Vol.VIII No.XI Pg.3
January 1972

Rights Of Autonomy

Jim R. Everett

Congregations (independent groups of Christians) are autonomous. Each local group makes its own decisions and rules itself under Christs rule. Its organization is peculiar to the group and reaches out no farther than that particular flock. For instance, each congregation chose its own messengers and sent them with Paul to Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:16- 24). And elders are to tend the flock among them, (1 Pet. 5:2).

After reading a bulletin article of a good friend, I wrote to him, asking, Does autonomy mean that a congregation has a scriptural right to decide to do that which is unscriptural? He replied: Autonomy means that a congregation can do whatever it wants to, period. The scripturallity of it is to be settled between it and God. And, Since autonomy means self-directed it of course precludes any other congregation (individual) haranguing or bringing unscriptural pressure for the self-chosen action.

Of course, a congregation has a right to make its own decisions and must pay the consequences for wrong decisions; but scripturally, if it is to please God, its decisions must be circumvented by truth. For instance, a congregation does not have a scriptural right to change Gods word — its rights of decision exist within an area, first of all, of that which is right. However, if such decisions are circumvented by truth and are in the area of human judgment, no one has the right to question such decisions. For instance, if we, at Southern Oaks, decided to support Timothy at Troas, we would have the right to do so, but I deny that we would have the scriptural right to support a Billy Graham Crusade.

However, the antithesis of self- directed would be for one congregation to make decisions and direct affairs of another congregations work and resources. A congregation might rule that another organization or congregation could make its decisions (whether for all or part of its work) but it has no scriptural authority to so rule. A congregation might put itself totally under the oversight of another congregation or it might send a donation to an overseeing congregation assuming a brotherhood work. Most can see where autonomy is being violated in the first instance but have difficulty with the second because it involves only a PART of that churchs over-all activity.

Now, does autonomy preclude concerned brethren trying to reach and teach congregations engaged in unscriptural practices? Concerned brethren should never harangue or bring unscriptural pressure to bear but rather should ask for authority for practice. Such appeals are not always welcome but autonomy is a peculiar defense for supporters of the Herald of Truth, with its key-men pressure arrangement, to take.

Hence the word autonomy adequately depicts a churchs right of self-rule but in no way affirms that its decisions will be right. And to appeal to autonomy while practicing sin is to misunderstand Gods rule in a self-ruling church. &mdashverett