Which Church I Should Join
The one that abides in Biblocality
Which Church I Should Join
It is necessary to join the church, but which church should I join? Because of the many different churches existing today, this matter creates a very real problem.
Over the two thousand years of church history, various churches have been raised up at different times. This we may call the cause of time. Then as churches have been formed in different areas, area has become a cause. Also, with the raising up of different human instruments used in the planting of churches, people have become a cause. In addition to these three causes of time, area, and person, there is further the cause of emphasis on a particular truth in the Bible. The Word of God contains so many aspects of truth that people tend to establish churches based on one special truth. Maybe in a certain area there arises a special need and someone comes forth with a particular emphasis on one aspect of truth; consequently a different church is organized. The result is that that particular emphasis may become another cause of dissent.
Based on the various conditions mentioned above, many churches have been produced. The number of churches in the world today exceeds fifteen hundred. These are all well-organized and approved. They are not reckoned according to locality but according to a system. Brethren, when we advise believers to join the church, we are faced with the formidable task of choosing one from among fifteen hundred churches.
Let us consider this matter before God. Is there a way out of the confusion? We believe there is, for the Word of God still remains with us. We can search the Scriptures and find out what God has to say about this. Indeed, God’s Word has already revealed His appointed way as to which church we ought to join. There is no need for us to spend much time investigating and inquiring into the many different churches [church hopping]. If we had to analyze and research all of them, we would probably never in our lifetime be able to solve the problem because we have neither the strength nor facility to do it. Yet God has not left us in the dark. The Bible clearly indicates to us the way we should follow.
God’s Way Is the Local Church
The Bible gives the simplest guideline concerning the church. It is clear and unconfused. If we read the beginning verses of the epistles, the Acts, and the first chapter of Revelation, we meet such names as “the church which was in Jerusalem” (Acts 8.1), “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1.2; 2 Cor. 1.1), and “the seven churches that are in Asia” (Rev. 1:4), which are the church in Ephesus, the church in Smyrna, the church in Pergamum, the church in Thyatira, the church in Sardis, the church in Philadelphia, and the church in Laodicea (Rev. 2.1, 8, 12, 18; 3.1, 7, 14). In the Bible the churches are divided, but what makes the division? One and only one rule divides the church. Anyone can see the answer, for it is crystal clear [locality].
The Bible permits the church to be divided solely on the ground of locality. Corinth is a city, so are Ephesus, Colosse, Rome and Philippi. All the churches are divided wholly according to locality. In a word, churches can only be divided according to locality, not by any other factor. A locality, a city, is the unit. As Corinth, Ephesus, and Colosse are all cities, so the boundary of the church is the city. Locality constitutes the basic unit.
The smallest church takes a locality as its unit; so does the biggest church. Anything smaller than a locality may not be considered a church, nor can it be so recognized if it is bigger than a locality. This is very clear in 1 Corinthians 1. There it mentions the church which is in Corinth. When some people in the church at Corinth specify themselves as of Cephas, of Paul, of Apollos, and of Christ, they divide the church into four parts [denominations, non-denominations, independents and congregations started by men]. This makes the church too small, so Paul chides them for their divisions. Paul is good, Apollos is good, Cephas is good, but it is not good to divide according to these men. The church may be divided only according to locality, not according to the apostles. Division according to the apostles is condemned by the Bible as being divisions in the flesh. Such division results in sects.
However, neither should the scope of the church exceed that of a locality. In reading the Bible, we find “the churches of Galatia” (Gal. 1.2), “the churches of Asia” (1 Cor. 16.19; see also Rev. 1.4), and “the churches . . . throughout all Judea” (Acts 9:31 Authorized Version). There were many churches in Judea, in Galatia, and in Asia; hence in Acts they were called the churches in Judea, in Galatians the churches in Galatia, and in Revelation the churches in Asia. Judea was originally a nation, but at that time it had become a Roman province. The various churches in the different localities of that province could not be combined to form one church [national or state church], so the record in Acts terms them the churches throughout Judea. Galatia was also a Roman province, not just a city. There were a number of churches in that place too; consequently the plural of the word “church” was used to designate the churches in Galatia. These churches were not named “The Church in Galatia,” thus showing that the church should not be bigger in boundary than a locality. In the same vein, the churches in Asia were mentioned not in the singular but in the plural form. Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea were seven localities in Asia. They were not united together as one big church; rather they remained seven churches.
It is quite clear from the Bible that a church may be designated only by the name of the locality in which it is located. It should not be named according to a man or doctrine or system or history. No distinction is allowed on the basis of men, of nations, or of doctrines. The Word of God permits only the distinction of locality. Wherever one sojourns, he belongs to the church in that locality. To change his church affiliation, he has to move somewhere else. God recognizes the distinction of locality alone; He will not justify any other basis.
