The Practical Building Up of the Local Churches

Additional Quotes about the Local Church

Watchman Nee and Witness Lee were both very concerned about the recovery of the function of all the members of the Body of Christ, as evidenced in the following quotes:

There is no way for this work to be done without everyone serving. You need to show the brothers and sisters that everyone is a priest; hence, everyone should have things to do. If this is the case, immediately you will see that all the gospel meetings in every place will be quite prevailing. This is the church preaching the gospel. We must pay special attention to this word. It is the church that is preaching the gospel. All the brothers and sisters are working; they all are priests and they all have come to serve. If this is not the case, there is no church.

(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 3, Vol. 51, 35)

The Body of Christ needs to be built up by the perfected saints in all the local churches (Eph. 4:11-12). Ephesians 4:11 speaks of the gifted persons —apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers. These gifted persons have only one ministry, that is, to minister Christ for the building up of the Body of Christ, the church. Whatever the gifted persons do must be for the building up of the Body of Christ. However, this building up is not accomplished directly by the gifted ones but by the saints who have been perfected by them.

(Witness Lee, Incarnation, 34)

What is the church? The church is all the one-talented ones functioning. When all the dumb ones open their mouths, when all the brothers and sisters speak, and when all the one-talented ones are functioning, we have the church. What we need today is not just the “minister of ministers,” but the whole church. Here, not only do we have the ministry of the word, but we have all kinds of services. We must never allow the one-talented ones to bury their talents….Everyone has to participate in the services. We cannot allow one or two to be passive. We oppose the system of pastors. It is wrong to have one pastor, and it is equally wrong to have ten pastors in place of one. We cannot tolerate one man only, and we cannot tolerate a few men either. Today we have to deal thoroughly with the one-talented ones. It is wrong for the one-talented ones to hide themselves. We cannot tolerate having one group of people serving while another group of people is not serving. All the local churches have to make a full turn in this matter.

(Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, Resumption, 320-321)

Ephesians 4 says that the Head of the church, Christ, gave the gifted persons —the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers. All these gifted persons were given by the Head to His Body, not for a direct building of the Body, but for the perfecting of the saints (vv. 11-12). The gifted persons are not the direct builders, but they are the perfecters to perfect the saints. They perfect the saints, not by teaching them, but by nourishing them that they may be a full-grown man. To be a full-grown man, we need the nourishment that we may grow. Any teaching that nourishes us is good. Any teaching that just teaches us is not good. The teaching must be a nourishing teaching, something that ministers the nourishment of life to us so that by it we may grow.
Ephesians 4 also tells us that we need to be perfected to arrive at a full-grown man so that “we may be no longer little children tossed by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching in the sleight of men” (v. 14). This is to be carried away from Christ and the church, the Head and the Body, by some kind of distracting teaching. Many Christians today are like little children tossed to and fro and carried away by the wind of doctrine. We want to be those who are being inwardly nourished for the growth in life in the local churches for the building up of the Body. No teaching should be able to shake us or carry us away. We should just care for the spiritual nourishment that we may grow into a full-grown man.
Then we hold the reality in love and grow up into Christ in all things (v. 15). By this the Body is built up directly, not by the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers, but by all the functioning members. According to 4:16 the Body builds itself up in love by the members themselves. The members are the direct builders of the Body. The practical building of the local churches must be by the local members, who are the direct builders of the local church. The gifted persons are the perfecters of the members. They help the members grow. They are for the perfecting of the saints until all the saints are full-grown. Then every member will function, that is, every joint will supply and every part will operate according to its measure. In this way the Body builds itself up in love.

(Witness Lee, Growth of Christ, 58-59)

This has caused some Christians to wonder how many pastors we have. To their thinking, we must be short of pastors to care for all the local churches. However, in the Lord’s recovery, we are not short of pastors; on the contrary, we have many pastors. In our consideration every member in the recovery is a pastor, including the sisters. If you have never considered yourself a pastor, you are not in the recovery. In the Lord’s recovery we do not have so-called pastors who speak, pray, and do everything for the other members in the churches.
Everyone in the Lord’s recovery should consider himself a pastor. Every saint in the recovery is a pastor to the other saints, and the other saints are pastors to him. Every saint is a pastor who pastors others, and every saint is one who is pastored by others. I pastor you and you pastor me. I need your pastoring, and you need mine. If this were not our situation, the recovery would be the same as the denominations. Therefore, we all need to see that in the recovery, that is, in the local churches, we are all pastors and we are all pastored ones.

(Witness Lee, Church Life, 14-15)

In the church at Ephesus the practice of the Nicolaitans appeared only as a kind of deed —that was the start. But eventually, in the church at Pergamos, it was developed from a deed into a doctrine. When a deed has been developed into a doctrine, it means that the practice has been commonly justified. The people not only practice it, but hold it as a teaching. What a grievous situation! Today we must put, this detestable practice and teaching of the clergy-laity system under our feet. We must not only cast out the teaching, but chase away every Nicolaitan deed. If you come to the meeting and just sit there waiting for others to function, you are still under the influence of the Nicolaitans. You must be delivered, you must escape, you must break through, even if you have to shout. Today in the local church there must be neither “nico-,” nor “-laitans,” neither clergy nor laymen. All the brothers and sisters must be functioning, praying, testifying, shouting and praising brothers and sisters. Do not think that to shout in a meeting is a small thing. I tell you, this is the reaction of the Lord. Down with the Nicolaitans and up with Christ! The age has changed. The Lord will tolerate no longer the Nicolaitan, clergy-laity system. If you come to the meeting as a layman, waiting for others to function, you put the Lord Jesus to an open shame.

