THE CONTENT OF THE CHURCHPrint This Page.
I would like to speak to the brothers a little more concerning the problem of the church. The church must have both the authority of the Spirit and the ground of locality. The ground of locality, however, is not a simple matter, because a church still needs content. Without content, it still cannot be regarded as a local church. Being correct in name is a very important matter, but being correct in name does not necessarily mean that there is no problem. This is the reason I would like to see from the Bible, together with you, several requirements of a church in a locality. Just saying that we are standing on the ground of locality is not enough. In order to say that a church is standing on the ground of locality, it should fulfill certain requirements and conditions and should have a certain content. If none of these requirements and conditions are met, we are still not standing on the ground of locality.
First, if a church is really standing on the ground of locality as set forth in the Bible, she must receive all whom the Lord has received. Romans 15:7 says, “Therefore receive one another, as Christ also received you to the glory of God.” Here we see one thing: The receiving of a Christian is based upon the receiving of Christ—that is, we should receive one another as Christ has received us. In other words, we cannot refuse those whom Christ has received. If a sinner has been received by Christ, we must receive him as a brother. If we do not receive a man whom Christ has received, immediately we are a sect, not the church.
What is a church? A church receives all whom Christ has received in one locality. God is not as concerned with those who live in Shanghai receiving the brothers in Nanking or Chungking as He is about them receiving the brothers in their locality. We must receive all whom Christ has received. If we want to determine whether or not the church in Tientsin is a church, all we have to do is see whether or not it receives all those who are saved in Tientsin. Suppose the brothers in Tientsin want to be selective; they only want to receive a certain type of people who have been received by Christ and not another type of people who also have been received by Christ. Then that is not the church. We cannot say that we receive those who are the same as us, while we do not receive those who are not the same as us. We cannot fail to receive one whom the Lord has received for any reason; otherwise, we are not the church.
“Him who is weak in faith receive,…for God has received him” (Rom. 14:1, 3). Suppose someone is a vegetarian. We may consider that he is very weak. However, the basis for receiving is whether or not God has received him, not whether he is strong or weak. Perhaps he is a weak brother, but we still must receive him. God already has received him without regard for his strength or weakness; therefore, we must receive him as well. The fundamental fellowship of a church in a locality is based upon the fellowship of God. We must receive a brother whom God has received. We cannot have any reason to refuse him; otherwise, we are a sect, not a church. The church in a locality is based on a receiving that is as broad as God and also as strict as God: Whomever God receives, we receive; whomever God does not receive, we do not receive. The universal church receives all whom God has received in the whole world; a local church receives all whom God has received in a locality. No matter how different a brother is from us or how far short he is of our standard, there is only one requirement for us to receive him—that is, has God received him? If God has received him, we must receive him. Therefore, a local church—we must be very clear about this—must take the life of Christ and faith in God as the basis for receiving believers. Apart from this we do not have any other demands. If we make other demands as certain requirements, we are a sect just like any other sect. A sect is condemned and is therefore a very serious matter.
Does this mean that we must receive all believers in a locality without any reservations? No! A church in a locality must not only receive all whom Christ has received in that locality, but must also exercise church discipline. What is this discipline? When a brother who has been received by the Lord commits something that requires the Lord to exclude him from fellowship, we too must exercise discipline upon him. We should not say that we want all whom the Lord wants and all whom the Lord does not want. If the Lord puts a certain one into the world, yet we put him into the church, we open a door to the world in the church. As a result, there will be no boundary between the church and the world; the wall between them will be torn down by us.
We often use this illustration: When a boat is at sea, the boat and the sea cannot have fellowship. As soon as they begin to have fellowship, the boat will begin to sink into the sea. Likewise, if a hole is drilled in the church, the line of separation between the church and the world will disappear. Therefore, the local church must exercise discipline; it must have disciplinary action in order to be a local church.
