Robert’s Rules of Order-Boring or Helpful?

Many people view Robert’s Rules of Order as a boring exercise in being obtuse and rule-driven. I was asked by the stated clerk of Palmetto Presbytery to be a sort of Stated Clerk in Training. Part of that training was to be, according to his recommendation, studying Robert’s Rules of Order so as to become a good parliamentarian. I agreed to that suggestion, and just recently passed my test to become a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians. I found all the caricatures of Robert’s Rules of Order (and the people who seek to know these things) to be woefully wrong.

The first caricature I wish to eradicate is that Robert’s Rules of Order is all about using rules for one’s own advantage, and being able to use tricks to get one’s way in an assembly. Actually, Robert’s Rules has as its agenda the protection of the rights of every member of an assembly, both of the majority and of the minority. Everything I have been learning has been related to this question: how do we treat everyone fairly, and how do we treat everyone’s ideas fairly in a deliberative body?

The second caricature that is wrong is that Robert’s Rules of Order is boring. My hunch is that many people who say this believe that since they cannot understand it, it must be boring. With a little application, and some help understanding these matters (the training for becoming parliamentarian is extremely helpful!), one actually becomes much more confident in one’s participation in a deliberative body. A person can understand the nature of the motions, and how they rank, and what is in order, and what is not. I have found the study to be fascinating. The logic of the ranking of motions, in particular, is a beautiful thing. It is a very useful tool to help a person become productive and useful in a deliberative body.

The third incorrect caricature that I have found is that people who are interested in Robert’s Rules of Order are only interested in rules, not in substance. Now, there is some basis for this accusation, since there definitely are some people out there who study Robert’s Rules in order to be able to manipulate the system, as it were. However, as I have pointed out, that is not the purpose of Robert’s Rules. The purpose of Robert’s Rules is fairness. Furthermore, there is a level of informality allowed by Robert’s Rules in certain areas. There are shortcuts that are allowed. Robert’s Rules actually helps streamline the process: it does not hinder it. It is actually the ignorance of Robert’s Rules that creates enormous difficulties and time wasting, in my experience. I have seen meetings where, because no one knew Robert’s Rules, the result was an absolute mess, when a knowledge of Robert’s Rules would have streamlined the process amazingly quickly. I highly recommend the study of Robert’s Rules or Order to my readers who are involved in a deliberative body. It will save time and embarrassment (since you will no longer make a motion that is out of order). It will streamline the process. It greases the wheels rather than grinding them to a halt. On occasion in the future, I may point out some things that often happen in deliberative assemblies that are incorrect. I will point out why they are incorrect, and what the solution is.

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  1. darrelltoddmaurina said,

    May 8, 2013 at 9:39 am

    With all due respect, an officer of a church that uses Roberts Rules of Order and doesn’t take the time to learn to the rules deserves what he gets. A person who claims that “people who are interested in Robert’s Rules of Order are only interested in rules, not in substance” is likely crying sour grapes after having lost in a procedural matter to someone who knew the rules better.

    I’ve covered government now for decades. I’ve seen good mayors and bad mayors, and a key difference between the good and bad mayors is whether they ran meetings in accordance with established rules or did whatever they felt like in the chair with no respect to the rights of the minority to be heard or the majority to act. The same principle applies to moderators of ecclesiastical assemblies.

    There’s an old Dutch proverb which, roughly translated, says the best way to make a difficult situation into an unsolvable situation is to ignore the church order. There is much truth in that proverb.

  2. May 8, 2013 at 9:44 am

    I actually received a copy of Robert’s Rules for Christmas this past year, and it has been fascinating to read and study them. Looking to join NAP later this year sometime.

    Then again, I’m a bit of a freak in matters like these, since I think it would be pretty awesome to be a professional parliamentarian…

  3. Cris Dickason said,

    May 8, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Congratulations, Lane! How much study did it require to pass the exam?

    Robert’s Rules and the Book of Church Order are essential to well run Presbytery meetings. Those, plus a good moderator. How does one become a good moderator? Uh, knowing Robert’s Rules and the Church Order.

    I just had some questions yesterday so I’m off to get the latest RRO from Barnes & Noble. They do not carry it on the brick & mortar shelves, which I find silly.


  4. May 8, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Echoing Cris @ 2: Congrats! That’s a test I wouldn’t mind taking some day. I, too, found RRO a fascinating read – it was a book I devoured while I was studying to become an elder. Totally agree with your conclusions. RRO is a remarkably humanizing book.

  5. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    I am an accountant and administrator by profession, so I love all things done “decently and in order.” And I admire RRO for its sense of order and proportion. RRO must be one of the finest examples of God’s common grace. Whenever I’ve had occasion to dig more deeply into details, I’ve always found RRO to be balanced, full of common sense, and best of all, respectful to all persons as image-bearers of God. Dig into Robert’s sometime and ask, “How would a Christian do this differently?” I’ve always found the answer to be, “I can’t think of a better way.”