How We Join the Church
Finally, let us ask the question—how do we join the church? Never once in the Bible do we find the phrase “join the church.” It cannot be found in Acts nor is it seen in the epistles. Why? Because no one can join the church. To join means that one is still outside. Can an ear decide to join my body? No, if it is in my body, it is already joined. If it is not already in my body, then there is no way for it to join. We do not join the church. Rather, we are already in the church and therefore are joined to one another.
When, by the mercy of God, a man is convicted of his sin and through the precious blood is redeemed and forgiven and receives new life, he is not only regenerated through resurrection life but is also put into the church by the power of God. It is God who has put him in; thus he already is in the church. He is an insider, so he has no need of joining. Many think of joining the church. Let it be known, however, that whatever can be joined is not the real thing. One cannot join the true church of God even if he would like to. If he is of the Lord, born of the Holy Spirit, then he is already in the church and has no need to join it.
Therefore it is neither necessary nor possible to join the church. No one can enter into the church by joining it; those who are already in do not need to join. The very desire to join reveals the fact that one is still on the outside. The church is so special that it cannot be joined. The determining factor is whether one is born of God. If one is born of God, he is already in; if he is not born of God, there is no way to join. Is not this corporate body wonderful? It cannot be joined by signing a decision card or by taking a test. All who are born of God are already in the church; therefore they have no need to join it.
Then why do we persuade you to join the church? We are only borrowing this term for the sake of convenience. You who have believed in the Lord are already in the church, but your brothers and sisters in the church may not know you. You have believed, but the brethren may not know it. You are redeemed, yet the church may not be aware of it. Since belief is something in the heart, it may not be known to others. For this reason we must seek fellowship, just as Paul sought to receive the right hand of fellowship from those in the church at Jerusalem (Gal. 2.9). We must go to the church, telling them that we too are Christians and asking them therefore to receive us as such. Since men are limited in knowledge, they need to be told that we are brothers and sisters in order that they may receive us. This is not, however, the same thing as the popular sense of joining the church.
Since my father is of a particular nationality, I do not need to be naturalized to be part of that nation. But upon becoming a believer, yet unknown to the church, I should go to the church and ask to be recognized and to be given fellowship. If the brethren find out that I am indeed one of them, that I am a true believer, they then will give me the fellowship I seek. This is the true sense of joining the church.
You who are already in Christ should learn to seek the fellowship of the children of God. With this fellowship of the body you may serve God well. If you as young believers can see this light, you will move a step forward in your spiritual path. Thank God for His mercy. (Assembling Together, CFP, 9-15, Watchman Nee.)
In 1 Cor. 14.23 we read of 'the whole church....assembled together'. What church is this? Obviously, the local church, for the Church universal cannot gather together in one locality. It was in the local church that the brethren exercised their spiritual gifts (The Church and the Work: Rethinking the Work, CFP, 27).
How extensive is the boarder of
a local assembly? How large a place is required to form a local
assembly? Please note that the Bible never divides the Church
according to region, nor does it even place several churches under a regional
church. Although there are several
churches in Asia being mentioned in Revelation, we do not find in God’s Word
that Ephesus or Philadelphia had been chosen to control the other six churches. We only see seven churches represented by seven golden
lampstands. In the Old
Testament record there is mentioned the one lampstand with seven branches; but
here in Revelation are seven lampstands - not one with seven branches but seven lampstands representing seven separate churches, each emitting light and bearing
responsibility directly to Christ (The Church and the Work: Assembly Life, Ch.
4 The Boundary of a Local Assembly, 97).
The Bible usually takes a city, the smallest executive governmental area, as the boundary of a local assembly. A local assembly [church locality] is the unit of the Church in God’s word (Ibid., 98).
Concerning the border of a local assembly, in the New Testament God makes the city to be its boundary. So that the maximum sphere of a local assembly is a city and nothing larger than a city. In the Biblical record, there is no church that controls a region, a province, or a country. The city always marks the limit of the church. A city was originally the aggregate of people who lived in the same locality. Let us realize that due to today’s complicated life we have such divisions as country, township, village, and so forth. In the olden days, wherever the people congregated and live and were protected - that was considered a city (Gen. 4.17) (Ibid., The Border of a Local Assembly, 102.)
Other sub-headings to the Church and the Work that you may consider: Dividing by City Line, How to Meet Separately in One City, and Concerning City Limits and Suburbs (Ibid., Ch. 4.)
