THE SPHERE OF THE WORK
The sphere of the work, unlike the sphere of the local church, is very wide. Some of the workers are sent to Ephesus, some go to Paul at Nicopolis, some stay on in Corinth, some are left in Miletus, some remain in Crete, some return to Thessalonica, and others go on to Galatia. Such is the work! We see here not the movements of the local church but of the work, for the movements of the local church are always confined to one locality. Ephesus only manages the affairs of Ephesus, and Rome the affairs of Rome. The church confines herself to matters in her own locality. There is no need for the church in Ephesus to send a man to Corinth, or for the church in Corinth to leave a man in Rome. The church here is local, the work extra-local. Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome are all the concern of the workers. The church only manages the affairs in any given locality, but the workers of God regard as their “parish” the sphere which the Lord has measured out to them.
NO CENTRAL CONTROL, BUT FELLOWSHIP
In Scripture the workers were formed into companies, but that does not imply that all the apostles formed themselves into one company and placed everything under one central control. Although Paul had “those with him,” and Peter his associates, they comprised only a number of apostles, not all the apostles. That all the apostles should combine into one company is not shown in the Word of God. It is quite in order for scores of men, or even hundreds, who have received the same trust from God, to join together in the same work; but in the Scriptures we find no centralization of authority for the control of all the apostles. There is a company of apostles, but it is not great enough to include all the apostles. That is Romish, not scriptural.
The parties referred to in Philippians 1:15-17, 2 Corinthians 11:12-13, 22-23, and Galatians 4:17 all indicate that the work in the early days was not centralized. Had it been centralized, those groups could not have remained in existence, for they could have been dealt with effectively. The Scriptures show that in divine work there is no universal organization or central control, which accounts for the fact that the apostle had no authority to deal with those groups of people who were creating such difficulty in the churches.
The explanation is this: God does not wish the power of organization to take the place of the power of the Holy Spirit. Even though there is no central control, provided all the workers follow the leading of the Spirit, everything will run smoothly and satisfactorily, and there will be the coordination of a body. Whenever people cease to obey the Spirit and labor in the power of the flesh, then it is best if the work is simply allowed to fall to pieces. A good organization often serves as a bad substitute for the power of the Holy Spirit, by holding a work together even after all its vitality is gone. When life has departed from the work and the scaffolding of organization still supports it, its collapse is prevented; but that is doubtful gain, for a splendid outward organization may be blinding God’s servants to a deep inward need. God would rather His work be discontinued than that it go on with such a counterfeit for spiritual power. When the glory of God had departed from the temple, He himself left it to utter ruin. God desires that the outward and inward conditions should correspond, so that if death invades a work, His workers may awaken at once to their need and in humility of heart seek His face.
Central control has many evils. It makes it easy for God’s servants to disregard the leading of the Spirit, and readily develops into a popish system, becoming a great worldly power. It is a scriptural fact that God’s servants are formed into companies, but they are not formed into one single company.
However, that does not mean that every company could just go on independently, knowing no relatedness or fellowship with other companies. The principle of the oneness of the Body holds good here as in all other relationships between the children of God. In Scripture we not only see the principle of “the laying on of hands,” but also that of giving “the right hand” (Gal. 2:9). The former speaks of identification; the latter of fellowship. In Antioch hands were laid on Paul and Barnabas; in Jerusalem there was no laying on of hands, but the right hand of fellowship given them by James, Cephas, and John. In Antioch the sphere in view was one apostolic company, and the point emphasized was identification; consequently, hands were laid on them. But in Jerusalem the sphere in view was the relationship between different apostolic companies, and the point emphasized was fellowship; consequently, the right hand was extended to them.
Many are called to work for the Lord, but their sphere of service is not the same, so it follows that their associates cannot be the same. But the various companies must all be identified with the Body, coming under the headship of the Lord, and having fellowship among themselves. There is no laying on of hands between Antioch and Jerusalem, but there is the giving of the right hand of fellowship. So the Word of God does not warrant the forming of one central company; neither does it warrant the forming of various scattered, unrelated, and isolated companies. There is no one central place for the laying on of hands, nor is there merely the laying on of hands and nothing else in any one of the various groups; but among them there is also the giving of the right hand of fellowship one to the other. Each company should recognize what God is doing with the other companies and should extend fellowship to them, acknowledging that they are also ministers in the Body. Under the ordering of God they may work in different companies, but all must work as one Body. The extending of the right hand of fellowship implies a recognition that other people are in the Body and we are in fellowship with them, working together in a related way, as becomes functioning members of the same Body. “Seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcision… and perceiving the grace given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and to Barnabas the right hand of fellowship that we should go to the Gentiles, and they, to the circumcision” (Gal. 2:7-9). The unrelated, scattered, disrupted, and conflicting organizations in Christendom, which do not recognize the principle of the Body and do not come under the sovereignty and headship of Christ, are never according to the mind of the Lord.
(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 7, by Watchman Nee)