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).
Fellowship. Had I wanted to debate fellowship, I would have put it in the proposition.
Leadership & Authority. The argument that leadership requires private decision-making for others is wrong. Many leaders (e.g. evangelists, Bible class teachers) don't privately decide collective activity. Negative assumes leaders privately decide everything, and since elders are leaders, they must be an exception to the pattern of including the whole church. He must prove this assumption. He has already denied it by granting that spiritual leadership doesn't necessarily infer private decision-making in collective judgment (Titus 2:15).
We agree elders have "authority," but no scripture uses "authority" directly with "elders" their authority has to be inferred from definitions of other words used of elders. The closest Negative comes is Matt 28:18. But consider: "And they [elders] have no arbitrary authority. Christ has all authority (Mt 28:18), and that does not leave any for the elders." (Luther Blackmon, Truth Magazine, 10/27/77, p. 13, Mike Willis, ed.).
1) The "authority" of that verse was given to Jesus, not elders.
2) Jesus doesn't decide matters of judgment for churches today. Matt 28:18 is about matters of faith.
3) His own paper says Matt 28:18 prohibits elders from arbitrary authority.
Look again at the Negative position:
1. GT says elders cannot enact or enforce any other laws than the laws of Christ.
2. Negative says "oversight" means authority to bind things on the church.
3. Therefore, elders can indeed enact and enforce other laws. The law of Christ says they can't, and then it says they can. The problem is a bad definition of "oversight."
Oversight. Negative's argument that oversight and collective agreement are mutually exclusive is wrong. We agree elders have oversight. We differ on what it means. He couldn't answer my challenge for a lexical definition. It means: "to look upon, inspect, oversee, look after, care for" (Thayer, p. 242). "Privately decide matters of judgment" is not the meaning.
Heb 12:14-16 contains an inspired definition and commentary: "Follow after peace with all men ... looking carefully [episkopeo] lest there be any man that falleth short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you ... lest there be any fornicator, or profane person..." Episkopeo applies, in some sense, to all Christians, not just elders. Every saint would decide things for all other saints if episkopeo means private decision-making! "Oversight" means watching for the spiritual well-being of others and helping them with spiritual problems. Compare evangelism: Every Christian has some degree of responsibility to teach others the gospel, but not every Christian is an "evangelist" (Eph 4:11). The "looking carefully" (episkopeo) done by every saint is much smaller in scope than the burden assigned to elders, but the meaning of episkopeo is consistent. It takes special qualifications to "care for" the spiritual needs of the entire flock. But every saint must, to some degree, help other saints with spiritual needs. That's episkopeo, in the lexicon and the Bible.
Consider "the Shepherd and Bishop [overseer, episkope] of your souls" (1 Pet 2:25). We agree that matters of judgment are things humans decide. Episkopeo cannot mean "privately decide matters of judgment for the church," else Jesus violates it by failing to make such decisions. Jesus decides matters of faith because he is "Lord" and "head of the church." He "oversees" (cares for, watches over, looks after) the universal church by giving spiritual help we need as we obey matters of faith. Elders perform a similar role in local churches, along with other functions covered by other words besides "oversight" in the NT.
Vine, Voting & Consensus. Negative quoted Vine on cheirotoneo but left out the primary definition: "primarily used of voting in the Athenian legislative assembly." Later, Vine says it's used of "those who were appointed (not by voting, but with general approbation) ... 2 Cor. 8:19." Approbation means "approval" (WCD, p. 53). It's confusing it means "vote," then it doesn't. The solution: "vote" includes any expression of opinion in a group to arrive at collective agreement. This harmonizes with Vine and with I Cor 1:10, 2 Cor 8:19, and Acts 15:25.
No Negative response to my passages teaching general agreement in matters of judgment. And note:
1. Consensus means "general agreement" (TR's dictionary, 1N).
2. Cheirotoneo means "general approbation" and occurred in 2 Cor 8:19 (TR quoting Vine).
3. Therefore: We (along with A. Campbell) agree that "voting" in the NT is the expression of opinion by the multitude to obtain "general approbation," not a "51% wins/49% loses" scenario.
Heb 13:7,17. The words "elder," "pastor," "bishop" are not in Heb. 13. The Greek word for "rule" is hegeomai, which means "leader" (NASV). It referred to the "chief men" Judas and Silas (Acts 15:22) and to Paul's relationship with Barnabas ("the chief speaker," Acts 14:12). In Heb 13 it refers to those who "spoke the word of God" and whose faith (not judgments) should be imitated. "Obey" refers to matters of faith and God's word, not matters of judgment. If this passage were about decision-making, it would authorize all "leaders" to privately decide things (because hegeomai isn't limited to elders). I know Tom doesn't believe that. By the way, the word "watch" in Heb 13:17 is not episkopeo, but a totally different Greek word (and it doesn't mean "privately decide things for the church" either!).
Acts 6. No response to the consequences of asserting that elders decide whether women can be leaders and the qualifications of deacons. If elders today may decide whether women can be leaders (lN ¶ 5), who's opening the door to radical feminism?
