Watchman Nee testifies below that he was an Apostle for a region of churches surrounding Shanghai and an Elder of the locality of Shanghai.
The Raising Up of Workers
Back to the Cross, CFP, 123-128
The first matter we wish to inquire into today is how a worker is raised up. Principally we will consider two different situations. The first happens where there is a local assembly. Where this is the situation, any brother who has the burden to work abroad needs to have the consent of all the brethren with whom he meets as well as to bear his personal responsibility before God. This can be likened to a finger of the hand which cannot move individually but must move only with the whole human body. It needs the sanction of the entire body before it can move. Today we see Christ as the Head of the Church, with the Church therefore constituting His body. So wherever there is a local assembly, there is always the need of getting the consent of the brethren. Take, for example, the situation to be found in Acts 13. There we see an assembly of believers situated in Antioch, and so we find that the Holy Spirit sent forth Paul and Barnabas through the local church there.
But where no local assembly exists, the situation is quite different. If there is no local gathering of believers, then a person who desires to go forth to work must bear his own responsibility directly before the Lord because an expression of the Body of Christ is not manifested there. In Acts 11, before the church in Antioch was established, Paul and Barnabas are found bearing responsibility directly before God. But later on, after the local church was formed at Antioch, the Holy Spirit is seen sending out prophets and teachersthrough the local expression of the Body of Christ. For by that time the work of Paul and Barnabas was no longer only a matter before God, it must now also be a matter in the church. There at Antioch the disciples laid hands on them and sent them out. The laying on of hands is for the purpose of showing sympathy and expressing union. Through this laying on of hands in the local assembly at Antioch, all the brethren joined with Paul and Barnabas in their mission. In essence, therefore, the going forth of these two was the going forth of the body of believers there. Yet it must be understood that such laying on of hands at Antioch was something vastly different from the practice we find nowadays called ordination. The latter is a form of human traditions, and is totally foreign to the Scriptures.
The sending out of Paul and Barnabas was for the sake of doing the work the Holy Spirit sent them to do. This was the first missionary work in history. In this sending forth, the Holy Spirit has absolute sovereignty. A local church cannot send out men on its own. The sending out of the local church is the acceding to the movement of the Holy Spirit and the executing of His order.
In Acts 15 we read about another excursion contemplated. In verse 40, however, we notice the separation of the footsteps between Paul and Barnabas. Paul had suggested the journey, but Barnabas had insisted on taking Mark whom Paul deemed to be inappropriate for the task. There thus had arisen a sharp contention. Whereupon Barnabas decided to take Mark with him, but Paul took Silas with him and went a different way. It should be noted, though, that it is recorded in verse 40 that "Paul . . . [was] being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord." Here, then, lies the difference between these two men. Paul was sent forth by the church, but Barnabas was not. Paul was commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord, whereas Barnabas was not. In this conflict, the local expression of the Body of Christ stood on Paul’s side. And as a consequence, we shall find that after chapter 15 Barnabas is no longer mentioned in the Acts narrative, thus proving that the Holy recognizes and ratifies the sending of the local expression of the Body of Christ.
In the instance before us now under discussion, we must note that Mark was passive, for he was a young worker under training. Hence his responsibility was not as great as that of Barnabas. Later, however, Mark was restored by God, and was once again brought back to the work by Him. But what about Barnabas? He was gone from the scene and never returned to the work of God. The Book of Acts never mentioned him again thereafter. Now if any of you should be tempted to say, "If others can, why can’t I? Since a certain brother has gone to a certain place, why can I not go away, too?", then beware that that other brother of whom you speak is sent out properly in the context of the local church, whereas your going out will be strictly on your own. The difference lies just there. You cannot argue that if God could use him He could use you too. For God could indeed use him because he is sent out in the local body of believers, but He cannot use you. Do not fancy that God cannot lay any of us aside. He most certainly can lay us aside just as He laid aside Barnabas. How very clear and plain is the record found in the Book of Acts. For after this incident, the Holy Spirit ceased to mention Barnabas in the narrative.
A worker may do a work individually, but his movement must be in the church. This was the case at Pentecost: "Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spake forth . . ." (Acts 2.14) The "standing up" here is plural in number in the original Greek, whereas the "lifted up his voice" is in the singular number. Though only one man spoke, the eleven stood behind in support. Let us therefore realize that we too need the support of our brethren when we work.
Here we must learn the lesson of obedience. Both those who send and those who are sent need to learn obedience. Only in the spirit of obedience can people recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit. The criterion of any work is not approval but obedience. It is not because you approve of a certain brother that you therefore send him out. Many a time we may not approve the idea of a particular brother but we have to let him go, for the question lies not in approval but in obedience. Only in the obedient can the Holy Spirit find His outlet.
Now as the worker is sent forth he becomes an apostle, for an apostle is merely a sent-out worker. Paul was an apostle. What is the difference between an elder and an apostle? According to the word of God, an elder is immobile whereas an apostle is mobile. An elder is for a specific locality, but an apostle is for the entire Body. Paul was never an elder; he was only an apostle. Peter and John, though, were both elders and apostles. When they were in Jerusalem, they were elders of the church there. Yet besides being elders in Jerusalem, they were also apostles sent abroad. Because they were elders, they had the authority of local supervision. On the other hand, the responsibility of an apostle is to do the work committed to him abroad—he does not have the responsibility of overseeing in his own locality. I trust we are all clear on this distinction. When we talk about eldership we have reference to a locality; when we talk about apostleship we have in mind the whole earth. Yet it is possible for one person to perform both these functions—that is to say, to bear the responsibility of the local oversight as well as to bear the responsibility of the work of a wider sphere. In my own case, for example, my work on the one hand is serving workers at various places and on the other hand bearing responsibility with the other responsible brothers locally in Shanghai.