Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 14, 1963

The Autonomy Of The Local Congregation

Herbert E. Winkler

In conversation with two of the elders of the church in a middle Tennessee town a few nights past, the subject drifted to the autonomy of the local congregation. One of the brethren said that not long ago he was discussing religious issues with a Baptist preacher of his acquaintance, and the Baptist remarked: "The Baptist congregations are more autonomous than the local congregations of the church of Christ. The Baptist congregation rules itself without interference from the Convention. But with the church of Christ it is not so; when you want to do after such and such manner the Gospel Advocate at Nashville steps in and with its pressure system has more power and control over the local churches of Christ than the Baptist Convention has over us."

It is a sad, shocking, sickening story which must be admitted to the retorts of our religious neighbors that there is a century old religious journal among us, which in some respects has more power in shaping the policy and actions of many of the churches of Christ, than does the Bible itself. For shame!

Our century old slogan and battle cry: "We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent" is used now by many only for propaganda purposes; as a blind, a cover-up maneuver. To mislead the ignorant, to make merchandise of the unsuspecting, to fill and fatten the coffers of the institutions builded by and for the wisdom of men who glory in what "WE" have done.

May the Lord in His own way, whatever is required, hasten the day when Papers, Editors, Schools, school Presidents, Teachers, Preachers, Brotherhood Elders and every other "would-be potentate" will keep their hands off the autonomy of the local congregation of God's people and let HIM only have His way with us. "Then we will be kept back from presumptuous sins, upright and innocent from the great transgression." (Psa. 19:13)

Yes, the journals and schools are two ultra potent factors in their interference with the autonomy of the local congregation which has greatly accelerated the present departure from the simple New Testament pattern of work in the evangelistic and benevolent aspects of our activities. They have designingly maneuvered themselves during the past two decades into the driver's seat and accelerated their speed to such momentum that they now dare to call the strikes for faithful brethren who are laboring in the Lord's cause and responsible to Him alone. And shall we bow the knee to them? Never!!

When man invades the Silence of God's word and proceeds by a before-unheard-of interpretation of Paul's statement for the correction of irregular procedures in the Corinthian Church: "Let all things be done decently and in order," and uses this for church action "Where There Is No pattern"; it is time for the whole body of the Lord's people to throw up their hands in holy horror and exclaim: Away with such wanton encroachments upon the purity of the faith of God's children from the earth!

May the Lord speedily turn us from this downward rush of digression from "The Old Paths" lest we go, as did the early church, into total apostasy. How badly the Church is wanting a Scriptural Eldership in each local congregation which have the courage to hang over the main entrance of each church building, the sign NO INTRUDERS ALLOWED. And if one should enter, to stand up on his own two feet and with the Sword of the Spirit "Put to silent the ignorance of foolish men." (I Pet, 2:15) And faithfully serve "The flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made" them "bishops." (Acts 20:28)

You elders out there, God hath set you as "Watchmen" over His own flock, Spiritual Israel, and hath prescribed the limits of your activities and set the bounds of your territory, to wit, "The flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops." (Acts 20:28) And, "Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight." (1 Pet. 5:2) And he who goes beyond these hath one that judgeth him. (2 John 9) As set forth in Heb. 13:17 you are watching for the souls of the members and must give account for them. Therefore you need to take the whole armor of God and having done all to stand; STAND therefore and challenge the Editors of the papers and heads of the schools until they are stopped in their tracks by your declaration "Thou shalt not pass" and save your flock from all the ramifications of the destructive heresy of "where there is no pattern."

Much may be said about the pattern the Lord has given us, but think on these words of Holy Writ: "Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." (2 Tim. 1:13) "Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words" (1 Cor. 2:13); and "that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written." (1 Cor. 4:6)

Oh! the blood of multitudes which will be upon the hands of irresponsible elders who are admonished to hold "to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers" (Titus 1:9), but who contrariwise have run from the wolves and left their flock to the snares of false doctrine. Alas!

— 6410 Charlotte Road, Nashville, Tennessee