INSTITUTIONS OF FAITH
It must not be inferred from the foregoing that God has no other workmen but apostles and the various ministers of the Word. Those who work in the ministry of the Word are only a section of God’s servants. The work is not the only work. God has many servants who are bearing the burden of various works of faith, such as schools, orphanages, and hospitals. Looked at superficially, their work does not seem as spiritual as the work of the apostles or ministers we have just referred to, but in reality it is. Although such faith workers do not go forth as apostles, or teach the Word like the special ministers, yet they are used just as definitely as the others to strengthen the Church of God.
George Müller’s orphanage is just such a faith work. It has resulted in the salvation of many souls. The question arises, where should the fruits of such a work go? Not into an orphanage “church,” but into the local church. A work such as that is not a unit sufficiently large to form a church. It is the city which is a church unit, not an institution. No matter how prosperous a work of faith may be, and no matter how many souls may be saved through it, no church can be formed on such a basis; for should there be various workers in one city engaged in various kinds of work, then there would be as many churches as there were such institutions. The boundary of a church is a city, not any institution in a city.
Several years ago I was in Tsinan. Some brothers in Cheloo University asked me if I thought it time for them to begin a meeting for the breaking of bread. I asked, “Do you represent Cheloo University or Tsinan city?” They answered, “Cheloo.” “Then I do not think it is right,” I said. Of course, they wanted to know why, so I explained: “The Word of God sanctions the forming of a church in Tsinan, but not in Cheloo. The sphere of Cheloo is too narrow to justify the existence of a separate church. The standard scriptural unit for the forming of a church is a city, not a university.”
The fruits resulting from various institutions of faith must not be retained by such institutions. All must be handed over to the local church. Workers must not argue that because they have been the means of salvation to certain souls, therefore they have a special claim upon them and special responsibility for them, and consequently withhold them from uniting with their fellow believers in the locality. Even though there may be regular prayers, and preaching, and a variety of meetings in connection with a Christian institution, those can never serve as a substitute for church fellowship, and no such institution, however spiritual, can be regarded as a church, since it is not founded on the divinely appointed basis of locality. All Christians engaged in efforts of this kind must differentiate clearly between church and work, and they must realize that any sphere narrower than a locality does not justify the forming of a separate church. They dare not pride themselves on their successful work and think it will serve well as a church, but they must humbly join in fellowship with all the other members of the Body of Christ in the place where they live.
All the various God-given ministries have one aim, the establishing of local churches. In the thought of God only one company of people exists, and all His designs of grace center in that one company—His Church. The work is not a goal in itself; it is only a means to an end. If we regard our work as an end, then our purpose is at variance with God’s, for His end is the Church. What we regard as an end in itself is only the means to His end.
There are three things which we must bear clearly in mind. (1) The work and other works are the special concern of the workers, not of the churches, and the sphere of any work is not wide enough to justify its being regarded as a church. (2) All workers must be humble enough to take the place of brothers in the local church. In the sphere of their work they hold the position of God’s servants, but in the sphere of the church they are only brethren. In the church there are only children of God; therefore, none of its members are “workers,” all are brethren. (3) The goal of all work is the establishment of local churches. If we make our work the basis of a separate unit of God’s people, then we are building up a sect, not a church.
(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)