Flexing Our Autonomy

FlexWouldn’t it be great to be truly non-denominational? What if our Church of Christ stream of the Christian faith took our stance on autonomous congregations seriously? What if this philosophy—no, most of us would probably label it a theology—of autonomy were upheld in practice the same way we preach it in theory?

What if our flashing sign out on Mid-Cities Boulevard one morning began proclaiming “Legacy Church of Christ: A Non-Denominational Community Church”?

It’s everything we claim to be. It’s everything they tell me we aspire to be. But I’d never get away with putting it on the sign.

It’s a dream of mine that the congregation of believers at Legacy, and all families of disciples, would be guided by Christ and his Word, not ever by outside forces. Not by other congregations. Not by other denominations. Not by other faiths. Certainly not by the world and its standards and beliefs and practices. We’d have to jump totally off the A-B Line way of thinking to ever make that happen. And we can’t do that overnight. It’s going to take some time. It’s going to take an intentional shift in our thinking and our practices.

(Please refer back to my posts from last May Jumping Off The Line and Jumping Off The Line: Part Two. See, I’m pretty passionate about this.)

Some of our number glory in the recent decision by 21st Century Christian to remove from a Church of Christ directory 21 congregations who’ve added an instrumental worship assembly on Sunday morning. And they completely miss the irony when I say, “Well, somebody’s got to draw those lines if we’re going to be a real denomination!” Our brothers Stone and Campbell must be spinning.

On the issue of congregational autonomy, please take the time to read my brothers Terry Rush here and Patrick Mead here. Both of these posts were written in the past week.

Is autonomy important or not?

Yes. I think it’s important. I think it’s critical. I think it’s biblical. I think it’s theological. I think we’ve got a long, long way to go.


The ShowI appreciate my friend Jim Gardner’s comments related to my plea that we don’t skip our Christian worship assemblies to watch the Super Bowl. I think we ignore the impact we’re having on our children and our neighbors when we make these kinds of choices. They’re not dumb. They see very well the message we believe and the message we’re sending. Whether it’s staying home to watch a TV show or taking our kids to their Sunday morning soccer game, what we’re saying is this: church is important, of course it’s important; it’s just not as important as this TV program or your ball game.




  1. Anonymous

    Love the A-B Line analogy (again). Thanks for the links there and especially to Patrick’s blog. Good stuff but most of this conversation gives me tired-head. I’ve been blissfully unaware of 21st Century Christian, even though, as Chris Arnold says, “People do love lists”.

    Does this post get as many posts (as well as the depth of thought) as the Green Bean Casserole blog? I’m not sure on the line but I think the Pole would say take the under.

  2. Rob's Dad

    a thousand pardons – totally missed the name and I know how much you love anonymous posts (by the way, this isn’t a way to manuipulate the line – just operator headspace)

  3. Jocelyn

    AMEN 🙂
    I totally agree and am so happy to hear you say all that you just wrote. Thanks!

  4. jason reeves

    What line???

    Just kidding….

    Our Movement began as a “Unity Movement.” A call beyond lines and stigmas, to the place where Jesus is. To unite under the banner and Lordship of Christ.

    “In essentials – unity.

    In opinions – liberty.

    In all things – love.”

    Is that still what we’re about?

  5. James Prather

    I can remember growing up in the Church of Christ (at Legacy, or Pipeline Rd. as it was called then) when a congregation would do something that generally disagreed with “good ‘ol doctrine” that other CoCs would “disfellowshipment” them. Honestly, how ridiculous is that? Instead of saying “Okay, we see that you read scripture differently than us, and we cannot in good conscience worship *with* you, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still our brothers! We love you!” it would be something more akin to “Repent of this sin, or to hell ye shall go!” A good example was about 8 years back when the Southlake Church of Christ dropped “of Christ” from their official name. The reason they cited for doing it was that the label of “Church of Christ” was getting in the way of them bringing souls to God (e.g. people wouldn’t come visit because they “already knew” what it would be like), so they removed that hindrance. The other CoCs in the area got so worked up about it that many disfellowshipmented (is that even a word?) them citing scripture as to why we *had* to have “of Christ” in our church names. (disclaimer: there might have been more behind that, but I was only in high school so that’s all I remember)

    We like to claim we’re all autonomous, but if you do something out of lock-and-step with the majority, it’s disfellowshipment for you, which in my opinion is a sad place to be.


