Discussing the regional work of apostles (the workers) working from regional centers, travelling to church localities, giving the gospel, and training elders.
The regional work of informal apostles (the workers) - whom are no longer formally the apostles of the first century apostolic age but, nonetheless, they shall do the same work (Acts being the only book of the Bible that was incomplete without an ending - not to say the 66 books are not the complete Word of God - which is to mean we are to write the last act of the book of Acts and God foreknew we would need to).
Apostles Set Up Elders Though Not Always
Apostles for a Region of Churches with No Set Meeting Place
Observe a worker’s (apostle's) travels for the Lord concerns the appointment of responsible brothers. Not every worker can appoint elders. Paul asked Timothy and Titus to set up elders, but apparently he did not call Mark, Silas, Luke, Demas, and others to do so. Some of us are to be hands, but not eyes. Think of yourself for a moment as a hand. Can a hand after much consideration determine whether a pillar is white? Even if it were to deliberate for five days, it could never figure out the color. It would have to ask the eye to see and determine. Those of us who are hands or ears but not eyes, let us be mindful of the fact that it is easy to set up a responsible brother, but it will be most troublesome to ask him to step down because of our own carelessness in having appointed him. How the entire Church suffers greatly in this respect. For this reason, we must not appoint responsible brothers carelessly. Paul called Timothy to seek for the faithful ones. This indeed is not a light area of concern.
The Work Is Regional
Among several things which have been shown to us, the first is the important principle of region or area. Whereas the. churches are local, the Work, we have come to see, is regional. To us this is something which has become crystal clear from the Scriptures. To put the matter differently, a church is in one locality, whereas for purposes of the Work, many such localities together form one region. This is evident from the New Testament, although ten, or even five years ago, we did not have the light to see it. It is apparent to us now that the Twelve worked in one region, while Paul, Silas, Timothy and Barnabas worked in another—or in more than one. And if we study the Epistles we shall discern a number of such different regions. Let us note also the words in 2 Corinthians 10, where we find Paul writing of his labors as follows: "Now we will not boast out of measure, but according to the measure of the rule which the God of measure has apportioned to us, to reach to you also" (v.13 Darby). He seems here to allude to the matter of appointed spheres of work, as though God drew a circle for them and drew another circle for another group of His servants, and that within these limits was to be found the sphere of work of a particular company of workers.
This, therefore, is the difference of operation, as we see it, between the church and the Work: that the Work is regional, but the churches are not. No church can exercise jurisdiction over other localities, for its authority is essentially local. The sphere of the Work, on the other hand, is wider and embraces several localities in a single area or field.
At one time we tended to confuse the sphere of the Work with the locality of the church. Today we see clearly that the Work comprises a number of localities, and that its sphere of operation is wide. For example, we find Peter and John cooperating as a team or unit in the Work of one region, while Paul and Timothy labor together as another unit in a different region. The different groups of workers maintain contact and have fellowship with one another, yet they equally have their respective working areas within which they move.
The Region Has a Center
We come now to a second principle. Each region, we find, has a center; whereas the churches, of course, have no such center. The church in Jerusalem cannot—as a "central church"—rule the church in Samaria. No local church can control another local church, nor can one church control several churches. The widest scope of a church’s authority is its locality; no more. There is no such thing as a regional church or an association of churches. The Church has neither regional council nor headquarters. But with the Work it is otherwise. The Work has a region and the region has a center, and that is why in the book of Acts we see Jerusalem as a center and Antioch as another center.
This will help to explain what may until now have been a problem to some of us. If we have not yet seen that the Work is centralized in this way, then we shall probably have found Jerusalem a difficulty to us rather than a help. We have not understood its special character. While the whole New Testament confirms that the Church—in its practical expression—is local, nevertheless there seems something special to be learned from both Jerusalem and Antioch. What we have come to realize today is that the church in Antioch is one thing, while a Work taking Antioch as its center is another. From the standpoint of the churches, Jerusalem and Antioch are of an equal level with, say, Samaria; but from the standpoint of the Work, Jerusalem is a center and Antioch is also a center.
