Additional Quotes about the Local Church by Witness Lee and Watchman Nee
The ministry meetings are meetings of the ministry to help the saints and the local churches. These meetings are for the local churches, but they are not local church meetings and are not in the hands of the local churches.
According to the pattern set up in the book of Acts, there are three ways for the servants of the Lord to work and minister to the saints. One is that, as a servant of the Lord, you can go to any locality to help the church there. You can attend the church meetings and take the opportunity to minister to the saints.
Another way is that you can be in a place where there is a local church, yet at the same time you can rent a place for your ministry. Paul did this when he was in Rome. In Acts 28 we are told that while Paul was in Rome, for two years he rented a house for himself to work and welcomed all those who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 30-31). Paul did not form another group by his ministry. The fruit of his ministry was for the church in Rome. Remember that you should not form anything of your own to keep the results of your ministry. All the results of your ministry must go to the local church.
The third way is that if you stay in a locality for a long time, spontaneously you become a member of the local church there and serve the Lord as a local member. Peter was an example of this. He stayed in Jerusalem for a long time, so he automatically served the Lord in the church in Jerusalem as a local member.
(Witness Lee, Life and Way, 108-109)
Acts 13 says that in the church in Antioch there were prophets and teachers (v. 1). At that time there was a real building up in the church in Antioch. It was not that Paul and Barnabas were praying in their home, and in their morning watch they received guidance and inspiration from the Lord. Acts 13 tells us, first of all, that Paul and Barnabas were in the church. People may talk about the church, but their talk is something in the air. Paul and Barnabas were in a church in a definite locality, in Antioch. If you are going to do a prevailing work for the preaching of the gospel, you have to be built up in a local church, in a church which is practical and definite.
In the church which was in Antioch, there were five prophets and teachers who were built into the church. The guidance from the Holy Spirit came to them as representatives of the church (Acts 13:2). Verse 3 says that three of them sent out Barnabas and Saul, but verse 4 says that Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit. This proves that the three were one with the Spirit in the Lords move, and the Spirit honored their sending as His. They were one with the Spirit and had the Spirits leading because they were built into the church.
You all need to be built together in the church. Then in the church you will get the guidance, and from the church you will go out, not to do some mere preaching work but to produce and establish the local churches. The two sent ones, Paul and Barnabas, went out to preach the gospel, but their preaching was for the producing and establishing of the local churches. Wherever they went, they preached. Wherever they preached, a local church was established in that locality. They went out from the church, the work they did was for the church, and eventually they came back to the church in Antioch (v. 26). Remember that their work was from the church, for the church, and back to the church. With them everything was for the church.
(Witness Lee, High Gospel, 63-64)
We must realize that the local churches do not belong to the apostles or the workers. As the churches of God (1:2), the local churches belong to God; as the churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16b), they belong to Christ; and as the churches of the saints (1 Cor. 14:33b), they belong to the saints. The churches must not belong to any of the workers. The churches are neither for the workers, the ministers, nor for the work, the ministry. Rather, the workers or ministers and their works or ministries must be for the churches. If I come here to carry out a work, and keep the results of my work in my hands, this is absolutely wrong. After much laboring, the apostle Paul had nothing in his hands. Everything was left in the hands of the local church.
(Witness Lee, Life and Way, 104)
Another thing which we, the workers, have to be careful about and which was mentioned already in the preceding chapter is that we should not keep any of the results of our work in our hands. This is the pattern set up by the apostle Paul. In the first journey of his ministry, wherever Paul went, he preached the gospel, and a number of believers were raised up. Then Paul helped them to be the local church in their respective place. All the results of his ministry went to the local churches. He kept nothing for himself.
However, if you look into history, there are many real stories indicating that a great many of the Lords workers did not follow Pauls example.
We have to realize that we are not sent out to build up our ministry. We are sent out to build up, to perfect, the saints for the building up of the Body of Christ.
If I try to keep anything of my work here in Los Angeles in my hands, this becomes a sect. Regardless of how I declare and proclaim it, it is a sect. But if all the results of my work go to the church here, then the local church here has its own jurisdiction and its own liberty. The church here has a free hand to go on with the Lord.
Many missions went to China, but unfortunately, instead of building up local churches in China, the missions built up their respective mission churches. This became a problem to the Chinese saints.
Our work is to build up local churches for the building up of the Body of Christ. We should not be afraid that if we keep our hands off the local churches, they will be carried away. Do not be afraid that a local church will be carried away. If it can be carried away, let it be carried away. Do not take the excuse that you are going to be the custodian to protect the little children. The Lord is the Custodian; you are not the custodian. You are just a servant of the Lord serving His children.
