About Jesus - Steve (Stephen) Sweetman
The concepts of
autonomous and accountable relationships as they relate to church have
been a matter of debate for centuries.
I participated in the debate in the mid 1970's as it related to
the teachings of submission and authority within the structure of
church. In short, one who is
autonomous is one who does not answer to anyone while one who is
accountable is one who does answer to someone.
Both address matters concerning relational interaction between
people. How, then, are we to
understand autonomy and accountability within church?
Since both autonomy and
accountability presuppose some kind of relational interaction, we can
look to God for insight into this issue because relational interaction
originates with Him. In
simple terms, God is a plurality. He
is Father, Son, and Spirit. How
autonomy and accountability works within the Godhead provides the
perfect pattern for how it should work within our ecclesiastical
relationships. That being
said, our human imperfections consistently inhibit God's perfect model
from being implemented in our relationships.
Either we stress autonomy to the point of becoming independent
free agents or we stress accountability and become slaves to
ecclesiastical dictatorship. Neither
extreme is Biblical.
Father, Son, and Spirit
have their unique responsibilities to perform within the Godhead.
They exercise their duties within a submissive, co-operative
yielding to each other as they facilitate their agreed-upon will.
I use the term "submissive
co-operative yielding" because the New Testament views relational
submission, not in dictatorial terms, but in terms of a co-operative
yielding among those who have mutual, respect, love, and care.
The New Testament knows nothing about dictatorial accountability
and rugged autonomous individualism.
The apostle Paul wrote
about this issue in 1 Corinthians 14 where he said that church is the
Body of Christ, and thus, he related church to a human body.
A human body consists of multiple individual parts that have
unique responsibilities specific to them.
Only when each individual part functions in submissive, co-
operative yielding to other body parts does the body work as it should.
No body part, whether in our physical body or the Body of Christ,
is a free agent to autonomously exercise its unique task.
Neither does one body part, whether in our physical body or the
Body of Christ, dictate his will over another in the name of
Each believer has been
immersed into the lives of others in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians
12:13). A corporate
submissive, co-operative yielding is therefore essential to implement
the will of a God, who Himself exists in a submissive, co-operative
yielding plurality. Being imperfect humans, our submissive yielding
to one another will provide opportunities for any needed correction or
re-alignment in our lives, but again, this takes place in an atmosphere
of mutual love and respect. History
has proven that excess autonomy and excess accountability is divisive,
destructive, and disastrous for any kind of relational interaction,
whether that be in friendships, marriage, church, or a nation.
as it relates to Christian ministry, is
the process whereby each individual performs his
or her unique ministry responsibilities in submissive,
co-operative yielding (accountability) with
those he or she has been placed alongside in ministry, so the
corporate ministry of the Body of Christ can function as one