On Interviews & Testimonies, Part VI
Continued from Part V
Q. Should these young children vote? If they are full communing members of the church, how can they be forbidden the right to vote? Should children admitted to the table become voting members as well?
No, young children should not vote. They can eat at the Table, but they don't participate in ruling the church. Surely one can discern the significant differences between eating at the Lord’s Table and passing judgments in the church’s council. What happens in your families? Children are invited to the family table to eat, but they are not invited to participate in the family’s decision-making process. Why? That duty belongs to the father and mother since they have the prerequisite wisdom and experience to make wise judgments about the family finances, plans, etc.
Therefore, we must make provision for a two-fold distinction within the membership of the church: 1) members that do not vote (baptized children or new Christians who partake of the Lord’s supper but are not old enough or mature enough to vote); and 3) the adult communing and voting members.
Maturity is needed for voting, not for eating; for making complicated decisions, not for feeding on Jesus. Jesus feeds all, but not everyone is qualified to make decisions that bear upon the doctrine and government of his church. Every baptized member of the church is part of the family of God, but not necessarily mature enough to pass judgment in the assembly. This means that the proper place for training and extensive examinations is at the time when the young man or woman prepares to take on the responsibilities and privileges of voting membership!
The distinction between communing and voting can be biblically sustained, even if the Bible does not really talk about “voting” as we practice it in America. In the Bible, every circumcised member of the community and his entire family ate at the Passover and participated in the festival meals (Ex. 12:48), but only those who had reached a certain age could go to war and be counted in the census (Num. 1:3). Oftentimes, modern Christians are more interested in avoiding any criticism of being “undemocratic” than genuinely thinking through the implications of nine-, ten-, or even 16-year-old children voting on pastoral calls, church by-laws, or building programs. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” not “Let the little children participate in the community's decision making process.”
In our homes we practice this distinction regularly. Small children are acknowledged by the parents as being part of the family, as having a right to participation in the full life of the family, especially when this is manifest at the family dinner table. Parents feed their children, they regularly provide them with all the tokens and symbols of their incorporation and membership in the family. At the same time, parents recognize that until the child grows in knowledge and experience he will not be capable of making judgments about the leadership and direction of the family. Children are not given responsibility for keeping the budget, nor do we call together the entire family and vote on the weightier matters that parents must consider in ruling the family. Maturity and experience are needed to make such decisions. Thus, we must make a fundamental and important distinction between communing and voting members, between partaking of the dinner with which Jesus feeds us and making informed judgments about the administration and direction of the church.
Nothing in the PCA Book of Church Order forbids the Session from establishing a voting age for communing members. One of the former stated clerks of the PCA once noted that it is, in fact, the prerogative of the Session to establish a voting age if it so desired. Members of the original committee that wrote the PCA BCO have expressed their desire to keep the language ambiguous so that each Session would have liberty in this area.