The Autonomy Of The Church

by Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)

The autonomy of a church means that a church is supposed to run by itself. The word automobile means a car that is a self-running instrument or piece of machinery. Likewise, the autonomous church means that the church is supposed to be self-running.

But this thou hast, that thou ha test the deeds of the Nicolaitanes which I also hate. Revelation 2:6

So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes which thing I hate. Revelation 2:15

The word Nicolaitanes is a word which means to conquer the laity. It is referring to an outside force that takes control over a part of a New Testament church. When a church ceases to be autonomous it forfeits the right to call itself a New Testament church. It can still call itself a church because the word church means assembly. A Catholic church can call itself a church, but it is not a New Testament church. It is an assembly, but not the one that Jesus started.

1. Each church is a self-operating entity.

Each church is supposed to be totally self-operating. It is not the business of any other church what the First Baptist Church does. It is likewise not the business of the First Baptist Church what any other church does. Every church is supposed to be a self-operating entity.

There is no mention anywhere in the Bible of a denomination. Denominations are man-made. Churches are God-made. If a church yields a part of her authority to any external source, she ceases to be a New Testament church. A New Testament church is self-operating or autonomous. Denominations have done more to destroy the work of God than taverns have. In fact, it is tragic how denominations destroy churches.

2. Each church is a self-operating entity and should stay that way.

Churches are destroyed because they lose their autonomy. The Southern Baptists like to claim that they have 33,000 independent churches. That is not really true. They voted me out because I would not support their colleges and their cooperative program. Their churches are not independent; they are under the control of the convention.

3. This is the only way a church can claim perpetuity.

A church cannot claim the promise of Matthew 16:16-18 unless it is a self operating entity. Consequently, when a church ties itself to a denomination, it ties itself to something that is dying, so life joins up with death. The denomination destroys the life of the church, because life plus death equals death. God never said, Upon this rock I will build my denomination and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. God did not say, Upon this rock I will build my fellowship and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. He said, Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The independent local church was promised divine perpetuity.

4. When we unite, we lose that claim.

When churches unite, the organization becomes bigger than the church, so it ceases to be a church. It becomes churches. Since they are united, they cannot claim divine perpetuity.

5. Let us not unite.

When I was in the Southern Baptist Convention, I often heard it said by denominational leaders, "Let's not split." The Southwide Baptist Fellowship is saying the same thing now. The Baptist Bible Fellowship is also saying it I would like to say, "Let's not unite." I am not an isolationist, but if you do not unite, you do not have to worry about splitting. In fact, every church ought to be its own split. It should operate itself and run its own business without interference from other churches.

6. Union brings death because when something that has been promised life unites itself with something that has not been promised life, it has attached itself to death and therefore will die.

I have been warning Baptist people across America for years about the AWANA program. The AWANA is a inter-denominational program for children that churches use. Because it is not Baptist, it is not right on some things. I have warned Baptists about AWANA, not because I thought the AWANA Program was bad, but because every organization like it is eventually going to die because it is not operated by a church, which is the only organization promised divine perpetuity. If we get attached to an organization like that we will die with it.

A pastor went to a church and tried to stop the AWANA. The people threatened to vote him out. They were more loyal to an outside organization than they were to their own pastor. Every youth program ought to be local church centered and operated. Every children's program ought to be local church centered and operated. A local church should not allow an outside influence as powerful as the AWANA inside the church because it will create loyalties outside of the church. Churches all over this nation that have AWANA are going to have one of three things happen to them.

1. They have a strong enough pastor to get it out of the church.

2. They are going have to have trouble in the church.

3. The pastor is going to have to compromise and stay with the AWANAS.

When living organizations join up with dying organizations, death enters into the living organization.

For many years I had a high regard for the Gideons, but I was worried about them because they were not affiliated with the local church. I spoke at National Gideon Conventions in Canada and the United States. The day came when I could no longer support the Gideons. One day in a motel room I picked up a "Bible." It was not the King James Bible. They are now putting out different kinds of "Bibles."

Let me explain what happens. A man from the Gideons comes to speak in a church to raise money to help place Bibles in motels and schools across America; then, that organization changes. While an organization is good, we join up with it, but in so doing, we build the machinery for self-destruction. The best philosophy is not to join up with that organization at all. The local church should operate itself. People often ask me to print literature for churches to use. I do not do it because some people would become more loyal to me than to their local pastor. Then, if the pastor decided not to use my literature, some people may follow me instead of him. The church would no longer be autonomous. There is not one program at the First Baptist Church of Hammond that subscribes churches to be a part of it. If somebody wants to start a Phoster Club, they can start a Phoster Club and call it anything they want. We do not tell them what to do, nor do we send a representative to keep their club going. Union brings death. As the other thing dies, the church dies as well. When churches unite and one church dies, it affects all of the other churches.

