Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 2, 1962
NUMBER 13, PAGE 4,10b

The Baptists And Local Autonomy


On the front page this week we publish an editorial, "Baptist Freedom," from the Baptist Bible Tribune of June 15, 1962. Editor of this paper is Noel Smith, and the organ is published from Springfield, Missouri. While the Tribune disavows being the "official organ" of the "Baptist Bible Fellowship," it nevertheless fills the role ordinarily expected of an official organ of a denomination, The "Bible Baptist Fellowship" is an organization of "1,251 affiliated autonomous churches in 42 states" and "is a corporation duly organized and existing under the laws of the State of Missouri." It was chartered in 1950.

No denomination has more fiercely protested their belief in absolute congregational autonomy than have the Baptists. Each congregation is supposed to be completely independent; its affiliation with any other body is its own business; It can affiliate or not affiliate as the majority of its members may vote. Yet the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas has denied the right of the First Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, to disaffiliate itself from the American (Northern) Baptist Convention. The vote in the church for withdrawal of itself from this body was 739 to 294. A district court in harmony with accepted Baptist doctrine and practice ruled that the vote of the majority was the voice of the church, and that the congregation had a right to withdraw from the Convention. The minority appealed the decision, and the Kansas Supreme Court declared: "We hold that not even in an autonomous Baptist church may the denomination of the church be changed by a mere majority vote."

The ruling has been appealed, and the majority has asked for a re-hearing. What the final outcome will be we do not know.

What has all this to do with simple churches of Christ? Well, we have been given considerable propaganda in late years to the effect that no church can lose its autonomy so long as its cooperation with other churches is "purely voluntary." We have been told that when a congregation pools its resources with the resources of other congregations to be administered by a single eldership it "exercises" its autonomy rather than losing it. The money is its to give, or to withhold! And the local church determines for itself whether it shall, or shall not, make the contribution.

And what about the First Baptist Church at Wichita, Kansas? It is the largest congregation in the Northern Baptist Convention, with 4,000 members and a building valued at $2,500,000.00. It "exercised" its "congregational autonomy" by an overwhelming vote to withdraw from the Convention. And the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the church cannot withdraw, no matter how large the majority.

We haven't come that far — yet! But we have seen bitterness almost beyond description, vituperation, pressure, malicious misrepresentation, vicious slander, organized telephone "blitz-kriegs" and every conceivable kind of pressure tactic employed against a congregation which decided to "exercise" its autonomy and terminate its support of the Herald of Truth Cooperative! And these pressures were organized and promoted by the backers and representatives of that Cooperation! We have not a doubt in the world that legal action would have been resorted to take the building from this congregation thus "exercising" its autonomy had any possible way been open to attempt it.

The sad story of what is happening to the Baptist churches ought to be a warning to us. When these "centralized cooperatives" have been excepted for a few years they take en the status (with powers, authority, and privileges) of legally recognized governing bodies; and the courts of the land will preserve and protect them in such actions as are now being seen among the Baptists.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is another case in point. Their "International convention" claims itself to be a "purely voluntary" association of churches, each congregation participating having the power to "disaffiliate" at any time it may desire. But have you ever talked with the pastor or the members of a church attempting "disaffiliation"? You know that it is simply impossible to drop out of the arrangement without engendering terrific pressures, both open and subtle, obvious and concealed, honorable and dishonorable, to have the association continued. And have you ever talked with some of the brethren who once supported Herald of Truth but decided to terminate such support? Well, there are quite a number of such churches in the land — and you ought to talk with some of them! Some elders have frankly confessed that the pressures were too great, the heat was too intense! They simply folded up and agreed to continue their support of the program; others, more courageous, stopped their support — and have endured every kind of pressure and misrepresentation because of such action.

Yes, it CAN happen to us as it is happening to the Baptists. Indeed, it IS happening to us! Even at his writing we can cite more than one instance in which legal action has been resorted to, or is pending, among churches of Christ — growing out of the "voluntary cooperatives" which have been so widely promoted in recent years.

— F.Y.T