Titus 1:9 - Holding to the faithful word, which is according to the teaching of the apostles, that he may be able both to exhort by the healthy teaching and to convict those who oppose.

Jump to the following section in this article:

Who Represents the Head and the Body?

A dissenting worker rationalizes his unwillingness to carry out his work in a coordinated fellowship with the co-workers in the principle of the Body as follows:

Therefore we must be very careful when we use the term "the feeling of the Body". I have heard it said, "Why don't you fellowship with the Body?" Be careful, for this can only be applied locally, because who can practically be recognized as representing "the Body" once you go beyond the level of the locality?...

Thus I am troubled when I hear some brothers say, "Why don't you fellowship with the Body?" If some claim to represent the Body, they replace Christ! The Body has one Head and one person-the exalted, pneumatic Christ. (Titus Chu, "What a Prophet Must See," Fellowship Journal, vol. 5, no. 1, p. 27)

On the surface such words may seem convincing and even spiritual. In fact, this dissenting brother grievously misrepresents both the Bible and the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.

Another brother who is closely associated with this dissenting worker posted an article criticizing brothers for "representing the local churches," a role that this dissenting brother claims is reserved exclusively for local elders:

The question, "Who represents the local churches?" seems simple enough, easily answered. The obvious answer is, "The elders." Both brothers Nee and Lee taught that the elders administrate the affairs of a local church. The local church is not the sphere of the workers (apostles). ("Who Represents the Local Churches?")

This brother's use of the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee is highly selective to the point of gross error. He does not present their teaching in a full or balanced fashion. Even in his opening statement, he switches the subject from representing the churches to administrating a local church. The two are not the same. There is no doubt that the administration of the affairs of a local church is in the hands of the elders, and in that administration the elders represent the authority of Christ. However, it is wrong to say that the elders are the sole or ultimate authority in the church, just as it is wrong to say that there is no authority in the Body or among the local churches or that there is no representation of Christ as the Head of the Body beyond the boundaries of a locality.

Therefore this article will present the following points from both the New Testament record and the writings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee:

  1. All authority derives from Christ, the Head.
  2. Four categories of people who represent the Body.
  3. Oneness with the general church brings in authority.
  4. The apostles represent both the Head, Christ, and the Body, the church.
  5. The apostles' role in representing the Body in the laying on of hands.
  6. The apostles' authority among all the churches.
  7. The apostles' exercise of authority among the churches.
  8. The apostles' authority in dealing with the elders.

This article will also examine some errors in the dissenters' analysis of particular passages from the New Testament record and give a balanced word from the ministry of Brother Lee regarding the representation of Christ through the deputy authority in the Body. It will also present some enlightening speaking from the ministry of Watchman Nee regarding the need to submit to Christ's deputy authority in the Body of Christ.

1. All Authority Derives from Christ, the Head

In the Body of Christ, the unique source of authority is Christ as the Head. Therefore, although there are deputy authorities, all of their authority rests not in themselves, but derives from Christ the Head and from the Holy Spirit within the church, the Body.

Matt. 28:18 - And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Acts 2:36 - Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you have crucified.

Col. 1:18 - And He is the Head of the Body, the church; He is the beginning, the Firstborn from the dead, that He Himself might have the first place in all things.

Eph. 1:22 - And He subjected all things under His feet and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church.

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, a book on the kingdom of the heavens, the Lord Jesus presents Himself as the One given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18-20). Matthew 28:18 says, "Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." In His divinity as the only begotten Son of God, the Lord had authority over all. However, in His humanity as the Son of Man to be the King of the heavenly kingdom, all authority in heaven and on earth had to be given to Him after His resurrection. ( The Conclusion of the New Testament, Messages 265-275 , p. 2819) [emphasis added, and so throughout this article]

A deputy authority must remember that all authorities come from God. God is the One who has established all authorities. If there is any authority in a man at all, that authority comes from God. There is no inherent authority in a person, and no one can appoint himself to be an authority.... All deputy authorities must remember that they are merely God's representative authorities; they have no authority in themselves. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 47 , p. 209)

