The Title and the Appointment of Elders-Appointed by Apostles

Assembly Life, CFP, 17-18, Watchman Nee

To briefly sum up, then, (1) elders are bishops, (2) elders are plural in number, and (3) elders are appointed by apostles or those specially sent by them. Today we know that the question of apostles (as to whether they exist) is unresolved. How, then, will the elders be chosen? From a study of God’s word, we would agree to the following deduction: Since the question of apostles is still unsettled, there is no way to appoint elders officially. We cannot give the title of elder to anyone. If we were to do so, we would have to ask where the apostle is who can appoint the elders. Having said this, however, we do not mean to say that there are not men today who can function as elders. Though there may not be the title of elders today, there nevertheless are men in every place who are like elders and who do the work of the eldership. They act as informal or unofficial elders. Yet the question still remains, How are they raised up? Who asks them to act as elders informally? We must answer that they are appointed by the informal apostles.

Though this question of apostles remains controversial, there is nonetheless a class of people today who are performing the works of apostles—such works as preaching the gospel and establishing churches. They confess that they fall short of the holiness, power, victory and labor of the apostles because they can only do a small portion—perhaps one thousandth—of the works of the early apostles. Yet God uses these people in our day to labor in various places just as He used the apostles in the earlier days. Formerly it was these apostles who established churches everywhere, but now it is these informal apostles who do such work. We admit they are far inferior to the early apostles, that they are not worthy to be called apostles; nevertheless, we cannot but acknowledge them as doing part of the apostolic work. These men are those whom God uses in today’s ruinous state of the Church as apostles.

God uses these servants to save sinners and to gather believers together. They are therefore the most qualified persons to help those believers whom they lead and to know who among them should receive honor and act as elders. We who labor in apostolic work are only helping the brethren to submit to these local men. We must be careful lest we fall into the traditional concept of apostolic succession or the special teaching that bishops have apostolic authority. Suppose, for example, that brother Chu is laboring in Potung and that he has led people to Christ. If he asks brother Wang to come to appoint elders, the latter will not know whom to appoint, for only brother Chu knows the local condition. He has led them and nourished them. He knows their spiritual state because he cares for their souls. He alone can help the brethren there to submit to those few among them who function as elders.

We cannot but submit to authority. May God give us humility. If we are not to act as elders, then we are to submit to people who are as elders. We need to learn to be submissive people. If our flesh has been deeply judged, we will view submission to be something easy, beautiful and sweet. But wherever the flesh is not judged, the church will never be built there. If the brethren have their flesh dealt with, there will be no problem in submission. Hence those who do the work of apostles ought to assist the brethren to see who should act as elders and how they should submit to these men.