Autonomy of the Local Church
Autonomy of the Local Church
The autonomy of the local church is one of the premiere distinctives of biblical Baptists. Denominational churches (even some Baptist groups) can't lay claim to this one. Most main line churches eschew it, yet it is what Baptists believe best represents the New Testament pattern for local churches. The words “autonomy”, “independent”, and “sovereignty”, all mean “self- rule” or “self- governing”. In other words, biblical Baptists have no outside ecclesiastic control. No hierarchy of any kind. No district superintendent. No Synods, General Assemblies, Bishops, Cardinals, or Popes. Biblical Baptists are distinctly autonomous in their government. However, even though biblical Baptists are autonomous they do follow an authority structure.
Who is NOT in Charge?
The question is, “Who is not in charge then?” Bishop (overseer), pastor (shepherd), elder (presbyter), are three words that describe the pastor who is designated in Scriptures as an officer (1Tim. 3:1), but the pastor does not control a biblical Baptist church. So called elder rule is not the best model to follow.
The deacon is a helper of the pastor and the servant of the church, and is also designated in Scriptures as an officer (1Tim. 3:10), but deacons are not in control of a biblical Baptist church.
The Church (including the pastor/s, the deacons, and the congregation) has the final say in the official business of the church (as we will see). In fact biblical Baptists have both a Congregational and Presbyterian model of government, yet the church is not in control of a biblical Baptist church.
The church is autonomous in that:
The church disciplines its own members (Matthew 18:15-17).
The church appoints its own deacons (Acts 6:1-7).
The church sends out its own missionaries who are accountable to the church (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-27).
The church judges and restores its own members (1Corinthians 5).
Yet each church is accountable to God (Revelation 2-3) this is a clue for the answer to our question.
Not the Pastor, Not the Deacons, Not the Church!
Who Then is in Charge?
The answer is found in the Bible. The Bible as we have established is the authority, no mater how we approach it, and we read in Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18 that Christ is the Head of the church. Godly pastors, deacons and church members directed by Jesus Christ Himself , the Head of the church, through the Person of the Holy Spirit working together in each member of the church. There are biblical guidelines to follow; God is not saying, “OK. You take over from here, best of luck to you.” Each church member must be tuned into God through His word and prayer. The authority resides in the total membership under the control of Christ. The natural consequence or privilege is that each member has greater responsibility for the conduct and direction of the church than members of other hierarchal groups. I will touch on these responsibilities in the priesthood of every believer. Does your local church follow this model or some other form? What duties do you have that contribute to your local fellowship?
“What a lovely and delightful relationship exists between pastor, deacons and people when all are subject to Christ the Head.” (Dr. Paul Jackson, National Representative of the GARBC from 1960-1969)
The best expression of Christian fellowship is within a Bible believing church!