About Jesus - Steve (Stephen) Sweetman

Home Page


Autonomy vs. Accountability  


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 accountability. 


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.          


Autonomy, 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 unified body.



Home Page