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Another thing we have to consider is what we should do with the local church at the regional center of the work. There are two types of local churches: the general local church and the local church at the regional center of the work. Actually there is not much difference between the two. There is only a small difference related to the place of apostles in that local church.
A LOCAL CHURCH HAVING ELDERS,DEACONS, AND BROTHERS AND SISTERS
In a place like Philippi, for example, you can see that there were elders, deacons, and brothers and sisters in the church. Philippians 1:1 says very clearly, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” In other words, this letter was written to all the believers, the overseers, and the deacons in the church. This is the arrangement within a general local church: There are overseers, deacons, and brothers and sisters.
AN EXTRA GROUP, THE APOSTLES, BEINGIN THE LOCALITY AT THE CENTER OF THE WORK
It is somewhat different if you are in a local church at the center of the work because there is an extra group, the apostles. In every locality the overseers always administrate the local churches. In the locality where the regional center of the work is, there are the apostles.
The Apostles Also Being Elders
The apostles administrate the work in a certain region. The apostles are for the work, but at the same time they also administrate the local church there. Therefore, when the apostles are in the locality which is a regional center of the work, they are there as apostles on the one hand and as overseers, elders, on the other hand. The apostles care for the work in a certain region or area. Perhaps the word region is too formal. As long as you know what it means, that is good enough; we are not fighting over words. The apostles administrate the work in a certain area, and they also administrate the affairs of the local church at the center of the work.
However, the apostles should not directly administrate a local church in their status as apostles. Therefore, the apostles at the same time become the elders.
The Bible shows us that when the church held a conference to discuss how to handle matters in the church (which only happened once in the Bible), they sent out letters saying, “The apostles and the elder brothers...” in Jerusalem (Acts 15:23).
Here I want to point out to you that Peter was an apostle, even a leader among the apostles. However, Peter was also an elder in Jerusalem. First Peter 5:1 says, “The elders among you I exhort, who am a fellow elder.” Please remember that Peter was not only an apostle but also an elder. Second John 1 says, “The elder to...” Third John 1 says, “The elder to...” In 1 Peter 1:1 Peter tells us that he was an apostle. He wrote the Epistle as an apostle, but in 5:1 he shows us that he was also an elder. At the beginning of his second and third Epistles, John said that he was an elder. It is quite peculiar that, unlike Paul or Peter, John does not mention that he was an apostle. At the beginning of each Epistle, Paul shows us that he wrote the Epistle as an apostle, but John, in his second and third Epistles, says in a simple and straightforward way that it was an elder who wrote the Epistles. Therefore, you can see that the two greatest apostles in Jerusalem were also elders in Jerusalem. Peter and John, the two most renowned among the apostles in Jerusalem, were elders in Jerusalem. With the exception of James, there is no record that any of the other apostles in Jerusalem were elders. In the book of Acts, Peter, John, and James are three noted apostles. The Epistles tell us that two of them were elders.
During the conference of the church, James was the one who made the final decision. According to the history of the church and the word of the Bible, we can see that he was an elder in Jerusalem at that time. Furthermore, according to the Bible, James was ahead of Peter, since it was James who decided on matters.
Therefore, in the church where there is a regional center of the work, you can let the local brothers, the dependable, elderly ones who have the spiritual weight, learn to oversee. At the same time, there are workers who are the elders of the local church on the one hand and the apostles in that region on the other hand.
The Apostles Not Dealing withMatters Directly Concerned with a Local Church
If you are elders, you cannot administrate affairs of other local churches. If you are elders in Jerusalem, you cannot administrate affairs in Samaria. In the Bible elders are always local. You cannot go beyond the sphere of your local church to go to another local church to administrate their affairs. If you are an apostle, you should not directly administrate the affairs of a local church. An apostle can deal with the local elders, but an apostle cannot deal directly with the affairs of a local church.
Let me give you an example. The work in Corinth was carried out by Paul. In Acts we see clearly that Paul went to Corinth and rendered them help. I want you to see that the relationship between Paul and Corinth was close and deep. Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthians. Not only did Paul go to Corinth himself; he even sent others to Corinth, such as Timothy and Titus. Paul did all these things, but there was no way for him to cast out the sinner in Corinth. Paul was an apostle, but he was not an elder in Corinth. Paul could not post an announcement saying that since this one had committed sin, he would remove him. Paul had to say to the church in Corinth, “Remove the evil man from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13). Paul had no way to remove this man for them. Why was this? Paul was an apostle, not an elder. In the Bible Paul did not tell us that he was an elder in a certain locality. Rather, Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles. He could not administrate a local church. The apostle could not directly handle the administration of a local church. The elders can administrate the church in their own locality but not those in other localities. The apostles can administrate the work of the region, but they cannot directly handle the local administration. The affairs of Corinth had to be handled by the Corinthians, not by Paul.
As an apostle, how did Paul deal with the situation in Corinth? He said, “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you and my spirit have been assembled, with the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (vv. 4-5). When you work, you can only use spiritual authority to deliver such a one to Satan, but you have no way to remove him. If the Corinthians would not remove him, Paul had no way to do it. I am not sure if you have seen this. This is the arrangement regarding the church in the Bible.
