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Individualism cannot exist if one seeks fellowship. With individualism one always tries to maintain his individual spiritual life before God, his individual visions before God, and his individual work before God. He is always an individual; it is not easy for him to seek fellowship. This is the problem among us. Such a person does not seek fellowship, but struggles and labors by himself. Many children of God today can say only in words that they cannot do without other brothers or that they must have the church in order to live. Actually, many can live without the church and without fellowship. This proves that they are individualistic. If a person receives the principle of fellowship and the principle of the Body only in concept, yet in actuality lives and works by himself, has a spiritual life without fellowship, and does the work of the Lord without fellowship, then this person has never been broken before God. He is altogether an individualistic person. Fellowship is versus individualism. It is not what you say about fellowship; rather, it is a matter of whether fellowship is a part of your life, whether you really cannot live or work without fellowship. One day God will bring you to this stage. I feel that this is the greatest step.
Not Merely a Matterof Lacking Faithfulness and Faith
When many people come to an impasse, they only consider that there are problems with their faith or faithfulness; they do not consider that there is a problem with their fellowship. The education which many people have received in the past and the books which many have read instruct people to be faithful, to believe, and to submit directly to God. Therefore, a problem occurs when they are unable to get through. When they cannot get through in their personal lives, they always consider that they themselves have a problem, that their faith has a problem, or that they are lacking in faithfulness. This is right, but many only see that their failures and difficulties are due to problems in their personal faith, their personal faithfulness, or their personal submission. They do not see that there is something else in the Bible called fellowship. If there are problems with fellowship, they can also arrive at the same point of failure and difficulty.
Many people’s problems have nothing to do with the matter of faith or believing in God, but the matter of fellowship. Sometimes the Lord must allow this kind of person to struggle in his faith, faithfulness, and submission so that he reaches a point in his Christian life where he simply cannot believe or submit no matter how hard he tries. Perhaps he will then realize that he cannot make it simply as one member, nor can he make it merely by his union with Christ. He must be joined with the Body of Christ in order to get through. Perhaps he will then begin to see that he needs the help of other Christians in order to make it. Many have not yet been brought on this way; they are still walking on the way of individualism, laboring by themselves. It is God’s great mercy to bring a person to a point where he cannot get through, and where his eyes are opened to see that while submission, faith, and faithfulness do not suffice, fellowship does suffice.
This is a great revelation! One day God’s children will be brought to a stage where all their ways are exhausted, and where they see that even such a great item as faith does not avail. Faith is not a small matter, and we should not despise it. Faith, faithfulness, and submission are all great matters. However, one day you will reach a point that even when all these conditions are fulfilled, you still cannot get through. Faith, faithfulness, and submission to God are all weighty matters in the Bible. But even with these weighty things, you still have no way to get through until your eyes are opened one day and you begin to realize that fellowship is also a great matter. Without fellowship, you cannot get through. Only a person who has passed through this pathway before God can escape individualism, not doing things individualistically. Those who only know the doctrine of fellowship or the doctrine of the Body of Christ can still be individualistic for the rest of their lives. They can believe in the doctrine of fellowship in a very individualistic way. God needs to bring them on a path where everything is exhausted, where the way is impassable, and where their problems still cannot be solved even though they continue to believe, be faithful, and submit. When God gives them a little light one day, they will see that their problem was actually in the matter of fellowship. Then their individualism will depart.
Peter Seeking Fellowship under Authority
When Peter went to Caesarea by himself, he did not go individualistically. He had fellowship. When Peter went from Joppa to Caesarea, he took the brothers from Joppa with him. He was always under authority and always seeking fellowship. Therefore, as soon as he returned to Jerusalem, he told the brothers what had happened. Although the job had been done, he still sought fellowship.
Philip Being Met by the Holy Spirit
When Philip went to Samaria, he was one who submitted himself under authority. Otherwise, the Holy Spirit would not have called him to the wilderness. All those whom the Holy Spirit has met are those who are still going on. Everything in the church is arranged and regulated by the Holy Spirit. The Head of the church is Christ, but the operation of the Head is through His Spirit. When the Holy Spirit brought Philip to the wilderness, he was still under authority.
