Ask A Pastor
By Rev. John Campbell – United Presbyterian Church
Is it biblical to use the words “independent church”?
In honesty this is a question that is asked by a pastor to The Pastor. And a friend has pointed out to me that this can be simply an argument of words. Yet when I formed this question, I was thinking not of criticizing any church or people, rather wanting us to consider the message that is implied in these words. Perhaps it would have been stronger to ask as to how I see the body of Christ.
The problem is the word ‘independent’. Using the dictionary the usages given include: ‘not requiring or relying on something else’ or ‘not requiring or relying on others’. I am aware that the term became popular in the seventeenth century in England when advocates of local congregational control of church matters opposed any wider hierarchy, either the Pope or the King. Thus the usage of independent means the local church governs itself with no outside agency over it.
Well, as Christians we are to rely on God through the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Also we remember Jesus’ prayer for his followers in John 17: ‘that they all might be one.’ The difficulty is that the usage of the word ‘independent’ tends to imply that one does not need anybody else. So, it becomes our church and our way, when it needs to be Christ’s church and God’s way.
The underlining issue for every Christian is that Jesus gave two commands, love God and love your neighbor. How are we as believers loving each other? This has been a problem down through the ages. And if you are using the word ‘independent’, does that not imply the separation from others?
Paul addressed this issue in the letter to the Corinthians where he writes about the Church as the body of Christ with Christ the head and the believers are the rest of the body. The redemptive work of Christ, accomplished bodily on the cross, established unity among God’s people. To call those people the body of Christ was to highlight dramatically the event and the person responsible for their very life and final destiny. Each has a place in which their part is useful for the whole. Remember the church is not really a place. It’s a people—God’s people in Christ. And never does the New Testament conceive of the Christian existing on a prolonged basis outside the fellowship of the church.
In this day and age in which the church is divided by differing opinions and understandings, perhaps it is time to think of each other as being members of one body rather than being ‘independent.’ A.W. Tozer wrote many years ago: ‘The whole church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and a higher life.’
Let us love one another.