What is disciplinary action? First Corinthians 5 speaks of six different kinds of persons who are saved and have God’s life, but they have indulged themselves and become a fornicator, a covetous man, a reviler, a drunkard, an idolater, and an extortioner (v. 11). Paul told the church in Corinth to “remove the evil man from among yourselves” (v. 13). The command in 1 Corinthians 5 does not say that we must put a brother away from among us as soon as he has sinned. But it does say that we must put him away when he becomes such a one. It does not say one who commits fornication, but “a fornicator”; not a brother who reviles, but “a reviler.” When a man becomes such a one, the church must put him away; it must excommunicate him. Whomever the Lord does not want in the church, we also must not want in the church. If we keep one whom the Lord does not want in our locality, this retention will cause trouble. The Lord said that such a one is like a little leaven which will leaven the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6). Before long, the whole church will be moldy. The whole church will no longer be pure flour; it will have leaven. Therefore, the church must have discipline. Moreover, the church knows what kind of person a brother is. This is reflected in the words of Sister M. E. Barber: “The oneness of the church is the voice of the Holy Spirit.” If all the brothers feel that a brother is such a person, then it is certain that he is such a person. We cannot say that all the brothers have misunderstood him. Therefore, a local church must execute God’s discipline in its locality.
Furthermore, the Bible reveals that the church executes discipline in regard to not only moral issues but also doctrinal issues. However, the Lord does not want us to exercise discipline regarding ordinary doctrines. For example, some keep the Lord’s Day while others keep the Sabbath. (This does not refer to the Seventh-day Adventists, who are recovering the law.) Some keep both days; we should not argue about this. Some brothers eat vegetables and some eat meat; we should not argue about this. However, there is a kind of doctrine which we must defend by all means, and that is the doctrine concerning the person of the Lord Jesus. This is mentioned in 2 John 7 through 11:
For many deceivers went out into the world, those who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.…Everyone who goes beyond and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God.…If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not say to him, Rejoice! For he who says to him, Rejoice, shares in his evil works.
Here I think it is very clear that a church in a locality must uphold the person of the Lord Jesus. If the Lord Jesus is not God manifest in the flesh, that is, if He is only flesh, then He is not God, and the Lord Jesus could not have accomplished redemption for us. The church, therefore, would be basically annulled. Therefore, the church must be strict about anything that concerns the person of Christ. It must not be loose or lenient at all in this matter. If someone preaches a different teaching about the person of the Lord, do not receive him into your house and do not say to him, Rejoice. Otherwise, your church will lose its ground. As long as it has no discipline, it loses its qualification as a church. Moral confusion is wrong and not allowed by the church, and doctrinal confusion is also wrong and not allowed by the church. However, we should by no means identify differences over ordinary doctrines as being included in this category. If the church deals with ordinary doctrines as it deals with such confusion, the whole church will be cut up and divided into pieces. We should not argue about ordinary doctrines. We must only defend the doctrines regarding the person of Christ. Here the church must exercise discipline; otherwise, the church is finished.
Matthew 18:15-17 says, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go, reprove him between you and him alone.… But if he does not hear you, take with you one or two more.…And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to hear the church also, let him be to you just like the Gentile.” Some churches are very lazy and do not care to handle troublesome matters. But the Lord said that the church must take care of disciplinary matters, if it is to be a church at all. The Lord’s teaching in chapter eighteen is regarding the local church because it refers to a place in which we can “tell.” The local church must take care of these matters. If a local church does not take care of these matters, she is neglecting her duty. If we are a church in a locality, we must bear all the responsibility in that locality.
Furthermore, the most important matter for the church in a locality is that she must be inclusive, not exclusive. The church must be inclusive in two aspects of its behavior and its doctrine. First, we will consider the aspect of Christian behavior that the church should not exclude.
In Acts 20:27 Paul told the elders of Ephesus, “I did not shrink from declaring to you all the counsel of God,” or “I did not shrink from declaring to you the perfect, complete will of God.” If the church in a locality is standing in the position of the church, she must not shrink from declaring the perfect, complete will of God. We cannot expect that every brother will touch the perfect, complete will of God, but like Paul we must not shrink from or reject one truth concerning the perfect, complete will of God. As soon as we shy away from some aspect of the truth, we are a sect. If we exclude those who believe in the certain truths which we shrink from, then we are not able to include all of God’s children.
