The second matter involves a center in each region. The churches do not have a center. The church in Jerusalem had no control over the churches in Samaria. Those who study the Bible know that churches are local and that a church in one locality cannot exercise control over a church in another locality. Moreover, the church in one locality cannot control the churches in many localities. The highest place a church can appeal to is its own locality; there is no district council or headquarters for the church. However, this is not so with the work, because the work has a center. In the book of Acts we can say that Jerusalem was a center in one region, while Antioch was a center in another region.
If we did not realize that the work has a center, Jerusalem would become a problem rather than a help. Even though the Bible reveals that churches are local, Jerusalem seems to be somewhat special, and even though the Bible reveals that the churches are local, Antioch seems to be special. Consequently, Antioch can become a problem rather than a help to us also. Both Jerusalem and Antioch can present problems rather than help to us.
Today, we see clearly that the church in Antioch is one thing, while Antioch as a center for the work is another. When speaking of the churches, Jerusalem stands equal with Antioch and also with the churches in Samaria. When speaking of the work, however, Jerusalem is the center of the work. God’s command was that there would be witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. Jerusalem was a center of the work.
In Acts 13, there was another beginning in Antioch, and Antioch became another center of the work. The Holy Spirit started something there. The Holy Spirit made one start in Jerusalem, and the Holy Spirit made another start in Antioch in Acts 13. In both places the Holy Spirit started the work. From Antioch, some went forth to other places to do a work. When churches came into being, elders were appointed to be responsible for the oversight of the churches. But it seems that Antioch was responsible for them, because the workers lived in Antioch.
Here we see the preciousness of Jerusalem. In reading the Scriptures we also see the preciousness of Peter being an elder in Jerusalem. In the past we only paid attention to Peter as an apostle rather than to Peter as an elder. He was in a double position. In relation to the locality of Jerusalem, Peter was an elder, James was an elder, and John was an elder. In relation to the work, however, they were all apostles. Therefore, when they wrote letters to the church in Antioch, they signed as apostles and elders. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for the elders in Jerusalem to write and give orders to the church in Antioch, because the church in Antioch had elders as well. As elders, they told the church in Antioch what decisions they had made for the church in Jerusalem; as apostles, they also made the same decisions for the work.
Today this matter is very clear among us. With us this problem has been entirely solved; it is behind us. Not only is it behind us, but this very teaching has been gloriously brought forth. Now we see that God’s work is carried out by a region. For His work God wants to establish a locality as a center. All of the workers should be centralized in that locality, sometimes going out and sometimes coming back. The elders are responsible for a local church, but if a locality is also a center for the work, then the workers should also be elders to share in the responsibility of church affairs there, in addition to just the elders.
The Scriptures do not offer one example of sending workers to reside in a locality. Such a practice is not found in the Bible. The only exception to this is when a worker migrates to a locality and becomes an elder there. An elder may choose to reside in Jerusalem or he may move to another city to be an elder in that city. He can take up responsibility in the respective cities where he resides. However, if a person wants to be a worker, he should move to Jerusalem.
The church has accused Peter for the past two thousand years, but we have to say that Peter was not wrong. The church has accused Peter during the past two thousand years of not leaving Jerusalem, but it was right for Peter to remain in Jerusalem; it was not wrong. Some have said that Peter should have left Jerusalem, but I do not believe this! Who can say that the Lord wanted Peter and John to leave Jerusalem? Some have said that Peter and John brought persecutions to the church in Jerusalem because they did not leave. This, however, has no scriptural ground. If the Lord desired that Peter and John leave Jerusalem, He could have caused persecution to fall upon Peter and John, not upon the church. It is not right for me to be wrong and others suffer for it. If the Lord caused others to suffer, then surely I am not wrong. If it was wrong for Peter and John to remain in Jerusalem, God should have rebuked Peter and John; He should not have brought persecution to the church in Jerusalem.
However, the Lord said that the world would hate us because we are not of the world, and that if the world persecuted Him, it would also persecute us (John 15:19-20). When we follow the Lord, the world hates us because we are not of the world. Persecution does not occur because we fail to leave our home. If this were the case, all Christians who left their homes would be spared from persecution. Persecution is experienced equally by Christians who stay at home and those who leave their homes.
(Further Talks on the Church Life, Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)