Is Church a Democracy?

Several Sundays ago, our class was politely interrupted by another congregation member passing out a survey on current worship music during the morning service. I cringed as I thought I was on the edge of a political debate – that at any moment, our carefully planned Sunday School lesson would be tossed to the side as the claws of legalism and false assumptions about scriptural mandates reared their ugly heads. It never happened. There was a brief moment of everyone reading over it lightly and then moving on to the lesson. My jaw dropped.

As I reflected on that incident, I thought about how matters are handled within our local congregation and the Church Body (all denominations) as a whole. We are incredibly divisive on many issues like music style, baptism practices, leadership within the organization, etc…especially since the surge of denominational barriers.

It begs the question: What government model defines the current structure of leadership within the church?

Gut Reaction: Monarchy

It is the de facto answer. Chris is our king, we all submit to him ergo we live under a monarchy. Except that is not at all how it plays out in our own lives, much less the local congregation.

Why is that? Well, I think for American Christians and most likely those in other modern countries, we have lived under a vastly different political system than in biblical times. All I have ever known is democracy, where everyone gets a vote. Surely, that’s not why we vote in modern congregations. Right?

Apostolic Succession

Romand Catholic congregations are quick to recognize the authoritative model laid out in the new testament as the believe the authority that the apostles received from Christ was passed down from one generation of leaders to the next, similar to a monarchy. I think there is some truth to this model in that the disciples reported to Christ, but still made decisions as a group after he ascended. Take for instance Acts 6:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. (‭Acts‬ ‭6‬:‭1-6‬ ESV)

From their actions, we see they still acted a group of elders or leaders within their local congregation. Perhaps there is something to be said as the leaders passed on the candidates they thought would best replace them. I just don’t think it stopped within the Catholic denomination.

Unity in the Body

Not only were their leaders, the congregation as a whole acted as one body submitting themselves to the leadership, while simultaneously meeting the needs of one another:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (‭Acts‬ ‭2‬:‭42-47‬ ESV)

Interesting that they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings. Notice it says nothing about getting to vote. Almost a double edged sword. The apostles were appointed by Christ who is no longer here in physical form to appoint our local congregational leadership. On the one hand, we want to submit like the apostles and on the other we want to prohibit corrupt leadership.

So what model does your congregation practice and do you agree with it?


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