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).
The responsibility of the negative in a debate is to follow the affirmative and answer his arguments. I have done this and Vance's proposition has failed. My three affirmatives will follow in a privately printed book which can be obtained from GOT.
Fellowship: Vance labels as sinful the practice of elders making decisions. Will he fellowship what he considers sinful? His views will divide brethren in local churches.
Leadership & Authority: Collectivities (congregations, families, etc.) require decision-making to reach a common mind, whether by elders or church votes. Leadership and authority are inherent in decisions. Evangelists and Bible class teachers have no authority but elders do (1 Pet. 5:3). This oversight includes private decision-making (Acts 6, 11, 15, etc.). I refuse to debate Luther Blackmon or any other than Vance. But if Christ has "all authority" (Matt. 28:18) without delegating any, explain why resisting authorities (magistrates, fathers, husbands, elders) is to resist God (Rom. 13:1-5; Eph. 6:4; 5:22; Acts 14:23).
Oversight: Voting is leadership authority or minorities and women would not insist on their right to vote. Vance avoided the consequences of my questions re: women voting. A vote is an absolute expression of authority that knows no gender and respects no higher authority; there is no "submissive" vote and does not "meekly express an opinion for the group to consider." Even more than consensus, voting opens the door to female equality in decision-making. A 13-year old Christian girl would have the same power in voting as elders (20:28). The lexical definition he seeks: Bishop, overseer (episkopos), 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7: "An overseer, a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, ..." (Thayer, p. 243). Jesus is Overseer, elders are overseers and it means the same in both cases (1 Pet 2:25; 5:3). Vance says Jesus as Overseer can make decisions but elders as overseers cannot make decisions. We do not agree on oversight; it clearly permits decision-making.
Vine, Voting and Consensus: Vine on voting (cheirotoneo, p. 69) is not confusing. Noting the primary meaning, he states that it is "not to be taken in its literal sense" (cf: Acts 10:41; 14:23; 2 Cor. 8:19). "Dokeo" (Vine, p. 340) does not support voting (Acts 15:22, 28). Vance's "authority" (The Interpreter's Bible) is a commentary, not a lexicon, that likewise says Paul is "less than Christian" (Vol. 10, p. 126) in his view on women (1 Cor. 11:2-16)! Is that scholarship? "General agreement in matters of judgment" is not guaranteed by consensus or voting. Either the voting majority decides the issue (51% wins - 49% loses) or chaos results. God's way is to have qualified elders who conclude the discussion. Congregational meetings (Acts 6, 15, etc.) do not negate private decision-making in those same passages any more than faith in Mk. 16:16 negates baptism. But voting and elder oversight are mutually exclusive.
Heb. 13:7, 17: Are there "chief men" like Judas and Silas today? If so, what are there qualifications? If those of Hebrews 13 were considered "chief" because they "spoke the word of God," would this not authorize evangelistic oversight? Vance wants us to "obey" and "submit" to "chief men" (with no stated qualifications) but rejects "obeying" and "submitting" to elders who have stated qualifications (1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1). Vance assumed "obey" referred to matters of "the faith" and not "judgment." If "hegeomai isn't limited to elders," could we agree that hegeomai applies to elders at all? Is it scriptural to submit to and obey elders?
Acts 6: Vance knew that I did not believe elders can decide matters of faith and cannot appoint women to be leaders. Radical feminism will never trouble the church which accepts scriptural elders but it will when matters are decided by the vote! Vance has opened the door to female leadership. Decisions were made in Acts 6 before and without calling the congregation together (the apostles selected 7 men, not 6 or 8, surely a matter of judgment). If you want to use this to take the Lord's supper on Tuesday, it will be your decision, not mine.
Acts 15:22: Galatians 2 with Acts 15 shows that there were private decision meetings with the apostles and elders that did not include the whole church. Acts 16:4 states that the decrees were "determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem." These facts destroy Vance's proposition. Private decisions by elders are authorized by the word of God.
Acts 15:6-7: Not all matters of Acts 15 referred to matters of salvation; some included items of judgment. Refer to my previous negative. We do not agree and our difference is clear.