“The church…is His Body, the fullness of the One who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). The Lord fills the universal church; the Lord also fills the local church. If a local church only has a part of Christ, that is not the church. The church is the Body of Christ, which means the whole Christ. For example, if my waist is forty inches around and I am given a suit with a waistline measuring thirty inches, I will not be able to wear it. The clothing must be big enough for me to wear. The relationship of the church to Christ is like the body to life; it is not exactly like clothing to the body. Sometimes we can force our clothing a little to fit our body, but we can never force our body to contain life. The Body must be complete in order to fully contain the whole life of Christ. Only when the Lord’s fullness is in the church in Shanghai can it be called the church in Shanghai. If the church allows a certain matter but disallows another matter, then the church has a shortage. If there is anything that we cannot accept, the portion of Christ within that very thing will be excluded from us. In such a case, we are not perfectly complete; the church is maimed. This is very important. The church is filled with the fullness of Christ. The church is the Body of Christ; Christ puts on such a church as His outward container. The church must be large enough to contain Christ. The church must have a large enough shell for Christ to fit into. If the church does not have all that His life has, the church cannot express the complete Christ and cannot be called the church.
Colossians 1:25 says, “Of which I became a minister according to the stewardship of God, which was given to me for you, to complete the word of God.” Within the church, there must be the complete word of God. The word of God must be completed in the church. After reading these words, we may not understand the practical side. For example, what does it mean to have the word of God and all kinds of scriptural behavior fulfilled in the church? What does it mean that a local church should be inclusive and not exclusive?
(1)As an example, we have been talking about the matter of spiritual gifts in these days. We say that we are the church in Shanghai, but suppose that brothers in Shanghai do not believe in spiritual gifts. Is this all right? No! The church cannot say that it does not believe in spiritual gifts, because there are spiritual gifts in the Bible. As soon as we do not believe in spiritual gifts, we cannot be the church in Shanghai; we can only be called “a church in Shanghai that does not believe in spiritual gifts.” Our refusal to believe in spiritual gifts causes us not to be inclusive and makes us exclusive to some brothers. Suppose there are twenty brothers in Shanghai who believe in spiritual gifts. Once we refuse to believe in spiritual gifts, we cannot include them; we keep them out. Since they are members of the Body of Christ, our excluding of them may not be like cutting off our hand, but at least it is like cutting off a finger. Therefore, we cannot say that this church is filled with the fullness of Christ. We have not fulfilled the word of God; we have cut off a portion of Christ.
(2)Consider a greater matter, such as selling all to follow the Lord. Suppose the brothers in Shanghai do not believe in selling everything, but instead believe in working diligently to earn money and taking out a certain percentage of it for distribution to the poor. If one hundred brothers in Shanghai are moved by the Spirit of the Lord to sell everything and follow the Lord, they will feel that there is no place for them in this church. If we have no way to include them, we are exclusive to them. But selling all to follow the Lord is a part of the life of Christ. If we cannot include the brothers who have this portion of life, if we ostracize them, we can see that our church is both too small and it is maimed. This is like amputating a hand or foot. How can the church not have all that Christ has? If the church does not have all that Christ has, this church cannot stand in the position of the church. It is a sect, not a church. A church must include the fullness of Christ. If it does not, these one hundred brothers will eventually form a church that sells all to follow the Lord, bringing forth one more sect. We will not be complete and neither will they. Our doctrine is not broad enough to include them, and theirs is also not the perfect, complete will of God. We cut them off, and they also cut us off.
Therefore, a local church must include all kinds of God’s children who seek the Lord. It must include the brothers who sell everything as well as the brothers who do not sell everything. We cannot include what is not in the Bible; otherwise, we will include the world. But we must include what is in the Bible; otherwise, we will separate and exclude some of God’s children.
Acts 5:4 says, “While it [the property] remained, was it not your own?” It is evident that before the property was sold, it could remain the owners’. The Bible shows us that there were believers who did not sell everything; they all could still be Christians. If a certain group is unwilling to admit those who do not sell all, it is a “family” (as practiced by some Christians in China), not the church. Ordinary denominations do not require everyone to sell all, but the “family” does require this; therefore, they also are not the church. Anything that bars a part of God’s children is exclusive and sectarian. It is best for all the brothers to take the path of completeness. If we are not able to climb up this way, we should not hinder others from doing so. This is the only way for us to be inclusive and to be called the church. It is best for all God’s servants to come up to this standard. If we are not able, we must reserve the path for others to take. What the Bible permits, we must permit; what the Bible does not permit, we also must not permit. We must have the aspiration to climb higher; we must take this road no matter how difficult. But even if we cannot make it, we must still allow other brothers the liberty to take this way. The church should never include only what we can do and exclude what we cannot do. We are not large enough to be the standard; we cannot be the basis for forming any kind of judgment.
