EXERCISING THE GIFTS
Question: How can a congregation identify those who have been gifted to oversee it? According to Acts 13:1-3, is the laying on of hands, and an open declaration of such, something condemned by the Lord? What is the limit of authority of those who oversee the church? If they do not have any authority at all, how can they settle disputes in the church? It is true that the authority of the church rests with the whole congregation, but does this mean that everyone should exercise his own authority and should not be bound by anything? Or should a few be elected to execute orders so that things can be accomplished? (Kuo)
Answer: The church is the Body of Christ. We can only understand the gifts through the function of the Body. The Bible always puts gifts and the Body together (Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12). I have said elsewhere that the laying on of hands in the Bible is not a kind of acknowledgement of gift. We have to differentiate between gift and office. A gift is for the perfecting of the whole Body, whereas an office is for the administration of a church. Gifts are for the whole Body of Christ, whereas an office is for one individual church. In the Bible we see such a thing as men being ordained to oversee a church, but we never see anyone ordained to preach the word. Preaching is a gift, whereas administration is an office.
In those meetings that are in His name, a young man can exercise his gift to teach the congregated believers even though some in the congregation may be a few times older than he is. But his age prohibits him from being an elder to settle others’ disputes. The present systems in the various denominations do not differentiate between the two. This is due to error and ignorance. Those who oversee do not necessarily preach: "Let the elders who take the lead well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in word and teaching" (1 Tim. 5:17). This verse tells us that some elders only oversee the church, but do not preach or teach. The office of an elder is for the administration of the church. However, some of them also receive additional gifts of preaching and teaching from the Lord. An elder who preaches or teaches in the church does not do so because he was ordained and was thus qualified to do the same. A young man who does not occupy any office is as qualified to preach and teach as an elder who occupies an office.
In summary, the gifts mentioned in the Bible (including preaching, teaching, and shepherding) can be exercised by all the believers. Those who have these gifts are qualified to exercise these gifts. The office of overseeing the church is the responsibility of the elders (together with other serving deacons). The Bible does not acknowledge the gifts by the way of the laying on of hands, but as to the office, there is the laying on of hands. As to the question of the elders and their relationship to the laying on of hands, we have covered this matter elsewhere and will not repeat it here.
The laying on of hands in Acts 13 is a matter of identification. Otherwise, you would have the impossible case of a prophet ordaining an apostle.
The extent of authority of the overseeing one is a spiritual matter, and not fleshly. One should administer the church by prayer, godliness, and love. The Bible does not permit any form of imposition (1 Pet. 5:1-3).
The Bible does not have such a thing as the election of overseers. Those whom God has raised up should make themselves approved by their faith, love, and example; the believers will spontaneously recognize them as God’s chosen ones. The church is a Body, not an organization. Hence, we cannot have everyone to be free to exercise his right. If the church were a social club, we could do this, but it is not a social club. Because there are so many unregenerated ones mixed in the church, problems occur when we practice according to the Bible. Either this is the case, or the majority of the believers are fleshly and have never been taught of the Bible. Those believers who are mature in the Lord are responsible for rebuking such things when they happen. This is true liberty. But this is at the same time more bondage than before. There is nothing more binding than the bonds in the Body. If everyone wants to have absolute freedom, we will end up with lawlessness, which is the spirit of Antichrist. In short, authority is spiritual, not something that the flesh can approve.
Question: What is the scriptural way to meet, to serve God, and to oversee and shepherd the church of God? How should we be acquainted with each other socially? How should we collect the offerings, and how should we distribute the offerings? How should we assign people to preach, and what is the way to take care of the different branch mission halls? How should we have "all things...done becomingly and in order"? Please explain to me in detail, for I want to find a church organization and practice that is absolutely according to the Bible. (Kuo)
Answer: I am so happy to read the last few lines of your letter. There are not very many people in these days who are seeking. Many people are not willing to pay the price. Many have their own opinions, and many do not have a willingness to obey, so the church of God becomes what it is today.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 07: The Christian (5), Chapter 20, by Watchman Nee)