AutonomyJune 14, 2007
Beth Newman has a good piece at the Associated Baptist Press that is entitled "Are local Baptist churches wholly autonomous?" Here are a few highlights:
A philosopher once said "the meaning of a word is its use." He didn't mean that a word can mean anything but rather that words can mean different things according to their context. I remember arguing with a former professor about this. I offered the word "circle" as having a singular meaning. Doesn't it always refer to something round and, well, circular? His response: "What about a women's circle?"Amen! I think there are a lot of Baptists who use the word "autonomy" to make it mean something that it was not intended to. Each church is free to make its own decisions but we are all connected together as brothers and sisters.
... I was delighted to see that the Baptist World Alliance recently held a symposium in Germany to address the question: "Are Baptist churches autonomous?"
From my perspective, the most interesting statement to emerge from the gathering is: "We affirm that for Baptists, the local church is wholly church but not the whole church." The affirmation rightly emphasizes a commitment to the local gathering of God's people. Any particular gathering of the body of Christ is fully the church. The local church, no matter how inconsequential by dominant cultural standards, is Christ's body in and for the world. There is no mega-church that is more important.
... But the local church, the BWA symposium claimed, is not the whole church. Why not? Why can't a particular congregation -- or denomination -- see itself as more-or-less self-contained? Simply put, Christ desires to have one united body so the world might know that the father has sent the son.
Such unity does not mean uniformity. But it does mean that we look upon each other -- in different congregations, in different Christian traditions -- as brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is not the same thing as glossing over real theological differences and divisions. It is a call to acknowledge that because of Christ, there is one body, even if it is clouded over by our blindness and sinfulness.