The Church and the Work


Responsibilities of the Workers

Elsewhere in his ministry, Watchman Nee clearly confirms from the Scriptures that one of the major responsibilities of the apostles is to appoint the elders in each church:

In the Old Testament, we are not able to find out how the first group of elders was produced. There is also not a direct word in the New Testament to tell us how the first group of elders in the New Testament church was produced. Both Peter and John were elders in the church in Jerusalem (1 Pet. 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1). James was also an elder there (Gal. 2:9; Acts 12:17; 15:2, 13; 21:18). He was a flesh brother of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 1:19; Matt. 13:55) and was not saved before the Lordís death (John 7:3, 5). Either through seeing the Lordís death or through the appearing of the Lord to him in His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7), James believed in the Lord. Thus, the time from his salvation to his becoming an elder was very short. Eventually, he became the leading elder in the church in Jerusalem. The church in Jerusalem is represented by the name James in Galatians 2:12, and in the book of Acts, James is the prominent one among the elders in Jerusalem (12:17; 15:13; 21:18). How were James, Peter, and John produced as elders? The Bible does not directly tell us.
When the Apostle Paul was raised up by the Lord and sent out by the Holy Spirit, the Lord used him to establish new churches. Acts 14:23 tells us that Paul returned to appoint elders in each of these new local churches probably within the same year. The appointment of the elders is recorded clearly in Acts 14:23. The elders were established among the saints by the apostles who had preached the gospel to them and had formed them into a local church. Titus 1:5 tells us that the apostles who established the churches had the position and the right to send a representative to establish elders. This was the case with Titus. Titus was representing the Apostle Paul to establish elders in each city of the island of Crete. These verses show us that the elders were properly produced in the New Testament through appointment by those who preached the gospel to them, who taught them the truth, and who formed them with the saints into a local church. These apostles should be the ones who appoint the elders to carry out Godís administration in each local church.

(Witness Lee, Eldership (1), 43-44)

The case of Peter is instructive in the matter of the relationship between the apostles and elders, for he was not only the first apostle sent to the Jews, but was also an elder in the church in Jerusalem. Using Peterís dual status as an example in the following passage, Watchman Nee distinguishes between serving simply as an apostle in the work and serving as both an apostle and as an elder in oneís own local church. Watchman Nee also adds to his teaching a word of personal testimony concerning this matter:

Here we see the preciousness of Jerusalem. In reading the Scriptures we also see the preciousness of Peter being an elder in Jerusalem. In the past we only paid attention to Peter as an apostle rather than to Peter as an elder. He was in a double position. In relation to the locality of Jerusalem, Peter was an elder, James was an elder, and John was an elder. In relation to the work, however, they were all apostles. Therefore, when they wrote letters to the church in Antioch, they signed as apostles and elders. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for the elders in Jerusalem to write and give orders to the church in Antioch, because the church in Antioch had elders as well. As elders, they told the church in Antioch what decisions they had made for the church in Jerusalem; as apostles, they also made the same decisions for the work.
Today this matter is very clear among us. With us this problem has been entirely solved; it is behind us. Not only is it behind us, but this very teaching has been gloriously brought forth. Now we see that Godís work is carried out by a region. For His work God wants to establish a locality as a center. All of the workers should be centralized in that locality, sometimes going out and sometimes coming back. The elders are responsible for a local church, but if a locality is also a center for the work, then the workers should also be elders to share in the responsibility of church affairs there, in addition to just the elders.

(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 3, Vol. 55, 88-89)

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