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An Application of and Deviation from the Pattern in Acts 151

The author of "Analysis & Response" uses the gathering of the leading workers in Acts 15 as a basis for criticizing the co-workers' fellowship and coordination which issued in Publication Work in the Lord's Recovery. His appeal to Acts 15 is flawed.2 In this article we will examine:

  1. The Scriptural pattern of Acts 15,
  2. The application of Acts 15 by the co-workers in their fellowship, and
  3. The deviation from Acts 15 in the author's publishing of "Analysis & Response."

1. The Scriptural Pattern of Acts 15

The basic facts concerning the account in Acts 15 are as follows:

  1. Because of growing problems among the churches regarding a teaching that circumcision was a prerequisite to salvation, Paul and Barnabas, under the direction of the brothers with them, went to Jerusalem to fellowship with the leading ones there (v. 2).

    Acts 15:2-3a - [2] And when no little dissension and discussion with them came about through Paul and Barnabas, the brothers directed Paul and Barnabas and certain others among them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning the question. [3] They therefore, having been sent forward by the 1church...

    fn. 15:31 - The going up to Jerusalem by Paul, Barnabas, and certain others was the move of the church, not the move of themselves as individuals. They did not act individualistically apart from the church, but corporately in and with the church. This was the move of the Body of Christ.


  2. Because, contrary to the word of Paul and Barnabas, some believers of the sect of the Pharisees said that circumcision was necessary for salvation (v. 5), the apostles and elders came together to consider the matter (v. 6).

    Acts 15:5 - But certain men of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed rose up from among them, saying, It is necessary to circumcise them and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.

    Acts 15:6 - And the apostles and the elders were 1gathered together to see about this matter.

    fn. 15:61 - This was a unique conference held by the apostles of the universal church and the elders of the local church in Jerusalem. These two groups were the leading ones in the Lord's New Testament move on earth. The conference had no chairman; the presiding One was the Spirit (v. 28), the pneumatic Christ, the Head of the church (Col. 1:18) and the Lord of all (10:36). Much discussion had taken place (v. 7) indicates that everyone in the conference had the freedom to speak. The decision was made based on (1) the testimony shared by Peter (vv. 7-11), (2) the facts related by Barnabas and Paul (v. 12), and (3) the concluding word given by James (vv. 13-21), who was the leading one among the apostles and elders in Jerusalem (12:17; 21:18; Gal. 1:19; 2:9) ...


  3. In their gathering, the brothers practiced a very open fellowship. After much discussion Peter spoke (vv. 7-11), and finally Paul and Barnabas spoke concerning the work that God was doing among the Gentiles (v. 12).

    Acts 15:7a - And when much discussion had taken place, Peter rose up and said to them...

    Acts 15:12 - And all the multitude became silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul relating all the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.


  4. When all had finished speaking (v. 13), James, who was the leading one among the apostles and elders in Jerusalem at that time, pronounced a decision in the matter (vv. 13-21).

    Acts 15:13 - And when they finished speaking, James answered, saying, Men brothers, listen to me.

    Acts 15:19 - Therefore I judge that we do not harass those from the Gentiles who are turning to God.


  5. That decision was "published" in a written statement and sent to the churches throughout the Gentile region, stating that the brothers had "become of one accord" in the matter (vv. 22-31).

    Acts 15:22a, 23a - [22] It then seemed good to the apostles and the elders with the whole church to choose men from among them to send to Antioch together with Paul and Barnabas..., [23] writing to them and sending by their hands the following...

    Acts 15:25a - It seemed good to us, having become of one accord...

    Acts 15:28a - For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...

According to the account in "Analysis & Response," it would seem that before any decision can be made by the co-workers, each brother who has been consulted on a matter must agree. In other words, "Analysis & Response" replaces the scriptural one accord with unanimity of opinion. In practice this would mean that one opinionated person or small group of workers could prevent any decision from being made unless their views are not only considered, but adopted. However, that is not according to the pattern in Acts 15.

"Analysis & Response" cites Brother Nee's word in Church Affairs that Acts 15 "is the pattern accepted by the church for the past two thousand years," but it does not tell us what that pattern is according to Brother Nee's fellowship. In fact, if you read Brother Nee's rather extended account (The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 51, pp. 144-150), it matches the five points we have just described. After much discussion took place, those brothers with more spiritual stature expressed their opinion. When the Lord's leading through the common feeling among the brothers bearing the highest authority in the work became evident, a decision was reached. At this point Brother Nee says,

The other brothers then needed to learn to accept this opinion. Thus, it says, "It then seemed good to the apostles and the elders with the whole church" (v. 22). This is how the affairs are handled in the church. (The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 51, pp. 1483) [emphasis added]

Based upon the measuring stick of Acts 15, the way of open fellowship and much prayer as practiced by the co-workers in the Lord's recovery stands in stark contrast to the way of public dissent taken by the author of "Analysis & Response" and the others.

