Regulations for the Elections of Office-bearers
Art. 1 Office-bearers shall be chosen by the consistory with the deacons with the cooperation of the congregation.
Art. 2 The cooperation of the congregation shall in the first place be sought by giving it the opportunity to recommend brothers deemed fit to fill the existing or future vacancies. Such recommendations are to contain the reasons why the brother(s) is (are) recommended for this specific office, and are to be signed by sender(s).
Art. 3 The consistory with the deacons shall draw up a list composed of the names submitted by the congregation, to which list the consistory with the deacons shall add as many names as it considers desirable. From this list the consistory with the deacons shall elect a number of candidates for office of preferably but not necessarily twice as many names as there are vacancies to be filled. The congregation shall be informed of the names of the candidates preferably but not necessarily one week before the election is to be held.
Art. 4 The following procedure shall be followed at the meeting with the congregation where the election is held:
a. The clerk shall ensure that a sufficient number of attendance lists is available to be signed by all who are entitled to vote. Only those who are present at the meeting and have signed the attendance list shall have the right to take part in the voting.
b. The meeting shall be opened and closed with prayer.
c. After the opening, the chairman shall read aloud the names of the candidates for the respective offices.
d. The ballots shall then be distributed and collected again.
e. An “election committee” shall be appointed, consisting of two members of the consistory with the deacons and two members from the congregation. These four brothers shall:
1. count the number of ballots and make certain that it agrees with the number of those who signed the attendance list. In case there is a discrepancy which
cannot be solved, the vote is void and another vote is to be taken;
2. count the number of votes each candidate has received and inform the chairman of the result. The number of votes received by each candidate shall not be made public. Spoiled and blank ballots shall be rejected and shall be ignored when the votes are counted.
f. Those brothers shall be declared elected who have received the highest number of votes, but not more than there are vacancies to be filled. No one shall be declared elected who has received less than one/third of the number of votes. If fewer brothers are elected than there are vacancies to be filled, another free vote shall be taken to elect from the remaining candidates as many as are needed. In case of a tie vote when only one vacancy is to be filled, prayer shall be offered and the lot shall be cast between the two candidates.
g. Upon conclusion of the election the chairman shall ask whether any one has any objection to the manner in which the election was conducted. Only in case one has voiced his objections and it appeared impossible to take them away shall he have the right to appeal to the broader assembly.
Art. 5 The consistory with the deacons shall consider the result of the election and, unless there are serious reasons to decide otherwise, shall appoint those elected by the congregation. Those thus appointed shall be informed of their appointment in writing as well as of the scheduled date for their ordination.
Art. 6 Unexpected vacancies shall be filled either by appointing one who at the last-held election received a sufficient number of votes or by another election. If the brother thus appointed is to serve less than one year to complete the term of office of the one whose place he takes, he shall serve a normal term in addition to this.
Art. 7 Except in cases of departure, death, or deposition the term of office ends at the moment when one’s successor is ordained.
Art. 8 The names of those appointed to the respective offices shall be made known to the congregation on two consecutive Sundays for its approbation.
In general it may be observed that some provisions have been included in these Regulations that could have been left out, as they are stipulated in
our Church Order. Yet it was considered advisable to mention them expressly so as to make these Regulations as complete and “self-contained” as was feasible. Everyone can notice that the provisions of our Church Order have been taken into consideration with these Regulations.
In our discussion of the various articles of our Church Order we made several observations which the attentive reader will find back below. It is expected that a repetition will not be boring but rather enlightening.
Ad Art. 1
Little is to be said about this provision. Our Church Order makes the provision that the congregation shall be involved in the election. Although not necessary, it seemed advisable to place this reminder at the very beginning.
Ad Art. 2
The “giving of names” was discussed in connection with Art. 3 C.O. and we can be brief here. That no anonymous letters are admissible needs no further proof. Also in these Regulations it is stressed that the recommendations must be helpful to the consistory with the deacons and contain more than a simple: “I recommend.…”
Ad Art. 3
The consistory with the deacons is not bound by or restricted to the names they have received from the congregation. The office-bearers are totally free to add names to the list and to choose only those who were “nominated” by the consistory with the deacons. There is no compelling reason to include any or all of the names received from the congregation. The brothers have to go by what they know about the names given and they have to fulfil their own responsibility. The “cooperation of the congregation” mentioned in our Church Order refers to its participation in the process of election and not to the “giving of names.”
