THE FORMATION OF THE CLERGY-LAITY SYSTEM
AND THE RAISING UP OF THE LORD’S RECOVERY
However, in the New Testament, all the believers in the church are priests. This takes us back to God’s original intention. After the passing away of the early apostles, people gradually became unclear concerning the service rendered to God; thus, the teaching concerning the "clergy-laity" came forth. First, Ignatius in the second century taught that an overseer, a bishop, is higher than an elder. From this erroneous teaching came the religious organization of bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the pope. This teaching is also the source of the episcopal system of ecclesiastical government. Then, in A.D. 590, the archbishop of Rome was recognized by the Eastern and Western churches as the pope; thus, the Roman Catholic Church was officially formed. Later, after further gradual development, there came to be not only bishops, each governing a district, but also archbishops, each having jurisdiction mainly over a country. Then, still higher in rank are the cardinals, who surround the pope to rule over all the Catholic churches on the whole globe, and thus may be considered the pope’s cabinet members. If the pope dies, the cardinals elect a new pope from among themselves. In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther rose up to make reforms; as a result, the Protestant churches came into being from the Catholic Church. In the early stage, the Protestant churches were state churches in nature. A number of the northern European countries began to form state churches, such as the Anglican Church, also known as the Episcopalian Church in England, and the Lutheran Church in Germany. The kings of the states became the leaders of the state churches. This way of governing the churches was the same as the practice in the Catholic Church. A century later, in approximately 1690, some saw the truth concerning the church being governed by the elders, not the bishops; as a result, the Presbyterian Church was established. This was the beginning of the independent churches. After this, some saw the truth concerning baptism by immersion (instead of by sprinkling), so they formed the Baptist Church. After this, there was a gradual recovery of the church, but in the matter of service, the church still could not escape the influence of the clergy-laity system.
In the seventeenth century, the Moravian brothers were raised up. Because of the persecution from the Catholic Church, the state churches, and the independent churches, the brothers fled to the estate of Brother Zinzendorf. From that point on, the recovery of the church life began. In 1828 some brothers rose up in England. They broke away from all their background and lived and served altogether according to the truth of the Bible; they did not deny the Lord’s name, and they kept the Lord’s word. Unfortunately, after no more than half a century, they became degraded. Then, in 1922 the Lord raised us up in the Far East. In the beginning, we adopted mainly the practices of the Brethren. Later, we discovered that in a considerable number of areas we had not entered deeply enough into the biblical truths. First, in 1934 Brother Nee released the book entitled The Meeting Life, in which he spoke concerning the establishing of the elders and the governing of the church. In 1948 he published the book entitled Church Affairs in which he pointed out emphatically that the traditional meeting on the Lord’s Day, like the following of the customs of the nations by the children of Israel in the Old Testament (2 Kings 17:8), was abominable to God. Therefore, he said, we should push it out so that everyone can function. However, because the traditional way of meeting had become a firmly established habit and custom among mankind and had penetrated into the very blood of Christians, it could not be uprooted instantly. Later, the Lord’s recovery went to Taiwan. Because the time was not ripe to have a change, we went on according to the old practices; after about thirty years, we gradually slipped back to the condition that presently exists in Christianity, and we came to a standstill.
I hope you all can see what the Lord’s recovery is. Beginning from the Brethren, the Lord’s recovery first was the recovery of the oneness of the Body of Christ; then it was the eliminating of all the practices that are not scriptural. Hence, we broke away from the denominations, and we desired to have only the Lord’s name and the Lord’s word. We wanted only Christ and the church and did not want any division. The more we went on with the Lord, the more we discovered that in our service and meetings, our practice was not absolutely according to the Lord’s Word. We realized that we did not begin in an absolute way; we merely inherited the ways of the past, so that the more we practiced them, the more they proved to be unworkable, and the more problems we had.
The Lord did bless His recovery, so that by 1984 there were eight or nine hundred churches raised up on the whole earth, covering the six major continents. However, unconsciously we fell into a condition in which there was a lack; that is, our inner life was not sufficiently fresh and living. All the churches, in both the east and in the west, were in a dormant state, in a condition like that of Sardis. Moreover, the increase in the number of believers was very slow. Among the churches in the United States, for example, from 1962 to 1977 the yearly rate of increase was close to thirty percent, which is probably something very rare in church history. Later, because of the attack by the slandering ones, the church was affected. From 1977 to 1984, the rate of increase of the believers was no more than two or three percent yearly. In October of that year, after I finished the last Life-study of the New Testament, I determined to go back to Taipei to thoroughly restudy this matter.
(The Up-to-Date Presentation of the God-Ordained Way and the Signs Concerning the Coming of Christ, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)