7. Our mistake is that when we divide, we do not have enough sense to stay divided.

The split does not have enough sense to remain a split. Churches often decide to leave a denomination, yet turn right around and unite with another organization.

What should be the fellowship between churches?

1. No denomination.

2. No outside interference whatsoever.

Let me give you an idea of how it should be. I preached for a pastor in Mocksville, North Carolina. The pastor sent out letters to other churches announcing that I was going to be there, and inviting them to attend and to bring some of their people. It was one church's meeting. All the churches in the area did not get together. One church sponsored the meeting. The pastor did not ask the other churches to do anything. Buses came from all over the area, but nobody was blacklisted if they did not come, voted out if they did not cooperate, or reprimanded if they did not bring their people. That is God's plan. I am not suggesting that we should not cooperate, but that we should not unite.

Tragically, when we divide, we often do not have enough sense to stay divided. When we split we do not have enough sense to stay split. We want to start something else. That something else is a uniting in a fellowship of churches, and the minute it starts, death sets in, because human organizations start off dying. The church, however, can always stand. Churches die because they unite.

8. We unite not realizing that we are uniting.

Let me show several ways churches unite without realizing that they are uniting:

(1) Ministerial groups. I am referring to fundamental ministerial groups, not liberal ministerial associations. There is a city in this nation where a group of fundamental preachers organized a fundamental ministerial group. That sounds good. It is not a sin. There are groups like that all over the country, so what is wrong with these groups? Before long, they elect a chairman who is over the ministerial group. That means that he has been given a title above the title of pastor. There is a group like this that I used to preach for every year.

Several years ago, in the midst of the attacks against me, one of the preachers in that group turned against me. I contend that he has a right not to be for me. But, what happened? Many of my friends blacklisted him. Even though I felt he was wrong in the position he had taken against me, they had taken away his freedom. They did to him what the Southern Baptist Convention does to churches.

It is not slavery we are against, it is our being enslaved we are against. We do not mind being the boss. We do not want to be in Egypt under Pharaoh. We want to go out into the wilderness, reorganize, and become a Pharaoh ourselves. There is nothing sinful about a fundamental ministerial group. In itself, it is not bad, but it creates the machinery for decay in the future.

(2) Union meetings. There are fundamental churches that get together every year and conduct a joint, area-wide revival meeting. I have had preachers criticize other men because they decided not to cooperate with those meetings any more. They call him a loner and say he is uncooperative. That is the same thing the Southern Baptists did to me. A preacher has a perfect right not to cooperate. This is what causes churches to die. We ought to work with each other, but we ought to work in a way which maintains our independence from each other. For example, our Pastors" School is like a cafeteria. A preacher can take what he wants and leave the rest. It is our own meeting, and nobody is blacklisted if he chooses not to come. We are supposed to cooperate with each other when a local church has an endeavor, if we so choose; but it is always unwise to build a canopy over all of us.

(3) Joint schools. All across America there are schools that are started by groups of churches. Church-schools ought to be started by a church. If ten churches start a school, the standards of that school will only be as strong as the weakest of those ten churches. Eventually, the pastor of the weakest church may be elected as president of the school board. One church should start a school and if other pastors want to send their students they may, but if they choose another school, that is perfectly acceptable. The inter-denominational, cooperative schools do not remain useful nearly as long as church operated schools.

First Baptist Church operates Hammond Baptist Schools. First Baptist Church owns Hammond Baptist Schools. It is on our property, we have our own principals and teachers, we operate it, and we have our own board. Other Baptist churches send us students every year, but it is not those churches' business how Hammond Baptist Schools are operated. We operate it like we think God wants it operated. If they like that, they can come, but if they do not like that, they can send their students elsewhere. If a group of preachers start a school, the standards will deteriorate quickly. God's plan is the local church.

(4) Self accreditation. Across America many states require that church-schools be accredited. The state says we must have our schools accredited, yet many preachers have refused to allow the state to accredit their schools. In some cases the state has come back with a suggestion of a compromise. They said that we could set up our own accreditation board and accredit our own schools. They are basically saying that we must answer to somebody. We are not to answer to anybody outside of the local church! There is no divine institution above the local church!

Churches get together and set up a fundamental accrediting association. It sounds good, but it is machinery that will deteriorate and someday become just like the accrediting association they could not cooperate with in the first place. It is not just the accreditation by the North Central Association that is wrong. It is wrong when any church accredits another church. Nobody has a right to inspect the local church outside the local church. Any accreditation leads to death. The only difference between bad accreditation and good accreditation is how much longer you are going to live before you die.

