Chapter Five: The Basis of Union and Division
The title of this chapter describes it well. In it, Watchman Nee hammers the thought, again and again, that only the basis of locality is the requirement to be a church with other believers. However, they must be believers! Therefore, Watchman Nee sets forth a subjective test—do they have the Spirit of Christ in them? If so, they belong to the Lord. Nee also considers the seven “ones” of Ephesians 4 as elements the one Spirit will result in among all believers. If they (1) are a believer and (2) live in the same locality as you, then they are part of the same church as you!
On the flip side, Watchman Nee offers seven elements that commonly divide believers, but are NOT Scriptural:
- Missions/instruments of salvation
- Doctrinal differences on matters unrelated to the Godhead and salvation
- Socio-economic status.
In each instance, he repeats over and over that all these elements create sects—even wonderful sects—but not scriptural churches.
Finally, he addresses a commonly held thought: If the spiritual life in a scriptural church is low, you can leave (or, “if the inward content isn’t right, do I have to recognize them as a church?”). He answers that spirituality is not the test—only their stand. In Revelation, God never tells believers to leave the church, despite problems. The only way to leave is to move to another city. Otherwise, the Lord’s encouragement is simple: be an overcomer!
Chapter Six: The Work and the Churches
In this chapter, Watchman Nee stresses that a worker’s “work” and the local church are two separate lines that must not interfere with each other. Apostles are of the work. They are extra-local and must not interfere “officially” with local matters. Elders, however, are of the local church and must not interfere “officially” with work matters. It is the confusion of these two lines that has caused confusion to so many believers. Churches tend to grab apostles to be their pastors or ministers, while workers/apostles tend to overly assert themselves or their work/teaching in a local setting.
Watchman Nee speaks mainly to workers in this chapter. He encourages them to, like Paul, bear all financial responsibilities by looking to the Lord, not by assuming on the church. He also encourages them to go places only (1) on command by God, or (2) on invitation from the church. Above all, he strongly commands an attitude that all fruit of the work must go to the increase of the local church. If a door seems closed to the work, we should look unto the Lord to open it, rather than gather believers around ourselves. The inability to trust and a lack of humility has led, Nee says, to a confused situation today.
Ideally, Watchman Nee says, the church would be like a department store. There should be many ministries under the church, and all the ministries should be unto the building up and increase of the church.
Chapter Seven: Among the Workers
This chapter has two main sections. In the first, Watchman Nee endeavors to show how extra-local workers never worked alone, but in companies (groups of individuals). These companies were not organized by official authority. Rather, the Spirit drew these workers together and they organized themselves by spiritual authority. Thus, it was natural for Paul, due to greater spirituality, to take the lead among his coworkers. Yet his younger coworkers had to also be given room to follow the Spirit. It is a tension in organization that both older and younger coworkers must recognize, honor, and experience the cross for (to deal with their flesh).
In the second section, Watchman Nee examines how these companies ought to relate to one another, even when their spheres and ministries may be so different. The answer is not “identification with” but “with fellowship.” There is no central coordination that identifies each company of workers with the ministry of the Body. Rather, on the basis of being from and unto the Body, the companies should extend fellowship to one another. Many brothers, even apostles, may come together in a particular company. But nowhere do we see all the apostles under one particular company, name, or official authority.
On that note, Watchman Nee talks about the requirements for working with another company. Denominational or missional divisions are no hindrance to fellowship, he says, but if the goal of any particular group is to advance their denomination or mission, we cannot work together. We are not only for the gospel work, but for a proper next step, that is, the establishment of local churches, not churches affiliated with a mission or denomination. In the final pages of this chapter, Watchman Nee shares phenomenally helpful considerations of the difference between fellowship and work, and the application to our cooperation with other Christians.