COOPERATION AMONG THE WORKERSPrint This Page.
The question naturally arises, how should workers and working associations cooperate? To one company God gives one kind of ministry, and to another an altogether different form of ministry. How should the various groups work together? Peter and his associates, and Paul and those with him, were appointed to different spheres, but in the event of their work overlapping, how should they act? Since there is no centralization of work, yet at the same time there are various groups of workers, how should these different groups cooperate? We must note two fundamental points in regard to the work:
(1) The first responsibility of every worker—no matter what his ministry or what his special line of work—whenever he comes to a place where there is no local church, is to establish one in the locality. (What applies to the individual worker applies also to any group of workers.)
(2) Should he come to a place where a local church already exists, then all his teaching and all his experience must be contributed to that church, that it may be strengthened and edified, and no attempt should be made to attach that church to himself or to the society he represents.
If a worker goes to a place where there is no church and founds one there for the propagation of his particular doctrine, then we cannot cooperate with him because he is building up a sect, and not a church. On the other hand, should a worker go to a place where there is already a local church, and instead of contributing his teaching and experience to its upbuilding, seek to make it a branch-church of the society to which he belongs, then again it is impossible for us to cooperate, because he is building up a denomination. The basis of fellowship in the church is the common possession of life in Christ and living in the same locality. The basis of cooperation in the work is the common aim of the founding and building up of local churches. Denominational affiliations do not hinder us from reckoning anyone as belonging to the Body, but the aim of denominational extension will certainly keep us from any cooperation in the service of God. The greatest harm a worker can do is, instead of establishing and edifying the local churches, to attach to his society the believers he finds in a place, or to form those brought to the Lord through his labors into a branch of his particular denomination. Both these procedures are condemned by the Word of God.
Paul came from Antioch to Corinth and there he preached the gospel. People believed and were saved, and soon there was a group of saints in Corinth. Into what kind of church did Paul form them? Into the church in Corinth. Paul did not establish an Anitochian church in Corinth. He did not form a branch-church of Antioch in Corinth, but simply established a church in Corinth. Thereafter Peter came to Corinth and preached the gospel, with the result that another group of people believed. Did Peter say, "Paul came from Antioch, but I am come from Jerusalem, so I must set up another church: I will establish a Jerusalemic church in Corinth, or, I will form a branch-church of Jerusalem here in Corinth"? No, he contributed all those he led to the Lord to the already existing local church in Corinth. After a while Apollos came along. Again people were saved, and again all the saved ones were added to the local church. So in Corinth there was only one church of God; there were no schismatic denominations. Had Paul established the precedent of founding a church in Corinth to enlarge the sphere of the church from which he went out, calling it the Antiochian church in Corinth, then when Peter came to Corinth he might well have argued, "It is all right for Paul to found an Antiochian church in Corinth since he came from Antioch, but I have nothing to do with Antioch; my church is in Jerusalem, so I must establish a Jerusalemic church here." Apollos coming to Corinth would in turn follow their example and establish another church as a branch of the one from which he came out. If every worker tried to form a branch of the church he represented, then sects and denominations would be utterly inevitable. If the aim of a worker in any place is not to establish a local church there, but to enlarge the church from which he has gone out, then he is not establishing a church of God in that locality, but only building up his own society. Under such circumstances there is no possibility of cooperation.
Conditions have greatly changed since the days of the early apostles. Christianity has lost its original purity, and everything connected with it is in a false and confused state. Despite that fact, our work today is still the same as in the days of the early apostles—to found and build up local churches, the local expressions of the Body of Christ. So if we are in a place where there is no church, we should seek the Lord's face that He may enable us to win souls for Himself and form them into a local church. If we are in a place where there are missions, or churches, standing on sectarian or denominational ground, but no church standing on the ground of the Body and the locality, then our duty is just the same, that is, to found and build a local church. Many will still persist in their old ways; hence, the persons standing on clear church ground may be far fewer than the total number of Christians in the locality. But the area of the ground on which they stand is just as wide as that on which the church ought to stand, so it is still our duty to maintain that ground. We can only cooperate with those who are building up the Body of Christ as expressed in local churches, and not with those who are building up something else. Denominational connection does not hinder us from fellowship in the Lord, but denominational extension does hinder us from cooperation in the work of God.
Here is the most important principle in the work of God—a worker must not seek to establish a branch of the church from which he goes out, but to establish a church in the locality to which he comes. He does not make the church in the place to which he goes to be an extension of the church in the place from which he comes, but he founds a church in that locality. Wherever he goes, he establishes a church in that place. He does not extend the church of his place of origin, but establishes the church in the place of his adoption. Since in Scripture all churches are local, Jerusalem and Antioch can have no branch-churches. We cannot extend one local church to another locality; we can only form a new church in that locality. The church which the apostles established in Ephesus is the church in Ephesus; the church which they established in Philippi is the church in Philippi; the churches which they established in other places are the churches of those different places. There is no precedent in Scripture for establishing any other than local churches. It is all right to extend the Church of God, but it is all wrong to extend a local church of God. What is the place in which I intend to work? It is the church in that place I must seek to establish.
Now there are two kinds of workers, namely, those who stand on scriptural ground, and those who stand on denominational or mission ground. But even with those who stand on denominational or mission ground, the principle of cooperation is just the same—the one aim of founding and building up the local church.
The work of evangelization is primarily for the salvation of sinners, but its spontaneous result is a church in the place where such work is done. The immediate object is the salvation of men, but the ultimate result is the formation of churches. The danger which confronts the missionary is to form those he has led to the Lord into a branch of the society he represents. Since workers represent different societies, they naturally form different branches of their respective societies, and the consequence is great confusion in the work and churches of God. The immediate aim of the various workers is no doubt the same—what preacher does not hope that many souls will be won to the Lord?—but there is a lack of clarity and definiteness regarding the ultimate issue. Some workers, praise God, are out to establish local churches; others, alas! are out to extend their own denomination or to form mission churches.
This is a point on which my fellow workers and I cannot see eye to eye with many of God's children. From the depths of our hearts we thank God that in the past century He has sent so many of His faithful servants to China, so that those who were sitting in darkness should hear the gospel and believe in the Lord. Their self-sacrifice, their diligence, and their godliness have truly been an example to us. Many a time, as we looked at the faces of missionaries suffering for the gospel's sake, we have been moved to pray, "Lord, make us to live like them." May God bless and reward them! We acknowledge that we are utterly unworthy to have any part in the work of God, but by the grace of God we are what we are, and since God in His grace has called us to His service, we cannot but seek to be faithful. We have nothing to criticize, and much to admire, as far as the gospel work of our missionary brethren is concerned; yet we cannot but question their methods in dealing with the fruits of such work. For in the past hundred years it has not resulted in the building up of local churches but in the forming of missionary churches, or of branch churches of the various denominations which the missionaries represented. In our opinion this is contrary to the Word of God. There is no such thing in Scripture as the building up of denominations; we only find local churches there. May God forgive me if I am wrong!