I would say a word to the elders concerning their authority: We have to have the basic understanding that there is no authority within ourselves. The authority in the Body of Christ is Christ, the Head. It is the Holy Spirit who is operating in the Body. Therefore, only the Holy Spirit is the authority. The Holy Spirit is the authority of Christ in His Body. From where do the responsible brothers derive their authority? Do not think that as long as a person is an elder he has authority. We have to know and understand authority. Only those who understand authority have authority. If the elders do not understand authority, they are not qualified to be elders, and they are not fit to be an authority. We do not have any authority in ourselves. The only difference between us and the brothers and sisters is that we know the authority of the Holy Spirit a little more clearly, and we are able to communicate the thought of the Spirit to them. The elders do not have any authority in themselves. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 61 , p. 215)

In the church there is no human authority; there is only the authority of the Holy Spirit. The church has been here on earth for a long time, but God has never entrusted its service to any human individuals. In the church not even the elders are the authority. You are not the authority. Any move in the church service should be the result of the direction of the Holy Spirit. Anyone acting or deliberating apart from the direction of the Holy Spirit is being rebellious and seditious. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 62 , p. 285)

2. Four Categories of People Who Represent the Body

Contrary to the dissenting brother's claim that only the elders can represent the church, in the New Testament there are four categories of people who can represent the Body.

1 Cor. 1:11 - For it has been made clear to me concerning you, my brothers, by those of the household of Chloe, that there are strifes among you.

1 Tim. 5:17 - Let the elders who take the lead well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in word and teaching.

Acts 9:17 - And Ananias went away and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him, he said, Saul, brother, the Lord has sent me-Jesus, who appeared to you on the road on which you were coming-so that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Matt. 18:18-20 [18] Truly I say to you, Whatever you bind on the earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on the earth shall have been loosed in heaven. [19] Again, truly I say to you that if two of you are in harmony on earth concerning any matter for which they ask, it will be done for them from My Father who is in the heavens. [20] For where there are two or three gathered into My name, there am I in their midst.

There are four kinds of people in the church who can represent the Body: (1) apostles, (2) elders, (3) individual believers who are commissioned by the Lord, such as Ananias who was commissioned by the Lord to speak to Paul, and (4) the two or three believers who have denied themselves and gathered into the Lord's name. These four groups of people represent the Body. If you are wrong, the Lord will send an individual believer to come and speak to you. If you do not take the word of the individual believer, he will tell two or three other believers. If you do not take the word of the two or three believers, the elders should come to help you. You cannot act individualistically. Many unsolvable problems require the apostles to come. They are the ones the Lord has chosen particularly to represent the Body. We should inform the elders and the apostles of all important matters, lest there be any ambiguity. We should do this in order to receive their help. We cannot neglect the Body and cannot neglect the representatives of the Body. If we neglect the representatives of the Body, we will not be able to practice the Body life. May God grant us not only the revelation of the Body but also the testimony of the Body, and may He cause us to submit to the representatives of the Body. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 38 , pp. 497-498; a very similar passage can be found in vol. 44, pp. 834-835)

...If you see the Body and see the authority of the Head, you will see that there are always one or more persons who are ahead of you in the Body, to whom you should submit yourself. Not only must you see the Head, you must also see those who represent the Head and realize that going against them is going against God. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 37 , p. 249)

3. Oneness with the General Church Brings in Authority

In a section subtitled "Oneness with the General Church Bringing in Authority" Watchman Nee shows how the crucial factor in representing God and exercising authority is oneness with the general church.

Matt. 18:16 - But if he does not hear you, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

Matt. 18:19 - Again, truly I say to you that if two of you are in harmony on earth concerning any matter for which they ask, it will be done for them from My Father who is in the heavens.

Since you are the church, you have the authority. God's authority is with the church. Do not think that an individual believer does not have any authority. As long as an individual believer is one with the general church, he can have authority also, and he can even be the authority. Suppose Brother Lee has offended me. While I am alone with him, I point out his mistake, and the matter is taken care of. While I am taking care of the matter, the church is brought in; the reality of the church is brought in. Of course, in terms of the actual procedure, the church is not involved. In the Bible not only can an individual represent the church; the principle of two or three can also be a principle of the church. When two or three are one, that oneness makes them the church. When these two or three deal with anything, it will be the church dealing with the matter. The only difference between that and the church actually dealing with the matter is that the church has not said anything directly. In actuality, these two or three are one with the church, but the church is not directly involved. However, what they say becomes what the church says. Hence, the two or three become the church. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 57 , pp. 308-309)

4. The Apostles Represent Both the Head, Christ, and the Body, the Church

In particular, the apostles represent the authority of the Head in the Body of Christ.