2. The Application of Acts 15 in the Co-workers' Fellowship

The statement on one publication work was an outgrowth of much fellowship and prayer among the co-workers. Before his death Brother Lee was very concerned about brothers who were building up their own work within the Lord's recovery. He took steps to try to blend those brothers and their works with the other co-workers. Since that time, the co-workers have likewise tried to pursue the same practice of blending. Times are set aside before or after each of the seven "feasts" for the co-workers to come together to pray and fellowship about matters of concern in the Lord's recovery. There have also been numerous other gatherings of co-workers in those years. In the seven and a half years since Brother Lee's passing, the co-workers have come together to pray and fellowship over eighty times, many of these times consisting of multiple meetings and many addressing particularly the problems caused by different teachings propagated through separate publication works. The author of "Analysis & Response" was invited to many of those gatherings. By his own admission he did not gather with the brothers in recent years. In other words, the blended co-workers did come together according to the principles in Acts 15, but he by his own choice did not attend.

The one publication work statement passed through nine drafts before it was published. It was the subject of thorough fellowship among the co-workers at a series of meetings in Anaheim on April 4-7, 2005, to which the author of "Analysis & Response" was invited but did not attend. In part because of the absence of the brothers who disagreed with Brother Lee's teaching and practice on the matter of being restricted in one publication work, a revised draft was sent out for comment to a number of the absent brothers. The author of "Analysis & Response" was among the many workers who were included in that circulation. On June 13, 2005, he submitted a number of challenges to the proposed statement. Several of the co-workers responded to his concerns, responses that he himself called "helpful." Some minor adjustments were made to the statement to clarify the brothers' feeling about some of the issues he had raised. Thus, the brothers pursued a broad and open fellowship to get the feeling of the workers throughout the Lord's recovery.

Having listened to all of the brothers' fellowship, the leading co-workers from around the globe, again in accordance with Acts 15, followed the leading of the Spirit, confirmed in the feeling of the vast majority of brothers participating in the fellowship, to issue the statement Publication Work in the Lord's Recovery. In a letter dated September 27, 2005, the co-workers in Southern California reviewed the process all the co-workers had taken in producing that document:

While we were in the stage of fellowship to draft a statement concerning one publication work in the Lord's ministry, the feeling of many co-workers over the earth was sought. The fellowship offered by each co-worker before publication of the statement was altogether proper and was received in the Lord. After the various comments and suggestions were considered, the final draft was submitted for publication and then released during the summer training in July 2005 under the title Publication Work in the Lord's Recovery. The published statement contains fellowship regarding the blended co-workers' understanding of the principles and the leading contained in Brother Lee's fellowship and writings on the publication work in the Lord's recovery. The statement also contains Brother Lee's own speaking regarding this matter.

At that point the author of "Analysis & Response" should have followed the example of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15. As Brother Lee pointed out:

The record in Acts 15 shows us the sweet spirit of the Apostle Paul during the conference held there. Mostly he did not say much. After Peter said something, Paul testified to the dear saints in Jerusalem, telling them what the Lord had been doing through his ministry (vv. 7-12). Then James said something to conclude the conference (vv. 13-21). Actually, I do not believe that the conclusion was satisfactory to Paul. Paul, however, took this decision. This is a good example for us to follow because Paul regarded the fact that the Lord had only one Body. Whatever they were doing there was only under one move to carry out one ministry to produce the one Body that bears one unique testimony. (Elders' Training, Book 4: Other Crucial Matters Concerning the Practice of the Lord's Recovery, p. 37) [emphasis added]

3. The Deviation from Acts 15 in the Publication of "Analysis & Response"

However, the author of "Analysis & Response," among others, chose not to follow the example of Paul and Barnabas. Instead, the dissenting ones voiced open opposition to the fellowship of the blended co-workers. They portray themselves as defenders of the truth. In fact, the dissemination of "Analysis & Response" is an egregious offense against the oneness of the Body and the Lord's authority in the Body. The "one accord" realized in Acts 15 did not come from a unanimity of opinion, but from all of the brothers dropping their own opinion and accepting the Holy Spirit's leading through the ones exercising the leadership in the Lord's New Testament move. In this light, it is actually the response of the author of "Analysis & Response" to the brothers' fellowship that is in clear contradiction to the pattern in Acts 15. Consider Brother Nee's words concerning Acts 15 from Authority and Submission:

