Verses 4-5a: "John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is coming, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne. And from Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth."
After we have read the previous three verses, we are clear about the special characteristics of this book. Now we come to the book itself. The style of the book is a letter from the dear apostle "to the seven churches which are in Asia." The Asia here is not the continent of Asia but a Roman province in Asia Minor. We should distinguish what is said here, "John to the seven churches which are in Asia," as different from the seven letters in chapters two and three. What is in chapters two and three is what the Lord instructed John to write in seven letters to the seven churches in seven localities. Each church received only the letter which was sent to herself. The letter here "to the seven churches which are in Asia" is not merely chapters two and three, but the whole book. The whole book was a letter from John to these seven churches. What is in chapters two and three was the Lord’s own letter to the seven individual churches. What each received was different from the other. Here it was John’s letter to the seven churches; it includes the whole book, which also includes chapters two and three.
These seven churches were "in" the province of Asia. John did not call them the "the church of Asia." All those in Asia did not become one church. There is absolutely no such thing as the people of a whole country being incorporated into one church. The church is in a sinful world, but she is not of the world. Asia does not have a church. However, there are churches in Asia.
Furthermore, here it does not say "the church which is in Asia," but "the seven churches which are in Asia." There is no "Associated Church" or "United Church" in the Bible. The individual churches in Asia did not unite to become one large church in Asia. They were still individual. They administrated on their own according to their localities. They bore their own responsibility directly to the Lord. Although they were all in Asia, the Bible distinguishes them and calls them the church "in Ephesus," "in Smyrna," and so forth. Perhaps they were willing to labor together and to confer with one another in those days. In spite of this, John only knew them as individual churches. Here we can see the error in uniting many churches together and calling it "The Church of Christ in China." Moreover, when we read verse 11, we see no names for any of these seven churches. Ephesus, Smyrna, and so forth are the names of localities. The Holy Spirit says only the church in a certain locality; He does not say a certain church in a certain locality. From the Lord’s viewpoint His children cannot be divided because of the names of a church. The Lord uses a locality, such as Ephesus and Smyrna, as the unit of a church. Nowadays there are many churches in one locality. This actually is not the Lord’s intention.
Brothers, if we know the truth, yet our conscience is not touched, the result will be dryness in our spiritual life. Every truth is for us to put into practice. Many people want some truth, but they are afraid of all the truth. If we obey the Lord in all things but rebel against Him in one thing, His heart will not be pleased. To violate one is to violate all. Concerning the church, all of God’s children know that it is wrong to have denominations. Nevertheless, how many have left the denominations because of this? Truly, how easy it is to accept the truth on our lips! It is vain to hope that the whole church will obey the Lord and be changed. If a sinner were to wait until the whole world believes in the Lord before he would believe, I am afraid there would be no time for him to believe. Why are we the same way? Now, at the end times, every day the church and the world forsake the Lord yet more and more. We should not hope for them to change because the Bible tells us they will not change. They will become worse day after day. Now man has all kinds of problems concerning the church, but if we were willing to obey the Lord in a simple way, where would all the problems be? The most pitiful thing is that men are not willing to listen to the Lord, but plan and organize many groups to substitute the simple way the Lord has set up in the Bible. We know deeply that confusion will increase in the future, but may the Lord strengthen the ones that really belong to Him so that they may be bold to obey the Lord and not be deluded. If we are willing to submit to the Lord and seek Him with a humble heart, the Lord will surely show us what we should do. May the Lord’s word not fall upon stony places!
Now we come back to the main subject. These churches in Asia had lost the Christian faith and the spiritual power. We will come back to this point later. Paul said in 2 Timothy, "This you know, that all who are in Asia turned away from me" (1:15). From this we know that the churches in Asia had already forsaken the "apostles’ teaching" and were far away from the situation of Pentecost! Since this was the condition of the churches, this book was not written with the purpose of building up the church, nor does it say much about God’s mercy toward men. Here we see God judging evil in the church and in the world. "It is time for the judgment to begin from the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17). Therefore, the Lord talks first about the judgment of the church, then about that of the world.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 04: The Christian (2), Chapter 1, by Watchman Nee)