  6. AnonymousDos

    Disappointing, all the lines-in-the-sand drawn by the mere mention of, say, instrumental services and whatever else “offends” the denomination or non-denomination or whatever the politically-correct description is supposed to be.

    We seem to forget that the reason we worship at all is because:

    1) God is real.
    2) Jesus is God’s Son.
    3) Jesus died for your sins, defeated death, and lives today.
    4) Confession of your sins and belief in Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf affords one an eternity in Grace.

    It has ZERO to do with where you attend church
    It has ZERO to do with when you attend church
    It has ZERO to do with your worship-style preference

    Any nit-picking we do as a body (i.e., “my church is better than your church because….”) is merely religion and completely meaningless to our mission as believers.

    Religion bad. Truth good.

    Now to be REALLY controversial (apparently) — there’s also nothing wrong with missing scheduled services for an event like the Super Bowl. What if you’re having a watching party with friends from church? That’s fellowship…and that’s highly encouraged in the Word. Likewise, that social setting is a good witness opportunity for those non-believers who might be in the mix.

    While I get your point, my God is big enough to use ANY event, ANY gathering, for his purpose. Is yours?

  7. Allan

    To clarify just a couple of things: my habit (policy?) has always been to delete anonymous comments. I’ve been lazy about that lately. Let’s please try to keep everything above board.

    Salvation does have a lot to do with your commitment to a particular community of faith, when you assemble with that community, where that community is located, and how you worship our God within that community. Absolutely. Every part of those facets of church life must be shaped by Holy Scripture and formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. If your home congregation is an hour away and that keeps you from being as involved in ministry and service to your brothers and sisters than if you lived only five minutes away, then that’s a real factor that has to be weighed. If your congregation upholds the letter of the law above the weightier matters of mercy and justice and love, then, yes, that has to be carefully considered. It’s not ZERO. Those things do matter quite a bit.

    Religion bad, truth good? The only reason I’m not going to respond to that is that you didn’t say “church bad…” I’m assuming your use of religion here is for sectarian country clubs who exalt their rules and definitions above all else.

    I’m curious as to how Scripture and/or the life and death and resurrection of Christ would point to an approval of skipping the regular Christian assembly of the church family to watch a TV show that glorifies violence, greed, sex, money, power, consumerism, materialism, and lust. What exactly is the message that’s being sent? How does skipping church for a Super Bowl party witness our crucified and resurrected Christ to non-believers?

    Yes, God can certainly use all kinds of events and gatherings for his purposes. Good events, bad events, pure gatherings, evil gatherings. That’s certainly not the point.

  8. Timothy Sharpe

    Your policy of deleting anonymous posts are good as demonstrated by the things anonymous says. These are the kinds of things where anonymous wants to “hit and run” without having to defend the positions stated especially ( I think) with respect to scripture review. This puts “anonymous” statements just slightly above graffiti.

    With respect to autonomy. Some years and several elders ago, I could tell what our new classes would be by driving by the marquee at richland hills on my way to work. We had a group that felt the only thing to do was to ape whatever rh was doing. There is still elements of that thought around. With the above points about not judging other Congregations when they jump off of the scriptural band wagon, guess what? The Catholics have already come up with an “accept everybody no matter what” doctrine that recently received a lot of press when they included evolutionist as believers. There are Scriptural reasons for holding to a line that God has drawn. We miss the point of Holiness ( being set apart) when we play the accept everybody’s stray thoughts and beliefs so we won’t hurt feelings game.

    AnonymousDos’s point about substituting sports events and self entertainment for fellowship would clearly make a church out of every sports bar.

  9. Your daughter's "NEW" youth minister

    Careful! You might just get us kicked out of “the book” in 3 years. Oh wait, would that then make us autonomous?

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