The Dark Side of Autonomy

The scope of the mission of God is beyond the capacity of any singular local church

Children crave autonomy. Whether they are trying to get dressed in the morning, make something for lunch, or ride a bike around the block. There seems to be something in human nature that causes us to desire to do things for ourselves. For children, this process is normal and necessary. Human development necessitates that children learn to maneuver through life without depending on others to do for them what they can, and should, do alone.

Unfortunately, this push for independence doesn’t end with adolescence. The drive for autonomy often continues into adulthood and causes many to careen off the precipice toward the independence of radical isolation. We see ourselves as sovereign agents, not requiring external contributions. Autonomy has become so ubiquitous in the social psyche that it has morphed into a cultural norm to be lauded. To be human is to be autonomous; we must achieve unaided, without the help of anyone or anything. Or so we surmise.

In the end, the insecurities that drive our independent detachments usually become our undoing.

Autonomy and the Church

Evangelical churches in North America have seen rewards in co-opting autonomy, and translated this value into a hallmark of the local church. Confessionally, I count myself as one who agrees with this hallmark. Autonomy protects God’s church and honors the work of God among an individual local body.

In reaction to the menacing overreach of many hierarchical structures throughout history, numerous denominations emphasize the obligation of the local church to govern, lead, and correct herself. Such a structure rightly highlights the belief that God has given each local church a leadership who is accountable to God for teaching, correcting, and equipping God’s ...

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