1 Cor. 12:28a - And God has placed some in the church: first apostles...

The apostles are the first gift that God has appointed in the Body of Christ. They are sent by God to represent the authority of the Head and to execute God's will on earth. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 44 , p. 823)

The apostles represent not only the church but also Christ. God has placed the apostles in the church first. Being first means having authority. In other words, the apostles are the representative authority.... ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 48 , p. 105)

The apostles could represent the Body because they themselves were fully identified with the Body in their living and work and were sent forth by representative members of the Body who laid hands on them and thereby declared the oneness of the Body with the apostles:

Acts 13:1-3 - [1] Now there were in Antioch, in the local church, prophets and teachers: Barnabas and Simeon, who was called Niger, and Lucius the Cyrenian, and Manaen, the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. [2] And as they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for Me now Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. [3] Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

As we have seen, the laying on of hands speaks of oneness (Lev. 1:4), and the only oneness known among the children of God is the oneness of the Body of Christ; therefore, in laying hands upon the apostles, the prophets and teachers definitely stood on the ground of the Body, acting as its representative members. Their action identified the whole church with the apostles, and identified the apostles with the whole church. These prophets and teachers did not stand on individual ground to send the apostles forth as their personal representatives, nor did they stand on the ground of any select company to send them out as representatives of that particular company; but they stood on the ground of the Body, as its ministering members, and set these two apart for the work of the gospel. In their turn the two, being thus separated, went forth, not to represent any particular individuals or any special organization, but to represent the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ alone.... ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 30 , p. 29)

5. The Apostles' Role in Representing the Body in the Laying on of Hands

The apostles' role in representing the Body is seen in the laying on of hands:

Acts 8:17 - Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 19:6a - And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them...

The apostles are the representatives of God. They are also representative members in the Body of Christ. When Peter and John laid their hands on the believers in Samaria, their act brought those upon whom they laid hands under the authority of the Head and into the fellowship of the Body. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 44 , p. 830)

Today in the church the apostles are the representative members in the Body of Christ; they represent the authority of Christ. For the apostles to lay hands on the Samaritan believers meant that they acknowledged them as part of the Body. Once they were in the Body, the Spirit descended upon them. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 38 , p. 490)

6. The Apostles' Authority among All the Churches

As the representatives of the Head, Christ, the apostles' have authority among all the churches.

1 Cor. 9:1 - Am I not free? Am I not an 3apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?

fn. 9:1 3 - As he presented himself a pattern to the believers, the apostle came to the matter of his apostleship, which gave him authority to deal with all the problems covered in this book, serious problems concerning the church life and its fellowship. His handling of these problems was based not only on his teaching but also on the authority inherent in his apostleship. To deal with the situation, he had to take this standing and make this matter clear to the Corinthian believers. They had questioned his apostleship and were in a chaotic situation, mainly because of the foolishness of their worldly wisdom, self-confidence, and pride.

1 Cor. 1:1 - Paul, a 1called apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Sosthenes the brother.

fn. 1:1 1 - An apostle is a sent one. Paul was such a one, not self-appointed but called by the Lord. His apostleship was authentic (9:1-5; 2 Cor. 12:11-12; cf. 2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2), having the authority of God's New Testament administration (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10). Based on this position with this authority the apostle wrote this Epistle, not only to nourish and build up the saints in Corinth but also to regulate and adjust the church there.

1 Tim. 5:19 - Against an elder do not 1receive an accusation, except based upon two or three witnesses.

fn. 5:19 1 - Timothy was charged by the apostle Paul to receive an accusation against an elder. This indicates that after they have appointed men as elders, the apostles still have the authority to deal with the elders.

1 Cor. 7:6 - But this I say by way of concession, not by way of 1command.

fn. 7:6 1 - This implies that the apostle in his teaching had authority to give commands to the believers.

