Parliamentary "Red Tape"

"In the warfare and battles of nations there is often more gained by good management in prompt action than in earnest, dead encounter with the enemy. The ability to do business with dispatch, and yet do it thoroughly, is a. great acquisition." Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 499.

We have often smiled at Simeon Stylites' observations in The Christian Century. But his little ironical quips frequently contain sane, wholesome philosophy. Some time ago he commented on certain types of churchmen whom he styled "hair-trigger parliamentarians, two-gun men, quick on the draw, ready to shoot from the hip with a point of order or a motion to delete; men who are debating geniuses whose concept of Robert's Rules of Order seems to be the foundation of their universe." Though his musings may not have much point in our work, yet it will do no harm for us to notice what he says.

"A meeting in the Middle West was delayed half an hour," he recalls, "because someone demanded the original text of the call for the meeting." Unfortunately the secretary had not brought a copy of that call with him, yet each was there because of having received the call. But the meeting must not be allowed to proceed because it would be "out of order."

This would hardly happen among us, and yet we too at times spend much valuable time on mere technicalities. Concerning all this Stylites says:

"All this might be harmless recreation but for two things. One is that it gets in the way of, and often blocks, the weightier matters of the law, so that they do not get the priority they deserve. The other is that in church gatherings, parliamentary debating finesse has been evaluated to an importance ludicrously higher than its value. Men have even been put into high positions of leadership for no other reason than that they could block a motion on the floor or jockey it through to passage a minor skill that has no relation to administration or prophetic leadership. I am glad that the point-of-order geniuses were not present when the Lord's Prayer was first announced. If they had been, the air would surely have rung with, 'Mr. Chairman, I move that in the section, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done," we delete the phrase "Thy will be done." It is redundant and hence unnecessary.' This might have been followed by, 'I call for a clarification of the sentence, "Lead us not into temptation." Just what does it mean?' And a third might have objected, 'That phrase "as we forgive our debtors" is subversive. If all debts are abolished it will mean economic anarchy.' " The Christian Century, Nov. 8, 1950.

Some years ago I was present at a meeting of some five hundred ministers in Lon don. It was a very representative gathering. We met in a church hall just a few yards from Westminster Abbey. Most of those present were bearing very heavy responsibilities in the leadership of their particular church groups. But what intrigued me was the dispatch with which the work was done. The chairman, a man of charm and culture, brought on one item after another in quick and yet apparently unhurried succession. It truly surprised me to see the number of large items which that day were settled "by common consent," a vote not even being asked for. I was accustomed to somewhat strict parliamentary procedure, having been in my earlier years chairman of certain debating and speech societies, but here was surely an unusual pattern.

Leaving that gathering, I began to reflect on some other meetings I have attended where, instead of five hundred, there were perhaps fifteen or twenty present. Yet how slavish was the adherence to "parliamentary procedure." The words of an ancient herald kept coming into my mind: "the king's business required haste." The king seemed to be somewhat impatient with inertia. And I began to ask myself, Is there less need for action now than there was in David's day?

What pattern of procedure did the apostles have? Just how did the Spirit speak to them saying, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them"? Acts 13:2. We may be sure of this, that those men who carried the gospel to the whole world in a single generation were not wasting time and cluttering up their records by unimportant technicalities.

"In the warfare and battles of nations there is often more gained by good management in prompt action than in earnest, dead encounter with the enemy. The ability to do business with dispatch, and yet do it thoroughly, is a. great acquisition." Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 499.

 

 


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December 1951

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