The Church and the Work: Rethinking the Work, CFP white cover, 118-135, The Basis and Union of the Churches, Watchman Nee
Now what is true of the universal Church is also true of a local church. The universal Church comprises all those who have the unity of the Spirit; the local church comprises all those who, in a given locality, have the unity of the Spirit. The Church of God and the churches of God do not differ in nature, but only in extent. The former consists of all throughout the universe who are indwelt by the Spirit of God: the latter consists of all in one locality who are indwelt by the Spirit.
Anyone wishing to belong to a church in a given locality must answer two requirements—he must be a child of God, and he must live in that particular locality. Membership in the Church of God is conditioned only by being a child of God, but membership in a church of God is conditioned, firstly, by being a child of God and, secondly, by living in a given locality.
In nature the Church is indivisible as God Himself is indivisible, therefore the division of the Church into churches is not a division in nature, life, or essence, but only in government, organization and management. Because the earthly church is composed of a vast number of individuals, a measure of organization is indispensable. It is a physical impossibility for all the people of God, scattered throughout the world, to live and meet in one place; and it is for that reason alone that the Church of God has been divided into churches.
We must realize clearly that the nature of all the local churches is the same throughout the whole earth. It is not that the constituents of one local church are of one kind, and the constituents of another local church are of another kind. In nature there is no difference whatever; the only difference is in the localities that determine their respective boundaries. The Church is indivisible, therefore in nature the churches are indivisible too; it is only in outward sphere that there is any possibility of dividing them. Physical limitations make geographical divisions inevitable, but the spiritual oneness of believers overcomes all barriers of space.
Locality is the Divinely-appointed ground for the division of the Church, because it is the only inevitable division. Every barrier between all believers in the world is avoidable, except this one. As long as believers remain in the flesh they cannot exist apart from their dwelling-places, therefore the churches which consist of such believers cannot but be restricted by their dwellings. Geographical distinctions are natural, not arbitrary, and it is simply because the physical limitations of the children of God make geographical divisions inevitable, that God has ordained that His Church be divided into churches on the ground of locality. Such division is scriptural, and all other divisions are carnal. Any division of the children of God other than geographical implies not merely a division of sphere, but a division of nature. Local division is the only division which does not touch the life of the Church.
Most believers of to-day are so utterly blind to the scriptural basis of a church that if one asks another, “To what church do you belong?” the first thought of the one questioned is of the specific line of teaching he approves of, or the group of people with whom he has special fellowship, or how his group of Christians is different from others, or perhaps the name that particular group bears, or the form of organization they have adopted—in short, anything but the place in which he lives. Few would answer that question with: “I belong to the church in Ephesus,” or, “I belong to the church in Shanghai,” or “I belong to the church in Los Angeles.” It is our being in Christ that separates us from the world, and it is our being in a given locality that separates us from other believers. It is only because we reside in a different place from them that we belong to a different church. The only reason why I do not belong to the same church as other believers is because I do not live in the same place as they do. If I wish to be in the same church, then I must change my residence to the same place. If, on the other hand, I wish to be in a different church from others in my locality, then the only solution to my problem is to move to a different locality. Difference of locality is the only justification for division amongst believers.
On the positive side we have just seen the ground on which God has ordained that His Church be divided. Now, on the negative side, we shall see on what ground the Church ought not to be divided.
(1) Spiritual Leaders. “Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1.12). Here Paul points out the carnality of the Corinthian believers in attempting to divide the church of God in Corinth, which, by the Divine ordering, was indivisible, being already the smallest scriptural unit upon which any church could be established. They sought to divide the church on the ground of a few leaders who had been specially used of God in their midst. Cephas was a zealous minister of the Gospel, Paul was a man who had suffered much for his Lord’s sake, and Apollos was one whom God certainly used in His service; but though all three had been indisputably owned of God in Corinth, God could never permit the church there to make them a ground of division. He ordained that His Church be divided on the basis of localities, not of persons. It was all right to have a church in Corinth and a church in Ephesus, and quite all right to have several churches in Galatia and a number in Macedonia, for difference of locality justified division into these various churches; and it was also all right for the believers to esteem those leaders whom God had used amongst them; but it would have been quite wrong to divide the churches according to the respective leaders by whom they had been helped.