  6. Alan D. Strange said,

    May 8, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    General Robert put together his rules after he discovered the need for such in running a church meeting. He thought that it would be helpful to bring the sort of rules that governed a body like the House of Representatives to other deliberative bodies, like church meetings or civic organizations. In its Newly Revised form, it is now in the 11th ed.

    Given Robert’s Christian sensibilities, I would argue that more than common grace is involved. There is a commitment to equity and to esteeming others–particularly respecting the rights of minorities and majorities–that savors of Christian virtues.

    Much more of what I argue about this can be found in an article that might be found to be helpful:

  7. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 8, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Excellent, Alan! Thai you.

  8. May 8, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Congratulations on starting in the National Association of Parliamentarians. It’s a great organization with members who enjoy sharing knowledge. The American Institute of Parliamentarians can also be a good resource.

    As an attorney and parliamentarian (and rotated Elder and past Clerk of Session), I regularly see proper parliamentary procedure result in shorter, fairer, and more legal meetings. That said, organizations often don’t use the right level of procedure for their size and business. As Professor Strange notes in his fine OPC article, most parliamentary manuals, including “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th Edition),” generally recommend that smaller boards and committees follow more informal procedures. Rules aren’t one-size-fits all.

    For those who enjoy meeting procedure issues, the article “Robert’s Rules of Order: 10 Myths About Parliamentary Procedure” may be of interest.

    There are also many free charts and articles on Robert’s Rules and meeting procedure at my Website, All of the information on the Website is free, so feel free to use or share.

  9. Roy said,

    May 9, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Once heard what I thought an amusing and revealing exchange during break in a PCA presbytery meeting. One pastor, bit miffed by not being able to proceed in a touchy-feely manner (my interpretation, tho he actually used the phrase “warm fuzzies”,) complained to another pastor about the burden of RRO. The second pastor asked the first if he also had reluctance about using grammar.

  10. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 9, 2013 at 8:27 am

    I actually enjoy times when a body seems hopelessly lost in a labyrinth of motions, amendments, and substitutes (PCA Committee of Commissioners for Overtures, anyone?).There are moments when no one seems to know exactly where we are. Then, a sharp parliamentary expert will ride up on his white horse, brandish Robert’s Rules, cut through all the confusion, and clear the path again for all of us to proceed. It also helps to break the tension when the Moderator exclaims, “Help, I’m lost! Get me out of this!”

  11. May 15, 2013 at 5:44 am

    The fundamental right of deliberative assemblies require all questions to be thoroughly discussed before taking action!The assembly rules – they have the final say on everything! Silence means consent!

  12. May 16, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Hi Lane,

    The original writer of RRO was so frustrated by a church meeting (Baptist) in New Bedford, MA in the 1870s that he wrote the book! In good faith Henry Robert studied the United States House of Representatives as a model for how orderly decisions could be obtained and came out with simplified 1st edition for use in representative governments – both secular and religious. Today, as you well know, it continues to sell briskly in it’s 11th edition.

    As wonderful a man as I’m sure he was Henry Robert did not examine Scripture to learn how Christ and His apostles gave Spirit-inspired directives on how churches should make decisions. He started with a practice of the world that can’t help but fall short of the minimum ethic Jesus Christ has for the local church – spiritual unity (1 Cor. 1:10, Phil 2:1-2). Instead, if i may be so bold, RRO in the church proceeds upon the greatly mistaken assumption that voting unity honors the Trinity. But how much majority is unity? A simple majority, 2/3rds, 3/4ths, or more? What does God say is the right percent?

    Thousands of church constitutions claim the Bible as their sole authority in all matters of faith and practice and yet bind themselves to one of the world’s practices that has no power to sanctify believers but instead possesses the power to divide them. I’ve seen people come to church meetings clutching their Robert’s Rules under their jackets like swords in scabbards while leaving their Bibles back at home. They were prepared for battle but not for biblical decision making. Is our best hope for unity in the church more skilled parliamentarians (as your posts seems to suggest)? 1000s of churches have schismed using Robert’s Rules and instead of examining why the schism happened biblically we cry out for better trained parliamentarians. This cistern holds no water, my brother.

    Parliamentary procedure, whether practiced in the United States Congress or in a Christian church is a technique of decision-making designed to regulate those entrusted with authority. Its entire premise rests on distrust. The principles and presuppositions of Robert’s Rules of Order are useful in the world because they recognize that men are naturally selfish and prone to abuse power. However, this distrust is diametrically opposed to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and His ruling presence through Scripture in His church. It is perfectly suited for non-Christian religions such as Unitarianism which also use RRO voting procedures as an integral part of their decision-making policies. They require voting power so that they can hold their leaders in check and retain self-determination in an atmosphere of religious distrust. They don’t know the weakness of the cross.

