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Ask A Pastor: Why restrict the vote to male members?

Question:

In my church confessing female members are not given the right to vote for office-bearers. If my understanding of Reformed church polity is correct, the authority lies with the consistory to appoint the office-bearers, regardless of the vote (the vote being confirmatory, rather than authoritative). Why can I as a single male confessing member vote, while my confessing sister in Christ is not.


Answer:

Thanks for this question. And you have put your finger on the crucial matter: when the congregation votes for office-bearers, is that vote advisory, or is it binding? If the only thing a congregation is asked to do (in voting for office-bearers) was to give advice, then male and female members could vote. But in our Reformed church polity, voting for office-bearers belongs to the exercise of authority and government (Acts 1:23; 6:2-6; 2 Cor. 8:9) and is to be restricted to male confessing members.


That the vote of the congregation is a matter of authority and government is confirmed by the fact that the congregation’s vote is a decisive judgment. The consistory does not simply take it as a recommendation, but binds itself to the outcome.


Since it is an exercise of authority, women are excluded (1 Tim. 2:12). Let me be quick to add that in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testament, there is a high regard for women and their gifts. Women possess many gifts and may have much grace, but according to the New Testament, women may not exercise authority in the church (1 Cor. 14:34ff). This should not surprise us, for this principle is rooted in the creation order, which was good and perfect, and therefore will never become outdated (see 1 Tim. 2:13; 1 Cor. 11:3).


In the Old Testament, the casting of lots was done by men according to the heads of families (e.g. 1 Chron. 26:13-16). This same practice of headship continued in the New Testament. The clearest example is in Acts 1, where the lot was cast between two nominees: Matthias and Joseph. Most commentators agree that Peter’s address “Men and brethren” (Acts 1:16) indicates that only men were involved in this early election of an office bearer.

What should women do? We should remember that women members of the church can have a helpful and advisory role in all matters on which the congregation is to vote. Husbands do well to consult with their wives on such issues as the election of office bearers. Family members do well to confer with widowed or unmarried women relatives. Women members should feel free to contact elders and deacons with their opinions as to congregational matters. In such cases they are not exercising authority, but serving the church with advice. Their advice may be heeded or it may not be heeded, and much may be gained by following such a process, but let the church carefully guard the biblical principles for church, church government and for all of life.


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