The Blessing of Autonomy

Text: 1 Peter 5:1-2

One characteristic of the Lord’s church that makes it different from most churches of men is autonomy. Why did the Lord design the church to be this way? We can look to the Bible to see what has been revealed that would show at least some of His reasons. So in this lesson, we will look at the blessings of autonomy.

What Is Autonomy?

  • Word is not used in NT – but the concept is certainly discussed
  • Autonomy simply means self-governance
  • In the case of the local church, autonomy does not mean that churches have legislative authority – making/enforcing man-made commands is wrong (Matthew 15:7-9); the fact that a whole congregation may endorse a man-made command does not change this

Local Churches Are to Be Autonomous

  • No organization in the NT larger than the local church
  • Elders were appointed in local churches (Acts 14:23) – they were churches before and after elders; having elders does not make a congregation autonomous; it is inherently autonomous by design
  • Elders would oversee the flock among them (1 Peter 5:2)
  • Churches made their own decisions (1 Corinthians 16:3-4) – even an apostle did not rule another church

Blessings of Autonomy

  • Helps prevent the spread of error – “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (1 Corinthians 5:6); sin and error are progressive (2 Timothy 3:13); could come from within or from the outside (Acts 20:29-30); without autonomy, these two avenues are merged, allowing error to spread more efficiently; autonomy is a buffer to protect a local church from others that have gone into apostasy; among the seven churches in Asia, no issue affected all of them (Revelation 2-3)
  • Allows churches to work more efficiently – temptation to think that a bigger program is a better program; yet a larger bureaucracy does not mean work will be done better (Ecclesiastes 5:8); autonomous churches are not dependent upon the decisions of others, only the guidance of the NT (2 Timothy 1:13); provided that what is being done is lawful, churches can do what is most expedient (1 Corinthians 10:23)
  • Encourages local work – there is a way for churches to be involved in works in other locations (2 Corinthians 11:8; Acts 13:1-3; 11:29-30); even still, decisions to be involved are made by the local congregation; with a “sponsoring church arrangement,” there is no involvement, only funneling money; this can give the impression that a congregation is exempt from working itself; local churches are to be working (1 Thessalonians 1:8) and be a pillar and support for the truth locally (1 Timothy 3:15)

Conclusion

  • Local church autonomy protects against error, lets work be done efficiently, and encourages local work
  • No matter what other churches around us might do, we can stand for the truth and do the Lord’s work
  • Let us continue to do the Lord’s work – remember that our allegiance is to Christ, not to area churches