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“       utonomy” typically means “self-  saints (Act 13-14). And as an apostle, Paul’s
                                              authority exceeded any found among
               governing,” but I’ll be using the
        Aterm to mean the governing of        believers today (2Co 10:8; Eph 2:20). All
        a local assembly from within, with no   this makes Acts 13:1-3 particularly strik-
        outside person or institution imposing   ing – the Spirit of God instructed the local
        decisions upon it. Strictly speaking, a   church at Antioch to separate and send
        New Testament local church is not “self-  Paul and Barnabas. These gifted men, who
        governing” because it submits to the   had been instrumental in the teaching of
        authority of Scripture and is governed   this assembly (Act 11:25), came under its
        by the Lord. The expression “assembly   authority and were commended by it to
        autonomy” is not found in the NT, but   the Lord. Accountability is also implied in
        the truth is found throughout. We’ll look   their giving a report to the whole assem-
        at some of the passages that teach local   bly when they returned (14:27). We find
        church autonomy, and some of their im-  no basis in the NT for a regional body or
        plications for us today.              a mission board holding authority – just
        Autonomy and Church                   individual, local churches, to whom all in
                                              their fellowship, including teachers and
        Discipline                            commended workers, are accountable.
          This may seem an unusual place to
        start,  but  it  is  where  our  Lord  began.   Autonomy and Local Elders
        When He introduced the concept of a lo-  Paul exhorted the elders from Ephesus,
        cal church in Matthew 18:15-20, it seems   “Pay careful attention to yourselves and
        clear He intended it to be autonomous   to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit
        in matters of discipline. If you follow the   has made you overseers, to care for the
        steps explained in the passage, the final   church of God, which he obtained with his
        two involve an unrepentant brother’s   own blood” (20:28).  Again, assembly au-
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        sin being told “to the church,” and if the   tonomy is apparent. The Holy Spirit made
        man still refuses to repent, the group ap-  a group of men overseers over a single
        plies discipline in keeping with heaven’s   “church of God,” an assembly of believ-
        discipline. “The church” in this context   ers viewed independently as having been
        must be a local gathering, as it would be   distinctively purchased with precious
        impossible to tell “the Church,” in the   blood. Shepherds are given the authority
        sense of all Christians. The Lord Jesus also   and responsibility to oversee one another
        implied here that there would be no level   and the rest of the flock under their care
        of accountability above the local group of   (also 1Pe 5:2). Part of this responsibility
        believers – there is nothing between the   includes guarding against those who will
        authority of the assembly and the author-  try to gain influences by undermining the
        ity of heaven.                        authority God established, resulting in the
        Autonomy and Commended                harm of the sheep (Act 20:29-30). While
        Workers                               the whole assembly should recognize and
                                              respect autonomy, it is the elders who are
          Paul and Barnabas were used mightily   ultimately called upon to maintain it.
        by God in the planting of assemblies, the   ¹ All Scripture quotations in this article are from
        appointing of elders, and the teaching of   the ESV.
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