Paul, Cephas and Apollos were true-hearted servants of God who allowed no party-spirit to separate them; it was their devotees who were responsible for the separation. Hero worship is a tendency of human nature, which delights to show preference for those who appeal to its tastes. Because so many of God’s children know little or nothing of the power of the Cross to deal with the flesh, this tendency of man-worship has expressed itself frequently in the Church of God, and much havoc has been wrought in consequence. It is in keeping with God’s Will that we should learn from spiritual men and profit by their leadership, but it is altogether contrary to His Will that we should divide the Church according to the men we admire. The only scriptural basis for the forming of a church is difference of locality, not difference of leaders.
(2) Instruments of Salvation. Spiritual leaders are no adequate reason for dividing the Church, neither are the instruments used of God in our salvation. Some of the Corinthian believers proclaimed themselves to be “of Cephas,” others “of Paul,” others “of Apollos.” They traced the beginning of their spiritual history to these men, and so thought they belonged to them. It is both natural and common for persons saved through the instrumentality of a worker, or a society, to reckon themselves as belonging to such a worker or society: and it is likewise both natural and common for an individual, or a mission, through whose means people have been saved, to reckon the saved ones as belonging to them. It is natural, but not spiritual: it is common, but, nevertheless, contrary to God’s Will. Alas! that so many of God’s servants have not yet realized that they are servants of the local church, not masters of a private “church.” Churches are divided on the ground of geography, not on the ground of the instruments of our salvation.
(3) Non-sectarianism. Some Christians think they know better than to say, “I am of Cephas,” or, “I am of Paul,” or, “I am of Apollos”; they say, “I am of Christ.” Such Christians despise the others as sectarian, and on that ground start another community. Their attitude is—You are sectarian: I am non-sectarian; You are hero-worshippers: We worship the Lord alone.
But God’s Word does not only condemn those who say, “I am of Cephas,” “I am of Paul,” or, “I am of Apollos”: it just as definitely and just as clearly denounces those who say, “I am of Christ.” It is not wrong to reckon oneself as belonging only to Christ: it is right and even essential; nor is it wrong to repudiate all schism amongst the children of God: it is highly commendable. God does not condemn this class of Christians for either of these two things, He condemns them for the very sin they condemn in others—their sectarianism. As a protest against division amongst the children of God, many believers seek to divide those who do not divide as from those who do, and never dream that they themselves are divisive! Their ground of division may be more plausible than that of others who divide on the ground of doctrinal differences, or personal preference for certain leaders, but the fact remains that they are dividing the children of God. Even whilst they repudiate schism elsewhere, they are schismatic themselves.
You say, “I am of Christ”; do you mean to say others are not? It is perfectly legitimate for you to say, “I am of Christ” if your remark merely implies to whom you belong; but if it implies, “I am not sectarian; I stand quite differently from you sectarians,” then it is making a difference between them and other Christians. The very thought of distinguishing between the children of God has its springs in the carnal nature of man, and is sectarian. If we look on other believers as sectarian and consider ourselves to be non-sectarian, we are immediately differentiating between God’s people and thereby manifesting a divisive spirit even in the very act of condemning division. No matter by what means we distinguish between the members of God’s family—even if it be on the pretext of Christ Himself—we are guilty of schism in the Body.
What then is right? All exclusiveness is wrong: all inclusiveness (of true children of God) is right. Denominations are not scriptural, and we ought to have no part in them, but if we adopt an attitude of criticism, and think, They are denominational, I am undenominational; they belong to sects, I belong to Christ alone—such differentiating is definitely sectarian.
Yes, praise God I am of Christ, but my fellowship is not merely with those who say, “I am of Christ,” but with all who are of Christ. What is of vital importance is not the confession, but the fact. Although these other believers say they are of Paul, of Cephas and of Apollos, yet in fact they are of Christ. I do not so much mind what they say, but I very much mind what they are. I do not enquire whether they are denominational or undenominational, sectarian or unsectarian, I only enquire, Are they of Christ? If they are of Christ, then they are my brethren.
Our personal standing should be undenominational, but the basis of our fellowship is not undenominationalism. We ourselves should be non-sectarian, but we dare not insist on non-sectarianism as a condition of fellowship. Our only ground of fellowship is Christ. Our fellowship must be with all the believers in a locality, not merely with all the unsectarian believers in that locality. They may make denominational differences, but we must not make undenominational requirements. We dare not differentiate between ourselves and them because they differentiate between themselves and others. They are the children of God, and because they make distinctions between themselves and other children of God, they do not on that account cease to be the children of God. Their denominationalism or sectarianism will mean that severe limitations are imposed upon the Lord as to His purpose and mind for them, and this will mean that they will never go beyond a certain measure of spiritual growth and fullness. Blessing there may be, but fullness of Divine purpose never.
