Additional Quotes about the Local Church by Witness Lee and Watchman Nee
a. Gifts versus Offices
God has an administrative arrangement for His testimony, the church, and for the carrying out of His purpose through the church. Watchman Nee, who co-labored with Witness Lee, points out from his study of the Bible that God gave gifts for establishing local churches and for building up the Body of Christ, the universal church, which is composed of all the local churches. Moreover, God ordained offices for administration in each local church.
Gods gifts transcend local boundaries, but position is strictly related to the locality. Gods gifts, such as the evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, can function anywhere because these gifts are given by God to the whole church (Eph. 4), and they are for all the local assemblies .The gifts in the Bible are for the whole church, while the elders in the Bible are for the local churches .Consider the illustration of the concrete worker again. Suppose that you are a foreman among numerous concrete workers in Shanghai. If you move to Nanking, you will still be a concrete worker by profession, but you may not be able to be a foreman anymore. Doing concrete work is your ability, and your ability remains with you even after you have moved to Nanking. But the foremanship is a position; when you move to Nanking, your position as a foreman is gone. In the same way, there is a difference between office and gift in the Bible. An office and a position is for a local church, while a gift is not just for a local church.
(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 22, 30-32)
So the ministry, the work, and the churches are quite different in function and sphere, but they are really coordinated and interrelated. Ephesians 4 speaks of the Body of Christ, but no discrimination is made there between the churches, the work, and the ministry. The saints of the churches, the apostles of the work, and the different ministers of the ministry are all considered in the light of, and in relation to, the Body of Christ. Because whether it be the local church, the ministry, or the work, all are in the Church. They are really one; so while it is necessary to distinguish between them in order to understand them better, we cannot really separate them. Those who are in the different spheres of the Church need to see the reality of the Body of Christ and act relatedly as a body. They should not, because of difference of responsibilities, settle themselves into watertight compartments. The church, which is His Body, includes the churches, the ministry, and the work. The churches are the Body expressed locally, the ministry is the Body in function, and the work is the Body seeking increase. All three are different manifestations of the one Body, so they are all interdependent and interrelated. None can move, or even exist, by itself. In fact, their relationship is so intimate and vital that none can be right itself without being rightly adjusted to the others. The church cannot go on without receiving the help of the ministry and without giving help to the work; the work cannot exist without the sympathy of the ministry and the backing of the church; and the ministry can only function when there is the church and the work.
This is most important. In the previous chapters we have sought to show their respective functions and spheres; now the danger is lest, failing to understand the spiritual nature of the things of God, we should not only try to distinguish between them, but sever them into separate units, thus losing the interrelatedness of the Body. However clear the distinction between them, we must remember that they are all in the Church. Consequently, they must move and act as one, for no matter what their specific functions and spheres, they are all in one Body.
(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 186-187)
And in the offices instituted by God, we have the elders occupying the chief place in the local church, while apostles hold no office at all there. Apostles, on the other hand, hold the chief office in the work, while the elders have no place there. Apostles rank foremost in the universal Church, and elders rank foremost in the local church. When we see the distinction between the respective offices of apostles and elders, then we shall understand why the two are constantly linked together (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23). Apostles and elders are the highest representative of the Church and the churches. Apostles hold the highest office in the work, but in the local church theyas apostleshold no office at all; elders, on the other hand, hold the chief office in the local church, but as elders they have no place in the work.
And in the local church, there are two departments of service, one relating to business management, the other to spiritual ministry. Offices are connected with the management of the church and are held by the elders and the deacons. Gifts are connected with the ministry of the church and are exercised by the prophets and teachers (and evangelists). The elders and deacons are responsible for the management of the church, while the prophets and teachers concern themselves chiefly with the meetings of the church. Should the deacons and elders also be prophets and teachers, then they could manage church affairs and at the same time, minister to the church in the meetings. We must differentiate between the elders and the ministers. In everyday life, it is the elders who rule the church, but in the meetings for edification, the ministers are the ones ordained by God to serve the church. It should be repeated that elders, as such, are appointed for church government, and not for meetings to edify the church. In 1 Corinthians 14, where meetings are in view, elders do not come in at all. But elders, in order to be effective, should also have the gift of a prophet, teacher, shepherd, or evangelist. Yet it must be remembered that when they minister in the meetings they do so, not in the capacity of elders, but as prophets, or teachers, or other ministers. It is in the latter capacity that they have part in the ministry. First Timothy 5:17 makes it clear that the usual sphere of their service is to rule, but some of them (not necessarily all) may also teach and minister.
(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 185-186)
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