    As well as this matter of distrust, Robert’s Rules is designed to encourage dissent in an environment of external decorum. However dissent eventually bears it’s fruit in jealousy and selfish ambition. God says this “is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:13–16). God’s church is never to provide a platform for even the tiniest bit of strife and division nor to encourage any kind of “political process.” Strife and dissent breed church splits and many an injured saint will tell you so. Dissent among God’s people is Satan’s strategy that pits us against one another and rips at the unity the Spirit creates for all those in Christ (John 17:21–26). So let’s not help him. Let’s resist him. Satan is a roaring lion seeking in your church whom he may devour. Distrust and dissent are two of his favored talons that shred what your soul and the souls of those under your care truly need: Christ’s 100 percent commanded church unanimity.

  13. Alan D. Strange said,

    May 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I agree, Simple Elder, that Robert’s has been, and can be, misused in the ways that you suggest. So has the BIble, the Standards, and the Book of Church Order. The Standards and the Church Order are expressions of unity and Robert’s, rightly used, is about how to achieve this in the actual working of a meeting.

    Being cautious about the use of church power, as every other power, is not inappropriate. It is not opposed to unity but can help promote it. Lord Acton, in his famous dictum about power tending to corrupt and absolute power corrupting absolutely, voiced this in his opposition to the impending declarations of Vatican I (1869-70) promulgating papal infallibility. The concern about misuse of power is not extraneous to the church.

    The unity that you describe sounds like uniformity. And this the Scripture nowhere teaches. God himself, in fact, is a unity of three distinct yet undivided persons. The Father does not become the Son nor does the Son become the Spirit: there is unity in the Blessed, Holy, Undivided Trinity, not uniformity.

    I agree that we want unity and that Robert’s may be used to militate against that. What’s the alternative? A bishop with whose pronouncements we all must agree? I agree with a proper sort of consensus building (perhaps this is what you have in mind) that comes from a thorough airing of perspectives as we seek to have the mind of Christ. But not when this is used, as I’ve seen it done, by a few strong parties who seek to cow their oppositon and achieve a unanimity through strong-arm tactics.

    Most church meetings that I’ve been in enjoy unanimity or near unanimity on many important issues. What do you do when you don’t? One side should not seek to intimidate the other. This is where some procedure for discussing our differences is important. I am actually quite sympathetic, brother, to your concerns about Robert’s engendering strife and promoting division. This is a fleshly use of it. We ought to use it as a way to deal with differences so that all might be heard and we might truly pursue in such circumstances the purity, peace, and unity of the church.

  14. CD-Host said,

    May 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Just to weigh in her. I think RRO are excellent. But it is important to understand that rules or order are designed for legislating not discussing. And that’s not the same thing at all.

    Group A has 60% of the votes for X
    Group B has 40% of the votes against X
    Group A makes an official statement why X is a good
    Group B makes an official statement why X is bad
    X passes

    That’s perfect legislating. All the objectives are met. It isn’t a discussion. In a discussion you want to encourage people to be open minded and persuadable. A good legislative system wants people to become locked into a position so that their votes don’t swing back and forth inconsistently.

    Ted’s criticism is quite right. RRO is designed around democracy not consensus. Unity and understanding are not the goal. RRO does a great job of allowing groups to reach decisions when the goal is to move forward when only 55, 65, 75, or 85% agree with the plan but if you aren’t sure you want to ram things forward but rather reach consensus RRO doesn’t work well.

    Take for example a key component of RRO, majority voting. Majority voting works really well to get a leader or policy that can command majority support. As long as you don’t care how passionately the losers dislike the outcome it is a good system. But in something like a voluntary cooperative organization like a church you do often care how passionately the lowers dislike the outcome. So often you want to use a voting system that looks for things like “highest approval” which is not necessarily an option that a majority thinks is best and others hate but rather an option that say 80% think is pretty good and the other 20% think is far less than ideal.


    I don’t know what Ted had in mind. But I do think it is important to understand a well organized meeting whose outcome leaves 1/3rd the church so angry they start diminishing their involvement and commitment is not a success.

  15. Alan D. Strange said,

    May 18, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    While it is quite true that the rules of order for a meeting are not for merely discussing, they are both for deliberating and deciding (legislating). Votes, in fact, are not properly taken as long as significant deliberation remains.

    I agree that the rules can be used in a way that is higly politicized and allow a bare majority to dominate. It’s not the rules themselves that engender that, however, but sinful hearts, which no mere rules, or procedure of any sort, can overcome.

    Here, Simple Elder and CD, is what I appreciate about what you’re saying, if I understand it correctly (and I address in my article in OS cited above in this thread): Robert’s used in a highly political and partisan way, not in a way in which we esteem others better than ourselves and seek unity, is divisive in the church. I agree. I’ve seen it used that way before and it’s lamentable.

    Think of this–our local Session which has six active members–tends not to go forward on any important issues without unity, not satisfying ourselves with bare majority rule. Now, you may say “that’s contrary to Robert’s.” No, it’s not. Robert’s urges particular bodies to develop their own standing rules or by-laws that trump Robert’s. It is wise for the church to be sensitive, particularly in its local expressions, to work for greater unity than Robert’s may require.