Peter Having to Bear Two Responsibilities
In Jerusalem, a local church at the center of the work, Peter had to bear two responsibilities. He had to be in Jerusalem taking care of the work in that area, and at the same time, he was also an elder in Jerusalem. If he had not been an elder in Jerusalem, then he would have had no way to directly administrate the affairs of Jerusalem. Peter and John were elders in Jerusalem, and James was also an elder in Jerusalem. I do not have the complete assurance to say that all the apostles who lived in Jerusalem were always elders in Jerusalem. Probably, those whose names were mentioned were all elders in Jerusalem. Peter had to administrate the affairs in Samaria; therefore, Peter was also an apostle. He took care of the work in that area based on his status as an apostle and administrated the church in Jerusalem based on his status as an elder. This matter is very clear in the Bible. Therefore, the many co-workers in the local church at a center of the work today need to be responsible for the work on the one hand, and they may need to be elders on the other hand. You are elders, and at the same time, you may also be apostles, administrating the work in other places. I hope you can see the relationship between these two responsibilities.
One day when Antioch had a problem, they sent some to Jerusalem to inquire about this. When all the brothers in Jerusalem decided to send a letter, they could say to the saints that the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem had made such a decision. As far as the apostles were concerned, this was a regional matter. As far as the elders in Jerusalem were concerned, this was a matter of the local church. The decision was made with apostles and elders. The apostles and elders decided this matter together.
I do not know if you have seen this. I feel this is a beautiful thing. You need to know that in the aspect of the spiritual work of the church, there is not much room left for your imagination, nor much for you to add. God has put this in front of us in a very detailed way: It is the apostles who administrate the work, and it is the elders who administrate the local church. Peter bore both responsibilities at the same time.
Some Apostles Not Being Elders
I still need to point out that there were apostles, such as Paul and Barnabas, who were not elders. According to our understanding, after careful study we cannot find any place in the Bible that tells us that Paul was also an elder. In the church in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas had a part only in the ministry of the word, not in the church affairs. They had a part in the ministry, but they were neither deacons nor elders; they did not hold these offices. They were prophets in Antioch. Therefore, Paul and Barnabas, the two apostles in Antioch, were in the ministry; they did not hold any office in the church.
ANTIOCH BEING ANOTHER BEGINNINGBY THE HOLY SPIRIT
The beginning in Antioch was initiated by the Holy Spirit. Please take note that the beginning in Jerusalem was initiated by the Holy Spirit and that the beginning in Antioch was also initiated by the Holy Spirit. It was not that Antioch thought up a method for going out to work but rather that the Holy Spirit initiated another beginning there.
Antioch Being the Mortal Wound for Catholicism
Please take note that the beginning at Antioch was very crucial. If you know God, you must bow your head and worship Him every time you read Acts 13 and 14 because here is a very important matter. I will always sincerely thank God for Acts 13. Acts 13 is the mortal wound for Roman Catholicism. Without Acts 13 we would have to return to Rome whether or not Rome is right. Jerusalem became a center because the Holy Spirit initiated a beginning there. If the Holy Spirit had not initiated a beginning at Antioch, we would have to say that God had only one center on the earth.
Brothers, you must see the great significance of this matter. If you do not have the work on your heart, you will not feel that Acts 13 regarding Antioch is a great matter. But if you have the work on your heart, you will see that this was a very great step. This was a strategic step by the Holy Spirit. This was very crucial. Until the end of chapter twelve, all that can be seen is the work out of Jerusalem. Even the work at Antioch was out of Jerusalem. From chapter eleven we can see that the work in Antioch was done by brothers who came out from Jerusalem. Because of this we might spontaneously recognize that God’s work on the earth had Jerusalem as its one center. This center might have moved somewhere else, but there would still be only one center. You would have had to admit that Christianity has a “capital.” Just as Roman Catholicism claims that the capital of Christianity is Rome, Jerusalem would have become the capital of Christianity, in the same way that Mecca has become the capital of Islam, and Chufu has become the capital of Confucianism. But thank God, the Holy Spirit initiated another beginning at Antioch. The Holy Spirit sent out another group of apostles from Antioch.
Paul and Barnabas Becoming Apostles
How could Paul be so bold as to bear the name of apostle? Barnabas was a good brother, a common brother in Jerusalem; he was not an apostle. Originally, Paul was also not an apostle. At Antioch the Holy Spirit designated both of them, set them apart, led the church to lay hands on them, and sent them out. After being sent out for a few days, they were both called apostles in Luke’s record. Acts 14:4 says, “But the multitude of the city was divided, and some were with the Jews and some with the apostles.” Here the word “apostles” is plural. The Holy Spirit did not say, “I ordain you, I establish you, to be apostles.” It was simply recorded that they were apostles.
Verse 5 says, “A hostile attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews with their rulers to treat the apostles outrageously and to stone them.” The pronoun here in the original Greek is plural, referring to the apostles. The people wanted to treat the apostles outrageously and to stone them. Verse 6 says, “They became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region.”
