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by Norman Rowe
Is it wrong to be an "independent" Christian and not be
associated with some recognized church organization, denomination or
Over the last several years, the church of God has experienced many
schisms and its membership has dispersed in many different directions.
Some have left the faith entirely, others have started up or affiliated
themselves with other organizations, and yet others have remained
faithful, but have not become a part of any organization greater than
their own family. In other words, these last are "independent" and looked
upon as such by those in one of the organized groups. What is especially
unfortunate is that some of those "Christians" who are part of one or
another organization often treat the independent Christians with disgust
and attempt to make "independent" a dirty word or sign of sacrilege or
Is this the case? Is it wrong to
be "independent" and not associated with some recognized organization?
Is it somehow sinful to work apart from an organized group which
has received some sort of official sanction from a "headquarters" of some
sort? Is it Christian, on the other hand, to despise those who choose not
to associate with a group? Are there any Biblical precedents or commands
(or lack thereof) to substantiate either view?
The history of the church of God has actually been
strewn with break-off groups and splinter organizations. It is hard to
tell just how those who were part of one group felt about the members of
another group during much of the Church's history. During the twentieth
century the scene has been cluttered with scorn--especially emanating from
the "parent" group toward the group(s) which splintered off. It has also
appeared from "brother" and "sister" groups--groups which separately left
the same organization--toward each other, although these tend to seem less
harsh. What seems particularly confusing is the attitude which comes from
those who left one organization and formed another, when it is hostile
toward those who leave the second organization for the same (or at least
similar) reasons which caused the second group to leave the first. [For
those who didn't quite follow that, that would refer to a Mr. Smith who
left group A with some others to form group B, then being
persecuted by the members of group B when he leaves it after seeing
group B going off track similarly.] Somehow they seem to think that
it was okay for them to up and leave, but it is wrong to do it more than
once. That once you leave the first group and join the second, your moving
days are over and you're stuck in the second one no matter what. It would
seem similar to saying that it is all right to get sick once, but
illegal to do it a second time!
What does the Bible say about such
things? In fact, does the Bible even take a stand on "organization vs.
independent" situations? In the Old Testament, the Church was organized
and had specific rituals to perform and specific functions given to
specified people. What needs to be remembered, however, is that this was
part of the Old Covenant which existed with a physical people and involved
only physical laws and only physical rewards. In fact, prior to the
Covenant at Mt. Sinai, there is no sign of any organization or
"headquarters" at all. Individuals made their own altars and
offered their own sacrifices to God. Everybody was independent.
In the New Testament the Levitical
priesthood is made obsolete. It is replaced by Christ Who became the
supreme sacrifice for us. He taught His disciples to go out and teach
others, but said nothing about any grand organization or doctrinal
"clearing house" which was to be set up. Nowhere can you find any basis
for requiring an organization being set up to which all believers
must either belong or perish. In fact, there was apparently an
organization and "headquarters" of some sort set up in Jerusalem (notice
Acts 15) and God saw to it that it was split up and scattered
[at least, He allowed this division to take place]. Think about it. Have
you ever been a part of one of the larger organizations of the church of
God? If so, where were most of the best ministers located? Were they out
preaching, teaching, baptizing, and otherwise ministering to the world? Or
were they mostly sitting behind desks at "headquarters" and shuffling
papers around and giving an occasional sermon to the "headquarters"
congregation? How much public exposure did they have? How much contact
with the "outside" world did they have? How many "new" members resulted
from their activities? Yes, think about it.
Was it allowed in the early New
Testament Church to go off and be "independent" and work without contact
with "headquarters" or some other ordained man of authority? Did Christ
ever say anything about it? Probably the best answer to the first question
is found in Acts 8:26-39. What did the eunuch do after returning to
Ethiopia? He had at best only a few hours of Bible training and there were
no congregations or ordained ministers in the area. He had no
Correspondence Course or local broadcast to guide him. Here, then, was a
true "independent." Tradition has it that this man did a tremendous Work
in Ethiopia and started what became a very large Church there--all
without the help and presence of some larger authorized group of
ordained ministers. His only authority was God and He blessed him greatly
in the calling given to him. God does not despise independent Christians,
so a true Christian should not despise any independent Christians. In
fact, Christ hinted at the possibility that there would be at least some
independent Christians in John 10:16. It definitely shows that He
would have followers in more than one group and quite probably several
would not be associated with any organized group at all.
Christ did not command His followers to,
"Go ye therefore into all nations, forming one large 'True Church' and
establishing a recognized headquarters, teaching them to support that
organization . . . ." You may look through all of Christ's words and you
will NEVER find anything to support a master organization from which the
"Work" would emanate and to which all true Christians would have to pledge
allegiance and send money. Luke 9:49-50 relates an event during
Christ's human lifetime when an independent had gone off and was operating
in His name. What was His reaction? Was it one of disdain? Was it one of
anger? Was it one of spite? Did He immediately go over and order that man
to "get clearance from headquarters" before continuing any further
activities? NO!! He allowed the independent to continue to work
independently and without interference and to use His name in the process!
There is the example. There is the truly Christian approach and attitude.
Being independent has its advantages
and, of course, its disadvantages. By working alone or as a very small
group, you have only your own resources with which to work. Of course, if
you are truly dedicated then God will always see that you have what you
need. (Maybe not everything you might want, but certainly everything you
will need.) Literature may be developed, but it is not necessary.
Paul wrote his own material, but there is no indication that he ever
distributed any flyers, booklets, reprint articles, or magazines. Christ
apparently got by without any written stuff whatsoever. Few of the
apostles had college or university degrees in anything--much less theology
and/or journalism. It is also reasonably safe to assume that none of them
ever managed to buy any radio or TV time either (prime or otherwise).
[Editor's tongue-in-cheek note: Ancient records indicate that KJER radio
had offered James a half-hour slot at 11:30 p.m. beginning in March 71
A.D., but it was canceled along with everything else when the Romans
nationalized it in 70 A.D..] The means you use most effectively will
depend on your particular area, abilities, opportunities, and
resourcefulness. When operating more-or-less alone, you have no back-up
strength (other than God, that is), but neither do you have to wait for
somebody else to get something to you or send somebody out. You don't
have the large literature collection, but you don't have to worry about
any doctrinal error (to the best of your knowledge, anyway) either. You
don't have as large a sphere of influence, but you have a more direct
participation in it. You have to do everything yourself, but you
don't have the temptation to sit back and do nothing because the
"organization" is taking care of things. You have a greater sense of
accomplishment, but you also have a greater sense of responsibility.
Instead of the "big boys at headquarters" taking the 'blame' when somebody
is mishandled, you shoulder the responsibility.
Whether you work as part of a larger
organization or as an independent, to be a true Christian you must
nevertheless work. God has given all Christians the
commission to go, teach, baptize, heal, etc., Mark 16:15-20, Matthew
28:19-20. And that means to all Christians. Even if you are part of an
organization, you still have that responsibility and need to fulfill it.
As an independent, you tend to see and feel that responsibility even
greater when you come to fully realize that this is what Christianity is
really all about.
Being independent is perfectly
acceptable to God, and any abuse you may receive from a professing
Christian only displays the true fruits of that person's faith.
Independent does not mean inactive. Every Christian must
be constantly in active participation in the fulfilling of Christ's
commission whether it is done under the auspices of a group or done
independently in the name of Christ alone.