    So, I don’t know that we’re as far apart as may seem, but Robert’s, thoughtfully and judiciously used, can be a help, in the larger meeting especially.

  16. May 18, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Hi CD and Alan,

    Just a little clarification if i may, Alan. I wasn’t at all suggesting that Roberts’ Rules are subject to abuse. That is true but wasn’t nearly my concern. Nor was i asking for uniformity but rather unity – the precise kind mandated by Jesus Christ in 1 Cor. 1:10. No one should be forced to be in uniformity to any human – just to our beloved Lord Jesus!

    And you are so, so correct to note the distinctions in the ontological Trinity. Yet when it comes to the Trinity and decision making, they do in fact practice uniformity! All that they do, they do according to the will of the Father. They’ve yet to vote on anything ;).

    Nor have they ever taught their people to ever vote on anything. So beneath RRO is the acceptance of practices that themselves are found wanting in the Word and Will of God for His church.

    CD – man i wish you possessed saving faith! I almost ant to say, “thou art not far from the kingdom” but what do i know about God’s choices?

    You wrote, “in something like a voluntary cooperative organization like a church you do often care how passionately the lowers dislike the outcome.” So, so, so right! In fact, according to the apostle Paul, I am to prefer others more important than myself (Phil. 2:3-4). If I don’t I sin. Yet we go against that every time we vote in church – it’s an exercise in which i affirm I want my will done in preference over others. Hence in our church, we vote as often as Jesus and the apostles taught us to.

  17. Alan D. Strange said,

    May 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    That’s helpful to see where you’re coming from, Simple Elder. You not only reject Robert’s, but the Church Order (which speaks of voting, as Acts 6 implies) and the Standards of the Church, which were arrived at through voting. You also, of necessity, reject not only the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, but also the other churches that vote (most others have some form of voting at some point).

    So, your disagreement is far deeper and more fundamental than Robert’s. It was misguided on my part to assume some agreement between us (as I have no idea who either you or CD-Host are; I’ve not read other comments from you). Comments that you make to CD-Host suggest to me that I also don’t know where CD-Host is coming from at all, so I withdraw my comments assuming our level of agreement and now realize that you are on a different page altogether from the institutional church in its various manifestations.

  18. CD-Host said,

    May 18, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    @Ted — Thanks!



    It’s not the rules themselves that engender that, however, but sinful hearts, which no mere rules, or procedure of any sort, can overcome.

    I’d disagree. Obviously in the end of 51% are absolutely committed to getting their way and don’t care about the other 49% then any system that allows for majority rule is going allow that. They can block vote, force rules changes… But it is almost never the case that the 51% are that committed to something that has strong disapproval.

    Instead you usually have a range of views say 6 plausible solutions. Roberts Rules of Order is focused on finding 1 of those solutions that can get to majority as quickly as possible. There are alternative systems which aim to get alternatives listed and then look for a “winner” which is a 2nd or 3rd choice of almost everyone out of the 6. Like I said above, “an option that say 80% think is pretty good and the other 20% think is far less than ideal”.

    You can build systems that encourage compromise. Switch from majority voting to approval voting. In Approval voting all the possible solutions with even minimal support go forward for a vote and everyone gets to vote yeah or nay on all the possible solutions they like and the one with highest level of approval wins. This tends to encourage solutions that most people can live with.

    There are variants like Schulze voting which take the advantages of approval much further, and have other voting theory benefits. One of those that isn’t a theoretical benefit but a practical one is that that the specific scoring in borderline cases will usually be too complex for humans to understand (i.e. the scoring needs to be done by a computer). So these votes don’t tend to cause hard feelings of the, “I can’t believe you voted against me and let ______” type happen. The connection between the final result and individual votes while having lots of good theoretical advantages is opaque to anyone not very good at math (which is most of the population).

    You can have rules that make stopping debate with mere majorities difficult. You can have overlapping veto patterns so solutions that command mere majorities are hard to form… etc.. Honestly the way the US government is structured is designed to make 50%+1 rule impossible. Yes, there is a lot you can do systematically to encourage people towards consensus.

    RRO doesn’t do those things because consensus isn’t the goal. It assumes people are very committed to the body, and the body has lots of complex issues they need to resolve fast. Use RRO for something like a student council, no one is moving to a different college over how much money the film club gets.

  19. Alan D. Strange said,

    May 18, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    CD-Host, I do not disagree that there are other ways to do this than Robert’s and that a pure Robert’s approach can be harsh.

    But note a few things: your “opaqueness” observation is a little dust in the jury’s eyes, no? Robert’s never permits a mere majority to stop debate. You have overlapping veto patterns in a congregation when electing office-bearers. Every organization adapts Robert’s to suit its purposes.

