The Normal Christian Church Life, by Watchman Nee


On what ground did these prophets and teachers set certain men apart as apostles, and whom did these prophets and teachers represent? Why did they, and not the entire church, separate those workers? What is the significance of such separation, and what is the qualification required on the part of those who assume responsibility in the matter?

The first thing we must realize is that God has incorporated all His children into one Body. He recognizes no division of His people into various “churches” and missions. He has designed that all who are His shall live a corporate life, the life of a body among whose many members there is mutual consideration, mutual love, and mutual understanding. And He has purposed that not only the life, but also the ministry of His children, should be on the principle of the body, that it should be a matter of mutual helpfulness, mutual edification, and mutual service—the activity of the many members of one body. There are two aspects of the Body of Christ—life and ministry. The first half of Ephesians 4 speaks of the Body in relation to its ministry; the second half speaks of the Body in relation to its life. “Out from whom all the Body, being joined together and being knit together through every joint of the rich supply and through the operation in the measure of each one part, causes the growth of the Body unto the building up of itself in love” (v. 16). Here it is work that is under consideration. But in verse 25 the question is clearly one of life: “Therefore having put off the lie, speak truth each one with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” In Romans 12 we see how the members should care one for another, so that the thought there again is the manifestation of the one life. But in 1 Corinthians 12 we see how the members should serve one another, so the thought in that passage is the manifestation of the one ministry.

When we speak of the one Body, we emphasize the oneness of the life of all God’s children. When we speak of its many members, we emphasize the diversity of functions in that unity. The characteristic of the former is life; the characteristic of the latter is work. In a physical body the members differ one from another; yet they function as one, because they share one life and have the upbuilding of the whole body as their one aim.

Because the Body of Christ has these two different aspects—life and ministry—it consequently has two different outward manifestations. The church in a locality is used to express the life of the Body, and the gifts in the Church are used to express the ministry of its members. In other words, each local church should stand on the ground of the Body, regarding itself as an expression of the oneness of the life of the Body, and it should on no account admit of division, since it exists as the manifestation of an indivisible life. The various ministers of the Church should likewise stand on the ground of the Body, regarding themselves as an expression of the oneness of its varied ministries. Perfect fellowship and cooperation should characterize all their activity, for though their functions are diverse, their ministry is really one. No local church should divide into different sects, or affiliate with other churches under a denomination, thus departing from the ground of the Body; and no group of ministers should unite to form a separate unit, standing on other than Body ground. All their work should be performed as members of the Body, and not as members of an organization existing in distinction from it. A worker may employ his gifts in the capacity of an officer of an organization, but in so doing he departs from the ground of the Body.

A cursory reading of Ephesians 4:11-12 might lead us to conclude that apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers functioned outside the Body, because they were given by the Lord to His Church for her upbuilding (v. 12). But verse 16 makes it clear that they do not stand outside the Body to build it up; they seek to build it up from within. They themselves are part of the Body, and it is only as they take their rightful place in it, as ministering members, that the whole Body is edified.

(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 2, by Watchman Nee)