Andrew Murray once said, “We who are the Lord’s servants sooner or later will have to preach words which we are unable to fulfill.” We should never hinder others from going on because we cannot go on. The church in a locality must have this kind of broad-mindedness in order to stand in the position of the church. This may seem strange, but this is a fact. Paul’s walk was in accord with everything he preached, but people like us still have to preach even if we are not able to go on accordingly.
(3)Another example involves taking medicine when one is sick. There is a scriptural basis for this because Luke continued to work as a physician after he was saved. During times of sickness, it is all right to take something to help the body. Some brothers, however, only look to the Lord when they are sick; they take no medicine at all. The proper attitude of the church should include both. If brothers are able to believe in divine healing without the help of a doctor or medicine, this is best. If some brothers are short in faith and consult a doctor and take some medicine, this is also all right. If a group of brothers believe in science and think it is too much for others to refuse medicine and reject those who do, this group of brothers immediately will exclude some brothers and drive them out. However, we must not go to the other extreme, insisting on not seeing a doctor or not taking medicine like the former “Mount Zion Church.” If we do, those who are short in faith may be put to death by us.
On the west side of Egypt, along the Sudan, malaria was very prevalent. Many brothers who believed in divine healing went there and said, “Quinine is medicine; we will not take it.” As a result, every year scores out of a hundred died. But another group of brothers said, “In this place quinine is food, not medicine.” As a result, only a few in a hundred died yearly. Evidently, the proposal of the first group was wrong.
Basically, our attitude should be to not bring in what is not permitted in the Bible, but to include whatever is permitted in the Bible. This is the way to be inclusive, not exclusive. We should not say that we must depend on medicine. If we do, those who believe in divine healing will go away. We also should not insist on avoiding medicine; otherwise, those who are weak in faith will go away. A church must be inclusive, not exclusive. All sects are the result of failure in this matter. We must give our attention to this.
(4) Regarding the matter of holiness, many of God’s children believe that once they believe in the Lord they are perfect. Other children of God believe that they still need the second blessing in order to be perfect. In the Bible some were made perfect once they were blessed, but some also were blessed a second or third time before they touched perfection. Because the Brethren believe in perfection by being blessed once, the Holiness brothers leave because they absolutely believe that perfection is gained in the second blessing. But since they absolutely believe in the second blessing for perfection, the Brethren brothers leave because they believe in perfection by being blessed once. If a church picks only the Scriptures it believes in, it is not standing in the position of the church but, in fact, in the position of a denomination. We preach both the doctrine of perfection by being blessed once and the doctrine of perfection by receiving a second blessing. We can lead people to be made perfect by being blessed once, and we also can lead people to be liberated by receiving a second blessing. Whether or not we will bring forth more sects in the future depends upon whether or not we have reserved a place for all of God’s children. If we have not reserved a place for all of God’s children, we are a sect.
5)Now I will mention several outward matters. For example, head covering is definitely in the Bible. Today the church must be absolutely in favor of head covering. But if some brothers have not seen it, we have to take the attitude of Romans 14 and wait for them to see it, because we must receive those whom the Lord receives. Although they do not see it, we hope they will see it in the future. The church can only stand on the positive side of what is in the Bible, not on the negative side. If some have not seen the matter of head covering, the church can only say that they will be received in spite of their weak faith. If a sister covers her head and the church does not receive her, she will feel that the church is not hers and she will leave. Then we will force a head-covering sect to be brought forth. If we stand in the position of not favoring head covering and do not allow the sisters to cover their heads, we are not a church. Receiving the saints is not based on whether or not sisters cover their heads. If the brothers’ receiving is based upon head covering rather than Christ’s receiving, the sisters who cover their heads will think that this church is not theirs. Therefore, we clearly must see that we have to stand on the side of what is in the Bible. If there are some who are unable to come up to this, we must also forbear them.
(6)The matter of laying on of hands is also found in the Bible. Some brothers are not able to go on with this matter, and we should not insist that they do. However, if we do not practice what is in the Bible, some brothers will leave us. Those who oppose the laying on of hands are a sect, a sect of “the non-laying on of hands.” If we want to stand in the position of the church, we must accept whatever is in the Word of God.
