(Based on background information in We Are Baptists: Studies for Younger Elementary Children, by Jeffrey D. Jones and Debra L. Sutton)
With freedom comes a great responsibility; in the case of church freedom, it is for us to listen and respond to God’s call to be the church. Only God, no one else, can tell a local Baptist congregation what it must be and do. The Baptist concept of the church is grounded in the reality of the local congregation. Each congregation is free to determine its corporate life and its relationships with others. We believe that it is this grounding that brings life to the church and enables it to faithfully respond to God’s call to ministry within its own walls as well as to the world. Each congregation can set its standards for membership, determine its structure and organization, and choose its style of worship.
Included in this freedom is the freedom to relate to other churches through denominational structures (such as associations and regions) and ecumenical structures. As part of these relationships, the structures may set additional criteria for membership and participation. Each congregation, therefore, keeps its right to determine whether or not to continue in relationship with those structures. That freedom is the very core of congregational autonomy.
With this freedom comes the great responsibility of being the church—of listening for and responding to God’s call so that the congregation will remain faithful in its life and ministry. Because the congregation’s responsibility is to listen and obey when God speaks, each local congregation needs to develop a listening posture. It must constantly be open to change, willing to move in new directions when God calls, and willing to risk seeing and doing things differently in obedience to God’s will.