My friend Steven Wedgeworth has some good thoughts about head of household voting here. Voting by household is fairly common in the CREC, but at the same time it is not so settled as to have no discussion swirling around it. So in addition to what Steven says, let me throw some loose pocket change into the mix.
I believe the broad outlines of church government are taught to us in Scripture jure divino, but that this divine authority does not extend down into the details. For example, we have scriptural warrant for broad, representative assemblies of the church. We have no biblical warrant for the office of secretary or stated clerk, but we do have the full authority to create such offices — using the light of Christian prudence. It is lawful for us to keep minutes (about which the Scriptures say nothing), and to follow a rudimentary form of Robert’s Rules (about which the Bible says even less).
The details of voting belong to both categories. We have ample scriptural warrant for the people selecting their leaders, but we have precious little on voting procedures. When the apostles appointed elders in Acts 14:23, the word used there (cheirotoneo) originally meant to elect by a show of hands, but it remains hard to distill constitutional processes from the etymology of one word.
That said, here are just a few practical observations. First, in our circles, our churches are governed by elders, not by congregational voting. We are small republics, not small democracies. This means that our congregations vote on one or two issues only (selection of church officers, and sometimes constitutional amendments). Other than that, the decisions are made at the session level, by the board of elders.
Also, churches that practice head-of-household voting are not churches that exclude women from voting. We held a joint head-of-household meeting just last night with our sister church Trinity Reformed, and there were women in attendance, heads of their households. It is true that women don’t vote, as women. It is also true that men, as men, don’t vote either. We vote by household, an arrangement that we find convenient, and consistent with Scripture — although we would not maintain that every detail of what we do is required by Scripture.
What do I mean by convenience? Here is an example of just one — as paedobaptists, this solves a practical problem for us concerning when children start voting. When they are first communed? When they get their driver’s license? When they can vote in civic elections? When they can buy a beer in a restaurant? We can simply say that dependent children are represented by their household until they have their own household.
Because we live in a time when egalitarianism is running a full court press, who cannot see that if a disgruntled woman insists on defining herself as “excluded” because her husband cast a ballot (when she did not), that she will continue to see herself as excluded even if she could vote? The vast majority of the votes determining the future of the church will be taken at the session level, which really does exclude women (1 Tim. 2:12).
As a practical matter, when a man and wife agree, all you have done is multiply the entire vote tally by two. When they disagree, all you have done is cancel out the voice of that particular household. What needs to be emphasized in churches that practice this is that the man is representing his household. He is not acting like the one person in that household with something worthwhile to say. Suppose a man thinks a particular elder candidate is “okay,” but his wife has seen him be really cold to his wife on multiple occasions, and the teenaged children in that household, two of them girls, have been in Bible studies where the candidate’s handling of the text was “terrible.” The man votes, representing his household.
One of the great and pressing needs of our day is to get men to take responsibility. This is one device (not an inspired one, but a good one) for helping us do just that. Those pushing against this particular arrangement need to understand that in North America getting men to check out of church is not really a hard thing to accomplish, and that once you have done it, the heartaches are of an entirely different kind. So be careful what you agitate for.
One last thing. I do think there are reasonable questions to ask about this whole thing, and I also believe that there are ways for us to improve what we are doing. But when a certain kind of women gets really worked up over this issue, saying that we are saying that “women are too emotional” to let them “get their pretty little heads” entangled in “the manly business” of church politics, I can only say that this is not my position and I am not arguing for it at all. But if I ever were to change my mind, and decided to argue for it, that kind of woman would be the very first one I would search for because I would need an Exhibit A for my newly adopted position.