Each Baptist congregation is free to govern its own affairs, to order its worship and to make decisions on relating with other churches. Far from being isolated congregations, however, we see the need to gather in associations to do things we can’t do alone; also to seek counsel from other congregations. This freedom can be called “congregational autonomy”. William Keucher, former president of American Baptist Churches, USA, explains it as “the right of each congregation (1) to choose its own ministers and officers, (2) to establish its own covenant membership and discipline and confessions, (3) to order its life in its own organizational forms with its constitution and bylaws, (4) to implement its right to belong to other denominational agencies and ecumenical church bodies, (5) to own and to control its own property and budget”.¹
Walter Shurden affirms several of these points and lifts up some additional ones. In his book, The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, he states, “Church freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the lordship of Jesus Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom they perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part.” ² From this we can easily see that each Baptist congregation has the freedom to be the church it believes God has called it to be.
1. William H. Keucher, “Congregational Autonomy,” Baptist Leader, March 1976, 49.
2. Walter B. Shurden , The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms (Macon, Ga.: Smyth and Helwys, 1993), 33.