Basic Principles for the Practice of the Church Life, by Witness Lee


The eighth point concerning the church is the order of the church. Philippians 1:1 says, “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” This verse speaks of the saints with the overseers and deacons. This refers to the order of the church. As a group of the Lord’s children coming together to realize the church life, to have the expression of the Body, the church, we have a real need of a spiritual order. I do not like to use the word organization; this is something wrong. But according to the teaching of the Scriptures, there must be a spiritual order among the saints. According to Acts 20, the overseers are the elders. An overseer is someone who oversees the situation in the church. In the churches there are always some leading ones. The elders are the ones who take the responsibility to care for the church, and the deacons are the ones who serve the church.

We all need much grace to keep the right order among the Lord’s children. To keep the order we must have elders. A brother needs much grace to be an elder. There are very many needs in the church. To be an elder, a person has to be broken, broad-minded, full of Christ, humble in the spirit, and patient in the spirit. He must also have some amount of spiritual knowledge, and he must be filled with God as love and saturated by the Spirit as wisdom. Oh, how much grace one needs to be an elder! As we have seen, he first must be broken and humble. If one has never been humble, he can never be an elder.

Not only so, we also need much grace to submit to the elders. There is the need to be the elders, and there is the need to submit to the elders. The first time I went to Shanghai thirty years ago, I encountered two brothers. The first brother came to the church in Shanghai first, and after a certain time, the second brother was brought in through the first brother. However, after a certain period of time, the second brother had improved, grown, and matured much in the Lord, while the first brother remained as a child and still spoke as a child. When it came time for the church to establish elders, the second brother was established as an elder, and the first one was not. From that time onward, the first brother complained and asked why the second had become an elder, and he, the first, had not. He could never submit himself to the second brother. I speak frankly; to submit yourself to someone else requires much grace, sometimes even more grace.

First Corinthians 11 tells us that God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of every man, and man is the head of the woman (v. 3). Therefore, the woman must be covered (vv. 5-6). Man is the head, and the woman has to be covered. For man to be the head requires much grace. If one does not have the grace, it is impossible for him to be the head. I have experienced this. To be a head is not simple. In the years that I was in Shanghai, many times I told the Lord, “I almost long to be a sister.” How nice it is to be a sister because to be a brother, as the head, one has to take care of many things. He must be suppressed and put down, and he must learn the lessons to be broken, to be humble, and to be patient. Oh, there are so many lessons! Eventually all the burdens will come to him.

One day, the main one among the leading sisters came to me about a certain matter and said, “Brother Lee, in this matter you brothers must take the responsibility.” I said, “Yes, sister, there is no doubt about this.” She said, “Good. Let us sisters go in peace.” I said, “Sister, you can go in peace, while we bear the burden.” After that I told the Lord, “Lord, I long to be a sister so that I could go in peace.” Brothers, do you realize that you are brothers and that you must take care of the burdens? You cannot go in peace. How easy and comfortable it is to be a sister. This illustrates that to be an elder in the real church life is not an easy matter. It requires much grace.

Nevertheless, I realize that if I were a sister, it would not be easy to submit myself to the brothers. One day a sister came to me and said, “Brother Lee, I know we sisters have to submit to you brothers as the head, but you brothers must know what kind of head you need to be. We sisters can submit to a certain kind of head, but we cannot submit ourselves to any kind of head. A human has a head, but so does a hammer and an axe.” That sister challenged me, asking, “Brother Lee, what kind of head are you brothers going to be? The head of a hammer, hammering us all the time?” This shows that it is not easy to submit to others. Especially today in the twentieth century, throughout the whole world the human race is inclining toward independence. Everyone wants to be independent. Even the children want to be independent of their parents, and the students want to be independent of their teachers and school. No one wants to submit to another, but if there is no submission, how can there be an order? How can there be the real Body life?

A certain brother has three grandchildren, the youngest of whom is about two years old. One day I said to her, “Baby, how are you?” She said, “I am not a baby! I am big!” Even such a small girl wants to be big in her family. It is human nature to want to be big. On the way to Jerusalem as the Lord was going to be crucified, the disciples argued about who was the greatest. Was there the possibility of an order being built up among them?

We say that we are going to have the church life, but what about submission? It is not easy to submit ourselves to others. I can never forget how thirty years ago Brother Watchman Nee said in a message, “To submit yourself to others requires more grace.” He used the words more grace. We need more grace to submit ourselves to others. Not only do the brothers and sisters need to submit to the elders, but even the elders need to learn the lesson to submit themselves to all the brothers. We need to learn the lesson to submit to one another. This is taught in 1 Peter 5, which implies that even the elders should submit themselves to the younger ones (v. 5).

We need to submit to one another so that there will be a nice, wonderful, spiritual order among us. This order is the real church life, and this order is the real building up of the church. We say that we want to have the church life and the building up of the church, but we must realize that the real church life and the real building up of the church is a spiritual order. For this, we all need grace. Each one of us needs grace to keep our position and stand where we ought to stand. Each one needs the grace to keep his own position so that we can have a spiritual order among us. Then we will realize the real church life. If we do not have the order, it is impossible to have the church life.

What we have spoken here is something truly profitable. We need to realize that the church is expressed on the earth in the localities where people are gathered, and wherever we go we must keep in mind that there is one church, one expression of the Body of Christ. We must respect and honor this principle. Moreover, we must realize that the content of the church is Christ Himself, and we must learn the lesson by grace to keep our own position so that the order of the church may be kept and maintained, so that we may have the real church life. The expression of the church, the content of the church, and the order of the church are the three most practical matters in the church life. May the Lord grant us the grace to see these matters and to keep them.

(Basic Principles for the Practice of the Church Life, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)