Gal. 2:2-9: Consideration of my previous negative material will prove that I responded to Vance's material. Not all decisions of Acts 15 and Galatians 2 were matters of faith. Titus' circumcision, a religious liberty (Gal. 5:6), affected the whole church and a private decision was made not to circumcise. Private decisions on matters of liberty are authorized.
1 Cor. 5: Vance's inexperience fails to realize that scandalous matters can destroy the faith of the weak and babes and they should be protected (Rom. 15:1; 1 Cor. 8:7, 9-12). While sin must be dealt with in the congregation, the lurid details must be contained by mature brethren. 1 Cor. 6: How can this passage be an individual matter since verse one suggests going to law (court) before "saints" and was addressed to the church? Paul used hyperbole (v. 5) to emphasize "is there not a wise man among you, not even one" (more than one is implied) who could settle the dispute. The decision affected the whole church in that the "wise men" acted on behalf of the church to keep the matter out of Gentile courts. The last step of Matthew 18 could be handled identically to 1 Cor. 6:1 after the first two steps are handled individually. The congregation can be represented by agency (2 Cor. 8:23), either by messengers or by wise men who settle disputes for the church. Authorized agency action is church action.
Acts 11:27-30: I'll state it again: since the elders received the money, they had to distribute it. Decisions necessarily inferred: who are needy? how much do they need? how long will they need it? The elders had to make these decisions. As messengers, Paul & Barnabas could make no decision but to deliver it to the elders who accepted the responsibility of oversight.
Without elders: Vance may affirm a pattern of a congregational consensus under male leadership all he wants to, but when he advocated the vote he abandoned male leadership for feminine equality. We have congregational meetings every week in which women participate in authorized activities (singing, praying, etc.), none prohibiting them. But it does not follow that women are authorized in business meetings to cast equal votes any more than they are authorized to preach. 1 Peter 5:5 must not be arrayed against 1 Timothy 2:12 nor 1 Pet. 5:2. If "being submissive" (1 Pet. 5:5) means women in business meetings with equal votes, it also means women in the pulpit. Apostasy will not stop with voting and Vance has opened the gate!
With Elders: The KJV & NKJV states: "Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men...." (Acts 15:22). It is clear that a congregational meeting took place in Acts 15, but equally clear that private meetings took place in which decisions of judgment were reached. Vance's error creates an eldership figurehead that makes no decisions while voting (including women) decides everything for the congregation. This is oversight?
Acting by agency: Though it "baffles" Vance, when the 7 men of Acts 6 took care of the widows, the church acted through them. This is corporate action by agency: deacons at work, preachers at work, elders at work. Must every member visit every widow or can the church act through the deacons? Must the whole church be involved in every decision or does the church act through the elders (Acts 11:30)? Elders are authorized to exercise oversight even as Christ and the apostles exercised oversight (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 2:25; 2 Cor. 5:20). Not all oversight is of the type elders have (Heb. 12:15), but elder oversight includes acting for the church.
Vance's Questions: 1) Vance did imply that deacons made decisions when he answered my question 1N #5: "the church gathered and chose servants (diakoneo) to do that in Acts 6." Deacons may decide (without a congregational meeting) how many loaves of bread to buy. If deacons can make judgment decisions without consulting the congregation, so can the elders. 2) A woman voting her conscience is not "meekly expressing her opinion." A vote is a decision equal to that of a man (a violation of 1 Tim. 2:11-12). A woman is not in subjection while voting; her vote nullifies her husband's or another male's vote. 3) Vance doesn't understand authority if he thinks voting doesn't give a woman authority. He has opened Pandora's box for the feminists. 4) Vance's position on voting gives women leadership authority. It is inconsistent of him to deny them leadership in teaching or public worship.
Dictatorship, Democracy, and the NT: The whole church can come to "one accord" (Acts 15:25; 1 Cor. 1:10) under eldership oversight and godly submission (Heb. 13:7, 17): the expressed will of God (1 Pet. 5:3). Consensus and voting is human wisdom. God's way works.
Conclusion: Vance's proposition has not been sustained; we don't agree. On the other hand, we have proven beyond doubt that private decisions by males (apostles, elders) were reached without the congregation being present. Eldership oversight that permits private decisions in matters of judgment is scriptural. Consensus brings confusion. "Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" Rom. 14:19). My affirmative arguments which follow will sustain eldership oversight.