How should authority in the church be assigned? God has appointed the elders and apostles to be the authority in the church. In each respective church, God establishes elders; among all the churches, God establishes apostles. The authority of apostles is for overseeing all the churches, while the authority of elders is for overseeing each respective local church. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 22 , p. 19)

7. The Apostles' Exercise of Authority among the Churches

The apostles exercise authority among all the churches in their ministry mainly through teaching:

2 Cor. 13:10 - Therefore I write these things while being absent in order that when present I would not have to use severity, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for building up and not for overthrowing.

God's delegated authority in the leading ones in the ministry was for building up and not for overthrowing (2 Cor. 13:10). Paul had authority, not to destroy or overthrow, but for building up. God's delegated authority was in the teaching of the leading ones (1 Cor. 4:17b-21; 7:17b; 16:1; 11:2; 2 Thes. 3:6, 9, 12, 14). Paul exercised his authority in his teaching. He taught the same thing everywhere in every church (1 Cor. 4:17b), and the churches followed his speaking. This was the demonstration of Paul's delegated authority. Authority always follows the proper speaking. A teacher's speaking in a school is with authority. When the teacher speaks, all the students are under his authority. ( Leadership in the New Testament , p. 49)

Those who say that the apostles have no authority to deal with matters involving a local church are in error. Most of the epistles of Paul are written to directly deal with problems in churches or to instruct his co-workers how to do so. In those epistles Paul not only taught, but also exhorted and even commanded:

1 Cor. 1:1 - Paul, a 1called apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Sosthenes the brother.

fn. 1:1 1 - An apostle is a sent one. Paul was such a one, not self-appointed but called by the Lord. His apostleship was authentic (9:1-5; 2 Cor. 12:11-12; cf. 2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2), having the authority of God's New Testament administration (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10). Based on this position with this authority the apostle wrote this Epistle, not only to nourish and build up the saints in Corinth but also to regulate and adjust the church there.

1 Cor. 7:6 - But this I say by way of 1concession, not by way of 1command.

fn. 7:6 1 - This implies that the apostle in his teaching had authority to give commands to the believers.

Titus 2:15 - These things speak, and exhort and convict with all 3authority. Let no one despise you.

fn. 2:15 3 - Lit., command. With all authority modifies both exhort and convict. To exhort and convict with all authority is to advise and convict imperatively in every way with words of authority, as if one were giving commands.

After the apostles appoint the elders and commit the church into the hands of the elders, what shall the apostles do in the future? Some say that the apostles have nothing to do with the church anymore. According to their feeling, the appointment of the elders by the apostles was the termination of the relationship of the apostles with the churches. They say this by using Brother Nee's fellowship in The Normal Christian Church Life as a basis. On page 44 of this book, Brother Nee says, "Once a church was established, all responsibility was handed over to the local elders, and from that day the apostles exercised no control whatever in its affairs." In this quote from Brother Nee's book, we should notice the phrase in its affairs. Some quote Brother Nee's words without realizing the significance of this phrase. (Brother Nee in his book entitled Church Affairs , pp. 143, 8-14, corrected this misuse of his word.) The apostles were to keep their hands off of the administration of the local church in its business affairs, not in its need of the apostles' teaching, instruction, and charge.

We saw that Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth charging them to remove a certain sinful man from the fellowship of the church. The apostle commanded the church to do this-"Remove the evil man from among yourselves" (1 Cor. 5:13). Does this mean that the apostle took the church back under his administration? No, not at all. If this had been the case, he would not have needed to tell others to remove the sinful one. He would have done it directly by himself. In this sense, Paul as an apostle kept his hands off of the church administration but not from teaching, instructing, and charging the church. ( Leadership in the New Testament , pp. 33-34)

8. The Apostles' Authority in Dealing with the Elders

Furthermore, the apostles have the authority to deal with elders who sin or who deviate from the apostles' teaching:

1 Tim. 5:19-20 - [19] Against an elder do not 1receive an accusation, except based upon two or three witnesses. [20] The ones who sin 1reprove before all that the rest also may have fear.

fn. 5:19 1 - Timothy was charged by the apostle Paul to receive an accusation against an elder. This indicates that after they have appointed men as elders, the apostles still have the authority to deal with the elders.

fn. 5:20 1 - This too indicates the apostles' authority over the elders.