(7)Baptism is argued about the most. Why has there been so much argument about this matter over the last several hundred years? This is because some have brought things from Roman Catholicism into Protestantism. Since Roman Catholicism sprinkled water on people’s heads, many Protestant churches did the same. Originally, both sides probably exercised some forebearance and went through much discussion. But in the end each went its own way. With any command of the Bible, whenever the church does not stand on the positive side to maintain what is in the Bible, a sect is created.
(8)Concerning the matter of breaking of bread, the Bible speaks of remembering the Lord on the first day of every week. If certain churches do not practice this according to the Bible, those who want to remember the Lord this way can only leave.
(9)Foot-washing is also in the Bible. Some radically oppose this matter and bring it to nothing by their teaching. Consequently, those who want to obey the Lord’s command in foot-washing leave.
(10)Among God’s children, some stress teaching, others stress deeper life, and still others stress gospel preaching. Brothers who are zealous in preaching the gospel often look down upon those who stress the deeper life, and brothers who stress the deeper life often look down upon those who preach the gospel. When you look down upon me and I look down upon you, divisions immediately appear.
(11)I will give another example. Some brothers emphasize preaching by inspiration. Of course, this is very rare. They preach by the inspiration that comes from spiritual gifts. This is very good. This is the kind of prophesying spoken of in 1 Corinthians 14. These brothers are not in favor of expounding the Bible. But is this not in the Bible? In the Bible there are those who preach the gospel and those who teach. If some brothers disapprove of expounding the Bible, those who study the Bible will find it unbearable. Those who are teachers will leave. But if the church only believes in teaching by expounding the Scriptures, those who believe in inspiration will not be able to tolerate it. Then divisions will result.
The entire difficulty is that we are too small! Our heart is not broad enough before the Lord, and our person is not big enough. “I want this, and I do not want that; the church must be managed according to my idea.” Please remember, the church is managed according to the Lord’s will, not according to our ideas, because we are too small. There are always some brothers better than us in certain aspects; we cannot say that we are superior to all the brothers. There are always some brothers and sisters who are above us in certain points. We cannot run ahead of them all. We must learn to receive the good points of all the brothers because only the Lord is equivalent to a church. Only when the whole church is added up will it equal one Lord. Even if we have received special mercy of the Lord, we can only equal a portion; we cannot equal all the brothers. If we equal two or twenty brothers, that is the Lord’s mercy. But if we think we equal the whole church, what kind of pride is this? How can we make every brother like us? If every brother and sister is like us, the church has no future. Surely, many brothers and sisters are ahead of us in many areas. The church is one-sided when it pays attention only to one thing. When we emphasize one thing, another brother emphasizes another thing, and someone else emphasizes yet another—this means development for the whole church. But as soon as we place ourselves before the church, the church is finished. I can acknowledge that you are better than many brothers, but you can never equal all the brothers. It is the Lord Himself who equals the whole church, not us. Even the youngest brother may notice what we fail to notice. The good point of some brothers is love, but this is not true of all the brothers. If we see this, the church can grow in a balanced way.
(12)If a certain church wants to observe “Christmas,” those who serve God faithfully have to go another way; there is absolutely no “Christmas” or “Easter” in the Bible. If the church wants to observe these occasions, we can immediately conclude that the church is not going on properly. There are many other things that are not found in the Bible such as the idols of Roman Catholicism. If we yield to these, trouble will definitely come.
Several Basic Principles
In summarizing the above points, there are several basic principles. First, the church must stand on the positive side of whatever is in the Bible and forbear the negative side. If some are weak and unable to come up to what is in the Bible, the church needs to forbear.
Second, certain truths in the Bible have two sides, as we have already spoken of concerning the doctrine of holiness. Thus, the church must also have both sides. Having only one side will bring forth a sect.
Third, by all means the church must reject what is not in the Bible. Otherwise, those who follow the Lord faithfully will leave when they see the church practicing what is not in the Bible.
At any rate, we must stand on the positive side of what is in the Bible. Whenever the Bible allows both sides, we must stand on both sides. However, we must reject whatever is not in the Bible.