All believers living in the same locality belong to the same church. This is an unchanging principle. We dare not alter “all the believers in a locality” to “all the undenominational believers in a locality.” If we make undenominationalism or unsectarianism the boundary of our church, instead of locality, then we lose our local standing as a church and become a sect. It is not a denominational church, nor an interdenominational church, nor even an undenominational church we are after, but a local church. The difference between a local church and an undenominational church is as vast as the difference between heaven and earth. A local church is undenominational, but an undenominational church is denominational. The “church in Corinth” is scriptural, but “the church of all those who say, ‘I am of Christ’ in Corinth” is unscriptural. Our work is positive and constructive, not negative and destructive. We are out to establish churches, not to destroy denominations. Human nature is prone to go to extremes; it is so easy for us either to be undenominational ourselves and demand undenominationalism of others, or else to tolerate denominationalism in others and gradually become denominational ourselves. We ourselves must be undenominational, but we must not demand undenominationalism of other Christians as the basis of our fellowship.
Therefore, if we come to a place where Christ is not named, we must preach the Gospel, win men to the Lord, and found a local church. If we come to a place where there are already Christians, but on various grounds these believers separate themselves into denominational “churches,” our task is just the same as in the other place—we must preach the Gospel, lead men to the Lord, and form them into a church on the scriptural ground of locality. All the while we must maintain an attitude of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, towards those believers who are in different sects, for they, as we, are children of God, and they live in the same locality, therefore they belong to the same church as we do. For ourselves, we cannot join any sect or remain in one, for our church connection can only be on local ground, but in regard to others we must not make leaving a sect the condition of fellowship with those believers who are in a sect. That will make undenominationalism our church ground, instead of locality. Let us be clear on this point, that an undenominational church is not a local church; there is a vast difference between the two. A local church is undenominational, and it is positive and inclusive, but an undenominational church is not a local church, and it is negative and exclusive.
Let us be clear as to our position. We are not out to establish undenominational churches, but local churches. We are seeking to do a positive work. If believers can be led to see what a local church is—the expression of the Body of Christ in a locality—they will certainly not remain in any sect. On the other hand it is possible for them to see all the evils of sectarianism, and leave them, without knowing what a local church is. We must help those, to whom God has been pleased to use us, to understand clearly the truth regarding local churches, and not to lay emphasis on the question of denominations. They must realize that whenever they use the term “we” in relation to the children of God, they must include all the children of God, not merely those who are meeting with them. If when we say “our brethren” we do not include all the children of God, but only those who continually meet with us, then we are schismatic.
I do not condone sectarianism, and I do not believe we should belong to any sect, but it is not our business to get people to leave them. If we make it our chief concern to lead people to a real knowledge of the Lord and the power of His Cross, then they will gladly abandon themselves to Him, and will learn to walk in the Spirit, repudiating the things of the flesh; and we shall find there will be no need to stress the question of denominations, for the Spirit Himself will enlighten them. If a believer has not learned the way of the Cross and the walk in the Spirit, what is gained by his coming out of a sect?
(4) Doctrinal Differences. In the Greek the word rendered “heresies” in Gal. 5.20 does not necessarily convey the thought of error, but rather of division on the ground of doctrine. The Interlinear New Testament translates it as “sects,” whilst Darby in his new translation renders it “schools of opinion.” The whole thought here is not of the difference between truth and error, but of division based upon doctrine. My teaching may be right or it may be wrong, but if I make it a cause of division, then I am guilty of the “heresy” spoken of here.
God forbids any division on doctrinal grounds. Some believe that rapture is pre-tribulation, others that it is post-tribulation; some believe that all the saints will enter the Kingdom, others believe that only a section will enter; some believe that baptism is by immersion, others that it is by sprinkling; some believe that supernatural manifestations are a necessary accompaniment to the baptism in the Holy Ghost, whilst others do not; but none of these doctrinal views constitute a scriptural basis for separating the children of God. Though some may be right and others wrong, God does not sanction any division on account of difference as to such beliefs.∗ If a group of believers splits off from a local church in their zeal for certain teaching according to the Word of God, the new “church” they establish may have more scriptural teaching, but it could never be a scriptural church. To bring error into a church is carnal, but to divide a church on account of error may also be carnal. It is carnality that so often destroys the oneness of the church in any place.
