Although many churches advertise themselves as “independent,” proudly claiming to be free from the control of ecclesiastical bodies or denominational hierarchies, there is no such thing as an independent church.

Take the congregation I pastor. Because it belongs to no denominational group, it is considered independent. Yet this church’s life and witness would be greatly impoverished without the support and resources of other churches. It has never had a pastor raised in its midst, for example. It operates no school, college, or seminary. We do not print our own Sunday-school literature or write all our own music. Nor do we write or publish books for Bible study. We operate no radio or television station. Even the missionaries we help need support from other churches. We read periodicals, attend conferences and seminars, and even use films, tapes, and computer software produced by others. Every phase of our ministry is dependent upon others—other Christians and other churches.

By contrast, the word independent means “not dependent” or “free from control.” It is an unfortunate choice of words. Of course, no Christian or church would claim to be free from dependence on God or his sovereignty. We depend on him for our life, health, salvation, instruction, growth, and destiny. Our churches rely on him for their power and effectiveness (although sometimes we seem to depend more upon methods, intelligence, and personal charisma). Independent churches are not claiming otherwise, so why use such potentially misleading terminology? Independent is too easily read in our culture as a justification for a myopic “rugged individualism.”

There are other theological problems with independence. Independence is not the opposite of unity, but ...

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