This beginning was initiated by God through His Spirit, not by Paul or Barnabas. If it had been a beginning initiated by Paul or Barnabas, we could deny it. But it was the Holy Spirit who initiated another beginning at Antioch, established another group of apostles, and sent two out to work. Therefore, it is clear that on the earth there was not only one but two regions of work. Hence, the thought that the earth has only one center of work is shattered. Christianity does not have a capital. Thank God! Where the Holy Spirit works, there the “capital” of Christianity is. No one can restrict the work of the Holy Spirit. The Lord is still the Head of the church; the Holy Spirit is still the Lord’s representative. We are not here to be the representatives of the Holy Spirit. He often uses us, but there are also many times that He works without us. If Jerusalem wanted to be dictatorial about the Lord’s work, it would not be able to. If Jerusalem wanted to monopolize the work of Christianity, it would not be able to. We have seen that God already established Jerusalem as a center, but God can also set up Antioch as a center. Therefore, God can set up Shanghai as a center, and God can also set up Foochow as a center. Here we can see that there is not one center only. If there were only one center, then the principle of Rome would be correct.
The Possibility of a Third Region Being Set Up
Brothers and sisters, this is most crucial. Acts 13 is the foundation of Christianity. Without Acts 13 we cannot say how many problems would have occurred. Without Acts 13 the concept of the pope would be entirely correct. The concept of Rome, the concept that there is a capital of Christianity, would be completely correct. But now we know that before God there was not only one center but two centers, not only one region but two regions. Therefore, when it pleases the Holy Spirit, He can establish a third region, a tenth region, a hundredth region, a thousandth region, or a ten-thousandth region on the earth. This is according to the intention of the Holy Spirit regarding His work on the earth; it is not according to man’s intention.
Apostles Who Are Not EldersBeing Able to Continually Go Out
As I have said, it is interesting that these two apostles sent out from Antioch were not elders at Antioch. Therefore, if they wanted to work, they had to become travelers, continually going out from place to place. They also returned to Antioch, but they did not return very quickly. When Paul stayed in Ephesus, he stayed for three years. If they had been elders in Jerusalem when they went to Ephesus, they could have stayed for three weeks at the most before returning; they could have gone out from Jerusalem, but they would have had to return soon after. Because they were apostles, they could go out. But if they had been elders, they would have had to return.
Paul and Barnabas were apostles. Therefore, they went out. It could be a long time before their return because they were not elders at Antioch. This is very clear.
Peter and John were both apostles and elders in Jerusalem. For this reason, whenever they went out, they had to return quickly because the responsibility of Jerusalem was upon them. They had to go out because they were apostles. They could not help but return because they were elders. This is very significant. Let me tell you, this is a beautiful thing. Because they were apostles, they continually went out. Because they were elders, they continually returned. They could not go too far because they had to bear the local burden in Jerusalem.
Paul and Barnabas were only apostles, not elders. Therefore, they could go out for a period of years without any problem. Wherever the Holy Spirit led them, they could go because they were only apostles and not elders.
NEEDING A STRONG MEETING
Why do we need to spend so much time to talk about this one matter? It is because this has much to do with our work. We must receive this principle. If we begin to bear responsibility in a region and establish local churches there, we need to learn to be apostles, on the one hand, and elders, on the other hand. This is because we need to have a strong meeting in this region. Many Bible expositors have often told us that Antioch was the strongest church at that time. Furthermore, many have told us that the church in Antioch was a model church. I remember that when I was young, there was a book called The Model Church, which spoke about Antioch.
If someone does not bear the responsibility in a local church, he must be an apostle exclusively, continually going out freely, and then returning. It does not matter if he takes a long time. However, some need to return soon after they go out, as Peter did when he went to Samaria and Caesarea. After a short time, he had to return because he was also an elder.
From now on, when brothers among us go out, you must remember that those who are apostles can go, but those who are elders need to return. I feel this way is very pure. It is definite with no difficulties.
THE GENERAL LOCAL CHURCH ANDTHE LOCAL CHURCH AT THE CENTER OF THE WORK DIFFERING SLIGHTLY IN THE MATTER OFTHE MESSAGE MEETING
The local church in this locality is still the same as the local churches elsewhere. If there is a difference, the difference is that there are apostles living in the regional center. Perhaps at the same time these apostles are also elders. Once you have clearly seen this point, you can realize that there may be a slight difference between the general local church and the local church at the center of the work in the matter of the message meeting. Because the apostles are there, they may be willing to give a special supply, special messages, or special ministry of the word. There can be such a thing because the apostles are there. This is something that a general local church does not have. This is the difference between a local church at the center of the work and a general local church.
THE APOSTLES ALSO BEING ELDERS
I think we must recognize that when the co-workers met at Hankow, the light regarding Jerusalem was still not sufficient. Of course, there are still many other things that we have not seen. But today at least we can say that we see the light concerning Jerusalem which we did not see in Hankow. We can now add to it. We see that the church is local and that the work is regional. God chooses a locality to be the center of the work. The church in that locality is slightly different from the churches elsewhere because there are apostles who are also elders in that locality.
This is what we wanted to bring up concerning the arrangement of a local church at the center of the work.