Baptist Distinctives Part 2 “Autonomy of the Local Church”

Southern Baptists have published the Baptist Faith & Message to let the world know what we believe. But there are “distinctives” that have defined us throughout the years:

Biblical authority, Autonomy of the local church, Priesthood of all believers, Two ordinances (believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper), Individual soul liberty, Separation of Church and State, and Two offices of the church (pastor and deacon)

#2 Autonomy of the Local Church

Each church is free to govern itself. We, Southern Baptists, don’t have a “governing board” who disciplines churches. We do determine whether or not we fellowship with a congregation, based primarily on their belief/practice, but we do not prescribe how churches should act. The NT paints a picture of solving problems and exercising discipline within the context of local churches. This is why, most of the “public condemnation” that we see (mostly on blogs) is (in my opinion) inappropriate. Almost all spiritual “discipline” should be contained within a Believer’s local church:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

-Matt 18:15-17

Most people like to quote “judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matt 7:1), but this is not at all talking about within a local church, in fact quite the opposite. The NT principle is that we should be able to judge one another. Where does the judgment stop? It’s at the walls of your church. We are told not to judge those outside of the church (your church), what authority do we have (none)? But what we are absolutely called to do is to help your brothers/sisters in Christ who are all voluntarily in fellowship together, to the extent that if they are just not willing to repent of egregious public sin, we are commanded to put them outside of our church (1Cor 5). We are called to have discernment and we need to be able to govern our own affairs, each church is an independent body of believers who need to care for and lead their own people, there is no higher ecclesiastical authority to appeal to:

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!

-1Cor 6:1-3

About John Harris

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

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