The Work of the Apostles and Prophets Was Carried Out Practically in the Local Churches and for the Local Churches
How marvelous is the work carried out by the apostles and prophets in the New Testamentpreaching the unsearchable riches of Christ as the gospel, teaching the truth to the new believers, establishing them and raising them up as local churches, and perfecting them to participate in the work of the ministry, the building up of the Body of Christ. We praise the Lord for this kind of labor. Commenting on this edifying work of the local churches, Witness Lee says:
The apostles distribute the riches of Christ by preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ to the God-chosen sinners. These chosen sinners, after hearing the good news and believing in the Lord Jesus, received Him as their Savior, Redeemer, forgiveness, justification, and reconciliation. They were regenerated to participate in the divine life as one item of the unsearchable riches of Christ. When these believers come together, outwardly, they are the called-out congregation, the church. Inwardly, they are the organic issue of the Triune God to be the Body of Christ.
For these new believers to hear only the initial preaching of the riches of Christ so that they could receive Christ and become His members is not complete. This is why the apostles continued to teach the truth to the saved members of Christ. The apostles established them and raised them up as local churches in different localities. After establishing the churches, the apostles then returned to perfect the saints that they might grow in the life of Christ in order to participate in the work of the ministry to build up the Body of Christ. The apostles must minister more and more riches of Christ into the living members of the Body of Christ in order to perfect them.
(Witness Lee, Body of Christ, 35-36)
The gifts given by the ascended Christ to the church, including the apostles and prophets, are for the building up of His Body, realized practically within each local church. These gifted persons function not as individual, isolated Christian workers, but as members of the Body and within the local church for her building up. This fact is clearly expressed by Watchman Nee:
A cursory reading of Ephesians 4:11-12 might lead us to conclude that apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers functioned outside the Body, because they were given by the Lord to His Church for her upbuilding (v. 12). But verse 16 makes it clear that they do not stand outside the Body to build it up; they seek to build it up from within. They themselves are part of the Body, and it is only as they take their rightful place in it, as ministering members, that the whole Body is edified.
The gifted ministers are the functioning members of the Body, and all their operations are as members. They are to the Church what hands, feet, mouth, and head are to the physical body. Gods servants do not minister to the Church as apart from it, but as its members. They are in the Body, serving it by the use of those faculties which they, as members, possess. A church in any locality is an expression of the one life of the Body, while its ministers are the expression of the difference and yet oneness of its ministry.
(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 27)
Once again, both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee concur in their teaching concerning how Christ builds up His Body through the local churches. They write that the gifted members mentioned in Ephesians 4 function within the Body as its members, not apart from it as isolated workers, to perfect the saints in a local church.
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