After the meeting in Hangkow, some brothers misunderstood. They thought that though the elders are appointed by the apostles, they did not have to listen to the apostles. This is impossible. When there were brothers who did not respect the elders and problems occurred, the letter of accusation by two or three was sent to Timothy. In other words, the authority for the appointment of the elders is with the apostles, and the authority for the removal of the elders is also with the apostles. A local church cannot expel an elder; rather, the apostles need to bear the responsibility of removing elders. This is the reason why the letter of accusation by two or three was sent to Timothy. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 51 , p. 143)

There is another aspect to the apostles' relationship with a local church, which Brother Nee talked to us about, in 1 Timothy 5. First Timothy 5:19-20 says, "Against an elder do not receive an accusation, except based upon the mouth of two or three witnesses. The ones who sin reprove before all that the rest also may have fear." Timothy was charged by the apostle Paul to receive an accusation against an elder. This indicates that the apostles have authority to deal with the elders even after they have been appointed by the apostles to be elders. If there is a problem among the elders, this case should go to the apostles, and the apostles have to judge. The apostles have the authority to rebuke a sinful elder in front of others. The apostles' hands should be off of the church in its administration, but this does not mean that the apostles have absolutely nothing to do with a local church after its elders have been established. ( Leadership in the New Testament , p. 34)

Some have had the concept from reading Brother Nee's book The Normal Christian Church Life that once apostles have appointed elders in a particular local church, the apostles do not under any circumstances have the right to interfere with the affairs of that church. This, however, is a misunderstanding of Brother Nee's word. In another book, Church Affairs , Brother Nee points out that after the elders have been appointed by the apostles, they should take the lead in the church according to the apostles' teaching. If the elders lead others astray or if they are wrong in some way, accusation against them can be made by the saints to the apostles. ( Life-study of 1 Timothy, pp. 84-85)

Errors in the Dissenting Brother's Analysis of the New Testament Record

The dissenting brother's article errantly asserts:

In our realization, the New Testament gives no example of a few brothers acting as representatives of all the local churches. In Acts 11 Barnabas and Saul were "delegates" of the church in Antioch, bringing their material gifts to Jerusalem. In this case, Barnabas and Saul represented their own local church, the church in Antioch, in taking the gift. The Jerusalem elders received the gift as representatives of the church in Jerusalem. Along similar lines, a few brothers from Corinth and the surrounding churches, serving as "apostles of the churches," (2 Cor. 8:23) brought material gifts to Judea. Finally, the Jerusalem elders participated in the Acts 15 conference as representatives of the church in Jerusalem. Brother Lee makes it abundantly clear the elders represented only the church in Jerusalem, not other churches. We find no case in the New Testament of brothers representing all the local churches. Neither a prescriptive teaching nor a descriptive example of this practice appears in the Bible. ("Who Represents the Local Churches?")

This account errs concerning the truth on at least two counts. First, it neglects the fact that Acts 15 records that the apostles participated in this conference. It is odd that in the dissenters' account of the conference in Acts 15 he only mentions the elders in the church in Jerusalem and not the apostles. The biblical record shows that there were two categories of people bearing responsibility in the Body of Christ that gathered together in Jerusalem: the local elders and the apostles responsible for the leadership of the Lord's work in both the Jewish and Gentile regions.

Acts 15:6 - And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to see about this matter.

The dissenter's omission of "the apostles" is telling because the apostles represented the universal church composed of all the local churches. Concerning Acts 15 Brother Lee stated:

The elders represent the local church, and the apostles represent the churches in various localities. The elders represent one locality, and the apostles represent various localities. Just as the elders clearly understand the situation in a locality, so the apostles clearly understand the situations in various localities.... ( Being Apt to Teach and Holding the Mystery of the Faith , p. 16)

There is no record of elders from the Gentile churches participating in this conference. Paul and Barnabas were not there as elders but as the leading workers in the Gentile world, yet the decision made at this conference was applicable to the Gentile churches. Furthermore, there is no record of any elders outside of Jerusalem participating, yet the decision made applied to all of the Jewish churches, not just the church in Jerusalem.

...That decision eventually became an epistle written by the apostles and elders. This epistle was not designated as being written by the Gentile and Jewish apostles and by the Gentile and Jewish elders. Acts 15 says that it was written simply by the apostles and the elders (v. 23), including the apostles and elders of both the Jewish and Gentile churches. They were considered as one. We have to see this. ( Further Consideration of the Eldership, the Region of Work, and the Care for the Body of Christ , p. 17)

The decision in Acts 15 was not made merely by the Jewish region or merely by the Gentile region. Actually, it was a decision made above the regions and beyond the regions. The decision made covered all the churches, whether Jewish or Gentile.... ( Elders' Training, Book 4: Other Crucial Matters Concerning the Practice of the Lord's Recovery , p. 29)

Second, the dissenter's account of 2 Corinthians 8:23 also misses the mark. He omits any mention of Titus, who was sent to Jerusalem to represent Paul, as the leading worker in the Gentile region and all of the Gentile churches that had contributed to the relief of the believers in Judea. He also fails to distinguish why it is acceptable that a group of brothers could be identified as "apostles of the churches," representing an unspecified group of churches, and it is not acceptable for brothers serving as co-workers among us to be identified as representing the local churches. The expressions are the same. Thus, the blending co-workers are not deviating from the pattern of the New Testament.

This dissenting brother has accused the co-workers in the Lord's recovery of transmuting the organic Body of Christ into a worldwide organization. Actually, this brother's own words expose his own concept of the exercise of authority in the Body of Christ as being not organic, but rather organizational. His article attempts to establish the sole authority of the elders to administrate and represent the local churches by carefully selecting portions of the truth from the New Testament and the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee and applying them as legalities. In other words, it is he who evidences a desire to neatly dissect and systematize the Body of Christ with fixed boundaries. In doing so, he demonstrates no comprehension of the organic oneness of the Body of Christ, of the organic oneness of the members with the Head, of the organic exercise of authority of the members joined to the Head, etc. Furthermore, his words also expose an unwillingness to accept any exercise of authority among the local churches that does not fit his own concept or agenda.

A Balanced Word

In response to errors promoted by a few brothers among the churches in the late 1980s, Brother Lee gave some balanced words concerning the exercise of authority in the Body.

Eph. 5:23-24 - [23] For a husband is head of the wife as also Christ is Head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the Body. [24] But as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be subject to their husbands in everything.

1 Tim. 5:17 - Let the elders who take the lead well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in word and teaching.

1 Cor. 3:10a - According to the grace of God given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid a foundation...

Heb. 13:17 - Obey the ones leading you and submit to them, for they watch over your souls as those who will render an account, that they may do this with joy and not groaning; for this would be unprofitable to you.

1 Tim. 3:5 - (But if one does not know how to manage his own house, how will he care for the church of God?).

2 Cor. 10:8 - For even if I should boast somewhat more abundantly concerning our authority, which the Lord has given for building you up and not for overthrowing you, I will not be put to shame.

2 Cor. 13:10 - Therefore I write these things while being absent in order that when present I would not have to use severity, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for building up and not for overthrowing.

1 Cor. 4:21 - What do you want? Should I come to you with a rod or in love and a spirit of meekness?

2 Cor. 2:9 - For to this end also I wrote, that I might know your approvedness, whether you are obedient in all things.

2 Cor. 7:15 - And his affections are abundantly toward you, he remembering the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling.

2 Cor. 10:6 - And we are ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

In the matter of the authority in the Body, first and foremost is the need for the authority of the Head flowing throughout the whole Body (Eph. 5:23-24). In addition, there is deputy authority. In the local churches there are the elders (1 Tim. 5:17a), and in the work there are the leading co-workers (1 Cor. 3:10a). All these are deputy authorities, carrying out the authority of the Head. Hence, in the Body of Christ there is also order in authority. On the one hand, all the members submit directly to the Head (Eph. 5:24a). On the other hand, they submit to the deputies of the Head (Heb. 13:17). When we feel that we are submitting directly to the Head, we must also care for the Body. It is impossible for us to say that we are submitting to the authority of the Head without caring for the Body. We have to take care of both aspects. We should submit to Christ, and we should also submit to the church. Only then is the submission proper. If we would only submit to Christ, without submitting to the Body, that kind of submission will cause problems. If no one cares for the Body, but everyone considers that he is submitting to the Head directly, division will result in the Body. Only by our submitting to the Head on the one hand and to the Body on the other hand can the Head be pleased and the Body preserved. ( The Oneness and the One Accord According to the Lord's Aspiration and the Body Life and Service According to His Pleasure , p. 40)

