After the publication of my book in Chinese, quite a number of missionaries asked for an edition in English. I felt reluctant to comply, for personally I should prefer to have those books translated which better represent my ministry, rather than this one which is liable to be misunderstood and controverted. The book as it now stands is a greatly abridged and slightly revised edition of the Chinese. Neither in expression nor in style is it as English as I should wish, but I trust that in this respect I may count on the leniency of its readers. If all we want is the truth of God, then the difficulty of understanding the book should prove no serious barrier to the reading of it.
Because of the vastness of the subject and the importance of its issues, I have not found it easy either to write or translate this book. Since some of the same points have had to be dealt with in different parts of the book, it will be found necessary to read it right through if full understanding is to result. If, because of seemingly insurmountable difficulty, the book is laid aside before completed, a false position will result; whereas by reading it right through many if not all of the difficulties will be cleared up. Frequently the questions which arise at certain points are answered further on - sometimes much further on. To do the book justice, the reader is asked to finish reading it before passing judgment.
The book is not intended for anyone and everyone. It is for those who feel their responsibility in the Lord's service. But more than this, it is for such as honestly and truly mean business for God, for those whose hearts are open, who have no padlocked mind or prejudices. The book may test one's sincerity and honesty to no small degree, but I believe the Lord has shown something which is of importance to the whole body of Christ.
The whole matter will grow upon the reader and become clearer with relaxed contemplation after the first reading The door must not be closed with a snap of "Impossible!" or "Ideal, but not practical!" By prayerful openness of heart, without argument or discussion, the Spirit of truth should be given a chance, and then what is of Him will cause all our natural reactions to die away and we shall know the truth and the truth shall make us free. What is set forth in these pages is no mere theory or teaching but something we have actually tested in actual practice.
One of the prayers I have offered in connection with this book is that the Lord should keep it from those who oppose and would use it as a chart for attack and also from those who agree and would use it as a manual for service. I dread the latter far more than the former.
- Watchman Nee
The content of the following pages is the substance of a number of talks to my younger fellow-workers during conferences held in 1938 in Shanghai and Hankow. At these two conferences we sought in the first place to examine the teaching of God's Word concerning His churches and His work, and in the second place to review our past missions in the light of our findings.
We trust the readers of this book will bear in mind that its messages as originally given were never meant for them They were intended exclusively for the inner circle of my most intimate associates in the work, but by request we share our findings with the wider circle of all our brethren. This book is something private made public, something originally intended for the few now extended to the many.
During the past eighteen years the Lord has led us through different experiences in order that we might learn a little of the principle as well as the fact of the Cross and Resurrection, and learn something of the Indwelling Life and Lordship of Christ, the Corporate Life of the Body, the Ground of the Kingdom of God, and His Eternal Purpose. It is natural, therefore, that these things have been the burden of our ministry. But God's wine must have a wineskin to contain it. In the Divine pattern, nothing is left for man to decide. God Himself has provided the best wineskin for His wine, which will contain and preserve it without loss, hindrance or misrepresentation. He has given us His wine, but He has shown us His wineskin also.
Our work throughout the past years has been according to certain definite principles, but never until now have we tried to define or to teach them. We have sought rather to stress those truths which have direct bearing on the spiritual life of the believer and the Eternal Purpose of God. But the practical outworking of those truths in the Lord's service is by no means unimportant. Without that everything is in the realm of theory and spiritual development is impossible. We would seek, therefore, by the grace of God not only to pass on His good wine but also the wineskin He has provided for its preservation. The truths set forth must therefore be regarded as the sequence, not the introduction to our many years of ministry.
This book is not a treatise on missionary methods, but a review of our past work in the light of God's will as have discovered it in His Word. The Lord had most graciously led us by His Spirit in our past service for Him, but we wanted to be clear as to the foundations upon which all divine work should rest. I realized that the primary need of my younger brethren was to be led of the Spirit and to receive revelation from Him, but I could not ignore their need of a solid Scriptural basis for all their ministry. There was no thought of criticizing the labors of others or even of making any suggestion to them how the work of God ought to be conducted; we were merely seeking to learn from God's Word, from experience, and from observation, how to conduct the work in the days to come so that we might be workmen "approved unto God."
The book is written from the standpoint of a servant looking from the work towards the churches. It does not deal with the specific ministry to which we believe the Lord has called us but only with the general principles of the work. Nor does it deal with the ``Church which is His Body,'' but with the local churches and their relation with the work. The book does not touch the principles of the work or the life of the churches; it is only a review of our missions.
The truths referred to in this book have been gradually learned and practiced during the past years. Numerous adjustments have been made as greater light has been received, and if we remain humble and God still shows us His mercy, we believe there will be further adjustments in the future. The Lord has graciously given us a goodly number of associates in the work, all of whom have been sent forth on the basis mentioned in this book, and through their labors numerous churches have been established in different parts of China, Formosa and other countries in the Far East. Though vastly different conditions obtain in these many churches, and the believers connected with them differ greatly too - in background, education, social standing and spiritual experience - yet we have found that if under the absolute Lordship of Christ we come to see the heavenly pattern of church formation and government, then the Scriptural methods are both practical and fruitful.
Missionary methods, as such, do not interest me at all. In fact, it is a deep grief to meet children of God who know practically nothing of the hatefulness of a life lived in the energy of the natural man and know little of vital experience of the Headship of Jesus Christ, yet all the while are scrupulously careful to arrive at absolute correctness of method in God's service. Many a time we have been told, "We agree with you in everything." Far from it! In reality we do not agree at all! We hope this book will not fall into the hands of those who wish to improve their work by improving their methods without adjusting their relationship to the Lord, but we do hope it will have a message for the humble ones who have learned to live in tht power of the Spirit and have no confidence in the flesh.
