Thomas Witherow on the appointment of church officers by popular vote in the book of Acts

Not open for further replies.

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
But after the Lord had ascended to heaven, the personal call, except in case of Paul, who was one born out of due time, was not the passport of any man either to the ministry or apostleship. Men were no more put into office by the living voice of the Lord Jesus. The departure of the Master, and the vacancy left in the list of Apostles by the death of Judas, gave opportunity for bringing into operation a new principle. The first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles brings the whole case before us. Let us specially examine the passage—Acts i. 13-26—that we may have full possession of the facts.

It appears that, in the interval between the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost, the disciples met for prayer and supplication in an upper room of the city of Jerusalem. The mother and brethren of Jesus were present, as were also the eleven Apostles. Taken together, they numbered one hundred and twenty in all. Peter rose and addressed the company. He reminded them of the vacancy in the apostleship. Judas, who betrayed the Master, was dead, and the office that he forfeited by his transgression must be conferred upon another. He states the necessary qualifications of him who was to be the successor of Judas. He must be one who had intercourse with the 11 from the commencement of Christ’s ministry to the close. He states the duties of the new apostle; he was to be with the others a witness of Christ’s resurrection. Such was the case that Peter put before the men and brethren, met together in that upper room of Jerusalem. We then rend in verse 23 — “THEY APPOINTED TWO, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.”

In consequence of this double choice, it became necessary to decide which should be regarded as the true apostle; which, after prayer, was done by casting lots. But let it be particularly observed that, while Peter explained the necessary qualifications, and the peculiar duties of the office, the appointment of the person did not rest with Peter, but with the men and brethren to whom the address of Peter was directed. Farther, it is not to be forgotten that the office to which Matthias succeeded is, in the 20th verse, termed a Bishopric, and how it is said in the 25th verse, he had “to take part of this ministry and apostleship.” The men and brethren, at the instigation of Peter, exercised the right of appointing a man to a bishopric—that is, to the office of a bishop, and to take part in the ministry. In the Apostolic Church, the people appointed Matthias to be a minister —a bishop—an apostle.

The case recorded in Acts xiv. 23, is to the same effect, though, from a mistranslation, the force of it is lost upon the English reader. The authorized version represents the two Apostles, Barnabas and Paul, as ordaining elders in every church; whereas the true meaning of the word in the original is “to elect by a show of hands”—a fact now admitted by the best expositors. We must not allow a faulty translation to rob us of the testimony of Scripture to an important fact—namely, that the elders of the New Testament Church were appointed to office by the popular vote.

For the reference, see:

We must not allow a faulty translation to rob us of the testimony of Scripture to an important fact—namely, that the elders of the New Testament Church were appointed to office by the popular vote.
Indeed Witherow elsewhere translates Acts 14.23: "And when they had chosen for them, by suffrage, elders in every Church..." (The Apostolic Church: Which Is It? p.30).

But "by the popular vote" do you think he meant everyone or just the men? He appeals to Acts 1 which uses the generic adelphon/brothers/brethren in v.15, but records Peter then saying in v.16, "Men (andres/males/husbands), brothers..." Did Witherow, living during the early push for female suffrage in the UK, comment on that? (I rather doubt he did because I believe the movement did not really gain momentum in Ulster until WWI - it has always generally been more conservative than the rest of the UK and they were likely too occupied with Home Rule to pay much attention to suffrage at the time. Here is a good summary of the movement in Ulster).

I also wonder when women began voting in Irish, Scottish, and American Pres. congregations if anyone has a source on that. I personally still believe such voting should be done by heads of households (husbands/fathers), but I believe there is Biblical warrant to allow a woman to vote in a household where she is the head (i.e. where there is no male head).
I doubt that issue would have been in his thinking. The primary issue he was addressing was the right of people to choose their own officers, especially pastors, as opposed to the alternative position of patronage, where the local landowners had the right to present someone with the "living". That had been an important issue in the 18th and 19th century in Scotland - it was a major factor in the splits that led to the ARP and the Free Church of Scotland. In contrast, patronage is still the situation in the Church of England, where the people don't have an absolute right to choose their own pastor. That's why Witherow was so insistant on this principle. Whether you need to have only heads of household vote, or whether every sheep should vote for their shepherd is less important. But anything that looks like disenfranchising sheep from choosing their own shepherd runs the risk of undercutting this thoroughly Presbyterian principle.
Not open for further replies.