    Again, I think that Robert’s can be adapted for the church’s needs, but I do think that it needs adapting and we’ve done so in a number of ways at every level of governance in the OPC. I do get your point in the last paragraph, however.

  20. May 18, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    It’s been said that consensus is the goal, and a meeting which leaves a third of its members dissatisfied with the outcome is not a success.

    Here are three examples of voting, in levels of increasingly more serious consequences if the minority had been allowed to continue to advocate its case despite losing the vote:

    * The Westminster Assembly, with regard to church government.
    * The Synod of Dordt, with regard to Arminianism.
    * The Nicene Council, with regard to Arius.

    I think virtually all of us in the Reformed faith (apart from a few extreme Reformed Episcopal and extreme Covenanter people) would agree that church government is not of the essence of the church, but a church can’t function if it isn’t in agreement on how it is to be governed.

    Likewise, we can disagree on whether Arminianism is error or heresy, but the difference between the two views is serious enough that a Reformed church can and must drive out Arminians, and a Nazarene church can and must drive out Calvinists. Both view cannot be correct; one or the other must be contrary to Scripture.

    As for Arianism, that **DOES** deal with the foundations of the gospel. No toleration can be given for error on that point.

    I trust those examples make clear that consensus is neither necessary nor desirable in all ecclesiastical cases.

  21. May 18, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Rev. Keister: I checked the link for CD-Host, which goes to the following website:

    With respect, I would suggest you read this person’s website and see if you believe it is within the spectrum of beliefs tolerated for Green Baggins posters. Your views may not be mine.

  22. CD-Host said,

    May 18, 2013 at 6:28 pm


    Lets use your 3 examples

    * The Nicene Council, with regard to Arius.

    There were debates back and forth for about 2 generations. By the end of the voting the Arians were not satisfied with the outcome. The medieval Germanic kingdoms: Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Visigoths, Lombards were Arian for centuries. The post-Empire military stayed Arian much longer. Europe would not be Trinitarian uniformly and officially until the 8th century.

    I have a hard time calling that an example of success.

    * The Synod of Dordt, with regard to Arminianism.

    Again the Arminians didn’t feel they got a fair hearing and walked away from the vote angry. Today, 2013 the overwhelming majority of Protestants are Arminian: General Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist… Dordt has for them no moral authority and it didn’t resolve the issue. Instead it created a semi-schism on issues of justification that exist through today. I don’t have the data but my guess would be if you were to map the ratio of Reformed to Arminians every decade from say 1600 to 2010 in about 38 of those 40 intervals or maybe even all 40 the ratio has gone down.

    I have a hard time calling that a success.

    * The Westminster Assembly, with regard to church government.

    A set of agreements that lasted 17 years and were revoked by Charles II with the Restoration in 1660. Yes they absolutely got adopted in Scotland and have had influence on the PCA and OPC. But… again

    I have a hard time calling that a success.


    Those are 3 good examples of precisely the problem of majoritarianism. Compromise is about keeping the losers onboard.

  23. May 18, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    @ CD-Host: I do not want to speak for Rev. Keister, but speaking only for myself, I agree that while you may be right that “compromise is about keeping the losers onboard,” some losers need to be thrown overboard.

    Certainly that is true with regard to the Arians.

    At least with regard to ordained officebearers, it is also true with regard to those who dissent on Arminianism and on church government.

    But again, I’m speaking solely for myself, not for anyone else.

  24. Andrew Duggan said,

    May 19, 2013 at 8:51 am

    Darrell @20,

    A large part of the issue is contained when looking at these two passages of scripture together.

    Amos 3:3

    Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

    and Matt 28:19,20

    Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

    It seems to me that we are to preach and teach everything that Christ has commanded. So the question is: Do the Scriptures teach Presbyterian church government, or not. If so, then that comes under the requirement of Matt 28:20? Where do find Christ letting anyone off the hook for passing in fulfilling what He requires in Matt 28:20?

    You might want to check out Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici

    I am neither a Reformed Episcopal nor a Covenanter.

    Also the churches stemming from the continental Reformed, generally since Dort have required all members to subscribe to the TFU, so for them it’s not just about requirements for ordained officers.

    So given Christ’s command in Matt 28:20, where do we find in Scripture the authority for us to pick and choose what the church is to teach (and therefore require our member to believe)?

    Christ says “everything”, but the contemporary and 18th through 21st century churches behave as though we can limit that to the Trinity and the substitutionary atonement.

    Does anyone wonder why you see Romans 1 working out in the world and the churches right in front of your own eyes?

  25. CD-Host said,

    May 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    @Darrell #23

    This discussion has been so far about whether Roberts Rules of Order tend to produce strife and discord because of the distinction between unity and legislating.

