August 15, 2014 – Walking in Truth – The Local Church—Its Autonomy

Walking in Truth Devotionals by Guy Roberson

The Local Church—Its Autonomy

“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (I Cor. 1:2)

The universal church has no committees, no governing boards, and no organizational structure other than Jesus Christ who is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18).  Jesus Christ is the head of the entire body or church and every member must answer to Him.  God places people in this church when they are converted and enter a saving relationship with Him as we have just seen in the previous devotion (I Cor. 12:18).  This body of people never assembles to worship in any capacity or to function in any way.  In our text Paul addressed the Corinthian letter to a “church of God which is at Corinth.”   This is a local church made up of saved people who have joined themselves together to function as a body of people in a given location.  What are the Biblical characteristics of a local church that will help us to determine if those people are following God’s will or the doctrines and traditions of men (Matt. 15:9)?

No principle is more clearly taught in the Scriptures than the principle of church autonomy.  The term “autonomy” means, “The quality or state of being independent, free, and self-directing; individual or group freedom” (Webster).  The organization of the church begins and ends with the local church, and it should be entirely autonomous of all other organizations, including other local churches.  The local church is to be involved in the execution of the Lord’s will and this is not to be surrendered partially or completely to any outside group. 

Elders are to be appointed within each local church (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).  These men are called bishops (overseers, or pastors (shepherds) as these terms apply to the same function as elders in the local church (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-9; I Peter 5:1-2).  These men are to oversee the church under the authority of Jesus Christ, the chief Shepherd (I Tim. 5:17; I Peter 5:1-4).  You will notice that the oversight of elders is limited to “the flock of God which is among you” (I Peter 5:1-4).  Elders do not have any authority to oversee any function other than the people and work of the local church which is among them.  They do not have any right or authority to surrender any of their oversight to anyone outside of their local church whether to a person, another group of elders, organization, or any other local church either willingly or otherwise.  To do so will violate the autonomy that is to be enjoyed by every church.

There are at least two very important reasons why maintaining local church autonomy is to be respected.  First, church autonomy is a part of the New Testament pattern for the organization of the church and we are instructed to keep this pattern (2 Tim. 1:13; 2 John 9-11).  Second, this autonomy protects the church from apostasy.  If one church apostatizes or departs from the faith that does not affect all of the other churches because churches are not to be tied together.  Centuries later, when churches were tied together in the Roman Catholic Church and under the papacy, every false doctrine or practice introduced by the popes spread to all of those churches and they were all guilty of practicing false doctrine.

Devotional by Guy Roberson

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