If we wish to maintain a scriptural position, then we must see to it that the churches we found in various places only represent localities, not doctrines. If our “church” is not separated from other children of God on the ground of locality alone, but stands for the propagation of some particular doctrine, then we are decidedly a sect, however true to the Word of God our teaching may be. The purpose of God is that a church should represent the children of God in a locality, not represent some specific truth there. A church of God in any place comprises all the children of God in that place, not merely those who hold the same doctrinal views.
∗ We are not, of course, dealing here with the foundations of the Faith, the essential doctrines of the Divine Persons, faith in Christ, Atonement, etc., but subsequent matters.
Should we arrive at a place where a church has already been established on clear local ground, and discover that its members hold views which we consider unscriptural, or that they consider the views we hold as unscriptural, if we then refuse to recognise them as the church of God in that locality and withdraw from fellowship, we are divisive. The question is not whether they agree with our presentation of truth, but whether they are standing on clear church ground.
If our hearts are set to preach the local character of the churches of God, we cannot fail to come up against problems in our work. Unless the Cross operates mightily, what endless possibilities of friction there will be if we include in one church all the believers in the locality with all their varying views. How the flesh would like just to include those holding the same views, and to exclude all whose views differ from ours. To have constant and close association with people whose interpretation of Scripture does not tally with ours, is hard for the flesh, but good for the spirit. God does not use division to solve the problem, He uses the Cross. He would have us submit to the Cross, so that through the very difficulties of the situation, the meekness and patience and love of Christ may be deeply wrought into our lives. Under the circumstances, if we do not know the Cross, we shall probably argue, lose our temper, and finally go our own way. We may have right views, but God is giving us an opportunity to display a right attitude; we may believe aright, but God is testing us to see if we love aright. It is easy to have a mind well stored with scriptural teaching, and a heart devoid of true love. Those who differ from us will be a means in God’s hand to test whether we have spiritual experience, or only scriptural knowledge, to test whether the truths we proclaim are a matter of life to us, or mere theory.
Rom. 14 shows us how to deal with those whose views differ from ours. What would we do if in our church there were vegetarians and Sabbatarians? Why, we should consider it almost intolerable if in the same church some of the believers kept the Lord’s Day and others the Sabbath, and some ate meat freely, whilst others were strict vegetarians. That was exactly the situation Paul was facing. Let us note his conclusions. “But him that is weak in faith receive ye, yet not to doubtful disputations” (verse 1). “Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? To his own lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand” (verse 4). “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling” (verse 13). Oh, for Christian tolerance! Oh, for largeness of heart! Alas! that many of God’s children are so zealous for their pet doctrines that they immediately label as heretics, and treat accordingly, all whose interpretation of Scripture differs from theirs. God would have us walk in love toward all who hold views contrary to those that are dear to us (verse 15).
This does not mean that all the members of a church can hold whatever views they please, but it does mean that the solution to the problem of doctrinal differences does not lie in forming separate parties according to the different views held, but in walking in love toward those whose outlook differs from ours. By patient teaching we may yet be able to help all to “the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4.13). As we wait patiently on the Lord, He may grant grace to the others to change their views, or He may grant us grace to see that we are not such good teachers as we thought we were. Nothing so tests the spirituality of a teacher as opposition to his teaching.
The teachers must learn humility, but so must all the other believers. When they recognize their position in the Body, they will know that it is not given to everyone to determine matters of doctrine. They must learn to submit to those who have been equipped of God for the specific ministry of teaching His people. Spiritual gifts and spiritual experience are necessary for spiritual teaching, consequently not everyone can teach.
“Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or vain-glory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others” (Phil. 2.2-4). When the churches have laid to heart what Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, then it will be perfectly possible to have only one church in one locality with no friction whatever amongst its many members.
(5) Racial Differences. “For in one spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12.13). Jews have always had the strongest racial prejudice of all peoples. They regarded other nations as unclean, and were forbidden even to eat with them; but Paul made it very clear, in writing to the Corinthians, that in the Church both Jew and Gentile are one. All distinctions “in Adam” have been done away with “in Christ.” A racial “church” has no recognition in the Word of God. Church membership is determined by domicile, not by race.
