Another Outline from Brian A. Yeager

Was Autonomy Broken in Acts Chapter Fifteen?

A. So many have sought out the text of Acts chapter fifteen to allow for:
1. Sponsoring churches.
2. Church cooperation.
3. Councils of men.
4. National boards and conventions overseeing churches, etc.
B.  As we enter into this lesson let us consider some things about ďautonomyĒ:
1. An eldership has oversight of those numbered among them (I Peter 5:1-2).
2. Clearly, the preaching and teaching of the Gospel is not bound by congregational boundaries:
a. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be preached everywhere (Mark 16:15-16).
b. Paul wrote inspired letters to congregations of which he was not a member (Rome, Corinth, churches in Galatia, Ephesus, etc.).
  • II Corinthians 11:28
c. The same thing needs to be taught in every congregation (I Corinthians 4:17).
  • I Corinthians 7:17
  • I Corinthians 16:1-2
d. Just as we read epistles today written to other local churches, such was the case in the first century as well (Colossians 4:16).
3. Christ is the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18), therefore every congregation is doctrinally governed by the same rules which Christ has given to men through the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:9-13).
4. An eldership, preacher, or anyone else does not have authority over the scriptures (Colossians 3:17, Acts 5:29, Galatians 1:10-12, and Matthew 15:7-9).
5. Therefore, we must conclude that autonomy applies essentially to matters of expediency alone, which Acts chapter fifteen supports.
I. The Problem We Find in Acts Chapter Fifteen
A. The binding of circumcision upon Gentiles by certain Christians who were by birth Jews in Antioch was the problem (Acts 14:26 - 15:1; 4-5).
1. Circumcision was bound upon male Jews according to the Old Law representing the agreement of God with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-11)  [CF. Leviticus 12:1-3].
2. Clearly, in Christ this is not so (Galatians 5:6).
3. Entrance into the Kingdom is open through the putting away of the Old Law (Romans 7:1-6, Ephesians 2:10-21, and Colossians 2:14).
4. Those individuals who were binding what God had not bound upon those in Antioch were adding to the word of God by speaking where God has not spoken (Deuteronomy 4:2, I Peter 4:11, and Revelation 22:18-19).
B. The Apostles and elders met in spiritual discussion finding that:
1. Peter was a witness to the fact that the Gentiles were accepted by God (v. 6-11, CF. Acts 2:39; 10:44-48; 11:14-17).
2. Paul and Barnabas declared what they had witnessed among the Gentiles (v. 12).
3. James argues on behalf of the Gentiles (v. 13-21).
a. The grace of God is for all men (Titus 2:11).
b. The power of the preaching of the Gospel is to all men (Romans 1:16).
c. No nation, people, etc. are excluded from the opportunity to obey the Lord (Matthew 28:19).
II. Why Was the Church in Jerusalem Involved in a Problem at Antioch?
A. The problem came from Jerusalem (v. 24).
1. False doctrine must be dealt with (Philippians 1:17, Jude v. 3, and I John 4:1).
2. False teachers must be exposed (Romans 16:17-18).
3. Therefore, they had no choice but to deal with the issue brought to them, from among them.
B. As brethren we must be concerned with error we hear our brethren falling into which would have us to take action.
1. Paul serves as an example of one who involved himself in the affairs of a congregation because of what was reported to him (I Corinthians 1:11).
2. John is a great example in writing the book of III John and dealing with Diotrephes. Notice some things from that letter:
a. John was an elder in a congregation outside of the brethren he is addressing (III John v.1).
b. John, an elder in a congregation outside of the brethren he is addressing, tells them he has had reports about them (III John v. 3-4).
c. John addresses the problem [Diotrephes] and implies he may deal with it in person (III John 9-11).
3. If our love for the church goes no further than those with whom we assemble with weekly (I Peter 2:17), we will find that we are part of the problem of apostasy when we ignore issues in the brotherhood.
a. Gospel Meetings, publications, bulletins, internet work, etc. are some examples of tools that we can use scripturally to help other congregations spiritually.
b. Deciding matters of which we have no business, in other congregations, as though we have the oversight there, is when autonomy is broken.

III. Was the Solution a Violation of Autonomy?

A. The solution was to write a letter and send faithful men to handle the issue (Acts 15:19-27).
1. The Holy Spirit was involved in moving this action (v. 28).
2. They would teach about eating meats offered to idols (v. 29).
3. The solution was well received (v. 30-35).
B. The solution was preaching the truth, nothing more or less, and that is no violation of autonomy (Matthew 28:20 and II Timothy 4:2).
A. So many on both sides of the autonomy issue misunderstand the truth.
1. The gospel is not bound, but is to be preached everywhere.
2. A congregation cannot shut her ears to preaching because the one doing the teaching is not from among their local congregation.  If such was right, then no inspired epistle would be valid today!
3. On the other hand, preachers in Gospel Meetings and other short stays have no authority to change matters of expediency or be involved in those matters.
4. Surely, we all understand that if a faithful Christian was assembling with a local church of which they are not a member on vacation, then they heard error, that even though they are not a member there they have a responsibility to try and correct that error (Acts 18:24-26; Acts 20:26-27)!
B. We must keep in mind when we begin to redefine the parameters of autonomy that the events we read about, like Paulís and Johnís letters involving themselves in the work of congregations they were not members, that:
1. Those letters where authored by God (II Peter 1:20-21).
2. If we suggest those things cannot be done today we must also suggest that we cannot follow approved examples in the New Testament as God says we can:
a. I Corinthians 11:1
b. Philippians 3:17

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2003 by Brian A. Yeager may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.