The Fellowship of Christian Assemblies holds the view that the New Testament Scriptures illustrate basic principles of church life and practice, including the autonomy of the local congregation.
While scholarship widely recognizes that the New Testament presents no authoritative organization above the local church during the apostolic era, we maintain further that autonomous church life as portrayed in the New Testament is beneficial for all ages of the church.
Local-church autonomy is not an end in itself. Our first concern is the sovereign freedom of the Lord Jesus Christ to act in his churches through the Word and the Spirit. We hold that this freedom of God is enhanced in the context of the freedom of the congregation from external religious authority.
We also hold that local-church autonomy reinforces the concept of the unity of the Body of Christ. Each congregation is an expression of that body, functioning under the headship of Christ.
New Testament concern for organization and orderly functioning focused upon the local church. Believers gathered for worship, fellowship, care and service in the local assembly. Here elected or appointed special ministries were carried out and discipline was practiced. Christian workers were ordained and sent by the local church. Churches were nourished in the truth that they lived and served under the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. (See Eph. 1:20–22; 4:15–16; Col. 1:15–18).
Ministers of the gospel were directly related to their home churches, as seen in the accountability of Peter to the church at Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas to Antioch. (See Acts 11:1–18; 13:1–3; 14:26–28).
We view the conference of Acts 15 as an event that primarily concerned two local churches, although its results were of instruction and blessing to other assemblies in a voluntary, non-binding manner.In each church duly appointed or elected leaders—elders and deacons and deaconesses—were servants and overseers with responsibility for the spiritual and temporal care of the congregation. (See Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1–13; 1 Peter 5:1–4; Acts 6:1–6; 20:17–35).
The New Testament, although portraying no organic union of churches, does reveal a spiritual fellowship and voluntary cooperation among the assemblies. This is illustrated especially by the cooperative effort of the Gentile churches in sending relief to the impoverished churches of Judea (see 2 Cor. 8–9; Rom. 15:25–27). This intentional, united project is sufficient to point to the fact that churches of the New Testament era were not isolated and hyper-independent. The freedom of the Lord Jesus Christ to act within the congregation through the Word and the Spirit was also a freedom to act in loving, practical concern for other congregations, thus demonstrating the unity of the body of Christ.
We realize that this whole concept places upon local-church leadership a great responsibility to develop congregational responsiveness to the authority of the Scriptures and the leading of the Spirit. Autonomy should not lead to carnal local-church authority.
We also recognize that congregational autonomy, although aiming at church health, does not in itself guarantee such well-being. We do believe it provides a normal, scriptural seed-bed for developing assemblies responsive to the lordship of Christ as he calls us to the life and work of the Great Commission.
We make no exclusive claims concerning our concepts of local-church and inter-church life, recognizing that similar views have been held by many others within the longstanding "free church" tradition. We also recognize the freedom of God to act in his will and grace in the context of various forms of church polity.
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