“And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:24-26).
By the time you are reading this, the election process in the USA will (thankfully) have terminated. Whoever wins, we will have had examples of all types of attempts to influence that small part of the electorate that has (relatively) open minds. Whether by innuendo, mis-truths, or outright lies, much time, money and effort will have been spent — especially at attacking the opposing candidates. It is hard to avoid these efforts, much as we attempt to do so. And it is certain, that, whoever wins, this will be repeated in four years, last for an almost interminable time, and cost billions of dollars. All in the name of democracy — allowing the citizens of this country to have a say in the government and rulers of this country.
Whoever wins, Peter tells us to “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1Pet 2:17 NIV). So our community takes no part in this process, because as Jesus says “My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). So our emperor, our ruler, our king, the savior, is not present in this world, and our allegiance is first and foremost to him.
So we stand aside, take no part in the water cooler discussions as to which candidate to choose — except to use it as an opportunity to declare which ruler the world is truly in need of. No program or party platform will solve the problems of the country, or the world, until he comes in power and glory to bring true peace and prosperity to our time, and all time.
The very idea of democracy was a concept quite alien to almost everyone in the New Testament. Greece had a form of citizen democracy, and the Romans flirted with the idea of a Senate, but in both cases only a very small minority of the population had any role It was not until the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century did any form of real democracy emerge. So the whole concept, particularly of everyone having a vote, is very new.
It is the subject of democracy I would like to cover, and whether it is appropriate to use it, as we customarily do, in selecting our elders and leaders.
OT and NT methods of selection
Selection of the leaders, judges, and Kings was of course initially by the direct intervention of God. Both Saul and David were appointed in this way; although after this the Kings were hereditary (or else self-appointed by force of arms, or later by foreign powers). Other choices were made either by lot, or with the intervention of God through His High Priests, by Urim and Thummin. (The latter is a fascinating study, with no clear answers as to how this method functioned — except it could give a “No Answer” as well as Yes or No.) But by far the prominent way was by lot, with over 75 uses, with perhaps the best known being the selection of the scapegoat in Lev 16:8. But even in this use, the divine guidance was recognized: “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Prov 16:33).
In the New Testament, however, the selection of apostles, teachers, and preachers is, with rare exception, performed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even so, careful consideration of the required characteristics of leaders is given, particularly to Timothy (1Tim 3:2-9) and Titus (Titus 1:7-9). Only in Acts 1 is this not so: the assembly had not yet been blessed with the possession of the Holy Spirit. So there are certain aspects that parallel our present situation:
The choice was a human one, made by about 120 individuals, both brethren and sisters.
The choice of the individuals among whom the lot was cast was very restricted by the prescribed qualifications (Acts 1:21-22).
The whole company prayed for guidance.
“And they gave forth their lots” (Acts 1:26). The precise way this was conducted is not given: whether they used something similar to the two pebbles implied in the Proverbs passage above, or each member had their own lot, is not clear.
The Christadelphian practice
Our normal procedure is to follow the guidance of Bro Roberts, to be found in The Ecclesial Guide. As is the practice in all ecclesias of a sufficient number, the selection of arranging brethren was to be by a democratic process as follows:
Names of all adult males are placed on a ballot sheet.
Members are nominated secretly, after consideration of their qualifications and prayer.
All baptized members then vote for the vacant positions.
In addition, in any disputes, with rare exceptions, the will of the majority was to be followed.
(It must be remembered that the Birmingham Ecclesia of which Robert Roberts was a member has 450 members or so by 1880, and grew to over 1500 later.)
This practice is generally followed: but there are several methods used concerning the length of service and frequency of votes for the elected positions, and which positions are voted for. In larger meetings, you can find exhorting brethren, serving brethren, presiders, and doorkeepers being elected positions as well as the normal recording brother, finance brother, SS superintendent, etc. The normal variations in the voting process are:
All positions are voted for every two years, but the same brother can serve any number of years (the longest serving recording brother I knew personally had that position for almost sixty years).
Some or all positions rotate every two years.
The length of service is four years, but every one to two years some part of the board is subject to a new ballot.
Sometimes any brother who wants to serve, and is suitable, is appointed to the arranging board because there is no fixed number of such brethren.
(I personally think the second method has a lot to commend it, but really the method should be the one the majority of the ecclesia is most comfortable with.)
The use of the lot in modern times
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.1 The use of the Lot in ecclesial elections has been suggested, but tried only very rarely. The evils of democracy were recognized by John Thomas, and early on he suggested letting an elder decide who was suitable, and then using the lot to decide — the resultant appointment being for life.2 (This is similar to the way the Amish and Mennonites select their deacons and bishops to this day.) This method was considered, and rejected, by Robert Roberts: it seems more suitable to small ecclesias than to large ones, but most would say any appointment for life is not desirable.
But is our democratic process the ideal one to use? Unfortunately, it might turn into a popularity contest, or depend on who has the largest numbers of relatives to vote for a person. I would hope neither is the case, but we ought always be aware it is not the most Biblical, apostolic, nor the only means of selecting those charged with being servants of the ecclesia: as Robert Roberts puts it in The Ecclesial Guide, “the ecclesia does not appoint masters, but servants”.
Perhaps the wisest guidance I can give in this area is to quote a member of the Kingston Ecclesia, who wrote “Since ‘all things work together for good to them that love God’, would it not be true to say that God will honor whatever reasonable method we use for reaching an important decision, whether we ask for a sign making our own conditions as Jonathan and his armor bearer did (1Sam. 14:9–10), whether we decide from our own reasoning, or whether we allow lots to decide for us. The conditions being of course that we ‘love God’ and that our motives are not selfish.”3
It seems to be reasonable, in light of the abuses of so-called democracy we see around us, to contemplate whether there is a better way to regulate our affairs. We ought always to be conscious of the will of our Heavenly Father, and search the Bible diligently, with an open mind, to answer our concerns: in selecting leaders we should look at their spiritual qualifications first, and their earthly abilities second. If in doubt, perhaps the use of prayer for guidance, and the lot in cases of indecision, might sometimes be appropriate. Whether democracy is better than any other form of government is not as clear in our community as it might be in the world around us.
1. Usually ascribed to Winston Churchill.
2. See Herald of the Kingdom, 1854, p 1.
3. The Christadelphian: Volume 97 (1960) p 367.