In accordance with the provisions of the Church Order it is stated that “preferably but not necessarily” the list of candidates placed before the congregation shall contain twice as many names as there are vacancies to be filled. Art. 3 C.O. is clear in this respect, but it can do no harm to be reminded of it in this article of the Regulations.
It is to be preferred that the consistory with the deacons are able to inform the congregation a week beforehand of the names of those made a candidate for office. However, there may be circumstances which render it more advisable not to do so, for instance, in case a minister will be proposed to the congregation. It is equally possible that for one reason or another there is no opportunity to make the names of candidates known a week before the election is to be held. Failure to announce the names to the congregation beforehand does not render either a nomination or an election invalid. It is up to the consistory with the deacons to decide about it.
Ad Art. 4
It is the duty of the clerk to make sure that there is a sufficient number of attendance lists to be signed by those entitled to vote. The number of ballots is to correspond with the number of names on the attendance list(s). Oftentimes the brothers whose term of office expires are they who go around with those lists and make sure that everyone signs. These lists should be signed before the meeting starts, so that the procedure is not held up by the need to go around after opening of the meeting. This is the more important since these meetings frequently are held after the morning or the afternoon service. The members like to go home as soon as possible, and everything should be done to make the meeting as brief as can be achieved.
Since we are convinced that someone who is legitimately prevented from attending should bear the consequences of this, the provision has been inserted that only those who are present and have signed the attendance list may vote. Such a provision will not cause undue hardship, as usually there are not more than three or four who make use of the opportunity to submit a ballot in closed envelope and signed with their name. Some, if not all of these may well have been able to arrange things in such a manner that they could be present. Absenteism should not be promoted and fostered but prevented as much as we can.
The meeting shall be opened and closed with prayer. This means that no ballots should be handed out before the meeting starts. If ballots are handed out before the meeting has been opened, we can be certain that many brothers fill them out as soon as they have received them, since they have decided well before this day whom to vote for. If ballots are filled out before the meeting starts, what is the sense of offering prayer in which the Lord is asked to give wisdom with the choice to be marked? Signing of the attendance list before the beginning of the meeting is to be recommended. As for the rest, every action should take place within the framework of the meeting. Hence the provision that the ballots shall be handed out and shall be collected again is found subsequent to the provision that the meeting shall be opened and closed with prayer.
Before the ballots are handed out the chairman shall read out aloud the names of those who are presented as candidates for the respective offices. This is not done because the congregation is not yet aware who the candidates are, but because making known the names of the candidates beforehand does not really belong to the process of election. It should be done at the meeting at which the election takes place. It is also done to prevent any misunderstanding or confusion. Names might not have been made known beforehand, and in that case it is apparent that they should be announced at the meeting.
The collected ballots have to be counted. This is usually done by a “committee” to which two members from the congregation are appointed together with two office-bearers. The reason is not that the consistory cannot be trusted, but that the appointment of two brothers from the congregation accentuates that the congregation is involved.
It is the task of this committee to count the number of ballots and to make sure that this number corresponds with the number of those who have signed the attendance list. If there are fewer ballots than names on the list, this does not cause any difficulty. The difficulty starts if more ballots are handed in than there are brothers who have signed the list. If this discrepancy cannot be solved, the only way open is to have another vote.
The second task of this committee is to count the number of votes each candidate has received, and to inform the chairman of the result. In some congregations it is (was) customary that the chairman reads aloud in the meeting how the ballots were marked, so that every one could tally and knew right away who was elected. In this manner every one knew, too, how many votes each candidate received. To some of the candidates this was rather painful, if it appeared that only a few members had voted for them.
For this reason it is a much better method to have the committee count the ballots in a separate room and inform the chairman of the result, so that he can announce only the names of those who received a sufficient number of votes. It goes without saying that the members of the committee should not divulge the figures to anyone after the meeting either.
When the votes are counted, spoiled and blank ballots shall be ignored. If anyone wishes to reveal his dissatisfaction with the list of candidates, he should not do this in a worldly manner by making remarks on the ballot. Such action is to be totally ignored.
