THE CHURCH LIFE GRADUALLY COMING TO A STANDSTILL
By 1984, we in the Lord’s recovery definitely saw His blessing; eight to nine hundred churches had been raised up on the whole earth, spreading the Lord’s recovery over the six continents. In spite of this, there were two conditions, two big shortcomings, among us. One condition was that our inner life was not sufficiently strong, living, or fresh, showing that we were in a half-dormant state. The churches both in the West and the East in general were in this same condition. At that time, I mostly stayed in the United States, where there were approximately one hundred churches, but the spiritual condition there was not high. As for the East, I have had a deep relationship particularly with Taiwan, and I was very familiar with the condition of the churches there. Their condition was about the same as that of the churches in the West in that they also were not high enough. This was the inward aspect.
Another condition, the outward aspect, was the slow increase of the number of believers. Because of the literature work in the Lord’s recovery, churches had been raised up in the six continents. The number of churches had increased, but the number of believers had not increased much. In those fifteen years, the annual rate of increase of the believers in the churches in the United States was only two to three percent. In general, this was the condition of the churches in both the East and the West—the rate of increase of believers was very low. This matter was irrefutable evidence indicating that we had a problem, which I gradually began to detect. Not only did we detect this problem, but the large denominations also discovered that they had the same problem. In the past few decades, the increase of the number of believers has been declining. Although our numbers did not decrease and even slightly increased, the rate of increase was neither high nor fast enough.
THE LORD’S RECOVERY OF THE CHURCH LIFE TODAY
Since October 1984, we have spent much time to delve into this problem. Today I can testify to all the brothers and sisters that within these four to five years the Lord has definitely shown us many precious revelations. These revelations mainly comprise four major items, all of which we had not seen so clearly, or perhaps not seen at all, prior to 1984.
The Recovery of the Service of the New Testament Priests of the Gospel
Preaching the Gospel Being a Work of the Priests of the Gospel
The first item is that we are priests of the gospel. We know that the believers should all preach the gospel, and we may say that the brothers and sisters in every place have endeavored to preach the gospel. We cannot deny, however, that our gospel preaching has not been so powerful, and the results have been unsatisfactory to us. Very few of the saved and baptized ones have remained after the gospel preaching. Many churches among us began with only ten to twenty people; after several years, they increased to about seventy to eighty people and then gradually to one hundred. Once the number in a church exceeded one hundred, the rate of increase became very low. For the following few years, the number would constantly remain one hundred plus a few dozen. We zealously preached the gospel, yet we did not investigate thoroughly to see why the results of our gospel preaching were not ideal and why not many people remained after we had baptized them. Instead of investigating the reasons for our being in such a condition, we simply continued to preach the gospel in a routine way.
At the present time, after spending four to five years to study this problem, we have come to the conclusion that in the past we did not see that the preaching of the gospel is a work of the priests of the gospel. In the past, our concept and our feeling were merely that since we are believers we should love the Lord and lead others to salvation. Over time, this kind of concept or feeling did not increase our sense for gospel preaching, nor did it develop our spiritual faculties for us to minister as the New Testament priests of the gospel. Although we preached the gospel, we did not have the sense that we are priests of the gospel. A priest is one who specifically takes care of the matters pertaining to the service of God. For example, in the meetings we have the piano service, which we may speak of as the “priestly service of piano playing,” and those who serve in piano playing may be called the “piano-playing priests.” In Chinese, the service to God is called “the priestly service of sacrifice,” and those who serve are called “the sacrificing priests.” Since we, the New Testament believers, are the priests of the gospel, we are exclusively in charge of the preaching of the gospel. It is not that when we are happy, we preach a little, and when we are not happy, we do not preach at all. Whether or not we are happy, preaching the gospel is our duty, our exclusive responsibility.
(The Church Life in the Lord's Recovery Today, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)