The Autonomy of the Local Church


(William MacDonald, from Believer’s Bible Commentary, p. 1631)

The council at Jerusalem might appear at first sight to be a sort of denominational supreme court. But the facts are otherwise.

Every local assembly in the early days of Christianity was autonomous – that is, self-governing. There was no federation of churches with a centralized authority over them. There was no denominations and therefore no denominational headquarters. Each local church was directly responsible to the Lord. This is pictured in Revelation 1:13 where the Lord I seen standing in the middle of the seven golden lampstands. These represent the seven churches of Asia. The point is that there is no governing agency between the individual churches and the great Head of the church Himself. Each one was governed directly by Him.

Why is this so important? First, it hinders the spread of error. When churches are linked together under a common control, the forces of liberalism, rationalism, and apostasy can capture the entire ground simply by seizing the central headquarters and denominational schools. Where churches are independent, the struggle must be waged by the enemy against a host of separate units.

Second, the autonomy of the local church is an important protection when a hostile government is in power. When churches are federated, a totalitarian government can control them all by controlling a few leaders at headquarters. When churches refuse to recognize any centralized authority, they can more readily go underground at times of oppression.

Many governments today, whether democratic or dictatorial, try to bring about the union of small, independent churches. They say they do not want to deal with a large number of local units but with a central committee representing them all. Free governments try to bring about this union by the offer of certain favors and benefits. Other governments try to force the union by edict, as Hitler did during the Third Reich. In either case, the churches which yield to the pressure lose their scriptural character as well as their ability to resist modernism and to carry on secretly in time of persecution.

Some may object that the churches in Acts did have a central authority, namely the council in Jerusalem which we have just considered. However, a careful study of the passage will show that this was not an official body with regulatory powers. It was simply a gathering of apostles and elders acting in an advisory capacity.

The councl did not summon the men to come from Antioch; the latter decided to consult the men in Jerusalem. The decision of the council was not binding on the churches; it was simply offered as the combined judgment of the group.

The history of the church speaks for itself. Wherever there has been federation of churches under a central organization, there has been an acceleration of decline. The purest testimony for God has been maintained by churches which are free from outside human domination.” William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, P. 1631-1632

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Author of several enlightening and influential books on subjects ranging from false prophets, end times, the original lie of Satan to mankind, evangelism, last day / end times victory, and the daily walk of an authentic disciple. Todd’s books can be found on,, and on His websites include, A former Marine, contracted to NASA, youth pastor, TV show host, Bible College class president, and member of numerous churches throughout the south, by the saving grace of Jesus Christ Todd has and continues to learn to set aside all that involves the philosophies and whims of mere men to follow the King of the kingdom as a simple servant. His sincerity and ability to speak on a variety of topics from a broad and edifying perspective, and with a humble candor, is refreshing. Todd has an obvious understanding that he is nothing without Jesus and yet, by the working of divine grace, his Gospel tracts, articles, Moments with Our Master email devotional, and books have taught, encouraged, and inspired thousands. Todd Tomasella is the author of several Christian, non-fiction books, hundreds of articles, devotionals, audios, tracts, videos, Bible school curriculum, and study guides. No matter the format utilized, the divine mandate is simply getting people into God's Word for themselves (Nehemiah 8:8; Habakkuk 2:2; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17). Let’s Grow Together! Sign up here to begin receiving the Moments with Our Master email devotional that is sure to help you grow in grace and in the knowledge of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:2; 3:18). It’s sent out for the edification and equipping of the body of Christ. Sign Up HERE: