How Are Local Churches Independent?

One important way that congregations are independent is in governing themselves. Losing the right of self-government causes a church to lose its independence. When men from outside a local church take over and rule it, it has lost its autonomy. But governing its own matters is not the only form of independence in a local church. Many churches make their own decisions, but still continue permanently to depend upon outside help in finance and other matters. Self-rule should lead to a church to be self-supporting and completely independent.

One important difference must be understood. A congregation can never receive outside rule without losing its independence. But a church can receive temporary outside support without losing its independence. We know this from the Bible. There is absolutely no example of any congregation in the New Testament receiving rule from outside persons. But we do read of congregations receiving temporary financial and spiritual help from outside. Elders in Judea received temporary financial aid from Antioch (Acts 11:27-30). Paul received support from other churches while preaching in Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:8). The church at Philippi sent to Paul while he preached in other places (Philippians 4:15-16). There are Bible examples of temporary outside financial help, but no examples of outside rule.

Another way that God intends churches to be independent is in self-support. Paul commended the church at Philippi for supporting him financially (Philippians 4:15). A congregation is not fully independent as God wants it to be until it supports itself financially. Temporary aid may sometimes be necessary, but self-support must soon be reached. Whenever outside support is received, there is danger that outside rule will be practiced. Congregations must stand on their own feet.

When parents teach their baby to walk, they require him to take steps for himself. If the baby does not try to step alone, he will never learn to walk. With every independent step, he is learning to walk. In the same way a congregation must take steps for itself even from the beginning. As long as others provide its finances, it will never walk alone. But the more steps it takes for itself, the more it learns that it can walk by itself.

God also intends for each local church to be self-propagating. This means self-reproducing. A self-propagating congregation grows by teaching the Gospel to others. It will work to establish other independent congregations. The Word of God is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11). Any seed has within itself the life necessary to bring forth another plant. In the same way, the Bible has the necessary power to produce the church. Wherever good hearts receive the Word, congregations begin. A congregation needs no outside organization to enable it to grow or to plant other churches. In this way each congregation is like a banana tree. Once it is planted, it has the ability to grow without outside care. It will also soon cause new banana plants to spring up. This is the meaning of self-propagation.

The Bible says that the church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Each congregation is to support and spread the truth. This will cause other churches to be planted. They also will support the truth in other areas. Outside mission agencies or denominational organizations are not necessary for the spread of the Lord’s church. Congregations of the Lord’s church are independent—self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating.