III. THE RESPONSIBLE ONES IN A LOCAL CHURCH
Are there then no specific responsible ones and no specific positions in a local church? There are. Please look at the church in Ephesus. They had elders and deacons. Although they did not have Ephesian apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, they had Ephesian elders and deacons. Every church should have elders and deacons raised up to bear the responsibility of that local church. What do the deacons and elders really do? The deacons only handle the business affairs in the church, while the elders only oversee in a day to day way the condition of the believers’ life. During the gathering of the believers, however, the way to speak the word, read the word, sing the hymns, witness, and exercise the spiritual gifts is all according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 14. The eldership and deaconry are offices carried out at other times. During the meeting, the matter of the exercise of the gifts is unrelated to the authority of elders and deacons. The responsible ones in a local church are called elders and deacons in the Bible. However, the elders and deacons are not appointed for the meetings. The raising up of a deacon is easy, but the raising up of an elder is difficult. Moreover, we have previously seen that we can have the persons of elders and deacons yet not have the offices of elders and deacons. This point was covered in detail last November while studying the matter of the church. Here we will not repeat it.
A Few Things of Utmost Concern
According to the Bible, the truth on the church is quite clear and we will now summarize the matter as follows:
Two Different Things
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are gifts and are given to the whole church; they are given by God and are not restricted to one locality. Elders (overseers) and deacons are offices and are for a local church; these are appointed by men and function within a locality.
Meetings according to the Bible
The elders and deacons attend the meetings solely as brothers. The meetings are not the time for them to exercise their official power. Therefore, one cannot attend the meetings with the qualification of an elder or a deacon. The meeting is the time to exercise the spiritual gifts; whoever has a gift can express God’s will according to his gift and by following the leading of the Holy Spirit.
A worker who serves God full-time can only act in the meetings according to the gift he has. His qualification as a worker gives him no special position in the meetings.
The Work and the Meetings
In the meetings all the brothers are priests, and all can come before God. There is no distinction of laity and clergy. In the work there are different responsibilities and different positions.
Although the elders and deacons have their respective office, during the meetings they are the same as the other believers. During the meetings the ones who serve God full-time are the same as the other believers. All business affairs related to the church are the responsibility of the deacons. All the affairs related to the church in general are the responsibility of the elders.
Regardless of what a person ordinarily does, he can serve others only according to the gift he has received.
All the believers have to bear the responsibility of witnessing and saving men. However, an evangelist witnesses and saves men as his occupation.
(The Scriptures upon which this is based were previously covered in the Bible study meeting last November.)
IV. THE MATTER OF RECEIVING
In the past years, there has been a little confusion in our receiving of people for the breaking of bread. The reason for this was inconsistency in our procedure. According to the teaching of the Bible, in our bread-breaking meeting we should receive all those who are saved. Although the Bible tells us about the matter of receiving, we have to decide for ourselves as to how we should receive. This is like the Bible telling us that we should meet but not telling us how to arrange the chairs for our meetings. Although God gives us freedom, we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of so many current man-made organizations. The goal of our work should be to obtain the most effective results through the simplest procedures.
What should we do if a born-again brother who has been breaking bread at another locality comes to us and desires to break bread with us? He should have a letter of recommendation from the brothers at his locality. This is the teaching of the Bible. There should be at least two believers from that locality to bear witness by writing a letter of recommendation to the church to prove to us what kind of believer he is. For example, if a brother comes from Amoy and wants to break bread with us, he should have a letter of recommendation from two or three brothers in Amoy that tell us about his condition. Regrettably, such procedures are often neglected, and we cannot impose on others to give us such a letter.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 17: Notes on Scriptural Messages (1), Chapter 22, by Watchman Nee)