PREFACE TO STRAIGHT PATHS
I remember after having been a believer for only one year, a friend gave me several spiritual books, one of which was Straight Paths. At that time when I read it, I found it incomprehensible in many places. I remember two points that helped me the most; one was concerning regeneration, and the other concerning the question of sectarianism. Although prior to this I was already regenerated in experience, yet there was still much darkness in my mind regarding what exactly is the whole matter of regeneration. This book clarified to me the meaning of regeneration.
I was originally a member of a big denomination. My grandfather was the first ordained Chinese pastor in my home town. I still remember my grandmother telling me that because my grandfather was the only pastor there, the three denominations in Fukien often took turns to borrow him! This book did not resolve for me any questions related to denominationalism, but it caused me to doubt the current organizational method of the denominations and to wonder whether these were all really scriptural.
As time passed, I completely forgot about this book. The second time I found this book was at the beginning of last year. I read it once again. How wonderful that what God has taught me and led me to consider and practice in these past few years really matched exactly what is described in this book.
At that time, I mailed some money to England to buy more than ten copies and gave them to my friends. At the same time I had the intention to translate this book into Chinese.
Last year I was sent by God to several places to preach the gospel. On my journey quite a few persons borrowed this book from me to read. They all thought this book should be translated into Chinese in order to help those who desire to wholly follow the Lord. But I really had no time for this. So it became a matter that was laid in God’s hands.
At the end of the year when I was in Nanking, I lent this book to a sister. Thank the Lord, I did not make the request, but she volunteered and, together with another sister, successfully translated this book.
Because I see that the church of God today has fallen into a state in which it follows absolutely the tradition and opinion of man, I have often reminded the believers in this little paper, The Christian, concerning this matter. Of course, this kind of work has not been entirely fruitless, for some people’s consciences have been aroused. (A hardened conscience is what I fear the most!) But I have my own difficulties also. It is not because I do not know God’s teaching concerning this matter. The problem is my attitude toward my brothers. Every deep, thoughtful heart before God knows the difficulty of attacking teachings and conduct that are not according to the Bible. Unless God grants the grace, there is subconsciously a bitter taste against brothers who hold different views; sometimes ridicule may slip out of one’s mouth. This is the problem on my side. On the other side, they are also my brothers. In every denomination today, as well as in organizations that resemble the denominations, there are many of my friends. Some of them I know well, and some I do not yet know. Their names often arouse in me respect and love. We all believe in one Savior, and we all serve one Lord. The precious blood and the Holy Spirit have already united us tightly, and we have become inseparable.
They are in the denominations, and they support the present form of the denominations. Though we do not hold the same view, I always believe that their intention is for the good. To doubt this is a sin. If I stand up to tear things down in a resolute way, inevitably it will cause problems among the brothers. This is what makes me sad.
But the word of God should not be buried. Why are we living on this earth? We should love the brothers, but such love should be controlled by the truth. My prayer was and still is that God would grant the grace to, on the one hand, witness for the truth concerning His church and, on the other hand, maintain a heart of brotherly love.
Ever since The Christian began this kind of open discussion, God has opened the eyes of a number of people. Is this not God’s grace? Even some of those who bear the so-called responsibility in the churches are also seeking after the truth. The following are excerpts from two recent letters:
"The organizational method of the church today is really a sin of idolatry and fornication. The workers they employ are like Balaam who was hired by Balaak to work for him and who simply took orders from Balaak. But I am not very clear concerning the New Testament way. During this time of dramatic changes in foreign diplomacy, it is the right time to reform the church. Please show me in detail how to go on."
Another letter reads, "Since reading The Christian, I have been greatly helped by your teaching. But I am still not very clear concerning today’s church system and organization, which you denounce. Therefore, I am writing to ask respectfully many questions that are in my heart. Please explain them for me in order to dispel my doubts. I shall be obliged." (Many questions followed.)
I am happy because the believers’ consciences have already been awakened concerning this matter. John 7:17 really fits here. Today, many matters have fallen into a state of confusion. This is not due to the believers’ lack of understanding, but to their disobedience. Many consider that even though the Bible has said something, it still cannot be done. This attitude renders the Lord’s servants helpless.
Concerning the church, I deeply feel that only two things are indispensable: the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Man must discard all his "’however," "’but," "that will also do," "nothing has been said to forbid it," and obey the Bible. I have always wanted to ask peacefully those who advocate sectarianism, "Can you exhort others to obey the Bible’s teaching concerning sectarianism?" Those who advocate sectarianism cannot exhort others to obey the Bible.
However, it is absolutely impossible to try to obey the command of the Bible without the power of the Holy Spirit. Those believers who have been taught by the denominations for a long time will feel that the biblical teaching concerning church organization is too "loose." Truly, if there is no Holy Spirit, everything will collapse! In the human organizations, everything is artificial; of course, when a person applies diligence, things will be booming. If the believers act according to the teaching of the Bible yet without the power of the Holy Spirit, they will see that their order will be worse than that of the human organizations. However, no fleshly order can substitute for the power of the Holy Spirit. Wherever the flesh is working, the Holy Spirit is not moving.
A believer in Amoy who read an original version of Straight Paths wrote us a letter saying:
"Straight Paths is needed urgently because the believers, though revived, do not know how to be baptized, how to leave the denominations, and how to establish the church according to the Bible. Brother, if you can devote one issue of The Christian to the church and publish Straight Paths in another issue, those who desire to establish churches will be able to learn from these issues. This would be wonderful."
In response to the need and requests from everywhere, we are now making Straight Paths a special issue of The Christian. In addition, we will print it as a separate book to make it widely available. I desire that Straight Paths will induce the readers to study the Bible and receive the teaching of the Bible directly. If Straight Paths and this magazine are taken by some as a set of charters or regulations for setting up churches, I would rather that this book not be printed. The Bible is the standard for all things. Do not follow men, and do not follow us.
The teaching of Straight Paths is outright and clear. Of course, there are many problems not yet covered. The Lord willing, perhaps in the future I will publish a more detailed book. I am most fearful, however, that a book will be taken by people as "a set of rules."
Finally, let me give a brief introduction of the author of Straight Paths. His name is Alexander M______. He is an evangelist greatly used by the Lord in Europe and America. He has been a prolific writer. One of his writings, "God’s Wonderful Way of Salvation" has already been translated into Chinese (published by Holy Religious Books Society). Today he is already an old man. Though he cannot do any vigorous work anymore, his writings still continue to speak for him everywhere. In his books, he quoted copiously the words of others. All those he quoted were servants who have done fine work for God.
May 7, 1927
Watchman Nee, in Shanghai
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 07: The Christian (5), Chapter 32, by Watchman Nee)