Fourth, we should allow people the freedom for whatever the Bible allows people freedom for, such as observing the Lord’s Day or the Sabbath day. This does not mean that the Bible does not believe in the Lord’s Day, but that the weak ones still believe in the Sabbath day. They are still Jews. The Bible absolutely approves of eating meat. But if some are in favor of being vegetarian, the church must allow them to be vegetarian. This keeping of the Sabbath day does not refer to the Seventh-day Adventists. Seventh-day Adventism involves the matter of the law; it is a whole system. This is entirely contrary to the book of Galatians, and it is a heresy not found in the Bible.
The church that includes all of God’s children can be counted as the true church. If we have some special doctrine or some special emphasis, if we accept certain kinds of teaching at the expense of the rest of the children of God, we cannot be considered as the church. We cannot be the church without inclusiveness. With inclusiveness we will begin to see that we can be brothers and sisters to all of the children of God. We can be with anyone who loves the Lord. The leading brothers, therefore, must grow before the Lord. They must touch the highest and the most perfect. Let me repeat: If we have not attained to the highest, our heart should be big enough so that we do not hinder our brothers under any circumstance. If we cannot attain or climb up and do not allow others to go on, we are a sect, not a church.
We do not become a church just by putting up the name of the local church. We become a church only when there is spiritual inclusiveness that includes all of the children of God. If the church includes rather than excludes God’s children, the church will not be responsible for brothers who desire to go another way, because it is they who are creating the division, not the church. Therefore, we must be broken to pieces! We must be dug deeply! We cannot consider ourselves the measuring stick of the church; we are too short. God has a work for every brother and sister, and He has committed something to each one of them. When everyone can be placed, there is the church. The church, therefore, must be inclusive, not exclusive.
Whether or not a church can stand in the position of the church also depends upon whether she gives all the brothers and sisters the opportunity to work, that is, whether she gives all the brothers and sisters the opportunity to serve God. We must heed one thing: When a believer receives the life of God, he has the disposition to serve God; his nature wants to serve God. If we do not give him the opportunity to serve God, there will be a breakdown, and he will become sectarian. His new nature wants to serve, but if he cannot serve among us, he will find another place to serve. Many sects originate from the desire to work. Many people want to serve God, but because they have no way to get through, they seek another way and become a sect.
The teachings in the Bible are very clear on this matter. There are three portions in the Scripture that show us that the Body of Christ has a special relationship with service.
Romans 12:4-5 says, “For just as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” These two verses say that we are one body and individually we are members. Verses 6 through 8 say, “And having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, whether prophecy,…or service,… or he who teaches,…or he who exhorts.…” In other words, the church is the Body of Christ. The church, like a body, includes many members. In fact, it includes every member. As a member, we must give each one work to do; we must give each one the opportunity to develop his functions. Paul showed us that no matter what kind of gift we have, we should only function to the extent that our gift allows. We should never do over and above the degree of our faith; we must leave room for other brothers to function. If we do all the work, other brothers will have nothing to do. If we take over all the tasks, other brothers will have no tasks to tackle. If we preach all the messages, other brothers will have nothing to preach. Therefore, it is better for one person to take one portion in the church, not for one person to take two, and even more. It is better not to do everything. A portion must be assigned to every brother. Every brother and sister must be given the opportunity to serve God just as we have the opportunity to serve God.
First Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” Following this it says, “And God has placed some in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then works of power, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues” (v. 28). It is wonderful that Paul asks in the next verse, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all have works of power?” (v. 29). Are all apostles? God is asking here. Is it true that all are apostles? Because there are prophets who want to occupy God’s whole church, teachers who want to occupy God’s whole church, and workers of miracles who want to occupy God’s whole church, the Lord asks, “Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all have works of power?” Even if everyone in the whole church does works of power, that is still not the church. Even if everyone in the church is a prophet or a teacher, that is still not the church. Do all receive the gift of healing? Indeed, there are groups who specialize only in healing. But even if every one of us can heal, we are still not the church. Do all speak in tongues and interpret? Even if every one of us speaks in tongues and interprets, it is still not the church. “Are all…?” means in the Lord’s mind “not all,” for there should be apostles, teachers, those who help others, those who administrate, etc. When all these various types of functions are put together, then there is the church.