There can be various reasons for leaving one or more names unmarked. It could be that someone is convinced that he can vote with his whole heart for only one or two brothers and therefore marks only their names on the ballot. Everyone has the right to do so. This does not necessarily mean that he rejects the others but when his advice is asked, he can recommend only one or two of the candidates for appointment by the consistory.
In larger congregations it may happen that a member does not know the brothers who have been nominated well enough to make a responsible choice; or someone may have arrived recently as a new church member, and does not want to stay away from the election, but really does not know some or all of the brothers well enough to choose between them. He then marks only one name or none at all. Various reasons may exist for not marking a ballot completely, and to conclude from blank spots on the ballot or from wholly blank ballots that here we have a form of protest would be unwarranted. On the other hand, it is clear that such spoiled or blank ballots should not be taken into account when the result of the voting is tabulated. They simply reduce the total number of valid votes and thereby lower the number a candidate must have received to be declared elected.
Who may be declared elected? This all depends on the percentage set by the consistory with the deacons. The consistory with the deacons will have to decide about the question when a brother may be considered to enjoy the confidence of the congregation.
Living in a “democratic society,” we hear all around us that the majority decides and that the will of the majority is to be heeded. There is no need to follow this slogan in the church, too. The consistory with the deacons sets
the percentage below which a brother will not be eligible for appointment. This percentage may differ from the one church to the next. If a minister is involved, and if the consistory with the deacons decided to propose only one name to the congregation, the brothers may also decide that sixty or sixty-six or even seventy per cent of the votes will be needed. In this case it would not be wise to make the provision that as long as the brother receives more than one-third of the votes, he can be called, as there was no choice between two or more candidates.
It is different in the election of elders and deacons. There the congregation has a choice between two or more candidates, and voting for the one does not necessarily mean that the other is rejected, it only means that one prefers the one over the other. Thus it may be decided that one who has received more than one-third of the votes enjoys the confidence of the congregation sufficiently to be eligible for appointment. There is no compelling need to require that one receive “half-plus-one.”
It goes without saying that those who have received the most votes shall be appointed first, although not more are to be appointed than there are vacancies to be filled. With a rather long list of candidates to fill quite a few vacancies, the possibility exists that more brothers have received a sufficiently large number of votes than there are vacancies to be filled. It is logical (under the circumstances) that those who have the most votes are appointed. It can also happen that only some of the candidates received a sufficient number of votes and that not all vacancies can be filled. In that case it is proper to have another vote, this time between the candidates who are left.
Although it is impossible to cover every situation that may occur, we do mention a case in which one vacancy remains to be filled while the two brothers who are next in line have collected an equal number of votes. Apparently, this does not call for another free vote but for a vote between these two candidates. If then there is again a tie vote — and this also applies in case there are only two candidates to fill one vacancy — prayer is to be offered and the lot is to be cast to determine who will be appointed. Sometimes another vote is held when there is a tie, or it is decided that the older one shall be declared elected. This does not appear correct. When we have asked the Lord to give wisdom, and when we have cast our vote to the best of our knowledge and conviction, who may expect that we shall change our mind when we come to the conclusion that there is a tie? This does not appear to be in accordance with the seriousness of voting for office-bearers. Thus it is the proper course to tell the Lord that we could not come to a conclusion and to ask Him now to point out directly the one who is to be appointed. There is no preferred method of casting the lot.
Upon the conclusion of the election the chairman shall ask whether anyone has any objections to the manner in which the election was conducted. What we are referring to here is the manner of procedure. What is not meant here is whether any one has any objections to the appointment and ordination of a brother who was elected. Such objections, if there are any, may come only after the brother has been appointed and his name has been announced from the pulpit. What is meant here is whether there were any
irregularities in the manner in which the election was conducted. If anyone has any objections at this point, he should make them known to see whether things can be corrected. Only in that case will one have the right to approach the major assembly with his objections.
Ad Art. 5
Election by the congregation does not yet mean that one is now automatically appointed. This is up to the consistory with the deacons. This is the body that appoints. After the election the brothers meet, either immediately after the meeting with the congregation or at another occasion, and consider the result of the election. Since the list of candidates was drawn up by the consistory with the deacons, and since they asked the advice of the congregation, it may be expected that they now appoint those who were elected. There may be serious considerations which compel the brothers to deviate from the result of the election, but this will not happen very often. If such devotion is considered necessary, the congregation is to trust that the brothers had sufficient reasons for doing this, and these reasons should not be divulged.