Acts 15 records a big conference. Everyone, whether old or young, was free to rise up to speak. Every brother could speak. Later Peter and Paul spoke. Then James made the decision. Peter and Paul gave the facts; James made the decision. There was a lining up even among the elders and apostles. Paul said that he was the least among the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9). There is even a distinction between great and small among the apostles. This is not a matter of someone lining us up. Rather, it involves knowing our proper position. This is the most beautiful testimony and the most wonderful picture. This makes Satan tremble, and this will bring down his kingdom. When we all take the way of submission, God will judge the world. (The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 47, p. 162) [emphasis added]

As the Southern California co-workers stated in their letter:

For a co-worker to express any disagreement regarding the draft of a certain publication before its dissemination among the saints in the Lord's recovery is altogether proper and may be of the Lord, but for anyone to attack a publication after thorough fellowship among the co-workers and after the publication has been released is surely not in the Lord or of the Lord. The way that some have taken will frustrate, damage, and destroy certain fundamental principles that have been built up in us within the Lord's recovery.

Many other portions from the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee address the principles set forth in Acts 15 regarding maintaining the proper order in the Body of Christ through fellowship, respect for the Lord's leadership of His church exercised through the ones in authority, dealing with self-opinion through the application of the cross, and care for the oneness as the highest principle of the Body.

The Application of Acts 15

We can apply this pattern to ourselves. A decision is not made according to the opinion of the majority. Instead, when the church comes together, all the brothers and sisters can speak and debate. At the end, the elders make a decision. Before the final decision is made, all the brothers can speak. Peter could speak. Paul and Barnabas could also speak. When James spoke, a final decision was reached.

The Decision of the Spiritual Leader Being the Decision of the Holy Spirit

In verse 19 James made the decision: "Therefore I judge that..." Then in verse 28 he said, "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us." This opinion was actually James's decision. In the end it became the decision of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the entire church. Therefore, we see that the decision of the spiritual leader is the decision of the Holy Spirit. (The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 62, pp. 397, 399)

The situation in Acts 15 was neither democratic nor autocratic; it was a situation like the one we have just described. Everyone opened himself in the Holy Spirit and fellowshipped what he had encountered, what he felt, and what he had observed. In the end, James, who was the authority at that time, after hearing all the words, stood up and stated the way they should proceed. Immediately after James stood up and spoke, no one had anything more to say. This is the principle of authority.

The elders should know the place the Lord has put them in, whether as the authority, or as those under authority. They should know in what order the Lord has placed them, whether they are the first or the second. They should know the order here. To know the order is to know authority. You have to accept this authority. Otherwise, there will be no possibility for the elders to be coordinated together....

This is not all. Only after the elders are broken will they not argue when they discuss matters. Any argument is a sign of unbrokenness. A broken elder has no argument; he knows in what order he is set. He can speak out his feeling in a serious way, but after he speaks, if the leading elder continues with his decision, he is able to submit himself to it. It does not mean that you will not speak out your feeling when you accept the authority. Nor does it mean that when you speak out your feeling you are not accepting authority. Everyone has to learn to have no arguments and to obey. The leading ones may make wrong decisions and wrong moves. But if everyone would take this way, there will still be a coordination and there will still be the blessing. Everyone is still fully one and in harmony. All wrong decisions and wrong moves can easily be adjusted... (The Elders' Management of the Church, pp. 124, 127)

All problems in the church can and should be solved through proper and adequate fellowship by praying together sincerely and thoroughly (Acts 15:1-31). The proper prayer and fellowship without pride and self-interest, under the light of the pure word of the Scriptures, will solve every problem among us and preserve us in oneness. (47 speakers, 1993 Blending Conference Messages Concerning the Lord's Recovery and Our Present Need, p. 95)

Chapter fifteen of Acts tells us that the Judaizing believers came down to Antioch, which was the very origin of the ministry to the Gentile world, and they brought the problem there (v. 1). That became a real damage to the Lord's ministry, His Body, and also His testimony.

