One of the leaders of an indigenous Pentecostal denomination recently opined that the time has come for his denomination to scrap elections in favour of selecting leaders by lot. Church leaders – or leaders in the organisational setup, to be precise – in several Pentecostal churches are selected through high voltage “democratic elections.” Elections are mandatory because these ‘churches’ are registered with the government as “societies.”
Elections have almost always brought the worst out of Pentecostal Christians. Aspirants to high offices in the denominational structure often stoop to the levels of partisan politics. At times, the people whom we call "dirty politicians" show better sense of judgment or ethics than some of our great leaders who fight it out in the open to become the President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, etc., of an executive or governing council. In the heat of election campaigns, members of these churches get polarised; partisan spirit takes over. Finally, those who are adept at self-aggrandisement, those who are wealthy enough to buy votes or cart voters to the polling stations succeed in grabbing the reins of respective organisations.
Divisions, partisan spirit, rallying under one spiritual leader to isolate another leader, boasting about one leader at the expense of another—all these are condemned as gross sins by the Apostle Paul in his epistles to the Corinthian Church. But few care to study or apply these Scriptural lessons to day-to-day functioning of their church.
Many Christians who are fed up with “dirty” politics in their churches might welcome the suggestion that leaders must be chosen by lot. After all, it gives us the impression that God is the one who chooses one person or a set of persons out of many candidates. Moreover, we have a biblical precedent too! The apostles selected Matthias by lot to fill up the vacancy created by Judas Iscariot’s infamous exit from the apostolic team.
A closer examination will reveal that these claims are dubious. The casting of lots in Acts of the Apostles can hardly be taken as normative for the Church. First, casting of lots was a Jewish practice. Acts of the Apostles, a book that shows the transition of the Church from an all-Jewish body to an all-inclusive body of believers from all kinds of backgrounds, faithfully shows the remnants of Jewish practices in the early Church. Second, the practice was never repeated. Finally, we do not see any evidence of God’s intervention in the selection of Matthias! Whether God intervened or not, one of the two candidates would have been chosen. That being the case, how can we say that it was God who chose Matthias? If God had chosen Matthias to be part of the Twelve, then why is there no reference about this man either before or after this event?
Even if we suppose that God is the One who chooses people whenever we prayerfully cast lots, we have further questions to answer. Who decides the candidates whose names will be recorded on the lots? It’s us humans! We select the candidates and then we afford God the “freedom” to choose His favourite(s) out of the given candidates. What magnanimity! In short, we decide the perimeters of God’s selection!
If God should have total control over the entire process of selecting leaders by lot, then, the process must include every member of the Church — quiet similar to how Achan was chosen out of every tribe, every clan and every family! But surely, none of these churches will ever dare to include the names of every member in the box of lots!
The New Testament clearly shows that it is God or Christ who selects leaders in the Church. God does not do that on the basis of dynasty, caste, colour or proven intellectual prowess. The risen Lord Jesus gives “gifts of grace” to each member of the Church according to His discretion. He makes some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors who teach. To some others he gives the supernatural ability to leader or perform administrative tasks. It’s these spiritual gifts that should determine who all should lead the Church. In other words, God determines the leaders of the Church.
We need to make way for God and His charismatic works in our midst. Let human ‘masters’ step aside to see God’s anointed leaders!
Originally published in the newspaper ‘Praise The Almighty’ in July 2010.