CASTING LOTS

T. PIERCE BROWN

Some time ago, the following questions were asked of me, and I could not recall that I had ever heard anyone speak or write anything definitive about the subject. “Does the church today have the right to settle questions by lot as the Apostles did in Acts 1:26? If not, why not? If so, how should it be done?”

Historically, the common method of casting lots was by writing the names of persons on pieces of stone or wood and putting them in an urn. Then they were shaken and drawn at random. David decided the division of priests by lot as 1 Chronicles 24:5 indicates. ThelandofCanaanwas divided by lot (Numbers 26:55). Achan, who took a silver wedge and garment, was apparently discovered by lot (Joshua7:14-18), and there are other places where God seemed to approve of the use of the lot. It appears that on every such occasion it was when God wanted a specific thing done which man’s wisdom could not discover, and this was God’s way of making a special revelation to him. In no case do we find this method used simply to determine what course man might THINK God wanted him to pursue.

In the case of Matthias (Acts1:26), it seems evident that even if God did not ORDAIN this method, He approved of the result. Serious objections have been raised concerning this procedure, such as: 1. There is no record of Jesus asking THEM to choose another man to replace Judas. On every other occasion, Jesus chose his own men in his own way. 2. There is no indication that the two they chose were of God’s design. If God had designated two out of which ONE was to be chosen, He could have as easily designated the specific one in the first place. 3. They had not yet received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, so they blundered in their use of a method not authorized by God. The fact that God used their blundering and overruled it does not prove that He was pleased with it.

Although the three preceding points may be true, the reasoning resulting from them is not necessarily valid. Note: 1. This is not a matter of THEM choosing. They prayed and left the choice to God. 2. It is true that we cannot prove that the TWO from which ONE was chosen was by the design of God, but we can prove that the one that was chosen FROM the two was, and that is what matters. Luke, the inspired historian, lists him with the 12, with no hint that he was spurious. He received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the other eleven (Acts 2:1,4,14). 3. They were following a procedure that had been recognized and accepted of God all along, so the burden of proof rests on one who would affirm that it had now somehow become unacceptable.

Granting all that, however, there are still some objections to the use of the lot in determining what course the church shall pursue in various decisions today. First, the fact that it was approved of God in an age when revelation was incomplete and God was still dealing directly with mankind is certainly no indication that it is an approved method of finding God’s will today. As Hebrews 1:1 puts it, “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets in divers portions and IN DIVERS MANNERS, hath in the end of these days spoken unto us in his son…” But the questions asked in our first paragraph were not dealing with casting lots to decide whether to be baptized or take the Lord’s Supper, but about the things about which the Bible does not give a specific answer.

For example, the elders may be considering buying a piece of property and erecting a building. Those in favor reason: 1. We need to have a more adequate place where we can carry out God’s command to teach — even seven days a week. 2. A visible structure is a constant reminder to the community that here is a group that advocates a return to simple New Testament Christianity. 3. Here is an added incentive, attraction and opportunity to invite friends and neighbors to hear the gospel. 4. It gives an added sense of permanency and stability to the work. Those against it reason: 1. We are considering an INITIAL expense of more than $200,000 of God’s money for material things. Which would win more to Christ, 10 men working full time each day to convert men to Christ, or the same money for brick and mortar? 2. Which is the best reminder of a group advocating a return to primitive Christianity, a group DOING it, or a building setting here doing nothing? 3. One of our problems is that we have assumed the necessity of “added incentives” when the Gospel is still God’s power to save. 4. Where did you get the idea that a man-made “added sense of permanency” was any essential or useful part of Christianity?  5. We are not denying that it is an authorized aid, we are simply questioning the propriety of that method of expediting God’s command at this time and place.

The elders recognize the validity of arguments on both sides of the question. They must make a decision. Should they cast lots and let the Lord decide it by lot? Proverbs 26:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” So why not use that method now?

My present conclusions are these: First, there is no teaching, hint, or indication that God authorizes the church to decide anything in that manner now. At the so-calledJerusalemconference in Acts 15, they did not decide it in that manner. They came together to DISCUSS the matter. When choosing deacons in Acts 6, they did not cast lots. At NO TIME AFTER THE HOLY SPIRIT CAME on the Apostles was this method used.

Second, since there is no teaching in the New Testament authorizing it, there can be no assurance that the disposing of it that way would REALLY be the Lord’s disposition. Suppose you came into the office and found the three elders down on their knees rolling dice (casting lots). They have prayed for God’s will to be done in their decision making. They have said, “If 7 or 11 comes up, we build. If snake eyes comes, we sell. If anything else comes up, we hold.” The first elder rolls. Seven comes up. He says, “Fine, we build.” The second elder says, “God wants us to be absolutely sure, like Gideon. So let’s try again.” This time two comes up. He says, “We should sell.” The third elder says, “One more chance.” He rolls 6. Now what? They may not only be so frustrated they resign (probably should anyway!), but may lose faith in God and man in the process.

Third, the practice must be based on the assumption that God intervenes DIRECTLY in the affairs of men in the same way He did before revelation was complete. The assumption is unwarranted. It would lead to the disregarding of human responsibility and the necessity of reasoning and decision making in terms of God’s revealed will. It would tend to put all responsibility on God. This development of a gambling spirit and a consequent failure to develop one’s own sense of responsibility is dangerous and immature.

Fifth, James specifically says, “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God — “. He does NOT say, “If anyone lacks wisdom let him cast lots and let God decide.” We conclude, therefore, that there are better ways to arrive at conclusions as to what actions the church is to take. If an individual wants to flip a nickel to decide whether to buy his groceries at Krogers or Winn Dixie, I would not try to prove that to be a sin, but if he ASSUMES God was making the decision for him, I would try to teach him better. And for the elders to make a decision for the congregation about GOD’S BUSINESS in that fashion would be improper for at least the five reasons given above, and no doubt several others.

While the Bible teaches that we should achieve a complete dependence on God in our lives, this does NOT involve the superstitious assumption that God has taken over the direction of my life by some sort of miraculous remote control. To depend on God to help me make a wise decision is one thing, and to claim that everything that happens is a sign of God’s intervention in my life is something else. While we may try to limit God’s providence unduly, this matter of casting lots is probably a by-product of the “Holy Spirit movement” and a PRESUMPTION on God’s providence, and an assumption of many things contrary to God’s revealed will. We know of persons who ASSUME that the Holy Spirit moves them to tie the right shoelace before the left one, or to shave one side of the face first. We really do not understand why a person who thinks he has a “hot line” to God would even need to bother casting lots!  And we are confident that a person who does not think he has one will understand that he has no authority to make decisions for the church by casting lots.

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