Sunday, June 4, 2017 am                                           NT Church 2017 Index 

The Autonomy and Independence of Local Churches

 In our last lesson we addressed the importance of identifying ourselves by a scriptural name.  Today, we want to address how the church is organized.  We want to notice how each congregation (local church) is independent and autonomous and what that means.

 I.                     What is Autonomy and Independence?

a.       Autonomous means self-governing.   The right or condition of self-government.  Freedom from external control or influence.  The idea is that an organization is “free standing”.

b.       Independent – means not dependent on another.  Here, each congregation is NOT dependent upon any other congregation(s) to function and do its work.

c.        As you study the New Testament, you learn that Christ gave His church a congregational form of government.  In scripture you will not find earthly organization larger than a local congregation.

d.       There are 2 principles to understand when we examine the government and organization of the local church:
1) Each congregation is independent – each congregation is organized as if it were the only one on earth.   This is illustrated in Revelation 1:11-13 where John is told to write to the seven churches in Asia. Each congregation is named. In Revelation 2 & 3, there was a personal message to each congregation, (All based upon what the Holy Spirit taught them – cf. Rev. 2:7, etc.).  Each congregation answered DIRECTLY to the Lord who was in their midst.
2) Every congregation is equal – in God’s eyes, each congregation stands on its own merit.  It is not judged by its size, location or the amount of work it can do.  Rather, each congregation is judged by its character by the standard He establishes. 

 II.                   The Autonomy of the Local Church

a.       Oversight of elders – limited to their local work.  This basically IS the governing structure we find in scripture. 
Acts 14:23 – as Paul and Barnabas were revisiting churches they had helped established earlier, we read that they appointed elders in every church.  This establishes that EACH congregation has its own government. 
Philippians 1:1 finds Paul addressing the saints in Philippi, with the bishops (elders) and deacons.  The NI for this is that the congregation there had its own elders and deacons. 
This is further established in Acts 20:17, 28 where the elders of Ephesus were told to shepherd the church of God among them.
1 Peter 5:2 notes that they were to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers.”
NOTE: Elders have no legislative authority – that is, they can’t make up their own laws.  They make judgments, based upon God’s word, that are in the best interest of the local church. 
We read nowhere of elders assuming authority over the work of another congregation(s), or an organizational structure larger than their local congregation.  Soon we will address the work of elders.

b.       You find NO examples of functional arrangements larger or smaller than a local church.  In the New Testament, each church did its own work.  Each congregation received instruction directly from the word of the Lord (via the apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-12).  This instruction came orally (by inspired men) and in written form (e.g. the letters we have recorded) that were circulated. 
A study of denominational structures typically shows tiers of authority. 
- In its simplest form, the Catholic church has at least 3 layers – parishes (the domain of a local church), diocese which oversee several parishes (usually overseen by bishops or arch-bishops), and the Vatican in Rome which oversees the entire church.   The Pope is the universal bishop of the church.  There is also a college of Cardinals – a group of priests and bishops (appointed by the pope) who meet in Rome.  Their primary role is to appoint a new pope when needed. 
- The Episcopal church consists of a General convention that meets every 3 years.  This convention is organized much like our Congress (with 2 houses – a house of deputies and a house of bishops) where decisions are made for the various congregations.  The leaders who represent at this convention are elected by Dioceses which also have their own conventions.  Each diocese is made up of a large number of congregations.
- The Presbyterian church begins with the Session (the governing body of a local congregation made up of elected elders and various pastors).  The Presbytery is a governing body that has jurisdiction over many sessions.   A Synod is a governing body that has oversight over several (at least 3) presbyteries.    At least, every 2 years, the General Assembly meets which includes equal numbers of ministers and elders elected by the various presbyteries.  This assembly makes decisions that will govern the affairs of the various presbyteries and congregations.
- Baptist churches – while varied, are typically independent and autonomous.  However, WITHIN a local congregation there is typically the pastor (usually the preacher) who is given broad authority.  Also there may be a “board of deacons” who are elected by the members.  Typically, Baptist churches are democratic and decisions are based upon the voting of its members (i.e. majority rules).  Such is NOT what we find in the Bible.  The church is NOT a democracy, in that we MUST adhere to what God’s word teaches and authorizes.
BUT, most Baptist churches join themselves to other congregations in conventions (e.g. Southern Baptist Convention, General Association of General Baptist Churches, National Baptist Convention of America, etc.)  At these conventions which meet at specified intervals, issues are discussed which MAY or MAY NOT be accepted by the local Baptist churches (hence they maintain their independence).  The idea of such associations is foreign to scripture as well. 

c.        Every work God has given us to do can be accomplished with His pattern while maintaining autonomy and independence. 
As we study the work of the church – Worship (Acts 20:7), evangelism (Acts 11:22, 13:2-3, 1 Thessalonians 1:8, Philippians 4:15-18, etc.), benevolence (Acts 6:3, 11:27-30, etc.), and edification (Ephesians 4:16) – we find it can be accomplished WITHIN a local congregation. 
Each congregation has responsibility according to its ability – 2 Corinthians 8:10-14 – you are judged by your ability.  When each congregation does its part in this way, there is “an equality” (vs. 14).
God did not give a congregation a work to do that required it to join itself to another congregation to accomplish it. 

d.       Churches in the New Testament RESPECTED these boundaries.  You do not find in the New Testament a congregation creating a work and then soliciting funds from other congregations to support and maintain it.    NOR do you find a congregation receiving funds from other congregations and serving as an intermediary to another congregation or work (a sponsoring church).

(To Be continued next lesson)