Gathered in the Name
What Shall this Man Do?, 143-145, c.1961, printing 1998, Watchman Nee
We have placed strong emphasis upon the unity of the Church. Always and only have we seen her as one and undivided. Now we have to ask ourselves a question: Is there any point at which this view of her has to be qualified? For does not Scripture speak not only of "the Church" but also of "churches"? Where and at what point does the Church of God become the churches of God?
If we look carefully into this, we shall discover that the basis of division (if we can use that word at all) is a single one-that of locality alone. If the New Testament is to be our guide, the only ground of division contemplated is geographical. There is in the Word of God no room for grouping of Christians together into things called "churches" on such grounds, for example, as history or doctrine, mission-connection or personal allegiance, or even special message or ministry. The name given to churches in Scripture are invariably those of cities, that is, of local centers of community life. We read of "the church of God which is in Corinth," "the church of the Thessalonians," "the seven churches that are in Asia" (each, of course, named after a single city), and so forth. It is such expressions alone that designate the Church of God distributed on earth, and Scripture knows no exceptions.
This brings us to another thing, and it is this, that the very same word "church" is used locally as is used universally (for of course in Greek there is no distinction by capitals and lower case). We read of "the Church which is his Body" but we read also "the church of God which is at Corinth" and "the church in thy house" (Eph. 1.23; 1 Cor. 1.2; Philemon 2). Surely this means that the church in a locality is the Church which is his Body (with all the profound wealth and meaning that goes into that term) finding her local expression in that place at that time.
But if this last statement is true, it places an altogether new emphasis upon one thing of which we may till now have missed the significance, namely, the importance to God of the present local expression of the Body comprising all the members of Christ in any one place. In Corinth of Laodicea, Rome or Lystra, all the members of Christ by new birth were called upon to function against the secular background as an expression of the one Body. Every dividing of them upon on other principles would only touch their life and testimony adversely.
Leaving aside, of course, the more limited grouping together of brothers and sisters for special tasks in the work of the Lord, I affirm again that the Church embraces all the believers; it has no room for sectarian alliances. It was one of the reproaches held against the church in Corinth that parties had begun to appear there claiming personal allegiances. Today that kind of thing has become perpetuated in various ways, but to this Paul's challenge is as strong and clear now as it was then: "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"
In a passage at the end of Romans touching on the subject of church life, the apostle begins his discussion with the words "God hath received him" and ends it with "Christ also received us" (14.3; 15.7). Here is the simple basis of all our life and fellowship with others. It is that they belong to the Lord, and so do we. That is sufficient. We do not join with them because they and we belong to the same denomination or owe our Christianity to the same mission, nor because both share a liking for a certain preacher or his message, nor yet because they hold particular doctrinal views and we hold the same views, nor even because they have certain Christian experience and we have had a like experience. No, we join with them solely and sufficiently because they belong to the Lord and we too belong to the same Lord. It is in him that we are one.
It is not my desire here to attack denominational Christianity as wrong. I only say again that, for the Body of Christ to find effective local expression, the basis of fellowship must be a true one. And that basis is the life-relation of the members to their Lord and their willing submission to him as Head. Nor am I pleading for those who will make a fresh sect of something called "localism"-that is, the strict demarcation of churches by localities. For such a thing could easily happen. If what we are doing today in life becomes tomorrow a mere method, so that by its very character some of his own are excluded from it, may God have mercy upon us and break it up! For all those in whom the Lord, the Spirit, has liberty are ours and we are theirs. No, I am pleading only for those who will see the heavenly Man, and who in their life and fellowship will follow after that! Christ is the Head of the Body-not of other "bodies" or units of religion. Involvement in the spiritual Body of Christ is what secures the committal of the Head to us, his members-that, and that alone.