    You had given 3 examples, “Here are three examples of voting, in levels of increasingly more serious consequences if the minority had been allowed to continue to advocate its case despite losing the vote“. I countered by arguing that in all 3 of those examples despite using a majoritarian criteria the minority was able to continue to advocate. Moreover, in 2 of those 3 examples the minority successfully advocated and effectively overturned the original decision. Let me just add the 3 examples you gave all happened within the context of confessional states which add considerable pressure for the minority to conform that a church in 2013 America doesn’t have.

    I think those prove my point that if your goal is to get the minority to stop advocate for their case then the minority has to be convinced of the rightness of your point of view. That is much much higher bar than convincing a simple majority. The assumption in this thread so far has been that people are looking for a system to get the people in the pews to work together.

    Most of the time we are talking about issues like whether the church kitchen gets the double basin sink or the single basin sink. RRO is based on trying to make sure that 55% what the single basin that gets decided fast. It is not based on making sure that the 2 women that wanted the double basin don’t decide to stop church shopping because they are tired of not being listened to and feel picked on.

    When we start talking about more heated issues:
    * an elder who may have done something bad but there is questionable evidence
    * what kind of curriculum is used for children’t biblical education
    * policy towards teen pregnancy. Whether to effectively normalize unwed motherhood or whether to be firmer and encourage abortion


    the potential for division increase but we still aren’t talking idealogical matters but often issues of judgement and discernment.

    Your latest post questions that assumption that the goal is unity and instead makes a case that the goal isn’t necessarily to get people to work together but rather to weed out those people who don’t have a high enough level of idealogical agreement with the majority. Build consensus by removing dissent not by changing hearts and minds. I just want to make sure you are really arguing that and it isn’t a property of the 3 examples you picked.

    In my book I talk about the distinction between a fellowship and a team. A fellowship is a temporary alliance brought about by common interests where people form ad-hoc relationship with one another. They submit to advance the common goal. A team is a permanent institution whose members value the structure itself.

    Generally the assumption in the PCA is you are form a team not a fellowship when you form a church. That is you want people who wouldn’t otherwise agree to come together, and work together. The goal is not to select from the population narrow and narrower groups of people who agree on more and more. American Protestantism is moving in that direction and that may be happening but i don’t think the PCA openly embraces that theory of itself. Certainly I’d agree that my criticism that RRO tends to encourage the creation of angry minorities isn’t a problem if angry minorities are a feature not a bug because it makes them more likely to leave.

    The big counter from my perspective is the narrower the population the less effective churches / denominations will be in things like intergenerational retention which traditionally they have cared greatly about. Once you stop working towards high intergenerational retention that is a major change in the nature of the church.

  26. May 20, 2013 at 1:06 am

    @ CD-Host and Elder Duggan:

    This is Rev. Keister’s blog, not mine. That means he sets the limits of acceptable and unacceptable disagreement.

    I may have some pretty strong views on this issues being raised, especially those raised by CD-Host, but I need to let Rev. Keister comment if he chooses to do so. It’s his blog and his rules.

  27. CD-Host said,

    May 20, 2013 at 7:37 am

    RRO is based on trying to make sure that 55% what the single basin that gets decided fast. It is not based on making sure that the 2 women that wanted the double basin don’t decide to stop church shopping because they are tired of not being listened to and feel picked on.

    Wow did that turn into word salad what I meant was.

    RRO is based on trying to make sure that when 55% want the single basin that gets resolved fast. RRO is not based on making sure that the 2 women that wanted the double basin don’t decide to start church shopping because they are tired of not being listened to and feel picked on.

    @Darrell –

  28. Reed here said,

    May 20, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Cd, no. 22: as Iexpect you will agree, you basis for defining “success” is decidedly different from the majority of commenters here. You are self-limited to mere worldly measurements. Regardless of unbelief, there is a spiritual realm by which to measure success. On that basis, Rev. Maurina’s examples hold true. I would call them great successes in that they preserved orthodoxy.

    But, if I held your naturalistic presuppositions, I might agree with you.

  29. CD-Host said,

    May 20, 2013 at 10:34 am


    Again most of the time this is about the 2 basin sink vs. the 1 basin sink these aren’t deep theological matters but at best pragmatic theological matters, how to apply complex theology to a variety of situations.

    But even for the big ones I wouldn’t agree I’m assuming materialism. Let’s grant a supernatural orthodoxy I don’t see how it changes anything. Assume we have X2 being the supernatural orthodoxy. And after this sort of debate we end up with 3 churches:
    C1 with 80% of Christians preaching X1
    C2 10% of Christians preaching X2
    C3 10% of Christians preaching X3

    How is X2 materially preserved? I can see how orthodoxy is preserved if the numbers look like:
    C1 with .8% of Christians preaching X1
    C2 99.1% of Christians preaching X2
    C3 .1% of Christians preaching X3

    But that’s not what happened in those example. I’d argue it is far closer to what happened in the 19th century American context of the 19th Arian movement which was concerned minority voices.