To-day in the large cosmopolitan cities of the world there are churches for the whites and churches for the blacks, churches for the Europeans and churches for the Asiatics. These have originated through failure to understand that the boundary of a church is a city. God does not permit any division of His children on the ground of difference of colour, custom, or mode of living. No matter to what race they belong, if they belong to the same locality they belong to the same church. God has placed believers of different races in one locality, so that, by transcending all external differences, they might in one church show forth the one life and the one Spirit of His Son. All that comes to us by nature is overcome by grace; all that was ours “in Adam” has been ruled out “in Christ.” The whole matter hinges here—are all carnal differences done away with in Christ, or is there still a place for the flesh in the Church? Are our resources in Christ sufficient to overcome all natural barriers? Let us remember that the church in any locality includes all the believers living there and excludes all who live elsewhere.
(6) National Differences. Jews and Gentiles represent national as well as racial distinctions, but in the Church of God there is neither Jew nor Greek. There is no racial distinction there, and there is no national distinction either. All believers living in one place, no matter what their nationality, belong to the one church. In the natural realm there is a difference between Chinese, French, British and Americans, but in the spiritual realm there is none. If a Chinese believer lives in Nanking, he belongs to the church in Nanking. If a French believer lives in Nanking, he also belongs to the church in Nanking. The same holds good for Britishers, Americans, and all other nationals, provided they are born again. The Word of God recognizes “the church in Rome,” “the church in Ephesus” and “the church in Thessalonica,” but it does not recognize the Jewish church, or the Chinese church, or the Anglican church. The reason why the names of cities appear in Scripture in connection with the churches of God is because the difference of dwelling-place is the only difference recognized by God amongst His children. Their life is essentially one, and is therefore indivisible, but the place in which that life is lived cannot but vary as long as they remain in the flesh.
Since the churches are all local, if a believer—whatever his nationality—removes from one place to another, he immediately becomes a member of the church in the latter place, and has no church connection in the place of his former residence. You cannot live in one place and be the member of a church in another. There is no extraterritoriality in connection with the churches of God. As soon as you exceed the city limit, you exceed the church limit. If a Chinese brother moves from Nanking to Hankow, he becomes a member of the church in Hankow; in like manner, a British brother coming from London to Hankow immediately becomes a member of the church in Hankow. A change of residence necessarily involves a change of church, whereas naturalization has no effect on church membership.
Our fellow-workers who have gone from China to the South Sea Islands must be careful not to form an “Overseas Chinese church” there. It is possible to have an “Overseas Chinese Chamber of Commerce,” or, an “Overseas Chinese College,” or, an “Overseas Chinese Club.” Anything you like can be “Overseas Chinese,” but not a church. A church is always local! If you go to any city in a foreign land then it follows as a matter of course that you belong to the church in that city. There is nothing Chinese about the churches of God.
How glorious it would be if the saved in every city could overlook all natural differences and only consider their spiritual oneness. “We are the believers in Christ in such-and such a place” is the finest confession a company of Christians can make. Whether Christ is in you or not, determines whether or not you belong to the Church; where you live determines the particular church to which you belong. The question put by God to the world is, Do they belong to Christ? The question put by God to believers is, Where do they live? Not nationality but locality is the question raised. The churches of God are built on city ground, not on national ground.
The usual conception of an indigenous church, whilst quite right in some respects, is fundamentally wrong at the most vital point. Since the Divine method of dividing the Church is according to locality, not nationality, then all differentiation between Christian and heathen countries is contrary to God’s thought. The Church of God knows neither Jew nor Greek, therefore it knows neither native nor foreigner, neither heathen country nor Christian country. The Scriptures differentiate between cities, not between countries, heathen and Christian; so if we would be in full accord with the mind of God, we must make no difference whatever between the Chinese and foreign church, between Chinese and foreign workers, or between Chinese and foreign funds.
The thought of the indigenous church is that the natives of a country should be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating, whilst the thought of God is that the believers in a city—whether native or foreign—should be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. Take, for instance, Peking. The theory of the indigenous church distinguishes between Chinese and foreigners in Peking, whereas the Word of God distinguishes between the believers in Peking—whether Chinese or foreign—and the believers in other cities. That is why in Scripture we read of the churches of the Gentiles, but never of the church of the Gentiles. The attempt to form all Chinese believers into one church shows a lack of understanding in regard to the Divine basis of forming churches.
