Vol.XV No.V Pg.3
July 1978

Reviewing Autonomy

Dan S. Shipley

If the subject of congregational autonomy has been scripturally and sufficiently taught in the past two decades, it is apparent that many were not listening. Nothing is more fundamental or needful concerning the work of the church than the recognition of its autonomous nature; seeing that every congregation of God's people is to be independent and self-governing functioning only as directed by its head, Jesus Christ and in keeping with its own resources. In practical terms that means, among other things, that no local church has the authority to make its work dependent upon other churches. Any work that is too big for the local church is simply too big to be scripturally carried out. The very fact that a church cannot do certain works on its own makes it evident that God does not hold them responsible for such. Regarding individuals God says, "it is acceptable according as a man hath, not according as he hath not" (2 Cor. 8:12). Why should the principle be different with churches? It is what we have that determines the extent of what we can do, whether individually or collectively.

But, not only does the receiving (sponsoring) church lose its independence in such arrangements, so does the contributing church. The receiving church DEPENDS on the funds from contributing churches and the contributing churches DEPEND on the sponsoring church to do a work. Any arrangement that makes one church dependent on another is one in which autonomy is forfeited, and such is the case in all "sponsoring church" efforts. They exist without Bible authority. Further, failure to respect the autonomous nature of the local church has involved elders in the overseeing of activities beyond the flock which is among them (I Pet. 5:2). Extra-congregational activities require extra-congregational organization. Since elders cannot scripturally oversee ANY work or ANY people outside the framework of the local church, they can have no place in such work. The fact that God has provided no organization through which extra-congregational activities might be directed should prove they have no place in carrying out His work. It will take more than calling sponsoring church arrangements a "work of the local church" to make them so. Contributing churches claim to have fellowship in such work (they know it is more than a "local" effort). Therefore, elders become overseers of a "fellowship" of churches. How can they rightly oversee workshops and campaigns involving work and people outside the local congregation? As brother Robert Turner has noted, God provides no harness for this kind of a "team'; therefore, such "teams" have no legitimate existence.

One other point needs to be made respecting this autonomy and it is this: No church, no group of elders, and no preacher has any business trying to run the affairs of another church! Many are preaching autonomy while failing to practice it. Outside interference has disrupted the unity of more than one congregation in recent years. Our primary responsibility lies within the local church. Most of us will find enough work and problems there to fully occupy our time and talents.