"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.VI No.VI Pg.14
January 1944

Autonomy Of The Local Church

Ted W. Mcelroy

It is generally known to the readers of the New Testament, that the word church means the "called out" or saved and is used in two senses, general and local. In the general sense the church has no organization or officers except, "He is the head of the body, the church" (Col. 1:18). A local church, that is the Christians of a given locality, has its elders, deacons, and saints. No organization larger than the local church is authorized in the New Testament. Each congregation of disciples is separate and independent, and has no human organizational connection with other congregations. Efforts to bring congregations into a "defacto" diocese, are unwarranted by the New Testament, and are founded on pride, ignorance and ambition.

Note a few scriptures which point out the work and show the autonomy of the church. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:10-11). This scripture makes its plain that the "wisdom of God," the gospel, is to "be made known through the church." A committee or financial agency is not hinted at. To take the position that the church as such is inadequate for the task God imposed upon it is a rather bold presumption. Upon this bold presumption of the inadequacy of the church, the societies are built. I believe the church as authorized in the New Testament is all-sufficient for the task of making the "wisdom of God" known, and that apart from its elders and deacons, the church needs no financial committee or agency, in it, or over it, to assist in doing its work.

Another scripture, "Unto him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever" (Eph. 3:21). This is emphatic that the church is the instrumentality formed for God's praise and glory. The committees and human organizations which pretend to glorify God, are in reality insults to Him; because they are formed on the presumption that human wisdom is superior to divine wisdom, and that the human institution will be better suited to function for His glory than the church. The organizations and schemes of men dishonor God, rather than glorify Him.

The New Testament furnishes us with examples that are binding upon us. Note the example of the gospel work of Paul and Silas, Acts 15:40-41, they were "commended by the brethren" of Antioch, and went forth to preach the gospel. Their work in Philippi, Macedonia is described in Acts 16:11-40. In the course of their work they went to Corinth and taught there for a year and a half, Acts 18:1-11. While thus engaged in preaching in Corinth, the Philippian church supplied their wants, 2 Cor. 11:9; Phil. 4:15. The significant point is that the church acted, it was not the work of a society or committee or self-appointed agent; but the church is said to have done the work. Another significant lesson; since Paul and Silas had been sent from the church in Antioch, was the Antioch church considered the "sponsoring church," and was it necessary for the Philippian church to send its contribution through the Antioch church? No indication is given that the contribution was routed through Antioch. In New Testament times, if any church knew of Paul and his need and desired to have fellowship in his work, they were at liberty to do so without going through a sponsor.

Observation of Rom. 12:3 is a good society preventive. "For I say, through the grace given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think," Efforts to combine churches and individuals into committees and under sponsors, evince that some one thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think. Usually the motive for such efforts is that somebody wants to be "the head" of something bigger than anything known to the New Testament. Such is an unholy ambition, and deserves to be resisted.

Now to a specific application of these scriptures. Something in quotation marks, "Post War Missionary Program" has been crawling out and demanding the attention of the brotherhood. At first it was just "agitation" and originated in California; second, it appeared in Lubbock as a "sponsored plan," and now a brother Beeson from Arkansas wants it to be a "financial agency." No, I don't think it is a monster with seven heads and ten horns which will gobble up all the churches in one lusty feast; this "agitation," "sponsored plan" or "financial agency," which ever it turns out to be, is probably more like a harmless little grass snake than a monster. Anyway I am not scared to step on it or at it.

In the Firm Foundation Sept. 14, 1943 brother Beeson of Little Rock has an article on this "After the war missionary program." If brother Brewer and the Lubbock church do not endorse this Arkansas encouragement and explanation of their "Post war missionary plan," they ought to tighten and strengthen the reins of their sponsorship.

Brother Beeson complains, "We have grown so accustomed to fighting any organization larger than the local congregation until the thought of congregational cooperation is as dead as faith without works." >From that statement it is plain that we will have to cease "fighting any organization larger than the local church," if this "after the war missionary program of congregational cooperation" is put into effect. His statement is a plea to stop the fight and open the gate. Now the crucial question is, have we been wrong in fighting any organization larger than the local church? We have not been wrong, the battle against such organizations is part of the good fight of faith, and may it ever be fought. Since the fight against organizations larger than the local church kills brother Beeson's idea of congregational cooperation, something is wrong with the idea. The fight is good, and if it kills the idea, it is evidence that the idea is wrong. Let us continue the good fight and let his brand of cooperation stay dead.

Those who are advocating such post war plans of cooperation anticipate opposition, and shall not be disappointed. They try to hedge their scheme behind the skirt of its being "voluntary." They seem to think, if it is "voluntary" it is all right and that should smother the opposition. But is a thing scriptural, just because participation in it is "voluntary," if so every religious activity in our nation is scriptural. Being a Catholic and burning incense is "voluntary." Does that make it acceptable to the Lord? Of course it does not. Neither does the mere statement that these defections are "voluntary" make them scriptural.

There are several other things in brother Beeson's article that I would like to notice, but for the sake of brevity just one more point. Brother Beeson says, "How is this missionary work to be done on the basis of equality, so that one missionary will not be surfeited with finance while another is neglected entirely by the churches. Financial cooperation and agency are the only means by which we shall iron out the inequalities of support and maintenance and build a permanent missionary program abroad." The apostles and early evangelists preached the gospel "in all creation under heaven" (Col. 1:23) without any such financial agency; which proves it can be done without the agency, and brother Beeson furnished no proof that the Lord wanted any such agency connected with the work. We ought, therefore, to strive to do the work of the Lord without setting up an agency unknown to His word.