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Sunday, June 11, 2017 am                                    NT Church 2017 Index

 

NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH 2017 (17)
The Autonomy and Independence of Local Churches (Continued)

 

We are in the midst of a study of some things to consider as we seek to find a New Testament congregation.  Last week we began addressing how local churches were independent and autonomous.   By this we mean that a local church is self-governing and not dependent upon other congregations to fulfill its function before the Lord.  In succinct terms, each congregation exists as if it were the only one on earth.  This is a very important subject as it addresses the organizational structure God has given His church on earth – namely, a congregational form of government. We noted several examples of church organizational structures that are contrary to God’s word as they reach beyond the boundaries of God’s word for the local church.   Today we will continue to address autonomy and add to this an examination of HOW churches cooperated when they did. 

 I.                     The Autonomy of the Local Church (Continued)

a.       In our last lesson we noted:
1) The oversight of elder is the organizational structure we read about in scripture.  Their oversight was limited to the congregation over which they were elders (1 Peter 5:2-3, Acts 20:17,18;
2) In scripture you find no example of functional arrangements larger than (or smaller than) a local congregation doing its work;
3) Every work God has given the church to do CAN be accomplished while maintaining His pattern of autonomy and independence;
4) Local churches respected this authority.  Today we consider two more points on this and then we will address cooperation.  

b.       The congregation was the medium through which Christians functioned to accomplish its work.
There are responsibilities Christians have that involve the local church.  In recent lessons, we have emphasized the importance of being part of a local church.

Some functions of Christians as it relates to the work of the church:

- Acts 9:26 - they sought to join a local congregation.  Here we find Paul doing that.
- Acts 20:7 – they came together to worship, Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 11 & 14, etc.
- Hebrews 10:25 – they were not to forsake the assembling of themselves together.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14 – they sought to work together as the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:16, etc.)
- 1 Corinthians 16:2 – on the first day of the week, they contributed to the work to be done
- Acts 11:29 – when they heard of a need, each disciple, determined to help with it.
- 1 Corinthians 5:4-7 – in matters of discipline, they were to work together in withdrawing from an unfaithful member (Also 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15, etc.). 
-  Instructions concerning how to live came through inspired men to various congregations (cf. 1 & 2 Corinthians, etc.).

c.        No congregation usurped the work of another congregation, or the authority of the elders of a local church.  NOR did any congregation or eldership surrender its work to another congregation.

d.       When there was a need to help other congregations, autonomy and independence were maintained.   One might observe that the Bible does speak of congregations helping one another.  And that is true. But HOW did they do this?  And what of the relationship between congregations?

 II.                   How Churches Cooperated in the New Testament

a.       What relationship did congregations have with one another as recorded in scripture? 
We have emphasized the importance of each congregation maintaining its autonomy, yet we read of many congregations in the New Testament.  There was a recognition of other congregations and they were seen as their brethren in Christ. 

                                                   i.      Some NT letters were written to more than one congregation (Galatian, Revelation).  They were called upon to share and circulate their letters (Colossians 4:16).   This fact shows there was a recognition of congregations in various places.

                                                 ii.      The fact that Paul would write letters from one city to congregations in other cities also shows this.

                                                iii.      Paul’s travels show that when he went from one city to another – he sought out sound brethren (when there) to join with (cf. Acts 9:19, 25-26, etc., 11:26, etc.). 

                                                iv.      Romans 16:1-2 – when Phoebe travels to Rome from Cenchrea, Paul urges the brethren there to receive her. 

                                                  v.      There are also examples where many congregations were affected by some action –
Acts 9:31 – the churches throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace (after Paul was converted).

                                                vi.      In such instances, this is a matter of fellowship based upon each congregation being equal AND in fellowship with Christ.  Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14 – righteousness does not have fellowship with lawlessness.  (Consider Revelation 2 & 3 where some congregations were in danger of losing this fellowship with Christ). 
1 Corinthians 4:17 – Paul taught the same thing in every church (noting there was an agreed standard that ALL congregations followed).

                                              vii.      NOTE: You do NOT find that the body of Christ is made up of congregations.  It is made up of individuals (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Romans 12:4-6, John 15:1-8, etc.).  Our recognition of other congregations is dependent upon adherence to God’s standard (faithfulness to Him). 

b.       There are also examples of congregations helping other congregations.    

                                                   i.      In this there was cooperation.  But how did congregations cooperate? 

                                                 ii.      There are 2 different types of cooperation:

1.       Collective – a word meaning forming a whole, combined.[1]  IT is the pooling of resources, a centralizing of efforts or resources to do a work.  
When congregations send money to another congregation or organization that is sponsoring a particular work (benevolence or evangelistic) you have a pooling of resources to do that work.  The “sponsoring church” becomes an intermediary between the local churches sending money and the work being done.