The brothers who were chosen by the congregation will know that they will be appointed and will anticipate this. However, since election by the congregation is not the same as being actually appointed and called to the office, they are to be officially informed of their appointment by the consistory with the deacons, and this should be done in writing. They are also to be informed of the date at which the ordination will take place, so that they can take it into account when making plans and arrangements in connection with visits to relatives or business trips. Although the date of ordination is usually the same Sunday every year, for instance, the first Sunday of June, there may be reasons to choose a different Sunday, and the brothers should be told in good time. Matters should be conducted properly and correctly.
Nothing is said about requests to be relieved of the appointment. We discuss this point here. Sometimes one can read “All the brothers accepted their appointment.” This is a wrong way of putting it. When we believe that the call comes to us via the congregation, but that ultimately it is the Lord who calls to this task, there is nothing to “accept.” One simply has to follow the call that came. In this connection we may refer to what was said in the discussion of Art. 22 C.O.
It is possible that both the consistory with the deacons and the congregation made a mistake when making a brother a candidate and electing him. There may be circumstances which were unknown to these bodies or which they did not consider sufficiently. Although we believe that the call comes from the Lord through His church, we do not thereby allege that the church is infallible. A brother may have valid reasons for asking the consistory with the deacons to be relieved of the appointment. When such a request is received, the consistory with the deacons has to consider it seriously and, if the brothers come to the conclusion that the request is valid, they will grant it. If they cannot consider the reasons valid, the brother will be informed of this and will have to follow the call. Refusal to do so proves that he is not fit for the office, and nothing can be done but admonish him and remind him
that he refuses to be obedient to the Lord's call. He can never be nominated again until he sincerely repents, and even then he should not be nominated right away.
Ad Art. 6
In the above section we spoke of the “regular” vacancies which occur when the scheduled term of office ends. Usually this is at the end of April, when the work of the past season has been concluded, and new office-bearers have a period ahead of them in which they can prepare for the coming season. A vacancy can also occur in mid-term, when an elder or deacon leaves the congregation or is taken away by the Lord. The consistory with the deacons may be able to bridge the gap by dividing the work among the other office-bearers, but it may also be deemed necessary to have the vacancy filled.
Is a new election then strictly necessary? No, it is not, for there is always the possibility to appoint a brother who at the last-held election received a sufficient number of votes. Once again we have to say that it is up to the consistory with the deacons to determine whether an appointment shall be made from the candidates at the last-held election or a new election is to be held.
In the event the brother who moved or passed away had less than a year to serve until the completion of his term, the brother to-be-appointed will complete this term but also serve another full term in addition. This provision has been inserted for practical reasons. Especially when someone becomes an office-bearer for the first time, it cannot be expected that he will become fully acquainted with all the work as well as with the families in his ward within the few months he is in office. And even if one was an office-bearer before, it takes a while again to grow into the work. In these circumstances it would be disadvantageous for the congregation to have an office-bearer for some months only. It is better to have the brother serve a full term in addition to the part of the year in which he completes the term of his predecessor.
Ad Art. 7
To preserve the continuity the provision has been made that the brothers remain in office until the very moment when their successors are ordained. This also implies that, as soon as their successors are ordained, they are no longer in office. From that moment on their place is in the pew and they have no longer the right to appear in the meetings of the consistory with the deacons. Sometimes the custom exists in vacant churches that one who was chairing the consistory meetings does so also at the first meeting after his term of office ended, until another chairman has been chosen. This should be considered incorrect. As soon as the successors have been ordained, the brothers whose term has come to an end are “out” and should not act as if they were still “in.”
Ad Art. 8
This provision needs no elaboration or comment. It has been taken
literally from the Church Order and in connection with Art. 3 we did make the relevant remarks.
The Regulations discussed above will serve in all cases, whether a minister is to be called or elders or deacons are to be chosen. A consistory with the deacons can draw up separate regulations for the calling of a minister, if they desire to do so. The proposed Regulations offer sufficient material for this undertaking.