Why are female confessing members not allowed to vote in our churches? I understand that the husband is the head of the household, but what about households where there are only unmarried women or widows? My mother became a widow in her forties and both my sister and I are confessing members in the same church. Despite three memberships, our household does not have any say in church elections. Why is it not one vote per household, rather than one vote per male member?
Rev. Lawrence J. Bilkes suggested answering this question with an article that his father, Rev. Lawrence W. Bilkes wrote a number of years ago. Below is that article:
“Restricting the Vote in the Church to Male Members”
Should the right to vote at ‘congregational meetings’, for example, for office bearers, be restricted to male members? This question is increasingly being asked, also in our churches.
At the outset, it is important to notice how people come to this question. Most of the time, this question is born out of a comparison to how our society allows the vote of women within politics and other social spheres. There the right of the women to vote is supported by the idea of equality and equal rights. Since women have the right to vote in society, some wonder why women cannot do so in the churches. “Is there not an equality between men and women in the churches?” they ask.
The fact that this is the usual startingpoint for this question is significant. It is not so that people read the Scriptures and notice that the church has lost or suppressed important biblical material. This, of course, happened in the Reformation with the important doctrines of grace. They had been obscured and lost, but then rediscovered. That is not the case here. Instead, developments in society have piqued a certain awareness within churches. As a result, people turn to the Scripture to determine whether the “traditional way” is indeed the only way. At that point, many people look at the question already through the lenses of our society and try to explain away certain things in Scripture. I believe this is a subtle, but important angle in this discussion.
Having said this, I do not mean to imply that the question is illegitimate. It can even be helpful to raise it and determine whether our practice can be substantiated on the basis of the Word of God or not. What is important is that Scripture be our standard and not our society or even other churches around us.
We believe that Scripture and scriptural principles compel us to restrict the right to vote on congregational matters to male members. Consider the following grounds:
It would appear, then, from this survey of Scripture and Scriptural principles, that the argument that Scripture allows or even promotes the opening up of the vote beyond male members may be taking too many cues from sources outside of biblical revelation.
Meanwhile, something that should not be overlooked is the fact that women members of a church can have a helpful role in the matters on which the congregation is to vote. Husbands would do well to consult with their wives on such things as the election of office bearers. Family members would do well to involve their widowed or unmarried women relatives. Women members, in turn, should even feel free to contact elders and deacons with their opinions as to congregational matters. In such cases they are not ruling, but giving advice. Their advice may be heeded or it may not. Much can be gained from this process. Nevertheless, the biblical restrictions for the actual government of the church and official speech within the church should be strictly guarded.