Local Autonomy

The church, as a universal entity of all saved people, has only one officer— Christ as head (Ephesians 1:22-23).  All other passages of scripture deal with organizational structure at the local level.  It is the local congregation which has elders and deacons:

“When they had appointed elders for them in every church” (Acts 14:23).

“From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17).

“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1).

“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, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:1-3).

The elders in each congregation were to exercise authority only over the Christians who were “among them”, that is, in their own congregation. This is further illustrated in Acts 20:28. As one writer summed it up, “Any boards, conventions, or even outside elders to which a congregation submits, either willingly or otherwise, is a violation of these teachings. Such additions place the congregational rule under someone or something beside the elders “among” them, and it will violate the autonomy that is to be enjoyed by “every church.” Since each congregation should be under the oversight and rule of its own elders, then each church must consequently, be absolutely independent of any other church or organizations” (“Autonomy Of The Local Church”, Trevor Bowen,

Furthermore, every example above shows that no elder had authority that extended beyond his local congregation. He did not enjoy special or elevated status at any other church, or over any other elder. The elders from one church could not exercise their authority over the elders from another church. Christians from one congregation are not meant to be subject in any way to another group of Christians (whether a church or a convention or a governmental structure beyond the local level).

Christ Among Individual, Stand-Alone Lampstands

Observe the way that Christ dwells among the lampstands in the vision shown to John on Patmos (Revelation 1:12-13, 16, 20, 2:1). Each lampstand is on its own, totally unconnected to the others. The only thing that binds one church to another is their mutual submission to Christ, who holds the seven stars (the very essence and vitality of the seven churches) in His right hand. When you read about the various failures and successes of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, as well as the unique conditions and problems found in all the New Testament epistles, one thing becomes abundantly clear: each local congregation stands alone before God, on its own two feet, without any other church to lean on or blame for its spiritual condition.