BUILDING THE CHURCH WITH LIFE,
THE SPIRIT, AND THE TRUTH
Today there is a great debate concerning the way to build up the church. Those in the Pentecostal movement say that the way to build the church is by the Spirit. But this is a shallow understanding of the way to build up the church. The Pentecostal movement in the United States began at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1906 it spread to Azusa Street in Los Angeles. In this movement there was an outpouring and a burning from the Holy Spirit among the believers for a time. But later they found out that they could not build the church just with the Spirit. The Assemblies of God, one of the groups within the Pentecostal movement, made this discovery, set up a printing press, and began to educate their people. They told their people that they could not go out to build up the church by the Spirit alone; they had to build by the proper teaching of the Bible. Within the fifty years after the founding of the Assemblies of God in 1914, that denomination had the highest rate of increase among all the major Christian denominations. They increased because they exercised themselves in the matter of teaching. This is proof that in order to build up the church, there is the need of proper teaching.
The Southern Baptists also have stressed the matter of teaching. They have stressed the Word of God and have discouraged their preachers from speaking about the Spirit. To them the Word is solid, but the Spirit is too abstract and mysterious. They have also depended upon the teaching of the Bible in their Sunday school classes. They use so-called laymen to teach the Sunday school classes, and they have built up their churches by the teaching of the Bible.
Others have said that to build up the Body of Christ, only life is needed. Brother T. Austin-Sparks was a typical example of those with this view. I knew him very well, and I went to stay with him for about five weeks. He was very strong not to use any teaching or doctrine, but to stress only life, especially the resurrection life. In the 1920s Brother Nee and I both appreciated his books. In those years Brother Nee translated a number of his books into Chinese. Brother Sparks was very much for the resurrection life, but he missed the importance of the teaching of the Bible. The effectiveness of his ministry in building up the church was diminished because of this.
Because we have learned the lessons of church history, we stress life, the Spirit, and the truth continually. The truth is a kind of doctrine or teaching, but not all doctrine or teaching is truth. We need to realize that these three things—life, the Spirit, and the truth—are of one essence. John 6:63 says, "The words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." In this verse the word, life, and the Spirit are combined together. Then John 17:17 says, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." According to this verse, God’s word, which may be considered as doctrine or teaching, is the truth. Thus, the word, the Spirit, life, and the truth are all one. To receive "truth" from the word and yet not touch the Spirit is emptiness. Whenever we touch the truth, we should touch the Spirit. The Spirit always goes along with the truth. Actually, the word and the Spirit are one. The word is the truth, and the truth is the Spirit (1 John 5:6b). Furthermore, the Spirit is called "the Spirit of life" (Rom. 8:2). Thus, the word is the Spirit and the life. When we touch the word as truth, we surely need to touch the Spirit, and this Spirit is life. Actually, there is no difference between the Spirit and life. It is by these things—life, the Spirit, and the truth—that the church is built up.
The word, the Spirit, and life are all wrapped up with our spirit. Thus, we must learn to study the Word by exercising our spirit, and we must also learn to study with prayer. Whatever we study, we must turn into prayer, and then we must turn our prayer into our experience. When the word in the Spirit becomes our experience, the issue is life. The issue of the word and the Spirit is the experience of life. The only way for us to grow is by touching the word with prayer and turning the word with prayer into the Spirit, which issues in the experience of life. With the life of the Spirit from the word, we can build up the church.
The word is the base for the building up of the church. Because they realize their shortage of the word, some of the elders invite speakers to come to their locality. But this is the practice of the old way. The new way is to replace the speakers by equipping all the saints to prophesy. By the practice of prophesying, the need for the word on the Lord’s Day morning is met. Otherwise, the burden of giving a message each Lord’s Day would become a killing burden to the elders. Even when there are good speakers in a locality, after two years they will be exhausted, and the listeners will lose their taste for their speaking. The God-ordained way is to replace the speaking of one or two speakers with the prophesying by all the saints.
To prophesy is not merely to speak. To speak may be to talk loosely, but to prophesy is to speak something from the Word with definite points. The sisters as well as the brothers must prophesy. The New Testament shows us clearly that the sisters can prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5; 14:31). But the sisters should not teach with authority in the way of defining doctrine (1 Tim. 2:12). To do so is to overstep their limit. The sisters should prophesy to minister Christ, to minister life, to others. This is for the building up of the church.
(The Central Line of the Divine Revelation, Chapter 12, by Witness Lee)