I'll hope to spend the next couple of blogs considering Biblical arguments for consensus or unified decision making in the church. Perhaps we have settled for less than the ideal.
When I speak of the church as a decision making body, I speak in a context of Christ as the Head of the church. So, no statement on decision making is to be taken as meaning a church can make decisions apart from what her head has already legislated. Each local congregation has authority under Christ to make decisions according to their understanding of the commands of Christ. A church has no right to make an unscriptural decision. BUT no individual, religious body or political body has any right or authority to interfere with and meddle between a church and Christ in said church making her decisions.
It is important to recognize the church as a "decision-making" body, though that is certainly not its only function. There is often found in churches and among church members an apathy and indifference with regard to church-governance functions, resulting in a lack of participation on the part of many church members. Brethren, these things ought not to be.
The church as a decision making body:
A. As seen in the word ekklesia
Ekklesia is the Greek word usually translated "church" in our English Bibles. That Jesus chose this word ekklesia rather than "sunagogue", or some other more "religious" word ought to be given proper consideration. Ekklesia was an assembly of (male) citizens duly summoned or "called out" to transact business. It was an open meeting with due deliberation in which these citizens interacted to come to a decision. Ekklesia never refers to a building or place of worship. We could no doubt get too extreme in trying to make parallels between a New Testament church and a Greek ekklesia, but it is way too extreme to think Jesus used this term carelessly and/or without awareness of its implications to His hearers/readers.
"The term ἐκκλησία was in common usage for several hundred years before the Christian era and was used to refer to an assembly of persons constituted by well- defined membership. In general Greek usage it was normally a socio-political entity based upon citizenship in a city-state and in this sense is parallel to δῆμος." [Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains, New York: United Bible Societies, 1996]
"A gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly" [Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament]
B. As seen in New Testament examples
Acts chapter 1 is an account of unified decision making in the church. Casting lots is not the same as voting as we think of it today, but the church was united in this process. In Acts 6 the whole church chose the seven (Acts 6:5); and in Acts 15 "the apostles and elders, with the whole church" at Jerusalem came to a united decision on the circumcision question before them. Related verses include the church at Antioch's unified sending Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1ff) following the choice of the Holy Spirt; this same church reached a consensus agreement to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem concerning the circumcision problem (Acts 15:1-4); the whole church at Corinth was to judge that which was prophesied (I Cor. 14:23ff). Another incident, although the whole church was not represented, shows Peter asking consensus of the disciples who traveled with him to Cornelius' household (Acts 10:47; not very pope-like, I might add).
Consider also Matthew 18:15-18; I Cor. chapters 5 and 6; II Thess. 3:6-15; and Gal. 6:1. We will develop these examples to a greater extent in a later blog.