Congregational Autonomy

Sermon Study:
A Study and Application of Congregational Autonomy

Stan Cox

(The following sermon was delivered at a gathering of preachers in Grand Prairie, TX, March 10, 1998. Feel free to adapt and use as you see fit)


I. Congregational Autonomy (Definition of Terms)

"Nothing is more plainly taught in the Word of God with greater misunderstanding than the scope of activity of the local church. I especially make reference to the autonomy of the local church. If Christians fail to grasp this truth, then untold harm will result as they are swept into complete apostasy.

"Autonomy is defined: 'The condition or quality of being autonomous. especially, the power or right of self-government' (Funk & Wagnalls). When the word autonomy is used with reference to the church of our Lord, it should be understood that allusion is that each church has the divine right to govern itself." (Robert L. McDonald, The Discerner, Local Church Autonomy, October 1991, Page 2).


I. The Biblical Concept of Autonomous Congregations

"The only officer in the universal church is Christ as the head of the church; the inspired writings of the apostles and prophets are the governing law of the body of Christ. This does not mean the universal church is in a state of disorganization and disarray, but it is organized directly under Christ without earthly offices, intermediaries or headquarters. There are no earthly officers in the universal church.

"The Scriptures give considerable discussion to the qualifications of the officers in the local church. There is no mention of an earthly office in the universal church and no list of qualifications for such an officer. Why would God so carefully direct the local church in its appointment of officers but say nothing about officers in the universal church? That does not make sense. The very silence of the Scriptures precludes universal church offices and officers." (Mike Willis, Guardian of Truth, Church Autonomy, September 16, 1993, Page 2).

II. The independence of each local congregation is seen in the work God has given it to do


I. A Rejection of this principle led to the current Catholic Hierarchy

II. A Rejection of this principle led to current Protestant Denominational Governments

III. A Rejection of this principle led to division in the church (Modern times)

IV. A DISTORTION of this principle (from the other direction) has some abusing the concept of autonomy to justify toleration of sinful practices and false doctrine.

V. The following quotes are intended to establish that this problem is present among God's people


I. Local Church Autonomy must be understood to avoid error

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