It is death to have a wineskin without wine, but it is loss to have wine without a wineskin. We must have the wineskin after we have the wine. Paul wrote the Ephesian Epistle but he could also write the Corinthian Epistle, and Corinthians presents us with Ephesians truths in practical expression. Corinthian teachings are practical and touch the earthly sphere, so if there is the slightest difference of opinion a reaction is felt at once. Corinthians is very practical. It tests our obedience more than does Ephesians!
The danger with those who know little about life and reality is to emphasize mere outward correctness, but with those to whom life and reality are a matter of supreme importance, the temptation is to to throw away the divine pattern of things, thinking it legal and technical. They feel that they have the greater and can therefore dispense with the lesser. But God has not only revealed the truths relating to the outward expression of that life. God prizes the inner reality but He does not ignore its outward expression. We might think it sufficient for God to instruct us through Romans. Ephesians. and Colossians as to our life in Christ, but He has thought it necessary to instruct us through Acts, Corinthians, and Timothy as to how to do His work and how to organize His Church. God has left nothing to human imagination or human will. It is not our place, therefore, to suggest how we think divine work should be done. but rather to ask in everything. "What is the will of the Lord?"
We must seek to follow the leading of God's Spirit, but at the same time we must seek to pay attention to the examples shown us in His Word. The leading of the Spirit is precious. but if there is no example in the Word then it is easy to substitute our fallible thoughts and unfounded feelings for the Spirit's leading, drifting into error without realizing it. If one is not willing to obey God's will in every direction, it is easy to do things contrary to His word and still fancy one is being led of His Spirit. We emphasize the necessity of following both the leading of the Spirit and the examples of the Word, because by comparing our ways with the written Word we can discover the source of our leading. The Spirit's guidance will always harmonize with the Scriptures. God cannot lead a man one way in the beginning and another way today. In externalities the leading may vary but in principle it is always the same, for God's will is eternal and therefore changeless. God is the Eternal God. He takes no cognizance of time, and His will and ways all bear the stamp of eternity. This being so, God could never act one way at one time and another way later on. Circumstances may differ and cases may differ, but in principle the will and ways of God are just the same today as they were in the days of the Acts.
God said to the Israelites: "Moses for your hardness of heart allowed you to put away your wives" (Mt. 19:8), but the Lord Jesus said, "What God has joined together, let not man separate." (Mt. 19:6). Is there not a discrepancy here? Not at all! "Moses for your hardness of heart allowed you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it hath not been so" (Mt. 19:8). It is not that in "the beginning" it was permissible, and later became permissible again, as though God were a changeable God. No, the Lord said, "From the beginning it has not been so" showing that God's will had never been altered. "From the beginning" right on until today it is just the same. Here is a most important principle. If we want to know the mind of God, we must look at His commands in Genesis and not look at His permissions later on, because every later permission has this explanation: "for your hardness of heart." It is God's directive will we want to discover, not His permissive will. We want to see what God's purpose was "from the beginning." We want to see things as they were when they proceeded in all their purity from the mind of God, not what they have become because of "hardness of heart" on the part of His people.
If we would understand the will of God concerning His Church, then we must return to the beginning, to the "genesis" of the Church, to see what He then said and did. It is there we find the highest expression of His will. The Book of the Acts is the "genesis" of the Church's history, and the Church in the time of Paul is the "genesis" of the Spirit's work. Conditions in the Church today are vastly different from what they were then, but these present conditions could never be our example or our authoritative guide. We must return to "the beginning."
A word of explanation may be needed regarding the examples God has given us in His word. Christianity is built not only upon precepts but also upon examples. God has revealed His will not only by giving orders but by having certain things done in His Church, so that in the ages to come others might simply look at the pattern and know His will, God has directed His people not only by means of abstract principles and objective regulations but by concrete examples and subjective experience. God does use precepts to teach His people, but one of His chief methods of instruction is through history. God tells us how others knew and did His will, so that we by looking at their lives may not only know His will but see how to do it, too. He worked in their lives, producing in them what He Himself desired, and He bids us look at them so that we may know what He is after.
In closing, may I stress the fact that this is not a book on missionary methods. Methods are not to be despised, but in God's service what matters most is the man, not his methods. Unless the man is right, right methods will be of no use to him or his work. Carnal methods are suited to carnal men, and spiritual methods to spiritual men. For carnal men to employ spiritual methods will only result in confusion and failure. This book is intended for those who, having learned something of the Cross, know the corruption of human nature and seek to walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. Its object is to help those who acknowledge the Lordship of Christ in all things and are seeking to serve Him in the way of His own appointment, not of their own choosing. May none of my readers use this book as a basis for external adjustments in their work, without letting the Cross deal drastically with their natural life.
In God's work everything depends upon the kind of worker sent out and the kind of convert produced. On the part of the convert, a real Holy Spirit new birth is essential, and a vital relationship with God. On the part of the worker, besides personal holiness and enduement for service, it is essential that he have an experimental knowledge of the meaning of committal to God and faith in His sovereign Providence; otherwise, no matter how Scriptural the methods employed, the result will be emptiness and defeat.
To the Lord and to His people I commend this book, with the prayer that He may use it for His glory, as He sees fit.
- Watchman Nee.