The Mystery of Christ, by Watchman Nee


In addition, in the local assembly there are members who have the right to exercise authority. They are not merely given authority; they have authority. These are those who hold the office of elders. They occupy this position, not because they have been made elders, but because they are elders. Elders are manifested in a spontaneous way by the Holy Spirit; the only thing that man can do is identify and confirm. In a spiritual church the most spiritual members hold the office of elders; in a carnal church the office is held by those who have the best natural qualifications. When a man marries and has a son, he becomes a father. No one can be appointed to hold the office of a father. A man either is a father or is not a father; he cannot be made a father. Likewise, no one can be made an elder. He either is an elder or is not an elder. Elders are not elected through campaigns and elections; they are manifested in a spontaneous way through maturity in life. They should be those who are purer in heart and who are seeking for and growing in spiritual things. Their duty is to help others obey the Head. If a person is an elder, all that the church has to do is recognize what he is and allow him to function accordingly.


In God’s arrangement, the man is the head of the woman. Therefore, sisters have no administrative power in the church. This does not mean, however, that any man can be the head of a woman; only those who are under Christ can be the head of the sisters. The covering of the sisters’ heads indicates that they maintain the order in the Body, that they submit to Christ as well as to the authority of the Body.

Strictly speaking, there is no authority in the Body; all authority lies in the Head. The weakness of the so-called church today is that authority has become a matter of position, not of life. In the Body of Christ authority is a matter of life, not of position. If a member has authority, it is because that authority has been wrought into him already. He has passed through God’s dealing, and authority has become life in him. God does not set up certain individuals to act as eyes, ears, mouth, hands, etc. He makes them these things by the operation of the cross. When they are these organs, they naturally function in that capacity. The whole issue rests on life. As long as we obey the life of the Body, which flows as the Body maintains its position under the absolute authority of the Head, there will be continuous and perfectly proportioned growth. Unless we are truly in the life of the Body, there cannot be increase in the measure of Christ.

Apostles and elders have no authority in themselves; they only have authority as they stand under the authority of the Lord. They exercise authority in the Body by representing the authority of the Head. If the apostles and elders have the mind of God, then they have the authority of God, for He only upholds that for which He Himself stands. Whatever He authorizes, He supports by His authority.

The life of the Body necessitates drastic dealings with the natural life. We must be broken before we will submit to the representative authority in the Body and be willing to minister and be ministered unto in our sovereignly ordained place. God cannot allow lawlessness to come into His church, because this makes the development of the Body impossible. He cannot allow any human head to raise itself, because this also hinders the development of the Body and denies the headship of Christ. Any desire on the part of a believer to exercise authority is contrary to the life of the Body. Christ alone is the Head, and we are all members one of another. If anyone claims to have a revelation of the Body yet is not in subjection to the authority of the Body or properly related to the other members, the claim is false. As soon as we truly see the Body, we will also see the need of obedience and mutual relatedness. Submission is one outstanding characteristic of those who are familiar with the life of the Body.

God has made definite arrangements and instituted order in the Body of Christ. We must be careful to discern the Body, as 1 Corinthians 11:29 charges us to do. We cannot be careless in the Body and make proposals lightly or overstep presumptuously. Every member must be in proper order and walk in an orderly way. Authority is ordained by the Lord; no one can be an authority in himself, and no one can elect others to be an authority. Authority comes from the Lord’s arrangement and is for the Body life. We should be clear about our position in the Body and maintain our position. In the Body life, we all must walk according to the order in the Body.

(The Mystery of Christ, Chapter 8, by Watchman Nee)