by William J. Stewart
Each local congregation of God’s people is charged with the responsibility of engaging in the work of the Lord. There is a need for edifying teaching, effective outreach, dedicated benevolence, appropriate discipline, etc.. There needs to be an adequate avenue to discuss and make decisions on these and other items.
Men’s Business Meetings
The “men’s business meeting” has been the standard practice in many churches of Christ. Just because something is commonplace does not mean it is the necessary way, the only way, or even a Scriptural way of doing things. Consider:
- There is no example of a “men’s business meeting” in Scripture.
- There is little difference between a “men’s business meeting” and a church council or committee. It is a portion of the church, not the whole church, discussing matters that belong to the whole church.
- There is no Scriptural justification for women to be excluded, either in presence or participation, from any part of the work of the local church. The Bible limits the nature of a woman’s participation (1 Timothy 2:12), but limitation and exclusion are far from the same.
A Bible Pattern for Discussion & Decisions
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus supplied a 3-step process to deal with sin, and if need be, discipline in the local church. In verse 15, the Lord says “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” If such does not result in repentance of the sin, the next step is to “take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established’” (verse 16). If the one who is in sin will still not repent, Jesus said, “tell it to the church” (verse 17). The church IS NOT the men of the church, but all—men and women.
In 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, concerning one who was to be withdrawn from for unrepented sin, Paul wrote, “when you are gathered together … deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” This is a reference to the whole church (1 Corinthians 11:18; 14:23, Hebrews 10:25), not a few members.
In Acts 6:1-6, Luke records an issue which arose in the church at Jerusalem. After hearing the gospel on the day of Pentecost, many stayed in Jerusalem longer than they had intended to. This resulted in the need for a daily distribution to provide for needy saints. The problem—the needs of the Hellenistic widows had been neglected. The complaint was brought to the attention of the apostles, who “summoned the multitude of the disciples” (v 2) and told them to “seek out from among you seven men … whom we may appoint over this business” (v 3). We are told “the saying pleased the whole multitude” (v 5). The apostles called the whole multitude together, not a part of the multitude (ie. just the men). Then they instructed the whole multitude, not part of the multitude, to seek out from among them men to set before the apostles, whom they might appoint over this business. The whole church (men and women) took part in the process, the apostles, who were leaders in the Jerusalem church, made the decision.
In Acts 15, we read of a doctrinal controversy instigated by Judaizing teachers who had gone out from Jerusalem to Antioch. Paul and Barnabas disputed with them (verse 2), but with no resolution. It was determined that they should go up to Jerusalem, where this controversy had originated from. Verse 3 tells us they (Paul and Barnabas) were “sent on their way by the church.” No one, whether man or woman, was excluded. Arriving in Jerusalem, they first met with “those who were of reputation” (apostles and elders) to determine the extent of the false teaching (Galatians 2:2). After that, they were “received by the church and the apostles and the elders” (verse 4). There was no exclusivity or secrecy in what took place. All the brethren were aware and present. In the course of debate, several people addressed the assembly. When a conclusion had been reached, a letter was written and messengers were chosen. The whole church was involved, not a select few (Acts 15:22-23). The circumstances of Acts 15 differ from the other texts we’ve considered, for Paul and Barnabas and certain others (v 2) were present. This assembly to debate a doctrinal issue was not limited to members of the local church, but included Christians from another area, who had been affected by the falsehood that proceeded out of Jerusalem. It would be more akin to a debate than a business meeting, but let us still note, no one was excluded. The church, not a select few from the church, were gathered (v 4, 12, 22, 23, 25). When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, along with Judas and Silas, they “…gathered the multitude together…” (v 30). Again, no one was excluded.
No Bible text justifies excluding any member of the local church, whether male or female, from any assembly of the church, whether it be for worship, to exercise discipline, to deal with issues, to plan activities, to consider a doctrinal position, etc.. Every member of the church, whether male or female, have the right to have their concerns and opinions heard, and to participate in the process leading up to decisions. It would be foolish and dismissive in Acts 6, if the thoughts and ideas of the Hellenistic widows were not sought. Hearing from them would help those responsible for making a decision (the apostles in Acts 6) to make the best possible decision.
The consistent pattern of the Bible is that all members of the local church ought to be present and participants when the work of the church is under consideration. If there are elders in the congregation, they are responsible for the decisions to be made (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-2). If the church doesn’t have elders, decision making belongs to all the men of the church (1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:11-12).
Let us follow God’s word, not human tradition, when it comes to discussion and decisions in the church.