(5) Literature. I do not want to determine what is taught at another Baptist church. I want their pastor to decide. It is not my business what another church teaches. I could have literature going out from First Baptist Church of Hammond to thousands of churches all across America. Preachers beg me to publish materials that they could use in their churches. I do not feel that it is the right thing to do. I do not mind them using my materials for ideas to create their own, but I do not want their churches to become more loyal to me than they are their own pastor.

There was a day you could trust some publishing houses. Many were fine as long as they were doctrinally correct, but they have deteriorated and taken some of their loyal churches with them. Nothing causes the decay of a denomination as much as its literature.

Many years ago, when I was a Southern Baptist, we had study courses which met five nights a week. We would study from a book put out by the Southern Baptist Convention's Broadman Press. Diplomas were given out when a person finished one of the courses. One day, I decided to teach one of the lessons straight from the Bible without using their study books. At the completion of the course, I wrote and asked them to send me the diplomas. They wrote back and asked me what materials I had used. I wrote them back and informed them that I had used the Bible. They wrote back to let me know that they would not send me the diplomas because we did not use Baptist literature materials. That was the last time I used their materials.

The preacher should decide what materials are used in the church, or he should write the Sunday school lessons. Let the church decide what is taught. There is nothing wrong with having outside literature, but you are subscribing yourself to something that will change you when it dies. Every church in America needs to stop and realize that the Nicolaitanes doctrine is creeping in. While we say we are independent and autonomous, we yoke up with death and do not know it.

(6) Fellowships. Every year at Pastors' School people ask me to start a fellowship. Fellowship means that we get together to enjoy each other with no strings attached. We do not need any more organizations. Dr. Jack Trieber in southern California has a Pastors' School every year. Anybody who wants to can attend. It is his Pastors' School, so he ought to operate it without the interference of an organization. I do not tell him how to run his Pastors' School. If he wants to ask my advice, I will give it to him, but it is his Pastors' School.

(7) Missionaries. The Southern Baptist Convention calls it their cooperative program. Southern Baptist churches do not individually decide which missionaries they will support. The church sends money to the Cooperative Program. Much of that money goes to operate their neo-evangelical and liberal schools, but they do not advertise that. They put missions out as the bait.

What is God's plan? When a man decides to go to the mission field, he should go to New Testament churches and preach, and let the churches individually decide whether or not to support him. That is the New Testament plan. The Southern Baptist Convention told me that I had to support the cooperative program or I would get my walking papers. I took my walking papers. They told me to support their schools or not be a Southern Baptist. I would not give a dime to a school that does not believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

(8) A group gets together to start churches. The problem is that the group will want to control the churches they start. There is nothing wrong with a church controlling the start of a church until it becomes a church as long as they are answerable to a church, and not to a group. Otherwise, you have the framework of death.

What is the danger?

1. An organization is placed above the church.

A preacher in Texas used to say that there is as much Scripture for having a tavern as there is for having a denomination. The problem with a denomination is that you end up with a district superintendent who is above the preacher. Nobody is supposed to be above the office of pastor. That is the highest office in the Bible.

2. Teaching from without the church is deadly.

Much of the wrong doctrine that infiltrates our churches comes from these types of unions that never should have happened in the first place.

3. An office is established which is above the pastor.

Unfortunately, these in the position of helping the pastor eventually become a power trying to tell the pastor what he can or cannot do.

4. They are formed because of the lack of faith.

Union is always caused by the deterioration of faith. The centralization of power is caused by the deterioration of faith. The reason a group of farmers form a co-op is in case God does not send rain. This is a substitute god. America got along pretty well before there were any co-ops, and before everybody got together so much.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a great leader, but he caused America to become a united movement by starting various co-op programs. The Bible says that God will supply all our needs according to His riches. So, why do we need a denomination? I will tell you exactly why. We lose some of our faith in God.

What more could we want than, Lo, I am with you alway, or, For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, or, upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

My heart aches for what has happened to churches across this nation. Many churches that call themselves Independent Baptists are not really Independent Baptists.

When Dr. Ironside was the pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, he decided to form a group of men to run the business of the church. He basically turned the leadership of the church over to that group of men and decided that he would just do the preaching. It worked beautifully because these men loved him, and wanted to please him, but when he died, he had created the machinery for the destruction of their soul-winning program. What happened? A good pastor and some good men set up some bad machinery that worked as long as they were alive, but self-destructed when they died.