Three times today, in very different contexts, and with totally different emotions attached, I was faced with the language of church-as-democracy.
The church isn’t a democracy. It never was.
Democracy is a political structure in which the people decide– and in which all people have an equal vote, and equal say (which sounds great, so long as you remember that we also need safeguards for those who can’t make themselves heard, or who are in a minority at risk from the tyranny of the crowd). I like democracy, on the whole; though if I were fully honest, I suspect I’d prefer a benevolent meritocracy.
But however you define it, that is not the church.
In the church, authority doesn’t derive from popular vote, but from what we believe to be true of God. It derives from the structures of the church (in our case bishops in synod) and the collective wisdom and insight of the community of faith. It derives from who and what God calls us to be, and how that call is affirmed in the world.
In the church all God’s people have a voice and all have a right to be heard. But we do not decide what is right, good or true by popular vote.
I’m sure many things would be easier if we did.
Not better, mind: but easier.
And that is seldom God’s way.