(Witness Lee, Life and Way, 113-115)
By the Lords mercy, I am a brother with a ministry here. If the saints here are standing for my ministry instead of the local expression, I have to tell you that you are wrong. You should not stand for any ministry, even my ministry. What you have to stand for is the church, the local church. Any minister with any ministry or any worker with any work who comes here must be for the local church. If it is not for the local church, you have to say, No, you are going to build up something other than the lampstand, something other than the local expression of the Body. We would not go along with this.
(Witness Lee, Life and Way, 120-121)
after the apostle Paul appointed the elders in Ephesus, he did not keep his hands off the church there. Rather, he went back again and again to contact the church, and he also wrote the church an Epistle. At one point he remained in Ephesus for three years (Acts 19; 20:31). When he was journeying to Jerusalem in Acts 20, he passed through the region that was close to Ephesus, and he called for the elders from Ephesus to come to him at Miletus (vv. 17-38). There he told the elders that while he was in Asia he was with them all the time and did not withhold from them anything that was profitable, but for three years declared to them and taught them publicly and from house to house, admonishing them with tears (vv. 18, 20, 31). After appointing the elders in Ephesus, Paul certainly did not keep his hands off the church in Ephesus.
If, after setting up the churches and appointing the elders, the apostles keep their hands off the churches, eventually the apostles will have nothing to do. But Ephesians 4:12 says that the apostles are for the perfecting of the saints.
(Witness Lee, Church Life, 30)
In a local church there should always be some prophets to strengthen our inner feeling. This is the New Testament theocratic government for Gods administration in the church to carry out His New Testament economy.
Now we need to consider the practical application of this fellowship in a local church. Whenever the elders of a local church come to the Lord, they come as priests. Because they bear the responsibility of the eldership, they want to know how to take the lead, how to teach, how to shepherd, how to oversee, and how to be patterns. Therefore, they have to pray together, to wait on the Lord. As they pray and fellowship, the indwelling Spirit will speak and enlighten them inwardly. In their regenerated spirit, they will receive something of the Lord. Then they will realize how the Lord wants them to take the lead, to shepherd, to oversee, and to be patterns. Because this may not be so adequate or strong, there are the prophets in the churches. The prophets speaking strengthens the elders understanding of the will of God. The functioning of the elders and the prophets in this way constitutes a kind of government for the administration of God in His church to fulfill His eternal purpose.
(Witness Lee, Leadership, 52)
Some have wrongly taught that the local churches are autonomous, that once an apostle establishes a local church and appoints the elders, he is through with that church and should stay away. This is not according to the Bible. The apostle Paul established churches, and he appointed the elders in the churches (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). After this, however, he did not stay away from the churches. He visited the church in Ephesus after it was established and once stayed there for three years. Later, while he was returning to Jerusalem, he could not forget the church in Ephesus. Acts 20 tells us that from Miletus he sent word to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church (v. 17). They came to him, and he spoke a long word, warning, instructing, and even charging them. Acts 20:31 says, Therefore watch, remembering that for three years, night and day, I did not cease admonishing each one with tears. Verse 20 says, I did not withhold any of those things that are profitable by not declaring them to you and by not teaching you publicly and from house to house. No doubt he taught the saints in Ephesus concerning Gods economy and concerning their daily life, declaring to them anything that was profitable. He told the elders in verses 29 and 30, I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And from among you yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverted things to draw away the disciples after them. This shows how concerned Paul was for the future of the church in Ephesus. Paul also wrote an Epistle to the church there. This illustrates that the apostles never stayed away from the churches which they had established.
(Witness Lee, Leadership, 47-48)
Thus, in the ministry we have the prophets and other ministers using their gifts to serve the local church, while the apostles, by their office and gifts, serve all the churches. The ministry of these two groups of men is of great importance, because all the work of Godlocal and extra-localis in their hands. That is why Gods Word declares that the Church of God is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 185)
The church in Antioch is of a different principle. Antioch is the case of the church producing the work, whereas Jerusalem is the case of the work producing the church. Today, we should first come back to take the way of Jerusalem. Later, we hope that some local churches can practice the principle of Antioch. First Corinthians 12 speaks of the Body on earth. It deals with the question of the church on earth. That is why it says that the apostles and the prophets produce the church.
Today, we need both principles. On the one hand, the church produces the apostles. On the other hand, the apostles produce the church. If our work can progress along these two lines simultaneously, we will see great blessings ahead of us. On the one hand, we should consolidate the work. On the other hand, as soon as people are saved, we should tell them that they live for the gospel. We should not wait until the persecutions arise. We should send them out right away. This is the Lords way.
(Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, Resumption, 391)
If Gods people could only see that the object of all ministry is the founding of local churches and not the grouping of Christians around any particular individual, or truth, or experience, or under any particular organization, then the forming of sects would be avoided. We who serve the Lord must be willing to let go our hold upon all those to whom we have ministered, and let all the fruits of our ministry pass into local churches governed entirely by local men. We must be scrupulously careful not to let the coloring of our personality destroy the local character of the church, and we must always serve the church, never control it. An apostle is servant of all and master of none. No church belongs to the worker; it belongs to the locality. Had it been clearly seen by the men who have been used of God throughout the history of the Church that all the churches of God belong to their respective localities, and not to any worker or organization used in their founding, then we should not have so many different denominations today.
(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 67-68)
Acts chapter fifteen shows us that when one local church has a problem, and the problem is such that it affects the other churches, the question should be solved by the apostles and the elders together. In that particular instance in Jerusalem, the apostles did not make independent decisions apart from the elders. The apostles decided on the matter in conjunction with the elders. The reason for this is that the matter originated from the church in Jerusalem. Apart from the elders in Jerusalem, the apostles had no way to deal with the difficulty of the church there. Here we can see the importance of the elders authority. The apostles do not have direct authority to deal with affairs of a local church. The authority of a local church is fully in the hands of the elders.
(Witness Lee, Elders Management, 19)
In addition to the shepherding by the main function of the gifted persons, Christ as the Head of the church also charged the apostles to appoint elders (overseers) in all the local churches to carry out His shepherding of His flock (1Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17a). The Head of the church gave many gifted persons to function in shepherding for the building up of His Body, but the Body is manifested in the local churches. The Body is universal and abstract, but the churches are located and substantial. In the local churches, the elders as the local shepherds are needed. The local shepherds are more practical. Christ as the Head of the church charged the apostles, the universal shepherds, to appoint some local elders to take care of the located churches.
(Witness Lee, Vital Groups, 63)
The gospel spread from Jerusalem to Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. This is Gods way. If a man starts working from the ends of the earth, he is taking the wrong direction. We must work from the center to the circumference. At the same time, it would be equally wrong if all the believers were to remain in Jerusalem, because the intention of the Lord was that the gospel would be preached to the ends of the earth. For this reason, the Lord scattered the believers by raising up persecution in the environment. However, it was not wrong for the apostles to remain in Jerusalem. There still needed to be apostles and elders in Jerusalem, because Jerusalem was a center of testimony.
(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 3, Vol. 57, 46)
After the apostles appoint the elders and commit the church into the hands of the elders, what shall the apostles do in the future? The apostles were to keep their hands off of the administration of the local church in its business affairs, not in its need of the apostles teaching, instruction, and charge.
We saw that Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth charging them to remove a certain sinful man from the fellowship of the church. The apostle commanded the church to do thisRemove the evil man from among yourselves (1 Cor. 5:13). Does this mean that the apostle took the church back under his administration? No, not at all. If this had been the case, he would not have needed to tell others to remove the sinful one. He would have done it directly by himself. In this sense, Paul as an apostle kept his hands off of the church administration but not from teaching, instructing, and charging the church.
(Witness Lee, Eldership (1), 49-50)
In the Scriptures, in Acts and in the Epistles, you can see many people working for the Lord. But they were not organized together. There was no organization for the churches or for the co-workers, the apostles. Peter and some brothers worked in Jerusalem, in Judea, and Paul and others worked in the different places of the Gentile world. There was no organization of the co-workers, and there was no central control over them. They were all sent by the Lord and all worked for the local saints, for the local churches. None was organized with others and none would keep any work in his hands. So there was no problem.
(Witness Lee, Life and Way, 107)
The Body of Christ needs to be built up by the perfected saints in all the local churches (Eph. 4:11-12). Ephesians 4:11 speaks of the gifted personsapostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers. These gifted persons have only one ministry, that is, to minister Christ for the building up of the Body of Christ, the church. Whatever the gifted persons do must be for the building up of the Body of Christ. However, this building up is not accomplished directly by the gifted ones but by the saints who have been perfected by them.
(Witness Lee, Incarnation, 34)
Paul charged the Corinthians to deal with at least eleven problems in his fellowship with them. He charged the church to do many things. As the apostle he did not have the position to administrate the church, but he did have the position, right, and responsibility to charge the elders to do it.
On the one hand, the elders of the churches have the right and the position to carry out the local administration of the churches independently. On the other hand, all the churches should listen to the word that the apostles have received of God, which is the teaching of the New Testament.
(Witness Lee, Leadership, 35-36)
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