Not a Matter of the Number of People
Individualism is not a matter of one person or two; it is not a question of more people or less people. Individualism is a matter of whether one is under authority and whether one has the fellowship of the Body. Today some brothers may go out with several others, but these brothers can still be completely individualistic. When you go down from the mountain to work, you may say that you are standing in the position of the Body to learn to serve, yet if five of you are still five persons, and ten of you are still ten persons, you have failed completely before God. That is not fellowship. Fellowship is not a matter of how many people are in the room, the number of people who sit beside you, or whether anyone accompanies you as you go out. The Bible emphasizes two persons going out together so that there may be fellowship concerning things. But this does not mean that when there are more people, there is fellowship, and when there are fewer people, there is no fellowship.
Today, God’s children should know these two basic lessons. First, they need to know authority and submit to authority. Second, they should treasure the fellowship of the children of God. They should seek the fellowship of life and the supply of life from others so that they can go forward. Only when these two lessons are present can we be free from individualism. When these two lessons are absent, immediately individualism becomes present.
The Basic Principle ofHaving Two or More Persons
In the Bible the principle of workers going out to work is that of at least two by two. For example, when Paul went out to work, there were at least two persons. There might have been an exception to this principle in Philip’s going to Samaria. If a man is under authority and lives in fellowship, even if he has one exception, he still does not damage the basic principle.
This does not mean that having many people going out is sufficient. If you are not in oneness, even if there are ten brothers going out to work together, it is useless. Therefore, when you go to Wen-Shu or Tsingtao, it is not a matter of electing someone to be a group leader. This is not something done by the church. Rather, spontaneously you realize that there is a person in front of you, and that you need to listen to him. Spontaneously, you learn submission and fellowship. Many people will become as one man, as one body going out. In this there is no individualism. Otherwise, if you have one person, it is called one-person individualism; if you have ten persons, it is called ten-person individualism. The more persons there are, the more individualisms there are. Thus, you will be proposing a work based upon multiple individualisms. In the past you might have believed in personal individualism; today you believe in plural individualisms. If this is the case, this is not the Body of Christ.
We need to know what the Body of Christ is. The Body of Christ is one in life and submits under authority. This authority can be manifested among any group of God’s children. Each one needs to learn to stand in his place; then there will not be any problems. In such a condition one should not humble himself deliberately, nor should he be so concerned for himself. Rather, he should learn to accept man’s instruction and opinion and learn to submit to authority. As everyone stands in his own place, all will see that this way is proper. Perhaps all the problems are due to individualism. This is the whole problem and the greatest problem.
THE APPOINTMENT OF THE ELDERS ANDTHE APOSTLES BEING ELDERS
Question: According to the Epistles to Timothy, the elders must be appointed by people like Paul, Timothy, or Titus. Peter and John were elders in Jerusalem. Did James appoint them? Or were they appointed by themselves when necessary?
Answer: I believe that all the elders need to be appointed; therefore, I mentioned that all the elders must be appointed by the workers when they are in their midst. I want you to pay special attention to what Paul said to the elders of the church in Ephesus. This church was different from the church at the center of the work. However, they shared the same principle, which is that the Holy Spirit has placed the elders as overseers of the whole flock. Therefore, when the workers and apostles appoint elders in other places, they must have a desire, a seeking, and prayer before God, with the assurance that the persons whom they appoint are the persons whom the Holy Spirit appoints. Otherwise, the problems will be great. The Holy Spirit appoints one person, but the one you appoint is another person. The problem this gives to the church is too great. Therefore, as each goes down from the mountain, no brother can become loose or casual in appointing elders in other places. Paul had the boldness to say in Ephesus that the Holy Spirit had appointed them as elders. Paul did not say that he had appointed them but that the Holy Spirit had appointed them. He had considerable confidence to say that the Holy Spirit had appointed them. Therefore, we need to be in fear and trembling. We are afraid of people who are too bold. We should be in fear and trembling. We have to see that the responsibility of deciding who are and who are not elders is very heavy. We must have adequate consideration and prayer before God. Only those who are appointed by the Holy Spirit are useful. Otherwise, they will be useless and will sooner or later be problems.
The positions of Peter and John in Jerusalem were quite clear because they were apostles. The elders are appointed by the apostles. Peter the apostle appointed Peter the elder, and John the apostle appointed John the elder because this responsibility was in the hands of the apostles, and at the same time there was a local need. Perhaps, among those apostles, they might have all felt that at least these two should bear the local responsibility at the same time. Therefore, they both became elders in Jerusalem. Toward the end James had passed away, and the other James remained. In the church in Jerusalem, he was definitely in the forefront. Perhaps Peter and John were not appointed by him, but I dare not say. However, there hardly was a problem for Peter and John to be elders because they were already apostles.