We are perplexed that there are many brothers who prefer only one kind of work. Some brothers simply think that the work they have is the most important. If every brother is a healing brother (and there are such so-called “churches” in America), then the apostles, prophets, and teachers are all useless. Therefore, the places that bear the responsibility of the church must let those who are prophets have the opportunity to prophesy, those who are teachers the opportunity to teach, those who have the gift of healing the opportunity to heal, those who speak in tongues the opportunity to speak in tongues, and those who administrate the opportunity to administrate. As far as the work is concerned, the church should not restrict any brother or sister. This is the church. Otherwise, it is a sect, not the church. If we do not give the brothers and sisters an opportunity to serve, they will seek another way.
If the young brothers have a mixture of the flesh, we can only exercise authority to deal with them. The Lord has absolutely no intention that those with one talent should bury their talent. In the Lord’s sight, the greatest gift is but five talents and the least is one talent. If the church would put all the one talents into use, it would make up for several of the five talents. If only a few of us are working, the church cannot be strong. This does not mean that the one-talented members who have just recently believed in the Lord will not have some fleshly acts. In many respects we must make them listen and obey; nevertheless, we still have to use them. In dealing with the flesh, we should never deal with the gift. All the brothers who are workers, those who are leaders in the churches, must let every brother have the opportunity to serve. The gifts recorded in Romans 12 are more complicated than those in 1 Corinthians. Prophesying, serving, teaching, exhorting, and giving are all included. When all those of one talent have the opportunity to manifest their gifts, sects cannot appear.
Ephesians 4 has similar words. Verses 11 and 12 say, “And He Himself gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as shepherds and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the Body of Christ.” These verses also show us that the gifts are not the same. Verse 16 says, “Out from whom all the Body, being joined together and being knit together through every joint of the rich supply and through the operation in the measure of each one part, causes the growth of the Body unto the building up of itself in love.” God’s thought here is that the Body of Christ can be built up only when all the members function. If all the brothers and sisters are not serving, the Body of Christ cannot be built up. The leading brothers in every place must remember that if they are busy while the brothers and sisters are not, then they are failing greatly. We should never think that because we are doing so much that this is good enough. If we can lead other brothers and sisters to work, let me tell you, this will please the Lord. It will please the Lord more if we lead the other brothers and sisters to work more than us.
This is really a matter of how you view yourself. If you think that you can build up the Body of Christ by doing well on your own, then you will simply go on as before. But if you have the vision, you will see that the affairs of the church cannot be managed by yourself alone. At the most, you are but one member of the church. Every member in the Body of Christ has his own work. If you bring each one into the work, then you have touched what is called the Body of Christ. You must see that you cannot replace the brothers and sisters. You absolutely cannot work in their place. No matter how perfect you are, how good you are in your work, or how great are your gifts, you are still not the church if you cannot bring the brothers and sisters into the work. Are all hands? A thousand hands or a hundred hands are a monster, not the body.
I would also go one step further and ask, Is there only one hand? We cannot say that only we can do a certain type of work. We must see that the Body of Christ includes much more than us alone. Everyone can receive grace directly from the Head, not necessarily through us. The Lord’s grace always amazes me. How great is His grace! Since the Lord is gracious, He can cause others to receive grace apart from me; He can cause them to receive the blessing of God without passing through me. In the church the Lord can raise up all kinds of workers. We have to bring all the brothers and sisters into the work. We must not make them be the same as us. If only a few brothers are serving in a certain place and the rest of the brothers and sisters cannot work, this is just about the same as the one-man service of the denominations. As one-man service is abominable before God, so is the service of only a few people. The service of the whole Body is what pleases God. God says that everyone must serve. When we bring everyone into the work, we will see that this is the church. This is the content of the church.
Not Having the Thought of a System
Finally, we absolutely must not cherish any thought of having a system. We should not think for any reason that the truth and gospel of God only issue forth from our midst. Our intention is only to meet the people that God uses in every locality. We do not necessarily go to many places to lead others, because God has His own leading in every place. We just go to seek fellowship. We should never take the attitude that we are going to a certain locality to be a pastor. We should not form ourselves into a system. When I go to many places, I am going to seek fellowship. In addition to Elijah, there were also many prophets. There could be several thousand Elijahs in the same place standing on the same ground. They are our brothers, and they also see that we are their brothers.
