:22 is misleading. Thayer says of "seemed good": "1. To be of opinion, think, suppose...3.b. it seemed good to, pleased, me; I determined" (p. 154). It is also used in Acts 15:28 and his "interpretation" would reduce the Holy Spirit to a vote no greater than that of the youngest female member! Compare its use in Acts 14:23: did Paul and Barnabas "vote" or "appoint" elders? Vine explains that stretching forth the hand "is not to be taken in its literal sense....since it is said of God, Acts 10:41," and adds: "It is also said of those who were appointed (not by voting, but with general approbation)...2 Cor. 8:19" (Vine, p. 69).
Private Decision Comments: Acts 6. He asserted it is "without divine authority" for private decisions to be made without the whole church. But my negative cited seven private decisions of the apostles, and his assertion changes nothing.
Acts 15; Galatians 2. Private meetings with elders and other men took place as specifically stated (Acts 15:2, 6; Gal. 2:2). Decisions were made for the whole church regarding matters of judgment: to accept Paul in fellowship (Gal. 2:9; Acts 9:26-28); spheres of service (Paul to Gentiles; Jerusalem to the Jews); that Titus would not be circumcised (indifferent to God, 1 Cor. 7:19, but with congregational implications, Gal. 2:4-5). So Galatians 2:9 doesn't backfire on me. Elders cannot alter the plan of salvation (Acts 15:7f), but they can oppose false teachers, support truth and decide in areas of judgment.
1 Corinthians 5 and 6. Congregational action in chapter 5 does not negate the private decisions in chapter 6. There, individual judgmental matters having congregational implications were decided by one or more. Personal disputes should be handled by wise men in the church and not the heathen (6:1). Using hyperbole, Paul asked if there is not even one "among you" (the church, v. 5) who could "judge between his brethren." The wisest in the church ought to be the elders who "judge" (decide) disputed matters between members so that it does not destroy the whole congregation.
Acts 11:27-30. It is understood that the money that came to the needy churches from the messengers, Paul and Barnabas, was sent and received for benevolence. A decision by a receiving eldership to buy a "new meeting tent" would have been sinful. Vance missed the point. The elders, having received the money for benevolence, yet had to make decisions: who was to receive it; how much was each to receive; how long was it to be given, etc.
Male leadership in absence of elders. His syllogism is faulty since he shifts terms from A to B. "Male leadership" is not the same as "men and women in decision-making." He assumed what he failed to prove.
Scandalous Matters, Sensitive Matters. The whole church can be involved in discipline without requiring that every member (babes in Christ, weak in faith, young in age) know the sordid details. Consideration by mature elders is not the same as baring it to those whose faith might be destroyed. "Fornication" before the church is one thing; the shocking evidence that proves fornication is another. Benevolence can also be sensitive. The church should be aware of the needs of brethren without financial disclosure that would discourage and embarrass those in need. A wise eldership can avoid congregational problems by privately dealing with scandalous and sensitive information.
Past questions: 1) See material on voting above. 2) Since Vance accepts that an "agency" acting is the same as the church acting, he needs to tell us what is wrong with an eldership acting "for, or on behalf of" the congregation. In Acts 6, the seven men acted "for, or on behalf of" the congregation and it was the same as the congregation caring for the needy saints. In Acts 11:27-30, the eldership received the funds "for, or on behalf of" the congregation and it was the same as the congregation receiving the funds. He accepts agency provided "the congregation has asked an 'agency' to act on its behalf." But God has commanded agency: eldership oversight. Let the reader choose: "Tend to the flock of God which is among you, (arriving at consensus), (counting the ballots), (giving women equal authority) or (exercising the oversight)." 3) Vance said "No," that a majority of women cannot rule over a minority of men. But he approves of voting and each vote counts. A majority of women who vote outnumber a minority of men who vote. Why is that not overturning the decision of men? Why is that church not controlled by women? 4) Vance accepts that deacons can "decide the multitudes of decisions" about buying supplies for the church. But why are deacons qualified to make decisions "before and without calling together the whole congregation" and elders are not? If deacons are "appointed" (Acts 6:2) and elders are "appointed" (Acts 14:23), why are deacons empowered to make decisions, and elders not empowered? The qualifications relate each to the work to be done. 6) Vance described a stalemate in consensus when "leaders disagree with the multitude." Exactly! Every collectively must have a mechanism for avoiding stalemates. In a democracy, voting provides it; in the home, it is husbands (Eph. 5:23); in the church, elders are appointed to make decisions for the collectivity.
Vance's Questions: 1) A "rump meeting" of a few rebels is an unauthorized meeting and violates 1 Pet. 5:5b, among others. Elderships have authorized meetings (1 Pet. 5:2). 2) Jesus has been given "all authority" (Matt. 28:18) and as law-giver has ordained elders be appointed to "oversee" and "shepherd" the collectivity. Vance understands this with deacons but objects to it with elders. 3) Yes. 4) I did not concede that women are authorized to attend business meetings. Acts 6, etc., authorizes congregational meetings in which women are present under male leadership. In these assemblies, women may participate short of assuming decision-making authority. God has placed women in subjection under men (1 Tim. 2:11-15) but Vance's voting would make them equal. Men do not prohibit women from doing any authorized activity.
Questions for Vance: 1) What passages permit deacons the right to make decisions on behalf of the congregation but prohibit elders from making decisions? 2) How can a woman vote her conscience yet remain in subjection when she disagrees with her husband and the elders? 3) Does voting give women leadership authority? 4) Can a woman co-teach a Bible class in the church so long as she is under subjection to her male co-teacher?