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The Sovereignty of Divine Institutions

The word autonomous means self-governing. Though this word is not used in the Bible, the idea is taught in Scripture. We rightly say that each congregation of Jesus’ church is to manage its own affairs. The New Testament plan is to have “elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). Peter told elders to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you”—that is, the Christians in the congregation where they serve as overseers (I Pet. 5:2). The authority of elders in matters of judgment is limited to that congregation. They are not overseers of another congregation. Since one church has no biblical right to govern another congregation, no group of men from those churches has the authority to do so. This is why the Catholic hierarchy and denominational boards are not scriptural. It is also why it is not biblical for a “nondenominational” church to manage its “satellite” campus congregations or for a congregation among us to be “the overseeing congregation” of a church in a mission field.

Are not homes autonomous as well? God instituted the family to propagate as well as to give order to mankind. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). The children they have are their children. They have authority over them. “Children, obey your parents” (Eph. 6:1). Parents are to run their own home. They have no authority over other homes. Since God gave this right to parents, no man or group of men has the authority to override their oversight, and no parent has the right to give up that responsibility to another. Imagine a group of parents in a community deciding to form an overseeing board to manage their affairs as parents. Sound absurd? It is. But this is no different in principle than churches that are under a body of church officials who hand down decisions and regulations for them.

Does not the principle of autonomy apply to nations also? How else could we be “subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1)? We certainly cannot obey the laws of every nation at the same time. When the Bible says to “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man” (I Pet. 2:13), it has in view the law system wherever we may dwell on earth. God gives that authority to the rulers of each nation. Otherwise, they have no power at all. This means that each nation has authority over its own citizens and not the people of other nations. Each nation is self-governing as far as its authority from God is concerned. This also means that no organization has the right to place itself over nations and that no nation has the right to relinquish its autonomy to a higher human political structure. Communism is a violation of the sovereignty God has given to each nation because its goal is world domination. Islam violates the autonomy of nations because it seeks the overthrow, peaceful or forceful, of all systems of government until all countries are brought into subjection to the will of Allah. The word word Islam appropriately means submission. Other forms of political globalism go against the right of nations to rule their own affairs. For instance, recent proposals by our own government to give the WHO the power to declare a medical emergency in our own country and shut down our society should alarm everyone. Thankfully the proposals did not pass—for now. As people grow more ignorant of these fundamental facts about the divine origin and purpose of these three institutions, it becomes more urgent for us to teach the Scriptures on these matters to the church, to our children, and to the world.


West End church of Christ bulletin article for June 12, 2022.


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