That cities were the boundaries of churches in the apostolic days is evident from the fact that on the one hand Paul and Barnabas "appointed . . . for them elders in every church" (Acts 14.23), and on the other hand Paul instructed Titus to "appoint elders in every [biblical] city" (Titus 1.5).
In the Word of God we see no church that extends beyond the area of a city, nor do we find any church which does not cover the entire area. Any place is qualified to be a unit for the founding of a church which is a place where people group together to live, a place with an independent name, and a place which is the smallest political unit. Such a place is a scriptural "city" and is the boundary of a local church. Large cities, such as Rome and Jerusalem are only units, while small cities such as Iconium and Troas are likewise units (The Church and the Work: Rethinking the Work, The Boundary of a Locality, p. 90).
Questions will naturally arise concerning large cities such as London. Do they reckon one "unit-locality," or more than one? London is clearly not a "city" in the scriptural sense of the term and it cannot therefore be regarded as a unit. Even people living in London talk about going "into the city" or "into the town," which reveals the fact that in their thinking "London" and "the city" are not synonymous. The political and postal authorities, as well as the man on the street, regard London as more than one unit. They divide it respectively into boroughs and postal districts. What they regard as an administrative unit, we may well regard as a church unit (Ibid, p. 90-91).
Locality Can Be Compromised
Watchman Nee never legalized locality. If there were believers in a locality, but no elders handling church affairs for the entire locality, believers were still part of that locality. One might consider the natural development of cities growing larger and larger, reaching the size of the new city in the new earth. In the Bible, there was not named the church in Rome, just the "saints in Rome." This may be because 2000 years ago, one million citizens of Rome was too large a locality for the standard at the time. Though today it would be acceptable. However, there was in Scripture a city that took three days to cross which was considered a locality. The boundary of a local assembly prevents denominations from usurping themselves and expanding beyond the border of a locality. Proper biblocality will ensure that the locality-size is maintained accurately in our present day.
Some may even try to copy inaccurately this organizing God provides in His word by creating a central-hub over localities which occurred under the one man cult shop leader, Witness Lee who in The Local Church Living Stream Ministry cult misused what Watchman Nee received as revelation in Scripture. The integrity of a locality as a unit must not be comprised by losing the Elders of the locality and independent status. The purpose of this principle of locality is that anything larger than a local church automatically becomes a divisive denomination that emerged from some doctrine, person, national entity or identity which compromises God’s Word. This is not the Church given to us in the Scriptures, no matter how much someone tries to convince you it is God's way as for example Witness Lee tried to do even on his deathbed. There is no record of Witness Lee ever being born-again. He could not let go of the central-hub for filthy lucre. Much thanks to Watchman Nee for preserving the truth and which exposed Witness Lee's cult, a corporation-styled business which sued for faith and relentlessly held to several false teachings (e.g. suing Christians over faith, modalism, deification, screamers, total depravity, etc.).
Optimal Size of a Meeting Place
There are many meeting places in a locality. The optimal size would be 50 to 100 people within "walking ground" able to get to without the need of a car or train or bike. The music might not be as good, because gifted singers will naturally flock to larger gatherings, but with today's technology, you can bring concerts right into your home, prepared and powerful sermons too.
Ask whether an organization calling itself a church exceeds God's word to determine if it is walking on holy ground. A biblical locality should include all meeting places in the church locale. Each meeting place or group of believers that meet does not need to bring in believers from more than a couple of miles away. The actual locality usually is much larger comprised of many meeting places. Immediately next to one meeting place is another, perhaps even just a couple miles away. All the meeting places together as one assembly in a locality making up one unit.
A meeting of more than 3000 to 5000 (such as in Acts) would be too large for gathering because (a) there are usually no facilities, (b) would be a superficial way of fellowship, and (c) takes too long to break bread on the Lord's day.
The reason biblocality is important to God is because overcomer believers are going to reign in the millennial kingdom over cities (see Luke 19.11-27). Think of the cities today as the training ground for the local churches. When we have reclaimed the "first love" that was lost in the first century when Apostles working regionally appointed Elders to take care of a locality then Christ will return. In order to establish God's proper design, first the Apostles must be in agreement. Are you an Apostle? Register to confirm if you are or not.
When this arrangement has reached its pinnacle then first rapture occurs according to readiness (Matt. 24,42, Luke 21.36, Rev. 3.10), the Tribulation and parousia commence, and near the end of the seven years, Jesus returns in Person (Zech. 14.4, Acts. 1.11, Rev. 1.7) with His overcomer believers (Jude 14,15) to dispense judgment and rewards.