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Editorial: Autonomy Anonymous
By : Craig Brown
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I love the fact that our movement honors the local church. The local church is prominent in our theology and in our practice. It is prominent, just as the bride of Christ should be. Yet I get concerned when the word "autonomous" is used to describe the local church in Churches of Christ. I know what pastors and church members mean when they use the word: they're suggesting that the decision making of the local church is free from bureaucratic denominational structures. They mean that as an agent of Christ's mission, we value the local church enormously. However, I want to raise some issues around the practice of autonomy.

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Comments / Feedback
Stephen Parker
nice work Craig!
Harold Hayward
Spot on, Craig!
Local church autonomy is not the same as independence – it is typically based on arrogance and power but is fed by bad theology and false ideas about,management and entrepreneurship (“I’m the boss and the Holy Spirit has empowered ME”). Gary Bouma attributes a huge recent decline in membership of Churches of Christ due to the activity of former Churches of Christ pastors who left to establish non-denominational groups” ( Australian Soul, p.66).This is sad and pathetic.

While local church autonomy is strongly reflected in the New Testament so is church co-operation. How can we talking about sharing with others and the importance of fellowship at the micro level if it doesn’t exist at the macro level? In a situation of rapid social change, where congregations are widely dispersed, the NT pattern of a combination of voluntary association and local autonomy makes perfect sense.

Perhaps the key issue to be addressed here is the role of our Conferences. They, too, depend on voluntarism and exercise control, not through bureaucracy, but through social influence arising out of the processes of interaction and dialogue. This is beginning to fail. As somebody observed to me recently “In Churches of Christ you have all the elements of an episcopacy without any of its controls”.

Harold Hayward
Steve Slade
Couldn't agree more Craig. Well put !

I can't help but wonder if those who push the autonomy bandwagon are under the misconception that autonomy somehow implies strength, whereas in my experience it is usually the complete opposite ...
Andrew Ball
Craig,
A very timely article. At our recent State Conference here in NSW, I highlighted for attendees and delegates, that we have flagged 'interdependence' as one of our key strategic priorities for 2008/09. The reality of ministry in this new millenium, is that many pastors and churches develop networks in and out of our movement, depending on their relationships, theology and particular local goals and practices. These scenarios, are not uniform by design, and so interaction and dialogue becomes increasingly complex due to shifting expectations.
In 2008 our NSW State Conference through its staff have increased its interaction with churches significantly through leadership development, consultations, preaching, assistance and partnership at little or no cost to the local church. This shift has meant that our ministry influence is increasing, not through control but from a genuine heart to serve and assist the local church across our movement.
Allan Blyth
A wonderful comment Craig! The problematic aspect I see of autonomy is that it so often leads to ignorance and fear of unknowns and differences, whereas partnership, very much the trend of Conference in NSW as I see it, leads to understanding and ultimately the unity that our Lord prayed for in Jn 17, a partnership and unity that is about to be celebrated globally at the World Convention in Nashville. I'd like to invite all local churches to partner in this global experience through the World Convention website and through planning to celebrate World Convention Sunday 3rd August 2008

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