A. Local Church Administration
Watchman Nee and Witness Lee both explained throughout their ministry to the local churches that the church in its universal aspect, as the Body of Christ, is organic (that is, of life) and therefore cannot be organized or managed by man. In the local church as the house of God, however, while God is surely present, He has delegated His authority to those whom He has sovereignly placed in office. Hence, as Witness Lee points out, a local church's government is in no way a human government or organization. Rather, as Witness Lee expounds from the Bible, a group of brothers who are mature and experienced in the Lord take the lead and the oversight of the local church, having responded to God's selection and call. This group of brothers constitutes the eldership in the local church.
The church does not need any organization or any kind of human government or rule, but the church does need a proper presbytery. The presbytery is the eldership. Every local church needs a group of experienced brothers to be the leading ones, the overseers, taking the oversight of the church’s activity.
(Witness Lee, History of the Church, 45)
In the footnotes of the Recovery Version of the New Testament, Witness Lee explains that the terms elder and overseer refer to the same person. Elder denotes his maturity, whereas overseer denotes his function in the local church, that is, to take oversight in the local church’s activities.
1 Timothy 3:2
The 1overseer then must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, of a sober mind, orderly, hospitable, apt to teach;
1 Timothy 3:21
The Greek word is composed of over and seer; hence, overseer. An overseer in a local church is an elder (Acts 20:17, 28). The two titles refer to the same person, elder denoting a person of maturity, and overseer denoting the function of an elder. It was Ignatius in the second century who taught that an overseer, a bishop, is higher than an elder.
(Witness Lee, Footnotes, 978)
In discussing the elders’ management of a local church, Witness Lee identifies the three main directions into which the elders are to lead the saints: the gospel, spiritual growth, and service.
We have previously spoken of three directions in the management of the church into which the elders are to lead the brothers and sisters. The first is the gospel. The second is the perfecting, and the third is the service. The more the brothers and sisters are properly led, the more they should know how to preach the gospel, how to grow spiritually, and how to serve in a living and strong way. We can judge whether or not a local church has been properly managed by these three aspects…. If a local church is indifferent to the gospel, not well-defined in its spiritual condition, and mundane in its service, such a church is surely lacking in management.
(Witness Lee, Elders’ Management, 227-228)
The second office in the local church is held by the deacons, those who take care of the local church’s many practical needs. In his footnote on 1 Timothy 3:8, Witness Lee comments that the service of the deacons is under the direction of the elders.
1 Timothy 3:8
1Deacons must similarly be grave, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for base gain;
1 Timothy 3:81
I.e., the serving ones. The overseers take care of the church; the deacons serve the church under the direction of the elders. These two are the only offices in a local church.
(Witness Lee, Footnotes, 979)
Witness Lee also reveals that the practical help and service of the deacons in the local church is an expression of brotherly love and is hence an aspect of the normal Christian life in the Body of Christ.
First Corinthians 12:28b uses the term helps. This refers to the services of the deacons and deaconesses. These verses give us a clear view that the saints in the local church should take care of one another. If you need something, I should serve you. If I need something, you should serve me. The church life is not merely a matter of meeting. Serving one another should be a part of our communal life. In the early church life, the serving ones even took care of serving tables. Paul used the word helps in a very general way. This word covers everything. If a brother does not know where a barber shop is and you help him, this is the practical service and this is brotherly love. To help one another is the practice of the Body life in a communal way.
(Witness Lee, Lessons on Service, 96)
Taken collectively, all the excerpts from the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee presented on this website provide a well-rounded, biblical view of local church administration. Dozens of additional quotes related to local church administration by Watchman Nee and Witness Lee can be viewed by clicking on “more quotes.” In this section, Watchman Nee and Witness Lee examine such issues as the characteristics, qualities, responsibilities, and leadership of the elders and deacons in the local church. Without a doubt, Watchman Nee and Witness Lee were of one soul in pursuing God's desire to build up the Body of Christ which is expressed as the local churches. The clear understanding and practice of local church administration is an integral element of this pursuit.
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