Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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The Patternists: Applications of the Pattern – Church Autonomy

patternist-2.pngIt is common for denominations to have a centralized authority structure and organization. The Catholic Church has a supreme authority figure in the Pope. The Mormon looks ultimately to Salt Lake City for direction. Even Southern Baptists have an annual convention, the expressed purpose of which is “…eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians, for the propagation of the gospel, any law, usage, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding” (

In this, these and others depart from the New Testament pattern. In scripture, each congregation was responsible for its own benevolence, edification and evangelism. There was no hierarchical structure. Each congregation was autonomous. Outside of the authority of Christ Himself, and the finished work of the apostles, the highest authority found in New Testament churches was the work of oversight, where a plurality of qualified men (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) guided, protected and fed the congregation of which they were a part. “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God WHICH IS AMONG YOU, serving as overseers…” (1 Peter 5:1-2a).

The word “autonomy” is commonly defined as self-government. As applied to local congregations, this does not mean that every congregation is free to do as it wishes. Rather, autonomy ensures that no outside agent will compel any congregation to depart from Christ’s will (cf. Matthew 28:18).

Man’s compulsion to centralize authority has always led to apostasy. It is unscriptural – an example of men exalting their wisdom above God’s (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:25).

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