Suppose a group of brothers has been communicating with each other in a certain locality and we begin in the same place and do not communicate with them. This clearly proves that we do not know the church. Suppose fifty brothers are standing on the ground of the church in a certain locality, and later, another fifty brothers in the same place become enlightened and clearly see the ground of the church. It is certain that these brothers will be together with the first group of brothers. By keeping the ground of locality, the problem of forming a system will not arise. When we are in a locality, we are not there for the establishment of a church of “our” system. Rather, we are for the establishment of the church in that locality. When we are in Chungking, we are the church in Chungking; when we are in Tsingtao, we are the church in Tsingtao. We are not the church of a certain system. We make a great mistake once we become the church of a certain system. Once we have the thought of forming a system, we immediately become a sect.
I would like to use Sian as an example. This is not a matter of name or of an organization. When the two meetings in Sian were combined, there was difficulty over who would become the leading ones, who would take the responsibility. In group A there were three leading brothers, and in group B there were also three leading brothers. Who would be the leading brothers? Leading ones are not determined by the length of time in the work of God, but by the measure of spiritual experience. The meeting of group A had a history of twenty years, and the meeting of group B had a history of only five months. But the experience of the leading brothers in group A was limited before the Lord, while the experience of the leading brothers in group B was of many years before the Lord. According to the world, when two groups blend together with one having met for twenty years and the other having met for only five months, the ones who take the lead should be those in the more established group. But God’s Word does not say this. The leading ones must be those who have a longer history before the Lord, not those who have a longer history of meetings. Therefore, when the two meetings were combined, the leading brothers in group A should have let the leading brothers in group B take the lead. Being a leading brother is not determined by the qualification of a longer history of meetings. The position of the church is based upon time, but the standing of the leading brothers is not determined by the church in which they have been taking the lead. It all depends upon the amount of spiritual experience they have before the Lord.
Seeking the Brothers
Today in Shanghai we must pay considerable attention to this matter. Certain brothers and sisters want to leave the denominations. If they have really seen that locality is the ground fixed by the Bible, they should not establish another meeting under any circumstances. For example, when I left the denominations, I did not think of myself as being the first who left the denominations. In my heart I hoped to meet others who had similarly left the denominations. If I were to leave the denominations in Shanghai, I definitely would go around to seek and inquire whether or not other brothers had also left the denominations. When I was about to leave the denominations thirty years ago in Foochow, I went around Foochow looking for brothers who had already left the denominations. Leaving the denominations did not make me the most wonderful Christian in the whole world. My first thought when I left was to seek brothers. Loving the brothers is part of our nature, and seeking the brothers is also part of our nature. We should be very happy to be together with those who seek the Lord with a pure heart.
Some brothers say that they have left the denominations, but they have more of an intention to set up a church than to leave the denominations. Therefore, they do not seek those who have already left the denominations. The aim of many is to establish their own church. Therefore, they do not feel the preciousness of other brothers who have also left the denominations. Those who truly have left will consider all the brothers who have also left as being lovable and precious. Thus, there are two kinds of people leaving the denominations: The first are those who truly leave the denominations; they seek to be with those who serve the Lord with a pure heart. The others are those who leave the denominations because they want to set up their own church. We can say this about those in Shanghai and also in Tsingtao, Peking, and even in the Northwest. In Shanghai it seems that we have been earlier than others. Today they do not seek us, but we have to seek them. They may have the problem of being in a system, but we should not have this problem. If we go today to Pingliang, Tiensui, or Dihua, we must be careful. The first thing we should do is not to set up a church but to seek the brothers.
If the first thing we do when we arrive at a new place is set up a church, we are committing the same mistake as some of the brothers whom we just mentioned in Shanghai. There is probably a group of brothers whose ground is not wrong and who are going in the right direction. We should not say that they are unfamiliar with the Bible. They are brothers whose ground is not wrong. At any rate, we have to seek the brothers until we are certain there is no one before we may have a new start. Often we can only join others; we cannot have a new start. Under no circumstances should we feel that joining others is shameful, but that setting up a church is glorious. If this is our thought, we can only blame ourselves that we were not born before the apostles. Many people like to set up churches. This is not a sign that they are spiritual but that they are fleshly.
Some young brothers who have just come out of the denominations may be able to lead others. Perhaps a brother was received last Saturday. He may have experienced much discipline in the Lord’s hand. Once we have received him, we may have to listen to him on many matters because his personal maturity is not related to his denomination. Anyone who has real spiritual experience must be put in the right place. I hope that the Lord will set His way more and more clearly before the brothers and sisters so that all who truly love the Lord may walk therein.