Vol.I No.VII Pg.4
July 1964

Congregational Independence

Robert F. Turner

For years "congregational independence" has been so widely accepted as a sound principle, that many members of the church of Christ use this "orthodox" terminology without really grasping its significance. Our purpose here is simply to define and to apply terms to which we all agree.

"Independent" means, "Not dependent, as (a) not subject to control by others; not subordinate; (b) not contingent or conditional; (c) not relying on others. Not dependent for support or supplies; having a competency." (See Webster's)

An independent church is one which operates solely under its own oversight (and of course I refer to those matters subject to human judgment) and in keeping with its own resources. This means it operates according to its own ability --- does not function as any part of a combination of churches, to plan or execute a program of work collectively.

A church unable to meet its own needs for self-maintenance is "dependent," and should receive alms from other churches until it can again become self-sufficient. (2 Cor. 8;14) Such unavoidable dependency does not, however, authorize a system of operation whereby a church is continually dependent by choice. (The fact that God allowed churches to exist without elders --- Acts 14:23 -- does not rule against the divine plan for oversight when qualified men are available.)

Independent operations and "intercongregational" arrangements are not compatible. The terms are contradictory, and history has repeatedly demonstrated the reality of this conflict. (See Firm Foundation editorial Dec. 10, '63.) "Willing" participation compounds, rather than excuses, the wrong.

When hundreds of churches supply the funds for some project, and allow the elders of one church to direct and oversee this collective effort--- (such as a "brotherhood" T. V. or benevolent program) these churches are dependent upon one-another, for support and/or oversight, with reference to that project. Having willfully created a dependent position, they have altered God's plan of organizational structure (the independent local church) and therefore sin.

The "good" that may be done by the unauthorized organization does not justify its existence. (Shall we do evil that good may come? Rom. 3:8) Why are the defenders of "brotherhood" evangelistic and benevolent projects so unwilling to deal with this basic issue? Must prejudice-producing name-calling (as "anti-orphan-care") take the place of honest Bible study?

Collective action is "opposed to individual, and to distributive" action. (Oxford English Dictionary) Collective action is impossible if all units remain independent. These are facts that cannot be successfully denied. Advocates of the "sponsoring church" and "institutional boards" means of inter-congregational action, should either change their practice or cease to claim congregational independence. Nor can the truth be changed by ignoring this warning.