THE SPECIFIC MINISTRIES OF THE WORD
All God’s servants are engaged in the ministry of building up the Body of Christ, but it does not follow that, because all are in the ministry of the Word, all ministries are the same. Everyone has a different line of ministry. Time and again God has raised up some new witness, or group of witnesses, giving them fresh light from His Word, so that they could bear a special testimony for Him in the particular time and circumstances in which they live. All such ministry is new and specific and is of great value to the Church; but we must bear it well in mind that if God commits a specific ministry to any man relating to certain truths, he must not make his particular ministry, or his particular line of truth, the basis of a new “church.” No servant of God should cherish the ambition that his truth be accepted as the truth. If doors are closed to it, let him wait patiently upon God who gave it until He opens doors for its reception. No separate “church” must be formed to bear a separate testimony. The work of God does not sanction the establishment of a church for the propagation of any particular line of teaching. It knows only one kind of church—the local church; not a sectarian church, but a New Testament church.
Let us lay it to heart that our work is for our ministry and our ministry is for the churches. No church should be under a specific ministry, but all ministries should be under the church. What havoc has been wrought in the Church because so many of her ministers have sought to bring the churches under their ministry, rather than by their ministry serve the churches. As soon as the churches are brought under any ministry, they cease to be local and become sectarian.
When a specific ministry has been raised up of God to meet a specific need in His Church, what should be the attitude of the minister? Whenever a new truth is proclaimed, it will have new followers. The worker to whom God has given fresh light upon His truth should encourage all who receive that truth to swell the ranks of the local church, not to range themselves around him. Otherwise, the churches will be made to serve the ministry, not the ministry the churches, and the “churches” established will be ministerial “churches,” not local ones. The sphere of a church is not the sphere of any ministry, but the sphere of the locality. Wherever ministry is made the occasion for the forming of a church, there you have the beginning of a new denomination. From the study of Church history we can see that almost all new ministries have led to new followings, and new followings have resulted in new organizations. Thus ministerial “churches” have been established and denominations multiplied.
If the Lord delays His coming and His servants remain true to Him, He will certainly raise up new ministries in the Word. He will open up special truths to meet the specific needs of His children. Some of the hearers will question the truths, others reject them, and others condemn, while there will be those who gladly respond. What should the attitude of God’s servants be? They must be fully persuaded in their own minds that there can only be one church in one place, and that all truth is for the enrichment of that church. If it receives the truths God’s ministers proclaim, let them praise Him; if not, let them praise Him still. No thought must be entertained of forming a separate “church” comprising those believers who support the special doctrines emphasized. If in the local church a number of people receive their teaching, then they must still remain there. No divisive work must be done in the local church. Those who receive the truth may use their spiritual teaching and spiritual power to help their fellow members, but they must not use any divisive methods to support the truth they have embraced. If we always bear in mind that the churches of God are only formed on the basis of locality, much division among the children of God will be avoided.
Should God entrust us with a special ministry and lead us to a place where no church exists, our first duty is to establish one in the locality, and then contribute our ministry to it. We can establish local churches and contribute our ministry to such churches, but we dare not establish ministerial churches.
Let me illustrate the relation between various ministries and various local churches. One man is a florist, another a grocer. The most obvious way for them to extend their business is to establish branches in various districts. The florist opens branch shops to sell flowers, and the grocer opens branch shops to sell groceries. This is just like the various ministers trying to establish “churches” according to their ministry. God’s plan for His Church is on quite a different line. It is not that the grocer and the florist each seek to open as many branches as they possibly can in order to sell their respective commodities, but that the grocer or the florist, arriving in any place, opens a department store, and having duly established that, he contributes his goods to it, and other tradesmen coming along contribute their wares to the same store. A department store does not just deal in one line of goods; it has a varied stock. The thought of God is not that we should open branch florist shops or branch grocery stores, or stores that specialize in other lines, but department stores. His plan is that His servants should just establish a local church, and then contribute their different ministries to that church. The church is not controlled by one ministry but served by all the ministries. If any company of God’s people are open to receive one truth only, then they are a sect.
As apostles our first concern on arrival in a place which has no church is to found one there. As soon as it has been formed, we should seek to serve it with whatever ministry the Lord has entrusted to us, and then leave it. We dare to exercise our ministry faithfully, but having done so, we dare to leave the church open to other ministry. This should be the attitude of all God’s workmen. We should never cherish the hope that only “our” teaching will be accepted by any church. There must be no thought of dominating a church by our personality or by our ministry; the field must be left clear for all God’s servants. There is no need to build a wall of protection around “our” particular “flock” to secure them against the teachings of others. If we do so, we are working along popish lines. We can safely trust God to protect our ministry, and we must remember that for “the perfecting of the saints” the varied ministries of all God’s faithful servants are necessary. Local responsibility is with the elders; they must watch the interests of the flock in the matter of ministries.
(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)