At the beginning of Acts the Lord’s promise is that, when the Spirit is come, they shall witness "in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (1.8). Here Jerusalem is distinctly a working center in the divine plan. Again, in the thirteenth chapter, there emerges a new beginning at Antioch. The Holy Spirit makes a new departure, and from there men arise and go forth to work in other places. Thus Antioch is constituted another center of the Work. It was the Spirit who made a beginning at Jerusalem, and now it is the Spirit who makes a beginning at Antioch.
In Jerusalem Peter, we must remind ourselves, was an elder. Here is something of value we have discovered through reconsidering Jerusalem. In days past we have stressed Peter as apostle, but have overlooked Peter as elder. In Jerusalem he had a double ministry. With regard to that city he was—like James and John—an elder of the church; but with regard to the whole Work that was centered there, he was an apostle and so were they. For this reason, when writing to the church at Antioch they wrote as "apostles and elders" (Acts 15.23). How otherwise could elders in Jerusalem write a letter giving command to the church in Antioch? Are they elders who write? But there are also elders among those to whom they write! Going outside their locality as elders, they would automatically become involved in a conflict of authority. If, however, they were not only elders but also apostles, then the letter they sent to Antioch in fact carried the weight of the Spirit’s witness, both in the church at Jerusalem and in the Lord’s Work through the apostles.
So today we see how the Work of God operates regionally. God would have His Work in an area centered in one place, from which workers go and to which they return. In the local churches it is elders who bear responsibility; but in a regional center of the Work, there are not only elders as such but also workers bearing responsibility jointly with them.
Scripture gives no support for the common practice of assigning a worker to a given locality for work and for government there. Unless he migrates to that locality and becomes a resident elder of the church there, a worker should settle in his Jerusalem. For two thousand years Peter has been blamed for not leaving Jerusalem, and some have even suggested that it was because Peter and John remained there that persecution fell upon the Jerusalem church. There is no basis in the Bible for this view, and the Lord tells us plainly that it is "because ye are not of the world" that "the world hateth you" (John 15.19). No, neither by travel nor by staying at home shall we avoid the persecution which comes when we begin to follow the Lord. That is certain!
But on this question of going and returning, we can be assured that Peter was in his right place. He went to Samaria, for in Samaria was the Work of God; but from there he returned to Jerusalem. He went also to Caesarea; but once again he came back to Jerusalem. All this was because Jerusalem was his center, whereas Samaria was only one of the cities in that region of the Work. Thus it was that the fellow workers, moving from place to place through the region, set out from Jerusalem and returned there repeatedly.
When we come to the choice of a center for the Work, we must be quite clear that this is a matter not for man but for God. Only He can decide the place, and only the Holy Spirit can initiate the Work. Human judgment and initiative have no part in this. We cannot consult together to choose a site for Jerusalem. Only the Jerusalem of the Spirit’s choice is Jerusalem indeed.
So Peter moves to and from Jerusalem. Later, Paul moves to and from Antioch. They do not settle permanently in other places, but always return to their starting point. Their work is carried on within definite bounds or regions or spheres—call them what you will—and from divinely chosen centers. For each group of workers in any place, it is "according to the measure of the rule which God has apportioned."
We should never appoint a worker from outside as elder of a local church. It was only in Jerusalem that Peter was an elder as well as an apostle. If you are resident in a place, you may be both elder and apostle simultaneously in that place, but nowhere else. You may go out as a worker to help other churches, but you must return. It is wrong for you not to return. Like Paul you may take a large circuit and come back, or like Peter you may go out and return directly. Either is correct; but you must return. Paul came back to Antioch, Peter to Jerusalem; this is the Lord’s word, and it could not be plainer. (Church Affairs, CFP, W. Nee)