We have never had a clear view of the meaning and ministry of the church. Unless we can develop that, it is probable that we will wind up as another sect. It seems to me that the current vision of the church does not include the world, or even recognize a responsibility to it.
The tragedy of the cooperation controversy and the basic fallacy of the entire issue was that it cut the kingdom of God into fifteen thousand little independent kingdoms called" local congregations" each ruled by its own group of "overseers," This had done more to destroy the worldview than we realize. Under the banner of congregational autonomy, the worldview almost disappeared. The interests were turned inward rather than outward. Congregations became self-centered, and most lost sight of the fact that there is one body and one head and that the body is as universal as the head.
The church was designed by Jesus Christ to be one worldwide body of believers. They would span the spectrum from ultraliberal to ultraconservative and still be the same body. The church was to be a blend of ethnic, social, political, economic, and educational backgrounds, but still be one body.
It is a real privilege to be a part of such a magnificent ingathering of all cultures and all hues of understanding. It is no tribute to the kingdom to live in the isolation of one small local congregation.
The body has many members indeed, but not all members have the same office. They have each received from the same Spirit their gifts, and they owe it to the body - worldwide - to minister each individual gift to the benefit of the whole body -- not simply to those in the local congregation.
Somewhere along the line, we have lost much of the worldview held by Jesus and the apostles and also by the pioneers of the restoration movement.
Congregational autonomy has become an obsession to the point where the average Christian thinks only in terms of his own local congregation. His worldvision has been blinded by this consuming passion for the "local church" -- a thing not even mentioned in the Bible.
We are not "local congregation" Christians; we are "world" Christians; and we ought to have a worldvision. Every individual in every local church ought to have that vision. The narrow exclusiveness of our "congregational autonomy" orientation has just about destroyed what little worldvision we had. The church has a mission to mankind, rather than an inbred obsession with local church responsibility.
It takes all the people in the world who have entered the kingdom by the new birth to contribute their many talents in order to make the body function to the glow of its head, Jesus Christ. Christian responsibility transcends all local congregational lines and extends to the furthest reaches of the kingdom. Paul must have had this in his mind when he reminded both the church in Rome and the church in Corinth that there is but one head and but one body.
Local preachers and local congregations get hung up on a specific translation of the Scriptures, even to the extent that some of them become followers of King James rather than Jesus Christ. One version, under congregational autonomy, becomes the creed for further dividing the body. I thank God that we have so many translations. Each of them acts as a critique of the others. None of them are perfect; and none of them are totally bad. They are like people because they are produced by people. Each has its faults. But the existence of so many of them helps to maintain a worldview rather than a narrow, sectarian view.
Customs are like translations. They differ in different parts of the world. Some of our autonomous units preach some customs as law, and are unable to differentiate between what is Gospel and what is tradition. The result: they forget that they are part of the body whose other members have different customs -- and a right to them.
Methods of operation differ with different congregations. Belief in congregational autonomy would make us allow each freedom to do his own thing without our interference or criticism. But we find that hard to do. We want him to strain his way of doing things through our censorship. We really don't believe in congregational autonomy as strongly as we say we do. We sometimes meddle.
And all this keeps us from seeing the lost world. We are consumed with internal frictions. The world goes on to hell without our notice because we are looking at our internal problems rather than our mission. Oh, Lord, how long!
We are in a world struggling to find itself, and we think we have the task of showing it the way. The church is the Lord's. The money is the Lord's. The work is the Lord's. And we are the Lord's. "Lift up your eyes and look, for the fields are even now white unto harvest" -- but the laborers are so few!
Let us say something and do something to turn the view of the church outward instead of inward. A vanishing worldview will doom us to extinction. -- Reuel Lemmons, Image, January 15, 1987.