PROPHETS, TEACHERS, AND EXHORTERS
Acts 2:14 says that Peter stood up with the eleven. The “eleven” here refers to the apostles. At the time of Acts 2, the gifted persons were the apostles. There were no prophets or teachers. But Acts 13:1 says that in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, also gifted persons. In contrast to the kingship and the priesthood, which were particular ministries, the prophethood is not a separate ministry, but a supplementary ministry. When King David fell into sin, the prophet Nathan rebuked him. But if David had not sinned, there would not have been a need for Nathan to speak a word of rebuke. This indicates that if the kings had always been proper, there would have been no need for the prophets. The prophets were raised up when the priesthood and the kingship were weak.
In the time of the Old Testament recovery, Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor, a descendant of David, are mentioned. Their ministries were used by the Lord in His recovery. But when they became weak and the work of recovery ceased, the Lord raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to strengthen them. This indicates that the prophethood is not a separate, independent ministry. Rather, it functions to support the ministry of the kingship and the priesthood.
Romans 12 speaks of the functions of prophets, teachers, and exhorters. What is the difference between prophesying, teaching, and exhorting? The main function of a prophet is not predicting the future; rather, a prophet speaks for God as His spokesman. God’s prophets in the Bible were sent by God to speak for Him. Although they sometimes spoke concerning the future, most of the time they uttered words of rebuke, declaration, or condemnation. What the prophets speak they do not learn from man, but receive directly from God. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel did not repeat the teachings of others; they spoke what was revealed to them directly by God. They spoke what they saw in God’s vision, God’s revelation. In contrast to the prophets, teachers do not have direct revelation. Instead, they teach according to what the prophets have spoken. In order to be a teacher, one must know what has been spoken by the prophets. An exhorter uses the teaching of the teachers to exhort others. For this reason, Romans 12 mentions the prophets first, then the teachers, and then the exhorters. The prophets receive the direct revelation, the teachers instruct others according to the revelation given to the prophets, and the exhorters do the exhorting according to this teaching.
Now we need to apply this to the situation in the church life today. We have pointed out that the middle-aged brothers and sisters are the ones most needed for the church life. Those in this age group care for the tent of meeting directly, whereas the young people are useful for fighting the battle, and the new ones, for guarding the tabernacle. Therefore, the testimony of the church today depends directly on the middle-aged ones. In order for the middle-aged ones to function normally, they need to set aside the ambition for leadership or eldership. Elders are necessary in the church, but their function is not all that is needed. There is also the need for prophets, teachers, and exhorters. In Anaheim there is a great need for the saints to be established and confirmed by those who teach and exhort. Many young ones need someone to teach them by feeding them through fellowship.
In the church the need for elders is limited. If all the brothers are seeking the eldership, they will find a “no vacancy” sign in front of the eldership “motel.” Do not waste your time waiting for a vacancy in this motel. Instead, go to the motel of teaching and exhortation where there are many vacancies.
OPENING OUR HOMES
I am burdened that the saints in Anaheim open up their homes for the preaching of the gospel or for fellowship with the saints. There is no need for the elders to arrange this. Families in the same neighborhood may come together to pray and seek the Lord’s leading. The Lord may lead some families to hold an informal gospel meeting in one of the homes. Others may be led to invite their unsaved neighbors to a home for a time of refreshments. In doing this, we should not try to proselytize others. Rather, we should minister salvation to the unsaved ones and minister Christ to the believers. If we minister the riches of Christ to others, they will be stirred up to seek the Lord. It is the Lord who adds to the church. Our intention is not to proselytize; it is to minister Christ as life to others and to give them a testimony of our salvation, of our love for the Lord, and of our oneness. We are here to be a collective living testimony of those who live by Christ and for Christ.
In the Lord’s recovery there surely is the need for elders to care for the administration of the church and to make decisions regarding such practical matters as the times of the meetings. But not every brother in a local church can be an elder. Other functions, including teaching and exhorting, are urgently needed for the building up of the church. We need to preach the gospel to sinners, and we need to share the Lord’s testimony with Christians. The elders alone cannot do this. All the saints need to take up the burden for preaching the gospel, for spreading the Lord’s testimony, and for edifying the saints through fellowship. If we do this, the church will grow, and the recovery will spread.
Because many different functions are needed, let us set aside the thought of leadership. Whether or not you are a leader is unimportant. The important matter is that you are willing to preach the gospel, to care for other Christians, or to edify the saints.
(All Ages for the Lord's Testimony, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)