THE MORAVIAN BROTHERS
Then there was a further move of the Lord through His lovers. Many believers began simply to adopt the title—the brothers or the brethren. Actually, this term was not firstly adopted by the British Brethren or the Plymouth Brethren. It was adopted even before the time of Zinzendorf, mostly in northern Europe. When the Moravian brothers came to Zinzendorf, they began to have a church life outside of Catholicism and absolutely outside of the organized Protestant churches. At that time, the Moravian brothers and many others suffered persecution from two sources—the Catholic Church and the state churches. These brothers were compelled to go to Bohemia to Zinzendorf. He took the lead to establish a very good church life. Although the church life in Bohemia was not fully according to the Bible, it was still very much according to the Bible.
Approximately one century later, the Brethren in England were raised up. They came out of the organization of both the Catholic and Protestant churches to the uttermost. They dropped everything of hierarchy and denominationalism. This was a very strong reaction to the papal system, the Episcopalian system, and the Protestant system. They stressed the Body very much. They saw very little, however, of the principle of the resurrection life for the Body. At least they did not see what we see today concerning this matter. They did see, though, that the church was the Body of Christ and they stressed the Body greatly.
Later, seeking Christians were raised up who concentrated on the inner life. They also reacted to the papal system and to the Protestant organization. As a result, a “loose” condition was produced among the believers. Some of the seeking Christians began to oppose any kind of authority. They did not regard or respect anyone. Due to the rise of democratic forms of government, another factor which invaded the Christian concept was that the church should be democratic.
Brother T. Austin-Sparks began to see that most Christians neglected the matter of spiritual authority. His understanding was based upon the spiritual authority in the Body of Christ. For example, in our physical body there is the authority in life. All the members obey the headship, the authority of the head. The head directs all the members of the body. Beginning with Brother Sparks, the stress on spiritual authority came out. Brother Nee saw the same thing. Therefore, Brother Nee wrote the book Spiritual Authority. I never read this book, because actually, before Brother Nee wrote the book, he talked to me personally about this matter. He told me its entire contents.
If we receive any teaching carelessly, this can always cause some subsidiary mistake. Many outsiders use Brother Nee’s teaching on spiritual authority as their ground to exercise, not their spiritual authority, but their human authority. They do not exercise the authority in life but the authority by organization. There has also been a by-product among us of such a subsidiary mistake. This by-product is the thought that a certain brother is the first among the co-workers or that another brother is the first among the elders.
We should practice the church life according to the instruction of the New Testament, not in a legal way, but in the way of life with love. We must realize that the church life can only be practiced rightly in life with love. Any instruction given by the New Testament concerning the church life should be kept in life. If you are out of life, you are through with the church life. The church is not a matter of organization or regulation but altogether a matter of the resurrection life.
Life in the New Testament and especially in the Epistles means the resurrection life, which is the resurrected Christ as the life-giving Spirit. The church must be practiced by our being in this life. Many Christians are missing the mark because they do not care for this life. They care for the Bible doctrines and instructions in letters. They study the Bible instructions and teachings concerning their religion just like the lawyers studying law. We should not take the Word of God, however, merely according to the black and white letters of the Bible. We have to get into its spirit, and the spirit of the New Testament is the resurrected Christ as life to us. The constitution of the church life is not a number of regulations like the constitution of the United States. The constitution of the church life is of the life element. It is of life, it is a matter of life, and its element must be life. When we practice the church, we must practice it in the resurrection life.
(Elders' Training, Book 04: Other Crucial Matters Concerning the Practice of the Lord's Recovery, Chapter 9, by Witness Lee)