On the one hand there is no church of the Gentiles in Scripture; on the other hand we read of “the church of the Thessalonians.” It is suggestive that this is the only expression of its kind used in the New Testament. The Word does not speak of the church of the Greeks (a race, or nation), but of the church of the Thessalonians (a city). There is no such thing in the thought of God as the church of the Chinese, but there is such a thing as the church of the Pekinese; Scripture knows nothing of the church of the French, but it does recognize the church of the Parisians. A clear apprehension of the Divine basis of church formation—according to the difference of cities and not of countries—will save us from the misconception of the indigenous church. There should be no distinction whatever between Chinese and foreign Christians, between Chinese and foreign workers, or between Chinese and foreign money in any given locality.
(7) Social Distinctions. In Paul’s day, from a social point of view, there was a great gulf fixed between a free-man and a slave, yet they worshipped side by side in the same church. In our day, if a rickshaw coolie and the President of our Republic both belong to Christ and live in the same place, then they belong to the same church. There may be a mission for rickshaw coolies, but there can never be a church for rickshaw coolies. Social distinctions are no adequate basis for forming a separate church. In the Church of God there is “neither bond nor free.”
In Scripture we have at least seven definite things referred to which are forbidden by God as reasons for dividing His Church. As a matter of fact these seven points are only typical of all other reasons the human mind may devise for dividing the Church of God. The two millenniums of Church history are a sad record of human inventions to destroy the Church’s unity.
The sphere of the church is local, and the local church should on no account be divided. The question naturally arises, if the spiritual life of a local (not denominational) church is very low, can a few of the more spiritual members not gather together and form another assembly? The answer from the Word of God is emphatically, No! God’s Word only warrants the establishment of churches on local ground. Even lack of spirituality is no adequate reason for dividing the church. Should local methods, government and organization be far from ideal, that still constitutes no reason for division. Even wrong teaching (2 John 9 excepted) is no ground for those who know better to form a separate church. We must lay it to heart that the difference of locality is the only ground for dividing the Church of God; no other ground is scriptural.
We who live in the same locality cannot but belong to the same church. This is something from which there is no escape. If I am dissatisfied with the local church, the only thing I can do is to change my locality, then automatically I change my church. We can leave a denomination, but we can never leave a church. To leave a sect is justifiable, but to leave a church—whether on account of unspirituality, wrong doctrine, or bad organization—is utterly unjustifiable. If you leave the local church and form a separate assembly, you may have greater spirituality, purer teaching and better government; but you have no church, you have only a sect.
In the second and third chapters of Revelation we see seven different churches in seven different localities. Only two were not rebuked but actually praised by the Lord; the other five were all definitely censured. Spiritually those five were in a sad state. They were weak, defeated churches; but they were churches for all that, not sects. Spiritually they were wrong, but positionally they were right; therefore God only commanded those in them to be overcomers. The Lord said not a word about leaving the church. A local church is a church which you cannot leave, you must remain in it. If you are more spiritual than the other members, then you should use your spiritual influence and your authority in prayer to revive that church. If the church does not respond, you have only two alternatives; you must either remain there, keeping yourself undefiled, or else you must change your abode. But this does not apply to a sect. It is futile to seek by a wrong application of these two chapters to keep Spirit-taught believers within a sect, for the seven churches referred to are local churches, not sectarian “churches.” However weak they may have been, they were still on the scriptural ground of the Body in the locality. The Word of God has never authorized anyone to leave a church. All groups of believers who base their fellowship on other ground than that of locality are sects, even though they may term themselves churches. It is all right to leave a sect, but it is never right to leave a local church. If you leave a local church, you do so without the authority of the Lord, and you become guilty of the sin of schism in the Body.
What a tragedy it is when a few spiritual members leave a local church, and form another assembly, simply because the other members are weak and immature. Those stronger members should remain in that church as overcomers, seeking to help their weaker brothers and sisters, and claiming the situation there for the Lord. Oh! how prone we are to despise the believers we consider inferior to us, and how we delight to associate with those whose fellowship we find specially congenial. Pride of heart, and a selfish enjoyment in spiritual things, cause us to overlook the fact that a church in any given place should consist of all the children of God in that place; so we narrow down Christian fellowship and make selection amongst the children of God. This is sectarianism, and it is a grief of heart to the Lord.