He said "Yes" when asked if the whole church can be included under male leadership, and cited Acts 6 (1A Q. 1). This answer is wrong if the whole church was not "included." If we can obey Acts 6 without the multitude, we can also obey Acts 20:7 and break bread on Tuesday.
Acts 15:22. There is some confusion here because 2 Greek words have gotten mixed together. The word in Acts 15 (dokeoo is the root) is different from 2 Cor 8:19 (cheirotoneo). Negative's disagreement with my scholar doesn't make the scholar "misleading." Let's accept that the Apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided ["determined," TR quoting Thayer] to send chosen men (Acts 15:22). The Bible and both of our scholars say it. Let's humbly obey.
Acts 15:6-7. We agree this passage is about salvation, not matters of judgment (2N ¶ 7).
Gal 2:9. 1) No Negative response to the problem of 3 out of 14 leaders making decisions for the church. 2) No Negative response to the fact that this passage is about fellowship in preaching the gospel and individual efforts by evangelists. 3) No evidence showing changes in collective action by the Jerusalem church after this alleged "decision" was made for them.
Gal 2:2. No Negative reply to this being about "the gospel," not congregational judgment.
Gal 2:3. 1) Individuals decide personal matters of conscience (Rom 14:12-13, 22). They might seek help from spiritual leaders, but this is individual action, not collective decision. 2) Do elders decide whether each member of the church should be circumcised? This is frightening.
1 Cor 5. Negative's "scandal" comments (2N ¶ 11) are interesting, but he gave no scriptures. Individual investigation and rebuke are taught in Gal 6:1, e.g. But we agree I Cor 5 shows "congregational action" (2N ¶ 8) by "ye gathered together" (1 Cor 5:4), which settles the matter.
1 Cor 6. Paul could have limited the wise judge to elders, had God said so. In that case, members of a church without elders couldn't obey this passage they'd just have to sue one another. If "one wise man" cannot be the judge, Paul was wrong for saying he could. We either have one man judging a private dispute, or one man privately deciding collective action without the other elders or men. There was no Negative reply to this. In Matt 18, 2 or 3 "witnesses" (not "elders-only") meet with two brethren. Do 2 or 3 non-elders decide things for the church? No, they privately solve a private matter. 1 Cor 6 and the first 2 steps of Matt 18 are individual actions, not collective judgments.
Acts 11:27-30. I'll ask again: Where in Acts 11 did elders decide things without including the congregation? Book, chapter, verse? If it isn't necessarily inferred that Paul & Barnabas privately made decisions by handling money, why is it necessarily inferred for elders?
Without elders. No passage has been introduced in this exchange showing a men's business meeting in any NT church without elders. We agree men's business meetings cannot scripturally substitute for elders (1A Q. 6). We agree a church can "decide a matter of judgment by including the whole church under male leadership" (1A Q. 1). A decision by a few members is a "rump meeting" (GT) of "rebels" (TR) and violates 1 Pet 5:5 (2A Q. 1). We also agree:
1. "Acts 6, etc., authorizes congregational meetings in which women are present." (TR, 2N ¶ 13).
2. "Men do not prohibit women from doing any authorized activity." (TR, 2N ¶ 13).
3. Therefore: We must agree that a small business meeting is unauthorized (violates 1 Pet 5:5 and prohibits women from an authorized activity) and a congregational assembly under male leadership is authorized in a church without elders. This is the pattern I affirm.
With elders. 2A Q. 3: "When elders include the whole church in decision-making, do they lose 'authority' or 'oversight'?" 2N answer: "Yes." Elders "lose oversight" if they ever include the whole church! They included them in Acts 15:22. But they never can under Negative's view. Are you ready for that conclusion?
Acting by agency. The 7 men in Acts 6 acted "by agency" after being authorized by "the multitude." I'm baffled how Negative can argue these men acted without the multitude in light of Acts 6:2. Men claiming to act for the church without "general approbation" (TR) are "rebels" (TR).
Now there's a new definition of "oversight": "God has commanded agency: eldership oversight" (2N para. 12). Try "an agency deciding matters of judgment for a local church" for episkopeo in Heb 12:15 and 1 Pet 2:25. This new definition destroys these passages.
1) I don't affirm that deacons decide collective matters without including the church.
2) The same way she does when she disagrees with a male Bible class teacher. She meekly expresses her opinion for the group to consider. She can't override or complain against her husband or the male leaders. In matters of judgment, the whole church, guided by male leaders, should find a solution all can go along with (1 Cor 1:10, Acts 15:25).
Dictatorship, Democracy, and the NT. In a dictatorship, a few decide things and bind them on the multitude, claiming that including the many would destroy their "authority." In a democracy, 51% get their way and the losers go home mad, vowing to come back and win next time. In the NT, the leaders call the multitude, explain the problem and offer solutions. When the whole congregation comes to "one accord" (Acts 15:25), with "the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Cor 1:10), everyone goes home happy and the Lord is pleased.
Conclusion. We agree on the 4 cases I cited, and we've found one more (2 Cor 8:19) showing the inclusion of the whole church. The exceptions failed, either by being inconsistent with Negative's own position or by referring to individual rather than collective action. Please join me in affirming that we should follow the pattern of including the whole church.