The following is a justification of the second of four main alternatives for how to structure the Methodist Church internationally that were considered by COSMOS, the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas. The text is taken from a COSMOS document generated in 1965. The original is held by the General Commission on Archives and History in Drew, NJ.
Alternative II: Encourage Developments Toward Autonomous and/or Union Churches
For the Methodist Church, consideration of autonomy as the goal toward which we should move in our structural relationship was given fresh impetus at the Asian Consultation in Park Dickson, Malaysia, November 1963. This consultation said:
“We believe that the Methodist Churches in Asia are called to give serious consideration to becoming autonomous churches or, in some countries, where it seems to be God’s will, uniting with other churches to become united churches. Development of Methodist autonomy will still be in the direction of church union which is an autonomous state. Any changes which contemplate autonomy will prepare the way for union. Such a step will also make eventual union easier to achieve be removing many of the present hindrances in our policy.
“Autonomy does not mean severance of our ties with Methodist churches in other lands or an unbiblical accommodation of the church to nationalistic sentiments present in some of our countries. It does not mean becoming self-supporting immediately or breaking the close relationship our churches have had with the Board of Missions in the U.S.A.
“Autonomy does mean becoming fully responsible for administration and legislation, for faith and practice with the Central Conference or its equivalent as the supreme governing body. The Methodist Church would become free to have, under God’s guidance, that form of church structure through which the mission of the church can be served best in each country. Realizing self-hood through self-government, an autonomous church will become more able to accept its place alongside other churches in the area and be free to establish church to church relationships throughout the world, participating fully in the ecumenical movement. With roots in the soil and a structure suited to the people, the autonomous church would be able to work and witness more effectively in its national and cultural environment.”
Autonomy is seen as necessary in order that people in each nation may visualize the church as an indigenous body—in order that the church may adequately fulfill its mission to and responsibilities for the life of the people in that particular nation—that the church is not seen as a foreign body. It is seen as a means to further church unity at the local level. It is the expression of a genuine maturity in the life of the church, and therefore the proper goal in church-mission structural relationships. It was suggested that autonomy is necessary “in order that Christ’s presence shall be truly and fully realized in each place where his body is.”