Tuesday, July 31, 2007Print This Page.:


The church in Rome is a good illustration of the foregoing. Before Paul visited Rome, he had written to the church there expressing an intense desire to see them (Rom. 1:10-11). From his letter it is obvious that a church had been established in that city prior to his arrival. When he actually reached Rome, the church there did not hand over local responsibility to him, nor did they say (as a church today probably would), "Now that an apostle has come into our midst, he must take over the responsibility and be our pastor." Instead, we find this amazing record in the Word: "And he remained two whole years in his own rented dwelling and welcomed all those who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, unhindered" (Acts 28:30-31). Why did Paul live in "his own rented dwelling" and preach and teach from there and not from the already existing church? Some may suggest that because he was a prisoner he would not have been allowed to take meetings in the church; but there would have been little difference between taking meetings in the church and in the house. If he was granted permission to rent a house and preach and teach there, why should he have been refused permission to preach and teach in connection with the church? Moreover, we need to remember that the Word does not state the reason Paul rented a house and preached and taught there; it only mentions the fact. The fact is that he did rent a house and did preach and teach there, and that fact is enough for us. It is enough for our guidance. Further, God has made it clear that he was under no necessity to do so. No pressure whatever was brought to bear upon him, for he acted "with all boldness unhindered."
Then what is the meaning of the rented house? We must remember the divine economy of words in Scripture, and we must realize that neither the occurrence, nor the record of it, was accidental. There is no room for chance happenings or unimportant records in God's Word. All that is written there is written for our learning, and even a seemingly casual remark may enfold a precious lesson. Moreover, this book is the book of the Acts of the Apostles, who moved under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, so the record in question is also one of the acts of the apostles, and is therefore not a chance happening, but an act under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Here in two short sentences we have an important principle, namely, that the apostolic work and the local church are quite distinct. A church had already been established in Rome; therefore, the members must have had at least one meeting place, but they did not request that Paul take control of the local church, nor did they make their place of meeting Paul's center of work. Paul had his own work in his own rented house quite apart from the church, and apart from their meeting place, and he did not take over the responsibility of the local church affairs.
Every apostle must learn to live in "his own rented dwelling" and work with that as his center, leaving the responsibility of the local church to the local brethren.1 The work of God belongs to the workers, but the church of God belongs to the locality. Any work in a given place is only temporary, but any church in a given place is always permanent. The work is movable; the church is stationary. When God indicates that an apostle should move, his work moves with him, but the church remains. When Paul thought of leaving Corinth, the Lord showed him He had further ministry for him in the city, so Paul remained for eighteen months — not permanently. When Paul left Corinth, his work left, but the church in Corinth continued, although the fruits of his work were left in the church. A church should not be influenced by the movements of the workers. Whether they are present or absent, the church should move steadily forward. Every one of God's workmen must have a clean-cut line of demarcation between his work and the church in the place of his labors.
The work of the apostles and the work of the local church run parallel; they do not converge. When the apostles are working in any place, their work goes on side by side with the work of the church. The two never coincide, nor can the one ever be a substitute for the other. On leaving a place, an apostle should hand over all the fruit of his work to the local church. It is not God's will that the work of an apostle should take the place of the work of the church, or be in any wise identified with it.
The principle of Paul living in his own rented house shows clearly that the work of the church is unaffected by the presence or absence of an apostle. After Paul's arrival in Rome, the work of the church went on as before, independently of him. Since it was dependent on him neither for its origin nor its continuance, it would be unaffected by his departure. Work is work, and church is church, and these two lines never converge, but keep running parallel one to the other.
Suppose we go to Kweiyang to work; what should be our procedure? On arrival in Kweiyang we either live in an inn, or rent a room, and we begin to preach the gospel. When men are saved, what shall we do? We must encourage them to read the Word, to pray, to give, to witness, and to assemble for fellowship and ministry. One of the tragic mistakes of the past hundred years of foreign missions in China (God be merciful to me if I say anything amiss!) is that after a worker led men to Christ, he prepared a place and invited them to come there for meetings, instead of encouraging them to assemble by themselves. Efforts have been made to encourage the young believers to read the Word themselves, pray by themselves, witness themselves, but never to meet by themselves. Workers never think of reading, praying, and witnessing for them, but they do not see any harm in arranging meetings for them. We need to show the new converts that such duties as reading, praying, witnessing, giving, and assembling together are the minimum requirement of Christians. We should teach them to have their own meetings in their own meeting place. Let us say to them, "Just as we cannot read the Word, or pray, or witness for you, so we cannot take the responsibility of preparing a meeting place for you and leading your meetings. You must seek out suitable premises and conduct your own meetings. Your meetings are your responsibility, and a regular assembling of yourselves is one of your chief duties and privileges."
Many workers regard their meetings and the meetings of the church as one and the same thing, but they are not. (See chapter nine.) Therefore, as soon as a few believers are saved, we must instruct them to take full responsibility for their private reading, prayer, and witness, and also for the public meetings of the church.
As for ourselves, while we go on working and keep our work distinct from the work of the church, we must go and have fellowship with the believers in their various local gatherings. We must go and break bread with them, join with them in the exercise of spiritual gifts, and take part in their prayer meetings. When there is no church in the place to which God has sent us, we are only workers there, but as soon as there is a local church, we are brothers as well as workers. In our capacity as workers we can take no responsibility in the local church, but in our capacity as local brothers we go and meet with all the members of the church as their fellow members.
As soon as there is a local church in the place of our labors, we automatically become members. Here is the chief point to observe in the relationship between the church and the work—the worker must leave the believers to initiate and conduct their own meetings in their own meeting place, and then he must go to them and take part in their meetings, not ask them to come to him and take part in his meetings. Otherwise, we shall become settlers in one place and shall change our office from apostle to pastor; then when we eventually leave, we shall have to find a successor to carry out the church work. If we keep "church" and "work" parallel and do not let the two lines converge, we shall find that no adjustment will be needed in the church when we depart, for it will not have lost a "pastor," but only a brother. Unless we differentiate clearly in our own minds between church and work, we shall mix the work with the church and the church with the work; there will be confusion in both directions, and the growth both of the church and the work will be arrested.
"Self-government, self-support, and self-propagation" has been the slogan of many workers for a number of years now. The need to deal with these matters has arisen because of the confusion between the church and the work. In a mission, when people are saved, then the missionaries prepare a hall for them, arrange for prayer meetings and Bible classes, and some of them go as far as to manage the business and spiritual affairs of the church as well. The mission does the work of the local church! Therefore, it is not surprising that in the process of time, problems arise in connection with self-government, self-support, and self-propagation. In the very nature of things, such problems would never have come up for consideration if the principles shown us in God's Word had been adhered to from the very beginning.
Anyone who cares enough to be a Christian ought to be taught from the outset what the implications are. Believers must pray themselves, study the Word themselves, and assemble themselves, not merely go to a meeting place prepared by others and sit down and listen to others preach. Going to a mission compound or a mission hall to hear the Word is not scriptural assembling, because it is in the hands of a missionary, or of his mission, not in the hands of the local church. It is a mixture of work and church. If from the outset Christians learned to gather together according to the Scriptures, many problems would be avoided.


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