III. LAYING HANDS ON ELDERS
In order to follow these instructions, Timothy was charged not to act in haste. Verse 22 says, “Lay hands quickly on no man, nor participate in others’ sins; keep yourself pure.” We have seen that laying on of hands has two functions, identification and impartation. According to the context of the previous verses, here the laying on of hands refers primarily to laying hands on the elders. This should not be done hastily.
In verse 23 Paul goes on to say, “No longer drink water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent weaknesses.” According to the context, this verse implies that the condition of one’s physical health may affect his spiritual dealing with others.
In verses 24 and 25 Paul says, “The sins of some men are manifest beforehand, going before to judgment, and some also they follow after. Likewise also, the good works are manifest beforehand, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.” The word sins in verse 24 indicates that this verse continues verse 22. It explains that some people’s sins are manifest earlier and others’, later. Hence, we should not lay hands on anyone in haste. What is mentioned here concerning the judging of sins is a principle applicable both to man’s judgment and God’s. The words “some also they follow after” refer to the sins of others now being hidden, but later manifest, going to judgment later.
The implication of the apostle’s charge in these two verses is that Timothy should not approve a person hastily because sins have not been manifested, nor condemn a person in haste because good works have not been manifested. Often a person’s wrongdoings are concealed. It takes time for them to be exposed. However, sometimes a person’s good deeds are also hidden, possibly covered by false accusations and rumors. Time is also necessary for the falsehood to be dispelled and the real situation to be brought to light. Thus, we should not make a quick decision whether an elder is right or wrong. Instead, we should wait and allow time to expose the situation.
It is easy for us to make quick decisions and hasty judgments. But even though it is difficult to take time in matters such as these, we need to learn not to be hasty. The elders should follow this principle in caring for the church. They should not judge anything or anyone hastily. What they do should be with witnesses and without prejudice, partiality, or haste.
A number of times saints have come to me with accusations against an elder. My response always has been to say, “Let me pray and then have fellowship with some co-workers about this situation.” Because an accuser sometimes wanted a hasty judgment, he rebuked me and claimed that I took sides with the one accused. However, I did not take sides with anyone. Instead, I wanted to pray and have fellowship with others in order not to act in haste.
The church is very different from any worldly organization and also different from organized Christianity. The church is according to the Lord’s mercy and grace and under His authority. In dealing with the administration of the church, we must observe the four points of having witnesses and of acting without prejudice, partiality, or haste. Do not show prejudice in receiving an accusation, and do not show partiality in defending anyone against accusation. Instead, take time, pray, have fellowship with those who possess spiritual insight, and wait for the Lord’s leading.
Often elders have told me of the need for more elders in their locality. Usually they would recommend someone to be appointed to the eldership. Then I would ask how long the brother has been saved, how long he has been in the church life, and how much he has grown in the Lord. Then I would encourage the brothers to wait for another period of time and also to pray. As a result, many have learned that my practice is always to tell others to wait and pray. Actually, this is not my policy; it is the instruction of the Apostle Paul. After a period of time has passed and the leading ones in a certain place still feel that a brother should be appointed to the eldership and that, comparatively speaking, there is no one more qualified than he, I may recommend that he serve as an apprentice in order to be proved. This means that he will share the responsibility of an elder, but yet not occupy the position of an elder.
In dealing with the administration of a local church, we follow neither the way of dictatorship nor democracy. Elders are not appointed by a dictator; neither are they elected by a vote of the congregation. In the Lord’s recovery there is no such thing as an autonomous dictator. We do not practice dictatorship, but we do recognize the divine authority, the divine life, and the divine light. The administration of a local church is not according to the way of worldly government or organization. But in the church we have the Lord’s headship with the divine nature, life, light, wisdom, and grace. Therefore, we pray and wait on Him as we watch and observe the growth of the saints. In those very rare cases where there is ground for accusation against an elder, we do not act in haste. On the contrary, we wait and pray. We know from verses 24 and 25 that eventually a person’s sins or good works will be manifest. As the snow melts and exposes the rocks hidden beneath it, so either a person’s sins or his good deeds will eventually be brought to light. For this reason, we neither receive an accusation against an elder nor justify an elder in a hasty way. Rather, we would make sure that the accusation is substantiated by two or three witnesses and then we would act without prejudice, partiality, or haste. Furthermore, we acknowledge the Lord’s sovereignty and wait for Him to make the situation clear.
Many have accused me of being a pope and of acting like an autonomous dictator to control the local churches. In the Lord’s recovery today, there are approximately four hundred churches in addition to those in mainland China. About three hundred seventy of these churches have been established directly by the ministry in the past thirty-one years. I certainly do not control all these churches. Some people, however, may ask why the churches and the saints pay attention to what I say in the ministry. They listen simply because I feed them and minister Christ to them. We thank the Lord that, in His mercy, He has opened His Word to us and established the ministry of the Word among us so that all the churches may be supplied and that all the saints may be nourished. The Lord’s way to care for the churches is the way of supply and nourishment.
Very rarely is there any exercise of authority among us in the Lord’s recovery. I avoid the exercise of authority whenever possible. Even though I may have the standing in the Lord to say something, my practice is not to exercise authority. In like manner, rarely do the elders in the local churches exercise authority. Our desire is to care for the saints, to love them, feed them, comfort them, and encourage them. This is the proper way for elders to function, for we are not an organization, but we are an organic entity, the Body of Christ.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Chapter 10, by Witness Lee)