Autonomous Elderships in Theory or Practice?

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Why is it that the same people who strongly support autonomous congregations and elderships in theory vehemently oppose those same elderships when they make an “autonomous” decision? It is pretty clear that New Testament churches were not under the authority of overarching denominational structures and those who seek to restore New Testament Christianity often support congregations having elders but then when those elders do something they don’t like they go into attack dog mode. If those elders/that congregation is autonomous do they have any right to attack them for those decisions? Is this all just theory or can this actually be worked out in actual congregations. What do you think?

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  1. In his book “Transforming Mission”, David Bosch makes the point that Paul nor the sending church (i.e., Antioch) never sought to control the other church because they believed that if God could entrust them with the embodiment of the gospel then they in turn could trust the other congregations as well and that God was at work among them. There in lies the problem we have. Either we cannot trust God, the other church, or both to embody the gospel without our control (especially when that embodiment begins to look a little different then we expected).

    Anyone receive the letter in the mail from “New Testament Church…Today” yet? Why do ten or so men, all from 3 southern states believe their unsolicited help is needed? Why do they think that Acapella vs. Instrumental worship is the most pressing issue facing our congregation? Do they not believe that we can identify our own issues, study our own Bibles, and make our own decisions based on what we believe the will of God is? Do they not believe that we would be capable of reaching out for assistance from the appropriate people if we so felt that such assistance was needed? OR is it just that they cannot see how God could possible be at work beyond their narrow box and therefore, they must exert their controlling influence to try and contain every CoC congregation within their box?

    For the record, the church where I serve is Acapella and has no plans or desires to be anything else. But, like most CoC’s, the membership has many diverse views on the subject of instrumental worship and we even have a couple of families with strong roots in the Independent Christian Churches. However we are at peace and unity. To begin addressing an issue that is not even an issue in our congregation would only disrupt the unity and peace we have. But when any group sends out an unsolicited letter trying to use their controling influence without and knowledge whatsoever of the congregation, that is what happens and it is very hard to see how any good could come of that.

    Ithaca Church of Christ
    Ithaca, NY

  2. I think you are asking a pretty big question. It seems to me that for some certain key markers count and so to point out when other churches stray from key markers is not only expected but essential. In essence the key markers being betrayed are higher on the list then any key marker like autonomy in their minds.

    While I agree that the early church wasn’t under some denominational structure I believe that a bishop did have oversight over certain areas and was expected to give guidance on issues.

    Maybe this just proves that that is normal behavior within a group of people holding the same views. A pretty much hands off approach until something needs correcting. It would seem that Titus and Timothy had that type of role.

  3. Yes we have not paid much attention to the Jerusalem Counsil (or subsequent counsil in church history) as for what we can learn about settling issues that are larger than the local congregation.

    Having said that, I don’t think Acapella / Instrumental music is a key marker of authentic Christianity. It has only become a major issue of scripture within the CoC because we made it one. Saddly, there are several issues in scripture that are much bigger but in our fellowship seem to garner little attention.


  4. Matt,

    Once again, I think you are really exposing something here that has long since needed to be exposed. We tout autonomy, but when a congregation’s eldership makes an expedient decision, we feel the need to inject ourselves, disrupting the autonomy we espouse. We have enough issues within our local works to “meddle” as Peter would say, in so many of the affairs of others.

    Great point. Thanks for bringing it to the forefront on your page!

  5. Rex & Darin,

    Good thought in mentioning Acts 15. Instead of hammering other people why not try the model found in scripture? It also appears to me that those who try to be the “brotherhood watchdogs” hardly ever use a biblical model for conflict resolution. Like Rex said, those hammering others for their views end up doing worse things than the things they are speaking up against. That is the same mentality that Jesus responded to when he called the Pharisees “sons of hell.”

    Does that mean there is never a time to speak up and that it doesn’t matter what churches do, etc. I think there is an appropriate time through appropriate means to speak up but at the end of the day I have a hard time saying someone is not my brother because they don’t toe the line on my pet issues (that may or may not really have scriptural backing).


    Thanks for the comment. It baffles me how people think they can have it both ways.

  6. I would not have so much of a problem with the “New Testament Church…Today” group or any other group reaching out to other churches if there was some sort of relationship established with those churches they reach out to. In scripture, it seems that nearly every book was written to Christians with whom the writer had an established relationship with. The two possible exceptions that I can think of is Hebrews and Romans. Since the author of Hebrews is an anonymous writer (most likely not Paul) it is hard to know what relationship existed prior to writting Hebrews. As far as Romans is concerned, Paul probably had never visited the church but still had some clout by way of people he knew in the church (see Rom 16) and Paul also spent the majority of his letter discussing the gospel so that they would know where he comes from.

    My point is that an established relationship gives a Christian leader some spiritual authority to address issue in congregations that he/she does not belong too. But the “watchdogs” often do not have any established relationship and yet they speak and write as though they know what is best for every congregation. How can one know what is best for a community that one does not even know?


  7. Rex,

    I agree it isn’t that big. In fact what we can learn from Acts 15 is keep the issues that divide to a minimum.

    At that point it would seem they gave them a law light if you will.

    “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

    If only we could do the same. Instead we create even more laws and rules and spend our time defending them and attacking others. It would seem a different attitude all together.

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