    To go from the other direction. You know there have been church votes where the Conservative Reformed views have lost. Take for example 1926 when it was decided that the GA could not create a litmus tests for candidates without the consent of the presbyteries, designed to effectively normalize Auburn Affirmation theology. My guess is you don’t agree that preserved orthodoxy. My guess is you would agree it was a critical vote in what eventually undermined orthodoxy in the PCUS/PCUSA. Knowing though that it won a majority doesn’t change your view.

    I think you would admit that if Dordt were held today in 2013 among all Protestants, Reformed theology would get massacred and something halfway between Arminianism and semi-Pelagianism would easily win a majority. Knowing that doesn’t change your view on the issue of justification one bit.

    To preserve orthodoxy in a material sense requires a broad overwhelming consent. To preserve orthodoxy in a spiritual sense is something humans can neither assist nor thwart. So I’m not sure if I understand your criticism of my position.

  30. May 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    In 1876 General Henry M. Robert set out to bring the rules of the American Congress to members of ordinary societies with the publication of Pocket Manual of Rules of Order. It sold half a million copies before this revision of 1915 and made Robert’s name synonymous with the orderly rule of reason in deliberative societies.

  31. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 20, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Please excuse my bluntness here, but much of this discussion about Robert’s Rules has turned just plain weird. (You know who you are who have caused this.)

    Lane’s original post was a simple, sensible reminder about the utility of Robert’s to effect business in the world and in the church “decently and in order.” We were reminded that Robert’s Rules sprang from a Christian worldview. We noted that Robert’s procedures are happily in sync with Biblical principles. No one claimed perfection for the Rules, yet we acknowledged how helpful they can be. Such a blessing is all too rare in this fallen world.

    And then, as so often happens on this blog (which I love, by the way), the dog started chasing his tail. To change the metaphor, someone opened a door, and we walked into Bizarro World. Making a simple point and commenting on it clearly and succinctly is not enough for some people. No, we must be treated to layer upon layer of complex, tortuous, obscure reasoning, and pointless pontificating. (Many of us can “blow smoke” with the worst of them; we just choose not to.)

    I’m always amazed at the ability of some contributors to take an obvious point and twist it beyond all recognition.

    Oh, well, enough said. “Senior citizen rant” over for today.

  32. Ron said,

    May 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm


    Darrell made an observation in post 21 that might speak to your concern. It speaks to mine.

  33. Alan D. Strange said,

    May 20, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Frank and Ron,

    I agree. I came back in to make a point or two but discovered that I was dealing with something altogether different. In response to Darrell’s sensible challenge of these fellows, I started a long piece on the first four councils (and other councils and synods) and then abandoned it as I thought it best to disengage Bizarro World.

    This will make good fodder for my teaching of RONR at Mid-America and tomorrow in the OPC Form of Government class for MTIOPC at Bethel OPC in Wheaton.

    We would never want the church to be able to express her mind through such a mechanism as voting, never mind the truth! Oi vey!

  34. May 20, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Thank you, Prof. Strange.

    Reporters can occasionally be useful for something ;-)

  35. May 20, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    With regard to the issue of divisions and driving out dissenters, let’s not forget what Scripture teaches about divisions in I Cor. 11:18-19: “In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”

    The existence of divisions is not necessarily a problem. In fact, it may be essential “to show which of you have God’s approval.”

    Fidelity to truth, not maintaining consensus despite fundamental differences, is what counts.

  36. May 20, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    One more thing: Remember that I am a former liberal and stayed in a mainline denomination for many years after my conversion until I was more or less driven out by a new pastor’s open advocacy of abortion. I know from firsthand experience what happens when not just sincere error but wicked heresy are tolerated in a church.

    Toleration of God’s enemies is not an act of love, either toward God or toward His sheep.

    Scripture teaches us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (I Pete 3:15-16.)

    There is a big difference between people asking sincere questions, who are to be answered with gentleness and respect, and a different sort of question arising from a fundamentally different mindset.

  37. Alan D. Strange said,

    May 20, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    I just finished, Darrell, a long series of lectures on liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, and ecumenism in my Modern Church class. Privileging unity and ecumenism at all costs, mainly that of the truth of the Holy Sriptures, marks these movements.

    You are spot-on, Darrell, that there’s something worse than division (because of the truth) and that’s compromise of the essential truth of the gospel. Paul was not willing for it. Machen was not willing for it. And we ought not to be willing for it either.

    I am minded of the wise words of my former Professor at WTS, Robert Knudsen, who was intimate with these movements and declared, “I refuse to accept as orthodoxy that which has arisen Phoenix-like from the ashes of the destruction of orthodoxy.”

  38. Tim Harris said,

    May 20, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Yeah, I gotta say, it gives me the heebie jeebies to see atheists and Christians discussing theology as if it is merely an intellectual project.
    But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor 2:14

    Now, if the post were giving the thesis, “the non-Christian has no basis for ethics” etc., then it would be different — though even then, the posture of the Christians would be apologetics vis-a-vis the atheist.

