Hold on to your seats.
Though I disagree with most of Wayne Jackson’s article “Congregational Autonomy – Not A Shield For Error” in the Christian Courier, I do agree with the title.
In fact, of the two reasons that I’ve called into question the scriptural basis for what’s called “congregational autonomy” (because it’s certainly not found in scripture), this one is the stronger.
People can, and have, dug into scripture and found what they wanted to find and given a label to it for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years. The label seems to legitimize it in their minds, especially if it differentiates the brand of faith they wish to feel superior in their minds.
“Congregational autonomy” is one of those labels. It differentiates fellowships of churches who do not want to be told what to do by an overarching organizational authority from those who do.
And while proponents of congregational autonomy will argue loud and long about the genius of their view and the abuses which the opposite view has, in their minds, engendered … not many would be willing to admit that it has led to abuses which are just as divisive to the body of Christ and heart-breaking to the Father in heaven.
I don’t need to cite examples. You know of them. They’re not secret. They’re right out in the open – often proclaimed proudly as the obvious separation of the sheep (us) from the goats (them) – where all the unbelieving world can see, and shake their heads, and snicker, and move on with their lives.
You see, the problem with congregational autonomy is that it just creates a smaller, local hierarchy of order-givers who have decreed authority and order-takers who must obey them. It’s only a matter of scale, you see. The abuses may hurt fewer people within a congregation, but they are vastly more personal and individually hurtful.
Left unchecked, the abuses of human authority within a small system lead to tragedy just as surely as a large one. Do I need to remind you of Jonestown, Guyana? Or the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas?
This isn’t an either-or question: congregational autonomy or overarching hierarchical structure. As many of the proponents of both schools of thought would have to agree, Christ has all authority.
So to me – and perhaps to me alone – it makes every kind of sense to stop talking about congregational autonomy and overarching hierarchical structure and start talking about kingdom. We need to start examining what Christ’s authority in this world really means – not only to ministers, elders, deacons and any other leaders and labels – but also to the rest of us trying to slug out a meaningful existence in a sinful and fallen world.
It pretty much levels the playing field, doesn’t it
We are all under the headship of Christ.
We still have elders who shepherd / oversee / see to the needs of the flock. We still have ministers called out to preach and teach. But they don’t, per se, rule. Christ rules. (You can’t find any other arrangement than that in scripture. Keep looking. Convince me!)
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” ~ Ephesians 4:15
This is exactly the context of the passage – living a worthy life and how God has equipped the Body to do so – and the inevitable conclusion is: There are no other heads. A Body needs only one Head.
This Body shares one Spirit. That is how the Head communicates what needs to be done with the rest of the Body. It is a silent, invisible, fluid, electric communication.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12-21
That, you see, is what I fear happens far too many times when believers become enamored with their own little fiefdoms protected by “congregational autonomy.”
They cut off Christ’s nose, or fingers – or perhaps the rest of His whole Body – to spite their own faces.