Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 18, 1958

A False Notion

Cecil Willis, Kansas City, Missouri

There are many false notions extant in the religious world. Not a few of these are in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. These false notions must be measured constantly by what the Bible says. The relation of one congregation to another congregation has received much attention in recent years. However, no subject has received too much attention so long as some are yet in error on it.

The false statement that prompted this article appeared first in the Christian Leader (March 20, 1934), and then was reprinted in The American Christian Review in November, 1949. Were it not yet a current false notion, perhaps sufficient reason could not be given for this review at this late date. The article is written by Brother Ben Taylor. No address is given. Therefore one does not know for certain which Brother Ben Taylor did the writing. However the only Brother Ben Taylor that I know is a likable elderly brother at New Castle, Indiana, who recently got out of character and wrote a tract trying to establish-scriptural authority for a church supported human benevolent organization, Potter Orphan Home of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Perhaps Brother Taylor will yet defend his statements, but if not, perhaps some others who agree with him will take his place and defend the following remarks.

Brother Taylor states a truth when he says in speaking of a local congregation, "There is a perfect unit in itself, independent of other congregations. NO OTHER CONGREGATION CAN EXERCISE AUTHORITY OVER IT, NEITHER CAN IT EXERCISE AUTHORITY OVER ANY OTHER." If Brother Taylor had really believed this statement, he never could have made the next one. Immediately following the above sentences, he says "A mission or new congregation may be established by an existing congregation and is under jurisdiction of the congregation which establishes it. When such mission becomes self-sustaining it too becomes independent."

The Baptists speak of establishing a "Mission." So does Brother Taylor, and many other brethren. A Baptist congregation meeting nearby has a nice new building, a sizable congregation, but is not a "church" as yet. They told me they were still just a "Mission." Brethren have picked up the language of denominationalism. Brethren speak of the establishment of a new congregation as a "mission." Some feel that a "mission" does not become church until it appoints elders. But in the New Testament we read of the appointment of elders in every church (Acts 14:23). These were churches before the appointment of elders. Churches are not formed by the appointment of elders. A church is formed when a group of disciples (even two) meet together to worship according to the New Testament pattern. Referring to Priscilla and Aquila, Paul speaks of "the church that is in their house" (Rom. 16:5). Other churches meeting in one's house, or perhaps just consisting of the members of one's family, may be found referred to in scripture (1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). Whether a church has many or few members is not what constitutes it a church.

But Brother Taylor thinks that this "mission" is under control of the establishing church. "When such mission becomes self-sustaining it too becomes independent." This new church is not a "mission." IT HAS A MISSION! Brother Taylor is not the only brother that believes that the mere fact that one congregation might have assisted in some way in the establishment of another congregation gives the first congregation control over the second until a certain point. I was told that one certain congregation directed the affairs of two smaller congregations because it started the smaller ones, and they as yet had no elders.

For many years we have preached that each congregation is "autonomous." We mean by that, that it is self-governing under Christ. No other congregation has any jurisdiction over it. But this theory that we are investigating says that the "founding-congregation" has jurisdiction over the one founded until the second congregation becomes self-sustaining. But the Bible teaches that a congregation is independent of every other congregation, and is under control of no other congregation the day it is formed. A church does not become independent. It is independent the day it is established.

There should be no time that a congregation lacks so much being "self-sustaining" that it is not independent of every other church. The false notion discussed in Brother Taylor's article is also the false notion that gave birth to many of our modern promotions. The mere fact that one congregation is older, larger, richer, composed of men with better education, vision or experience does not give this congregation one ounce of authority to try to exercise jurisdiction over any other church, small or large, rich or poor. Neither can one church exercise jurisdiction over the work of another church. If it could, then really there is no such thought as congregational autonomy taught in the Bible. No circumstance can arise when two churches or the work of two churches can be federated under one authority here on earth. The authority of Christ is the only authority that extends beyond a local congregation's bounds. Elder's authority is limited by the flock of God over which they have been appointed as bishops (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 6:2).