2.       Concurrent – a word meaning occurring or existing simultaneously or side by side. [2]  It describes more than one entity working to accomplish a task while maintaining their autonomy. 
Every local congregation is concurrently trying to convert the lost of the world.  But they do it within their own individual sphere – doing what they can with whatever resources they have. 
An example of concurrent cooperation would be supporting a preacher in another place.  That preacher may be receiving support from several congregations, but each sends directly to the preacher.  The congregations involved ARE cooperating – concurrently. 

3.       In scripture, EVERY example of cooperation is concurrent!

                                                iii.      Evangelism – Acts 11:20-23 (esp. 22) – the church at Jerusalem, hearing reports from Antioch about people turning to the Lord sent Barnabas there.  Barnabas remains there awhile and works with them. 

                                                iv.      Evangelism - Paul, while preaching in Thessalonica was supported by the church at Philippi.  Philippians 4:15-17.  Notice they sent their support DIRECTLY to Paul (Phil. 4:18, 2:25)

                                                  v.      Evangelism – 2 Corinthians 11:7-8 - Paul, while at Corinth, received support from more than one congregation.  Again, the text implies the support was sent DIRECTLY to him.  In so doing, you have congregations CONCURRENTLY cooperating in Paul’s efforts. 

                                                vi.      Benevolence - When churches helped other congregations benevolently they sent directly to where the need was. 
Acts 11:27-30 - we read of prophets coming from Jerusalem to Antioch warning of a great famine.  As a result, the disciples in Antioch determined to send relief to the saints in Judea.  Vs. 30 notes that they did this and sent it to the elders of the needy congregations by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

                                              vii.      Benevolence - later Jerusalem is once again in need.  One purpose for Paul’s third journey was to collect funds to help needy brethren in Jerusalem.  1 Corinthians 16:1-4 – Paul gives instructions to Corinth, similar to what he had already said to the churches of Galatia. 
2 Corinthians 8-9 also records information related to this.  2 Corinthians 8:1-5 speaks of how churches in Macedonia determined to send some help (for Jerusalem).  Paul then encourages the Corinthians to carry through on their commitment (2 Corinthians 9:1-5, etc.).
In Romans 15:25-27 Paul writes that he is on his way to Jerusalem with this gift.
Based upon the example of Acts 11:30 (the earlier benevolence), this was given to the elders at Jerusalem to help them with their need. 
- NOTE: In carrying out these works, they did not surrender some of their autonomy to an inter-congregational organization or work.   They maintained their autonomy.  
Consider this: As to this benevolence:

a.    Each congregation collected separately – 1 Corinthians 16:1-2

b.    Each congregation selected their own messenger - 1 Corinthians 16:3

c.     Each “gift” was attributed to the congregation sending it – 1 Corinthians 16:3, “bear YOUR gift to Jerusalem.”

d.    No extra-congregational organization or sponsoring church did the work.

c.        But what about Jerusalem?  Some contend that Jerusalem was an example of a “sponsoring church” in benevolence.  Some say that when you can combine the two above incidents, you achieve a pattern for Jerusalem as a sponsoring church distributing to churches in Judea. 

                                                   i.      To reach this conclusion you must disregard that Acts 11:30 says the relief on that occasion was sent to the elders (of brethren dwelling in Judea) and that these elders were ONLY had local oversight.  Note Galatians 1:22 where Paul said, “And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.”

                                                 ii.      The only thing we are told of the second incident is that it involved Jerusalem.  We cannot read into that a sponsoring church without help or an agenda. 

 III.                 What is wrong with changing God’s pattern?

a.       It is unscriptural – there is no example of it, as we have seen. 

b.       It changes the nature of the oversight of elders – it makes their work greater than scripture permits. 

c.        A congregation surrenders it independence and autonomy – to the degree that a congregation involves another in its work it has surrendered that to the other congregation, OR a congregation assumes the authority of the work of other congregations.

d.       In a sense, it is changing the nature of the church – it is creating something greater than the local congregation and creates brotherhood organizations.   This causes some to misunderstand that the church is Christians joined together with Christ as our head (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).  The body of Christ is NOT a group of congregations!

e.       It leads to denominationalizing the Lord’s church – as such efforts divide brethren into groups since we are not in agreement.   We begin identifying ourselves by our practices rather than Christ. (Because brethren are practicing error)

 God’s pattern for autonomy, like everything else He has done works.  It prevents problems with larger organizations and programs, keeps our work focused in our midst, and keeps us involved doing what we ought to be doing.  Again, let us strive to be the church that truly belongs to Christ.



[1] "collective". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 9 Jun. 2017. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/collective>.

[2] Ibid. “concurrent”.