Precedents in Scripture
Churches determine their policy at gatherings known as church meetings. Here the membership gathers to uphold and proclaim the government of the church by our Lord Jesus Christ. At a church meeting, a church seeks to discover God’s will for itself by prayer and submission to God’s Word, and also prays for power and perseverance to do that will. Such meetings should be held regularly, perhaps either monthly or quarterly.
Reasons for which the Church met in the New Testament
The following list indicates the variety of such Purposes:
Acts 1:15-26 The replacement of an apostle
2:1 Waiting on the Lord
6:2-6 Setting aside men for special administration
11:22 Providing for inter-church fellowship
13:1 The ministry of the Word
13:2, 3 The sending of missionaries
14:27 Rehearsing God’s mighty acts
15:1-29 The defence and confirmation of the Gospel
15:30-31 Receiving communications from brethren
1 Cor. 5:1-5 The discipline of offenders
(also Mat. 18:15-20)
1 Cor. 11:17-34 Observing the Lord’s Supper
14:26 The exercise of spiritual gifts
2 Cor. 7:19 To deal with monetary gifts
Col. 4:16 The reading of the Word (also 1 Thess. 5:27)
The above passages indicate that the church meeting is warranted and required by scripture.
Purposes for gathering
These scriptures also suggest a number of guidelines for the conduct of church meetings. It is evident that the whole church should be gathered, and all members should make every endeavour to be present. For convenience we may distinguish between meetings for business and those for spiritual matters, but there is no fundamental difference between them. Business meetings are also spiritual meetings. The spirit of prayer and worship should pervade them all. As the matters discussed have to do with eternal issues, it is good to remember the Lord’s abiding promise that where his church is gathered in his name, he is in the midst. The whole church should be concerned in dealing with the defence of the truth, the ordering of worship, the appointment of elders and deacons, the sending out of missionaries, evangelistic problems and projects and the discipline of disorderly members. Routine business such as finance, the maintenance of buildings, etc., should be dealt with by the deacons without the need of referring details to the church for decisions. Nevertheless, reports of such matters should be given regularly so that all may be seen to be honestly conducted, not only before God but before men.
Mat. 18:19; Acts 13:3; 2 Cor. 8:21.
Procedure to be Adopted at Church Meetings
When the church meets to make decisions, the object is not primarily to discover the majority opinion, but rather to discover the mind of Christ. It may be a useful device to discover the opinion of the members by taking their votes for or against a recommendation, but it ought to be noted that the New Testament churches adopted no such procedure in making their decisions. There will be times when the majority vote must prevail over the minority, but divided opinion is often a signal that the matter should be referred back to the elders for further prayerful and biblical consideration. The ideal is that the mind of the Lord be revealed by the unanimity of his people. The most helpful procedure suggested by scripture for the handling of business is that matters brought to the church shall have been first considered by the elders. It is unwise for a proposal to come to the church that does not have their unanimous support. Each item brought before the church ought to be the subject of deliberate and specific prayer. Then, all the relevant facts should be set before the church together with the appropriate biblical evidence and requirements. The members may be expected to give willing consent to the guidance of their appointed leaders, except in some extreme matters of conscience. The elders are to be submissive to the Lord, the members to submit to the elders, and all to submit to each other in the fear of the Lord.
1 Thess. 5:12, 13; Heb. 13:17; Eph. 5:21.
The elders are responsible for ensuring that all meetings are conducted in an atmosphere of prayer, love and mutual trust. They must see that everything is done in an orderly and upright manner. Talkative members should be restrained, and those who are timid encouraged. There must be a place for the exercise of gifts and talents, each member contributing to the life of the whole fellowship. All are to strive to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. If church members deliberately sought to stir each other up to love and good works, the church meeting would become a means of committing the church to action according to the will of God.
Eph. 4:3; Heb. 10:24, 25.