  39. Alan D. Strange said,

    May 20, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Right, Tim. All of the contentions of the atheists would be self-refuting, since antitheism presupposes theism.

    And it’s a good thing, because otherwise everything that the atheist says and does would be nonsense simpliciter and not, instead, reduce to nonsense. I say this because I see from a click on your name that you are a Wagner fan. Kudos!

    There was a fool–as Psalm 14 identifies such–who wrote some glorious music. This is, of course,the 200th of both him and Verdi! Thank God that He gave them the kinds of gifts He did, though they deny Him. Sorry for the thread departure. I could not resist when I saw your encomium to Die Walkure. We need more Reformed opera lovers!

  40. Reed here said,

    May 21, 2013 at 12:32 am

    CD, you can’t escape your materialism. Your conclusion rests on material measurements alone.

    Truth being secured is always success no matter the percentages. Aside from that, you seem not to be considering (aware of?) the Bliblical doctrine of remnant. The material fact of a minority is actually a potential mark of the only kind of success that matters.

    But then, seeing as you deny the existence of your Creator, I don’t that to float your boat much. All I’m seeking to point out is that Rev.Maurina’s examples are good, if one does not rely on unbelieving materialistic presuppositions.

  41. Alan D. Strange said,

    May 21, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Darrell, I thought that I preached the ordination of your pastor, or was it yours? :-)

  42. Don said,

    May 21, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    I’m really rather surprised at the ad hominem censorship attempts here (“Because you’re an atheist, you shouldn’t be allowed to join this conversation.”) This CD-Host guy has a better (intellectual) understanding of Protestantism than most of the Catholics who occasionally comment here.

    Anyway, the statement in #20 deserves inspection:

    Here are three examples of voting, in levels of increasingly more serious consequences if the minority had been allowed to continue to advocate its case despite losing the vote

    CD’s argument in #22 seems to be that the minority view did persist for centuries if not eventually win out, advocating its case in other contexts. So what good did the vote effect? Where CD’s naturalism falls short may be his idea that the goal is to get everyone on board, rather than to define the truth. But it’s an odd path that this conversation took, going from “Good thing we had a vote, and the majority got it right!” in #20, to a rather Ibseneque “The majority is always wrong” in #40.

  43. May 21, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Good question, Prof. Strange. It’s been a number of years, but unless my memory fails me, I do believe you were the preacher at Rev. Schiebout’s ordination.

    You may be aware that I turned down ordination many years ago back in the early 1990s, chose to be licensed to preach rather than ordained, and eventually served several churches as an unordained tentmaking lay preacher. Even that doesn’t apply today, however — my licensure ended when I joined the Springfield church. Since the closest church of my own denomination is almost three hours away, I am a member of a church in a denomination where I cannot and should not be ordained. My views would be acceptable in the URC, but they’re contrary to the Westminster Standards, and I declined nomination when one of the leaders in the Springfield church wanted to put me on the board of trustees before the church formally organized with its own elders and deacons.

    The Dissenting Brethren at Westminster were called both “dissenting” and “brethren” for a reason. It’s fine to be brothers, but ecclesiastical unity requires more than brotherhood in the Lord.

    As for office and ordination, I have very little respect for people who would ignore their own confessions to admit someone to office who dissents from the confessions. There are reasons why I never joined the PCA despite attending for about half a decade, and finally walked out after the local PCA pastor tried repeatedly over a period of many years to get me to accept ordination. Admitting someone like me to office could very easily become a precedent that would lead to much worse people being ordained, and I will not let myself be used as a precedent leading to watering down of confessional integrity, whether in the PCA or any other denomination.

    Confessions exist for good reasons. Among those reasons are that they keep people out of office who do not belong. I have little doubt that Spurgeon, Knox, Cromwell, Edwards, Machen, Ussher and Augustine are all in heaven right now, but they were in different denominations during their earthly lives, and that was the way it should have been. Sometimes people can get along fine in different churches who would have no choice but to fight if they were in the same church.

  44. greenbaggins said,

    May 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Darrell, I allow many radically different viewpoints to comment here, as long as it doesn’t get to the level of personal attacks. I would allow an atheist, a Roman Catholic (and many of them comment), a Jew, a Pentecostal, or Hindu, or just about anyone to comment. They are supposed to stick to the issues, which alas does not happen very often.

  45. Tim Harris said,

    June 5, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    The original post says, “previously Reformed people are becoming persuaded by this viewpoint.”

    But the mistakes of the Hebrew movement are so many and so elementary, that I find it hard to believe that any seminary-educated man would be tempted to it. Can the original statement be substantiated?

  46. greenbaggins said,

    June 5, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    You sure you posted this in the right thread? To answer your question, Pete Rambo (who has been commenting on the other threads) is a seminary educated previously ARP minister who has now embraced the ideas of the HRM.

  47. Tim Harris said,

    June 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Sorry. Thought I was putting it under “The Hebrew Roots Movement.”

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