About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Relational Autonomy  


The local expression of church consists of individual believers, each with his or her own God-given talents and ministry responsibilities, who by the Holy Spirit, have been united in personal relationships with other believers to form one unified body that accomplishes God's will.


Much like our physical bodies, 1 Corinthians 12 states church to be a body of believers consisting of distinct individual members.  Each diverse member has his or her specific responsibility in maintaining a healthy unified body.  It's called "diversity within unity," meaning, a diverse group of individuals who form one unified body.  The term "relational autonomy" is important in maintaining unity in the midst of diversity.


The word "relational" in "relational autonomy" presupposes that the individual believer is in supportive personal relationships with others in the body, the church.  No one is an island unto himself or herself.   


The word "autonomy" in "relational autonomy" implies that despite being immersed (1 Corinthians 12:13) with other believers in Christ's body, the individual maintains a measure of autonomy and self-expression.  Each believer's personal distinctiveness is preserved as he performs his ministry responsibilities with those to whom he is in relationship.  The process by which the individual collaborates with other individuals is meant to cultivate a unity within the local expression of the Community of Christ which produces effective ministry.  


When understanding church consisting of many autonomous individuals that form one unified community, we cannot over-emphasize the individual to the neglect of the community.  Neither can we over-emphasize the community at the expense of the individual.  An individual cannot impose himself onto the community and the community cannot impose itself onto the individual.  Church implies community, not communism.    


Relational autonomy is the concept whereby the individual maintains his distinctive identity as he or she collaborates with others in one unified community that accomplishes God's will for that community.   


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