(Witness Lee, Christ vs. Religion, 169-170)

We should also know that the church is expressed practically in a locality. The universal church is what most people call the invisible church. This is not practical enough. The church must be practical and local to us. Therefore, our service and work must be conducted in the local church and must build up the local church. We should encourage and lead the brothers and sisters in each locality to rise up to serve and work together in their respective locality. The gospel should not be preached just by the so-called workers. It should be furthered by all the saints striving together in one accord and in one soul for its advancement (Phil. 1:5, 27). The service should not be limited to a small number of so-called servants of God. Instead, all the saints should serve together as priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). In every locality, the whole church should preach the gospel, the whole church should rise up to serve, and the whole church should work.

(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 3, Vol. 55, 48)

The church meetings are not the responsibility of the workers. Local believers should learn to use the spiritual gifts with which God has entrusted them to minister to their fellow believers. The principle on which all church meetings are conducted is that of the “round-table,” not of the “pulpit-and-pew”….In the usual church gatherings the brethren should all make their special contributions in the power and under the leading of the Spirit.

(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 182-183)

They must meet in their homes or in other places to pray, study the Word, break bread, and exercise their spiritual gifts; and in such meetings their object must be mutual helpfulness and mutual edification. Each individual must bear his share of responsibility and pass on to the others what he himself has received from the Lord. The conduct of the meetings should be the burden of no one individual, but all the members should bear the burden together, and they should seek to help one another depending upon the teaching and leading of the Spirit, and depending upon His empowering too. As soon as believers are saved, they should begin to assemble themselves regularly. Such gatherings of local believers are true church meetings.

(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 177)

My burden is to share that the Lord Jesus today has a real commission for us, not a religion. Today, even in the U.S.A. how many heathen there are! What they need is not a religion, but a group of people who will realize and execute the Lord’s commission. Please do not read Matthew chapter 28 as an historical record. It is not a history; it is a commission. We all must be burdened by the Lord to disciple the heathen and put them into the Triune God, setting up the kingdom of the heavens even here on this earth. But there is also the need of John 21. Without John 21, Matthew 28 will not work so well. After you disciple the heathen, after you baptize them into the reality of the triune God, after the kingdom is set up, the flock still needs to be fed and shepherded. I do have a heavy burden for so many young ones and new ones. Who is going to feed them? Shall we hire graduates from the seminary? Are the leading brothers in the churches going to tend to this? No! The whole church must do it. We are all commissioned. On one hand we must disciple the heathen and make them citizens of the kingdom of heaven on this earth. Then, on the other hand, we must consider them the lambs, the little ones, the weaker ones in the kingdom, who need feeding. We must feed them. This is not just the responsibility of the leading ones, but of every member in the local churches. We all must bear the burden. I’m so happy for the increase in the churches, but I’m also very much concerned for the increase. If this matter of feeding is not accomplished in a full way, the increase will be a heavy burden to the church life. Instead of going up, the church life will go down. There is an urgent need that we be charged not only with Matthew 28, but also with John 21, not only to disciple the heathen, but also to feed the lambs.

(Witness Lee, Christ vs. Religion, 133-134)

Then there is the need of the support and strengthening by the prophets. It is not the teaching that is required, but the ministry of the real prophet. Haggai came to strengthen Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest. He did not come to replace the priesthood or the kingship, but to strengthen these two ministries. The prophet only strengthens; he does not replace.
For the building up of the churches, we do need the ministry of the priesthood and the ministry of the kingship. But sometimes we need the strengthening from the prophet. The prophet should not replace these two ministries, but strengthen them. Listen to what Haggai said; “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:4). Haggai did not build the house for them. He did not take over their position. He simply strengthened and supported them….Ephesians 4:12 tells us very clearly that the gifted persons such as the apostles and prophets do not build the church directly. “For the perfecting of the saints unto the work of ministry, unto the building up of the Body of Christ.” They do the work of perfecting the saints; then the saints build up the Body directly. The gifted persons should not replace the saints; they should only perfect them so that they themselves can build up the Body.
Brothers and sisters, we all must experience the ministry of the priesthood and the kingship so that we all can rise up to build the house of God directly. The prophets never built the temple in the recovery directly. It was the people, under the two ministries of the priesthood and the kingship, who built the temple. The church will never be built up by any preacher or teacher. The churches must be built up by the saints. “O Zerubbabel, be strong! O Joshua, be strong!” It was the people who built the house directly, not the prophets. Today all the brothers and sisters in the churches are the builders. What we need are not simply the teachings and doctrines, but the strengthening under the ministry of the priesthood and the kingship for the building.
We all have the wrong concept. If by the mercy of the Lord I could help you abandon it, I will have done a good work. What is this wrong concept? We all still think that it is the great speakers and teachers who build up the church. But this is absolutely wrong! Unless the church is built up by the saints, it will never be built up! If we were to ask the people in today’s Christianity, “Who builds up the church?” immediately they would answer, “Our pastor, with the help of the assistant pastor and music director.” I am afraid that this concept is still within many of us subconsciously. Why is your church not so strong? I fear that you will say, “Our church is weak because we do not have very good elders and we are lacking good speakers.” But the church cannot be built up directly by the gifted persons. The church is to be built up by all the local saints, including you. Do not say that your church is weak because the elders are weak. You must say that it is weak because you are weak! If you are not weak and everybody else is not weak, your church will be very strong. It is the saints who build up the church directly.

(Witness Lee, Recovery of God’s House, 40-42)



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