PERFECTING THE SAINTS UNTIL THEY ALL CAN DO THE WORK OF THE NEW TESTAMENT MINISTRY
Ephesians 4 shows us that in His ascension Christ as the ascended Head has given gifts to the church, His Body, for the perfecting of the saints. In the original language, perfecting means equipping, supplying the functions. These gifted persons equip, teach, and supply the saints until they each can do what the gifted ones do. The apostles perfect the saints to be apostles, to go out everywhere preaching the gospel and establishing churches. However, we do not see this situation among Christians today. Instead, we see the apostles, prophets, and evangelists going out everywhere to do the work which they can do, while others are unable to do anything. This situation is abnormal because it sets aside Ephesians 4. Strictly speaking, Christians have neglected this chapter in the Bible for nineteen centuries. In general we have the concept that the establishing of churches is the work of the apostles and that ordinary people cannot do it, but Ephesians 4 says that the apostles perfect the saints so that they can do what the apostles do.
What the apostles do is the work of the New Testament ministry. The first main step of this work is to preach the gospel. After His resurrection, the Lord Himself appeared to the disciples who followed Him and charged them to go and disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19) that the discipled ones could have an organic union with the Triune God. The early disciples were able to carry out this work because the Lord Himself led them for three and a half years, teaching them how to do it. In Acts we see the apostles announcing in Jerusalem the gospel of Jesus as the Christ and leading many people to the Lord. Furthermore, they taught the saints how to preach the gospel. Hence, in Acts 8 the disciples were able to spread the gospel abroad when they were scattered throughout the land due to the great persecution that occurred against the church in Jerusalem.
The second step is to feed the Lord’s lambs. In John 21, the Lord wanted His disciple Peter to feed His lambs. Peter later fed the Lord’s lambs among the saints. The lambs are the younger, weaker believers. Furthermore, he taught and exhorted others to nourish and care for the Lord’s flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4). The third step is to perfect, equip, and supply every believer according to Ephesians 4. The fourth step is for all the saints to arrive at the point where everyone can prophesy, speaking for the Lord. When these four steps—preaching the gospel, feeding the lambs, perfecting the saints, and prophesying for the Lord—are added together, there is the building up of the Body of Christ. It is not the building up of an organization but the building up of an organism.
If eight couples move to a city without a church, how should they establish a church? Since they are New Testament priests of the gospel, their first step should be to preach the gospel to save sinners. The sixteen of them can divide into groups to go out to people, not to invite them to come and hear the gospel but, as fishers of men, to preach the gospel to them. I can guarantee that if they will go out to preach the gospel in this way, they will definitely gain some. Then they should nourish and care for these newly saved ones and also perfect them step by step until they too can do the work of the priests of the gospel. In this way a church will be raised up. However, they still must go on further to be built up together as the organic Body of Christ. Therefore, we must be perfected before we go out. We need the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers to come and perfect us that we may all be able to do the work of the ministry.
PRACTICING TO PROPHESY
The Lord also wants to recover among us the matter of prophesying, speaking for the Lord, for the building up of the church as revealed in 1 Corinthians 14. A meeting in which one person speaks and all the rest listen is not without some benefits, but it is harmful because those who only listen reach a point at which they can only listen and cannot speak. The members of our body all need exercise. If instead of exercising our legs by walking, we only lay in bed, then after a year we may not be able even to stand, much less walk. In the same way, all of us who are saved are members of the Body of Christ, and we all have our organic capacity to function. We can all preach the gospel, feed the lambs, perfect the saints, and prophesy. However, if we only listen and do not speak for a long period of time, then our organic function to speak for the Lord will not be developed; on the contrary, it will be annulled. Therefore, our meetings from now on should not be only for listening but also for practicing to speak. If we have both listening and speaking, gradually even the ones who do not speak will begin to speak. In the end, all will be able to speak, and everyone will be able to prophesy.
(The Ministry of the New Testament Priests of the Gospel, Chapter 5, by Witness Lee)