Paul could not tolerate the situation. Under that situation, he could not go on with the Lord's ministry to continue the Lord's testimony among the heathen. Therefore, he and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to have some fellowship to solve the problem. The decision made at the conference at Jerusalem should not be satisfactory to the readers and teachers of the Bible, who know God's New Testament economy. The concluding word given by James was still under the influence of the Mosaic law, due to his heavy Judaic background. The influence of this background still remained, even at the time Paul paid his last visit to Jerusalem (21:20-26). One point, however, was established in Jerusalem. This point is that the Lord's testimony is one, the Lord's Body is one, the Lord's ministry is one, and the Lord's move is one. If the Lord's move, the Lord's ministry, the Lord's Body, and the Lord's testimony had not been one, Paul would not have needed to go to Jerusalem, and there would have been no need for them to make a decision which covered not only the Jewish believers but also the Gentile believers.

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. This does not mean that the churches in Judea can keep the law and the churches in the Gentile world do not need to keep the law. This also does not mean that the churches in Judea bear one kind of testimony and the churches in the Gentile world bear another testimony. It is not like the United States where every state has its own laws. According to the basic principle of the New Testament economy, the decision made in Acts 15 is not so satisfactory to us. However, no one can deny that a principle was established which covered all the churches. The American constitution allows every state to have its own laws, but this decision made at Jerusalem did not allow the churches in different regions to have their own law, which means to have their own testimony. We must see this. [emphasis added] (Elders' Training, Book 4: Other Crucial Matters Concerning the Practice of the Lord's Recovery, pp. 29-30)

The One Solution Being the Decree for All the Churches

The one solution made at Jerusalem for the problem of circumcision became a decree for all the churches, both Jewish and Gentile, to keep (Acts 15:1-31). Hence, in relation to the matter of circumcision, all the churches should be the same. After the issuing of such a decree, it would have been wrong to allow the Jewish churches to keep the practice of circumcision while permitting the Gentile churches not to observe it. We should not forget that in the church, in the new man, there is no difference between the Greeks and the Jews, because in the new man Christ is every member (Col. 3:11). The one solution regarding the problem of circumcision was good for all the churches, making all the churches the same. [emphasis added]

The Judaizers, the Jewish believers, not only stressed the practice of circumcision, but also said that circumcision was a requirement for salvation (v. 1). This was a great heresy. No little dissension and discussion arose between the Judaic believers and those of the proper faith (vv. 2-5). This problem was solved by Paul and Barnabas and certain others among the believers going to Jerusalem from Antioch to have a conference with the apostles and the elders there (v. 2). The Bible shows us that when a question like this arises, the leading ones need to come together to have a conference, to bring everything out into the open. The problem in Acts 15 was solved by Paul and Barnabas going to Jerusalem, having a conference with the apostles and the elders there, and through thorough fellowship, working out a solution that satisfied all the believers in different localities, a solution over which all the churches rejoiced and by which they were comforted (vv. 2, 6-31). This is the way we should solve the problems among us today. I believe that if from the beginning the concerned brothers among us would have had a sincere heart with a pure motive to come together to pray, to study the Word, and to fellowship, their concerns would have been easily taken care of. However, until now the brothers have been avoiding this kind of necessary fellowship. (The Intrinsic Problem in the Lord's Recovery Today and Its Scriptural Remedy, pp. 34, 43-44)

Notes:

1"Analysis & Response asks, "Is issuing a 'Policy Statement' Scriptural?" This question is itself misleading, as the discussion in "Analysis & Response" does not address that question, but whether the principles in Acts 15 were practiced, which is why this article addresses that issue.

2This article only addresses the misleading portrayal of the co-workers' practice as contrary to Acts 15 in "Analysis & Response." It does not address the author's misrepresentation of the co-workers' fellowship as a "policy statement," nor the implications of an organizational structure that appellation implies. In fact, the statement was not some sort of official policy but a repetition of Brother Lee's fellowship concerning having only one publication work as a practical means of maintaining the oneness among the churches in the Lord's recovery through one clear sounding of the trumpet through the Lord's ministry (see Is "One Publication" Scriptural?).

It also does not address the significant difference between the types of issues being addressed in Acts 15 and the co-workers' fellowship. The subject of the apostles' fellowship in Acts 15 was a crucial matter of the faith related to a heresy concerning God's way of salvation. In contrast, the blended co-workers' fellowship in Publication Work in the Lord's Recovery is the statement of their collective feeling concerning the best way to carry out the work of ministry in the Lord's recovery. Accordingly, the co-workers' statement respects the fact that the issue of one publication is not a matter of the Christian faith and therefore should not be insisted on as a standard for the receiving of saints or the recognizing of the churches (see the article entitled "Is "one publication" an item of "speciality" or "generality"?).

3There have been several printings of Church Affairs apart from the Collected Works; the page numbers in those printings are different.