According to the divine revelation in the holy Word, there is deputy authority in God's economy, both in the Old Testament, such as with Moses and the priests who taught the people the divine oracle, and in the New Testament, such as with the elders, who take care of the church (1 Tim. 3:5; 5:17; Heb. 13:17), and the apostles, who establish the churches and teach the saints (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10; 1 Cor. 4:21). A local church is under the authority of Christ as the Head, represented by the elders. Hence, the saints in a local church should obey the elders (Heb. 13:17). The churches as the Body of Christ are under their Head, Christ, represented by the apostles. Hence, the churches should obey the apostles (2 Cor. 2:9; 7:15; 10:6). To obey the elders in a local church and to obey the apostles among the churches does not mean that the obeying one does not need to obey the Lord directly. When he is seeking the leading directly from the Lord, he should also take care of the elders in the local church, because he is living and working in the church as a part of the Body. When the churches are seeking the leading directly from the Lord, they should also take care of the apostles, because they are all living and working with the apostles in the churches as the Body of Christ. Whether in a local church or among all the churches, we should be Body-conscious, taking care not only of the Head but also of His Body. Since we are living and working in the Body, we have the Body with the Head. We cannot have the Head without the Body; neither can we have the Body without the Head. We should seek to obey the Head with a relationship to the Body, and we should also seek to obey the Body with a relationship to the Head. We all need to realize that in our natural life we are very independent. So, to take care of obeying both the Lord and the elders or the apostles at the same time is not an easy thing for us. Hence, we may unconsciously feel that the teaching concerning the obeying of God's deputy authority is overly stressed or even unscriptural. In any case, to say that there is no deputy authority of the Lord is surely unscriptural. ( Elders' Training, Book 10: The Eldership and the God-ordained Way (2) , pp. 106-107)

The Need to Submit to Christ's Deputy Authority in the Body of Christ

Brother Nee consistently taught the necessity of submission to deputy authorities.

I have never seen a man who knows the Head yet does not submit to Christ's deputy authority. A person who knows the Lord will never be selective in the matter of submission. For example, Brother Witness's children cannot be selective in their submission to their father. If a brother or a sister has not learned to submit to every deputy authority assigned by the Lord, he is under the greatest deception. The Bible says that there is no authority except from God (Rom. 13:1). There are very few places in the Bible that speak of direct submission to God. Most of the time the Bible speaks of submission to man. Wherever you go, you have to submit, not criticize freely with your lips. If others give you some special authority, that is up to them. Nevertheless, you have to learn to submit. Many people have never learned the lesson. Wherever they go, they tear down the authorities, and they do not bridle their tongues. This kind of person is rebellious. May the Lord be merciful to us so that we will not be wild Christians. Not only should we not be selective in our submission, but we should actively seek after the ones we should submit to. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 57 , p. 254)

In the church those who have the gift of teaching should give themselves to coordination in the Body. If a person functions as a teacher independently, it is easy for him to develop a spirit of rebellion. If we take care of the matter of coordination, things will turn out well even if there are few gifts among us. If we do not take care of coordination, however, a great gift will become a source of trouble and even a tool for rebellion. Among the elders there are always some who are more senior and more respected than others. They are the ones who should take the lead. There are also apostles who are appointed by God. But even among the apostles, there are great ones and small ones, renowned ones and not so renowned ones. Even among the twelve apostles there were differences in rank; some were leaders to the others. There is an explicit injunction in the Bible to submit to elders and apostles. However, nothing is legal among us. We cannot say that we cannot find our deputy authority because God has not explicitly pointed him out to us. If we have not met or found our deputy authority, it simply means that we are, in Peter's words, animals without reason. No remark can be stronger than this one. If someone wants to offend authority, let him offend; but as for us, we choose to submit absolutely. The Lord rebukes the antagonizers. They either fall down or slide back. If they remain in the church, we can ignore them, mark them out, and refuse to communicate with them. God will eventually prevail, and the brothers and sisters will eventually take this way. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 59 , pp. 237-238)

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